Robert Edison Fulton was the first solo round-the-world motorcycle tourer. He made his worldwide trip on a two-cylinder Douglas motorcycle between July 1932 and December 1933, more or less 90 years ago. On his way from London to the colonial Middle East, Fulton crossed Nazi Germany. Some of the countries and places he passed do not exist anymore. Most have changed dramatically; others, not so much. I suspect, for example, that his adventures in Syria, Afghanistan, or at the Indian-Pakistani borders might have been written today.

Fulton was in his early twenties when he started his journey. The book was published only a few years later, in 1937. Stories were still fresh and not conditioned by the passing age. That is important because within the next decade the world would change forever. Take Japan. There he is greeted by a flock of enthusiast, merry motorcyclists who will accompany him across the country, celebrating the strong bond between the United States and the Rising Sun. In few years, the same situation will be inconceivable.

One Man Caravan book cover This book is not your typical motorcycle log. It is about stories, people, and societies more than routes, timetables, and usual motorcycle porn. The Author might happily skip thousands of miles across some undoubtedly incredible terrain just because he feels the urge to tell about that memorable encounter he had in Teheran or Tokyo or that otherwise small insignificant Malaysian village.

The tone is often naive and amusing. Even dramatic events are often narrated in a light, entertaining fashion. But make no mistake, this was a genuine adventure, filled with thrilling and dangerous moments. It is somewhat startling that the Author could cross so many God-forsaken places only to get his bike stolen when he was back home in New York. Thankfully he got it back one week later.

In few occurrences, a colonial attitude surfaces. That might sound jarring to the modern educated reader, but we have to put it all in context. After all, in 1932, Fulton was the offspring of a wealthy American family. He was studying in London when he left to explore the world in reply to a dare. Given the premise, I think he instead emerges as a curious, unassuming person who is willing to learn, understand and, of course, explore.

In the same years, Patrick Leigh Fermor, another young student, embarked on a similar journey. He went all the way across Europe down to Constantinople, on foot. Leigh Fermor memories are also available for your reading pleasure in a remarkable three-book series1. Together, the stories of these two fearless authors draw a great picture of an age when the world was still enormous and divided into many diverse, often isolated cultures and societies.

  1. First one being A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: from the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube. Browse some of his books in my reading list. [rss]: [tw]: [nl]: ↩︎