The last time Mother's Day fell on May 9th was in 2010. Feels strange to celebrate " our memories " of Jody White and his suicide on the actual date. So many thoughts are mixing together on this year's anniversary. I don't think I told you yet, but I joined the coaching staff at "DC Dirt Camp". I'm going to Northern Virginia a couple of times a month to help out and I am loving it. To watch 6-11 yr. olds control their fears enough to learn the basics of controlling their motorcycles is a gift. To be able to share their parents and grandparents pride is a gift. To hear "Best Day Ever" exclaimed through a little motorcycle helmet, well, you get it. You watched it. Twice. In my Mother's Day blog from 2018, you made a comment - "Somehow Tommy and Jody get mixed up in my mind". You went on to say how I have a special way of sorting it out. I knew what you meant, but now I, too am starting to mix them up. It worries me. I was at dirt camp on May 2nd and on my way home, I decided to swing by "Big Berm". I wanted to see if being there would jog any memories. I know I've been there before but when? Was it to see Jody race or Tommy? Or both? I don't know. Being there jogged memories of smells, of sounds, but nothing specific. Wish we could talk and sort it out together. Miss you, Mom. Happy Mother's Day on "our day" mothers-day-reflections.html
"The purpose in lives of those born on March 16th is to find their true Self and their core of all creative power. They should always stay in touch with their child within, aware that it is their strongest gravity towards laughter and happiness".
These words were sent to me on my FB page, I don't know the author but damn did they resonate.
Just two weeks ago, I was almost in tears because I couldn't get the big truck's oil dipstick back into the reservoir. Today, I am the happiest I can remember being.
I was pre-tripping the truck and trailer, getting ready to head to King George, VA. and DC Dirt Camp for the weekend. I had been hired part time as part of the coaching staff and this was my first real weekend with kids ( ages 6-11). The lead kids coach was moving to Texas, and there were three of us trying to learn as much as we could from him before he left.
I was nervous, not feeling confident - physically or mentally. While I lost weight, I had also lost muscle over the Covid winter. And I was losing my mind. The Prevagen commercials got my attention. My body was letting me down - I was letting my body down. Even transitioning my health insurance was confusing, overwhelming. I was depressed. I was talking to my grandfather, Mom and Tommy almost every day as I walked our dogs on our beautiful farm, thankful and grateful but scared I could no longer take care of it. It was a rough winter.
So back to the truck, the oil stick would not go in - it would get half way in, if I gently pushed the thin metal would bend. I spent a solid 15 minutes trying different angles, directions, battling with my self talk asking me what the hell I thought I was doing. I'm old.
With head held low, I walked into the house, into Todd's office and before he said anything, I said, " please don't say anything loudly or I'll just collapse into tears, I can't get the oil dipstick in Nellie, can you please help me". He must have seen the desperation in the tears welling up in my eyes and to his credit, stopped what he was doing and walked outside with me. He too had trouble. Relief, it wasn't just me. He called our favorite shop - W & W Auto and talked to Tim. We wanted to see if I could drive the four miles to him with the dipstick out. Yes, just cover the hole. As I was grabbing my wallet, Todd got it back in, pulled it out, oil good, and slowly, very slowly got it back in again. There was def. a crimp in the tube. The dipstick was in, oil was good, I wasn't going to worry about it until I got back from Virginia. In hindsight, I think part of my total lack of confidence was due to the fact that I didn't have confidence in my rig. The last two times I had driven Nellie and the trailer anywhere, I either had to be towed home or had to white knuckle it home due to engine issues. I wasn't sure I had the energy to calmly and safely deal with a breakdown. I was scared to be by myself. That is a huge thing for me to admit. I have always loved being by myself, doing things by myself.
I was in the driver's seat, ready to pull out of the driveway. My husband walks up to me, "Mind if I say something"? I nod, "not at all". He said, " Believe it or not, I understand your depression. I've been there. It's hard to admit that we can't do some of the things that we used to be able to easily do. Once you recognize it, it becomes easier to adjust and accept your limitations". I shot back, " I get it, I have - I don't even try expert sections of trail, anymore". He smiled. I melted, realizing just how right he was, that he wasn't just talking about motorcycle riding, and how lucky I was to have him in my life.
I had an uneventful drive to camp, arrived with plenty of daylight to set myself up, hook up the generator, cook dinner, review notes, and prepare for a 5:30 am start.
Friday was a long day, I learned a lot, contributed a lot and was feeling good. I could do this.
I realized the Universe was talking to me on Friday night when I received a message from an old friend letting me know that my scouting mentor had died that morning. At the time he died, I had been at the edge of the Potomac River, watching new adult riders learn how to traverse a hill. It was windy enough that there were whitecaps on the Potomac. A huge bald Eagle came into my view, he soared, he dipped, he circled, and he circled again before he sailed off. I knew Bill had come to say goodbye. It reminded me of the time when Niner and I were on the Sisters Ride. We were somewhere in the middle of the country and she found out one of her army brothers died. It was unexpected. It took her Mom talking to her before she settled down enough that we could ride. A couple hours later, we came down a forest canopied hill into open sky and there in front of us was the biggest, fluffiest cloud in the shape of a heart. Dave was saying goodbye, I'm with you.
The magic continued on Sat. and Sun. with the kids classes. To watch little kids go from being scared of their motorcycle to riding figure 8's - to "the best day ever" was what my soul had been craving. I used to think that my soul's mission in this life was to help people find joy after loss. That may be partly true, but the joy I have found in my life from being involved with kids in scouting, the kids on my school bus, and now with these kids in dirt camp is beyond coincidence.
My vision is no longer 20/20. I can't see as far down the road as I used to. So I just drive a little slower. I can't pick up my GS by myself anymore, so I don't ride it off-road alone. I bought a smaller bike for when I do. I can't lift hay bales anymore, so we hire kids to move hay for us. I have started wearing my cashmere sweaters everyday, instead of "saving them for a nice occasion". Tommy once asked me why I didn't use my silver everyday, what was I saving it for? I didn't have an answer. I pulled it out that very day, have been using it ever since. So to answer my original question - where am I? Just where I need to be.
It has been seven years since Tommy died. I miss him more today than I thought possible. Actually, I miss who he would become, I want new photographs. This morning, I received a phone call from my sister-in-law letting me know of another young man's death. My heart broke for his family. He celebrated his first year of marriage last month. I called our friend immediately, even though I had no words. We found something to laugh about - his hair looked good when he died. As strange as that sounds, the fact that I know what it feels like to lose a child, allows me to express myself honestly, to find the little things that will allow us to continue on. I believe, that my ability to share, to understand, to pull the positives out of death, is one of my soul missions in this life. I have been working on a book and I'd like to share the introduction with you. I would really appreciate your feedback. Thank you in advance.
These words were written to me by my son on Wed. April 17th, 2013. They meant the world to me when I first read them. I didn't realize at the time how very thankful I would be to have them, or how often I would re-read them.
"Hey Mom, I'm curious to see pictures of us when you came to visit. Do you think you could send them to me?
I wanna go back to Joshua Tree. But for this I'll have to go much further. Alone with a backpack. I need to meet people, live within their cultures. I need to start a whole new adventure: a new perspective.
Even before the reason of our most recent reunion I've felt I was missing or not understanding something greater. Greater than an apartment...a car...greater even than what I realize to be my life. It's not a bad life, a gift I wish not to waste. It is mine to grow, learn from, allow forgiveness; mine to love.
I'm writing this not from a mental state that suits me ill but rather a state of clarity and expansion.
Honestly. This letter spawned from a query of pictures. Don't know why but I kept writing. I suppose I wanted you to know its message and meaning. Maybe I write you this in the fact that you are probably the only one I can say this to. The truest recipient.
Or maybe its me trying to encapsulate all those missed 'I love yous' into an I love you that isn't said habitually or forcibly.
Least this once you know my words are the truest of sentiments.
I love you.
On Wed June 12th, 2013 I received a phone call that would change many lives. I was standing in my living room, it was almost 6pm EDT, my cell phone rang. I rarely answer my phone but something propelled me to push the accept button on my iphone.
It was a Dr. from West Hills Hospital, " your son, John (Tommy's given name), was in a motorcycle accident." Within seconds, my mind was making a list of what I had to do to get ready to go to California to be by his bedside. Questions that were overtaking my thoughts; how long would his recovery take? what exactly happened? went unanswered. Then I heard the words, " Are you sitting down?" I quickly plopped myself into my favorite maroon leather chair in our living room and answered, "yes." And then my world as I knew it, was gone. I heard her words but was convinced I misunderstood. "We did everything we could." I said, "excuse me." She repeated herself. I replied, "he's dead?" "Yes, I'm sorry."
She couldn't tell me what happened other than it was a motorcycle accident. I didn't want to hang up, too many questions were unanswered. I had to move, to tell people, to get to California. I had to go get my boy and bring him home. What the hell happened? My first thought was that he committed suicide, just rode his bike off one of the beautiful cliffs on Topanga Canyon Blvd, or Mullholland Hwy, or Old Topanga Canyon Rd., or Latigo Canyon Rd. Hell, there are plenty of beautiful canyon roads surrounding his home in Calabasas.
I called family friend, Lisa Niner. They were seated at the same table just four days ago when he was home for his sister's wedding. What did they talk about? Did he seem depressed? The short answer was no.
I called my husband and my son. Todd would later call Ary. India was out of the country, on her honeymoon. Should we let her know? I asked them to come home immediately.
Jay got home first. I met him as he got out of the car. He dropped to his knees, put his head into his hands. He was scheduled to leave the next morning for Army training. When he called to report in, his commander/professor did not give him any options - he was re-assigned to the next training class. I will forever be grateful to that man.
Todd pulled his jeep into the field by the garage. I ran towards him, he enveloped me and asked what I needed. I didn't know.
I called my ex-husband, Tommy's father, next. I told him I was going to California ASAP but had not yet made any arrangements. Within minutes of that phone call, Lisa walked into the house. She had booked the last two non-stop flights to LA - she was going with me. She helped me pack, and we were off. As Todd drove us to the airport, I got a phone call from Donate Life - Tommy was an organ donor. That conversation lasted almost until we got to the airport. Lots of questions about Tommy's lifestyle. Knowing what I know now, I would have let them harvest more but at the time, I still didn't believe he was dead and I wanted to see him whole. As we neared the airport, I called West Hills Hospital to let them know I was coming. They said I needed to find a funeral home, they would send Tommy there, they weren't set up for that kind of visit. "I am on my way and I will see my son there," I spoke firmly into my phone. "I am aware of what I may see, I found my little brother after he shot himself in the head. Believe me, I can handle blood." I was transferred to a social worker and she assured me, she would do her best.
Somehow Lisa got me through the airport and through security. Thank God, she had gone through my pocketbook at home and taken out my grandfather's big knife. As we were waiting to board, I thanked her. Lisa and I go way back. She was my little brother's first girlfriend. An Army Warrant Officer 4 with with three deployments to her credit, I trusted her implicitly. She simply said, "I got this." It was time to board. She led me to the gate and I happened to look up --- we were about to board a plane going to Texas. We laughed out loud until tears were streaming down my face. "I got this" has become an ongoing joke between us.
We arrived at LAX Thurs. morning. My step-brother, Christopher, picked us up and drove us to the hospital. When we arrived at the front desk, the volunteers sitting there had no idea what I was talking about. Before Lisa and Christopher jumped over the desk to strangle the two of them, I pushed re-dial on my phone and had the woman I had spoken with before on the phone. She came out to the front desk and gathered me into her arms - I sank into them - grateful. We were led down some halls, Christopher and Lisa were directed to a well appointed waiting area, while I was escorted to the freezer room and gently forewarned.
Two nurses went with me into the room where my cold son lay on a gurney with a white sheet over him. Thankfully, it wasn't pulled over his head. They stepped back, gave me room, and allowed me to be with Tommy. My hands went to his face and head as I gently stroked him, talked to him. His blonde hair had been dyed a dark brown in places by blood. There was dark, dried blood coming out of his ears. I checked his wrist for his family bracelet; it wasn't there. I asked the nurses about it. He hadn't been wearing any jewelry when he was brought in. I would find it later in his apt. I don't remember if I asked or if a nurse suggested it but I had scissors in my hand and was cutting some of his hair as a keepsake.
This was real, my son was dead. A man driving a pick up truck had mistakenly made an illegal u-turn and Tommy had been unable to avoid him. He was two blocks from home.
What follows is my survival story. How I went from the devastating loss of my youngest son to the appreciation and gratitude that he was in my life for 25 years. How I was able to forgive and to once again find joy in living.
Marjorie M. White
February 13th, 2020
How many times have I heard that? Thing is, I never saw it coming. I've lost my father, my brother, and my son. Frankly, after Tommy died, I didn't think there was anything worse than losing a child. I was wrong.
When I called the Reverend at St. John's to see if we could hold Mom's service there, she said "when your Mom dies, it's like the tectonic plates shifting." I didn't get it at the time. As executor, I had a lot on my plate and had since Mom's fall on March 31st.
Now that her service is over, I've had some time to reflect. I miss her like hell. I'd walk into her house, and her face would light up. She loved to hear what I was up to.
Perhaps the fact that I wasn't scared of losing her made me the perfect caretaker for her. After her 2nd round of in home PT - she looked at me as we sat together looking out her bay window; "I'm tired, I don't want to do this anymore." I said, "You don't have to but that means we have to shift gears." We stop the PT and OT, and call in hospice. Her eyes lit up, "YES, let's do that." It really was just like that. My sister and I pulled our grandfather's old wheelchair out of the attic, and took her to see her primary care dr. She was scared he wouldn't be on board, that he would convince her to try and live. He didn't. Mom had a lot of health issues besides her broken ribs and partially collapsed lung. She had had back to back heart attacks and strokes in 2009. She was on a lot of meds. She couldn't just stop them all without a dr.'s help. Chronic pain was her biggest issue. She was relived that her dr. was supporting her.
A couple of days later, the hospice intake Nurse Practitioner came out. She asked Mom a lot of questions - had she tried this for that, had she seen this type of dr. for that problem, etc., etc. I could see Mom tighten up - she was feeling judged. She had the look of a little girl who was feeling guilty because she wasn't trying hard enough. She had been such a life force her entire life, an outspoken proponent of suicide prevention, and here she was giving up. She didn't want to disappoint anyone - she was feeling anxious, uncomfortable, and guilty.
I had to interject.
I explained first to the NP what Mom was feeling and then I explained to Mom why the NP was asking all these questions. I explained that she had to make sure Mom knew what she was doing ( Mom had her wit and humor until the end ). She had to make sure I hadn't talked her into this. Mom needed to understand that the NP had to defend her decision to admit her into home hospice.
This led me into my own questions about active vs passive suicide. Mom was ready to die. She didn't want to kill herself, she was ready to stop trying to live. I'm still exploring those differences.
Three weeks after Mom entered home hospice, said her goodbyes to her family, she died at home. You have to admire her strength. It wasn't quiet, her labored breathing that night sent me back to my own bed, and Lisa to another room. One of my regrets is that I didn't stay with her that night, but honestly, I'm pretty sure if I had she would have waited until she was alone anyway.
We had a glorious celebration of her life, and I know she was here the whole time because of her signs. There is a Red Bud tree over at our family gravesite, she loved red buds. The morning of her service, I went over there to write what I was going to say. I looked up from the small bench I was sitting on and there was a small heart shaped leaf just glowing.
Then there was the little toy turtle that Taylor found under the big Elm the day of the celebration. I had never seen it before. Three days later, I found it in my dining room under her old desk.
And then, my friend Wanda, who was headed home to VA. after the party sent me a text about a license plate she just saw. MEMEE4 ---- Mom was MeMe to her grandkids and her birthday was the 4th. The day after her celebration.
I went to say goodbye to a friend but first I had to travel back to June of 2013. I landed at LAX, it was only 10:30 in the morning. I had flown Alaskan Airlines for the first time. I had the whole row to myself. As I approached the baggage carousel, my bag was the first one off, I went out the door to the rental car shuttle and walked right on. I picked up my rental car from Thrifty and was on the 405 headed N by 11:30am, and traffic was light. It would be that kind of a trip.
The first stop was Point Dume SMR. On June 14th, 2013, a group of us sat in Tommy and Nick's apt. His father, his aunt, 9R, and I had finished packing up his room. I don't remember whose idea it was, but as his friends and family sat around, lost, we decided to each write him a letter. We read them aloud, we cried some more, and then we found an empty wine bottle and stuffed them all in. We headed to Point Dume. Nick and Wes put their wetsuits on, paddled out past the breakers and set the bottle adrift. The rest of us watched from the beach. I prayed that nothing would happen to them, while they were on this mission.
Now, almost six years later, it was time to re-visit Point Dume.
It took me a little while to find the way we came in all those years ago, but it slowly came back and I found my way. I walked the walk, remembered, and reflected. It was warm, about 70 degrees, with a gentle wind. There were no tears, I had a passing thought of finding the bottle on the beach.
The next stop on my remembrance tour was Tommy's apt. in Calabasas. I had been back there since his death, but I had not been to the area behind his home where Jay and Nick spread some of his ashes, in 2015. As I drove through Malibu's canyons, I could see the remnants left by the Woolsey Fire (Nov.2018). As a former wildland fire fighter for the California Dept. of Forestry, now CalFire, I knew first hand how difficult it is to fight these types of fires. Seeing the scarred hills, the seeming randomness of what is burned and what is spared, brought it's own memories.
Driving down Las Virgenes felt like going home. The way was automatic muscle memory, past the spot where the crash happened, I could still see the red outline of Tommy's body, marked on the road with spray paint, in my mind. The village market was still there, I stopped in to say hi to Franco, but he wasn't there. I left a note. I drove to the last entrance, turned right, and then right again. Down a slight hill and looked at Tommy's parking space - it was empty. I parked, and walked slowly towards his apt. I looked up the steps to his 2nd floor door, I stopped to take a picture of his bedroom window. Just then a young blonde woman came down the steps, and looked at me funny. I said, " I know this looks weird but my son used to live here." Tears immediately started rushing out of my eyes. I couldn't stop them. I fumbled for the words to explain to this person what had happened. As she teared up, she asked, " would you like to come up and see it?" I replied, "Yes, please, if it's not too much trouble." She led me up the steps. I walked in; I instantly knew I had to leave. Her 3 young boys and husband looked at me questioningly - I had no words - that was Tommy's room, I pointed. I thanked them, apologized for the intrusion and fled before I broke into racking sobs. I got into my car, wept, and tried to compose myself. Wiping away the tears so I could see, I drove back to Las Virgenes and took a right, instead of a left. I had planned to walk to the tower, where Jay and Nick had spread some of Tommy's ashes. Tommy loved to ride his Ducati up into these hills. I got out of the car and saw red hearts stuffed into a trash can. It was time to go.
The next day I awoke to little voices and the sound of rain. I was staying with Caleigh and Rick and their three kids. Caleigh was like a sister to Tommy and her oldest, Zada called him uncle tom tom. He never met Weston or Vaugn.
John Miller was like a father to Tommy. He had called Tommy his third son. His blood son, Johnny, Rocky, and Tommy lived together for a time - the three musketeers. John and Johnny had travelled to Maryland for Tommy's memorial service. I felt a need to be here, not only to support Johnny, and his sister, Ashley, but to represent my son. Tommy didn't need me to represent him, he made it obvious to everyone that he was there. But I am so thankful, I was able to be there.
As I left Caleigh's to make the short drive to the church where the service was to be held, I heard a rumble of thunder - I knew then that Tommy was there. Caleigh asked Tom to make it really loud at the service.
As John's casket was about to be rolled between the aisles to the front of the church, there was a HUGE crack of thunder. There was no doubt, that John and Tommy were together and right there. We all looked at each other with tears in our eyes and smiles on our lips.
The afternoon was spent reminiscing, and reconnecting. I also was able to finally meet some friends and family I knew but had not yet met. As usually happens at funerals, I heard stories about one of my sons that I hadn't heard before, and I loved every minute of it.
The next day, I said my goodbyes and thanks to my CA. family, and headed toward my next mission, spreading some more of Tommy's ashes.
I'm not sure how long after Tommy's death that I knew his ashes would go to four places, but I knew, and I was sure. Perhaps it was a dream, maybe a sign, maybe a voice in my head, maybe Tommy told me through a medium; I truly don't remember. All I know is that some of his ashes were buried by his father at St. James in Monkton, MD ; some were scattered by his brother and friend in the Santa Monica Mtns., above where he lived in Calabasas, CA.; some will eventually be buried on our family farm in MD ; and some were with me as I made my way toward Joshua Tree NP.
The weather on that Friday was beautiful. Sunny, 70's, breezy. I had actually planned to re-visit Rawhyde and meet up with a friend I made when I was there in 2015, Audrey Rodriguez. I had planned on going to Joshua Tree on Sat. However, the weather predictions for Sat. ( torrential downpours, flooding, wind) made me change my plans. So I found myself in Joshua Tree, feeling apprehensive because I wasn't sure I had enough daylight to climb Mt. Ryan. It wasn't a long climb, it was the elevation gain that was the problem for me. In order for my back to make it, I was going to have to take it slow - too slow. I checked the map and found another spot with significant elevation that I could drive to. It was beautiful but it wasn't Mt. Ryan. I was questioning myself, wondering if I needed to once again abort this mission. I had to abort in Feb. of 2015, because I broke my leg. I asked Tommy for a sign that this place was ok.
I'm walking toward a viewing area and a young man approaches me. He looks at me and says, " would you mind taking a picture of me?" "Of course not, I'd be happy to", I reply. As I take his phone and wait for him to position himself in front of the view, he shakes his head, and says, " I want it with the jeep". I say ok and take the photo -- he has sunglasses on but I sense something. "Are you alright?", I ask. He starts crying and tells me that the jeep belongs to his sister, she wanted to visit here but she died two years ago. I, too, start crying. I pull the ashes out of my pocket and said, " you are fucking kidding me. These are some of my son's ashes, I came to spread but was unsure of the spot". We both looked to the sky, cried, hugged, and took a selfie. I told him the name of my son, he told me the name of his sister. We didn't need to share our names. We will never forget that day or each other.
We parted ways with joyous hearts - we knew his Rebecca and my Tommy were with us.
I spread the last of his ashes that had to be spread and the wind took them. I felt not a sense of loss but of joy - I wanted to sing and dance -- I went to the Integratron instead and had a sound bath. Another magical place that Tommy and I had visited together. They were booked for the weekend, it was their opening after being closed for the past two months. They had one spot open, due to a last minute cancellation ---- hmmmmm.
Day 2 — we woke up to the crowing of roosters outside of our bedrooms at the Zelda Game and Guestfarm. Zelda is a 25,000 hectare farm located in Gobabis, Namibia. They have a rescued Leopard but she is lonely - her mother was shot and she and her brother were brought to the farm. Now that her brother has died, she cries at night. She will be moved to a zoo soon. We arrived there at apx. 2pm, having only ridden 287.6 Km. When we left Windhoek, it was cold - 9 degrees centigrade. The first day was about getting used to our bikes, each others riding and most importantly, riding on the left side of the road. After we settled ourselves into our rooms, we were driven to a San Bushman village to learn about their culture. They are real San bushmen, probably 3rd generation. They work on the farm and put on this “show” for tourists to not only share with us their culture, but to keep it alive.
It was an interactive presentation, educational and fun. They have a great sense of humor. We went on a “bush walk” and there were stations set up along the trail. We tried to figure out what animal made a certain track it was an Eland - Alisa answered that one. At the next stop, we were all given gum seeds and told to put them under our tongue at the same time. They popped — think pop rockets candy — I screamed when it popped. The bushman laughed out loud. Next we were introduced to the Sully bush. The leaves of this bush are boiled, and the tea is used for coughs, and stomach issues. I’m guessing constipation because apparently you will be going to the bathroom a lot. Next up was the burn bush — a powder is made from the root and used for cuts —it burns but the next day the cut is better. My favorite was the snake head bulb and the woman who told us about it. Again, a powder is made. It is put in the water where animals drink. They develop an immunity to it, so when they eat the flower of the Snake Head, they will not be poisoned. Seems vaccines have been around along time.
Then we had photo ops. Fun — of course 9R jumped right into the fray — as soon as she sat down, a small boy jumped into her lap and held on tight. I watched them laugh together and saw as 9R started to feel the magic that is Africa. Honored to be able to see.
The San were the tribes people that the British forcibly put into the Gold mines. They are a small people. Once in, they never saw the light of day. When they died, another group was rounded up. ( Michener’s “ The Covenant”). It is rumored that as late as the 1950’s, The San were hunted here.
Riding into Zelda yesterday aft., those of us who ride adv. bikes stood up on our pegs - the road was sand and gravel. Once we were parked, one of the women asked why. Alisa explained and this morning when we rode out, everyone at least tried to stand. Pretty cool.
So our guide Rob speeds up, I stay with him, and the someone comes speeding by us, I laugh into my helmet — 9R — she was flying. Rob took off after her —- they were gone.
Still smiling, I pull up behind Rob to wait for the others, he is a little upset with himself because his competitive self got the best of him — but he loved every min. 9R has to put $2 into the bag of shame for passing the leader. As far as she is concerned, it was worth it. Fun stuff.
The bag of shame. It is a bag where money is put when anyone of us screws up. Forget to drop off our room key, drop our gear, pass the leader, ask asinine questions, forget to have our passport with us at a border crossing, etc. etc. Leaders are included. It is a tribe decision. The money collected goes to a local charity for women and children.
Today when we left Zelda, it was warmer and by the time we arrived at the Kalahari Lodge in Maud, Botswana, it was 30 degrees Celsius.
Today was about border crossings. Leaving Namibia was fairly straight forward. Stop, go in, fill out a form, get our passport stamped, and off we go. Maybe half a mile later, we stop again to enter Botswana. This also ended up being fairly straight forward as there were no tour buses there when we arrived. I attribute this to Tommy and to asking 9R to not even think about it, as we did not want the Niner curse ( long lines). Still, we had to wait for the bike paperwork, which took about an hour and a half. Interesting posters in the Namibia post. ( Trans Kalahari Border Post). One was a graphic image of a beaten woman’s face. The text read “ STOP TORTURE”. Another was about stopping elephant poaching. Entering the border area for Botswana, there was a huge billboard that read ZERO Tolerance for Corruption.
Waiting for paperwork distractions —-
Barb goes to the toilet and forgets her TP, there is what she thinks is a box of wet wipes on the toilet —- condoms. We were all hysterical, and of course 9R and I went back in to take a pic of the box. The funniest part was Barb’s comment about not being sure what they were because she didn’t have any experience with them. BTW — all photos that go with this post will be uploaded to FB.
Talking to other people while waiting. Daniela is Namibian and is on holiday with her family. She wants a motorcycle.
We also met a mature woman with her husband. Barb lives in Botswana, was born in Zimbabwe. She was full of joy and jealously when she found out all these bikes were being ridden ( except 1) by women. We took a photo of her on Colette’s bike before we knew her name. She sent it to her son.
Riding today, there were lots of cattle, donkeys, horses, and dogs in and alongside the road. The horses looked great, the dogs not so much. The coolest thing for me was having an ostrich run along side of us as we traveled down the road at 120 km an hour. Art in action.
One advantage of group riding is watching the dance of the group. The passing of trucks, the dodging of live animals, and of dead ones. Today, I felt a part of something greater - felt part of the rhythm of one. Not only with the group but with this place.
Sitting in the bar with a Windhoek Draught at our home base — Klein Windhoek Guest House. This place really does feel like home. This morning our group had our first rider’s meeting with Rob, our group leader, signed our contracts, went over our bikes and took possession of our keys. It was pointed out more than once that they have NO spare keys and it will be impossible to get replacement keys - TIA - This is Africa. Most of the bikes are brand new, mine only has 500 km on it. TIA seems to be a 2nd generation acronym descended from AWA - Africa wins again. That being said— Rob has a very positive attitude and a suggestion, which I not only agree with, but embrace. Leave your western mindset and embrace the 3rd world. “Yes, we have potholes but we have a road. Once you do that, you will be able to feel the rhythm and heartbeat of Africa, and you will return.”
Some of the information covered in our first meeting ( a general overview) — keep coins ( shrapnel) in our pockets to tip gas station attendants, and for bathrooms. I have found the bathrooms to be very clean and stocked with toilet paper. They have either been real toilets or the bush ( no tipping required). I am used to tipping to use a bathroom from my experiences In Morocco, however in Morocco there isn’t always a toilet or paper - just a hole with a bucket.
When we cross borders, we will need the three P’s — passport, pens, and patience. Could take up to 2 or 3 hours.
When we are going down the road, and we see pedestrians crossing the road - do not stop - they are aware of us — traffic does not stop for pedestrians here — if we start stopping, we will confuse all of Africa.
There will be some speed traps, if we decide to speed ahead and are “ knicked by the coppers” — we are on our own.
Once in Botswana, we may have to ride through some toxic sludge canal crossings, they are having trouble with hoof and mouth disease within their cattle herds and are trying to prevent it’s spread. Side note here — I have found Namibia to be very conscious of their resources, including it’s wildlife.
We will encounter wildlife in/on the road - he had different recommendations depending on the animals. For Springbok, we need to either slow down or speed up — the point is, we are trying not to stress them, as most of Namibia is divided into Game farms. There are high wire fences that run along side the roads. If stressed, the Springbok will turn into the fences and get hurt, they spring but cannot jump.
Wart hogs will be in the middle of the road — they will scatter with their tails straight up - much like a deer flagging its tail - and then come right back to the middle of the road, right under our tires.
Cattle tend to run in the direction they are headed.
We can’t wait to get started!!!
Their are 12 of us in our group — a diverse group of women from Texas, New Hampshire, Australia, California, Florida, and that’s all I can remember right now. We are beginning to bond as a group. Our three day excursion to the red dunes of Sossusvlei, in the Namib Naukluft National Park, together in a van was instrumental in that process. Namibia is constantly working on it’s roads, really not that much different from the USA, except here most of the roads are gravel. Graders pull trailers behind them to an area, set up that trailer, that is their home for as long as they are in that area grading the roads —- continuous process.
On our way to Sossusvlei, we traveled B, C, and D roads, some of which had not been graded for awhile. Loving referred to by our group as the “African massage trail”.
Our accommodations have been first rate, food amazing.
We visited a cheetah rescue, watched the sunset while we sipped our cocktails, laughed as our group dynamics took it’s course.
We celebrated one woman’s 75th birthday. She is part of the Dallas Duo. They have been married for 43 years and are an older version of 9R and Barb. It is absolutely uncanny, the similarities. I think it freaks 9R out just a bit.
Group travel, obviously, is much different than solo travel and just as obviously, there are pros and cons. So much has happened since 9R, Barb, and I have been in country that I am still trying to process it all.
Going to try and post pics in galleries on this website — for right now, they will give you a better idea of our journey than I can describe in the moment. I posted a few but it is painfully slow to upload photos —- I will embrace that limitation and post photos to FB for now.
I spent the last two hours sitting in my really cool make shift office blogging and without knowing what the hell I did, everything disappeared. DAMN - When will I learn to hit save?
Take two .
We have settled into Namibia quite nicely. Hard to believe this is only the third day being in country. Need to go back to Addis Ababa to start. We had just finished a thirteen hour flight from Dulles, we are waiting in line to board a bus to take us to our plane, for a five hour flight to Windhoek. A tall, attractive man with his wife and three kids ( I’m guessing ages here - 15 yr. old boy, 12 yr. old girl, 10 yr. old boy) cut in front of us. Not just a small butt - a major cut under the barrier. I say something under my breathe to 9R and Barb but let it go. Fast forward to Windhoek. We are mixed in with a sea of humans waiting to just get into the queue to get our visas and enter Namibia. I see the family behind us. I notice the 15 yr. with an arrogant demeanor looking around. I can see his mind spinning, as he looks for his father. The kid is wondering when his father is going to FIX this. Doesn’t take long. As the man starts to lift the barrier ribbon and duck under, I turn towards him and say, “ REALLY, you’re going to do this again.” He says, “ We have kids, you are an adult woman. We have been traveling a long time. BLAH, BLAH, BLAH. “. I turn around in disgust.
What I should have done is call BS. I should have pointed to the Asian woman with 4 kids, 2 quite young, the African woman with the baby tied to her back, to the elderly couple in the corner. I should have said this is not about me or you - this is about doing what is right for everyone. I should have asked him a question, “ What are you teaching YOUR children?” At 62, it is time to stop being polite to assholes.
After two and a half hours in line, we finally got our passports stamped and were allowed into the main terminal. Into the corral of drivers holding signs. 9R circled around like she was on a flat track course until she found our names — our driver, Wendy, was all smiles when he saw all three of us together. He had three people to collect and there we all were. We were very happy he was still there after waiting so long. As we are gathering our luggage, I am looking at something and trip over the bag Barb is rolling. I fall backwards. Luckily I land on my camera backpack ( camera survived - go LowePro). As I lay on the floor, I expect to see Lisa standing over me with a camera. Instead she is on the floor laughing hysterically, doubled over, trying not to wet her pants.
Klein Windhoek Guest House - very comfortable and very reasonably priced. Staff could not be more friendly and/or helpful. Natalie is my go to for any questions. Thank you to Alisa of Women’s Motorcyle Tours and Rene of Renedian Adventures.
After a couple of beers and pizza, we had a great nights sleep, even though our room was a bit cold.
After coffee and spinach quiche on our upper deck, we go to pick up our rental car. For the next two days we are on our own. Avis is only a little over 2 miles away, so Barb and I vote to walk. 9R caves. It is a sunny day, with a slight chill to the late morning air.
On the way, we discuss how nice it is to be at this stage of our lives. We not only know our strengths and weaknesses, but we own them. We also know each other’s. That is why Barb became our navigator for this trip. 9R and I have been known to get lost quite a bit when left to our own devices. Although, that is not always a bad thing. I quote Wendell Berry here, “ Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction.”
Shout out to Allison Dickinson for this reminder.
Down the roads, over the highway, down the railroad tracks, into a Harley Davidson store, and we arrive at Avis. It is 12:15. It is Sat. They close at Noon. 9R didn’t even hesitate, “You two HAD to walk.”
As we discussed plans B, C, and D, a taxi pulled in. We looked at each other and jumped in. Back to home base, Klein Windhoek Guest House and my Natalie. She made calls for us, helped me figure out how to actually use my phone, helped me with more SIM card time and handed me her phone when the AVIS contact called her back. When I finished talking to him for the third time, she looked at me and said, “ Are you sorted now?” Yes, but now we need a taxi right away instead of in an hour. No problem.
By three o’clock we were on the road to Swakopmund, on the coast.
I started driving, with Barb navigating with our travel phone and my National Geo. ADVENTURE travel map of Namibia. We finally found our way out of town and onto C28. After about an hour, the road turned to gravel/dirt and stayed that way for the next four hours. We literally saw three cars the entire way. We discussed whether we were voiding our rental contract by driving on this road. I was sure we were not, when the guy said not to drive on dirt, he meant not to go 4 wheeling, this was gravel —- TIA. — This is Africa. This WAS a main road. TIA has become our mantra — Things always work out, just not always as expected. Barb is our navigator but she is also our worrier and our old lady, just who she is. She was convinced we were going to run out of gas, break down, have to sleep in the car or worse. I didn’t tell her that I left the exact address of our airb&b in the printer at home. We had no cell service and 9R was determined to out race the setting sun, once she took over driving. Once we entered Namib-Naukluft National Park, there was more nothingness. There were farms, because we kept crossing cattle guards. Two huge Kudu (?) bulls almost jumped into us. 9R did do a good job on that one. Also came upon a herd of Zebras, that was very cool. As the sun was setting, and Barb looked at the map, she was convinced we would never survive. I must admit, I did feel like we were on LSD lost in the Twilight Zone. Tommy was with us however, my photos were showing orbs. I sent a message to our host via “What’s App” once we got service as we stopped at a fuel station to get beer and food before we went to our destination, exact address unknown.
Well, again TIA — it’s a Sat. Alcohol sales stop at 1pm until Mon. We were not happy. Grabbed some funky looking food and got back into the car. No fuel needed - despite Barb’s worry.
I pick up my phone, message on what’s app from our host, Tanya. Address and instructions. Her sister lives next door at #15 — just knock on her door. Whoo Hoo. Ten minutes later, we were parked, and Lara was showing us around our very cool cottage on the sea. AND........it was stocked with beer, wine, and water. Barb is starting to believe!!!! Although she still insists on telling us to be careful when crossing the street, and makes us lock every door. We have a new nickname for her — MB. Mother Barb.
I'd like to thank everyone who reached out to our family and me via texts, phone calls, and social media yesterday. "The day" as one of my friends, who also lost a child, calls it, does not get easier with time. I spent yesterday alone, by choice. It started with a beautiful group text started by Ary, including our nuclear family and a couple of close friends who while not related to us are indeed family. We were all hurting and it was nice to share the hurt with good memories and humor. I'm not a talker, except when I drink Vodka, so I enjoyed my aloneness. The trick was to distract myself for as long as possible so I didn't focus on the phone call. While weeding, I reflected on the past weekend.
Lisa and I rode up to Woodward, PA to meet Sara and RP for AltRider's "Conserve the Ride" event. It was a dual sport/ADV bike ride through and around Bald Eagle State Forest. Beautiful 110 mile scenic ride on mostly gravel roads with 10 options, that added more mileage. The options got progressively harder, except for option 10 which was more scenic. You could choose to stop doing options anytime you felt like it. The course was well marked for the most part. There was one point where it strayed from the GPS tracks because a bridge was out. And that's where we lost 9R and Ed. Sara was shooting from the sidecar, while RP was piloting a new gear up URAL. They had to rescue me on option 1. My skid plate hit a big rock ; I was going too slow, over I went. Lesson learned on that one, I picked up my speed on the next options. My Black Dog skid plate got it's first real work out on these rock options and came through with flying colors. I learned a lot and am happy to report, I only dropped Stormy on that first option. I actually got into the sounds of the rocks hitting my plate - felt like a BadAss.
We finally met back up with 9R at the lunch stop. She was not happy. Ed had crashed his Africa Twin and was done. She'd been waiting for us for two hours. Lunch was catered and was excellent. A half an hr. later the four of us were on the road together again. Mid 70's and sunshine - WHOO HOO!!!! This is why we came - to hang out together. A great, fun day. After a while, Sara and RP found a beautiful place to do some filming; They were here to review the Ural. 9R and I took off and proceeded to get lost. A lot. We just can't help ourselves -- hahahaha. Had a GPS, maps, arrows, and still we miss turns. We ended up going right past camp, so we pulled in to go to the bathroom and regroup. Finally got back on track and had a blast -- we stopped doing options after four. Out of shape and knowing my limits, I did not want to hurt myself - we leave on August 9th to ride in Africa. Actually, we did do option 10 --- fun. At one stop, Lisa leans over and says, I want to do this everyday. She was having a blast on Shadow.
She was rocking those gravel roads for sure. I stayed way behind so I didn't eat dust. Wink, wink. No way I was going to keep up with her. No way I was going to try. We both had a blast riding our ride.
Stopped in town to get some beer and ice to take back to camp. Walked into the bar and they had two big screen TV's showing flat track. You can imagine the scene that resulted. Instant bar friends.
One of the highlights of the day was captured by Sara. It's the cover photo above. I was at the bottom of an option and was waiting for them. A black butterfly with turquoise and coral coloring on its inner wings landed on my gloves and just sat there. My phone and thus my camera was dead. As the Ural pulled up behind me, the butterfly just sat there. As Sara walked towards my bike to take a photo, the butterfly flew up and low all around Stormy, almost outlining her, and then landed back on my glove and just sat there, posing. Tommy was reminding me, he was with me.
After my reflections and weeding, I started out reading and ended up in bed with my covers pulled over my head. I missed my boy and I cried. I wondered what Roy was doing today. If he even remembered the date, I was sure he did. The son, one of three, that he was visiting when he hit Tommy, was married now. Wonder if Tommy would have gotten married. He would be 30 next month. I wanted to call Roy but just couldn't bring myself to do it. My big girl pants were in the wash. Got myself out of bed, played with the dogs, made a fire, not for the radiant heat but for the emotional warmth, and watched Stephan Colbert - we record his late night shows. Actually, Todd does. I was grateful.
A friend of mine posted this on my FB page - I just love these words together.
"Glad you can share some of Tommy's life with your rides and adventures, reaching back and moving forward at the same time -
A fitting tribute on this 5th anniversary that carved a different path for your tender Mother's heart - God's peace" Lisa Loper
My mother and I celebrate Mother's Day on May 9th. We have ever since 1978. The year after my brother, Jody, committed suicide. It is comforting somehow to remember together. Until my son died in 2013, I really didn't "get it". Sure I miss my brother, but not like I miss my son. It is different, it just is. So now, my mother and I share the loss of our sons. It is a special bond, an unspoken understanding of pain that when shared somehow helps brighten the moment.
So on the real Mother's Day, I have no expectations of not being loved because Jay, Ary, or India don't call. Which makes it all the sweeter when they do. Actually, this year, India's card made me cry, it was a sappy card but she wrote a beautiful note that made the words personal and real. Jay actually called me on Mon. the 7th to say Happy Mother's Day. I had to laugh. A Mon.? REALLY? It was still wonderful to hear his voice. Ary's text came first thing and made me smile.
I was doing what makes me happy --- riding my motorcycle. The yellows of early Spring - forsythia and daffodils - have waned, giving way to the purples, pinks, and whites - lillacs, azaleas, dogwoods - of late spring. The smells as I ride through the countrysides of Maryland - autumn olive, honeysuckle, wisteria, grasses -- make me so glad to be alive.
That was on Sat. On Mother's Day this year, it was wet and cold -- good gear makes ALL the difference in staying happy while riding in less than perfect weather.
As I headed home from Ocean City, I was comfortable and lost in thought. I was thinking about a conversation I had last night with a young woman I hadn't met before. Not sure how it started but she asked me if I would mind going with her to the outside bar to talk. We talked so long that her husband came out to see if we were ok. After our conversation, she told me that she was meant to meet me this weekend, I had a lot she needed to hear. Turns out, I felt the same way. I was reminded how lucky I am that I was able to get to know Tommy. There are times when 25 years is not nearly enough time, but it is all perspective isn't it. What if I never got to know him at all. What if I only heard his heartbeat. What if that was true over and over again.
Where did Mother's Day come from anyway? Is it really just a fake holiday made up by Hallmark? A google search tells me that in 1914, Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation designating the second Sun. in May as a day to honor mothers.
A woman named Anna Jarvis apparently campaigned for a day to honor mothers, for her mother, who died on May 9th, 1905. WOW! The first Mother's Day celebration was held in Grafton, West Virginia at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in 1908.
Interestingly, she hated how the holiday became commercialized and was arrested for her protests against florists. She died in 1948 in a sanitarium. Another WOW.
The universe is indeed surprising in it's parallels.
Here is a card I bought -- just reminded me of past Mother's Days and good times.