In 1979 I went on an adventure that I frequently reflect on.  What led me to this adventure has its roots in how I lived my life and who my friends were.  At that time I would take things lightly and my friends for granted.  Time tends to filter out the bad and exaggerate the good.  Don’t get me wrong, my ‘bad’ was not as horrible as a lot of people experience, in fact I learned from the ‘bad’ and tried to apply the lesson learned to my everyday life.  I came from a good family with really good parents who I am still close to today.  Mom and Dad taught my brothers and me to be self-sufficient but always to value our belief in God and His teachings.  I have always been an optimist; if I could think it, I could do it.  At the time I did not realize how special my family and circumstances were, I thought what I had was very common.  Dad worked at NASA as an avionics engineer and was on the ground floor when NASA was formed in the early 1960’s.  He was active in the development through all stages of early Spaceflight from Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo through the early flights of the Space Shuttle.  Mom was a stay at home Mom and was always there for us.  When my brothers or I did something wrong, we were held responsible for it.  For that I am eternally grateful. 

I graduated from High School in 1977 and started college at a local Community College.  I really did not have a direction in mind for my life, I started college because that was what I knew I was supposed to do.  During this time I also worked at the shipyards on tugboats and petroleum barges.  I mostly worked as a diesel mechanic along with welding and metal fabrication.  I was offered the job because the owner was a family friend and had recognized some skills I had since I was always working on and modifying my cars.  I had bought my first car when I was 15 years old, a 1965 VW Beetle.  My Dad had to sign the title since I was not old enough to sign it.  I immediately pulled the body off the pan (VW frame) and transferred the engine and transmission to another shortened pan.  With my Dad and brothers help we finished the dune buggy.  Working in the shipyards taught me a lot about mechanics, work ethics and about life in general.  I have always referred to the years I worked in the shipyards as my ‘boot camp for life’.

While I was in high school I had some really good friends, some of whom I keep in contact with today.   Most of us were into modifying our cars and that bond remains today.  At that time I had a 1968 Camaro that I highly modified.  Along with lots of cruising and street racing, I definitely had angels watching over me since I should have been severely hurt or even killed several different times.  I never even put a scratch on the car.  The year after completing high school, I lost five friends to tragic accidents throughout the year.  Some of the accidents were car related, others were just freak accidents.  As 1978 came to a close, I seriously wondered when my time was up.  I was no different than my friends who lost their lives, so what was in store for me?

 A couple of years before, my older brother had traveled to a place in Switzerland called L’Abri.  L’Abri is French for The Shelter which is a Christian Philosophy community.  That is the best way I can describe it.   I talked with my parents about going to L’Abri to seek answers for my life and what direction I should take.  Since Mom and Dad had met Dr. Francis Schaeffer and his wife Edith, the founders of L’Abri, they encouraged me to go.  My plan was to travel light using my backpack.  I packed a couple changes of clothes and my 35mm camera gear.  I took with me what money I thought I needed along the way to L’Abri with plans to have Mom and Dad wire me money as I needed it.  I brought with me a book called, “Europe On $10 A Day”.   I knew I could travel within those means.  We also planned for Mom to buy and send me a First Class EuroRail Pass.  Back then the first class version was not much more expensive than the second class ones.  The reason I wanted first class was so I could catch a train, ride in a coach and fold the seats down for a bed. 

With my plans made, Dad bought my airline tickets.  The tickets were to fly from Houston to Dallas, then to London Heathrow.  Once in London I had to transfer by bus to Gatwick Airport to catch a flight to Geneva.  Once in Geneva, I traveled by train to Aigle, Switzerland.  In Aigle, I caught a bus to the village of Heumoz where L’Abri is located.  My return airline ticket was open ended as far as date so it was a stand by ticket. 

On 12 February 1979, Mom, Dad and James Nelson, a neighbor’s son took me to Houston Inter-Continental Airport.  I recall packing my backpack in the car since the clothes had just finished being washed.  We had gotten home the night before from a ski trip in Colorado.  Whatever fit in the backpack went with me and what did not fit stayed in the car.  I left Mom, Dad and James to go board my plane for Dallas.  I was really excited to be traveling alone, which for a 20 year old was a big step in my life.   Once I arrived in Dallas I had to check in my backpack for the international flight to London.  I had a smaller carry on pack that I carried my camera gear and other small things in.  The flight from Dallas was delayed because the 747 I was booked on had mechanical problems.  They brought a DC-8 to the gate and had to reload all the baggage.  We left Dallas almost an hour late.  I recall the DC-8 as being really crowded since it was a smaller plane than the 747 we were booked on.  It was on this flight where reality set in that I was starting an adventure on my own and had to depend on myself and my faith in God.  No one in Europe was expecting me so it was up to me to get where I needed to go.  On the flight I pulled out some pictures of the wrecked car my friend was driving when a train hit him.   He died two weeks after the accident.  His death was the catalyst for making my decision for this trip.  The guy sitting next to me on the flight asked what the pictures were of so I showed him one.  When he saw what it was, he did not ask any more questions which I was glad he did not. 

The plane arrived at London Heathrow 20 minutes late.  I knew I had to hurry to be able to catch my next flight at Gatwick Airport about an hour’s bus ride across London.  The bus ride through London was amazing to me.  I looked out the window the whole time.  I made it to Gatwick in time to board my flight to Geneva. 

The flight to Geneva was on a Swiss Air 727 which was really clean and first class compared to the two previous flights.   I sat next to a 12 year old boy who was wearing a Scottish kilt.   I recall talking with this young man who took great interest in my travel and the fact I was from Texas.   When I arrived in Geneva, I was really tired and looked for a hotel.  I checked into the first one I found near the airport and slept really well that night.  When I checked out of the hotel the next day, my bill was $40, a lot more than I wanted to spend, but it was well worth the night’s sleep.

 After checking out of the hotel, I walked to the train station to catch the first train to Aigle; about a 50 minute ride.  The Alps were a beautiful sight as the train followed the Rhone River Valley.  We went through Lausanne, along Lake Geneva, and Monteux before we pulled into the Aigle Station.  In Aigle I bought a bus ticket to the village of Huemoz.  When I got off the bus in Huemoz I asked for direction to Chalet Meleze.  The post office worker pointed up the road.  I started walking up the road, which was up hill.  With everything I owned at the moment the hill climb was tough but I kept going.  I finally came to a set of stairs that led directly to Chalet Meleze.  I walked in the front door which ended up being an office area.  While I waited for the young lady to finish a phone call, I noticed on the wall calendar that today was 14 February, Valentine’s Day.  When the young lady finished her phone conversation she asked if she could help me.    I said I wanted to become a student of L’Abri.  She explained that I would have to stay at a boarding house until there was an opening in one of the chalets before I could become a student.  She gave me a copy of a hand drawn map of Huemoz and showed me where I needed to go.  I found my way to the boarding house and talked with the landlord and paid for a week’s rent. 

Stairs leading to Chalet Meleze

Map of L'Abri

Chalet Meleze