Discovering Purpose on the Open Road
Discovering Purpose on the Open Road
You could call John Rathwell a lot of things. A photographer, a former pro kayaker, an amateur mechanic, a volunteer firefighter, a coffee roaster, an adventurer...the list goes on. But no matter his job title, he’s an unwavering optimist with an uncanny ability to make the most out of life, no matter what obstacles it throws his way.
Growing Up On Adventure
John grew up in southern Ontario, where his dad worked at a General Motors plant. While he was more interested in biking and whitewater kayaking, “everything was cars, cars, cars,” John remembers. As he got older, one of his first vehicles was a two-door Jeep Cherokee—his ticket to freedom. “There was this incredible sense of exploration, knowing nothing. I had a paper road map, and I would just drive around until I found dirt roads and a sweet spot to camp.”
In 2008, John was kayaking semi-professionally—racing against some of the best kayakers worldwide—but got sidelined by a series of shoulder injuries. Since John's competitive days were over, he started taking photos of kayak races from the banks of the river, giving him an unexpected start in the world of photography.
Turning Tragedy On Its Head
In 2014, tragedy struck for John and his partner, Tracy Guénard. John’s father and Tracy’s aunt passed away suddenly, both from struggles with mental illness. While it was a huge low point, John managed to find clarity and purpose. “Being outside on my bike–or kayak or surfboard—is the only thing that makes me happy. Life’s about those special moments of getting out and doing what you love.” Soon, John and Tracy came up with a big idea: Searching for Sero, a two-year photo project about finding happiness in the outdoors. Sero is short for serotonin, the brain chemical associated with happiness and wellbeing. And they were determined to find it.
Searching For Sero
Before setting out on their adventure, John and Tracy needed a home on wheels. After months of searching, they found it: a 1991 Volkswagen Westfalia. They spent nearly a year making mechanical updates and interior upgrades to the Westy—and made sure it had tires that could handle thousands of miles and all kinds of terrain. The choice was obvious to John: BFGoodrich® All-Terrain T/A® KO2 tires. With the right rig and a newfound motivation to spread mental health awareness, John, Tracy, and their dog, Rain, hit the road.
During the two-year project, they traversed Canada and the United States, sharing the stories of passionate outdoor enthusiasts via their blog and social media accounts. These mountain bikers, surfers, climbers, anglers, yogis, and snowboarders all had one thing in common: a belief that outdoor adventure is the key to happiness and a balanced life. Cities or states didn’t map John and Tracy’s route; instead, they used people and stories as their North Star.
As the two traveled to every corner of the continent, they found plenty of muddy, snowy and rocky situations—and their tires tackled every challenge. John said, “I was blown away by the lifespan of the KO2,” the ideal tires for the two-year trek. Along with a lot of adventure, the couple found plenty of their own happiness along the way. “In every story, you can find a little piece of yourself.” Searching for Sero turned out to be more than a project—it was a reflection of what they valued most: a life where happiness, getting outside, and mental health never take a backseat to anything.
Finding The Unexpected
A big key to the couple’s success on the road was their tires. Another was their sponsorship with GoWesty. After hearing about the Searching for Sero project, the owners jumped on board—but with a surprising disclosure. “We never do this, but we love what you’re doing.” The finicky Westfalia had its fair share of breakdowns along the way, but GoWesty always came through with spare parts and incredible support.
“I think one of the coolest parts about the Westy is how it brings smiles to people’s faces. It wasn’t an intentional part of the project, just something that ended up happening.” Yet another way John and Tracy found sero along the way.
Brewing A New Adventure
Where are John and Tracy now? The open road has led them to Port Renfro, Canada, where John's current passion is roasting coffee through his new company, Beach Camp Coffee Co. It's a vibrant new chapter in a lifelong pursuit of finding happiness.
“We all have our ups and downs in life, setbacks, and hard times, but if you find your passion and what you love—whether it's outdoor sports or music or gardening or building your dream car—those are the moments that life's about.”