How do you define a living legend?
I’m not going to patronise you by beginning with a dictionary definition of what living legend means, I’m going to plunge headlong into my explanation and leave it to you to call me wrong. So let’s start by saying a legend is the sort of fellow who chaps want to be and chapesses want to be with.
Ted Simon is this sort of fellow. We here at Adventurist HQ like gnarly old adventurers. Fellows who have experienced the worst of what the world can throw at them and then said; ‘What next?’ Fellows like Ted Simon who had so much fun riding around the world on his classic Triumph Tiger in the Seventies, he repeated the feat nearly thirty years later. His travels and accompanying books were the inspiration for young whippersnappers Charlie and Ewan on their oversized wussmobiles in ‘Long Way Around’ and in Motorcycling circles he is something of a hero.
In March 1973 Ted decided to circumnavigate the globe by motorcycle, despite having neither motorcycle licence nor experience riding a bike. He sweet talked Yamaha into lending him a bike and obtained a false driving licence to practice on. Six months later he began a four year trip through 54 countries, the likes of which was unheard of at the time. Fearing terrible accidents, breakdowns in the desert and all the lurid horror stories the mind can conjure up, he set off prepared to lose his life on his journey. Although Ted knew little of the particularities of his motorcycle engine he fixed his bike along the way, teaching himself the fundamentals of motorcycle repair as he went. He modestly declares that ‘anyone with reasonable intelligence and nimble fingers could probably do it’.
A journey of great time across numerous continents is never without hardship but as Ted points out wherever you are in difficulty there are people for whom that place is home; so if they can survive then surely you can. I asked Ted how he motivates himself when things do go awry and he simply replied; “There’s always tomorrow”, before going on to explain that you don’t really need to motivate yourself as the wonder of life is motivation enough.
Despite being only 42, at the time his contemporaries were sat around by the fire with pipe and slippers thumbing through the Sunday papers, so there were some eyebrows raised at his plans to undertake the trip, but as Ted explains; “If you ever do anything different there will always be people who try to tell you to be content with what you’ve got”. When asked why he chose to undertake such a venture Ted simply answered how he used to scarcely understand why everyone didn’t want to do so.
In 2001 Ted retraced his steps, once more taking a motorcycle around the world. He was able to compare the developments and regressions of the countries along his route, witnessing first-hand how the political, economic and environmental landscape of the world changed over a quarter of a century.
At the ripe old age of 69 Ted was a little less over-prepared this time, though did think to bring a GPS (don’t let him hear you call it a Sat-Nav which apparently sounds like something you put in your toilet). He found the GPS unreliable for the purposes he required and was happy when it finally got lost, falling from his bike. Ted then goes on to assure that nowadays you don’t need to bring more than a toothbrush and credit card, explaining that “All these gadgets that tell you what to do & save you from trouble mean the less often you have to stop to ask for help & directions & the less interesting your journey becomes. Ideally you want to have a bike that breaks down all the time and have no idea where you’re going, Then you have a terrific time”. Surely the man deserves his face carved into a mountainside for that wisdom alone? Failing that they should name a road after him.
Ted’s most recent trip has seen him return to the British Isles; one last trip revisiting the land of his youth and taking in parts of the UK he’d not visited before. I asked Ted if it is possible to find adventure in Britain and he gave a wholehearted affirmation using the justification that you didn’t have to venture far from the motorways and A-roads to find a bit of countryside which has changed little in the past hundred years. Two wrong turns and there is adventure all around you.
I asked Ted if this was definitely his last trip and he wistfully confesses that Avon had offered him free tyres if he ever wanted to travel around the world by wheelchair.
So there you have it. Ted Simon, a true living legend. Give this man the respect he deserves and be inspired; go out and buy a motorbike - nothing too big, perhaps a Honda C-90? if you can’t get a motorbike a bicycle will do. When you’ve got your bike go out and ride it as far as you can; get lost, fall off, break down, then get back on and keep going.
You can buy Ted's splendid books, Jupiter's Travels, Dreaming of Jupiter and his new book Rolling Through the Isles from any self respecting bookshop both in the virtual and tangible worlds, why not order a copy while you're planning your next trip?