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Q: Bruce, why did you decide to do this motorcycle trip? Where did the idea come from?
A: I have been travelling and sleeping under, on and beside my motorcycle since I was 16 years old. I rode to Los Angeles solo when I was 19 and became hooked on the complete freedom a motorcycle brings you when travelling. Previous trips have taken me to every corner of North and Central America on a few different journeys. When our daughter Holly was 10 she asked if we could do a motorcycle journey together when she was 12-years old similar to one I took her cousin Jason Ruttan on when he was 12. I had taken him on a two-month adventure to Arizona, Alaska and the Yukon and actually met my now-wife Mary on that same journey. In 1991 when I told Mary of my life-long dream to ride a motorcycle from The Arctic to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina her response was that she was coming too but we were doing it on bicycles. I was in love, I went along with it, three years of pain
but now it’s back to my true passion, which includes the ability to accelerate with a throttle and an engine from time to time.
When Holly asked that question back in 2011 I looked at Mary immediately to judge her reaction but she simply shrugged and said, “You’re not doing it on your current motorcycle.” Have I mentioned how much I love my wife? And as a parent, I feel that when your child dreams big, you need to dream bigger to make it happen if at all possible. This was possible and we worked very hard to make it happen.
Q: When did you leave and when do you hope to arrive in Costa Rica?
A: We left our driveway, stopped at RE/MAX of Wasaga Beach and rode to Toronto on November 3rd.
On Monday, November 4th, my 49th birthday, we had breakfast with my sister Cathy, then departed from SickKids Hospital heading South. We visited RE/MAX brokerages in Toronto and Hamilton and made tracks toward a good friend’s home in Pensacola, Florida as fast as we could, stopping at motels in Ohio and Georgia along the way. our blog goes into details from then on. At this writing we have just reached Houston, Texas FL where we will spend a couple of days with new friends who have deep roots and community ties to the incredible Texas Children’s Hospital, the Children’s Miracle Network AND RE/MAX! From Houston we will continue south into Mexico, our 2nd border crossing of the trip.
How long will it take? Well it’s really fluid and one day at a time but we predict six weeks to get down to Costa Rica. We will spend the holidays and January together in Costa Rica, then Holly will fly back to Canada with Mary and her sister Jocelyn. My adventure will continue on as I will continue my outreach to Panama and back up the other side of Central America with the main goal being the early March 2014 International RE/MAX convention in Las Vegas. It’s a HUGE event and much of my family will be there. If I could bring my mission to the crowd right there on stage from the seat of my RE/MAX Red beemer I would be thrilled. Concluding the journey with a cheque made out to the Children’s Miracle Network would be the happiest result. Imagine if every agent there donated $10…I would love to see that happen. As to riding back to Wasaga Beach from Vegas in March…you may detect a slight flaw in my plan, a little 4-letter word that starts with S and makes things slippery…I may be open to a Plan B at that point. Stay tuned!
Q: What do you and Holly expect to do and see along the way?
A: Besides riding and eating (if you’ve seen Holly’s blog so far, you’ll love a 12-yr-old’s focus on food), doing some Children’s Miracle Network fundraising appearances, visiting RE/MAX brokerages from Canada to Panama and taking in all of the sights. We would also like to visit schools along the way and keep up with the Grade 7 Ontario curriculum with support from Holly’s teacher, Madame Kelly Miller. Kelly has been instrumental in getting the class interested in travel and in following Holly’s progress via our journey’s website. She organized a surprise bon voyage where the whole class brought in treats, made a good-bye poster and gave her a royal send-off in the company of their much-admired school DARE officer, Constable Rivers. The route will take us past Mayan ruins, through every imaginable type of terrain and temperature, past volcanoes and over rivers and through zones of extreme poverty and inequality. We will depend on the kindness of strangers for safe spots to camp and sources of potable water. When Holly has wi-fi she is able to text her friends, Skype her class and stay connected. As we get to warmer, more culturally rich areas we will do more off-the-bike exploring, camping and meeting families. Holly will blog her experiences whenever conditions allow it.
Q: Why did your family decide to raise money with the trip?
A: The fundraising idea has been brewing since Holly’s most recent eye surgery at SickKids Hospital last spring. I found myself in the NICU and visited the room in which Alyssa passed away in our arms in 1998 and I was struck by how powerful that moment…and that place…still is in our lives. We have always supported SickKids and The Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) through donations tied to the number of homes we sell each year but we wanted to do more. We were lucky to connect with the Manager of the SickKids Foundation and CMN Aaron Sanderson, and when he said the magic words The Alyssa Rae Johnson Fund we both got choked up and of course that was our YES. Also, because of our November departure, the month Alyssa would have been 15 years old, she is right here on the surface…so yes it really was a natural evolution to use the expedition south to pay tribute to Alyssa’s short time here with us. I might venture to guess that the 75 people (as of today) who have donated –and you can go to the facebook group called Motorcycle for Miracles Hall of Fame to watch that number grow– those individuals are either giving because of knowing us and having loved Alyssa Rae, because of their own strong ties with SickKids (or in the US, to a nearby Children’s Miracle Network affiliated hospital), or are part of our International RE/MAX family and embrace the RE/MAX philanthropic vision whether through their contributions to the Miracle Home Program or other local initiatives. For my colleagues at RE/MAX of Wasaga Beach Inc., Brokerage, it’s all of those reasons rolled into one! My office has donated over $172,000 to CMN and SickKids Hospital over the years!
Q: How much are you hoping to raise?
A: Our goal is to raise $25,000. That number, the required amount in order to hold the Alyssa Rae Johnson Fund in perpetuity, was a real nail-biter…were we insane? I had a chance to ask some RE/MAX mentors if we were aiming too high and they did not hesitate to express their belief in us and our goal. That really helped. We are overjoyed to be well over 25% of that goal the very first week.
Q: How did SickKids play a role in your lives?
A: Our SickKids story started when our baby Alyssa was brought from Mt. Sinai, where Mary had delivered her by C-section, to the SickKids’ Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Alyssa lived 20 short days but changed our lives forever. You can read more details at the Page called Alyssa Rae’s Story.
We returned to SickKids numerous times with our second daughter, Holly, as she needed multiple exams and 2 outpatient surgeries in the Eye Clinic to correct her double vision, and also with our youngest daughter who had an episode where she needed special care in the Nephrology Department. Our kids always enjoy going to SickKids because every nurse and doctor has always treated them so well, and we have been able to turn those visits into special trips to explore the city a bit.
The Motorcycle for Miracles send-off took place from the University Ave. entrance at SickKids in Toronto. The Foundation manager Aaron Sanderson had invited the hospital chaplain Michael Marshall to be there (Michael has such a special place in our family because he performed Alyssa’s blessing and travelled to Wasaga Beach without hesitation when we asked him to lead us in an unconventional funeral,) as well as the Children’s Miracle Network Director Jay Sandusky, Marilyn Ruttan (my sister and broker from RE/MAX of Wasaga Beach), my sister Cathy who works at Toronto General and my nephew Jason Ruttan, also a broker at RE/MAX of Wasaga Beach, who was the 12-year old I took to the Arctic on the back of my motorcycle when I first met Mary in the Arctic in 1991.
We were also touched to see one of Alyssa’s favourite nurses, Lori Ives-Bain, there to see us off. She is now the Bereavement Counselor for all of SickKids hospital and does amazing work.
Q: Why Costa Rica?
Bruce: I’m going to let Mary answer that one!
Mary: Haha ok here’s the short answer, from my perspective. Bruce loves to tell the story of how we met and tells it so well!
In 1991, after graduating from CU in Boulder, I went on a 2-month canoe expedition with five friends to the Canadian arctic. We were dropped off by float plane, then canoed and portaged our way to the Arctic Ocean and to the northern town of Inuvik, NT. It was there at tiny Chuk Campground that I met Bruce. He was on a 2-month motorcycle journey with his nephew Jason, who was 12. (Jason is now a Broker at RE/MAX and was at the Motorcycle for Miracles send-off for Bruce and Holly…talk about coming full circle!).
They joined us at our roaring campfire as they were ill-prepared for snow in August. We had so much in common. Bruce says he knew within an hour that I would be his wife one day but I waited to be sure until after a bit of “adventure courting,” i.e. riding our no-suspension mountain bikes from that same little campsite way above the arctic circle to the world’s southernmost town of Ushuaia, Argentina, a journey that would take 34 months.
Costa Rica was a significant place for us then and is even more significant now.
Bruce had previously met and became travel partners and close friends with one of the most amazing men he says he has ever known, the world-renowned ambassador of BMW motorcycles, the late, great German-Costa Rican Oswaldo von Breymann. We owe so much to Oswaldo and to the guardian angels that led Bruce to his motorcycle dealership in San Jose, Costa Rica so many years ago. You can see pictures of Oswaldo on Bruce’s flickr page, where you’ll also find sets pertaining to the current journey. One day perhaps Bruce will write a book about the legendary Oswaldo, his amazing wife Marianna and the legacy of dear men and women that lives on in his children and grandchildren. Anyway, when we were stopping in San Jose on our bike trip to greet the von Breymann’s, Oswaldo offered guest space for us to “spend the holidays with the extended family, wait out the rainy season and learn better Spanish.” He was fluent in 5 languages and even more fluent in the art of getting to YES whenever he wanted something! Which is probably why he ran the most successful BMW motorcycle import store in the country. We did stay in Costa Rica for many, many months, rented our own apartment, took Spanish courses, wrote travel articles for the English language newspaper and explored every corner of that great nation by bicycle, chicken bus, and on foot. In the process, we fell more deeply in love with each other (we were engaged in San Jose on Christmas Eve) and with the country.
After that Christmas we loaded the bicycle panniers and set off southward again. While riding on the bumpiest road of the trip to that point near the sleepy village of Ojochal, which is nestled in a valley between the mountains, sea and rainforest, I took a tumble. My pannier rack screws had vibrated right off, the rack slammed into the wheel, breaking the metal, and my knee slammed right into the freshly broken metal as I pitched forward and down. That story involves blood, yelling, pain, a camera, a first aid kit, stitches and more guardian angels (see our Cyclepaths Touring the Americas photos on the Past Journeys page). For your purposes though, the significance here is actually just the location.
Fast forward 17 years. We’ve gotten married, had children, renovated, sold and built a house, nurtured and grown a career as a real estate team. Bruce starts getting the travel itch again. He despises winter so the lack of sunshine and the doldrums of the slow-sales winter season in a small Canadian tourist town start to weigh more heavily. Where is it warm, sunny, healthy, peaceful, full of possiblities? Our experience pointed us to Costa Rica and, in an effort to keep this short, allow me to skip ahead…we end up buying a little house in the South Pacific region. We bought it as an investment, as a gift to our children and as a potential retirement retreat, envisioning friends and family visiting us in an incredibly lush and colorful setting with us their relaxed hosts and guides. That dream has been planted and sprouted but is still needing to be fed, as at this point in our lives we can afford to detach from the real estate business for no more than 6-8 weeks/year. So for us, Costa Rica represents love and the freedom to explore.
Skip ahead again to 2011. Holly is 10 and starts asking her Dad more questions about that motorcycle trip he took 12-yr-old Jason on. She figures she’ll be 12 in two short years so better plant the seed now: “Dad, when I’m 12 will you take me on a motorcycle trip?”
“Sure honey, where do you think you’d like to go?” asks Bruce, expecting her to say “Ottawa” or, since she’s in an extended French school, “Montreal”.
I shrug and raise my eyebrows as if to say “why not?” and out loud “Not on your current motorcycle”
That was definitely interpreted as a green light. How could it not be? I’m just not wired like so many of the well-meaning folks who have been asking me how I could let them do that.
Q: Mary, what are you up do while Motorcycle for Miracles is underway?
Mary: While they are away I am definitely engaged in Motorcycle for Miracles with the website and social media as well as handling other behind-the-scenes aspects of the business. When we are in full real estate sales mode I help our clients prepare their home for marketing and sale but my focus now is one of thanking clients and wishing them the happiest of holidays, mailing calendars, doing the taxes, prepping for winter and being present for our 9-yr-old daughter Jocelyn who misses her Dad and sister very much even after only a week. This is a month of extreme emotions to say the least, but they all balance out and if you read what we wrote on Alyssa’s page you’ll get more of an idea of how we have come to have a different perspective and the urgency we feel to live your dreams NOW, not someday.
Any other questions please don’t hesitate to contact me and please join the open facebook group to stay updated in real time: https://www.facebook.com/groups/MotorcycleForMiracles. Thanks again for your interest in Motorcycle for Miracles.