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Opening a Message in a Bottle — Or Parking Lot

by Liz Jansen

He stood in the distance, against the curb behind his parked vintage motorcycle, beckoning, a helmet under his right arm.

I noticed him from the middle of the parking lot, where I stood with my co-instructor, Mike. Our vantage point allowed us to keep an eye on the students we’d taught to ride that day.  At the end of the first day of training, they were buzzing around the lot, exploring their fledgling freedom, but not yet road-ready.

He was insistent. We motioned for him to walk over, along a safe edge of the lot where he wouldn’t be a target for the new riders.  He strode over with purpose, animated. As he neared, it was obvious he’d come to see me. From fifty feet away, he extended his arm, pointing and exclaiming, “You saved my life! You saved my life!”

I had no idea who he was, what he was talking about, or how he knew I was working that day.

“Last year I was in your class. You taught us how to ride in curves, and what to do when the unexpected happens. A truck came over the centerline while I was in a curve, and I remembered your words. They saved my life and I’ve come to thank you!” He shook my hand, turned, walked back to his motorcycle, and rode off.

Mike and I were speechless. He was in tears. There was no doubt we’d just shared an extraordinary moment.

Although that incident happened a decade ago, it remains fresh in my mind. The stranger was one of hundreds I’d taught that season, and the lessons were the same for all of them.

While we never know how our messages are perceived,  a stranger had shown me how a few words or an act of kindness can change, even save someone’s life. I’d never have known had he not told me.

It’s like putting a message in a bottle. You toss the bottle into the ocean and you have no idea where it’s going to end up, who will read it, or what it will mean to them. You’re not attached to the outcome, but every once in a while, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a message back. You are making a difference.

Photo credit: jenni from the block on Visual Hunt / CC BY

Liz Jansen

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Overcoming a 30 Day Yoga Challenge

by Liz Jansen

I did it on a whim. In late May, the Lion’s Den Yoga Studio, where I practice, posted a 30-day yoga challenge: 30 days of yoga in June. They relaxed the start date so the challenge could start any time in early June (I started on the third), and agreed to accept 30 classes in 30 days. We could do them at any studio, or even home, although I prefer the structure of an organized class.

The only prize, other than a more toned, flexible, and stronger body is the self-satisfaction of having achieved a stretch goal. Ever since returning to yoga in mid-November, I’ve been taking four or five classes a week, attending late-afternoon or evening so it doesn’t interfere with my workday. How hard could it be to do seven?

Much, it turns out. Especially for four weeks in a row.

Thirty classes in thirty days can become onerous. But I signed up and backing down from a challenge has never been an option.

The past week has tested my resolve. Work, family, and social priorities took precedence over yoga and I missed two days, expected to miss yesterday, and can’t attend this Saturday. I’d planned for those and banked three classes by doing doubles. Then yesterday, two unexpected events arose that need my attention next week. That means I’ll miss two more days, besides another day I’d already planned for. I’m running out of time to make up classes.

I could force myself to go and forgo other activities. But at what cost? Just to say I did 30 classes in 30 days? Choices are part of life’s greater challenge and may mean I don’t achieve my yoga goal. I’ll still attend four or five classes this week plus walk five miles most days.

Yesterday morning I woke up at 5:20 a.m. and knew I wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep. I could toss and turn for an hour, or I could get in an hour of yoga. Which is how I found myself on my yoga mat at 6:00 a.m. in a heated studio.

It turns out meeting the 30-day yoga challenge extends beyond the yoga studio.

Related Post: Gravel Roads, Grit, and Graceful Endings

Photo credit: mccun934 on Visualhunt.com / CC BY

Liz Jansen

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Remembering A Father-Daughter Trip of a Lifetime

by Liz Jansen

The home where Dad and his mom lived for two years.

One year ago, Dad and I were preparing for the trip of a lifetime.

For three years, I’d been on a quest, learning about my ancestors, and how their experiences had shaped me. As part of that soul journey, in 2016, I’d taken a motorcycle trip, dubbed the Ancestor Trail. It traced the migration of both sets of grandparents through western Canada after they landed here as refugees in the 1920s.

I’d often call Dad to ask questions about our history. He delighted in unearthing family stories and getting together with his sisters and cousins to help me with my research. Through regular phone calls during my time on the Ancestor Trail, he’d followed every mile while I rode my motorcycle around the country.

Beaverlodge, in northern Alberta, and two hand-made wooden valises were his only connection to Johann, his father. Johann had died at age twenty-eight, two years after arriving in Canada, when Dad was only two years old. He was buried in a now-derelict cemetery on land he’d once tried to tame.

At age 91, Dad walked with a cane, sometimes a walker, but his health issues were stable after falling and fracturing his hip early in 2016. This window of opportunity would unlikely open again. He and Mom, who was in long-term care with dementia, had been back in 2000, but now we had more facts and history. I’d discovered a 1928 probate file Dad hadn’t known about, which specified the exact quarter-sections of land Johann had farmed, and where Dad had lived. This trip would fuel him with stories and memories to last at least through the winter.

“How would we go?” he’d asked, pondering the idea when I’d asked if he’d like to go to Beaverlodge. He thought I was thinking of putting him on the back of my motorcycle. I laughed.

“We’ll fly and rent cars out there,” I said. “You cover the travel expenses. I’ll look after you.” I’d checked with my siblings to make sure they were comfortable with this arrangement.

“In fact, if you want to go to Namaka (the area in southern Alberta where he’d lived between ages four and eleven), too, we can extend the trip to a week. It will be tiring, but you’ll have lots of time to rest when we get back.”

It would be strenuous for both of us, me more from worry that he’d lose his balance, fall, and injure himself, especially when he was alone in his hotel room. Knowing how fatigue made him more vulnerable, I was afraid to let him out of my sight, but I’d have to, just as he’d had to let me be independent.

“I can make it. You can bury me when we get home.”

We began planning where we’d go, and whom he wanted to visit. He asked to extend our time in Alberta by one more day.

And so began a journey that can best be described as extraordinary, for both of us.

A month after we returned, he became ill and died less than a month later. His life had come full circle as he’d reconnected with his father, and his past.

That trip was the greatest legacy he could leave me, and a vital piece of my quest. With great honor, gratitude, and much love, I remember him this Father’s Day.

The above is based on a story that’s recounted in detail in my upcoming book, Crash Landing, The Long Way Home.

Related Story: Learning How to Live From Being with the Dying

Liz Jansen

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Getting Perspective Right Means Using the Right Lens

by Liz Jansen

“Where are you riding to this year?”

It’s a question I’m commonly asked, as people know I love long-distance motorcycle travel. It was especially relevant as I was at a Horizons Unlimited meeting, attended by people who have traveled the world or are dreaming of other adventures.

Last season I didn’t travel far in deference to writing Crash Landing. This year I’m nearing completion and aiming to have my book completed by Christmas, so travel doesn’t fit into this season either.

I explained that to the asker.

“What a cruel and unusual punishment!” he said.

Really? I’d never looked at it like that. If I’m using punishment as a motivator for anything I do, I’m way out of balance.

Writing this book is a joy, and the culmination of a powerful quest, or at least this phase of it. It’s no sacrifice, let alone a punishment. Besides, I’ve already enjoyed a short eleven-day ride with friends in the Appalachians while my manuscript was with my copyeditor.

Make no mistake. I LOVE getting out on the open road with Trudy, and being at an event surrounded by people who share this passion, plants ideas. But right now, my heart wants to complete a different journey.

I realized he was projecting his thoughts on me, but I also recognized a lesson.

I can form an opinion about someone’s actions without knowing much about them or their intentions. My cultural training and personal experiences shape my perspective and my natural tendency is to see through that narrow lens.

Listening to stories and traveling to different cultures have helped me understand others more, and shown me how limited my world-view is. Reconnecting with my roots and getting to know the culture into which I was born, has helped me appreciate my ancestors’ experiences, how those experiences and beliefs shaped them, and in turn, shaped me.

Traveling, whether it’s an external or inward journey, broadens the lens through which I view the world and others in it.

I don’t have to be on a motorcycle or in another country for that to happen. I just need to make sure I’m using the right lens.

Photo on Visualhunt.com

Liz Jansen

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The Answer My Friend is Blowin in the Wind

by Liz Jansen

“The answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.” — Bob Dylan

Wind represents the element of air—our thoughts, ideas, and communication. It informs us, and often brings change with it.

For a motorcycle rider, nothing matches the connection between Spirit and self that you feel when riding the open road. The endless blue sky permeates your being and dissolves any boundary between you and the elements. You can’t help but smile as the wind caresses your face and delights you, dispelling all worries. The air informs you of subtle temperature changes as you dip into a valley or snake up a mountain.

It’s magical. Every time I go for a ride, no matter how long or short, or where it takes me, I’m inspired.

For months before I wrote Women, Motorcycles and the Road to Empowerment, the idea was germinating in my mind but it seemed preposterous. I’d never dreamt I’d be a writer. In fact, in Grade Two, I wrote off teaching as an occupation because I saw how much writing Miss Wall, my teacher, had to do. It took getting out in the wind to raise a muddy concept to consciousness.

I’d been off my FZ1 for three months recuperating from a fractured right shoulder (an outcome of an off-road riding class). Three months to the day after that crash, I went for my first ride and came home with a clear purpose for the book. Then I could start writing it.

I don’t have to be on a motorcycle to turn my head into the wind, but I often need courage. Winds carry dispatches from all directions. They tell me to release old patterns of thinking, habits, and even relationships that no longer serve me. Subtle breezes remind me to release my attachment to outcomes when things don’t go as I planned. Winds inspire confidence and creativity and call on my wisdom. And they bring clarity of vision and purpose.

A gentle breeze can carry a powerful message, although sometimes I need gale force winds to get it.

Winds never give up. They’re always around to help restore balance and teach, for my greatest good. All I need to do is listen to the wind, receive the lessons, and follow where it takes me.

Photo on Visualhunt

Liz Jansen

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Gravel Roads, Grit, and Graceful Endings

by Liz Jansen

Growth comes through tests and challenges, and motorcycle rides inherently come with lessons. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when gravel roads showed up on a recent trip.

I love riding back roads in the Appalachians in spring! New growth that has germinated over the winter erupts in a profusion of green. Leaves burst from their buds, streams cascade over rocks along mountain roads, and new calves nurse and romp in green meadows. Rarely do the roads have shoulders, or guardrails. The riding is intimate and expansive. Exhilarating and rejuvenating.

Exactly what I was looking for after a winter of hibernation while I wrote Crash Landing.

Accessing the mountain home of my friend Penny and her husband presented the first challenge. It was my first visit there and her directions raised alerts:

A trip to our mountain house requires a warning. It gets very twisty – no guard rails and some very tight turns and of course just to make it more fun, gravel in spots. (This was the main paved road.) You’ll pass a parking area for hiking. About a mile later on the left you’ll be looking for a gravel road with a small green sign. Not too bad, I’ve had other motorcycles come visit. Come on up!

It looked manageable on Google maps, so when I arrived at the turnoff, I took a deep breath and headed up. I’ll ride gravel, to a point, but half way to the top I stopped. The road was getting twistier with deeper gravel, beyond my willingness to ride.

There’s always a solution, even if it involves swallowing your pride. Penny drove down and I followed her back to the road, to the gated back access to their home. It, too, was gravelly but had better traction. With a lot of muscle from both Penny and me, we stowed Trudy in the woods, locked her behind the gate, and returned to her mountaintop home for a lovely visit.

The next morning, I rode down to the road and continued on my way to join my friend Alisa Clickenger. Alisa’s the founder of Women’s Motorcycle Tours and was scouting her Awesome Appalachia tour happening later this month. True to its name, it’s full of twisties and awesome scenery.

Professional tour organizers like Alisa pre-run the ride to avoid the unexpected on the tour. Like the narrow paved road through the Jefferson State Forest that turned to a gravel forest access road.

Alisa stopped, knowing my aversion, to consult with me and check her bearings. She asked if I’d like to turn around, and I said as long as it didn’t get worse than what we were on, I was OK. Alisa’s an expert off-road rider so the gravel didn’t phase her, or another friend who was with us, in the least.

What we thought would be a mile of gravel turned into ten. We were on a ridge for a while, but it was the descent that pushed me to my limits. Two steep hairpin turns were beyond my scope, so Alisa deftly navigated Trudy through them, then I got back on and continued.

I heaved a HUGE sigh of relief once we got to the intersection with the paved road. Except for those two turns, I’d done ten miles of forest road. We’d only resumed pavement for a short distance and the gravel returned, but only for about half a mile, as if to remind me not to become complacent.

It can be humiliating to ask for help. Twice, I’d had to rely on friends to bail me out. Neither of them minded in the least. To continue in situations I knew were beyond my scope carried greater risks than I was willing to gamble. For the sake of pride, I could put myself and others in peril. A crash in the middle of the forest would screw up everyone’s day.

We never know what life’s road has in store, even when we’ve got it all planned. That’s what friends, teams, and community are for. We each carry unique gifts to share with the world. Mine are different than Penny’s or Alisa’s. This time they helped me out of a bind. Next time I’ll help them, or someone else, in another way.

There’s no doubt I advocate stretching our comfort zone. That’s how we grow. Growth also includes the graces of respecting our limits, discerning between fear and intuition, and listening to our intuition.

Note: Women’s Motorcycle Tours Awesome Appalachia tour is an incredible opportunity for women riders with intermediate to advanced skills. The gravel forest road is NOT part of the tour.

Photo by Mohammad Saifullah on Unsplash

Liz Jansen

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Honoring Yourself, Even in Retrospect

by Liz Jansen

The last few months have been a time of intense editing and revisions on Crash Landing. The journey it relates has taken me back to who I am before the stories I heard about who I was. Beneath titles, roles, and accomplishments.

As if to remind me what happens when we let our heads rule our heart, this photo surfaced recently as I sorted through memories in preparation for my childhood friend Deb’s celebration of life.

I found the photos of the trip we took across Canada when I was 17—our coming of age trip—along with photos of my early riding days and early motorcycles.

There was also this photo, from 1998. I have no idea why I posed for it, what the circumstances, or where it was, but I remember the clothing, and the time, well. I bought the top in Montreal while attending the Moto GP.

At the time, friends, family, and colleagues viewed my life as perfect. I had a promising career, a beautiful house in the country, and traveled the world.

My first impulse was to destroy the picture. It was the unhappiest period of my life, and it showed. When I saw it I felt anger. How could I let myself get to that point?

But this journey of the past four years has taught me a lot about myself. A Self that’s been with me since birth. Over time, I got covered up by stories and expectations that weren’t aligned with my heart. That ‘me’ in the photo was the result.

My second, stronger response was to extend compassion and honor that person, me, buried under all those layers of protection that were trying to convince me I had it made. I was doing what I thought I was supposed to be doing at the time. There was nothing wrong with it, other than it was not a fit for me. Deep down, I knew it.

Fortunately, that year was also a turning point as my spirit began to stir. I wasn’t even coming close to making the most of my skills and gifts, although I wasn’t conscious of it. It took a few more years to decide I wasn’t going to live the rest of my life like that and make life-changing steps.

All those experiences and lessons made me who I am today. Now my heart sings and leads the charge, with input from my mind. I look at that photo with tenderness, gratitude, and compassion, grateful I found and followed the path out.

Liz Jansen

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The Guises and Risks of Excess Weight

by Liz Jansen

Researchers tell us we tend to gain five to seven pounds on average over the winter. Understanding risk factors, improve our chances of emerging in spring without excess weight.

Winter weight gain is programmed into our biology—we eat more when food is historically scarce. We also sleep longer, exercise less, and give in to the preponderance of high-calorie food.

Carrying excess weight affects our cardiovascular health, endurance, and flexibility. We need all those for safe, long-term riding.

Extra pounds on our motorcycle, including body fat, means more load to manage, and greater momentum if you crash.

But there’s another type of load that impedes our journey. It’s easy to accumulate responsibilities, commitments, and cling to unhealthy relationships. We take on the problems and worries of others when they’re not ours to take.

It’s up to us to be generous to those less fortunate or facing difficulties. We carry the gifts of kindness, wisdom, and integrity, not to keep to ourselves but to share with others.

We want to help, to prevent others from getting hurt. But we need to make sure we’re extending compassion from a heart of love, not co-dependency. If we help because we like to feel needed or appreciated, we overstep our responsibilities. Doing so can enable others and prevent them from learning their life lessons.

Meanwhile, we become exhausted under the load and don’t have the strength to navigate our path.

As we prepare for spring and take off winter layers that may be camouflaging weight gain, it’s a good time to do an overall assessment. The bathroom scales tell only part of the story.

Assess what you’re carrying and why you’re carrying it. It may be time to shed excess weight.

Photo credit: staffan.scherz on Visualhunt / CC BY

Liz Jansen

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Shout Out to My Incredible Grandmother on her Birthday

by Liz Jansen

Friesens circa 1910. Liese is on far right.

These days I’m ensconced in editing and revising Crash Landing, which explains my sporadic posts. In case you missed it, CL’s the story of how the experiences of our ancestors shape us. It includes a motorcycle crash and a triumphant return to riding, tracing my ancestors’ migrations after they came to Canada. Between, I’ve researched my roots and come to see their lives, and mine, through different eyes.

My grandmother and namesake, was born on this day in 1901, and I wanted to introduce you to her early life. You’ll get to know my grandparents much better in the book.

Elizabeth Friesen, affectionately called Liese (lee-za) entered the world with a shock of red hair, a harbinger of the fiery temperament that got her through her long life. She dealt with the prevailing superstition that her red hair, and mine, was a sign of the devil by calling it a different color. She kept the hue into her nineties.

The Friesens lived in a German Mennonite colony in Russia, north of Kazakhstan. When her ancestors arrived from Prussia in the 1830’s under an agreement with Catherine the Great, all available land was taken. The Friesens were relegated to the landless class. Liese’s dad was a postman and the family lived with other landless on small lots on the outskirts of villages. They couldn’t vote on civic affairs. Mennonite business and property owners looked down on them, treating them as second-class citizens.

Liese was the eighth of eleven children, although three died before she was born. When she was seven, they, along with other landless moved 1,000km/600miles southwest across country to the Terek colony near the Caspian Sea, where land had become available, in other words, seized from another group. She graduated from sixth grade to digging irrigation ditches to provide water for the crops.

The surrounding Nogais, a Turkish ethnic group, disputed the boundaries, robbed their farms, and took their horses. More than once Liese fended off Tatars raiders from a home invasion. She learned to speak Turkish.

The settlers persisted because they had nowhere else to go. Eventually, the land began to thrive and they felt at home. Colonists negotiated a fragile truce with Russian authorities following escalating robberies, plundering, and murders. Until World War I started.

They were Russian citizens but had maintained their German ethnicity and language for 100 years, not a good thing when Germany was the enemy. The Bolshevik Revolution and Civil War compounded their fragile existence. Finally, in early 1918, when she was 17, they knew they’d have to leave or face annihilation.

In February they caught wind of 1,000 Chechnyans marching towards them, seeking revenge for an attack on them. The whole colony of German Mennonites, Lutherans, and Catholics had to evacuate within two hours. Liese always thanked God for sending heavy fog to cover their escape. A two-mile wagon train of people, livestock, and machinery, with militia escort, inched along. Deep mud made roads almost impassable in places. Looking back, they could see smoke billowing from buildings the marauders had torched.

They waited in terror for repairs to a vital bridge before they could cross it. After several weeks they’d made it to Kaliningrad but because of the civil war, the Red (Bolshevik) Army would not let them continue. They ended up camped there for 18 months before being loaded onto a cattle train and traveling west for two days to the Molochna, another Mennonite colony in what is now Ukraine. Her mother was sick with typhus and died two days after they arrived.

The family stayed here, living in a cottage at her uncle’s place. Liese met and married Johann (John) Klassen who would become my grandfather. The Klassens were successful farmers and for a brief time, she was no longer landless. She survived civil war and years of famine, and gave birth to two daughters Elizabeth and Anna. Both died of typhus in 1925, shortly before she and Johann emigrated.

After being detained in England for four months for treatment of Johann’s eye infection, they disembarked onto Canadian soil at St. John, New Brunswick on February 14, 1926. She was seven-months pregnant with the child who would become my father, they were free, and the future looked promising. Tragedy was not finished with her, but for the time they were hopeful.

Today I celebrate this amazing woman who embodied empowerment, resilience, and courage.

Happy Birthday, Oma!

Liz Jansen

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Open Your Gifts and Make a Difference

by Liz Jansen

When I was a child, I became known in family circles for my piano talents. Lessons started at age six, from Miss Pearl Latcham, an elegant woman who sat erect, her silver, coiffed hair held precisely in place with a bejeweled comb. Her rouged complexion was smooth and tissue-paper thin. Pendants and earrings bedazzled with exquisite gemstones. I couldn’t help but stare at her giant, fiery, opal ring that shimmered when she played.

While I sat on the bench, plunking away at the keyboard of her black concert grand, she’d train me. I advanced through the Royal Conservatory of Music’s grades and was good, but I was no child prodigy. To the delight of my parents, not only did I play Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart, I could rattle off any hymn in the hymnal in any key, from memory. As a teen, I served as a pianist and organist for our church, accompanying choirs, congregations, and playing at weddings and my grandparents’ funerals. The money I earned from teaching piano lessons put me through nursing school.

At 16, I latched on to one of the most significant gifts in my life—learning to ride a motorcycle. The bike belonged to my younger brothers but somehow they allowed me more than my fair share of saddle time. Since then, except for a brief hiatus, a motorcycle’s been in my life.

It’s taught me about confidence, resourcefulness, personal power, and community. About being comfortable in my skin. It uncovered the courage I used to change my life, and given me life-changing moments.

I’ve wandered through careers in nursing and Corporate Human Resources but it’s only in the last decade, thanks to motorcycling, I’ve uncovered an interest—and skill—as a non-traditional healer. Motorcycling led me into writing.

Letting go of who I thought others thought I should be, or who I thought I should be opened my world. That’s allowed me to share my insights with others.

We come into the world with unique interests and talents. Using them brings joy to us and those we share them with. It’s how we find meaning, purpose, and new possibilities.

It doesn’t matter if your calling is as an accountant, pilot, or technician. You may have a passion for sales, physical labor, arts, or politics.

What’s more important is following your heart’s calling, even if it’s not a full-time gig. There’s a way to work it in. Interests can change over time, but using them, being true to ourselves, is how we make a difference.

While I no longer play the piano, like any dormant gift, it can surface in unexpected ways. My mom is in long term care because of dementia. Last week when I visited the brutal cold kept us inside so we went to another floor for a change of scenery. Our meanderings took us to the piano in the auditorium. She knew right where the hymnal would be and removed it from the piano bench. I sat and played and we both sang our hearts out. It didn’t take long for staff and other residents to join in. The words didn’t matter. Thank you mom!

Your gifts are waiting. How do you use them? Tell us in the comments.

Photo credit: brooklyn tyger on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Liz Jansen

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