Vol. XIII No. 25
Friday June 24 - June 30, 2005

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Local Personalities

Glen Heggstad - the motorcycling rebel turned pacifist

by Dr. Iain Corness

After 17 years, Glen Heggstad returns to Pattaya, this time on his BMW motorcycle on his four year journey to ride around the world. He is a man who has fought his way through life, has been captured by Colombian rebels, read Jack Kerouac’s book “On the Road” and hit the road himself the next day, motorcycled across the Gobi desert and now sees himself as raising world awareness to the fact that under our skins, all people are the same, and it is governments that try to make us different.

With his Nordic blonde hair and blue eyes, plus his height and a surname of Heggstad, you could be excused if you thought he was Norwegian; however, he is American, having been born in San Mateo California. “But I was conceived in Norway, and my parents were Norwegian,” said Glen by way of explanation.

He also inherited another characteristic from the Norwegian gene pool - Glen was a fighter and hell raiser. By the time he was 13 years old, he was showing an independent streak that nobody could break (or even tame), despite several visits to the headmaster’s office. “It was total rebellion,” said Glen. “I left home at 13. I had to make my own way. I wanted to play by my own rules. My father said, ‘Fine’ and placed a boot up my ass!”

He drifted through a series of foster placements and juvenile homes until he left all forms of education and, in his words, “I kinda bummed around on a motorcycle. Worked sometimes as a bodyguard, or in security. I didn’t have any thoughts about a career. I never figured on living past 25!”

It was during this time that he watched the memorable film “Easy Rider” with Peter Fonda and Denis Hopper, and was impressed, as were all of us way back then. However, we were voyeurs, but Glen lived the roles. It was also then that he read the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac’s book. “I read it, and the next morning put my thumb up and hitchhiked to New Orleans.”

As he grew older he bummed around the world, including a brief time in Thailand 17 years ago. He gravitated even more to contact sports. “I liked full contact fighting. Judo is the real thing. I just loved to fight. You train for months and then get in the ring.” I asked Glen if he was always a winner, but he had his defeats. “You learn more from defeat than you do from victory. You just keep hammering away until you win. Until I became a champion.” And if anybody feels like taking him on, he has had 300 fights in the ring. Won several titles in judo around seven years ago and the world titles, back to back, in the Brazilian Ju-Jitsu Internationals four years ago.

Despite Ju-Jitsu skills, they did not do him much good against loaded machine guns in Colombia. Typical of Glen, he decided, on a whim, to ride to Colombia in 2001, during their civil war, only to find himself staring down the barrels of machine guns aimed squarely at him. He was dragged off his motorcycle and into the jungle where he was tortured and interrogated for five weeks by a mobile guerilla force. On two cups of rice a day he was marched through the jungle, while his captors waited for word that somebody was missing him, so they could make ransom demands. Unfortunately for them, or fortunately for Glen, nobody did, so he was released in a prisoner exchange after five weeks. “One of the worst things your family can do in a hostage situation is to go on TV and plead for your release. It just makes your captors even more certain that they will keep you to increase the ransom stakes.”

After his own release, he was heartened by a call from one of his friends who said, “Don’t worry, Bro, another bike is on the way!” That was enough for Glen and he decided that what he really wanted to do was to ride around the world and meet what he calls the “real people”. He returned to America and systematically sold everything he had. “The ride became a mission at that point. Everyone said ‘Don’t go’ and mentioned terrorism, but this was something I had to do. I wanted to meet the people (of the world) and get to know the ‘real people’ and then show the world how it is.”

He hopped on the bike and rode through Central America and then returned to California, where the Dealers Advertising Group (DAG) were impressed enough by his dedication and presented him with a new BMW for the trip. “The deal was done on just a handshake, the way I like to do business,” said the no-nonsense Glen.

So he flew to Japan and then ferried across to Russia, riding across the Gobi desert and Eastern Europe, then through the Middle East and back up through Turkey, Syria and Jordan and Pakistan, India and Nepal and now to Thailand. In the trip he has spent much time with ‘real people’ who have been traditional enemies of his country. “How do you get over it? You embrace your enemy, that’s how you do it.”

Now in Pattaya, he is continuing sending reports to his website, which will eventually become a book outlining his travel adventures, and is planning the next leg back to the US, via Malaysia, Indonesia, and Australia despite the fact that funds are tight. “It’s an economic disaster. It’s a helluva gamble. I may end up on skid row!”

However, meeting Glen Heggstad even briefly is enough to know that this would never be the case. The motto of his judo school was ‘All or Nothing’, and Glen has always lived his life that way.

His parting words outlined his simple truth. “If people can get along, why can’t governments?” Indeed, why not?

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