For the Ride contributor and editor of Asphalt & Dirt, Aaron Heinrich, meets his long-time hero at Overland Expo West in Arizona.
“An adventure can’t just be about risk. Skiing is risky, but going skiing is not an adventure.”
Ted Simon (right), the godfather of long distance motorcycle travel, is explaining to a rapt audience at what point a routine ride becomes an adventure. His definition is simple yet compelling. “A trip becomes an adventure if it allows you to change your perspective about something or it gets you away from expectations, habits and customary behaviour. You have to make yourself vulnerable or it won’t have that effect. When you do, then that truly becomes an adventure,” he tells his rapt disciples.
Ted made his first circumnavigation of the world on his ‘Transworld Trumpet’ Tiger 100 in 1973, covering 103,000km and 45 countries, which is still a major attraction wherever riders gather. This time it was this year’s Overland Expo West near Flagstaff in Arizona.
Aaron takes up the story: “Getting here was an adventure in itself and as I pulled into the parking lot I’d ticked off two of Ted’s criteria without realising it. I’d left the norm behind and felt uneasy as I checked out the jacked-up campers, lifted pickups and what can only be described as post-apocalyptic vehicles in the exhibit area.”
Travelling from home in northern California through cold mountain passes and 30-plus mph crosswinds on the high desert after a Las Vegas stopover left Aaron uncomfortable but not discouraged: “Had I known on the way there what I later heard from Ted I’d have embraced it all the more.”
First impressions on arrival were that the event attracts people who have made adventure a lifestyle and those who take it to heart on long weekends or extended vacations: “However, self-contained for some appears to mean taking as much civilization as possible in whatever space you can afford. That’s a luxury we on two wheels neither want nor crave.”
“Learning… might help me determine just how adventurous I was or wanted to be”
He adds: “After checking in, I head to the free motorcycle camping area, a nice level spot in a grove of pines and soft grass where I’ll pitch a tent and call home for the next three nights and four days. At just over 6,900 feet up, the temperature starts to drop two hours before sunset and I’m no longer cursing the extra weight my tent and sleeping bag added to my bike.”
With more than 300 exhibitors, scores of classes covering a wide assortment of topics, and two nights of adventure-related short movies and a feature, Aaron’s options ere varied, but he admits: “I wanted to be sure to hear the man behind the classic Jupiter’s Travels book, a figure who has inspired many an adventure rider since. Learning something from the man who helped define adventure travel might help me determine just how adventurous I was or wanted to be.”
Surprisingly Ted’s opening gambit is that the word ‘adventure’ never crossed his mind to describe his round-the-globe travels. His journey was born from a desire to find out about the world and was influenced by H. Rider Haggard who wrote King Solomon’s Mine and Aesha in the late 1800s, and Henry Pottinger, a 20-something British Army officer who was tasked in the early 1800s with finding a route through the Himalayas that could be blocked by the British to prevent the French and later the Russians from establishing a foothold in India. Haggard’s books fuelled Simon’s imagination and Pottinger’s exploits sparked his curiosity.
“I realise I have a long way to go to taste adventure”
Aaron says: “His message about changing perspective and vulnerability came on my last full day, and it was probably a good thing otherwise I might have been tempted to head out early feeling like I’d learned the most important takeaway from this event. I realise now that I have a long way to go before this trip or many I’d taken earlier could be classified as a real adventure. I realised I really needed to put myself out there even further and I was ready to do it right then and there.
“As I packed up to get back on the road, my lack of a bed for a few days, eating freeze dried stew or food truck breakfast burritos, and taking a cold shower in a standup pod hadn’t changed my perspective. I was slightly more vulnerable due to riding on unfamiliar roads, but I was riding in a familiar country and had a smartphone if I got lost. I realised that while this trip may have been neither an adventure nor tourism, it was a learning experience and a bit of an escape from the routine.
“I headed down the road determined to make my next trip be so much more… perhaps one that would fit Ted Simon’s definition, or at least come close.”
For Aaron’s book, Asphalt & Dirt, click here.