To walk alongside a hero is a dream; to walk alongside an icon is extraordinary. Several years back, when I first introduced myself to Ted Simon, I found myself stumbling over my own tongue, eager to not sound so obtuse. I had not an inkling that this first fumbled introduction would lead to a unique friendship, one full of good food, good wine and fine conversation.
It was an adventure in and of itself just getting to Ted’s that final weekend in March. Several feet of slush and ice stretching over 100 yards prevented Terry and I from maneuvering the bikes up and over the final 1,500 feet of Forest Road 7. Even if we did get the bikes through, we couldn’t chance the many more roadblocks that may put our safety at risk. With helmets hung in defeat, we made the decision to turn back and go around the mountain range. There was no choice. Fortunately, we had a host that understood these kinds of setbacks.
Ted greeted us with a hearty grin and apologies that he couldn’t give us a hug at the moment. Seems he had been at work shelling some local crab for our meal’s first course. The man does enjoy feeding his guests. Terry and I were wonderfully surprised as another of our adventurous friends, Andrea, greeted us as we entered Ted’s home. It seems that Ted had put her to work as well on the tedious shelling project. Only in her early 60s, Andrea has nearly as many stories as Ted when it comes to navigating a motorcycle around the globe. It was such a treat to have her there as well! Terry and I unloaded and settled in to help with the meal prep and wine pouring. There’s something about being at Ted’s place that makes you feel like you’re with family. It’s that comfort in knowing that you can be yourself without being judged.
We settled in nicely at the kitchen table, a growing spread of local fare lay before us. As we noshed on crab, avocado and local cheeses, I was eager to pick Ted’s brain on a variety of topics. In case you missed it, Ted took off again at the age of 69 on a 1997 BMW R80GS, retracing his tracks from his first voyage. Before landing at Ted’s, I had reread Riding High, the follow-up to Jupiter’s Travels. This book held so many stories that were not shared in the first book. I found this compilation of tales to be a much more personal side of his first journey. The stories centered on the impending birth of his son, the purchase of his beloved land and his newly found fame as a man fresh off an enormous adventure. I had to ask about it. “This was a very long journey,” Ted confirmed. “It took four years. You can’t imagine being able to cover even a tiny fraction of it in a book. I learned so much more tucked away in these notes, whole long accounts of things that happened. Lots of personal stuff that’s very interesting; reflections of what I was doing, why I was doing it, what would people think of it. There’s a lot of stuff, something for the curators to salivate over for years to come.”
As Ted filled our bowls with his homemade beef stew, I asked him his thoughts on the differences between his two round-the-world (RTW) treks with regard to religion and government. I was especially curious about Sudan and Egypt. “They were very different the two times,” Ted began. “Of course, what’s come of them both was that Egypt was a virtual dictatorship and most people in Egypt were desperately poor and had struggled really hard just to stay alive. Anybody who had any kind of affluence at all, all the professional people, were scared out of their heads about what might be done to them. It was really heavy. It was much more noticeable in Egypt than in Libya. People tortured and shot by the thousands in both countries. I suppose because Libya wasn’t so crowded, and also, people in Libya were better off, because whatever else Gadhafi didn’t do, he did spread money around. So the trouble and problem with Libya was that there were thousands of young men with nothing to do but they could survive, whereas in Egypt, they could not survive at all. School classrooms had 200 to a class. Can you imagine trying to learn in a classroom of 200 kids?”
I shook my head in disbelief. “It was just a holding tank really for kids. If the parents wanted their children to have any kind of education, they would have to pay the teacher to do it after school. But then the problem was just getting to work. The work was in the city and the people couldn’t afford to live in the city, so they were a long way away from the center of the city. Take the daily commute to the Bay Area and multiply it by 10.” These were the stories I wanted to hear from the man himself. A short silence hovered over the table, all of us attempting to digest stories such as these, taking note of how privileged we were.
With Ted, there is no rush to end an evening of food, wine and thriving conversation. After several hours of nonstop food and storytelling, Ted presented his final foodie achievement – crème brulee with a wonderfully thick caramel topping. We all tapped the tops of our desserts in an anxious attempt to taste Ted’s first foray into such a dessert. It was deemed a success. We ate until we could no longer move and stayed up until we could no longer keep our eyes open. Was it really close to midnight? We bid each other good night and made our way into our respective rooms with a promise from Ted of another home-cooked meal in the morning.
The next morning at dawn, I made my way downstairs and was immediately greeted by a view of his beloved valley. Standing at the kitchen window, I gazed out onto the lush grounds that surrounded his home. I tiptoed outside to listen to the birds greet the day with their song, the sun attempting to peek its first ray over the hillside. I then understood why this place held such a special place in Ted’s life. It truly was magical.
I came back in to find Andrea brewing the first round of coffee and Ted readying himself for the day. As we ate breakfast, the stories continued. Ted is currently working on yet another book, this one filled with the never before published pictures of his journeys. I asked when he had hoped to have it ready for the masses. “August, I'm hoping,” said the author. “It will be more of a coffee table book.” I’m sure it will find a place on my table. As we cleaned up after the meal, Ted and I stood shoulder-to-shoulder, taking in the valley view. “You know, I built this place myself,” he said quite proudly, a witty smile spreading across his face. Yes, Mr. Simon, I know.
Our final moments were spent walking the grounds of his homestead. Ted took us through his expansive garden, sharing the history of the small homes that dotted the property. “That was just the basic 16x32 cabin,” he said pointing to the first home he had built for his family. “And then, some time had gone, and everything’s been done to it to make it more habitable. It was very quick. That house I built for my mother,” he said, pointing to the small house on the north side of the property. “I didn’t build it; a friend of mine is a contractor and built it. It was to be done fairly quickly and I just helped around. We designed it together.” Currently, two local families rent the little cabins, their young ones giggling and playing outside under the massive oak trees as we walked the pathways.
It was late morning and the time had come for Terry and I to swing a leg over and head out. The smallest member of our trio was eagerly awaiting our return home. Ted gave us both a warm hug, making us promise to visit again very soon. He really does enjoy his company. As Terry and I climbed out of valley, taking in the twists and turns that paralleled the Eel River, I reflected on the tales from the last 24 hours. There was a lot to take in, and it was going to take some time to process. There’s something special about spending time with Ted. Sure, you may consider Ted Simon the patriarch of adventure motorcycle travel. But for me, he is truly a friend.
Learn more about Ted, and his Foundation, HERE!