Jan had the privilege of growing up in paradise. His circumstances shaped his love for nature and his desire to share it and allowed him to carry along these passions in order to build the life he dreamed of, but never thought could be his. Jan is aware of his fortune, often saying he won the “geographic lottery,” and from a young age, tried to make the most of it. He even got nicknamed Houdini for his ability to break free from his parents.
“I grew up with a lake in my backyard that fed to streams that went to other lakes, across the street from the ocean. I had the opportunity to open my back door and be in the forest where there were canoes and bikes and all of the things that most people don’t have that level of access to.”
Life wasn’t always simple and easy for Jan. There were a lot of difficulties at home between his parents and it was not always a great place to be. Knowing he could open his back door and set himself free was comforting and helped him a lot. Especially years later when he suffered from anxiety. Jan grew up in this environment, trying to find his identity.
“There was a very unhappy 18 year old version of myself. I just didn’t fit into any of the moulds that you are supposed to fit in. My teenager years were just a complete clusterfuck for the most part, absolutely horrible. My parents didn’t have a good relationship, a lot of conflicts involved, a lot of difficulty around mental illness in my own family, addiction was a big issue as well. It wasn’t a happy time.”
Through these times, Jan was also trying to figure out what to do with his life. His dream had always been to get high school over with because he hated it, and then travel. He struck a deal with his dad where he’d start University part-time, and work to put money aside to travel. But things don’t always go as planned. During the last day of class in his first semester he received a phone call from his dad. His mother was sick with cancer.
“She was young. She was only 48 years old. I just remember sitting there with her for the longest time, going to countless chemo, radiation, everything else and getting the sense from her that she was grateful for the life that she had led, but that said, she had been robbed of her life just at the time she was most able to go enjoy it — finally. She was gone six months later.”
Her death left a permanent mark on Jan. It was the left turn he needed in his life. Grief was not easy, but it made him stronger. It forced him to make smarter decisions which would pay off in the long run.
“I swore then, as I would swear now, that it was both the worst and best thing that could ever happen to me. At the time it lit this fire under my ass. It helped me live the life I knew I had to chase. If it wasn’t for that event, I don’t think I would have had the strength to deal with that.”
Jan stuck with University and set off to travel, just as he promised to his father. He made amazing friends and had great experiences along the way but despite his love for travel, his life was here, in Halifax. He had this big project in mind for a while, at this point. He wanted to paddle a kayak from mainland Nova Scotia to Sable Island, the mysterious sandbar island nicknamed the “Graveyard of the Atlantic”. It’s a beautifully ominous place situated about 300 kilometres southeast from the banks of Halifax, NS.
“I remember vividly being in grade four, and this women named Zoe came to talk to our class. The way she described Sable Island captivated every kid in the room. She was describing this foggy and mystery, thousands of shipwrecks and sharks and treasures and the iconic Sable Island horses. In grade four I already knew I was going to go there one day.”
Jan found some good partners to help him with the project through a fundraiser who agreed to paddle the tandem kayak with him. It took them two years to plan the epic trip. In 2013, they left Canso, NS, in a tandem kayak with a safety boat following nearby and paddled 30 hours straight to cover the 206 km recorded by their GPS. With 2 to 3 meter seas and 20+ knot winds, the open ocean can be a scary place, especially at night without any light. But Jan remembers having a great time, laughing a lot and being amazed.
“The first solid 8-9 hours, our kayak is 21-feet and we would disappear in the waves all the time. It’s a big ocean. You see incredible things. We saw sunfish and whales and birds and dolphins and seals. I’m pretty sure we saw mermaids too but it was late in the night! It was a dream come true and in the process, we were able to raise over $35,000.”
This money was destined to help fund a summer camp for kids who have relationships with mental health. It was an important cause to him — he knows he is more fortunate than most to have been able to find in the outdoors the strength he needed to go through rough times of his own. And again, life proved this true.
Driving back from the expedition with Chris, his friend and project partner, and feeling a little depressed with the project now over, Jan is not sure what to do with himself. He has his job, his friends, and his life, but feels like he has nothing to pursue and that makes him anxious. An idea occurs to him: he had been working on this children’s book for a little bit and realized it was the next logical step. Although Chris was doubtful of Jan’s crazy idea, he liked it enough to give it a go. A for Adventure was born, allowing them to share their love for the outdoors and their vision, while writing a book.
“Whether it be hiking, biking, climbing trees, the medium doesn’t matter to me. The bike doesn’t matter, the surf board doesn’t matter. What matters is being there in nature.”
Over the next two years, they leaned the in’s and out’s of publishing, marketing, crowdfunding. They created an awareness campaign called 100 Days of Adventure where they would try to inspire people to get out by sharing their own adventures.
“Every day for 100 days straight, we’d be out doing something. At the time, we were all working full-time jobs so it might have just been a bike ride around the lake, a swim. Sometimes it was a camping trip but most of the time it was accessible. What we didn’t expect is that after 15, 20 days, people started to follow along with us.”
Somehow, they also managed to change lives. Like the ones of Brad and Julia who were inspired to start their own 100 walks; a monumental challenge for Brad who suffered agoraphobia and for whom getting outside of the house had been so difficult. The campaign was a success and so was the book.
A for Adventure is now a full-time business for these passionate folks who want nothing more than to share their love for the outdoors with everyone, and make them excited to get out and play.
“That person exists in everyone and wants to get out and when they look to us for inspiration or motivation, that person is coming out. It’s that Serotonin, it’s that part of your brain that says… I want in on that.”
Through his passions, Jan has found a way to inspire others and to inspire themselves to pursue a better, happier life. How can you not say yes to that?
“A is for adventure, as you will come to see.
Like hiking, or biking or climbing a tree.
Or taking a plane to a faraway land,
or a trip to the beach just to play in the sand.
Yes, A is for Adventure as you come to know,
so get ready, get set, get ready, lets go!”