These days, taking a motorcycle trip around the world still has its perils, but is almost a coming of age type thing for the adventure motorcyclist. It has its dangers, but most places have a healthy infrastructure, and the journeys are almost always completed with full color photos and usually some video commentary as well.
Rewind to 1924, on an air-cooled longitudinally mounted, horizontally opposed Douglas 500cc (unconfirmed) twin, capable of six horsepower and suspension to rival an old horse-drawn buggy. Add non-existent roads to the majority of the journey, a film camera with 4,000 feet of film and the only space that is left is for an extra shirt and a tooth brush. Proper adventure is in the air!
To impress a lady over dinner, Mr. Fulton decided to ride back to the US, his birthplace and home, from Britain, on a motorcycle around the world on a whim. Having just finishing his studies at the School of Architecture in the University of Vienna, I guess he was one of those who liked to go out with a bang. This would become the very first circum-navigation of the world by motorcycle.
The book is a tremendous read for two distinct reasons. The first reason is to see the world as it was in 1924. The mind-set was very different. Tough was defined by those willing to grin and bare and not by the clothes they wore, nor the size of their muscles. Time was measured in weeks and hours at the finest, not the minutes and seconds of today. Class, breeding, education and high-falutin living could be found most anywhere, if one knew where to look; Fulton always knew where to look. However, some times it was nowhere to be found, and the inside of jail cells or motels would suffice as sleeping quarters. More often than not it happened to be the same place. The ground did fine as well. Real quality was still known – metal and leather.
And so, the book is as much a story being told as it is an epic or myth teaching proper morals and values. For goodness sakes, real gentlemen, the types who parade in tuxedos at white-glove dinner parties on week-end evenings were the dandies who rode motorcycles. The motorcycle hadn’t been adopted as the poor man’s transportation, neither the hooligan rebel’s expression of freedom. Still in it’s infancy, the motorcycle was a toy for the financially elite!
The second reason for this book’s tantalizing read is the vernacular used within, and the values of times gone past. Call it culture if you want. The difference between American (English) and British (English) was much smaller, and among those who had money (and those who were sent to school by their parents’ money), the culture was very similar. Although the Brits might protest, it seems the heir of a business tycoon (Fulton Jr.), moved among the same circles as freely as did the blue-bloods and royalty.
However, although this book reflects such frivolity it’s not what it’s about! It is concerned with adventure!
Fulton’s adventure starts in England and traces the route east through the middle east, the far east, Indonesia and Japan, and then across the United States back to New York. So, technically, although this is a circumnavigation of the globe by motorcycle and motorcycle-on-a-boat, Fulton never steps a foot in Central or Southern America, Australia, or in Africa much. This will become a reasonable concern for those to follow in his steps, luckily, leaving something more to achieve. Nobody likes a show-off…. Or do they?
However, this is the first trip around the world on a motorcycle, and as such is a must read for anyone even mildly intrigued in what it took for this daring adventure to be completed.
Fulton’s experiences, observations and commentary leave a great deal to the imagination due to his dry-at-times writing style. For instance, while traveling through Arabia[sic], he comments on riding through a valley with marksmen on either side in such a way as to give the reader no alarm. Having read this section, I felt I missed something and I re-read it. Hey, what do you know, I did miss something! This fellow was in very real danger of losing his life. This, don’t-make-a-fuss-about-nothing, or sometimes something, is the quintessential synopsis of the book. Have no fear, and life will reward. This was no small feat, and through this journey Fulton realizes just what fear is, and how silly the concept seems in the end. In the grand scheme of things, there will always be somebody who could harm or rob a traveler, but very rare is the instance that this might actually happen.
People around the world want the same thing we all want – a reasonable existence. He finds gratitude, honor, help, pleasure and prosperity everywhere, in various quantities along with poverty and violence. In other words, being afraid is just silly. Through these discoveries he passes from being a boy fresh out of scholar-hood, into becoming a man filled with a zest of life equaled only by the likes of Olympic athletes or classic Greek heroes.
After the 18 month trip, Fulton went on to become an inventor with quite a few contraptions for the military, a businessman, a philanthropist and a generally stand-up guy. He died in 2004 at age 95 leaving behind a legacy so great that most people don’t even realize it’s probably a part of their daily lives. Mr. Robert Edison Fulton Jr. completely earned his long name, and included titles. He was one of the all time, unknown greats, whom I would have liked to shake hands with. Unfortunately, I had to settle for a great read.