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Omaha Magazine

Take Good Risks: A Daughter’s Love Puts the Whole World in Her Hands

Apr 15, 2020 03:39PM ● By Julius Fredrick

Photographer Sarah Lemke shared a special bond with her father, Tyler. In March 2019, her world was turned upside down when he succumbed to depression. Sarah lost her adviser, her confidante, and a piece of her heart. A journey of discovery began when she found a fantastical list.

“My dad had purposely laid out papers in file boxes,” Sarah said. “They were random papers in boxes. He printed out a note that read ‘This room has important papers in it.’ I didn’t want to throw anything away that he wanted to save. There were a lot of photos and letters…I thought this might be cool for an art project. I was just going through all the papers in all the boxes. I found one that read ‘estimated route for Tyler’s world trip.’ I knew he had been to London and I knew he had been to Russia before. I think those were the only places he had been to.”

As the year progressed, Sarah and her boyfriend, Julius Fredrick, became more disenchanted with the world. She struggled with her mental health. They became less interested in the material and more interested in the guttural, the things that make life worth living.

“One of the sayings my dad said to me nearly every day was ‘Take good risks and do something I wouldn’t do,’” Sarah said. “I always asked what that meant, and he never told me. My dad taught me to be cautious of your surroundings, but if you are informed and educated and know that the good outweigh the bad  you should go for it.”

Together, she and Fredrick went for it—the journey of a lifetime, with stops in London, Amsterdam, Morocco, Budapest. Bucharest, Romania, Japan, and more. In early January 2020, Sarah and Julius undertook the journey Tyler hoped someday to take himself, but never did.

What follows are two columns Julius wrote to be printed in Omaha Magazine. The original intent was to run these columns as a series, as the trip was projected to last several months. The pair decided, after traveling together a little under three months, that the worldwide coronavirus pandemic made the adventure a bad risk at this time. 

February 2020

A frosty January morning heralds our departure from the Amtrak station on ninth street in downtown Omaha. Due to ongoing renovations, the platform is open to the elements and slick with ice. We’d been waiting for months for our journey to begin, fettering a growing sense of inertia—at times bordering on vertigo—as we gathered supplies and charted our course. Now the moment had finally arrived, and instead of sprinting headlong towards new destinations, we waddle gingerly. At one backpack apiece, our coats are thin and designed for portability. I notice Sarah is shivering beside me. 

“A little chilly out, huh?” I mutter with mock surprise.

“Yeah—it’s cold.” There’s a hitch in her voice. That’s when I see the tears.

“I’m fine,” she says, “I just can’t believe this is really happening.” 

“Me neither…Your dad would be so proud.” 

For a moment she looks downcast, rosy cheeks spilling onto icy cement. Then, she gives a deep breath and a flip of her hair. A broad, beaming smile. 

“Let’s do this!” 

I nod in assent and take hold of her hand. A shrill whistle pierces the frigid air, and passengers begin to board. Sarah leaps over the gap and through the threshold. I’m right there behind her. 

Since that day we’ve sliced into Chicago’s food scene and crawled the bars of New York City. We’ve jumped dunes in Morocco’s Agafay Desert to make tea time with indigenous Amazigh villagers. Within London’s Leake Street Tunnel, we observed graffiti artists working to the thunderous clamor of a bongo drum brigade. We’ve witnessed Husker football levels of hysteria during a rugby match in Cardiff, Wales, followed by the tranquil waves of the Bristol Channel in neighboring Swansea. Now, we’re in Santiago, Chile. Here, we’ve met the warmth of the locals, the sunshine, and delicious empanadas; we’ve also encountered the sting of teargas and the breathless tension of civil unrest.

Through the good and the bad, we’re cautious yet brave. Sarah is healing. I’m right there. 

 

Mid-March 2020

“Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world, yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our head from a blue sky.” -Albert Camus, The Plague (1947)

The sky is blue and the sun shines brightly on Santiago, Chile. 

In the morning it simmers up from behind the Andes, tracing the mountain ridges like a cardiogram; the pulse of a newly born day. A gasp of violet, then gold, overtakes the peaks. A final yawn, and sunlight spills into the city below. 

Workers, parents, and schoolchildren hustle through crosswalks and funnel into metro stations. Buses sputter to life, pitching exhaust towards shopkeepers haggling with chains and padlocks. 

Rapid-fire Chilean Spanish rattles through the streets, occasionally punctuated by calls of “¡fruta fresca aqui!” or “¡taxi, por favor!”. 

In the Parque Forestal, young couples exchange ‘besos’ (kisses) beneath the cover of palms. Meanwhile, elderly gentlemen chew cigar caps over chessboards, brows knotted in concentration despite the ceaseless chatter of the Plaza de Armas. From her sanctuary atop San Cristobal Hill, the Blessed Virgin gazes skyward, arms outstretched. Iron-cast lips form an eternal plea: forgive them.

A stunning yet average day in Chile’s capital; untouched and unbothered. An invisible storm brews continents away. A foreigner’s forecast. Nothing to worry about. Tranquilo.

Sarah and I arrived Feb. 18, 2020. The sky was blue and the sun shone brightly on Santiago. 

We had embarked from London, having decided that England was simply too cold and the weather too unpredictable after a duet of winter storms (Ciara, and partner Dennis a week later) had caused extensive damage throughout the U.K. With COVID-19 festering in Asia and beginning to spread into the Middle East—plus wanting to save our Schengen Visa for warmer months— we agreed to a temporary break from Tyler’s itinerary (having crossed Chicago, New York City, and London from our list). 

At this juncture, we were cautiously optimistic that the virus would be contained; most European nations reported less than 20 confirmed cases and world leaders signaled confidence in their public health protocols. So we flew south, oblivious to the fact that catastrophe had been lurking just behind. Like many, our ignorance was a hybrid between authentic and willful. In the end, we avoided the COVID-19 crisis in Europe through dumb luck and the pursuit of summer. 

In Santiago, we found it: average temperatures of 85 degrees and sun-kissed skin. We hiked San Cristobal regularly, enjoyed the local cuisine (e.g. delectable empanadas), and formed relationships with some very kind, very funny locals. However, we also experienced firsthand the tremors of civil unrest, ongoing since late October. 

At night, especially on weekends, groups largely composed of university students swarmed the streets in protest of the Chilean government. While typically nonviolent—with chants and graffiti the most commonplace forms of rebellion—confrontations with the Carabineros (Chile’s police force) could turn ugly fast. Chunks of cement lobbed at armored police vehicles were met with return-fire from teargas bazookas; Sarah and I soon learned to mind the direction of the wind. Yet International Women’s Day, marked by thousands of women marching the streets of Santiago, was both spirited and peaceful—not to mention remarkable to document. We’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

Exactly 30 days from our arrival, we exited our Miraflores apartment for the final time. A Starbucks across the street had served as a frequent hub for wifi and coffee, and we heaved our bulking packs through the familiar threshold once more. The newspaper stand appeared benign enough just a week prior, but now the crimson headlines suited the content: alarm. 

“CORONAVIRUS: GOBIERNO PARA CERRAR FRONTERAS, CERRAR AEUROPUERTO”

We arrived at Santiago de Chile International Airport at noon, intending to board a flight for Puerto Montt at 2 p.m.—the first leg of our journey into the vast Patagonian wilderness. We stood outside the terminal for a long time, weighing our options. Justifications like “at least we’ll be isolated,” and “we still have 60 days on our visa, maybe that’s long enough?” floundered anxiously between us. As 2 p.m. approached, arrived, and passed, our feet had made the decision that our pride couldn’t. The sky was blue and the sun shone brightly on Santiago as rain coursed down our cheeks; we could finally see the storm clouds. 

We boarded a plane for Miami on March 17, 2020, the second to last flight to America before the airport closed indefinitely. 

On Tyler’s advice, we had set out two and half months ago to experience the world. On that same advice, we’ve returned home. Dreams deferred, not dashed. A commitment intact. 

He had said, “take good risks.” 

Visit takegoodrisks.com for more information.

This article first appeared in the May 2020 issue of Omaha Magazine