Glen Heggstad: Adventure motorcyclist, travel writer and all-around fascinating human being

This senior citizen is still cruising through life on the edge, right where the view is best

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Glen Heggstad rests in the Roman ruins at Palmyra, Syria

Glen Heggstad rests in the Roman ruins at Palmyra, Syria (since been destroyed by ISIS). — Photo courtesy Glen Heggstad

Many people have an item that they take with them everywhere they go. They couldn’t leave the house without it. For most, a smartphone is essential to have on them at all times. For Glen Heggstad, it’s his bike.

“I’ve never been anywhere that I didn’t wish I was on my bike,” Heggstad said. “It didn’t make sense to travel the world any other way.”

So why travel the world in the first place? For Heggstad, it’s a combination of gasoline, blood and an inspirational book.

“Aside from being a motorcycle fanatic with Norwegian Viking blood pumping through my veins, genetically predisposing me to wander, reading Jack Kerouac’s On the Road further set my spirit ablaze—as it does when rereading it every few years,” he said.

International man of mystery

Trying to pin down who Heggstad is is as tricky as trying to find him in the same place twice—he defies description and he doesn’t stay still for long. In an attempt to encapsulate Heggstad, the California native can be accurately described as any of the following: adventure motorcyclist/outlaw biker, martial arts expert, former Hell’s Angel, motivational speaker, travel writer/author and all-around fascinating human being.

“I retired at 17 to become a professional bum and nothing has changed,” Heggstad said. “So far so good.”

Glen Heggstad spun his wheels a few times as the first biker to circle the entire island of Borneo on two wheels.

Glen Heggstad spun his wheels a few times as the first biker to circle the entire island of Borneo on two wheels. — Photo courtesy Glen Heggstad

Since his days as a rebellious teenager, the now 65-year-old Heggstad has travelled across more than 50 primarily developing countries from Siberia to Africa via the Middle East and Latin America.

Taking a trip of this magnitude can be daunting for even the most enthusiastic bikers. Heggstad advises not to sweat it, though. For starters, just take it slow.

“Essentially it’s best to start small and expand,” he said. “A few rides south of the border to discover the magic of adventure-moto travel will dispel the myths enough to alleviate any trepidation and inspire a greater examination of our species. Plenty of stuff to worry about but it’s best to keep our eye on the road and not on the ditch. Great powers aid those who struggle hard. Keep in mind that the further we venture from our comfort zone, the greater the growth. In terms of danger or life in general, the view is always better closer to the edge. Anticipate weaving your way through a giant tapestry of astounding cultures where you’ll have the opportunity to marvel at our similarities and celebrate our differences.”

Those willing to travel the world via motorcycle will get to see unique locales, such as this Laotian village.

Those willing to travel the world via motorcycle will get to see unique locales, such as this Laotian village. — Photo courtesy Glen Heggstad

Supply(ies) and demand (ask nicely)

This whole travelling around the world on a motorcycle gig sounds pretty sweet, right? So what do you need to have to start out your adventure? As it turns out, not much.

“You need way less than you start with,” Heggstad said. “Everyone jettisons half the gear they start out with during the first month on the road. If you break a motorcycle part, look for a local lathe operator to make a new one.”

Squeezing handlebars and penning pages

A couple of the limited supplies Heggstad brought along for the journey were a laptop and camera to “document the lunacy.” It’s a good thing he did, too. Heggstad is quite the storyteller, as captured in his two books, Two Wheels Through Terror and One More Day Everywhere: Crossing 50 Borders on the Road to Global Understanding.

“When returning to the West, people had so many questions,” Heggstad said. “One in particular frequently popped up, ‘Do you have any regrets?’ To which I replied, ‘Yes, that I didn’t stay One More Day Everywhere.’ ”

Both books were written in journal form as recorded at the end of every day and then edited professionally by Heggstad’s publisher after he combined them into book form.

Fake news

Besides the enriching experiences you’ll have along your round-the-world trip, the journey itself is a form of medicine.

Glen Heggstad took a casual break in Red Square outside of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, Russia.

Glen Heggstad took a casual break in Red Square outside of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, Russia. — Photo courtesy Glen Heggstad

“A ride around the world becomes the antidote to the six o’clock news,” said Heggstad. “Almost nothing we see on American TV is true. In fact, often once we arrive in areas widely reported about in the media we eventually realize that what we are fed in the Western press is diametrically opposed to the truth. As a species, we still like each other far more than is reported. To elaborate further would violate my self-imposed restriction on political commentary. Governments may not get along but people do.”

Decisions, decisions . . .

Figuring out which motorcycle to take on the journey is one of the more open-ended decisions to undertaking this journey. Following in Heggstad’s treadmarks is a tricky proposition. Heggstad rode Harleys for 30 years, then switched to a few Japanese sport bikes, including a Kawasaki KLR 650 for South America and then to a BMW 650 Dakar, which he rode around the world.

“I developed a deep love and respect for my trusty little BMW 650 Dakar,” he said.

Two wheels can take you anywhere in the world, including Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

Two wheels can take you anywhere in the world, including Angkor Wat, Cambodia. — Photo courtesy Glen Heggstad

But the make of the bike isn’t nearly as important as simply owning one.

“Never sell your motorcycle, and if you don’t have one yet, buy one tomorrow,” said Heggstad.

More than just the scenery

Seeing exquisite locales at the far reaches of planet Earth should be reason enough for anyone to want to hop on a bike and explore the great unknown. But, as Heggstad explained, the most enjoyable part of a trip of this nature isn’t the vibrations you feel under your butt, it’s the people you meet along the journey.

“The entire journey was not just fun—more like fascinating to the tenth power,” he said. “The best story of the journey was the incredible hospitality offered in virtually every corner of the planet. It’s the people who have the least who share the most.”

Glen Heggstad gave local youngsters motorcycle rides upon arrival at a Malawi village.

Glen Heggstad gave local youngsters motorcycle rides upon arrival at a Malawi village. — Photo courtesy Glen Heggstad

One of Heggstad’s favourite memories during his trip was while he was immersing himself with the locals in Omo Valley, Ethiopia.

“Camping out on the African savannah with spear-toting, naked natives dancing around a campfire at night was like rocketing back in time and sensing the pulse of humankind,” he said.

You’re not likely to experience something this radical while riding down, say, the Trans-Canada Highway.

Now is the time

If you’re not convinced to hop on a bike and travel by now, you’re not likely to go at all.

“Stop procrastinating and just go,” said Heggstad. “Set a date and don’t let anything get in your way. There will always be dozens of reasons—excuses—not to embark on a challenge. As we say in martial arts, ‘If you accept one excuse you’ll accept them all.’ ”


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