Are you down to the last dregs of Netfilx? Why not kick it old school and escape in to the pages of these adventure inspiring books. We love them, and we think you will too.
1. One Man Caravan, Robert Fulton.
“The unheeding tongue may lead to torturous trails!”
A dinner party in Venice, 1932. Twenty-three year old architecture graduate Robert Fulton lets slip the bold off-hand declaration that “I’m going around the world on a motorcycle!” Sitting opposite is the owner of Douglas Motorcycles Kenton Redgrave, who calls Fulton’s bluff and offers him a six horsepower Douglas Twin with any modifications necessary. So began an 18-month, 40,000-mile adventure that would become One Man Caravan, a remarkable account of Fulton’s solo traverse across Europe to the Middle East, down into the bowels of Indonesia, up to Japan into pre-Communist China, across India and eventually into the U.S.
Before hitting the vast and unknowable road, the Douglas technicians fitted a second fuel tank, windshield, easily replaceable car tyres (Fulton got only 6 flats, all rear, on the whole trip!), a special storage unit for thousands of feet of 35mm nitrate film, skid plate with a recess for a .32 revolver and storage up front for his camera equipment. At a time when long distance motorcycle travel was virtually unheard of, especially deep into foreign lands, Fulton ran into gruelling stretches of sand in Turkey, ferociously territorial tribes in the Khyber Pass, suspicious Iraqi bandits, a royal welcome by Indian Rajahs and shelter from the bitter desert night from curious Afghani camel herders.
One Man Caravan is a pioneering odyssey made all the more impressive by the film Twice Upon A Caravan, which Fulton pieced together from the footage he captured on bulky, archaic camera gear requiring a level of patience and precision that we with our drones and digital cameras can scarcely imagine.
This book is also a must read in recognition of the Douglas company itself, which has been credited with innovating the first disk brake system as early as 1920. Their bikes were renowned for both lightness and rugged durability and by the end of WWI the company had manufactured 23,000 bikes for the British military. Post war they had notable success in the legendary Isle of Man TT and thanks largely to Robert Fulton’s adventure, Douglas motorcycles were praised in mainstream media as seriously well engineered machines.
2. Jupiter’s Travels, Ted Simon
‘When I set out on my first trip I was 42 years old and I’d never ridden a bike. I had no experience of them. I simply had an idea of what I wanted to do and found myself a 500cc Triumph Tiger and…well, got on with it.’
Jupiter’s Travels chronicles Ted Simon’s four year odyssey (1973-77), covering 64,000-miles and 45 countries. Those are impressive statistics but this isn’t a book that boasts about road miles and exotic passport stamps; the beauty of Jupiter’s Travels is the depth and honesty of Simon’s erudite storytelling, securing it in a special class of literature alongside such travel writing greats as Paul Theroux, William Dalrymple, Freya Stark and Vita Sackville-West.
If the image of a Triumph blazing a trail across the world map makes you swoon and if you can relate to the infuriating but endearing inherent faults of the British classics, Jupiter’s Travels might be the catalyst for you to spend lockdown building the Tiger you always found common sense to avoid! Beyond bikes, if you seek a lyrical journalistic account of what it would have been like travelling solo across Africa, SE Asia, Latin America, California and the Middle East in the early ‘70s, Jupiter’s Travels is a swan song to ‘the good old days’ before Lonely Planet and GPS.
Simon’s cult classic transcends the genre of motorcycle writing. For those who have read it, once is never enough. Every copy I have seen is a heavily annotated, dogeared companion, a lifelong point of reference along our own meandering journey of self discovery. Jupiter’s Travels is a reminder that sometimes the key is to just get on with it, just go and adapt to the inevitable unforeseen hurdles that challenge the best laid plans.
After Jupiter’s Travels, dive into Riding High, a collection of the journals that never made it into the original and then get going on Dreaming of Jupiter, the trip Simon made almost thirty years later on a BMW R80 GS, retracing Jupiter’s Travels in a world so changed as to be almost unrecognisable.
3. Lone Rider, Elspeth Beard.
Elspeth Beard is one of the undisputed torchbearers for the achievements of the female motorcycle sorority who’ve tackled tens of thousands of miles that rival any adventures undertaken by their male counterparts. She is just one of a long line of female legends, so why have I chosen Lone Rider instead of Lois Pryce and her ballsy Saharan tours or the emotive Silk Road odyssey of Heather Ellis? Because I am hopelessly seduced by Beard’s 1974 BWM R60/6 and the now iconic aluminium rig that she built, her home on wheels for two and a half years over 35,000 miles.
Lone Rider reads like a poetic screenplay, revealing the protagonists physical and emotional vulnerably from the opening scene. The prose is vivid and searingly honest as we ride pillion with Beard in a visceral account of the trip that has secured her place in the canon of motorcycle writing.
At the age of 23, in the wake of a breakup and disillusioned with the architecture career that lay ahead, the already experienced rider made for the horizon. Lone Rider takes us across North America and Canada, Mexico, Australasia, Indonesia and SE Asia, India, Nepal and the Middle East on a journey fraught with peril. Beard ran the gauntlet in post-revolutionary Iran, endured dysentery and hepatitis, a theft in India that would cause most of us to retreat and lose faith in the world and became a symbol of underrated female prowess in a patriarchal world.
While I would argue the literary register of Jupiter’s Travels is more accomplished, Lone Rider undoubtedly deserves a place amongst the most highly regarded travel writing of the 21st-century. During interviews ahead of its release, Beard echoes Simon’s lament that nowadays travel to far flung places (whether on a bike or not) is far more accessible and most of us can taste life thousands of miles from home without ever feeling too far from home, meaning however, the sense Unknown Horizons has been smothered and lost. It is of course futile to pine for the ‘good old days’ but accounts like Lone Rider should be the catalyst for us to forsake constant communication on the road, be present in a strange place and travel conscientiously, leaving as little a trace of our presence as possible.