Monday, September 23, 2013

Horizons Unlimited Meeting @ Lake Manitouwabing, Ontario

When we arrived in Parry Sound, it was like we had found “our people.” Every other bike was packed up and looked ready to hit the road for several months (even though most of the other bikes had only been packed for that weekend). 

Our tent and bikes were in good company

Susan and Grant Johnson spent over ten years traveling around the world on their BMW motorcycle and set up Horizons Unlimited to assist other bikers interested in overland adventures. They offer advice and forums to address topics ranging from border crossings, to which bike to choose to take you near or far, to female specific topics. And their meetings, which take place throughout the year in various places throughout the world, are an opportunity for those looking for adventure to come together and be inspired, learn some tricks of the road/trail and realize that it is ALL possible. 

Roel presenting on his amazing journey from Holland to Australia
We started off Friday morning, bright and early, with the first of 3 delicious hot buffet breakfasts we would enjoy that weekend. Roel’s 9am presentation, covering his journey from The Netherlands to Australia, was a hit! He is naturally a charismatic guy and the audience was captivated throughout his “stage” time, oo-ing and ah-ing at his beautiful photographs, and laughing at some of his more unsavory stories (i.e., like the time when he “had” to eat dog meat at a birthday party in East Timor). 

Patrick Trahan
Later that day, we watched Patrick Trahan, a REAL adventurer, give a non-mechanic’s mechanics course. The presentation was filled with humor, but we all learned some handy new tricks. Patrick also gave a presentation each evening about his hilarious, and occasionally heartbreaking, experiences on (but mostly off)-road. He is probably one of the most humble guys who has ever signed thousands of autographs, and his stories exemplify that anything is possible if you set your mind to it and BELIEVE. Patrick had a dream to ride the Paris-Dakar Rally, an off-road endurance race where a rider will sometimes need to ride 800–900 kilometers (500–560 mi) per day, through dunes, camel grass, mud, etc. Although he’d only ridden his motorcycle for 10 hours, during which, he’d encountered a number of falls and mishaps, he was determined to see this goal through, and actually finished his first “practice” rally, the 1998 Atlas Rally in Morocco. After a bit more experience, in 2010, he finally achieved his dream and finished the Paris-Dakar Rally. Patrick’s dream to finish the Dakar was made possible by support from sponsors and fans, so after achieving his own dream, he set out to help others achieve theirs… by setting a speed record for circumnavigating Africa while raising money for the Children’s Wish Foundation. However, this journey was interrupted by a catastrophic accident when a truck hit Patrick head-on on a Nigerian highway; against the odds, Patrick survived, as did his spirit, and his desire to finish the ride remained intact. In my 5 years of conference/event planning, I had a lot of opportunities to listen to excellent motivational speakers (Chris Gardner, inspiration for the film, The Pursuit of Happyness, Greg Mortenson who wrote Three Cups of Tea, Bonnie St. John, amputee and Olympic Ski medalist, etc.) - Patrick was right up there with those guys, and perhaps even better – it was quite a treat to be regaled with his stories each evening.  
Roundtable facilitating

The following morning, Roel and I led a round-table discussion called “2-Up or 2 Bikes,” discussing the pros and cons of being on one bike or traveling with two bikes. After my aforementioned experience conference planning in Washington, DC, I was excited to finally be on the “presenter” side of the field. Until only 5 people showed up for our session … Uh-oh. It occurred to me that this must be how a few of my speakers in the past had felt when put up against more popular sessions. Nevertheless, I knew we would at least have an intimate discussion. But soon, folks made their way over from the common area and a nice crowd gathered. We had a great time sharing stories and trading advice. 

Grant Johnson & Roel's rims

Grant leads a session on executing road-side tire changes at every HU meeting, and since Roel’s bike was due for a new rear tire, we volunteered Roel’s bike and the spare Kenda tire he’d been carrying for the job. Again, we learned a lot… you find a lot of “experts” at these meetings, apparently ; ) and we enjoyed a lot of laughs (some at poor Roel’s expense) while watching Grant deftly manage a few tire levers and swap a street-racing-worthy worn-out tire for the well-treaded Kenda.

Through the course of the three days we spent at Lake Manitouwabing, we met bikers who had been around the world several times already, bikers who were just about to get started on their round-the-world adventures and one truly awesome woman who I imagine is looking forward to the day when she can stop worrying about the cancer treatment course she’s in the midst of, and take off to see the world. We had people from all over Canada and the US offering us places to stay, assistance with finding parts and general well-wishes. I don’t think there was a person who rode away from the weekend who hadn’t been touched and inspired by the story of another… including the both of us. It was an exceptional high to ride to Toronto on.

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