A legacy of love

I’m having trouble sleeping again. I just lie in bed for hours, tossing and turning. His flag in one arm and a teddy bear in the other. Funny, I haven’t slept with a teddy since I was a child but it gives me more comfort now then his flag does.

It’s been a hard to lose that connection but it has forced me to look forward to the future and the changes that are happening.

Two of my best friends are moving out to live with me. One, Trina, had her belonging sent in a Pod instead of driving a moving truck. It was so tiny, like 5’w x 8″h. It only took us about 30 minutes to get the boxes out. She stayed about a week then just left yesterday to go back to AZ. She still hasn’t told them that she is moving. She has been on vacation and will let them know when she gets back.

It was so nice to have her here again. She came flew out as soon as I told her about Frank’s accident and she was the last one to leave. We would make a bonfire almost every night she was here in February. One night, while staring deeply into the fire and sitting in comfortable silence, I said out loud. “I’m not going to the sell the house….I’m not going anywhere. We worked too hard on this house to give up and walk away.”

I know that many conversations had gone on when he first passed between my family and friends about if I was going to leave and go back to my family in California. I have been gone so long from them, since I was 17. I left knowing that I needed to see more in my life. That I had a need to wonder, to explore, to answer the restlessness call in my soul. That restlessness is still there but it’s been calmed living here in South Carolina. There is just something easy about this life. The people want to talk to you, they want to be kind to strangers. It’s different where my family is. They still have that small town feel but it’s faster paced, more stress and more importantly expensive.

It’s never been easy to be away from my family. Growing up was hard as we were a single parent household. My brothers and I spent a lot of time alone since my mom was always at work. My mom may have had to choose between heat or food sometimes but one thing we never lacked was love. There was so much love from our fathers side of the family and from my mom. Normally when a couple divorces, one person isn’t included in the opposite persons family events unless it involves the kids.

Not in my family. My Granny Mac and my Grandma Barbara never let anyone go. Once a Cutts, always a Cutts. My mom had such a beautiful relationship with her ex-mother in law, my Grandma Barbara. We went over for family lunch every Sunday. We would stop and see her whenever we went town. My mom lost her mother when she was young, so Grandma Barbara filled that role. She filled that role for all of her son’s ex-wives. Grandma Barbara actually stood in place for my moms parents when my mom remarried.

Grandma Barbara had 4 sons. She had so much love for the family but she could be tough and didn’t tolerate fighting so we would have ex-wives, ex-girlfriends, current wives….all at the same dinner. I was too young to notice the tension but they all would play nice just to be together. It was a home filled with chaos, babies crying and laughter. It is a treasured part of my life.

My mother remarried when I was 13. A man came into our lives that completely changed it and taught me what it was like to have the love of a father.

Dave showed me the love that a father can have for his child. When he and my mom first started dating, my mom told me to write down everything that I wanted in a father. I must have filled an entire page with very specific traits and Dave fit all but two. He didn’t have a lot of money and he didn’t have green eyes. God brought him to us because he knew that Dave was exactly what my mom and I needed. The love he gives me is unconditional and he has always supported every decision I have made. He taught me how to check maintenance stuff on cars, shoot guns, and more importantly he talked to me like an adult. I could tell him anything and because of that, almost every major life decision that I have made, was made after having a conversation with my Dad and asking his opinion.

I have always struggled with self love, confidence and feeling of not be good enough, since my biological father Bill had moved away and left us when I was so young. I would have this inner voice that would repeat over and over that I wasn’t good enough, that I should stop trying so hard to impress a man that didn’t care about me, that I was worthless. I used it as fuel to push myself to the limits in sports, in my time in the Navy. I used it to be the best, to show this faceless man that I didn’t need him. To accomplish as much as possible to shove it in his face when I “grew up”.

I only remember seeing Bill twice in my life. Once when I was like 7 and really sick, he had come to California for some reason and stopped to see us. The second time, I was a teenager. I had just gotten home from softball practice and my mom called and said that he was in town and wanted to take my brothers and I to dinner. I don’t even remember what we had, what we said. I just remember his hands and his leather jacket. He had huge hands and wore a rose gold ring and a black leather trench coat. He stayed around a few days and went to one of my games. I remember being so conflicted. I didn’t know who he was, he didn’t know me as a person but I wanted to impress him. Then he was gone. I never spoke to him again.

I was in the Navy and had just left for deployment when I was told that a Red Cross message came for me and I was told to call my mom. Nothing more. My hands shook so bad that I misdialed twice. When I finally connected, I asked immediately if there was something wrong with my brothers or Dave. She thought they would have told me, but she just sighed and said “Bill died today, he had a heart attack. Your Grandma is flying everyone out for the service.” I just sat there in silence then said “ok.” I told her to give my love to my brothers and my family. There was no way to fly me off the ship to go to the service. It was the day before Mother’s Day so I just ended the call with “If I don’t talk to you again, Happy Mother’s Day. I love you.” That was it. I left the office and went back to work. But that voice that had pushed me and plagued me all my life was gone in the instant the words left my mom’s lips.

In some ways I miss it, that internal drive. I struggled for a long time after with anger at Bill. I struggled with grief for a man I never knew. It took hiking the Appalachian Trail to come to terms and put that ghost to rest. To finally start asking questions about him and wanting to know more about him as a person. To know what traits of him lived inside of me.

You see, my mom never wanted to talk bad about him to us so she chose instead to not talk about him at all. It ended up making me feel like it was taboo to ask questions about him so I never did. His death effected all 7 of his kids differently, as we each had a different relationship with him.

When my Grandma passed, it was a hard blow to the family. She had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She slowly forgot us but we knew who she was and who she had been to us. I flew home and my cousin Ashley and I planned her service and took care of all the details. Her sons couldn’t do it and Ashley was drowning in the weight of it all. I stepped in and shouldered what I could and it was beautiful. We had a gathering after the service and it was the first time that we had all been together in years.

We eventually had to go through boxes and boxes of her stuff and we found so many pictures and letters she had typed out to people. She did not hold back when she felt you were messing up. I found a letter that she had written to her sister Kay after Kay had passed. It was so full of love and beautifully written that I knew instantly that this was her legacy. The legacy of love. This beautiful, strong woman helped shape me and I now carry her with me. I plan on making an entire wall display about the legacy of love. To honor the people who have impacted my life.

That’s what I keep trying to hold on to. The knowledge and strength that has been passed down to me. I have hard days, when missing Frank threatens to overwhelm. Our 10 year anniversary is coming up at the end of next month. I used to joke with him that I would give him 10 years then he would have to marry me or I would leave him. He would always look at me and roll his eyes. He was not interested in being married again since his first marriage hurt him so badly.

Lately I’ve been dealing with the thoughts of dating again. I know that I’m not ready to start that but the fact that it’s going to have to happen is terrifying. That there will be a new hand to hold, lips to kiss and arms to fall into at night. I fear that I will hold back my heart. That I won’t let myself fall in love completely, always holding back a piece.

I have a very specific type of man that I am attracted to. Dark hair, blue or green eyes, tattoos, broad shoulders and a little chubby. That is my favorite flavor of ice cream. I appreciate all different types of men but if one that matches that description walks by, it turns my head each and every time. When I saw Franco the first time in civilian clothes, I was done. I was the wolf in the cartoons, whistling as my jaw dropped to the floor. Luckily, I was his favorite flavor of ice cream too.

It was really easy to be in a relationship with him. We were friends first so we actually enjoyed being around each other. We didn’t have to talk, we could just blare music and be content. We had a lot of the same interests but each had our own hobbies. We weren’t the perfect couple. We didn’t always agree and we fought. There were times when I thought we were going to break up over the years. When like all long term relationships, it felt more like roommates then lovers. The routine of life took over and things stopped being exciting. We could always talk about our feelings and would sit down a have those hard talks, filled with tears. About how we both felt neglected. We would renew each other and keep trying over and over. We chose each other again and again.

He taught me how to fight for what I loved and to keep reaching out and trying for something I still believed in. That is his legacy to me. Hopefully I will be able to recognize that trait in someone else. Maybe he will send one my way, when it’s time. Maybe I’ll be alone. Either way, I knew great love and even if I never find it again. It was worth it. I would go back and chose him all over again, even knowing how it would end.

Falkenberg garage & Home

We stopped at the local store and Laura sweet talked the store keeper to let her buy beer for Lars. We pulled into the gated property close to sunset and were greeted with big hugs and smiles by Lars and Juanita.

Juanita was not what I expected from Andrews descriptions of this woman with a larger than life personality and could drink me under the table. She is like a piece of iron rod. Super slender, compact, head of red hair, hazel eyes that gaze deep into you and a wide caring smile.

She is in constant movement and never sits down. I realized why after a few days. She is in constant pain from a car accident where she hit a Kudo. It totaled the car and broke her neck. Her recovery is still ongoing. There is a surgery that could help her but she said there is only a 65% chance of it working and if it went wrong, she could end up in a wheelchair.

She works with her husband Lars at their garage. They do towing, recovery and repairs for vehicles for an area of something crazy like 3 thousand miles.

When they aren’t called out to job, she welds and creates animals out of thin plates of metal. She is such an amazing artist and the amount of detail she can put in the pieces is crazy. A lot of her work is displayed on the local businesses, either inside as accents or outside on the signage.

With our similar background with welding and mechanics, she and I got along really well. She is mother to two boys. Swanie and Lars, who they call Larsey. Swanie is 23 and Larsey is 6. She told me that when she found out she was pregnant with Larsey, she had gone to the doctors since she wasn’t feeling well and thought she had malaria. She was 42 at the time.

She laughed and told me that she worked until the day before she had Larsey. She said she was welding under a car when her sister dragged her out and yelled at her. “You are going to blind the baby!”. Juanita has such a great laugh.

Since we are also both Leo’s and have more of a masculine presence, we were able to get very close, very quickly. She shared with me about her dad’s passing and then when her beloved brother was killed. Because they are one of the only recovery rigs, she literally had to go and recovery her brothers remains. It broke my heart as she told the story and how since then she has smoked cigarettes.

We went to her mothers home and visited their graves. Her brother’s grave was made with stones and engraved with carving of the Big 5 that Juanita did by hand. There were beautiful white round sea stones that she had collected and dried flower wreaths. I had to turn away as she spoke to us about him as the tears just flowed down my face for her.

It felt like hollowed ground to be inside the small gated area but she said that sometimes she comes out and talks to him. She said something that really hit me hard. She said that her mother comes out and talks to them all the time. “She lives with the dead”. It was tough to see that Juanita just wants to be loved but her mother is so consumed by the loss of her son and husband that she doesn’t love Juanita like she should.

Lars is a very manly man that doesn’t talk often but when he does, it’s worth paying attention to. He has a cigarette constantly in one hand and either a cup of coffee or a beer in the other. He has a mischievous smile and looks like he is always plotting something. He handles the repairs of the vehicles and driving the Unimog for recoveries.

He takes great joy in making fun of Andrew and I didn’t see him actually relax until we drove out into the bush for a quick day trip. He just sat in the shade next to the vehicle, drank his beer and watched us all.

That was a great day. Just spent being together, grilling and hanging out.

Larsie can be an absolute terror or a snuggle bunny…. depending on his mood. He has a wonderful talent of yelling at the top of his lungs, the name of whoever he wants to come to wherever he happens to be in the property.

It’s usually Lars. It got to where I heard “Laaaaaaaaarrrrrrrssss….” in my sleep. Since he was born so late in their lives, he doesn’t really have anyone to play with so he is pretty much allowed to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. The adults just want to keep him happy and not crying. He was driving his small quad during the time we were there but they had order his first motorcycle. Turns out after a few quick instructions, he was a natural at it.

Swanie is a super great kid. He’s young, ginger and covered in freckles. Unlike most redheads I know, he loves the sun. He works at the garage, doing recoveries, electrical diagnostics and anything else that comes up. He also does tours for a company when they need a German speaking tour guide. He splits his time between Namibia and Germany with his dad’s family. He told me that his friends from school call him a Redneck since he loves to hunt, wears camo, boots and go into the bush. I told him that he wasn’t Redneck and explained why I would just call him Outdoorsy. We both had a good laugh over that.

Whenever there is a call for a recovery, the whole compound goes into motion to get the gear and everyone goes, even Larsey. Juanita told me that it’s a tough business and they all get desensitized to accidents, death and dealing with bodies. Even little Larsey isn’t fazed by it. They keep him in the truck when they go on a call dealing with that but it’s just a factor in their business.

While we were there, we managed to steal Juanita away for the day and headed to Etosha National Park. It’s a game park and a lot of animals can be seen there. They have fences but they can’t keep the animals from leaving, it’s mostly to deter the poachers.

They keep watering holes constantly filled so that way the animals keep coming back to it. Helpful when you are trying to get tourists to come on game drives and safari.

We drove to the holes and just sat and watched as Zebra, Giraffe and Warthog came to drink. All of the creatures stay on high alert, eyes constantly searching the danger and checking for the smell of predators.

No one is allowed to get out of the cars since animal attacks are a very real threat. We literally drove right past a male lion that was sleeping in the sun like a house cat when Laura started slapping Andrew, unable to get the words out.

He was not concerned with us at all. Just relaxing in the sun and eventually got up and walked over to a bush to cuddle with another male lion that we didn’t even see.

We stayed for awhile then continued on, we came back later and they had separated again and were in full view. Just cat napping, get it….they would peak open their eyes but didn’t really give a damn if we were there or not.

They were the most beautiful things I had ever seen when they sat up. The manes were a golden yellow when dark brown. Their faces marked with many scars. The paws were huge and they were just there for us to enjoy.

We also stumbled across a small herd of elephants with cows and babies again. We thought they were headed to the closest watering hole but turns out they went to one close to where one of the lodges sits high up on a hill. We stopped for coffee and just sat enjoying the view of the preserve. There was an infinity pool and I laid down and put my hands in the water, just enjoying the coolness of it running through my hands as the sun heated my back. Laura sat next to me and I just wrapped an arm around her and relaxed. I love water but I don’t like swimming lol.

It was a very special day for us, filled with lots of laughter and memories made.

We treated the gang to homemade tortillas and “Mexican food”. They actually turned out really well and everyone enjoyed eating the simple tacos and rice.

A&L tented for the first few nights, and I slept inside in a bed, then we swapped and I tented until we left. I preferred it. I like my tent and privacy. Swanie was super sweet to me and brought coffee in the mornings. Calling my name and holding the cup out as I unzipped everything as little as possible and reached for the cup without having to open my eyes.

The day we left was tough, most of us ended up in tears and multiple hugs were given over and over. We made our way back to Uis and delivered a metal Rhino head that Juanita had made Bas for his birthday. We went to a special spot for a sundowner with another beautiful view of the Brandburg.

We only stayed that night, we had a long drive to get to the town where the airport was of Windhoek. We checked into a lodge and went and had Indian food again to celebrate my birthday. Followed by dessert and coffee at a really sweet outdoor wine bar. It was a very quiet day and I did a lot of reflection.

As the date for me to leave got closer, I could feel myself slowly retreating back into my shell and putting the wall back up. The wall that kept me from sharing how I was feeling with the people at home. I tried to stop it but it just came up more and more.

I had a morning flight back to South Africa, I call it a puddle jumper so we called it an early night. I just packed and wrote A&L a letter to give to them when they dropped me off. I hugged them both tightly and couldn’t really say much but I hope my letter told them the things I couldn’t say.

I did some shopping at the duty free store for some souvenirs, I hadn’t really bought anything so I needed to pick up something for friends. I also bought a bottle of Amarula, which almost got taken in Rome at the security check point but luckily I told them I put it in my coffee cause they immediately let me have it. Guess they take their coffee very seriously in Rome.

The flights were very long and I didn’t sleep a wink. Too amped up, I guess. Ended up being awake for something like 30 hrs. So I was a walking zombie when I got to the US.

Mary picked me up and I had a mini heart attack when we started driving since we were on “the opposite side” of the road. I made myself calm down and tried to talk to her as much as possible to avoid falling asleep. Mary has been so great to me. Looking after the house, checking the mail, she bought me groceries so I would have something in the fridge to eat when I got home. Such a thoughtful person.

I dropped her at her house and drove the longest 20 minutes to my house. Reminding myself constantly what side of the road to be on.

I walked into my house and felt so calm. I walked over to where franks ashes were and put my hands on it and said simply “hi baby”.

I left my bags right inside the door and went right upstairs to take a shower and go to bed.

It was so strange to be back in my own bed, with franks flag there, right where I had left it. It felt different when I held it, it still does. Before I left to go to South Africa, it was like I could still “feel” him near me. He was in our home, in his flag. Now I don’t feel him around anymore. It makes me sad and it’s like I lost him all over again. Maybe he knows that it’s time for me to live again and stop holding on to him and our past.

I have finished most of the projects that had been hanging over my head. Spending time with friends and getting back into things that I love doing like salsa dancing. I am tapping into my creative side with painting and creating homemade gifts as a positive way to get my emotions out and work in me.

One of the hardest things that I’ve done, is I have stopped wearing a ring on my left hand. Even though Frank and I were never officially married, I wore a ring the entire time. It made dealing with men easier with my different jobs since they would see it and assume I was married. I figured I would stop wearing it eventually or on a very specific date like 1 year after he passed, but I just took it off one day while washing my hands and put it on a shelf. It’s strange how such a small piece of jewelry defines how you are perceived by complete strangers. I have already gotten the “so you aren’t married” comments at work. It was tough hearing it but I just smiled and said no I’m not married and left it at that.

One of my best friends,Trina is moving her stuff in next week from Arizona. With her impending move in, I have started rearranging everything and decluttering the house and garage. Getting rid of Frank’s things that really don’t have any value like ripped pants and old socks. Boxes of school paperwork and other stuff like that. Stuff that I wouldn’t have been able to touch before going on the trip with Uuzilo. I didn’t have the strength back then.

I still have bad days but now I look forward to the things coming over the horizon and the life I want to live. I can never thank Uuzilo’s Andrew or Laura enough. Hopefully they came back to the States in time for my 2nd Annual Friendsgiving in November.

Team Tyson

I found out a short time ago that my nephew Tyson has a form of bone cancer and actually had his first chemo treatment today.

My mom had sent me a message that he had been complaining about pain in his right leg so my brother and his wife took him to the hospital. They did testing and at first, thought it was benign.

I had been texting on my Garmin InReach GPS so the conversations had been short until we came into town and I was able to use our friends WiFi.

My mom broke the news to me and I just got so angry again. Why cancer……again the o someone I love. Why my family…..again? Haven’t we been through enough in the last few years? Can’t we just have a fucking break?

It was a staggering blow to the fragile trust that I had been building in God again. It was the kind of blow that knocked the life out of me.

I walked into the kitchen and Laura could see on my face that something was wrong. She asked if I was alright and I could only shake my head no. I was afraid to speak and to lose control. She asked if it was something about Tyson and I shook my head yes and got the words out through the knot in my throat. She just came over and put her arm around me and I lost it.

It took a few days for me to stop being so angry and instead just focus on the important things. Being a support for my family and uniting to fight this together.

When my Dad was diagnosed with stage 3 esophageal cancer two years ago, our family rallied around him and we were team dad strong. Now we are team Tyson strong.

The outlook on the treatment so far, is positive and there isn’t anything I can do but send my love, positive thoughts and feeble attempts at prayer. I still feel betrayed and let down by God so the prayers are not said in the nicest of tones.

I have to wait a few more days and I will be back in the states so I can talk to him, let him know how much Auntie Stephie loves him.

That kid. He stole my heart when he was born. I was still in the military and got pictures of him as he grew up. My mom sends me regular updated pics and I try to go home at least once a year. I usually spend all my time with them. I just walk from my parents house to my brothers’ house. We don’t have to do anything, I just love being around them and talking to the kids.

It’s tough watching my nieces and Tyson grow up over Facebook but that’s how life is. I have no plans on leaving South Carolina and going back to California. That is my home now even though it kills me to be away from them.

I can only hope that they can feel my Love, even if it is currently coming all the way from Africa.

Lunar Eclipse and Elephants….oh my!

As we left swakopmund to travel along a small portion of the Skeleton Coast, the scenery changed yet again. The high sand dunes and rocks disappeared to flat empty desert with very little vegetation.

There were stranded boats along the shoreline, just abandoned since the cost of recovery was probably more than the boat. The name Skeleton Coast originally came from whale and seal bones that once littered the ground, from the whaling industry but is now just the ships caught by the dense fog and offshore rocks, running aground.

We turned off and followed the Messum river as we headed toward the Messum Crater and Brandberg Mountain. We had left later in the day so the sun was setting beautifully over the ocean, in a display of reds and pinks. My anticipation grew as the moon could be seen right away, full and white, just waiting for the Lunar Eclipse to start.

The road was surprisingly good as it seemed like a grader or some big equipment had come through to make a path way through the rock and gravel.

We looked for a spot to camp that would provide some protection from the wind and hopefully animals when we started passing huge walls of crumbling stone and rocks. I found out later that they are called the “Horse Heads” since the erosion caused parts to stick out and make the shapes of heads. We took shelter in a nook that to me, looked like the head of an animal with its mouth open, I tried out several animal noises until I decided on a sheep.

The moon was slowly turning an amber color, more mocha than red like it had been predicted as the earths shadow started from the bottom and slowly covered it completely in a Lunar Eclipse.

I walked out a little ways into the dry river bed next to us and the silence surrounded me completely. The wind had died down and so had the birds and bugs.

I just stood looking at the sky endlessly. Thinking about Franco and what a difference a year makes. Last August, a full Solar Eclipse happened where I live and we were in the best spot to see it completely covered. I remember going home that night and talking with Frank about what we both saw and thought about it. Almost one year later, I’m in the middle of the desert in Namibia, in Africa….without him.

It will be 6 months since his death in the few days after I arrive back to America. 6 months since that devastating knock on Susan’s door. I can’t even imagine the shock and strength it took for her to pick up the phone and dial my number. Knowing that what she had to tell me would be one of the hardest things she has ever had to say out loud.

To me, when you say it out loud, makes it real and there is no going back to “normal” once the words leave your lips.

All of these thoughts bombarded me as I stared at the amber moon and the million of stars that shone even brighter without the moonlight. I just closed my eyes and took deep breaths in and out, then slowly made my way back to the fire. After dinner, I made a quick escape to my tent, bidding the team goodnight and quietly saying no to coffee, sitting around the fire and watching the moon.

I’m sure Andrew and Laura felt the shift in my mood but let me go without questions.

The next morning, since we were so close to the sea, the dense fog pushed into the river bed and we couldn’t see very far away until it finally lifted after a few hours. We were finally able to see the beautiful campsite we had chosen. The wall of horse head shaped stones, the mountains and we got our first look at a plant called Welwitschia

It has 2 very broad green leaves that get torn apart by the wind so it appears to have many long leaves. The base looks almost like burned wood and the long leaves collect dew. There are male and female plants that each flower different pods and with the help of the wind and inserts, bloom. Most of the larger plants are anywhere from 1,000 – 2,500 years old. The edges of the leaves start to get very dried out and it looks almost like they were burned to ash by the harsh desert sun. We were told that the largest plant stands close to 6 feet tall. We never found that one but we found other really wide ones.

There was also field of lichens. Some bright green that dried to yellow. Some a rust colored red that appeared to stain the rocks. Small white flowers grew among the stones of a volcanic rock and slate hill.

While driving, Andrew noticed a small hole through the hill so we stopped and hiked to it to take a closer look. The rocks were so crumbly and dry that it sounded like I was walking on granola with that crunchy, cracking sound. There is a lot of iron in the stones and it makes swirling patterns in the rocks.

I stopped short of the top and let A & L continue up as I sat on an outcropping. Just looking out onto the Crater and seeing the tracks go for miles in either direction. Trying my best not to cry from the thoughts of the night prior. Feeling the heat of the sun burn into me. I have been collecting small stones since the beginning of the trip and added about 5 more from the Crater.

There was very little animal life but we saw some ostrich in the distance as we followed Laura’s map and directions.

We got to a steep sand dune that was a way out but the sand spurs were too deep and crossed for us to get through with our 4×4 so we took the alternate route out and I am so glad that we did. We were able to see so much more as we worked our way toward and around the Brandberg Mountain.

It’s called the “Burning Mountain” because the sun makes it a bright red color so it appears to glow red. It is the highest mountain in Namibia and it is stunning with peaks and valleys. There are caves there with paintings, one of the most famous is the “White Lady”. We weren’t able to go in and see it because it has a water source and the lions were there.

We made our way into Uis, to the Brandberg Rest Camped, owned by A & L’s great friend Basil. That night, the lodge was fully booked with the men and families of “The Round Table”. I don’t know anything about it, only that it is for men 40 and under and they do different things to help people. Basil is a “41’er” meaning he still goes to meetings and events but can not vote. The people were dressed to the nines in black tie wear. It was really strange to see all these fine dresses people coming out of tents covered in sand. They partied late into the night but I was able to sleep without any issues.

The next morning I was able to talk to and observe Basil. He is a very interesting man. He is very tall and built large like the men in my family. He has a bushy beard and a mop of hair with blond highlights from a previous adventure with the Dawgs. He has a quiet nature, enjoys his cigarettes and coffee. It’s very easy to sit in a comfortable silence and just enjoy the view of the Brandberg. There’s no questions or expectations from him. He just lets you breath in and let the mountain cleanse your soul. If you want to talk, he will answer your questions but he is content to just enjoy your company. I feel like he has experienced a lot of pain and keeps it to himself.

The lodge is very busy with tourists but we managed to get him to go on an overnight trip with us. Since the spot he wanted to take us to was fairly close, we made a plan to leave around 4pm. We had left about 30 minutes early but had to make stops to pick up oil, petrol and for the meat that we forgot at the lodge.

It was actually a wonderful thing that we were delayed because as we were driving, we started seeing fresh elephant tracks on the tire tracks. Turns out that most of the wildlife will choose to walk on the soft car tracks instead of the rock.

We came to an old stone well and were checking out the tracks when A & L started pointing from the other car and I turned to see a small herd of wild desert elephants coming through the trees. Bas recognized the big male, called “foot tracker” with a herd of cows and babies that were probably around 5 years old. Foot tracker came about 25 feet away from the car and Bas called out to him like an old friend, which he is. The elephant knows him since Bas will lead Game Trips and Foot tracker has been known to come up to Basil’s car, sniffing it and even putting his truck through the moon roof. They were very calm and did not feel threatened by us at all. I just was in wide eyed, jaw dropping awe at these beautiful creates. Foot tracker went and checked out the stone well, sticking his trunk down and finding it empty, he shook his head in a “no, nothing here” motion and the rest of the herd immediately turned and walked into the trees again. I have seen elephants up close and even rode on one in Thailand but those were trained elephants that lived on a tourist farm. If we hadn’t been delayed, we wouldn’t have seen them at all. The experience is so special.

We continued on our adventure as we headed to what Basil calls “Rhino Rock”. It’s a large black stone in the middle of the desert. The rhinos comes and have a dust roll and rub themselves again the rock. It was was from the afternoon sun, black, round and shiny from wear.

Bas then took us to his favorite tree and we camped in a beautiful canyon. A, L and I got busy setting up our tents as Basil just took out his camp chair made of cow hide and table. Cracking a beer, he watched us set up our tents. He had said he was going to sleep on the ground and motioned the the front wheel as his sleeping area. We had imagined him shivering in a tiny sleeping back when he pulled out a huge, thick bed. Complete with pillows, a mattress and a down blanket. All covered in a canvas cover that slid over the wheel to keep it in place. It looked incredibly comfortable and we had a good chuckle over it.

Andrew did all the cooking for the braai as Bas supervised from his chair, cigarette and beer in hand….telling Andrew how to not fuck it up.

We stayed up very late, drinking beer, red wine and a sweet 20 year old Port that had a delightful caramel finish. The moon was so bright in the canyon and I made sure to put my ear plugs in since I heard stories from Quinton about Basil’s snoring.

I stepped out of my tent that morning. The valley had a haze over it and Bas was just standing with his hands linked behind his back, just staring at his mountain. I hated to disturb him but he called out a cheerful greeting but he had hints of sadness behind his bushy beard and hair sticking in every direction. He left us early that morning after a quick coffee since he had to get back to the lodge and we packed up and continued down the route that he plotted for us. He, Laura and Andrew had spent hours going over the route and identifying the markers and turns. The remoteness of Namibia means that there is no such thing as being over prepared.

As we left the Brandberg further behind, we entered valleys of yellow dried grass. Herds of Springbok ran and jumped away from us, looking like kangaroos. Ostrich with tiny babies, Oryx with their long pointed horns and a lone spotted Hyena eyed us from a rock pile. His ears twitching as he listened and studied us.

The trail ran around a valley in between mountains and rock outcropping. We went through what he called “Zebra Canyon”. It has stripes of black and white stones going vertically and horizontally in crazy patterns. There were also black slate stones that looked like thousands of books lined up for miles.

We followed the route to our campsite for the night, “the cave”. It ended up being next to a sandstone rock outcropping that had the appearance like the rock was melting and the stones below it were super smooth from the wind. Some of the tops of the rocks had pockets of holes that almost looked drilled and streaked.

We were actually very close to the sea so there was a fog bank that next morning that hide the mountains across the valley. I just opened my tent flap and enjoyed the view until I realized that two heady little eyes were staring at me from the huge prehistoric looking grasshopper from outside my tent. I angrily shook the tent to get him off and he just chattered away with a loud buzzing noise. Laura labeled him my new best friend and she had entirely too much fun playing with it.

We started out and I was enjoying the lichen fields, welwitschia, milk bush and scenery when all of a sudden, Andrew pulled the car over and said “rhino tracks”. He and Laura got out to inspect and they were very fresh, maybe only an hour old and headed back where we had come. Andrew lamented that the rhino had probably passed by us when we were drinking our coffee, completely unaware. We continued and the rhino tracks stayed on the soft tire tracks too.

We had to cross the river bed and we were on constant alert for animals. The reeds and brush were very high and we had just exited when we saw a game vehicle up around a bend that was staring intently at something we couldn’t see. We slowed to a stop to not disturb them and looked around when Andrew cried out “elephant, just there”. He directed my gaze as I couldn’t see it when I finally saw it. It was half hidden behind a sand dune and small bushes. It had thrown red dirt over itself and was very camouflaged. We shut off the car and just sat in silence until he finally peeked around the sand dune and seeing that we posed no threat, walked out in all his glory and started eating the high grass again. He paid us no mind as first as he went number one and two and basically ate breakfast. He eventually turned and looked straight at us, assessing us and we didn’t want him to get upset so we slowly drove away and left him in peace. The other vehicle was long gone by this point as they couldn’t see him from where they had stopped.

The roads were well maintained since we were close to a major tourist attraction, twyfelfontein, but we were following our own path and turned to go down a rock path. Stones completely covered every inch of the ground and it took hours to get through. It was not a route that was travelled often and we had to stop occasionally to get out of the car to look for the track. Luckily Laura kept us going in the right direction and found the route easily.

We stopped for a coffee break, eat a late lunch and see how much further we had to go. We debated about camping again or driving the rest of the way into Kamanjab to see their friends Lars and Juanita. The prehistoric scary bugs came over and started eating the used coffee grounds and they loved them. I’m sure they had a caffeine high after we left. We were also able to find a lot of really cool stones with crystals inside and spent a long time searching the ground. Andrew broke lots of stones open for us by slamming them with a big rock. Most were duds but we found some pretty ones.

We eventually came to the major road crossing and saw signs of homes and electric pole lines as far as the eye could see. The road was terrific so we made up a lot of time and decided to drive into town.

I got to see glimpses of 3 giraffes but they were so quick and almost appeared to melt into the trees until I could see them anymore.

I am so glad that we decided to take the 4×4 car. The views and animal sightings have been so beautiful and away from the normal tourist attractions. It’s giving me so much to experience and soak in.

Franco is on my mind constantly and I miss him so much. I have so many ideas for the house and to decorate in a way that honors his memory without making it seem too much like a memorial that can’t be touched or disturbed

Reflections

I can’t believe that this once in a lifetime adventure is more than halfway over. In a few short weeks I will be touching down in the good ole US of A and starting real life again.

Africa has changed me, the people have changed me in incredible ways. I find myself making plans for the future and being excited to bring this joy that I have found to my friends and family. To share this lightness in my heart and tell stories of the people and places who crossed my path, changing me forever.

I had lived in the desert when I was in Arizona so I was used to heat and flora that grows but South Africa and Namibia are both completely different from each other and anything I have ever experienced.

South Africa:

Each home is gated or fenced in for security so you drive past high walled fences but inside is a private paradise. In some of the poorer neighborhoods, the walls aren’t as high but they have jagged glass cemented along the top and barbed wire.

No one goes out at night so right before sundown, everyone is rushing to get home. It’s eerily quiet on the streets and most people that are out at that time, are plotting terrible things. Farms/homes are attacked, owners killed in the most horrible of ways and no one talks about it. The racial tensions are very high right now as there is a divide between the white South Africans, the black South Africans and the colored South Africans. They make a huge point to call someone colored if they have mixed race heritage. They are treated very harshly and are considered very low in social standings by the black South Africans.

There are some political issues that are being reviewed where it would be possible for the government to seize property owned by white South Africans and give it to away without compensation. They call it Repatriotism. It obviously has every one worried and it is increasingly more hostile environment as the white South Africans don’t have a lot of options to leave the country.

Since it is a very real threat to their lives, the people here live differently. They don’t have 401k’s, or savings to pass on. They spend their money on their homes, vehicles and toys. The homes are huge and beautiful mansions that would easily be million dollar homes. They have multiple cars, bikes, boats etc. I don’t think they realize how much someone like me is in awe of the things that they have. They take wonderful care of everything and share it willingly with friends.

They explore their creative sides and really pursue their passions.

Alta:

She is about the same age as my mom and she has a really great laugh. She is so talented in creating embroidery items, making things from cool and funky fabrics. She seemed very shy at first and it took awhile for her to talk to me. She told us a story about a woman who complained about her English while she was teaching a sewing class so she stopped speaking it the rest of the class. We assured her that it was perfect and we had no problem understanding her. It really made my heart hurt for her that this woman had treated her so harshly. She has so much light in her and she deeply loves her family, especially her grandkids. She is also very stern with them and even though I couldn’t understand her when she was speaking Afrikaans and yelling at her son Boeta, I could tell he was in trouble. She shared stories about how she and Gerrit met and the different adventures that they loved going on. She shared how they used to be huge into horses, then scuba diving and now motorcycles. She joked that they get a new hobby every 10 years. She prepared huge and delightful meals and changed my mind on several different foods. Each dinner had a dessert and a “storming elephant” an espresso coffee with steamed milk and the liquor Amarula…..with lots of conversation. I just wanted to be around her and learn from her.

Gerrit:

This is a very manly man. He owns BDM Diesel and is a diesel mechanic. You can tell how mechanically inclined he is as he looks at parts and is so smart. His garage is kept sparkling clean with every tool having a matching outline on a board so he can tell instantly if something is missing or out of place. Each little drawer is labeled and every vehicle is immaculately kept. He has a way of looking at you intensely as you speak as if he is trying to find out how you work inside. I felt bare under his gaze, just exposed like he could see every flaw of mine and if I was worthy to ride his bike. He was very kind to me, teasing me and taking time to build my confidence and would start sentences by saying “listen girl…” with his index finger pointing in the air to emphasize his point. When he rode with us on our first day, he did crazy antics and kept reminding me to relax my arms and breathe. He loves to ride and is completely in control of the bike, loves showing off while riding, sharing his adventures with stories, videos and pictures. He takes such care of his family, home and vehicles that I am so afraid to face him and see his disappointment after totaling his bike. How can I apologize for something like that? For taking a treasure that he has had countless adventures and memories on……and I just destroyed that. I know that it was an accident and I would never intentionally do that but it doesn’t help my guilt over ruining it all.

Boeta:

He is so tall and slender with a mess of blond hair. He is so smart and such a respectful kid. You forget that he is only 15. He set and cleared the table and was very respectful to his mom and dad, even if he did normal kid stuff and got in trouble. He has such a great energy and enthusiasm that I had a fabulous time just watching him ride his KTM and his crazy antics. He is a great rider, due to Gerrit teaching him. He was a pleasure to be around and I look forward to seeing him grow into a great young man. He wants to visit the US and he definitely has a place to stay if he does. He rode all around his property and Andrew took him off-road riding with photo shoots.

South Africa is covered in green evergreens and tall trees. The dark green is a huge contrast with the dark red sand. Lush ferns, green grass and bright flowering bushes are along the fence lines of homes. The trees are twisted and no branches are straight. Lots of small bushes everywhere in the populated town areas.

We took an easy dirt road and practiced for the off-roading we would do in Namibia. We went to visit a friend of Andrew and Laura who owns business that makes hand stitched things like place mats, pot holders and other cloth items. She ships them all over and we actually saw them in a shop in Namibia. We also met their friend Pepe in town who invited us over. The first time was a short visit with him and his wife Marie. The second time, we came over for a braai with Alta and Gerrit. Their home is really beautiful too, it reminds me of a Spanish style home and they had farm animals and a garden with vegetables growing.

Pepe:

He was so funny. He used to be a very successful business man but left that life to live overseas and on a boat. There is a lot more to his story but I don’t remember it all. He was quick to laugh and openly admitted to being a terrible braai man, meaning he burnt the meat into charcoal every time he tried to grill. It was obvious that he loved the sea and misses it so we bonded over that, motorcycles and dirty jokes.

Marie:

She was so sweet and open with us. I just wanted to hug and love on her. She told us how she and Pepe had met and the different companies that she had worked for and products that she had helped develop. She has a keen eye and her house was similar to mine with lots of colors popping. She is so outgoing and I really enjoyed talking to her.

The towns are very much like the US. With a lot of name brand businesses and I could get anything I wanted at the store. One thing I marveled at was edible flowers were so cheap and readily available in a basic supermarket. I made them buy some so I could add them to our salads.

We drove all tar roads for three long days. Watching the scenery change as we left the large cities behind and got more remote.

The desert also got an infrequent rain the week before so it had more blooming plants and small flowers in purple and yellows. There was lots of small bushes and everywhere had fence lined properties.

Succulents of crazy varieties live near the sea, some are so thick that they look like a spiny carpet surrounding trees and in lawns.

There are small water fountains in the fancier lodges surrounded by small gardens with succulent plants.

Wineries with acres lined with grapevines that are dry and empty since this is their winter. It looked so much like Northern California that it took my breath away.

Things are kept very clean here. Even though it’s an endless task of keeping the sand out, everything including the bathrooms are spotless. The tiles just shine.

The tar roads are beautiful stretches without a hint of pothole. They are better than any road that I have ever been on. The roads are signed well and pretty easy to navigate.

When we crested the hill and got to the top when we were close to Port Nolloth, the view was outstanding and took my breath away. To see the entire coast line and small city, instantly took me back to living in Hawaii when I crested and saw the North Shore for the first time. The blue water as far as you can see and white waves. The beaches have lots of polished tumbled white stones and pieces of broken shells. When the tide is out, the large rock reefs are exposed, I don’t know how they are made but the stones/maybe hardened sand have unique ripples and are stunning in their ruggedness.

We took a walk along the beach and I picked up lots of rocks, so many that both my hands were full when Andrew started telling me a story about when he was first riding around by himself. He had to be very careful with weight and what he took with him so he was debating between two small stones that he had been carrying for awhile when suddenly, he just dropped them both and walked away. It really hit home with me and how I am probably holding on to a lot of things that is just weighing me down but I am afraid to let go of due to the memories associated with them. With that in mind, I took a hard long look at my hand full of rocks and eliminated all but three. A round black stone that reminded me of Franco, a round all white stone for what I wanted to become and a white oval stone with black lines through it for what I am now.

We spent two days in Port Nolloth. I spent so much time with Aurial and Aunt Maggie, the two women who ran the Bedrock Lodge. We had lunch and dinners in town but came back and had long conversations and sharing of hearts over “storming elephants”.

Aurial:

She is a beautiful girl, petite in every sense of the word. Same age as me with a beautiful clear mocha colored skin. She spoke to us about her goal to open a center for kids to have a safe place to go to during the day. To learn healthy habits, have a positive environment and learn to exercise as a way to help self esteem and other internal issues. She has such a heart for others and a capacity for love. She herself battles those internal struggles that are world wide problems. Self doubt, fear, pain and loneliness. She shared with me how she had been engaged but it fell apart and she was deeply wounded by that person and by God. She couldn’t understand why God would give her this desire to love another person and then take it away without warning. She would get so animated talking about how she would almost be yelling at God about her situation and how she felt inside. She feels so strongly about this calling to help the kids and still needing a building. I shared with her a way to start small and just help one person at a time. She didn’t need a building to start, she could just walk on the beach. That didn’t cost anything and she could watch that grow as more and more people saw her doing it and let people get interested in joining her when they see that it isn’t going away and is something they can trust and start building relationships together. She showed such strength to let her pain show, to be defenseless and share how hurt and angry she felt. How she fights those battles daily but her faith is incredibly strong. Before we left she prayed over us with Aunt Maggie and asked for protection and blessings over our journey. She continues to send me songs and different audio clips that speak of overcoming fear and trusting God.

Aunt Maggie:

She was so straightforward and had a no nonsense attitude. She was constantly on the move as she was either cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry and taking care of running the household. She let me sit in the kitchen and talk to her as she prepared breakfast. We had a lot in common with music and I shared an artist with her, Rag ‘N’ Bone Man, that I had on my phone. She really liked him and she loves country music. Especially Luke Combs. We talked in-depth about the problems in the community with kids getting in with the wrong crowds, drugs, teen pregnancies and I told her that those same things happened around the world. We all have that in common, where we want to protect our kids and keep them on the right track. To give them more than we had and clean up communities. She helps to take care of her Granddaughter who was only a month old. She works in the early morning till about 4pm then goes and gets the baby from the sitter and takes care of her while Mom is gone. She also has a strong faith and was incredibly encouraging to me.

The day we left Port Nolloth, you could see an immediate change in the landscape as we crossed the border into Namibia. More importantly tar roads ended and we started off roading.

Namibia:

There is this barrenness in Namibia that I could never have imagined. Dunes of sand just rippling, a tan color and also a burnt orange color.

Further inland, there are lots of big rock piles that appear out of nowhere and the sand changes to having small pieces of white quartz with veins of orange and grey/black volcanic rock shards.

There are small bushes, some with long thorns and others with bright green round leaves, almost like succulents. The cactus that does grow is not traditional where it is round and grows up, it is spiny and looks almost like the top of a pineapple.

The silence in the desert is absolute. No animals, road noise….nothing. As I stood there just in awe, I could hear my heartbeat in my ears. Just endless silence. It made the remoteness and how far from everything I know just hit home.

At night, the skies are completely clear from pollution and the stars shine brightly. The milky way was just an endless river of stars across the sky. We could see bright planets and constellations that are normally hidden.

I was and am so mind blown that the Northern Star doesn’t shine here.

My mind automatically searched the skies for it as well as the Dippers. As a sailor, it’s so hard for me to wrap my mind around not having that as a navigational guide. How do you find your way without that ever bright guide?

The small towns are clustered close to the ocean but all around them is just emptiness and desert. It’s like little oasis’ spread out by miles and miles of desert. There are small farms and petrol stations in the remote parts but everything is more spread out.

Beautiful old cars are used in decor in the larger lodges, I have friends that would die if they saw the cars just rusting away in the desert. They have gardeners that literally rake the sand each day to remove the footprints of the guests and provide a cleaner look.

We were able to go to Fish River Canyon, which is a very popular thing to see. It’s like a smaller version of the Grand Canyon. It’s inside a park with wildlife and in route to the view point, a group of wild Oryx crossed the road and I was just in awe of their muscular bodies and long horns. The viewpoint was beautiful and we sat near the edge and just soaked it in. On the ride back to the campsite, it was the first time we had ridden with the sun going down. The pinks and purples across the desert sky was breath taking and I was reminded of my road trip with Franco in 2012. It made me smile at the memory and just soak it in.

Richard Baath:

Meeting Richard was pure happenstance. I am so in awe of his adventure. To do something as grand as bicycling from Sweden to Cape Town, South Africa and to do it primarily alone takes huge balls and a huge leap of faith. I’m sure he heard all the stories I did about what could happen to him but he did it regardless and was able to see for himself, the kindness of the people, the realities of their lives and even some unfortunate sides of people along the way. He shared stories, pictures and helped me to see that I don’t have to wait for others to join me on adventures in the future. I can just plan them and go. Check off the boxes from my Bucket List, my Dream List and stop making the excuse that I don’t have anyone to go with me. He truly opened my eyes to the world of possibilities.

The roads were getting worse and my confidence was taking a huge beating as Namibia just kept beating me up. I kept forcing myself to rise up again and again. Pulling on strength I didn’t know I had, leaning on friendship with Andrew and Laura and praying over and over to God.

The remoteness of where we were riding made it impossible to be “saved”. By saved I mean, having a quick way out. Having someone drive out and ride the bike through the rough patches for me. I had to do it, I had to figure it out cause there was no getting out unless I did it. I am so grateful to Andrew for his patience with me. He and Laura would ride ahead and then he would watch in his mirrors for me and would wait for me after a particularly hard patch. I knew he was never too far away but he also gave me space. One, for the dust to clear so I could see the road and Second, for me to figure it the hell out.

Most days I was battered emotionally and physically at the end of the day but they would pick my spirits up, share funny stories with me and my heart would again feel light and I would be ready for another tough day.

After the day that the shock broke, I was introduced to a group of men who are creating an oasis in the middle of the desert called Solitaire.

Pasquale:

This man is a professional adventurer. He climbed Mount Everest 3x, summited 2x. He is an American veteran, has done countless adventures and experiences around the world. He has had businesses around the world, has millionaire besties and has chosen Namibia and a small petrol station as home. He has his own plane and flys back and forth as needed for meetings and supplies. He is fixing up the petrol station and including a lodge that has a restaurant, refurbishing the bakery and is buying land all around the station, just to conserve it and give it back to the animals. He works as much as possible with local suppliers and farms. He employs almost all locals and teaches them from the ground up, all different tasks. From how to wash dishes, to how different people from different countries like foods to be cooked. He is so observant of every detail, from changing the brands of mustard and ketchup to name brands, to paying attention to the customers in the restaurant and changing the music playing in the background accordingly. He is very well read and stays current with world wide news. He has a very humble blue collar working man appearance. He wears work clothes and a ball cap. He has surrounded himself with key players that are very smart and handle different aspects of his daily business. He values people’s opinions and asks his workers questions, you can see he is intently listening to their feedback. We had a round table discussion about Namibias future, everyone had their own opinions and it was a very open discussion. He talked to me about the history of the land, the different tribes and traits of workers that he employs. He seems intimidating but he is so kind. He without hesitation, arranged for the bike to be recovered after the shock broke and again after my accident. He loaded his team and came out to rescue me when Laura called/text him. He transferred me from the truck I was in to his vehicle and took me back to his lodge. He opened one of the rooms and arranged for the bikes and all my stuff to be safe and locked up until the insurance recovery team came and got it. He came running without hesitation and continues to help as much as he can. I can never repay his kindness in organizing such a fast response team.

Saki:

I would call him the head manager for Pasquale and he came onboard just a few months after he had bought the property. He has vibrant blue eyes and a great white/grey bushy beard. He has a slim build and didn’t speak often but when he did it was highly intelligent and thoughtful. He listened and observed everything. He reminded me a lot of Frank so I went out of my way to talk to him and get him to smile and laugh. I made sure to pay attention when he spoke. He was the one that went out with the team to recover the bike each time. He was in the truck with Pasquale when they came to get me. He is so humble and respectful of Pasquale, you can tell how much he admires him from the way he speaks about him. He joked that when they were flying, Pasquale would tell him to fly, showed him some gauges to watch and he would close his eyes and go to sleep. Saki would be sweating and flying while Pasquale just snored, sound asleep. Saki would wake him up right before they had to land. He respects Pasquale so much and tries to stay in the background but that doesn’t work so well since he is one of the main men and Pasquale tries to include him in events.

Robert:

He is a tall, slim, tanned man with vibrant blue eyes, 5 o’clock shadow and tousled dark hair that he kept back with a flat billed hat that was similar to a cowboy hat. He is still a mystery to me. I wonder why a man with his talent and brains chose to walk away from an aerospace mechanic career to work as the mechanic at a small up and coming petrol station. He maintains the diesel equipment, builds homes and is on call for any kind of break down that might occur like my shock did. He chooses his words carefully and tends to look away into the distance when he spoke to me. I felt like he didn’t open up to most people and tended to keep to himself but I saw glimpses of his kindness. While walking to his workshop, he stopped to pick up what I called the “lodge cat” so it didn’t get run over from all the tourist coming in for gas and to eat at the restaurant. He snuggled it, talked to it and put it on a stone wall, far away from tires and feet. When he spoke about the country and the direction it was headed, it was very thought out and a realist view. Andrew and I stayed pretty close to him in his shop while he created the parts we needed. I stayed quiet so I wouldn’t interrupt his thoughts and tried to stay out of his way as I watched. I think most people leave him alone to do the repairs and almost no one came in to talk to him. Not only did he manufacture a brand new bolt, bushing and spacer….he compensated for the natural wear on the bike for a perfect fit. During the lathing processes, a piece came loose and according to Andrew, Robert just kept working. Measuring and working with blood dripping down from his hand. Not even bothering to wipe it up or wash his hand. After the repairs were complete, he took us across the road to his home to show us his collection of older KTM’s that he has refurbished. He has kickstart 500cc two strokes that he lovingly talked about. He joked he only had one registration and he just switches the plate to the bike he is riding at the time. He has a very shy smile, laugh and quickly goes serious as he gazes intently at me as he bent down to draw in the sand about tire pressures, counter steering, drifting and off road riding. He showed us the biplane that he is currently building in his living room and when I asked him how he planned to get it out, he motioned to a wall behind me and said he was going to install a sliding door. He also came out with Pasquale and stopped to make sure I was ok.

I have never experienced such selfless people. Even strangers riding by in trucks and cars slowed down if I was taking a break on the side of the road, I learned to flash a thumbs up. That is just how South Africans and Namibians are. They will never leave someone stranded on the road cause it is not safe due to animals and mostly bad people.

I don’t remember the accident but we have pieced together from pictures of the road and the condition of the bike that I lost control of it in deep gravel. The lines in the sand/gravel show how the bike swerved and I must have fought it instead of relaxing and letting it straighten up naturally. I am extremely lucky to walk away like I did. The bike itself is totaled. They think from the damage, that it did a 360 flip end over end, possibly more than once since there was damage to the top box and the front screen was flattened. Apparently I was walking around, trying to get my helmet off when some ladies stopped to help me. The helmet is scratched near the top and the vents are broken off. I “woke up” sitting with my legs out in front of me, covered by my jacket like a blanket and Andrew behind me holding my weight. He was asking me questions about my pain and I told him that I just hurt on my left upper arm and my shoulder blades. I could feel his hands move up and down my spine feeling for damage. Laura was squatted in front of me with her cellphone and Garmin in her hands, typing away. The bike laid to my right, looking like I had just forgotten to put the kickstand down. I couldn’t figure out what went wrong. Andrew and Laura managed to get an SUV to load me up and Andrew went with me as we headed back to Solitaire. I could walk and move but it was painful and I didn’t cry till I got sat in the car. Andrew was on the lookout for Pasquale and flagged down his truck and we switched to his truck. Andrew went back to load the bike on a truck and Pasquale took over checking me out and talking to me. People who had stopped, collected my things from the boxes that had scattered onto the road and put them in a pile on the side of the road. Luckily Franco’s sphere wasn’t damaged. That was the only thing I was worried about and had Laura check it for me once we were back at the lodge. As I sat and tried not to move, many people came to check on me: Robert, Pasquale, Saki, two German men who helped with the bike. Andrew, Laura and I talked and even though I knew nothing was broken, I knew I needed to get checked out. Andrew went on a mission, calling people to figure out how to get me to a local hospital. It was going to be an enormous cost to get an ambulance and after talking to everyone, the easiest route would be to try and find someone already headed to Walvis Bay. He went up to every single person in Solitaire, explaining the situation and what happened. He left Laura to watch over me and she just hugged me and got teary. I know she was so worried for me, they both were. Andrew managed to talk to two people who couldn’t take me but were actually ER nurses on holiday from France so they came and checked out my reflexes, eye movement, sensitivity to light and gave me a pain pill to take that would help. Andrew eventually found me a ride with a local Namibian and his friend and even though the truck kept stalling, I felt very safe with them. Andrew and Laura followed on the bike, after coordinating to get the bike back, stored and a friend to meet them in Walvis Bay.

The hospital was very clean and I was seen very quickly. The nurse initially thought that I was in a car accident with a bike and her eyes got huge when I explained I was riding the bike. The doctor checked me over, listening to my chest and back and sent me for X-rays. My ankle had swollen up by this time so she had that checked too. I was scared to go into the cat scan machine, the X-ray tech strapped in my neck so I couldn’t move and it hurt to lay down and then get back up. She helped me but went too quickly so my head swam and I thought I was going off the table onto the floor. I had to concentrate on breathing while she did the rest of the X-rays. Nothing was broken or fractured but the doctor was worried about the ligaments in my ankle since it was swollen so they wrapped it and admitted me for observation since I couldn’t remember the accident. I had to stay two days since we had checked in so late, it had to be a full 24 hrs. During this time and since Andrew and Laura have been on the phone with everyone. From Gerrit giving him the shitty news that I wrecked his bike, to the bike insurance people, medical insurance person, all their local friends, lawyer and many more. The doctor told me I needed two weeks to recover and use crutches but I couldn’t figure out how to use them and not hurt my upper body badly so they are just collecting dust. My ankle still has some swelling and my toes are bruised but it doesn’t hurt to walk on it and I elevate it as often as I can. My abs started hurting the second day and has been my biggest hurdle. It’s amazing how often those muscles are used daily. Moving, breathing, laughing. I still have pain in the upper rib area and around to it’s matching side on my back but the rest is ok. Almost all the bruising is gone from my shoulder and arm.

We have been in Swakopmund for a week now and we are still trying to figure out what to do. There just isn’t any clear path due to Uuzilo’s finances and the paperwork issues. We have possible leads on other bikes but insurance paperwork takes weeks to get ready plus paperwork to cross the different borders. Andrew and Laura are weighing every option to figure out what to do and they are very private so they keep it all to themselves. I think Andrew doesn’t want me to worry but I want to help and it’s hard for me to see them going through all this stress, knowing I am the cause. They had so many thing planned and it’s all gone away now and I feel terrible about it. I think it’s making Andrew question himself, like he didn’t prepare me enough but there is no roads that could have prepared me for this. Just like there isn’t really a way to prepare to hike the A.T., you just have to live it, day in and day out.

We have been staying at the flats of Quinton and Keren while I have been healing. They are such giving and beautiful people. They have gone above and beyond to take us out to dinners and treating us like royalty. There is no way we could ever repay their kindness. They have been taking us to their different restaurants and we have these long, in-depth conversations filled with laughter and stories of their adventures gone wrong. So many bottles of wine, shots and coffee have been shared.

The sunsets are out of this world here. They have so much red in them and very little purples.

Quinton and Keren own a lot of restaurants and other properties here and because they know everyone, they are careful with who is watching them and how they act around their staff. We got to meet her parents and Andrew asked me to tell Uuzilo’s story so I told it from my point of view and what we had been through so far. Of course I cried through it, cause that’s just what’s happens. We were in a coffee shop with lots of people around but I wasn’t embarrassed, I just can’t stop it from happening. I think Keren and Quinton were surprised by how open I was and I think it touched them. Keren got misty when she was talking to us after I got done and I just laid my head on her shoulder and squeezed her hand. She hinted at a past pain and I just wanted to wrap my arms around her for allowing her brokenness to show. Like Aurial said, pain speaks to pain. I think because of their position in the community and at the business, they have to be constantly on guard with what they say so they can’t be open with most people. Quinton also was very thoughtful and he wants to know so much more about me and who I was before this. He encourages me and helped me to not be as embarrassed about the accident, even if he calls me an “Offical Road Inspector”. I jokingly reply that I test it with my head and that since I’m so squishy, I bounce really well off the road since I’m well padded.

Keren:

I heard about her from Quinton before I actually met her. She is a petite blond with boundless energy that matches his and she is observant of everything. Especially in the restaurants and you can see her on pins and needles with seeing stuff that is not correct and she wants to fix it all. Her frustration is evident when she points out things that they have had countless meetings over with their managers. She is super loving with her son Tarquin who is away at school and her daughter Tatum. She understands their vastly different temperaments and puts them into activities that help them blossom. She wants them to have their own opinions, follow their passions and be tough in this harsh world. Both kids will be at boarding school this year. Tarquin is there now. It’s is a strange concept for me but is something that is done regularly here. I guess because local schools are not available or up to snuff. They literally send them out of the country to Cape Town in South Africa. It’s really only a 3 hr flight so it’s more like sending them to the next state. Tarquin has been able to work with horses and has gotten into riding in different competitions. She hopes to find a ranch for him to work at in in the States during his Gap year after graduation before he either goes to college or starts working. Tatum is the artistic one. She loves to dance and has qualified for several competitions on her first try. She is also great at drawing. You can tell how loved that Tatum is by her confidence and how much affection both parents give her. She was very interested in how she sounded to us and our accents. Keren was hysterical when she was telling us a story and used her “American” voice. It sounded just like a valley girl. I think it’s cause they watch reality tv so that is all they hear. Keren and Quinton have been to the States before and they told of their misadventures with wild gestures and sound effects, talking over each other to properly tell the story.

Quinton:

He is an adrenaline junkie, through and through. He is very intense and goes a mile a minute making plans for wild adventures and is like a whirlwind and we just smile and nod. He has done so much in his 49 years. Triathlete, international rubber duck boat racing, kite surfing, life guard, flying his own plane, adventure biking, skydiving and so much more. If it’s dangerous and he can go fast, he’s game. He is very much an man’s man but we saw a softer side of him as he snuggled with Tatum and when he opened up about different accidents and misadventures that could have ended badly. He is very strict with himself and his business. He is the single owner and controls everything from portion controlling to accounting for every sugar packet. He has everything for his restaurants manufactured in one main building and portioned out for them. Even spices are weighed. At first I thought it was overkill but then I realized how much petty pilfering happens and what he has to do to avoid that and still make a profit for all his other business ventures. Without a board, he has to deal with every single problem but it lets him have the freedom to use his gut and make decisions based on long term profits and not a get rich quick scheme. He has an intense CCTV security system with zoom functions with vivid clarity through out each of his properties.

He showed us his man cave in the making. It’s literally 4 small aircraft hangers that he made into one long hanger. He stores his off-road Jeep, motorcycles, rubber duck boat, canoes, cranes, plane and restaurants kitchen equipment. He has all his gear there

and has plans to make it a proper man cave.

He is right on the small airport strip so he took us over to meet some of the airport officials and people that own the skydiving business and we were able to watch them coming down, mostly in tandem. We also got to see Helicopters used during the Vietnam war that they use for skydiving now.

He like Keren has a hard time relaxing at his restaurants. Constantly talking to the managers and observing the staff and food. He is the best story teller. He does sound effects, with wild gestures as he tells real stories about things that happened. He told us how he built up a game farm and how he snuck in animals at night since he didn’t have permits and the crazy ways he had to transport them. His camel transfer story had us dying with laughter. Each of his stories was just as insane. He is just so excited about everything and shares it with us.

They took us off-roading on sand dunes in their jeeps and it was crazy, scary fun. It was like a super intense rollercoaster ride and I’m not ashamed to admit that I threw up…..but I wasn’t the only one. Laura was the only one with an iron gut that day. They called it going for a “sundowner” basically drinking a beer and watching the sunset.

It was staggeringly beautiful watching the sunset over the ocean, sitting on a sand dune in the desert.

The next day he arranged to have a pilot take us up in his Rallye 235e Cessna plane. It only fit four and his license is expired so his instructor took us up. It was insanely beautiful to see the birds eye view of the city and ocean. Seeing the dunes and salt flats. I have never been in plane that size. It was slightly cramped since I was upfront and tucked my legs up so I wouldn’t accidentally push the foot petals and crash us.

During one of our dinners that went late into the night, Quinton said that I needed to get back on the horse so he made plans for us to ride his bikes. To instruct me, to let Andrew ride his 450 and play off-road. We met him at the hanger and I climbed on the back of his 990 Dakar KTM as we ripped through town and onto sandy roads outside of town. Andrew followed on Quinton’s 450 and Laura in his truck. He was constantly talking, explaining and showing me how simple it is to take control of the bike and not be scared. He had me stand up with him while going over some bad road and I was terrified. He swerved in and out of the sand and I have to admit, I felt that clench of fear in my stomach when he first drove to the side of the road. Tears just flowed down as he talked to me and I tried to answer through the knot in my throat. He took me to a nice road and had me ride the bike by myself. I kept it to about 60km and third gear. Just getting used to riding gravel again and standing up as necessary. Trying to get myself to relax and stop holding on so tight. He rode next to me on his 450 and I was able to relax some as I knew he was watching out for me and I wasn’t alone. We pulled over at a scenic spot before it got too curvy and he just gave me the biggest hug and slaps on the back. He was so proud of me. I tried to take a minute to be alone cause I could feel the tears starting but he didn’t let me go and just talked to me and hugged me as the tears flowed. We both got on his bike again and I relaxed as much as possible while we drove through the curvy road. We stopped for a bite to eat and quick coffees before Andrew and Quinton got on the bikes to tackle the sandy riverbed and I joined Laura in the truck.

Laura and I had a wonderful conversation and she shared with me about her past, and her life leading up to meeting Andrew. She shared a beautiful story about her friend Courtney who passed away and we were both in tears by the end of it. I just put my hand on her leg as she talked and drove.

Quinton showed us the “Singing Rocks” they are a rock pile that when you strike certain parts of them with other stones, they ring out kind of like a steel drum used in Caribbean music. It was so cool and it was in the middle of nowhere, just following dirt tracks through the desert. We had talked about meeting up for dinner again but Quinton and the family decided to stay home and watch movies so A, L and I just had a quiet dinner and I was asleep by 8:45pm.

I still don’t know how the rest of the trip with unfold but I know this.

I feel a lightness that wasn’t there before. I am able to laugh easily and often without feeling shame. I realize that joy and pain can live in the same space, without one overcoming the other. I still miss Franco more than I can ever express and it’s still hard to think about never seeing him again but that pain doesn’t rip through me like it used to. Instead of wanting to shrink away from life, I find myself reaching out to connect with people. Excited to share my travels, spend time with friends and open my home up. To travel and experience life in all its glory. I’m not as scared to potentially find great love again. I’m working on lowering my guard when it comes to saying things out loud and not just in black and white. It’s always been hard for me to verbalize things, mostly cause i always end up crying. But that doesn’t matter anymore, the tears comes when my heart can’t hold it back anymore and with them comes as cleansing feeling.

I don’t know how to express my gratitude to Andrew and Laura for their selflessness and willingness to take a stranger into their lives and share this wild adventure and meet people who changed my heart. They have given me back my song. They sang it gently to me when I forgot the words.

Gravel: 1, Stephanie: 0

The day started off ok. It’s was super windy and we left out to Walvis Bay. The wind was blowing me all over and I struggled to keep it in the track.

The roads were not good and had a lot of sand and loose gravel piles on the sides of the road.

It was cold so I had put lots of layers on and thick gloves but I wasn’t able to feel the throttle so I took a break and changed into my normal riding gloves and removed some layers.

I got back on the bike and checked for traffic and there was a car a little bit away so I just started out again.

Next thing I know, I’m sitting on the ground with the bike on its side a little ways away from me. Nothing on me is broken, just bruised and sore.

Looking at pics, I could see where the bike got squirrelly again and I must have fought it instead of relaxing and letting it straighten out naturally.

Luckily some nice people stopped and gave me a ride back to the lodge. Andrew wanted me to get checked out so he coordinated a ride to the nearest hospital 260km away.

The ride he coordinated, was a really nice man Reinhard and his friend but their truck kept breaking down and turning off while he drove. He also had a fork stuck into the side of his radio to keep it in place. The roads were super bumpy and he drove really fast over some big bumps and his friend in the back seat flew up, hitting his head on the top of the truck and had to grab the front headrest and yelled at him “you have a patient in the car! Slow down!”. I just laughed and laughed.

We eventually got to the hospital and I walked in, the nurses immediately took me back and did X-rays, cat scans and the works. Every came out fine but the doctor said I had to stay for 24 observation so I was taken to the general ward and had dinner before I went to sleep.

The next morning started very early, nurses and staff kept coming in. Cleaning, taking out the trash, opening windows, taking blood sugar levels and blood pressure.

I am already a terrible morning person but worse since I was more sore. The doc came in and talked to me and said I would have to stay another night since we checked in at 6pm the night prior, it hadn’t been a full 24 hrs. That really sucked and was frustrating but I just slept and watched tv. Laura and Andrew stopped by and spent time with me in between them dealing with the medical insurances and all the bike insurance stuff.

Finally, the next afternoon I was released and we drove to the next town and their friend Quinton is letting us use two of his rental suites. I just relaxed and took it easy. Different parts were getting sore when others were feeling better. Taking naps on the couches.

We got to see a lot of Quinton’s businesses and he took us to see some of his friends planes and different helicopters that were used in the Vietnam war.

We had dinner at one of his restaurants called Tiger Reef. It is right on the beach and just laughed and laughed at all his crazy stories and his wife didn’t hold anything back.

We don’t think that the bike can be fixed in time before I have to fly home so we are trying to figure out a plan for the rest of the trip.

I really feel terrible about messing up Gerrit’s bike and I hope the insurance process goes smoothly and it can get fixed quickly.

It really sucks that this has happened but I’m ok so in the end, that’s the important part.

Stupid fucking gravel and sand

Fixing bikes and hearts

The road from Hammerstein (that’s not its names but what I called it) was the worst that we have encountered so far.

The corrigation tracks were very deep. It’s caused by cars and trucks driving too fast on the gravel roads. It looks like mini waves.

I had to stop many times because I was so scared. The backend kept sliding on me when I would get stuck in a deep track and when it would narrow to a tire width and the sides would be piled up gravel and sand.

To an experienced rider like Andrew, he just flies over the road but for me…..not so much.

I just pulled over and the tears would not stop coming down.

Andrew keeps watch for me in his mirrors and if I take too long to come behind him, he turns around comes looking. I could barely get the words out to him “I’m not ok…”

I just shut the motor off and walked away to the fence line and let the tears go. Andrew just hung back and gave me space. Then encouraged me the best that he could.

I was broken.

Physically and mentally.

But there was no other choice but to get back on the bike and keep going.

Taking breaks so I could shake out my hands from gripping so tightly, quads burning since I was riding standing up most of the time cause that is the only way I could see the tracks and feel in control of the bike.

We were 12km from town and I needed another break so Andrew went and took Laura into town to organize camp for us then was going to head back and ride with me.

I sat there drinking water and made my mind up to go. Climbed on and headed to town, meeting him half way there. He stayed right next to me as I crawled into town.

As soon I got off the bike, the both wrapped me in huge hugs and a cool sprite.

The tentsites were fully booked but we spoke a German family who let us tent on their site and use their fire pit.

I walked into the desert some and used my Garmin to send messages to my family, asking for prayers and telling them about the day.

Susan sent me a message, a simple but complex question. “Are you finding what you are seeking?”. Pondering that question brought the tears on as I struggled to find the words to answer.

“I don’t know yet but I know that people are being put in my path.” It’s helping to restore my faith in everything.

This trip is forcing me to my breaking point and beyond to where only faith exists.

Faith in myself, the bike, my team and lastly God. Repeating to myself over and over out loud. “You can do this”, “find the track”, “breathe girl, breathe” and “he hasn’t taken you this far to leave you now”.

Just nonstop talking to help me concentrate.

It’s amazing what a good meal, cold shower and deep sleep can do to restore my soul.

We woke up early to try and catch a hitch into Sousevlay. They don’t allow bikes into the park and it is about an hour from the entrance to where the dunes and drybed is.

We managed to flag down a big tour bus. He driver cab was separate from the cab with the tourists but he waved us on. The tour guide was not happy about it, claiming it was against company policy in case of accidents but she couldn’t kick us off without looking like an asshole.

She did not like Andrew at all but warmed to me and we chatted sporadically when she wasn’t speaking German to the group of people she was guiding in a semi-supported bicycle trip. They ride the bus and stay in lodges but ride bikes 20-30km a day.

When we got to the “entrance”, we had to get on 4×4 open air trucks since the sand drifts are hard to maneuver in cars.

The parking lot was right on the edge of the dunes and you had to walk through them to where the drybed was.

I had just watched a documentary about this place before I left and now, here I was standing among the dead and twisted trees. It talked about a folk lore that God was upset at the trees so he ripped them out of the ground and put them back in with the roots up to the sky.

The earth was so dry and cracked, it was about 7-8 football fields long and maybe 1-2 wide. You could hike to the top of “Big Daddy” but it takes normal people about 4 hrs then to get down, you just run straight down the face of the dune. It was hilarious watching people come down. One boy just tucked into a ball and rolled down the hill. His dad did crazy antics right next to him.

The dune had green plants and yellow flowers growing on the side of it. I could believe they could grown like that.

As I walked from the far end, I realized that there were deep footprints dried into the ground from where someone had walked across after a rain storm. Now the footprints were harden and would remain there until it rained again and again and the earth could fill the holes again.

It made me think about it in terms of a heart.

When you are most vulnerable, someone will walk into your heart and leave deep footprints. Sometimes it’s for a good reason, most times it’s not. So your heart becomes like that dry desert bed. Dried, cracked and nothing grows on it and everything planted there just withers away. Then everyone that comes afterwards walks on the hardened surface without leaving a mark, unable to tell they were there at all.

I think I am that way now. I am just waiting for the rain to come.

We caught a ride back with a super nice group with mostly Australians and one Swiss girl that I sat with. Turns out the tour guide Kenneth, knew Gerrit and Alta. The people were rented the bike from and had a great first few days with. He gave such positive feedback about the road that we packed up camp and got on the road to the next town of Solitaire. Only 80km away. Easy day…..right?

The roads were still terrible but I knew to stop as often as I needed and talked to myself.

Andrew and Laura had just topped the hill in front of me when I started out again when suddenly the bike dropped down 1-2 feet. I knew immediately something was wrong. “Oh shit….the shock broke”. I remained calm and since the rear wheel was still able to spin, I just pulled in the clutch and let it roll to a stop.

Right then, a car came from the other direction and flagged him down to go and catch the team and tell them what happened so we could make a plan.

The family sped off and I got the bike off the road. It was too low to use the kickstand so I just sat on it to keep it upright. I figured Andrew would drop Laura off in town to figure out a truck and then come to me. Eventually I just let the bike rest on the boxes briefly while I shed my gear and searched the road for the bolt that had come loose.

Andrew came back and we got the boxes off with my stuff and had a guy named Gunther Heimstadt with Bateleur Helicopters stopped and gave me a ride into town while Andrew stayed with the bike.

Laura had already left and rode with the owner of the lodge Pasquale and they came back and he organized his men and a truck to load the bike.

We decided to take of it in the morning so we set up camp and had dinner. Turns out the same group and tour guide was staying here as well and Kenneth felt terrible about his shitty road report and what happened to the bike.

The next morning we started looking at the map and making a plan over coffee when the mechanic Robert came over and we got the bike off the truck. We tried to call the local BMW dealer but they never got back to us so Robert, who is an aerospace engineer by the way, manufacturers and completely new bolt and bushings with his lathe. He is incredibly smart but like most geniuses, his peoples skills are lacking so I stayed out of his way and not talking while he did his measurements and used the lathe. I went through and checked all the other bolts on the bike, just in case.

He got it all completed and we helped him reassemble the bike and then we went to his house and he showed us his 4 KTM bikes. Literally, this guy is building a biplane in his living room. He slowly warmed to us, even cracking dry jokes and flashing smiles. He lowered the tire pressure on the bike and I went out on a test ride with Andrew.

It was a completely different ride. The bike absorbed so much instead of my legs and arms. It was mind blowing.

Andrew pulled off to the side and we spent a long time talking and I finally asked him questions about his trauma and we both ended up opening up and letting tears fall without embarrassment and watching the desert in all its glory.

I think it was healing for us both. We are riding out tomorrow so hopefully my angels can keep up again cause they are working hard to keep me safe.