To Hell And Back

Kidnapped By Rebels

Former Hells Angel Glen Heggstad was on the adventure of a lifetime: a year-long motorcycle trip from his home in California, through Mexico, Central America, all the way to the tip of South America and back. His plan was to ride 20,000 miles along the toughest terrain in the world. But a kidnapping derailed those plans. Troy Roberts reports.

"It's one of those dream rides you never want to end," says Heggstad, who owns a security firm and by his own admission has led an adventurous life. "I've been hit with baseball bats, two-by-fours, tire irons, machetes, it's a package deal when you take that path."

Last year, with his 50th birthday approaching, he began carefully planning his trip. He spent six months researching it, getting everything together, and planning his route.

He even created a Web site, using his nickname, "Striking Viking." He posted a journal there regularly, and kept in touch via a laptop.

Heggstad left Palm Springs on Oct. 1. A month later, after traveling 5,000 miles through Mexico and Central America, he rode into Bogota, Colombia, and into the cross-fire of a 30-year guerilla war, a conflict financed by drug trafficking and hostage-taking.

He says he knew he was a target and accepted the risk. He did not bring a weapon. "I am a weapon," says Heggstad, who has black belts in judo, karate, ju-jitsu, and kung fu.

From Bogota, he traveled northwest to the city of Medellin. Six hours into the trip, he was stopped at a military-style roadblock by a group of guerillas armed with AK-47s.

He was marched off into the jungle. They were members of the ELN, the National Liberation Army, one of the country's guerilla groups that funds its revolution through extortion and ransom from mass kidnappings. At first the guerillas did not realize Heggstad was an American, when they did they thought they had hit the jackpot. Ransoms demanded for American nationals can run into the millions of dollars.

Last year, the rebels took 350 hostages. Only one of them was an American: Heggstad. "I got raked over the coals by these guys. They would tie me up and spit in my face. Give me their little treatments and then spit in my face again. This is because I was an American."

"Every single day I was in captivity, I assumed that was the day I was going to be killed," he says.

His disappearance did not go unnoticed. Back home in Carson City, Nev., friends were worried. Heggstad had been religiously posting messages on his Web site; suddenly, the e-mails stopped.

"You're tracking his footsteps and all of a sudden it just stops dead. The trail stops. Your gut starts grinding," says Dennis Hof, one of Heggstad's friends.

Hof immediately contacted friends in Colombia who began searching for Heggstad: "We had people check all the hospitals from Bogota to Medellin, all the wrecking yards, thinking maybe he got his motorcycle impounded and was arrested. Nothing like that happened. So at that point we realized he probably had been kidnapped."

The American Embassy in Bogota confirmed that Heggstad had been taken hostage. But Hof claims they were slow in trying to win his release and refused to negotiate with the rebels.

"The reality is we were ready to deal with the devil," says Hof. "We didn't care what the U.S. Embassy said or did. We wanted him out." Frustrated, Heggstad's friends flew to Colombia and attempted to mount a rescue mission of their own. But Colombian authorities learned about the unauthorized rescue and had them deported.

By now three weeks had passed and Heggstad was losing hope that he'd ever emerge from the jungle alive. "Even when I finally rest and laid down at night, bugs crawling all over me, I'd still be mumbling all night, 'I'll survive. I'll survive, I'll survive, this gringo is not going down easy.'"

Glen says his 23 years of martial arts experience helped him survive, but he was no match for guerillas with guns.

For 10 hours a day he was forced to march, often up and down steep hills. They climbed higher into the mountains every day. His daily food: a bowl of rice and sugared water.

He convinced his kidnappers that he was there to write about them. They gave him a pad and pen, and he kept a diary during his 33 days in captivity. One entry read: "I'm so skinny now, my bones protrude from my clothing; sleeping on the hard floor at night with my bones directly on the cement floors is painful."

Another entry: "I've stopped picking the insects from my food. It's my only source of protein. I wonder does anyone know I'm alive."

In his 33 days as a hostage Heggstad endured beatings, mock executions and degrading abuse. It is still painful and difficult for him to talk about it.

Then on Dec. 8, Heggstad's ordeal suddenly ended. The rebels alerted the Red Cross that a hostage would be released into their custody, possibly as part of a Christmas truce.

"When I came through the clearing and I looked down I saw the Red Cross wagon there, I was shaking. It was quite an emotional moment," he remembers.

Heggstad lost 50 pounds in captivity. And while dehydrated and malnourished, he refused to be hospitalized.

The Red Cross later turned Heggstad over into the custody of waiting FBI agents, who brought him back to the Bogota airport. Arrangements were made for a new passport and a ticket on the first plane back to the United States.

But to everyone's surprise, Heggstad had other plans. Remarkably, he continued his trip. "I believe it would destroy me as man to give up and go home," he says. A month later, a new bike arrived in Ecuador, along with new equipment, gifts from his friends back home.

When 48 Hours last spoke to Heggstad, he was traveling somewhere in Brazil. He may not make it home until the fall, but he is already planning for his next adventure: Siberia.

Says Heggstad: That's my policy in life, whenever I experience any setback I am determined to come out ahead."

For the latest updates on Glen's progress, check his Web site, www.strikingviking.net.