Same author, same trip, two very different books. That’s because Keith Thye took one trip in 1963, the other in 2013. They both begin on the West Coast, and they both end up at the tip of South America.
Back in January of 1962 Thye was in college, caught the travel bug, and decided he wanted to ride a motorcycle down to Chile, no mean feat in those years. He convinced a friend, Dave, to come along with him, so they both bought used BMW R50 models, spending the rest of the year earning money and preparing to take the trip. In January of 1963 they took off from Lake Oswego, Oregon, with a temperature of 25 degrees. And some minimalist camping gear; the photos of their decrepit pup tent show what these boys lived in. Their destination was Pucon, Chile, Lake Oswego’s sister city.
A couple of months later they were knocking at a cafe door at 11,300 feet in Costa Rica—on a very bad dirt road, probably the worst stretch of the Pan-American Highway in Central America. Thye describes the road as “similar to driving along the bottom of a swift creek, without the water. Already they had been subjected to sickness, accidents, breakdowns, and genially corrupt border guards. They get to Panama and find a ship that will take them to Buenaventura in Columbia.
Then things got interesting. More bad roads, bad weather, motorcycle problems—but these are two young men having the time of their lives. And did they look for the easy roads? Nope, they headed for the more interesting, like Peru’s infamous Central Highway in the Andes, much of it a one-lane dirt track. “Leaving Ayacucho, we covered 45 miles in just under five hours.” Later they got lost in the wasteland where the Peruvian, Bolivian, Chilean borders come together and were arrested as drug smugglers.
They were greeted warmly in Pucon, but were pretty darned broke. Fortunately they had prepaid tickets to get back to the US, leaving the Beemers to be shipped later. Six months after they left, they were back in Oregon. And 25 years later Thye decided to write a book about their trip; Moto Raid was originally published in 1990. He and his wife bought a BMW dealership and 20 years later he starts thinking about repeating his 1963 trip. His old riding buddy, Dave, is up for it, too. As are a few friends, who figure to do the 16,000-mile trip in 100 days.
Six people on six modern Beemers meet up in San Diego in January 2013, and head south, though not on the same roads as 50 years before. Familiarity comes at the Guatemalan border, with less corruption and far more bureaucracy. No camping for these upscale folk, as they are staying in nice hotels. And have GPS to guide them. A new restaurant is up high on the Costa Rican Pan-Am, as the old one had burnt down…and the road is now well-paved.
From Panama they fly themselves and their bikes into Bogata, Columbia, where customs keeps them held up for half a day. Traffic has increased greatly, and Latin drivers are not known for caring about the rules of the road. Minor accidents occur, nothing major. South of Lima, Peru, five of them decide to stay on the coastal Pan-Am Highway, while one heads off on the old Central Highway, which he describes as “three days in hell.” In Bolivia they visit places Thye had not been to 50 years before, but the goal was again Pucon—now grown into a major tourist destination with more than 100 hotels. This time they are going to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to fly home. Eight days before departure Dave loses to a truck while in a traffic circle, and spends several days in a hospital, the only major injury of the two trips. But all fly home, and bikes are crated and follow. Good fun, good reading, and might convince a few people to head south. The two-book set, in a sleeve, is $24.95 plus shipping and handling from keithsrides.com.