Ride on: A tale of two journeys
On Jan. 26, 1963, Keith Thye and David Yaden mounted their BMW R50s and headed for South America. The two 20-year-old Lake Oswego men were destined for Pucon, Chile — a city that had begun a sister city relationship with their hometown just a couple years prior.
Over the next several months and nearly 16,000 miles, Thye and Yaden faced trials of almost insurmountable difficulty. Weather, mechanical problems, border crossings and dysentery were only a few of the trials and tribulations they faced during their journey.
Fifty years later, at age 70, the men replicated their 1963 adventure, but this time they were cruising in style.
The tales of Thye and Yaden's conquering of the Pan-American Highway are commemorated in Thye's book, "Moto Raid," published in 1990. But now, Thye has compiled a second book, published earlier this year, comparing and contrasting the differences between the pair's first and second trips in a new volume explaining the "whole story."
"This was a true adventure," Thye says. "We hadn't heard of anyone taking this kind of trip before."
Crossing into Mexico from the United States three weeks after leaving Lake Oswego, the tenor of the pair's trip changed almost instantaneously.
"We weren't scared, but we were definitely very anxious," Yaden says. "We didn't have any real money to speak of or much of anything. We'd been told we needed to be careful of bandits. It was anxiety provoking."
Thye outlines three major differences in between the two journeys, the first being the roads.
While it was hardly Interstate 5, the Pan American Highway in 2013 was mostly paved and flat. In 1963, Yaden and Thye were on dirt roads about 80 percent of their trip. The improvement in infrastructure during the 50 years between trips was an incredible sight for the two overlanders.
The second difference was the improvement in their bikes. The 1958 model of the BMW R50 is a classic and timeless bike, but it had its flaws.
Thye and Yaden recall a scene from southern Mexico where Thye's clutch went out. For three days and 100 miles through a section of Guatemala known as the El Tapon landslide area, Yaden was forced to tow Thye and his bike.
"We were all right as long as we were going uphill," Thye says laughingly. "When we got some slack in the line is where we started to have problems."
The second trip wasn't held up quite as much by mechanical failures. Both riding atop state-of-the-art F-Series BMW dual-sport bikes with fuel-injected motors created a much easier engine to work with, and the overall design of the motorcycle's shocks created a much smoother ride.
Accordingly, riding equipment including jackets, helmets and pants had made huge leaps and bounds over the past 50 years creating a more comfortable experience in general.
The third and most stark contrast to their original trip was in their communications. In 1963, the two men sometimes waited several weeks before they could retrieve mail from an embassy along their route and return messages to people back home. In 2013, with applications like Skype and FaceTime, communicating was instantaneous. They also were able to upload photos from the trip as soon as they stopped riding for the day compared to having to wait until they returned to the United States to get their 60 mm film processed. The advent of credit cards also proved to be a huge benefit during the second trip.
"The first trip was a true adventure. It was hard, even if we had state-of-the-art equipment and more money, it would have been hard. It was very arduous," Yaden says. "The 50-year experience had adventuresome moments, but it was more of an enjoyable tour."
The initial trip by the two Lake Oswego men was, and remains to this day, one of the longest overland rides completed by an American motorcyclist. At the time, there was no one else attempting such a long and treacherous journey.
Today, Thye and his wife Ann own a BMW dealership and reside in Tacoma. Yaden — who still lives in Lake Oswego — is retired after a long career in public affairs and politics.
The two keep in touch still and often recount tales of their adventures to each other and family members. For Yaden, Thye's documenting of their South American escapades provides a lasting legacy of the pair's exploits.
"(The reason) I'm so thankful to Keith for doing this is because of my kids and grandkids. My kids love these books, and I'm not sure if they ever would have believed me had I tried to tell them this story," Yaden says. "(The books) are a treasure to my kids, and for that I'll be forever grateful to him."
For more information or to purchase Thye's set of books, visit Keithsrides.com.