Traveling Through Life on a BMW

Traveling through Life on a BMW

By Troy Henkels

My Dad had a 1965 BMW (R60 to be exact) motorcycle when I was born. By the time I was two years old, I was riding. I thought it was neat, that motorcycle, big and black and fast. I guess my love for motorcycles started at a very young age, or maybe it’s just in my genes. In the summer of 1969, my Dad took the family on rides to my Grandpa’s timber, which was below Super 20, the old drive-in theatre on highway 20. At that time there were five in our family. Since I was smallest I’d be the first on the bike, up front on the tank, holding onto the cross bar of the handlebars. Then came my Dad, driving and holding onto me. My middle brother, Todd was behind Dad. My Mom was next, holding onto Todd and Dad, and then my oldest brother Terry, behind my Mom, and really holding on. We were stacked on the bike for the ride, and who ever heard of helmets back then anyway? In the saddle bags we’d have a little grill, and all the fixings for a picnic. We’d ride out to my Grandpas timber for the day to have lunch and play in the woods. Oddly, I don’t remember the ride, but I do remember the picnics and being in the woods, so maybe my love for the outdoors started at a young age as well.

Today, I wish I had a picture of the five of us on that bike, but I don’t, nor does my Father. There is a picture of my brothers, Terry and Todd on the bike though, so I do know what the bike looked like. My Mom died of cancer that winter and Dad sold the bike a few years later. When I asked about this from a crisp 4:00am morning in Alaska to my Dad in Iowa, he said he sold it because, well, he didn’t ride it anymore. Apparently managing three boys on the bike, alone, was a bit much. Well, I hadn’t considered that when I asked. My Dad was 36 then, just about the same age as I am now, by a few years.

Now, I own a BMW motorcycle (1998 1100 GS, to be exact). I don’t know if it is just coincidence or if it was inevitable that I own one. It was never really my plan to have a BMW. I don’t remember much about my Dad’s bike so it wasn’t like I had a love affair with BMWs because of that. I had even sort of forgotten about my Dad owning that BMW during my childhood, but over the years, because of a few pictures, I always remembered that big black bike and the shiny BMW logo. Well, my bike is red, and it does have that shiny logo, and I bet if I tried I could fit five on it.

How I came to owning this motorcycle started innocent enough. I was visiting my friend Doug in Washington State two summers ago and he started telling me about his latest trip plans. He and a friend were going to ride their BMWs from Oregon to Tierra Del Fuego…the southern tip of South America. I was dumbfounded at the thought of being able to ride from North America to South America and very intrigued. Doug was a bit put off at that time because his riding partner had broken his back in a kite surfing accident and they had to postpone the trip for a year. On a warm fall afternoon, he let me take his motorbike for a ride, which only spurred me on with more questions about this epic motorcycle journey he had planned. Doug, knowing my passion for adventure and far away places lured me in by saying, “well, if you get a bike, you could come along”.

Always one to seize opportunities, I needed no further coaxing. When I arrived back in Alaska I immediately started looking at motorcycles online. I found one near where my brother lives in Arizona. He went to take a look and for a test drive and a few weeks later, I bought it. I was the new owner of a BMW motorbike. One that would hopefully make the long haul to the Southern continent and back, safely and without incident. Time will tell and that story will come at another time.

So for the better part of the past year, I’ve been outfitting the bike for a long overland journey. New hard case saddlebags, reinforced parts, GPS, etc, etc. The list is endless what could be done to prepare a motorcycle for three months on the open road. The big challenge has been getting the bike set up, that is in my brother’s garage in Arizona, while I’m in Alaska. I did go there last spring and ride it at least, and do some prep work to get ready. I’ve ridden motorcycles all my life, but it feels odd to be embarking on such a long trip on a bike that I’ve ridden less than 200 miles. I will certainly be relying on my riding experience from the younger years in my life.

In August, Doug’s original riding partner broke his back again, this time in a paragliding accident. The trip was almost postponed another year. In the end, after some discussion, it was decided that, the two of us should proceed as planned. I was glad for that, even though I would have waited for a year to go. But I also know that life is short and opportunities such as this don’t come around too often. In a year’s time, a lot could change, with Doug or me that could further delay or even forever cancel a departure.

So for now, the bikes are tuned and ready. Bags are packed and in early November, Doug and I will point the motorbikes south. We hope to reach Tierra Del Fuego, but also realize a lot can happen on the road. As with most things life, it’s the journey that is the important part. We don’t anticipate an easy trip, but it will be one rich in adventure, unknowns, and foreign cultural. Three months on the road should certainly provide some interesting experiences. And though there won’t be five of us on this BMW, thoughts of the old days on my Dad’s motorbike will certainly ride with me.

For pictures and updates from the road visit

Troy Henkels lives in Eagle River, Alaska. He is a native of Dubuque, a 1985 graduate of Wahlert High School. He writes about his adventures and experiences from around the world. Copyright 2006 Troy Henkels