Book Review: Two Wheels to Panama

By William Carroll


"William did what most of us only talk about: He handled a completely unsolicited and ultimately frustrating situation like a true motorcycle enthusiast. Bill fled on his bike."

America remembers the 1950's for Hoola Hoops and backyard bomb shelters. Cool dudes were "cats," and you had to "dig it" to be "hip." William Carroll remembers these days well. It was the summer of 1950 that will forever mark the collapse of his professional and personal life. In one fell swoop his previously successful business, along with most of his personal assets, were liquidated to satisfy anxious creditors. William did what most of us only talk about: He handled a completely unsolicited and ultimately frustrating situation like a true motorcycle enthusiast. Bill fled on his bike.

Paying homage to the fundamental human instinct to get away, Bill mortgaged his house and headed straight to a bike shop in Culver City, California with cash in hand. Proprietors Herb and Lou Caspary lent their expertise in choosing a motorcycle on which Bill would carry out his newly invented plans -- to journey to Panama. After considering various options

, a BSA B33 500cc single was decided upon as the mule of choice.Two Wheels to Panama illustrates Bill's 146 day adventure -- a total of 7772 solo miles from California to Panama -- in a mere 143 pages. If you like adventure stories and love adventure pictures even more, you'll be dually satisfied by the photos that accompany each page, 175 in total, lending volumes of information to Carroll's story.

The author's introduction is perhaps the most personal aspect of his book. It is the backbone of the tale and should not go unread. Two Wheels is a coffee table-type book, featuring a layout that allows you to taste the goods without requiring the disciplined commitment a good book commands of its reader. The single sentence captions accompanying each photo warrant as much inspection as the detailed text within columns.

"Two Wheels to Panama is William Carroll's great catharsis."

Two Wheels to Panama will satisfy both adventure story audiences and motorcycle enthusiasts alike. Equal attention to detail is paid to the workings and quirks of Carroll's motorcycle as is given to the customs and practices of the people and places he encounters. There is a particularly engaging technical section towards the end of the book that describes both the history of BSA and the features of the B33 in great detail. Some illustrations are included directly from the original instruction manual. BSA fans will enjoy the lesson.

If you've ever contemplated picking up and leaving life for an extended period of time, or traveling by motorcycle to some less civilized country, Two Wheels to Panama might just be your safest route. You can visit Antigua, an early capital of Guatemala, get shaken down for money by a customs officer at the border to El Salvador, converse with friendly pedestrians in Honduras, and forge flooded "highways" in Costa Rica knowing full well you'll make it home safe.

Carroll never does come clean as to why or how he chose to tour Panama. Unfortunately, there are few occasions where he actually reveals his true feelings regarding the details of what drove him to this walkabout. After all, there is much more to this tour than the many wonderful people and places we are introduced to.

Two Wheels to Panama is William Carroll's great catharsis. It is the pre-empt to a novel hidden within a massive book manuscript and his daily journal entries that we may never see. It is essentially what cured Bill Carroll.

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