In case my most recent posts about life on the road have been too dark or self indulgent here is something different. This post is a collection of photographs and frozen moments that I believe to be priceless. These are treasures that I was privileged to witness and collect along the way. I didn’t set out looking for them, which makes their occurrence along my path a much greater of a gift.
As we drove countless miles across North America, many hours were spent listening to podcasts and music. Lilo became incredibly fond of
John Prine’s music–a fact that was a gift in itself–and this shared appreciation eased the tension of being strapped into a car seat on many a long day. One of his songs in particular really spoke to me as I’ve been thinking back on the incredible trove of experiential plunder that I gained from our year on the road. I’d love it if you’d let the music video below play while you look at the photos and read the captions in the remainder of this post. Incidentally, I have linked each photo with any blog posts or podcasts that give more detail about each moment–where relevant.
These photos are not the apex of my professional work, nor my personal work. They are flawed, imperfect and beautiful. If they develop holographic headstones in the future, I’d bet that you’d see some of these images as the ellipses punctuating the end of my days.
Memories, they can’t be boughten
They can’t be won at carnivals for free
Well it took me years to get those souvenirs… John Prine, “Souvenirs”
Climbing in Red Rock (Las Vegas, NV) with Rob. We shifted our approach to linking up long, moderate routes and immerse ourselves in the flow state of climbing. My enjoyment of climbing was reignited as well as my realization of what could be possible with enough mileage on the rock. This photo is from Crimson Chrysalis–a classic “easy” route that we got halfway up and had to bail off of due to weather. I struggled with a low blood sugar at the start and hit my stride–just in time to descend.
I discovered that I really enjoy photographing waterfalls-on a hike with Stefanie and Lilo in North Carolina as our time on the road drew to a close. This was our last “hurrah” and I wanted to get the most out of it. I didn’t go looking for waterfalls in the Smokey Mountains but finding them and shooting them felt like a special gift.
This was Stefanie’s birthday. I had just gotten the news that my main client was not going to continue the project that had been supplying our main income. We were in Canada–at the furthest reaches of our journey and we had to focus on enjoying the moment and not giving in to despair. We went out as a family and visited Kicking Horse Mountain Ranch taking the Gondola up to the top for some hiking. I typically shy away from tourist activities but I was convinced to try it. I’m thankful that we did. It lifted a lot of the psychological burden and it was wonderful being able to enjoy time in the mountains as an entire family. That doesn’t often happen in the context of my climbing.
This was my birthday. A chance to get away and spend time on the wall. A chance to climb with a fellow T1D. It wasn’t a Swiss Watch–we got turned around without finishing the route when fixed gear was missing–but it was the first step towards getting ready for El Capitan which is my next project. It was a great way to close out the climbing portion of our life on the road.
This is one of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken. There’s a lot going on here and it tells a few stories. I saw Lilo really start to come out of her “shell” during the last year. She went from crying when someone would say hello to her–to lighting up and reaching out to anyone nearby. This photo was from our time in Cincinnati–and we were staying with my good friend Aaron who owns this coffee shop–Covington Coffee. His dad happened to be there doing some research on his iPad when Lilo decided to share her sticker collection with him. We wouldn’t have even gone through Cincinnati in the first place if our journey had gone to plan. Things changed and this happened.
Climbing the Tower of Babel in Banff National Park in Alberta was another game changing moment for me. I was looking forward to climbing in Canada for obvious reasons. It was a little intimidating looking up at this route from the ground and wondering if Martin and I hadn’t bitten off more than we could chew. Those moments of doubt are so important because they allow us to bet on ourselves. This remains one of my favorite climbs ever–it was big and somewhat intimidating–but it flowed and was never felt desperate. (Photo by Martin Fuhrer)
Towards the beginning of our trip I got the urge to tick off a climb that had been on my list in the Zion area for years. It was called “Cowboy Ridge” and with a moderate rating of 5.7 I expected it to be casual. My friend Chris and I went out and gave it a go–and while it turned out to be much more involved than we expected–we did it. There was tricky route finding, loose rock, more loose rock and then disintegrating rock–much of which you can see behind us here on the summit of Mt Kinesava. The descent was a true nail-biter. We were chasing daylight down the steep gullies and hoping we were not going down the wrong path. It was like navigating a steep maze in fading light. I’m really thankful we got to have that experience together–although I don’t know if I plan to repeat this route any time soon!
I started our journey with the intent of organizing informal adventure meetups all along our route. I hoped to get more people with diabetes out in the real world to enjoy the AdventureRx that is available to us all. Time, money and opportunity ran short of my goal–but not before we got to have one really fantastic T1D meetup in Joshua Tree National Park. During that weekend I was spending a lot of time facilitating and trying to lead group activities. Towards the end of the weekend Chelsea suggested that we get on a route together. The weather was iffy and the guidebook was hard to read but we saw this one crack from the road that looked good. We climbed it without any difficulty but found that the descent was a bit sketchy. Problem solving, spotting, recon and support were the memories I’ll take from this climb with Chelsea–and our diabetes was just along for the ride.
One of the few actual goals that we set for our time on the road was visiting our friends in Canada–Martin Fuhrer and his parents, Hans and Lilo. We named our daughter after Lilo and this was the first time they met. This moment was worth everything it took to get there–and back.
I had high hopes for Lilos first attempt at roped climbing. I expected a gleeful family adventure that would make everyone on Instagram jealous. Instead I found that two-year olds have their own ideas of fun and adventure which often do not align with ours. This was an important (debacle) lesson for me and a memory that I’ll continue to laugh about for years to come.
This is from Mono Lake in California. If you Google search images of this landmark you’ll see striking photos of tufas in the moonlight. When I think of Mono Lake I’ll always see Stefanie and Lilo playing near the otherworldly-colored water.
Shortly after Lilo tried (and hated) roped climbing, we discovered that she loved climbing without a rope. This is her going for it on a bite-sized slab in City of Rocks, Idaho while Stefanie spots her from below. I was impressed with her ability to do legitimate 5th class climbing moves and it was so thrilling to watch her discover her power in the (slightly less than) vertical world.
This is Martin’s dad–Hans. During our time in Canada we got to have many long conversations about his years in the mountains, photographing and preserving the joy and hardship he found there. At one point he gave us a tour of his film cameras and climbing gear. It was like stepping back in time–to a rich history that is now fading. I’ll always be inspired by the strength of this mans spirit, which has only been honed with age. Being able to capture some of his thoughts and wisdom was an incredible gift–and that will be the topic of a short film that I’ll be working on this fall as I struggle to distill the meaning of all these moments.
One morning in Canada we decided to head out to climb the Tower of Babel with Martin–and his dad Hans who accompanied us to take photos from below. He wound up hiking up our descent route and meeting us at the top of the climb–just a casual afternoon stroll at 80 years of age. We left very early in the morning, before first light and on the way as we drove through Kootenay National Park the sun was rising. I was following Hans and Martin in my car with Stefanie and Lilo–and when I saw the mist and the sunrise I immediately wanted to stop and photograph this perfect light. Hans reached the same conclusion completely on his own and he pulled over and hopped out with his own camera. I didn’t have the wide angle lens that would have been “ideal” for this shot–but I had some of the most beautiful light and smoky mist on the water–and best of all, I had a chance to be there and capture it.
I don’t know what I could say about this image other than it makes me happy. Earlier that day I was sitting at the picnic table in our campsite trying to do work–with limited success. I couldn’t focus on writing for my client with bugs buzzing me and it occurred to me that our future looked bleak if this was to be my main source of income. I’m glad that I wrapped up early and went out to play with the girls. It was a great decision.
When I started LivingVertical and embarked on Project365 I decided that no matter what happened–risk, reward, disappointment or loss–it would all be worth it if it changed one persons life. Andres was that person who made it all worthwhile. He was the first person to connect with me in the spring of 2012–when I was at a particularly low ebb–and thank me for changing his life. That changed my life. Andres has always been there to remind me that this work matters, even when it seems like no one is listening–because someone is always listening. This spring we met up in Zion and hiked out to Observation Point, diabetes and all.
Zion has always been a special place for us. It’s like a big classroom where I’ve learned many lessons–some beautiful, others harsh. It is a landscape of extremes. Beauty and danger walk hand in hand and one need not venture far from any path to find either in spades. I’m glad we got spend time as a family there. I believe that we absorb the characteristics of the places we inhabit and if that red dirt works its way into the cracks between our lives, it won’t be such a bad thing.
During our time with the Mahoney family in Spokane I got to enjoy parenting a little more. There were other little ones for Lilo to play with, toys galore and the area was baby friendly. Many of the big pitfalls were removed and we didn’t have to constantly be saying “no”. Getting to watch Lilo explore and gain confident in her surroundings was a rare gift. This photo came from an afternoon walk and a random shot. She loved that umbrella…
I’ve written at length about my friend Chris Pittman. His birthday recently passed. I sure do miss him. I still struggle with his departure from this life but I am equally grateful that this moment happened–this smile and this memory that we have to carry forward. I still can’t believe that I won’t see him when I’m out in Vegas again. In a way though, I’ll always see him everywhere when I’m out in the desert.
There was that one time that Martin and I climbed this mountain together. We huddled together below the summit for warmth, scrambled under boulders to avoid wind and rain. We crossed our fingers to avoid lightning and worked together to get back down safely. I don’t think Martin has any idea of his impact on my life–as a climbing partner, a fellow T1D and a friend. I cherish every moment we’ve shared out on the edge or warm and safe in a restaurant eating chicken wings. He’s inspired me in so many ways through his commitment to simplicity and generosity. Kindness and humility are so undervalued in the modern age. Martin has made them into an art form.
One day driving through Gifford Pinchot National Forest–it was just me and Lilo–we had a sort of epic. Washed out roads and many other navigational hazards sprang up to block our path at every turn. Steep grades, sharp turns and a complete lack of access to fuel only complicated the matter. Through all of this Lilo was a very good sport and I realized that together we would be able to handle whatever the road threw at us. Once I relaxed and stopped worrying it was easier to pull off the road and grab a shot of one of the many waterfalls that can be found in the wilderness of Washington State.
“Memories, they can’t be boughten They can’t be won at carnivals for free” is what the song says. Sitting back and waiting for a safe path through life won’t guarantee that it will ever show up. Failure comes to us all, whether we encounter it in pursuit of something or in flight from something else. The point of it all is not to succeed but to collect the most valuable souvenirs along the way. In this regard I believe that I’ve been wildly successful.
On to the next adventure. I’m thankful for those of you who follow, support and appreciate the work I do. The people who don’t actually read these posts fully won’t mind that I don’t really care if they like my work or not–because it’s not for them, it’s for us.