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Horizons Unlimited and A Gathering of Travellers

The worldwide series of Travellers Meetings hosted by Horizons Unlimited are opportunities to pick the brains of savvy long-haulers. 

I was on the final leg of my 900-kilometre ride to Nakusp, British Columbia where the Horizons Unlimited Travellers Meeting CanWest 2016 was staged in late August. The event was essentially a four-day workshop for motorcyclists to expand their working knowledge of two-wheeled travel, and was one in a series of similar events that take place in various locations around the world throughout the year. 

From all across Canada and the US, to Australia, to Germany, to South Africa, to Spain, chances are there will be a meeting near you wherever you are on the planet over the next year. They are the creation of British Columbians Grant and Susan Johnson who host a website ( dedicated to global motorcycle adventure travel. After having criss-crossed the globe by motorcycle, the Johnsons thought it would be a good idea to inspire others to do the same. The intent behind the travellers meetings is to inspire, but also to connect travellers who have gone on that big motorcycle trip you’ve always dreamed about. They allow you to listen to presentations, ask travellers questions or find someone who can guide you.  

Events such as Horizons Unlimited CanWest typically bring riders from near and far to participate in the clinics, lectures and demonstrations by fellow long-haul motorcyclists. I was penciled in as a presenter at HU CanWest and in the spirit of the event I thought the road not often traveled by me might be a good idea. 

This is how I found myself motoring past the deep turquoise of Kalamalka Lake and the fertile cornfields east of Vernon, and onto the twists and turns of among the most exciting motorcycle roads I’ve ever been on, BC’s Highway Six, which curves through thickening coniferous forest en route to Nakusp. Highway Six is interrupted by a body of water known as Arrow Lake, which is serviced by the Needles-Fauquier ferry. The descent to the ferry landing was all that slowed me down, aside from a few easily passed RVs. After the brief crossing Highway Six continues not at the same pace, but enough for me to enjoy its brand-new asphalt. Then as I approached the city limits of Nakusp, a peculiar thing happened. I ran out of gas. It’s true that when taking the road less traveled the unexpected can happen. Plenty of what-ifs can keep us from having an adventure on a motorcycle. But isn’t it how we get out of those situations that make the meat and potatoes of the adventure in the first place?

For me it was a quick fix. I just had to find a safe place to park, get off my bike, switch my KLR650 to its reserve tank, and start up the bike. The added weight of my books and camping gear in my panniers, plus my enjoyment of Highway Six, must have drained the tank faster than expected. After some complaints, “Blue” started back to life again and carried me through the streets of the quiet town to the Nakusp & District Sports Complex where a “Welcome Horizons Unlimited” sign pointed to my home for the next three days.

“Is that Trevor Hughes?” I heard behind me. I turned around, laughed and gave my friend Wes Taylor from Colorado a hug. He and I were neighbours at a campground on Meziadin Lake in northern BC when I rode up there four years previous. Wes had ridden his Suzuki V-Strom across the border that day to meet me and to be at Horizons Unlimited CanWest. 

Though my role for the meeting was as a presenter, I was also eager to hear the other presentations, which ranged from how-to roadside repairs to pointers for riding Russia. My talks, including one I called Anxiety & Adventure, focused on riding across historic British Columbia and dealing with those what-ifs that keep people from going on their journeys.

After registration I rolled into the packed municipal campground, dropped my inhibitions, got off the bike, introduced myself to my neighbours tenting in a field and set up my tent, changing out of my riding gear and making the short walk down to the auditorium. That’s where the fun got rolling right away. The easily struck conversations with fellow motorcycle travellers over dinner I’ll never forget.

Grant and Susan kicked things off with a well-rehearsed slide show and talk about their travels from 1987 to 2001 logging some 100,000 kilometres on a heavily-modified 1986 BMW R80G/S affectionately named ‘Beemerbago.’ 

The slide show highlighted their impressive overland travel accomplishments, but it also got across their foundational message: Just go! The Johnsons make it clear that they went around the world (RTW in Horizon Unlimited circles, by the way) without a plan. So whether it be reassembling your bike when it comes out of a crate in a foreign port, or circumventing above average flood seasons or negotiating border-crossing bureaucracy, the beauty of riding across the planet is the ultimate reward for all of the what-ifs than can plague planning. 

After a reasonably good night’s sleep under the bright stars of Nakusp, I donned the microphone headset to present Anxiety & Adventure. The location was the local hockey arena (renamed The Asia Room for the event), though it was thankfully devoid of ice. About 50 turned up—courageous I thought for a subject that can be the elephant in the room. Also I was on at the same time as Susan Johnson, who was presenting next door in the auditorium (The Africa Room) about four easy steps to overland travel. 

My talk centered around the fact that we all have anxiety to a point, but when anxiety keeps us from going on the adventure we want to have that’s when the problem starts. When we avoid, we miss out. What strategies can we use to face our fears? I interviewed several riders including Jupiter’s Travellers Sam Manicom and Dom Giles about how they deal with anxiety. The talk was well received and many questions came at me, some of which I answered, while others I’m still thinking about.

Getting outside into the sunshine I was amazed with what I saw. The parking lot, populated with just a few bikes when I’d arrived for breakfast, had gathered an impressive collection of well-travelled bikes. Aluminum panniers had extraordinary sticker collections representing travels on the Dempster Highway down to Argentina. All makes and models were there. Suzuki V-Stroms rubbed fairings with many a BMW R1200GS. Kawasaki KLR650s were neighbours with Suzuki DRs and Honda Africa Twins. 

There were also eager riders lining up under Honda’s red tent to sample a shiny collection of demo models. Grant announced that Honda had brought its truck carrying Africa Twins, CB500x’s and various off-road models from Ontario just for the event. Clearly it paid off as many had the red wristbands on indicating they were signed up for a test ride on a guided route around the West Kootenay region. With spectacular open motorcycling roads surrounding Nakusp, what better way to test-ride a bike?

Vendors of guided tours to locations around the world were spinning their tales and pitching offers to take the adventurous on all-in journeys across Europe or Africa.

What drew me in after lunch was a collection of presentations on video production. As readers of Canadian Biker may know from my story “For The Record” in the April 2016 issue, I’m interested in moto v-logging and video. I was not alone. Many turned up to hear accomplished riders and filmmakers Alex Chacon, Nevil Stow, Trent Schumann, Miles Ewing and Jason Spafford have an informative round table discussion about drones, editing equipment, styles and handling various kinds of gear while travelling the world on a motorcycle to make movie that turn heads on YouTube or Vimeo. Throughout the event, Nevil Stow showed films from his 9 Minute Moto Film Festival—including one I submitted.

Throughout the day I met several delegates and presenters, such as Eddy from Cranbrook who rode his Suzuki DRZ400 across back roads to get to Nakusp, millwright Scott and his R1200GS from Carstairs, Alberta and Jeroen (or “Joe” as he had me call him) on his KLR650 who runs a bike rental shop in Kelowna.  The draw for the travellers meeting for a wide variety of people from different walks of life became clear to me.  

At breakfast I met Krista Harris and Dan van Halfsen from Enderby, British Columbia. In 2015 they attended Horizons Unlimited CanWest gathering every scrap of information they could about travelling across North and South America. In 2016 they were presenters of a trip talk about journeying from Inuvik to Ushuaia on their V-Stroms. Now that’s progress. And to top off their success, after having survived months of travel together, they were married mere days after HU CanWest!

The evening featured a presentation on a trying but fascinating motorcycle journey across Russia by German Alexander Conrad. From struggling with discriminatory hoteliers, miserable weather and local bureaucracy to the highs of the open road, Conrad gave a spirited and heartfelt report of riding his BMW F650GS in trying circumstances.

An early start in my one-man tent the next morning had me unzipping my vestibule to a rainy day, but still one I was looking forward to. After a quick breakfast, I followed Nevil Stow’s humorous and informative Bear Aware presentation with my Riding Across Historic BC talk. It featured several of the remote locations I’ve discussed in Canadian Biker, places such as Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park and Bamfield on southwest Vancouver Island to faded mining towns such as Bralorne. Standing room only attendance, many questions and comments as well as selling out of all my books had me buzzing, plus looking forward to more space in my panniers for the ride home!

After a pleasant lunch with Wes Taylor at local eatery Nick’s Place it was back to the sessions. Jim Martin, host of Adventure Rider Radio was doing something new at Horizons Unlimited CanWest: recording a broadcast onsite with Grant Johnson on hand as well as RTW motorcycle travellers and authors Sam Manicom, Graham Field and Brian Rix and Shirley Hardy-Rix calling in from the United Kingdom and Australia. They fielded questions from the audience including how to deal with border crossings and how to organize official documents on the bike, to how to deal with different personalities on the road to bike maintenance in remote locations.
It was a fascinating, real-time connection with how universal this travel interest is.

The highlight for me from that final day at the travellers meeting was watching Krista and Dan give an encore presentation about travelling through North and South America. They told of giving themselves enough time, not riding too much, stopping and enjoying where they were and effective communication while on the road. Their V-Stroms made it from Inuvik to Ushuaia and Krista and Dan demonstrated how adventurous motorcyclists could endure the unknown, from crossing into unfamiliar countries to weathering the effects of demanding motorcycle travel on a long-term relationship.

The final dinner gathered up most of the delegates to fill the auditorium seats. Buzzing from the events of the past two days, the atmosphere was electric with excitement. 

Kevan Ibbotson stood at the podium and thanked all presenters as well as the local volunteers who got us registered and fed, as well as the community of Nakusp for hosting a bunch of motorcyclists who took over the municipal campground. There were nearly 350 Horizon Unlimited attendees registered in a town of just over 1,500.

Packing up in the cloudy early morning was a quiet affair. Some got their engines started by 7 a.m. and were on their way home. It would be 8:30 by the time I packed, ate a cereal bar, said goodbye to neighbours (now friends) and rumbled out on my dualsport bike accompanied by Wes Taylor on his white V-Strom. We would try something new—connecting our Bluetooth communication systems and chatting as we rode the twists of Highway Six through Slocan Park to Highway 3A. After a quick lunch in Castlegar we continued along Highway Three before my friend veered off to return home.

Long after I waved goodbye to my friend I thought about how this need to ride has no borders and how adventure draws us all together to continue to face the trepidation so as to enjoy its triumphs. 

By Trevor Mac Hughes Canadian Biker Issue #326


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