Jupiter’s Travels: Ted Simon’s Second Journey Round the World

We had a ton of things scheduled for the Overland Expo but ended up skipping classes occasionally and attending panel discussions instead. At the end of Saturday evening, after listening in on a discussion on travel in Africa, we sat around the campfire having our happy hour beer, soaking in the event. Just as it got dark and the temperatures dropped, the film festival began. This night was the only night we had Sherlock in tow and didn’t need to return home to relieve her. Luckily this was possibly the best film night of all and we were able to see the amazing inspirational film, Jupiter’s Travels, a film that really got us excited about our own overland plans for the future.

Sadly, I had never heard of Ted Simon before seeing the film and wished I had. He’s the kind of person I want to be; having lived an enormously interesting and adventurous life traveling the world. When he was young he took on his first round the world motorcycle trip on an old Triumph. The film Jupiter’s Travels, documented his attempt at repeating the same journey 28 years later, this time with a camera crew for a portion of it, documenting the feat itself as well as the huge feat of doing it at an older age.

Throughout the film Ted visits people he’d met in the past, and surprisingly finds many are still around. He runs into mechanical issues, relives old memories, and talks about his experience repeating a journey he had done as a younger, stronger man. The film allows you to share in the amazing yet humbling experience along with Ted, making it one of the most real travel documentaries I’ve seen.

Whether you’re into overland travel or not, it’s a film to see. I can only hope to be physically capable of doing the same things as Ted Simon at his age. He proves that a real traveler never has to stop traveling, learning, exploring or experiencing wonder.

Before and after the film, Ted Simon himself spoke and answered questions, another 13 years older than the age he was on his second journey, at 69! Still riding, and still a world traveler; He’s a walking, talking legend.

Please see it if you get a chance! Find it on his website at: http://jupitalia.com/jupiters-shop/jupiters-travels-on-dvd-the-film/

Dust Tea, Dingos and Dragons

I went into reading this book with skepticism. After all, business travel is nothing like RV travel, vacation travel or any other types of travel we know about. It started off slow but I imagined (correctly) that it was building up a back story for the character and what he does – the character being the actual business man , R.F. Hemphill; a man who spent 10 years and 4 million airline miles developing a startup a global electric power and distribution company. Between the type of travel he was into and the company he worked for, I was already starting to loose interest early on, however, I stuck through the buildup to reach a rewarding series of stories about incredibly rural  and/or fascinating places all around the world.

The book is structured in a series of letters written by R.F. Hemphill to his retired military father. A strange structure at first, and at times it seemed supplemented to included missing information, but it didn’t take long to get used to it and appreciate the lack of “he said she said”. Trying to remember as many details as the author would have had to, he’s lucky his father kept all his letters to work off of.

After the initial chapters with the background and what he does for work being explained in depth, I started to like the character the most when he spent a day at a plant getting ‘head to toe dirty’ in coal byproducts, deep in parts of a plant I never knew existed. It made him seem human and not the unapproachable “business man” I was expecting. However, as he started to travel more and talk about other cultures, I started to dislike him. He made other cultures sound “wrong” and “odd” which is not my impression from traveling, I try to stay humble and keep in mind that I’m the odd one in their country. At first his attitude about other cultures was just kind of… ethnocentric. This goes on for a while but the places he goes and people he meets help you disregard that aspect of him and as his travels as they go on, after the first 4 years or so he has started to become significantly more accepting, partly because of the amount of times he visits certain places again and again, and partly because he’s learned to avoid the things he finds strange, like, dust tea as in the title of the book, and insects for dinner.

There’s many endearing characteristics about the author, and whether you like him or not, his stories and character grow on you. I actually found myself interested in the perspective of an ethnocentric traveler. He didn’t really judge individual people, or even look down on the thousands of workers working at the plants he helped ‘sell’ and build, but he was more likely to get drinks with coworkers than locals – I suppose fitting in to my “businessman” ideas about him. It’s true as the book goes on that he changed his world view significantly, a really cool change to see shown through letters to a conservative father. I would really have liked to know what he didn’t write his father, was there a night where his coworkers picked up prostitutes and they all ended the evening with machine guns pointed at them in Manila? Was there a bout of food poisoning so bad that he had to buy all new clothes in Calcutta? The book is definitely tame in that regard, but a good and interesting read none the less. Especially since most of the places he writes about are extremely rural parts of China and India, with things I would have never learned about; Like during Watermelon season in parts of China, you’re fed so much watermelon you may never want to see it again.

I’ll save the rest for you to read if interested! I still have a little bit to go which makes me happy that there’s still some left, I would have never thought about reading a travel book from a business travel perspective before but I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit.

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Nerd’s Anniversary: Five Years on the Road!

So yesterday, sometime in the late morning, 5 years earlier in 2009, we began our journey to nowhere and everywhere in a 1973 Dodge B300, Brougham, Class C RV.

brougham

We started out fast, beginning with my mother and her cats hitching a ride to New Mexico to her new home. We broke down in Tonopah, Nevada for a week when the alternator went out, the first of many problems the old Brougham would have, and eventually made our way to New Mexico. From there our official travels began but it still took us a few months to learn how to slow down.

We started out by going straight to Slab City for Halloween where we met up with my friend Lisa from Santa Ana, California. We tried to stay there longer, but at the time we were on AT&T and couldn’t get a decent signal so we could work. We spent some time replacing the starter then headed north, boondocking on the stinky shore of the Salton Sea at a “town” called North Shore. *If you want everything you own to smell like dead fish for a couple weeks, stay here!*

After that we took a jaunt towards Joshua Tree to find out it was freezing cold, turned around and drove straight into LA and visited Lisa one last time. We passed through Big Bear on a Saturday night and while coming down the mountain, our u-joint almost went out on us. We stopped in El Cajon to find we weren’t allowed to park anywhere in the city for the night and had to get a hotel (before 10pm – city ordinance), but we were able to take the RV in to Sears in the morning to get it worked on (on a Sunday even!). When we finally moved on, we found nowhere to stay near San Diego – we searched for one place that no longer existed,  found some overpriced beach (parking lot) camping and one place that was “members only”. Fed up, we drove all night, getting the hell out of Southern California.

We found a great state park south of Alamogordo, New Mexico but after a few days we found ourselves with bald tires in a hilly, snowy campground, and running out of propane fast. As soon as the roads dried up a bit, we left for Pecos, then the Monahans Dunes, and by Christmas we were in Fredricksburg. We spent New Years in San Antonio, ambled around southern Louisiana for a few weeks and finally ended up in New Orleans.

We realized while there that we were halfway across the country – and yes it took a few months, but we had missed so much in the process of trying to get our bearings. Then we realized that summer was approaching fast and we had no air conditioning. If you’ve been to Louisiana in the Summer, you can imagine why that matters. Lastly, the big realization, we would miss the spontaneity of the Brougham, but we wanted to make traveling a full time, long term commitment. This is when we upgraded to our previous trailer, and a month or two later, bought a truck and sold the Brougham – for a guitar, amp, and a 1980 Honda Twinstar. It was probably a pretty good trade.


travelyEver since then we’ve been traveling much slower, maybe even too slow for some people to stay interested, but we’ve never claimed to be on vacation. This is our lifestyle. We work weekdays, we sleep nights and we see new and interesting things on the weekends.

After 5 years, it’s surprising how normal traveling starts to feel. We’re never surprised by ‘strange’ foods, hard to decipher accents, local customs, or how badly people drive, and staying a while in each place, we really get to know the areas. It’s not everyone’s style of traveling but when you think about the 5 day work week being a part of our month or so at most places, that’s still only 3 to 4 weekends (and one for travel) a month – where we also have to fit in normal stuff like grocery shopping, repairs and errands. We get just 5-7 days a month to explore an area when we stay a month. When we go out, we try and do as much nature stuff as we can and reserve some time for meals out, and checking out downtown. Now that we have the motorcycles, we’ll be doing a lot more trail riding and less hiking, which is both sad but also extremely fun – when the snow starts to fall we’ll be back to hiking – this winter, in the Smokey and Blueridge Mountains.

After our last trailer was destroyed by a tree last winter (as you may have read), we finally upgraded to what we’ve wanted for a long while, a toy hauler. We’re slowly evolving into something much different than we were when we started and it’s definitely for the best. As always, I’ll try and keep up with the blog – of course there’s at least 500 things I could have posted about but didn’t, so if I start playing “Throwback Thursday” don’t get too confused – the most up to date travel and adventure stuff is on our facebook page!

Thank you for being with us on our travels!

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Overland Expo East: Finding our niche in the travel world

We’ve been trying to find our place in the RV world for years now and just haven’t found our niche. We’re not retired, not work-campers, not exactly ‘free spirits’, we don’t plan much, and we don’t seem to go to the kinds of places other full time RVers go or want to read about. We occasionally tent camp, seek out mud, hike to interesting places and put our lives at risk from time to time; We want to see fascinating nature and all over the US (and eventually the world); We love crazy off-road vehicles like the Unimog, and plan to be amazing, serious riders on our new Dual Sport bikes. There’s nothing wrong with typical RV life, and it can be argued that there is no “typical RV life” but I, more often than not, feel like we’re just not into the same things. I guess what makes us different from other RVers might make us interesting to some, but it may be that we’re not really RVers at all, but rather, something new?

When we found out about the Overland Expo we started to learn more about the Overland lifestyle and the types of people who define it. The overall feel of the lifestyle and what it represented hinted at a world we felt we might have some common ground on. We paid for the full event pass, the “Overland Experience”, and spent an evening reading about and registering for classes.  Overland travel is basically driving a vehicle or motorcycle across a country or continent and intentionally seeking out unfinished roads and surfaces – while being prepared and skilled enough to survive the ordeal with yourself and vehicle in one piece (or check out wikipedia). Typically the trip is about the journey rather than the destination, and usually involves camping and border crossings. 

The event featured such a huge variety of invaluable classes and panel discussions that it’s a little hard to explain them all. To get the full experience of the event you would really have to attend the event at least 3 times, each time being completely worth the cost and experience – once for 4wd classes, once for bike classes and one again for all the survival, gps training and travel advice (though you can sort of schedule a balanced dose of each). The short version is that there is a big focus on beginning and advanced classes and demos on Overland vehicle travel in the wild and/or foreign countries  – and everything you need to know that goes with that. For 4wd vehicles there were classes on recovering your vehicle from the mud, driving through water, tipping your vehicle back up if it rolls over, and several advanced terrain courses and demos for terrain. For bikes there were motorcycle skills classes with training on how to ride in dirt, a class with tips and “hacks” for fixing your bike in the middle of nowhere and an in depth maintenance class (and many more).

Motorcycle Maintenance Hacks Class
Motorcycle Maintenance Hacks with Alison DeLapp
Taylor Ranch
Taylor Ranch

When we arrived at the event on the first day, we hadn’t registered for any classes so we could walk around and check out the vendors and classroom layout. We walked at a snails pace gawking – giddy over the amazing Overland RVs, vans and popup rooftop tents, awestruck before we even reached the main hall. Not to mention the location itself is something to behold – we were greeted by two longhorns grazing in a field and miles of decades old wood fencing outlining the perfect green, rolling hills of Taylor Ranch. A private lake in the distance whose light bounces off and highlights the early morning fog in a way only a private lake can do, looked especially beautiful reflected in the windows of some of these extreme survival Overland vehicles and campers.

IMG_20141006_145233We attended several of the motorcycle classes, although, after our nearly hour long ride in 45 degree weather and 12mph winds – early in the morning on the second day of the event, I couldn’t stop shivering (apparently still under-dressed despite my efforts). Being extremely cold combined with a picky first gear issue on my new bike made me skip the actual skills half of the “Intro to Dirt” class. The techniques are different than my own “effective but inaccurate” self taught style and I would have liked to attend but instead had to stand in front of a campfire and drink a hot coffee until I didn’t feel like I had hypothermia. Ross, however, did take the skills half of the class, which ended up being gone for hours. I took the opportunity to fit in a ‘Narrative Story Telling’ class after I warmed up and learned some valuable tips from a professional documentary film maker and published photographer/writer, JoMarie Fecci, (an all round awesome woman basically).

Rawhyde Adventures
Rawhyde Adventures teaching the “Intro to Dirt” Class – http://www.rawhyde-offroad.com/

We walked in on several “Round Table” panel discussions in a huge pavilion on the property where experienced travelers, who had crossed continents with vehicles, answered any and all questions from people currently on or planning cross continent trips, panels on Mexico and Central America, South America and Africa and the Middle East. We sat in on a “Traveling Solo” class taught by two experienced motorcycle Overlanders and picked up ton of great advice there and I took a ‘Topographical Maps’ class while Ross took a ‘Basic Motorcycle Maintenance’ class since we wanted to take them both but they overlapped. Even though the class overlapped we were easily able to teach each other what we learned.

Ural 2wd Sidecar Bike
Ural 2wd Sidecar Bike

Whenever we could, we walked around the property and check out the vendors and vehicles, planning our own future trips and getting to know the gear and lifestyle. I think we’ve found, that even if we don’t fit into the globetrekking aspect so much just yet, we relate to the attitude about life, interest in off-roading/camping, and seriousness about skills, more than we do in the typical RVing world. So I suppose we’ve decided we’re some kind of slow paced US based Hybrid of Overlanders and RVers…maybe, OverlandeRVers? RVlanders?…or maybe we’re just wanabees…regardless, we’ve found a sort of calling and the Overland Expo was our first taste of the future we want.

Taylor Ranch - End of Expo
Taylor Ranch – End of Expo

 

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