Today, I get to see my dear friend Betsy in the Netherlands and I could not be more excited. We’ve been talking about meeting again since we last saw each other in February 2015. We met on a cycle tour in Vietnam with Plan Nederlands. Despite being exactly 50 years apart, we had an instant bond and I consider her a life long friend. Now, dear Betsy will show me her homeland!
At 77, Betsy was by far the eldest on our cycle trip to Vietnam. I was the tour leader for the group along with my colleague Nicola. We had a group of 32!!! Dutch women to wrangle from Hanoi to Da Nang and back. It was daunting I must say. Despite her age, Betsy fit into the group perfectly. She was up for every challenged and relished the experience.
I did have some concerns about Betsy and worried for her safety and her ability with the group, but within hours I could see that this fire cracker was going to tackle anything we threw at her. From long days on the bike, to hiking up hills and partying til the wee hours in a karaoke bar, Betsy was there! I loved seeing her take on every experience with gusto and her pure joy. She truly was loving every moment and her openness and eagerness to make the most of life set her apart as a role model in my eyes.
On one occasion, we were a little misled by our Vietnamese guides as to the terrain and the weather conditions which resulted in a very difficult ride. Half the group, the casual cruisers, which I was leading were soon off the bikes and trudging through mud and up slippery roads. Even the truck that drove ahead of our group seemed to struggle on the hills. I told the group to take it easy and we’d just take our time, to be safe. I soon noticed that Betsy had cut her leg. It must have been on the pedal and I felt awful that she was injured. She said it didn’t hurt and wanted to keep going but I had to insist we stopped to tend to her leg. With some of my rough first aid skills, and despite the heavy rain, we managed to secure a band aid like device to her leg with lots of medical tape. The rain was hindering my ability to execute but it seemed to suffice
After we’d got that sorted, we had to continue up the hill to meet the group. It was quite steep and I was a little worried about the strain on Betsy. We were pushing our bikes as well and I did offer that I might push both our bikes. However, I quickly realized, it was actually helping her to balance. A strong woman, and not easily seeking help, she insisted on continuing side by side. Our whole group was watching us trudge up together. Eventually, she let me take her bike. Betsy obliged but insisted on placing a hand on my shoulder, to steady me and help me up the hill. I understood that actually it helped to steady herself and get better balance by having her hand on my shoulder. I called to the group “Betsy is helping me to keep balance, look at her go, steadying me up the hill.” The group all cheered us on and it was such a beautiful moment. When we reached them everyone celebrated with us and Betsy just had the biggest smile – I’ll never forget it. She turned to me and threw her head back in a joyous laugh. We then brought it in for a huge hug! The day wasn’t over, but that sure was a highlight.
Betsy and I spoke often on our trip and I would try to sit near her wherever possible. She would tell me about her family, her home, and her many hobbies and activities. This woman’s zest for life, huge smile and bubbling laughter drew people to her.
Saying Goodbye to Betsy was so hard. Standing by the bus in Hanoi. I saved her til last. We hugged for so long and so tight. She pulled me away and held me by the shoulders. “We will meet in Holland and we will sit under the oak tree and drink red wine.” She had told me about this favourite past time of hers from her lovely home and garden, we had made a promise to meet there. And I knew I would do it someday. Through tears I nodded in agreement and promised again. She embraced me and I told her “my heart is so full from having met you.” I felt truly grateful.
So, after almost three long years of email communications and beautiful hand written letters (and a few postcards from me) we will meet again. I’ve received these beautiful copies of paintings that Betsy has done. She posts them to me and on the back are long letters about her life, her family, her history and more. Every time I cry a little – it’s just so beautiful I get to share these moments with someone so far away and from such a different time to my own.
Together we will see the sights of Amsterdam, visit our. Plan Netherlands Cycle Tour friends and enjoy visiting her home town near Aalten. I look forward to sharing our wonderful adventures with you.