50 Years Apart

Northwest buddies take two motorcycle trips to South America
September 1, 2017 at 8:45 p.m.
(left) Dave and Keith at the beginning of their six month, 25,000-mile 1963 trip. This was one of the first recorded motorcycle trips through the Americas. 
(right) 50 years later, Keith and Dave at the equator in Ecuador. Keith is standing in the Southern hemisphere and Dave is in the Northern hemisphere
(left) Dave and Keith at the beginning of their six month, 25,000-mile 1963 trip. This was one of the first recorded motorcycle trips through the Americas. (right) 50 years later, Keith and Dave at the equator in Ecuador. Keith is standing in the Southern hemisphere and Dave is in the Northern hemisphere

During his early college days, Keith Thye thought about taking an adventure – preferably one that few people had done before. He and his friend Dave Yaden began planning a six-month, 25,000-mile motorcycle trip from Portland, Oregon to Pucon, Chile. It was a cold day in January 1963 when the two of them set out on a pair of R50 BMW motorcycles.

It had taken over a year to plan the trip, consuming much of their freshman and sophomore years of college. They needed to acquire the proper passports, visas, insurance, customs documents, maps, health certificates and customs bonds to allow the bikes into South America, plus earn enough money for the trip. Research did not provide much help in planning as there was hardly any information for this unique adventure.

Keith and Dave put college on hold for a year and prepared for their trip of a lifetime. There was no precedent they could find for this journey…they were embarking into the unknown. It was a frugal trip, costing a total of $1,200 apiece.

Nearly every night of their six month journey was spent sharing a pup tent, which was state of the art in 1963

Almost every night was shared in a small pup tent and many meals consisted of beans and sardines out of a can. They took a water purification devise on the trip that was not completely reliable; consequently, frequent periods of illness accompanied the two. The Pan American Highway through Central and South America was, at times, as dusty as driving down a dry stream bed. Breakdowns required ingenious, creative fixes. Throw in a few accidents and this truly was an adventure for the young at heart.

Despite the fun, there were times of peril as well, such as when they were thrown in a Peruvian jail for three days as suspected drug smugglers. Through it all, however, the two intrepid travelers had the time of their lives. They knew that this trip would be a highlight of their lives and were determine to enjoy every minute of it, regardless of the difficulties and obstacles.

Fast forward 50 years and life finds Keith and Dave enjoying the fruits of successful careers. Now 70, they decide that to complete their earlier experience they need to essentially repeat the same trip. This time, however, is different. Along with four others, all on modern BMW motorcycles, they embarked in January of 2013 on a 100-day, 16,000-mile journey primarily following the trip of 50 years prior. This time was more accommodating: hotels (they did not even take camping equipment), eating in restaurants and riding new machines with very few breakdowns.

Blazing a trail through the Bolivian altiplano at 14,000 feet, Keith and Dave encountered roads that had been abandoned many years before

The comparisons between the two trips is startling. Then, the roads were dirt almost the entire way with bridges over only the largest rivers. Now, the Pan American Highway is mostly paved with bridges over the river crossings. But the biggest difference is in communications. Back then, letters to and from home, mailed from the American embassies in each country, were the means of getting information passed, usually requiring a month in turn-around time. Now, technology allows instantaneous communication with cell phones, computers and tablets, FaceTime and Skype.

In 1963, 50 rolls of 36 exposure film had to be carried and sent back in batches. Today, digital cameras allow for immediate review and can be sent around the world in just a few minutes. Maps of Central and South America were not very accurate in 1963. Today, GPS can lead a traveler through the most complex of cities anywhere in the world.

The 1963 trip was one of the very first recorded motorcycle trips through the Americas. Repeating the trip 50 years later put another mark in the record book.

Keith Thye lives in Ruston (Tacoma) and Dave Yaden continues to reside in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Keith recorded their adventures in two books about the trips. "Moto Raid" (Spanish for Motorcycle Ride) is about the first adventure. "Ride On – Moto Raid II" is about the second trip and compares the two and the differences that 50 years made. The two-book set can be seen at www.keithsrides.com.

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