It’s kind of funny that my first post back on LivingVertical after recovering a working computer setup is about the one person who has had the biggest role to play in this website and the activist spirit that gave birth to it. Really, it’s not a stretch to say that my wife Stefanie has shaped my life in more ways than I am consciously aware of on a daily basis, so today I want to slow down and reflect on that–and express gratitude.
I am, above all, a realist–particularly on the topic of relationships. I have known from a young age that my partner in life would have to be a person who gave me space to be myself and would allow me to pursue adventure. Having diabetes means being selfish at times, and our spouses and partners must bear that burden. Being a climber and adventurer–that sounds great when you see it on the pages of an Eddie Bauer catalog or read the calligraphy stenciled onto a Tumblr meme showing lovestruck hipsters cuddling with steaming cups of coffee in the back of a newly restored 1970s VW Westfalia. Try living that dream and you will soon learn that nightmares are also dreams.
This may seem like an odd preamble to my expression of gratitude for all that Stefanie has contributed to my life over the years, given that I have just established a position that seems incompatible with romance and fluff. It is that very fact that makes my appreciation all the more steadfast however. To look at a relationship and be able to factor in all of the moments of difficulty and despair–and still come up with a balance sheet so overwhelmingly positive is the highest praise I can give another human being. That is partnership–and that is incredibly rare and precious.
Since I met Stefanie in 2007, I have never had much worldly value to offer her. You may think that is hyperbole, but when we met there was no LivingVertical, no Project365–there was only “24-and-still-living-with-dad”. Somehow I convinced her that this was a good enough position from which to begin a life together. We got engaged in 2008 and promptly left on a 6 month climbing road trip to see the USA and Canada–living out of a Honda Civic. South Dakota. Wyoming. Montana. Idaho. Alaska and the Yukon. Then back down through the Pacific Northwest and California (where we decided to get married at the San Diego County Courthouse). Then we drove back to New York to scrape together jobs and pay off the cost of our 6 months on the road: a little over $6,000 combined.
How many times in the intervening years have I reminded myself in moments of frustration that this is a woman who agreed to be married in a courthouse with no ceremony, who was willing to poop in a hole in the woods when it was necessary and could make desolate back roads feel like home with her adept preparation of Ramen noodles. She could have had a house and a fancy car and a proper future but instead she chose me, a person whose dream of success is living out of a less-than-fancy car. She chose a life where her needs would always come second to a relentless medical condition and where fun and freedom were born from sacrifice rather than excess.
In 2010, after being married for a couple of years and in between one of our many roadtrips, I decided to enter the workforce. Sort of. We had once again wound up in San Diego and there I decided that I was going to be a climbing guide and a writer. This sort declaration is nearly enough to make the homeless offer you some spare change–and instead of chiding me for an unwillingness to accept “reality” Stefanie bought me a new laptop and said,”If you’re serious about doing this, you should have a good machine.”
Guiding and writing opened my eyes to how adventure and the wilderness had changed my life. When that desire germinated into the rumblings of diabetes activism in 2011, Stefanie suggested that I follow through with a plan to combine climbing with diabetes. She came up with the idea for LivingVertical and our flagship, Project365. She built the first website we had and created the LivingVertical Instagram account–which I initially wanted nothing to do with, but has since flourished and fueled my photographic passion.
Stefanie opted to sell everything and live out of an unreliable station wagon in order to help me be free to change a small corner of the world. When we were running out of money about 3 months into Project365 and I was considering taking a break to get a job and put some money in the bank she pushed me to stay the course. Stefanie got a job with Jetblue to keep LivingVertical afloat–which was serendipitous and has been incredibly rewarding since, but always involves sacrifice, logistically speaking. We have worked to create those moments of photographic magic and serenity through choosing to get by with less, and accept the choice of adventure at the cost of comfort.
A little over a year ago Stefanie gave me the greatest gift I could ever know; a beautiful daughter. Where most people see a child as a reason to circle the wagons and dig in to conventional life, Stefanie has made it her mission to help raise our daughter with the same love of adventure and the outdoors that we have always shared. We still don’t have the home with the white picket fence–but it makes me feel incredibly lucky to have a wife who is ok with that. Stefanie would rather have alpenglow and the open road–and I couldn’t agree more. Whenever I get the urge to do something big and “crazy” she doesn’t say ‘no’ or roll her eyes. She asks me to make a plan and put it into action so we can do it together.
This fall, our family will be moving into some semblance of a camper van and living on the road. I don’t mean a road trip or a vacation. I mean creating a nomadic normalcy–exercising our choice to accept the risk and sacrifice of this lifestyle together because it’s worth it to us. It’s all very strange and new–but also kind of familiar; here I am again, typing on yet another new computer with a tremendous unknown looming before us. This may give rise to another LivingVertical project. It may not. Our decision to live on the road is a personal one first and foremost–not public advocacy. On the other hand, it’s difficult to say that any advocacy for type1 diabetes in which I participate in will be completely estranged from the fact that we have chosen, yet again, to do things the “hard way”. The one thing that I know to be true is that whatever results from this choice, it will not be of my making alone. There would be no LivingVertical and no projects without a wife who sees the value in struggle.
This is my verbose expression of thankfulness for Stefanie on the occasion of her 29th birthday. Saying happy birthday, the hard way. I love you and I am proud of you. I am a better person with wider and clearer horizons because of your impact in my life. For all of the difficult times that have passed and for those that lie ahead, there is no one in whom I have greater confidence as a true partner.