It took more than 50 years for Ada and Max Hensher to finally settle down. Well, kind of.
After traveling the world by motorcycle, VW camper, train, kayak, plane, fifth-wheel travel trailer and, most recently, cruise ship, the couple chose to put down roots in Las Vegas 11 years ago.
Visiting their golf course community home (neither plays, by the way), guests quickly learn those wanderlust days are cherished life experiences. The living room boasts mementos collected from some of their favorite places — Malaysia, India, Nepal and Greece’s Rhodes Island — and their not-so-favorite places, such as Turkey, Istanbul, Uganda and maybe the Congo River Basin where Max encountered three native men while he was exercising one evening in the bush.
Keep in mind, even at 93, Max’s physique is remisicent of a cross between U.S. Olympic multigold medal swimmer Michael Phelps and work-out septuagenarian Jack LaLanne, with a lot of fictional American adventurer Dr. Henry Walton “Indiana” Jones Jr. thrown in for good measure.
“I can see these men and one of them is holding a candle,” said Max, who was an Olympic-caliber wrestler himself and always kept fit even in the middle of a jungle. “Obviously, I don’t speak the language and Ada is nearby in the VW camper, so I don’t want any trouble. So, I simply gesture for them to walk by peacefully.”
It worked. With that, Max turned his right hand palm up and motioned it across his waist to re-enact the signal.
Ada, who at 80 is as beautiful as the day she and Max met on an Israeli beach in 1957, takes globetrotting to a whole new dimension. In fact, she recently returned from a trip to Egypt and she and Max just completed an Alaskan cruise and are planning a South American sailing tour.
“Egypt was a little disappointing,” Ada said. “You can’t get close to the pyramids anymore. We walked all through them when we were traveling years ago.” Likewise, the couple isn’t too keen on the cruise ships.
“Too many tourists and I didn’t get the unobstructed view I paid for,” Max said.
This coming from a couple who didn’t just visit, but stayed for long periods of time, learning the culture and experiencing life by camping on the side of the road literally.
“The only time we moved was then they kicked us out or our visas expired,” Max said.
Max, who is originally from New Jersey, is a retired civil engineer whose working credits include strategic military installations and air bases all over the world, the Tappan Zee Bridge and United Nation buildings in New York City, nuclear power plants, as well as the White House’s steel structure reconstruction of 1949 to 1952 under President Harry S. Truman.
Ada was born in Germany, but her family escaped to Israel before the outbreak of World War II. She finished school in Israel and served in the Israeli military during the country’s 1948 War of Independence. Oh, and she speaks nine languages, which came in handy.
In between professional assignments, Max and Ada traveled extensively throughout Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and North and South America. But, they didn’t travel conventionally.
Soon after they were married, Max bought an Austrian-made Puch motorcycle. With all they would need packed on board, Ada and Max crossed from Europe by boat into North Africa to spend the winter in Egypt.
Puch was founded in 1889 by industrialist Johann Puch and over more than 114 years produced automobiles, bicycles, mopeds and motorcycles. The Henshers’ motorcycle boasted the 250-cc engine, which Max maintained himself.
“I didn’t even know how to ride a motorcycle,” Max said. “To this day, I’ve only owned one bike and that was for the five years we had it. I learned everything by driving.”
During the Puch years, Ada’s job, according to Max, was to “look for cheap hotels.” Often, however, Ada would venture to nearby villages to buy necessities. Once she returned with villagers following her, completely intrigued by her blue jeans.
“Sometimes, we were the main attraction,” Max said.
To travel like the Henshers, you had to be a master mechanic, Max said. “I didn’t know one thing from another, but I learned how to rebuild and work on motorcycles and engines by working for free at repair shops,” he explained.
In 1963, they sold the motorcycle and bought a Volkswagen camper, which was “a real luxury,” according to Max. The odometer on the VW must have turned over a dozen times between the trips back and forth across the Atlantic by boat, north to Alaska, south to the Panama Canal, back across the ocean to Europe and eventually for their most adventurous expeditions in Africa, where they often kayaked with their German-made Klepper folding kayak.
As they traveled with the VW camper, Max and Ada would stop at VW dealerships to stock up on gaskets, belts, oil, spare tires, lots and lots of rags and whatever else Max needed to rebuild an engine. And, he did just that more than once.
Driving across the Sahara desert — yes, across; they actually navigated the Sahara twice: once on the motorcycle and once with the VW camper — Max and Ada not only got stuck in the sand, but Max serviced the rear-engined powerplant when it sucked in too much sand.
“I was always changing the oil,” Max said. “Most of the time it was electrical and 90 percent of the time it was luck finding the problem.”
For 20 years, they traveled in the VW camper, visiting every U.S. national park and monument before selling it in Florida. The trade was a 35-foot Holiday Rambler travel trailer they towed behind a 454-cubic-inch 1985 heavy duty Chevy pickup. With this package, the couple toured North and South America, often spending weeks at a time camping at Santa Fe Station.
While the couple was traveling abroad, they missed one thing about the United States the most: They missed the food.
“The first thing we did when we got back to the states after being gone one time for 6½ years was to go out on Coney Island for a Nathan’s Famous hot dog. What else is there to miss?”
During their trips, Max did all the driving, as Ada never learned how to drive and still doesn’t. “She was always the navigator,” Max said. And, she had to be a good one — there was no onboard navigation, no GPS. Sometimes they had maps, sometimes they didn’t, Max said.
These days when they travel, they let someone else do the driving, although Max and Ada still run errands around town in the Chevy pickup. “I just go slow and ignore the people cursing me,” Max said.
Max said he attributes his longevity and wonderful life to his wife.
“I’ve lived to 93 because Ada takes good care of me,” Max said. “Plus, I hit upon a profession I really liked and I was really good at. I think I was one of the best engineers in the country, but I’m really no smarter than the average guy.”
All this and the simple fact Max and Ada Hensher have always enjoyed the thrill of adventure while discovering the beauty of nature together … whether it was on the back of a motorcycle, in a VW camper, paddling in a kayak or towing a 35-foot travel trailer.