The Power of Community

by Liz Jansen

Motorcyclists are never amongst strangers when we’re with other riders. Yet above and beyond this common bond, a strong community forms when adventurers and travelers gather, virtually or in person. This strength and power of community offers camaraderie and a safety net, which otherwise independent travelers can call on for resources, anywhere in the world. As is the case with John Colyer’s story, one interaction often paves the way for a sequence of events that could never have been predicted.

John Colyer Power of community

I met John virtually through Rene Cormier last summer for a story I was writing for Rene’s Edmonton-based Renedian Adventures. Renedian conducts highly acclaimed tours in southern Africa and John had traveled with Rene the previous season. I was living and working from the road, on what I expected was a 12-18 month trip through the Americas. As it turned out, John and I were both attending the Horizon’s Unlimited Travelers Meeting in Nakusp, British Columbia, so we agreed to meet up there. Trying to pin John down when there’s riding and socializing to be done was impossible. I left Nakusp without the interview but John was headed back to his home in Calgary, and I was headed to nearby Okotoks so we agreed to meet up or email when there were fewer distractions.

Three days later I crashed 90 minutes east of Calgary shattering my shoulder and writing off my Super Ténéré. I was alone and even before I knew I needed surgery, I knew I needed help with my bike. Without even thinking, I emailed John while another Good Samaritan was driving me to the hospital in his pickup truck. John was at an all-day preparation meeting for ‘photo moto’s’ (carrying photographers for those incredible shots) at the upcoming Tour of Alberta elite bicycle race, yet he still managed to get my bike out of the RCMP impound where it had been towed, and transport it to Calgary. He also drove 20 miles south to Okotoks where I was camped, packed everything up, brought me what I needed and took the rest back to his place. He was a regular, and my only visitor during my six-day hospital stay.

Graciously he and his mother Beryl opened their home to me so I could recuperate prior to making arrangements to return to Ontario. I was there for two and a half weeks during which I was amazingly cared for. All of this from someone who was a complete stranger a week earlier. I did manage to get the interview but only on the eve of my departure.  Read about his African adventure here.

DSC_1763 elephant crossing sm

Retired after 28 years with the Canadian Military, first with the Combat engineers and then as an Airforce Aviation Technician, John had recently purchased a BMW 1200GS and was mulling over the idea of an extended trip to South America. It wasn’t a big surprise when I heard he’d headed out on November 28th, expecting to spend at least two years exploring the Americas.

He got off to a great start but two months into his trip, personal business required him to return to Canada. Seeing it as an interruption but not a trip stopper, he made arrangements to store his bike at the home of a British restaurant owner in Puerto Aventuras, Yucatan and flew back to Calgary on January 23, 2015. Unbeknownst to me, he was already having dizzy spells which he wrote off to something minor, like an inner ear infection or wax buildup.

Back in Calgary, all did not go as planned. The personal business took longer to wrap up than expected and those dizzy spells persisted, so John’s idea was to get his bike, attend Overland Expo in Arizona and return home. The neurologist ordered a CT angiogram, calling the day before he was to leave advising him that he had a brain aneurysm and any travel was not advisable. At a follow-up consultation on May 14, John agreed to surgery, which is now booked for June 15th.

Mexico requires a monetary deposit with its Temporary Vehicle Importation Permit to make sure your bike isn’t left in the country. John had to have his GS out by June 10th or lose his deposit and risk administrative nightmares. If he could get it out of Mexico and into the southern US, it would at least relieve him of that worry.

Enter Dave Coe, from Medicine Hat, AB who I also met at Nakusp, and Sharon Faith, from Jackonsonville, FLA, who I have yet to meet in person. I was expecting Dave to send a few sentences back in response to my question but as he did with John, he went way beyond my questions, responding with an extensive story. He speaks right from his heart, and rather than have me try to capture his ardor, go to his blog and read what he wrote here.

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The extent he went to in helping his friend was incredible, riding John’s bike 4,200 km across Mexico to Phoenix in extreme heat, humidity, and time constraints. You’ll be touched by his story and adventures as I was, especially the part about jumping the ditch.

11054864_10153343936999395_2768669327213064593_nHe did it. Delivered John’s GS to another friend Tom in Phoenix, where Sharon Faith would pick it up.

Sharon, an adventure rider from Jacksonville, FLA met John first through mutual friends on Facebook, and then in person during a mini vacation in the Yucatan. Between her 650 VStrom and rentals, she’s traveled to 17 states, Nicaragua, Australia, Baja, and Peru. The interview with John below, is part of her Love of Two Wheels Project where she’s interviewing riders wherever she goes.

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With 10 days off between contracts in June, she’d planned a trip to the Smoky Mountains. When she learned of John’s situation through Facebook, she sent him a message offering to ride his bike home from Phoenix. John agreed, and her trip was in the works. A friend picked her up from the Phoenix airport and drove her to Tom’s house, where the bike was waiting and ready to go, newly serviced and fully fueled. After sharing his knowledge of travel and routes, and breakfast, she was off to Sedona to spend the night with another friend. Sharon’s adding four states, one province, and another country to her map of places she’s been, and seeing places that are new to her, including Bonneville Salt Flats (which were flooded), Shoshone Falls, Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, Montana, and Banff National Park. She’s also helping a fellow rider and remarkable new friend.

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John met her in Kalispell, Montana on Wednesday where he was reunited with Diablo Rojo before riding back to Calgary yesterday for Sharon’s first visit to Canada. She’ll have a few days to experience our spectacular scenery and meet wonderful Albertan adventure riders before flying back to Jacksonville on June 14th, the eve of John’s surgery.

As free and independent as we feel when we’re out riding, that sense is fragile. Rarely are we truly independent, whether it’s asking for seemingly minor help like directions, best roads, or help picking up a tipped motorcycle, or the more complex situations that John is experiencing. I know from my experience with disability this winter how many people it’s taken to get me back in service. John is one of those people and I know he’d unequivocally go out of his way for anyone. While I was there, a freak September snowstorm swept down from the mountains, stranding two friends who’d been out riding. He risked his own safety to drive several hours to trailer their bikes back to Calgary.

Now it’s his turn to accept help. With his assent, I ask that you send special thoughts, prayers, and energy – whatever works for you–for John as he faces this biggest challenge of his lifetime. He’s hoping to be online soon after surgery and your comments and well-wishes will mean a lot. Post them below, or better, on Facebook either with this post or on his timeline. In either case he’ll see them. I know it will make a difference to someone who’s made a difference to many others. And who will again.

Thank you.

Godspeed John.


 

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Posted in Rider Stories, Travel
6 comments on “The Power of Community
  1. Steve Anderson says:

    I don’t know John at all, and I know Liz only via the exchange of a few e-mails, but I am deeply touched by this story.

    First, best wishes and positive thoughts to John as you near your date with surgery. I’m confident your doctors will perform admirably and you’ll soon be back on your red devil. I hope to meet you somewhere down the road, where you can tell me tales of adventures you will soon enjoy.

    And to Liz, what a wonderful and powerful story you tell. The network of caring individuals that make up our community of motorcyclists is so much better than the stereotypes we see in the media. It’s also so much more caring than the bs so many blogs and Facebook posts would lead you to expect.

    All in this story should be appreciated for their humanity and decency. Thank you for being here to add value to our world.

    • lizjansen says:

      Thank you so much Steve. You speak as one of that network and it’s an honor that our paths have crossed. Looking forward to meeting you in person at an event somewhere, sometime.

  2. Ken Concepcion says:

    Hello All, Though I do not know John, and I wish him the best, I did meet Sharon Faith in Tooele, UT the morning after the hail/thunderstorms that probably flooded the Salt Flats. We admired each others motorcycles only to learn that her trip was to get the GS back to Cananda, back to her owner. What a great community we are a part of and continue to build as we each travel, meet fellow travelers on the road and develop friendships along the way. My riding partner and I were riding in the Big Money Rally X when we got caught in the weather. It’s amazing how strangers were willing to help two motorcyclists get to safety and finally to lodging.

    • lizjansen says:

      Thanks for sharing your story Ken. It is amazing how consistently strangers are willing to help. You can count on it!

  3. David Mann says:

    Great to see John’s story out here. I met John while pre-running an event west of Calgary a few months back. During a break he told his story and I was amazed at his resilience to the “road blocks” he had overcome. I am glad to know John and belong to this community of very helpful people!

    • lizjansen says:

      Hi David,

      John’s an amazing guy! I share your gratitude with knowing him and being part of our community.

      Safe travels.

      Liz

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