Photostory from our eight night paddle adventure through Kootznoowoo Wilderness. We were monitoring for invasive species and wilderness character down the coast of Admiralty Island in Southeast Alaska.
He was a friend and trusted accomplice. Together we trekked across striking wilderness. We conquered smelly and unnervingly crowded Ghanian marketplaces. We cuddled together for many nights alone in our tent on the Antarctic Peninusla, shivering and serenaded to sleep by calving glaciers and unforgiving winds. He straightened me out, supported my crooked spine for endless miles and embraced me like no one else could. He would swell with the excessive baggage I asked him to carry as a backcountry novice without complaint. The very first bit of outdoor gear given to me years ago, he has since sparked a commitment to independence and self reliance. He fostered my confidence to walk long distances in any direction.
Over the years, we became worn and ragged. Yet he continued to support me as I gracelessly fell and bellyflopped in bogs, snow and love again and again on continent after continent. Tossed in the back of public transport with all its pointy edges, he ripped and frayed. This last month I sent him off to the factory for repair. Weeks later I was called with the unfortunate news... big red was beyond repair. Osprey unsympathetically cut a history of ties and sent a new pack in his place.
Now, an alien sits on my bedroom floor emulating the curves and colors of my former friend. He beckons for adventure, eager to be crusted in sea spray and caked in mud. I miss my old backpack. He was a monument and reminder to past lives. One of the only bits of consistency that loyally followed as I trammeled across the globe. But a decade of loving, leaving and letting go has calloused my nostalgic nature- at least on the surface. I am ready to wear rugged and dirty this new pack but I must first thank my original friend for the memories and loyalty. Thank you for fostering this lifetime of adventure.
Rest in Peace dear friend. You will be missed and never replaced.
Forever yours, Your frayed friend Bethany
I spent quite a lot of time on sweaty seats surrounded by the smell of biltong on the road in Southern Africa. Biltong is South African dried meat that comes in an assortment of species from cow, ostrich, and kudo to hippo, giraffe and elephant. You can simultaneously chew on a giraffe while watching one gallop across the road- how morbid. We traveled from Joburg to Kruger, back to Johannesburg, then up through Botswana to Chobe National Park, to Victoria Falls, down to the Matobos then back to Joburg- all in just a few weeks. Car naps were interrupted with two 'admissions of guilt' (tickets for speeding and a broken tail light), police questioning where we acquired the firewood strapped to the roof, a demon bug that managed to sneak its way into the car and lots and lots of donkeys and goats that prefer a classic game of 'chicken' to just scuttling off the road. The drives were more pleasantly interrupted by wildlife of all types from herds of elephants down to determined dung beetles. At one point, we rescued a chameleon- my very favorite creature of all- during a road crossing. I picked him up, he assumed the color of my skin, climbed up my face (squeezing my cheek with his tiny little evolutionarily perfect hand) and perched on my head. We moved him to a nearby tree and I couldn't wipe the grin off my face for the next several hours. Moments like that remind me just how much I adore earth's most peculiar critters.
On game drives we would turn a corner and be smack in the face of a giraffe or elephant or buck. I never expected that such giants were capable of surprising us- hiding amongst shrubs or behind horizon lines. Africa is home to the top three largest land mammals, the fastest and the smallest - elephants, hippos, rhinos, cheetahs and some adorable shrew respectably. There's no forcing the issue when you're stuck behind a herd of elephants with moms and babies and bulls fighting by the roadside- you just sit amongst the herd, wait it out, ensure you are not aggravating any of the elephants and make sure you have an escape route if one charges. Southern Africa is home to my very favorite type of traffic.
Spring is upon us! In old Oxford fashion we set off for a punt to celebrate our friend Lynsey's birthday with some visiting South Africans. Punting involves one dope standing at the back or front of the boat (Cambridge versus Oxford style) who drops one long metal pole into the water, pushes and then uses the pole as a rudder. A cacophony of giggles, quacks and profanity crowd the air as boats harmlessly, and a bit embarrassingly, crash into the riverside and try to navigate to a local riverside pub for pints and more giggles.
Did you know that the queen apparently owns all of England's swans? We had a braii (South African term for BBQ) with classmates from our course (Biodiversity Conservation and Management). I love this course and this international cohort of passionate people. The other night a friend hosted dinner and we had a person from England, Italy, France, South Africa, Israel, Germany America and Canada around the table. Drinking, eating, singing, whaling, guitar playing and discussions about where to even begin conserving biodiversity. Though, I am grateful for all I have learned formally on the course, I treasure most the late night discussions and perspectives from these classmates and friends.
Today marks the final hours of the most important year of my life thus far. At 5am I turn 23 and must say ta-ta to twenty two. Twenty two is a lucky number for me, and for fear of getting all ’23- Jim Carry mediocre movie’ schizoid in an attempt to corroborate why, lend the favor, believe me and I'll spare the soliloquy. Appropriately, this lucky-numbered year marked some pretty momentous changes in not only my life, but in many of the important lives around me. I graduated from the University of San Francisco, a first-generation college student, after four formative and unforgettable years alongside unforgettable friends, professors, advisors, and supervisors. My friends became nurses, medical students, politicians, and officers. 2011 marked the beginning; the point where the class of 2011 began taking the reigns from past generations and now barrels forth, hot-headed, passionate, and not yet disenchanted. It's our turn to take a swing at fixing the problems we studied in class for four years. About 1% of the world goes to college- the world turns to us.
I left my country this year for the very first time and headed to Antarctica. If you've followed this blog at all over the past 5 months, you already know how un-bloody-believably life changing and motivating my time in Antarctica was. I traveled through South America and got my first taste of a developing country- it tasted like I should be a hell of a lot more grateful, with an aftertaste of mayo and ketchup mixed together.
What a long strange trip it's been- thank you all for your support, your love, your belief in me, your humor, wit, advice, and your ability to let me fly just far enough away without severing my roots. If I could thank you all appropriately I'd be here till 2023. Oh and Henry- my pet stink bug just flew up to the desk to say Happy Birthday, fancy that. Off to bed!