Way back in September, 1999, I met a girl from Switzerland. I was a senior in high school when my folks decided to host an exchange student. My brother had left for college, we had an empty bedroom and none of us had been out of the country so we were eager to learn about a new place. We went through a stack of potential students and narrowed our choice swiftly after examing Yael’s profile.
Here we are, two 17 year olds from two different places meeting for the first time.
Once the jet-lag wore off and the language comprehension improved (this didn’t take long for her, yet we couldn’t even pronounce her name properly), we became fast friends.
Yael comes from a small village in Switzerland in the canton of Glarus. Her brother had been on an exchange a few years prior to the bustling east coast. She was hoping for a more rural setting similar to home but being placed in a tiny town with a class size of eleven was probably shocking in its own respect.
Throughout the year Yael participated in all the good ol’ American high school activites like Homecoming , prom, basketball and some of the more unique events like the Honky Tonk Hick Dance, pictured here.
Clearly the ‘Swiss Miss’ was welcomed by everyone.
When the school year came to an end we made plans to backpack Europe together. My first time abroad was certainly eye-opening coming from the aforementioned small town. Luckily, Yael had a lot of patience and spoke three languages. We made our way through Europe on a diet of baguettes and cheese and the occasional box of cookies. (I still dream about those crunchy toffee laden ones we found in Norway.)
We parted ways after a year of being inseparable. I went off to college in Olympia and Yael continued high school for two more years in Switzerland. Her year in the USA did not count towards her education in Switzerland (says something about our education system, doesn’t it?). We kept in touch via journals we each maintained and shipped off periodically to one another. The pages slowly filled with photos, drawings, boyfriends and moments in our delevoping lives.
Yael returned the following summer which marked a love for bicycle touring for both of us. We mapped out a route with the help of my dad for a small tour in the high desert of Oregon. Armed with a couple of mountain bikes, some camping gear and lunch from my mom, we were off on another adventure.
We rode about thirty miles each day and immediately took to life on bikes. From my journal: “The ride was beautiful – being on the open road with only the belongings on our bikes made it even more absolute.”
The following spring break I returned to Switzerland with my friend, Sarah. This time we explored Switzerland by bike on day trips.
In the meantime we managed to nearly fill two journals and plan yet another adventure together,
We arrived on the island with a couple of backpacks, a tent and plenty of ambition. We arranged to rent bikes in Auckland prior to our arrival but after departing from the bike shop and realizing the bikes weren’t tour ready we got a refund and set out to look for a new bike shop. After price shopping we settled on a couple of Giant flat-bar road bikes for our three month tour.
We took to touring life with ease once again. This time our diet was more refined, our gear a bit more sophisticated and our tour route the longest yet. We stayed at a couple of farms through the WWOOF program and several families through Servas. We fed emu’s, tended to blueberries and tried not to eat them out of house and home with our growing appetites.
On that tour we made a pact to continue travelling together into ‘old age’ when we’d have grey braids down our backs and if it came down to it, riding on motorbikes instead of bicycles.
We haven’t toured together for ten years but plenty of adventures have been had. The journal exchange has come to an end (for now) but we still swap our stories of adventure to one another.
We each wed bicycle loving men; both of which stole our hearts while bicycle touring together.
Whether it be hauling two kids in a cargo bike
or traversing chilly Icelandic waters…
I hope the adventures continue and one day we’ll ride together again; braids at our backs and bikes between our legs.
Happy Birthday, Yael!