taking a break

For the past four nights I’ve slept in my own bed, yet keep waking up wondering where I am. It’s odd this happens now, but never during the past eleven weeks of camping, staying with friends, and some motelling! In any case, I’m thrilled, excited, and grateful to be back safely after an extraordinary journey.

The impetus for the trip was a cross-country moto-book tour to promote Crash Landing. But to say it was merely a book tour barely scratches the surface of the rich experiences I had from start to finish. The long-distance travel was nothing new. Organizing and orchestrating the book tour portion pushed me out of my comfort zone beginning with the planning. Nonetheless, I knew with certainty this was a calling and I’d be guided throughout the twists and turns of the journey.

The inherent value of a trip like this is not in the distances covered, books sold, or events scheduled. It’s in learning to trust that voice that guides me on, even when I don’t know where I’m headed. As I prepared, I set my intentions and then did my part to realize them. Along the way, I practiced letting go of expectations, attachment to outcome, and trust, even when things didn’t go as planned.

Readers and potential readers shared remarkable personal stories (often in the most unusual places—like gas stations and parking lots). I met a host of new friends and received incredible hospitality from friends along the way. Enroute I faced down personal challenges, dealt with loneliness and fear—my own and others, and managed the unexpected. Trudy, my trusted Triumph Tiger, handled the rigors of the road with characteristic aplomb, including when the wind picked her up and threw her over.

Looking back the whole experience seems surreal. Returning, everything looks the same on the surface, yet nothing is the same. Numerous profound experiences have changed my perspectives and priorities. I need time to process them.

I’m also weary. As invigorating as the trip has been, it’s also been physically, emotionally, and spiritually enervating. For the next while I’m taking my cue from nature and hibernating, honoring current commitments but not starting new projects. I’m also taking a break from social media, blogging, and newsletters. I need the time and relative solitude to renew and nourish myself for whatever comes next, in whatever time.

Pretty sure I’ll come up with a new definition of home, and when I do, will share it and what it means to me.

Photo on Visual hunt

Metis

Winter winds pushed me east towards Winnipeg and my next stop on the Long Road Home moto-book tour. I anticipated a cosmopolitan* audience at McNally Robinson Books—different from the mainly motorcycle crowd I’d met with during the first two-thirds of the trip.

Whereas the clouds mesmerized me as I traveled through the mountains, the openness of the prairie landscape instilled a sense of freedom. As with my time in the peaks and forests of British Columbia and western Alberta, it felt dreamlike. It was as if I was an observer of a pristine landscape. Yet at the same time, I was part of it.

Indigenous people moved freely across this space for thousands of years, their migrations tied to the seasons. Ninety years ago my ancestors came to this landscape, similar to the one they’d left in Ukraine. Here they began a new life and held new dreams. Now my physical and spiritual journey was taking me across the same land on my motorcycle.

My travels have afforded me glimpses into the diverse geographic, demographic, and cultural mosaic that makes up our vast countries. Traversing it on land and stopping for extended visits have given me a new appreciation of regional priorities and perspectives. They arise from the resources and demands of distinct landscapes and the spiritual beliefs of those who occupy them. Stories that informed me came from my Mennonite heritage infused with Indigenous wisdom.

People are people wherever you go, with the same needs, desires, and dreams, tempered by their experiences and the physical setting. So voiced of my audience at McNally Robinson, an intimate gathering of motorcyclists, Mennonites, and Métis, sometimes in the same person.

We may look, talk, and see things differently, but no matter who we are, losing touch with our roots means losing touch with who we are. The sense of longing we feel when our roots aren’t nourished is like a homing device. Rediscovering and reconnecting with our roots brings personal renewal and re-energization. Motorcycles, or as one reader explained, whatever represents motorcycles for you, helps you along the path to self-discovery.

Photo credit: SamuelJohn.de on Visual hunt / CC BY-SA

*Winnipeg is a typical multicultural and multilingual Canadian city. It has the highest population of Métis and more than half of the country’s Mennonites. Eleven percent of the population is of First Nations descent.

stories we carry

One of the greatest joys during this Long Road Home moto-book tour has come not from sharing my story, but from listening to the stories of others. We’ve all got them and we share universal themes. They’re passed down through the generations and form our worldview.

Stories help us thrive and survive; they can also weigh us down, like excess baggage. They operate from our subconscious without our awareness and often don’t surface until we run into a life situation that makes us question them.

Through my travels and conversations, I’ve heard the same themes from people with diverse cultural and religious backgrounds, from South America, the Middle East, and Asia.

It’s hard to recognize influences that have shaped us. Stories don’t have to be delivered orally or in written form; they’re lived through actions and traditions. One person told me she was really lucky that her parents had not influenced her growing up; that they’d allowed their children freedom to be who they were while they spent their time away golfing. What messages did their actions portray, I wondered.

Let me share three examples of how stories shaped me and how I reconciled them. I’ve dissected them but in reality, they’re wound together in a complex web.

Don’t question authority.

As a child, I understood that questioning God and church teachings showed lack of faith and was a sin. That filtered through to parents and anyone in authority. Once I explored this value during my quest, it was easier to understand why it was so deeply engrained. My grandparents survived years of terrorism, famine, and traumatic loss. When your family’s survival and culture’s way of being is threatened, there is no time to question leaders. You retrench and prioritize to survive. I didn’t share those experiences yet those engrained beliefs lived in me. Although my ancestors needed those stories, I did not. By understanding this, I could let old concepts go and write my own story.

Never give up, no matter what.

Perseverance is a major strength, yet it can become a detriment when it’s expected at all costs. Again, this came out of a need to survive extreme hardship in Russia/Ukraine, continuing as they started life in Canada, even with my parents as they struggled to make ends meet. This mantra dogged me for decades to continue an unfulfilling marriage and career. Giving up meant failure. Only when I felt like an empty shell, did I take action in midlife to break free from that story and allow my spirit full expression.

Hide your feelings, wishes, and dreams.

When you’re fleeing adversity, there’s no time for grief, even when you’ve buried your infant daughter the day before you leave the country of your birth forever. When an early frost wipes out the crop, crying or wallowing in self-pity doesn’t bring it back. You’ve got to figure out other ways to feed your family. This tenet mutated into opening your heart and soul to another was dangerous. You could be ridiculed, ostracized, or persecuted. It took decades to extricate myself from this one, but that’s when things really opened up for me.

Only when we’re being who we are can we attract like-minded others in relationships and interests. Only when we understand the stories we were raised with can we understand ourselves, express our gifts, and fulfill our potential.

If you’re interested in exploring the stories that live in you, watch for the next Stories We Carry Workshop, next in Winnipeg on September 27.

Photo credit: Nick Kenrick. on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-SA

call of nature
Mountains at Lake Louise

The clouds got me first. They mesmerized and drew me in as they shapeshifted around the peaks of Canada’s Rocky Mountains. Set against a clear blue sky, it was Nature at her best.

I’ve been on the road again this week, traveling from New Westminster/Vancouver, British Columbia, to Grande Prairie, Alberta.

Riding a motorcycle demands our first attention. That keeps us focused on the present, processing, and responding to the inputs that come in through our five senses—and keeps us alive! Somehow that opens another space where we feel that connection to the landscape we’re riding through.

All of it invigorates without requiring thought. This week the clouds spoke to me in a new way as I rode east from Kamloops to Lake Louise. They form, dissipate, join with other clouds, and make shapes that capture our imagination. None of this requires any human input. It happens by itself, part of nature’s response to co-dependent dynamics like temperature, winds, landscapes, atmospheric conditions—all working together to create visible and invisible form.

Those clouds wouldn’t be there without the mountains. It’s impossible to imagine the forces over time which created those massive peaks, heaving rock through the earth’s crust. Billions of years of history expose themselves through colors, striations, and texture.

What forces shaped the endless patterns of sharp crags and crests, I wondered as I rode up the Columbia Icefields Highway. Or loosened rocks and caused them to tumble onto the roadway. Again, without human input.

Further north, the subalpine landscape gave way to undulating foothills as Highway 40 cut through forested wilderness, taking me to Grande Prairie and Beaverlodge, my primary interest. I saw miles into my past and future, often devoid of other vehicles.

That’s how I easily spotted three black bears and two deer sauntering across the road in front of me. Each time, slowing down in case there were more, gave me a close view without endangering me.

Like the clouds, rocks, and streams, they too were merely responding to natural instincts or laws. It felt dreamlike, as if I was an observer of a pristine landscape, yet at the same time, I was part of it. I felt like I could close my eyes and disappear into the oneness of nature around me. The same peace enveloped me while riding through the dense forests on Mount Hood in Oregon.

Areas of human interaction stood out in stark contrast: massive scars from clear cut logging, pipeline being laid along the shoulder, and terrain gouged and blasted to expand the highway to carry more of earth’s resources to meet an insatiable demand.

Three days of profound and humbling insights reminded me who I am and how I fit in. We are all connected and our actions affect the whole. We, too, are bound by the laws of nature which operate in ways beyond my ability to understand. When we listen, pay attention, and heed the voice of our heart, our Nature guides us to our greatest good.

August 27 went as planned with a group of Reimer cousins meeting for lunch. Within moments of the shutter snapping for the après-lunch photo, everything changed.

Family and Fate
Mom’s Reimer cousins; Hedy on my right.

I’m in Vancouver on the Long Road Home Moto-Book Tour. The nearby city of Abbotsford is a Mennonite enclave, attracted here in the 1930s by agricultural opportunities. That initial wave included siblings of Gerhard Reimer, my maternal grandfather, and their families.

Close in age, Gerhard and his brother Abram were even closer in friendship. In the early 1930s when they lost the farm they shared in Alberta, each followed their wives’ families to greener pastures. Gerhard and Susa moved to Niagara and Abram and Liese to Abbotsford. The sisterly bond between Mom and her cousin Hedy, Abram’s daughter, born two months apart, has lasted for ninety-three years, and counting.

When in town, I love getting together with vivacious Hedy who still drives and only recently gave up tutoring online Spanish. (She’s also fluent in German and French.) Hedy suggested we meet at Abbotsford’s Mennonite Heritage Museum where they serve traditional Borscht and Zwiebach (buns). Per custom, she rounded up a few more relatives who I rarely see.

Lunch, with descendants of four Reimer siblings, was delightful, followed by the requisite photo in the rose garden. Not two minutes later, I turned around to see Hedy lying twisted on the sidewalk. She’d fallen and broken her hip.

What were the odds that I’d be here at this moment and able to lend a hand? Not only that, August 27 was the anniversary of my crash in 2014 and Gerhard and Susa’s 1922 wedding. Definitely a Reimer theme to the day but beyond that I can’t ascribe other meaning to such coincidences. They are what they are. Still, when something happens outside the law of averages, it’s a reminder to pay attention.

Crash Landing, and the theme of this book tour is about excavating and honoring the stories of our ancestors—the stories that have shaped us for better and worse. Oriah, my wise teacher, observed the family theme of crashing and subsequent healing in these random events. Hedy has been an inspiration and still has much to teach me.

In that moment of seeing her on the ground, without knowing how or why, I knew I was meant to be here at this time. I extended my stay and cancelled a weekend event elsewhere. My priority was to be here with family, subbing for Mom who would step in if she could.

The family stories and lessons about healing start with us and don’t ever stop. My Crash Landing journey through the generations has shown me how unplanned events call on the strengths we carry, told through the stories of family and fate.

It’s fitting that August 27, a day that resonates with Reimer family energy, is a good day to honor my ancestors and express gratitude for everything they did to give me the life of peace and freedom I enjoy.

With prayers for a full and speedy recovery for Hedy.

Left handle-grip worn through to the metal.
lessons from Trudy
Left handle-grip worn through to the metal.

Trudy, my trusted Triumph Tiger motorcycle, teacher, and muse, has come through with more lessons from the road. Last week’s post, Lessons from the Road: Trust the Mystery, described challenges of the Long Road Home moto-book tour. I affirmed my intent to trust the Mystery, the process, accept the gifts, and follow my heart, even when I can’t see where life is taking me.

As if to reinforce that message, Trudy’s shown me that I’ve been hanging on too tightly, trying to exert control when my best action is to let up and let her do her job. According to the technician, it’s unusual to wear out a handle grip. I’ve never done it in almost fifty years of riding and he’s not seen it either. If you look at the photo closely, you’ll see that it contains an Rx—a prescription to get better.

In a broader sense, my worn out grip is a reminder that I’m a co-creator, not the Creator! I don’t have to do it all. Trusting the process means doing my part but also accepting help from others in the seen and unseen world.

Trudy also offered a reminder to trust my intuition. She hasn’t been her usual perky self for some time. In Portland and Seattle, her engine was cutting out at slow speeds in heavy traffic, adding stress to a ride already full of sensory bombardment. I attributed it to heat, bad gasoline, or not shifting properly, a ridiculous thought since this is a new occurrence.

So while the technician fitted her with new grips, I asked him to check out her other symptoms. Sure enough, there was a logical explanation, which makes perfect sense. I may humanize her but she’s still a mechanical marvel. The folks at Island Motorcycle Company were fantastic and fit her into their schedule to do what needed doing.

How often do I discount messages from my body telling me to slow down, rest, or whatever else it’s trying to advise? Intuition is always right. Why is it so hard to listen?

Trudy and I have many miles to cover both on this trip and beyond and we both need to be in top shape. If I neglect to do that, I’m sure she’ll remind me. I just need to listen and take action.

What life lessons have you needed a visual reminder for lately? Share in the comments!

Trust the mystery

Five years ago I set out on a quest, seeking to answer who I was before I was told by my culture who I was. I was absolutely sure this calling was one I must answer by setting out on a road trip to explore the lands of my ancestors, understand their stories, and listen to the stories of the spaces in which they’d lived in Canada.

Barely three weeks later, a crash rocked my world and threatened to derail my resolve. Yet, even before the Alberta dust had settled, I knew that event was somehow part of my journey. It wasn’t at all how I’d planned it or imagined it unfolding. As it turned out, my route wouldn’t have gotten me to my destination, but I didn’t know it then.

The challenges and trials over the next months and years caused me to delve into the stories that had shaped me and draw on the strength of my ancestors in a way that couldn’t have happened had I been riding across the Salar de Uyuni salt flats of Bolivia.

Now, on the Long Road Home Moto-Book tour, I find myself revisiting the lessons of this post-crash time. It’s fitting given I’m promoting Crash Landing, which came out of that time.

I set out with certainty that this too is a calling I’ve answered. I’ve planned as best I could, knowing that even my most vivid imagination is limiting relative to what the Universe can deliver.

I’ve had incredible, rich experiences with friends seldom seen because of distance, and ridden through majestic, breathtaking landscapes. Hospitable hosts have extended warm receptions and promoted my events. Heart-felt conversations with those in attendance have touched me to the core.

The internal gremlins chatter away though, telling me I’m not doing enough—reaching enough people, selling enough books. The stories we carry can also bind us.

That’s when I go back to those lessons imbued by my ancestors, including my parents. They didn’t know how or where life was leading them. Many times they were brought to their knees when all seemed hopeless.

While my situation doesn’t even rank on their scale of adversity, it’s still a personal challenge. I think back to the lessons I’ve learned from them and the strengths I carry.

I don’t know where life is leading me or what it’s preparing me for. But I know with certainty this is where I’m meant to be at this time. My role is to prepare and take action to the best of my ability and then let go of expectations or attachment to outcome. It doesn’t mean things go innately easily or smoothly, or hard.

They go. I trust the Mystery, the process, accept the gifts, follow my heart, even when I can’t see where life is taking me. That’s when magic happens.

Photo on VisualHunt.com

reality of the road

Even I get caught up in the romantic notion of riding a motorcycle across the open landscape under sunny blue skies with the wind in my face. The reality of the road brings me back to earth. Every time.

Last week I arrived in Portland, OR afterd riding 4,000km/2,600miles in six days. It sounds so doable from my home: average 650km/400 miles/day. Until you factor in temperatures in the mid 90s (exceeding 100 one day), high humidity, traffic, and managing a migraine headache.

After a great first day, travel turned exhausting. I questioned my stamina to make it all the way in the time I’d allotted. Twice I ended up in a motel overnight because campgrounds were completely booked or unsuitable. I prefer the outdoors and my budget is for campgrounds.

Always, it was the treasures embedded in the challenges that energized me and reminded me why I do what I do.

Like the Amish woman who parked beside me at a grocery store and struck up a conversation. A mother of five, she’d just dropped her son off at his flying lessons. She enjoys the drive with him for the bonding time. The waiting time gives her reflective, spiritual time. She also recounted how she and her husband have moved away from their culture. She struggles with a spiritual challenge to stay connected to a community she found oppressive. Her story could have been taken from the pages of Crash Landing.

Or Alex, the fifteen-year-old behind the desk of my second hotel who worked it like a pro. Life hadn’t been easy for them and he and his siblings all had to work from an early age. His grandfather had built an exquisite custom motorcycle for which he’d refused an offer of $250,000. Grandpa also built a custom bike for his wife, Alex’s grandmother, who no longer rides. As soon as Alex is of age, he’ll learn to ride on his grandma’s bike and go riding with his grandpa.

Or camping on Mr. Haddy’s yard in the RV park after Trudy balked at riding in deep pea gravel to get to the tent sites. (Too much with a full load at the end of a long day.) The kind, frail 93-year-old WWII vet, nourishes himself through a feeding tube. He spends summers in Montana, moving to Arizona for the winter. I accepted the jar of jelly he gifted me with deep gratitude.

Depleted at the end of most days, my energy was recharged every morning, even after the night in the campground between an Interstate and two or three trains an hour running on the other side.

Finally nearing Portland, the last full day of riding was the hottest—more than 100deg F— and included powerful gusts of the Columbia River Gorge. Camping under the towering pines at the edge of the river restored me yet again on the eve of the first stop on the Long Road Home Tour.

Time and time again, stories of the strength, stamina, and resilience of my ancestors came to mind. Understanding how to draw from their lives while letting go of the stories that bound me is what Crash Landing—and this moto-book tour—is all about.

No matter what my expectations, the reality of the road always wins. Invariably, in a way far greater than I could have imagined.

long road home

It’s a familiar feeling – leaving the port of Tobermory for Manitoulin Island on the Chi Cheemaun (Big Canoe), headed for parts unknown. It wasn’t my maiden voyage but it imight have been. Yesterday, the sailing marked the beginning of the Long Road Home moto-book tour.

The Big Canoe carried me across the start in August 2014 when I began the quest that ultimately connected me with my cultural roots. That leg of the trip ended barely three weeks later with a devastating crash in southern Alberta. Clearly, I needed stillness not movement at that point.

Two years later She carried me and Trudy over to Manitoulin to travel on the Ancestor Trail. Then I imagined how it must have felt for my grandparents as they crossed the Atlantic in the 1920s. That’s when the SS Minnedosa and the SS Montpelier brought them across the Atlantic to a new home in a land of peace and freedom.

The interval between my two trips had already put me in closer touch with my ancestral roots and it was no surprise that I felt the distinct presence of my four grandparents accompanying me. The Ancestor Trail would visit the lands they’d lived on during their early years in Canada. They were excited to retrace those times and share their experiences with me.

The profound unfolding of that trip reconnected me to a culture I’d abandoned. But the greatest liberation came from reconnecting with myself; understanding who I was before I was told who I was. That external and internal journey is told in Crash Landing.

Yesterday, on another early August morning, the Chi Cheemaun carried me across the water under a new moon and cloudless sky. So began the Long Road Home moto-book tour, to share these stories with others with the intent of helping them unlock cultural wisdom and transform their stories so they can make the most of their gifts.

The day before, as I was finishing final preparations on my patio, a cardinal whistled incessantly. There was no question it was a message from Gerhard, my maternal grandfather, always up for a road trip and impatient to get going. He always showed up early and always announced his entry with a whistle. He loved to tell a good story to anyone who would listen.

Gerhard, Susa, Johann, and Liese (my grandparents) accompany me this time with joy in sharing stories of healing — and another moto-adventure to go with it.

Like each time before, I’m heading into unknown waters, urged on by the lead of my heart. Again, I don’t know what awaits. I’ve planned the best I could and now I look forward to watching it unfold as it will.

My mission for the day was to get through it without backing down or crashing. It was a tall order but resolve under the guidance of an expert instructor won out. I didn’t expect the strength and serenity that came with it.

strength and serenity

Determined to bring fear under control so I could manage the gravel, I’d signed up for a half-day of one-to-one training with Clinton Smout, the expertise behind SMART Adventures.

Clinton taught me how to be a motorcycle instructor sixteen years ago. From the start, I’ve loved his ability to weave humor, technical skills, and candor into a successful teaching strategy. His knack for to see through students’ demeanor and understand how to engage them and how they’ll best learn creates superior training delivery.

It’s not the first time I’ve taken classes at SMART Adventures’ rider training center and I’ve lived on gravel roads for much of my life. But lingering fear following a slide following a mountain driveway in 2013 and a spectacular crash in 2014 occluded what I knew I could do.

The fear has a rational basis but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to let it stop me. Next week I’ll begin a three-month moto book cross-country tour with a fully loaded motorcycle. While I’m hoping all roads are paved, there are bound to be detours and construction. I wanted to reduce the anxiety that accompanies even a “Construction Ahead” sign.

Clinton understands overcoming fear is harder than overcoming gravel. He advised me to adopt my instructor role and coach myself as I would a student. His goal was to reinforce my muscle memory for control basics, not prepare me for the Dakar.

We started small on 125cc Yamaha TTR on a sand-gravel surface, riding a straight line in first gear and coming to a controlled stop, introducing little rear-wheel skids. U-turns were next followed by laps around the oval in both directions.

Then it was time to move up to the 250cc enduro bike and the gravel roads cutting through forests surrounding the training center. Riding through a tunnel of green charged with hardwood energy—strong, vibrant, grounding—reassured and invigorated me.

I coached myself, repeating my mantra. “Eyes ahead. Relax shoulders and elbows. Breathe. Keep your momentum up. Breathe.” We stopped before the hills or tricky sections for coaching. He gave me the choice to repeat sections or keep going on new ground. Always I told him to keep going.

It never got comfortable although there were a few surprising moments when I found myself enjoying the ride. What I noticed most was an increasing sense of calm and self-assurance. Gravel roads can take you to enjoyable and unexpected destinations.

My fear of gravel isn’t likely to go away. But refining the mental and physical muscle memory to keep it at bay is a skill I’ll take with me on any road and any life circumstance.

Photo credit: Clinton Smout

Next week I’ll begin my Long Road Home Moto-Book tour. Check out the dates, come along and join me wherever you can.

Related article: What a Motorcycle Mishap Can Teach Us