One only needs to do a quick glance at social media to see that there is no shortage of people creating inspiring work and sharing inspiring stories. So what's missing? In the few years since I started LivingVertical the once sparsely populated landscape has grown a little crowded. Don't believe me? Go on Instagram and look at the #type1diabetes hashtag. Sure, there's still some okra water, cinnamon pills and some "woe" boaters floating about on that sea of virtual humanity--but my goal was never to eliminate those perspectives--merely to offer an alternative alongside them. Technology has allowed this community to grow to the point where I no longer feel like an outsider as an active and unrepentant type 1. I'm really thankful for that.
The question that I keep coming back to is what still is missing from the equation--because inspiration abounds and the net reality of life with type 1 diabetes seems largely unchanged for it.
I'm not waving a white flag--but trying to look critically at the premise of most of my work: we need stories and inspiration to change the narrative surrounding life with a chronic illness. Maybe I've been looking at it all wrong. It's only taken me 5 years to start figuring out what I'm doing here so it's good to have a jump start on the whole process.
Inspiration doesn't change lives. Initiative does. Action that overcomes the inertia--the paralysis of the static life. Climbing is how I connect to that. It's North on my compass and from climbing has come many other levers that I've used to keep from slowing down. Photography. Writing. Creating. Noticing. The make and model of the compass are not nearly as important as having your own idea of North and taking steps to navigate on a journey. The goal is not to possess a perfect, flawless compass that can be listed on eBay at the end of its service as "new or like new condition".
Inspiration is a by product of something that does change lives--and that's the simple act of showing up and doing the work. It's important not to confuse the two. Choosing to see the creative choice in our lives directly opposes destructive force in our lives. This is nothing short of transformational if we take the step to go beyond how we feel about doing the work and simply do the work. This means trying with no regard or concern for failure. Uncertainty is the space we need to occupy with pride. It's not safe and certainly not neat. Inspiration is not the foundation for change. It's the antecedent. It comes after making the change and doing the hard part.
We don't need inspiration to get started or show up consistently. We just need to get started and show up consistently.
by Steve Richert
The stories we tell ourselves determine what we create from our objective reality. For example: the fact that I have diabetes is objective--not a matter of perception or interpretation. On the other hand, bringing diabetes into wild places and choosing to manage that risk on offense rather than defense--that's very much about interpretation. That's the result of a story. The narrative we feed ourselves daily sets our expectations. Adventure is embracing scenarios that force us to have our expectations challenged. Adventure isn't climbing as such. That's why I maintain that the AdventureRx isn't just for people who climb or people with diabetes. It's for people. I happen to have diabetes and that's been a massive driver of my expectations and climbing has been an arena that has forced me to let go of those preconceptions.
Still, it's all an exercise. It's all transferrable. It's not unique.
I've seen the same concepts play out in my pursuit of photography. In parenting. In traveling. In business.
Don't let the wrapping fool you. It's really pretty basic and woven into the most mundane facets of life. I'm not suggesting that adventure is boring or pedestrian--rather I believe that much of the entire world which we are told is mundane--contains vast amounts of fresh territory to explore for those who recognize that we all have expectations and that we all need to embrace discomfort on a regular basis to avoid stagnation.
Physically, artistically, emotionally--comfort is where progress goes to die.
Practically speaking, this train of thought has grown from my recent approach to climbing being disrupted by my two year old daughter. It's discomfort--in a very different package. I know some people can't imagine what could be hard about only climbing a couple of 5.6 pitches and calling it a day. Ambition chafes a lot less when you indulge it. When that's not an option it becomes a thorn in the flesh. I'm not used to being out climbing and having to be dad first.
I finally decided to give in and adjust my expectations. I chose a different narrative for this time on our journey--one in which these days are not about being a climber--they are about being a dad. No more torturing myself about what I should be climbing. I'll have days to be a climber and push myself again. It's worth it to pause and see my two year old daughter summit a climb that for her is basically El Capitan. Changing my story altered my expectations and opened my eyes to see Lilo make massive leaps in her climbing--negotiating tricky and unfamiliar terrain with growing confidence. It's been a valuable reminder of the fact that climbing isn't always about the climbing. It's about the ways in which discomfort is the lever that forces much needed change into our story.
Climbing is an exercise in eschewing the comfort our expectations--not strictly a quest for the glory of achievement. That's the story I've chosen to tell myself.
I'm not going to try and post all of my photos from the Northeast Ridge of Bugaboo Spire here because that would leave us both with an improbable task; me of uploading and organizing everything and you of taking the time to go through them all! Nevertheless, the task of returning with images to share lies at the heart of adventure. It's not about having "fun" as such--nor is it about some existential quest that takes place in a vacuum. Certainly those elements arise in the process, but the result of it all boils down to something we create. That's our story and the photographs are an important part of it.
I am writing an eBook about this trip called "5 Minutes of Chaos that Changed my Life" and making a short film from it as well. Both will dig deeper in to the nitty and the gritty of that experience. I feel thankful to have had an experience so rich that I am left grappling to get my arms around it. If you would like to buy prints of these photos, please visit my print store. If you don't see the image you want, please contact me and I will make sure that it's available for you. Each photo print we sell supports the work we are doing to change the story of life with type 1 diabetes.
I started writing a blog post and it turned into my next eBook AVAILABLE NOW "5 Minutes of Chaos that Changed My Life". There's a lot more to this story than what I've discussed on recent YouTube videos and Podcasts but I don't want to cram it into a blog post that won't get fully read and besides...I hate rushing. That said, the real nugget of gold that changed my life is what I'd like to focus on. It's not about climbing. It's not even about risk management or diabetes. Simply put, it's about the story that we all tell ourselves. Here's an excerpt from the book:
As the dim pink glow of the infant sunrise bled across the horizon I felt heart drop into my stomach. "Hey Martin, hold up?" I croaked at my partner. He was grinding up the still frozen snow slope towards the several hundreds of feet of unroped "approach climbing" that intervened between us and the start of the route we'd come to climb. The familiar feeling of low blood sugar stifled the words in my mouth as I attempted to explain to Martin that I had to take some food and rest.
The day prior--lugging a 45 lb pound pack up 5 hours of steep trail before making high camp at Applebee Dome in the Bugaboo mountains I had gotten by with eating almost nothing more than a few handfuls of Brazil nuts. We had a short weather window to approach and climb the massive Bugaboo Spire via it's Northeast Ridge--a classic climb that is not technically hard but is deceptively big. Speed is safety in the mountains where the grade of the moves are of less importance than the fickle weather which turns on a dime and can transform idyllic summits into lightning rods.
"I hate rushing. That's the only thing that makes a 2:30 AM start worthwhile" I thought as we trudged out of camp earlier that morning in the pitch black. Now I was looking at our time advantage evaporating as I checked my CGM like a nervous tic. I knew my blood sugar would come up but I also knew that the cold would slow my digestion. "We might be here a while. Are you sure this is a good idea to keep going?" I don't like starting a big day in the mountains on a low. Martin just nodded back quietly as we sat watching the dawn break over the horizon. The little pinholes of light creeping through the darkness across the glacier dimmed in the twilight and revealed themselves to be other climbing parties who eventually passed us as we sat.
Sometimes you can do everything right and still lose out.
Objective reality is that I am a type 1 diabetic. I can't change that. The story I tell myself about how type 1 diabetes impacts me, limits me or motivates me--that creates and shapes my reality. That is fully in my control. We tend to think of our story as a result of our reality or circumstances--not the other way around. We often see people getting irritated by the narrative that the public has about type 1 diabetes. It certainly can be frustrating but it's a lot less of a concern when we have fully engaged with the power that we each have to tell our own story rather than live in the shadow of someone else's. It doesn't matter if other people believe it--we tell it to ourselves so that we believe it and then we live it out in reality.
This concept really hit home while climbing in Canada with Martin--and that's what the eBook will really dig into--as well as the short film I am working on about our time in the Bugaboos. Remember that our Patreon supporters will have free access to this (and all future) eBooks I write as well as early access to the film as it goes through the various phases of production! Subscribing to our email list is a simple way to make sure you don't miss anything and stay up to date with our publishing and production.
I wanted to put together a few of my favorite photos from the Tower of Babel because with so much media created it's not hard to lose a lot in the shuffle of moving on to the next thing! This is a short post and by the time you're reading it I'll be on my way into the backcountry for another adventure in the mountains--this time the Bugaboos! Martin and I are going for a larger objective than the Tower of Babel--the Northeast Ridge of Bugaboo Spire--which is beautiful and quite a long day. It will surely test our ability to move efficiently and cover a lot of ground.
Today we are packing up and gathering food--laying plans and tactics for the coming days. It's exciting to be returning to the Bugaboos (which I haven't visited since Project365 in 2012) but it's also a little nerve wracking because once you're out there--you're out there and it's too late to pick up that one last item you left back at the trailer!
I hope to be back out of the wilderness and reconnected by early next week with lots more photos and video to share. In the meantime, I hope some of these photos inspire you to get out and find some adventure of your own. There's a lot out there and it belongs to us all.
I feel as though I've been given a gift that is so precious that I don't deserve it. I almost feel guilty being able to experience these moments on the edge of my comfort in some of the most spectacular places on the planet. It's not just being there that is so meaningful it's the price we pay to dance with the fear. The people that we encounter on this hard road to nowhere become friends and mentors. The price is high but fair.
I set out to climb Tower of Babel in Banff National Park (near Lake Louise in Alberta) with Martin Fuhrer--a good friend and Type 1 companion since Project365 serendipitously brought us together. His father, Hans, who is now 80 had climbed this same formation many years ago and he recommended it highly. As a lifelong climber and former head of SAR (search and rescue) for Parks Canada, his suggestions always carry significant merit because many of todays classics were pioneered by Hans and his friends in the 60s and 70s--and he has many unrepeated first ascents in the backcountry that are staggering feats of effort even by modern standards.
Waking up at 4 AM is never something I enjoy. "It will be worth it" I keep telling myself as I stagger around trying to get some semblance of breakfast together that will be fast, easy and compatible with my Ketogenic diet. A quick blood sugar check and I can see that I'm already off to a sub-optimal start. I'm higher than I want to be on waking (150) so I trim the meal to the bare essentials and take one unit of rapid acting insulin which will hopefully have left my system before we start the uphill grind to the base of the tower. Peppermint tea with coconut oil, cheese, almond butter and hemp seeds are my rations. I pack some eggs and more cheese for later on the climb, along with some Brazil nuts--which will ultimately stay in my pack for the entire day without being eaten.
A two hour drive puts us in the heart of Banff and we begin the approach. My blood sugar is still high (178) but I don't really care--it will come down soon enough and I'd prefer a little cushion with the steep hike ahead that will ultimately deposit us at the base of the 1,250 tower. Trying to describe a day of climbing is hard--and possibly not worth my time or yours beyond a certain point.
It was hard at first and then it became easy. I think that's the heart of the matter--which is worth literally ALL of my time. Doing hard things is how we make them normal. Normal becomes easy and our limits shift. I keep thinking about this on the wall as I look repeatedly at my CGM watching my blood sugar--concerned about a shift or a drop that ultimately never comes. I wonder what it would be like to live without that concern, that fear. It's with me everywhere I go.
The illusion that I've transcended that fear because I choose to dance with it in the mountains sets my teeth on edge. I've read some misinformed bloggers who think that my climbing is about demonstrating conquest. In truth it's about the ritual of confronting my weakest self and watching the myth of conquest evaporate like morning mist. Here on the side of a cliff my fear is nearer and more present than ever. I hear it on the wind and it whispers worst-case what-ifs in my ear. The day that I conquer my fear is the day I will have no more use for climbing. I have no concerns about such a day ever arriving.
From the dance with fear comes joy. The gift. This is real--as real as high blood sugar. As real as the fear.
We push through to the summit and find Hans waiting for us--he hiked up a grueling gully to meet and congratulate us. We share details and memories of the climb in the way climbers do. I feel so much joy at the completion of the ascent, our ability to bring type 1 diabetes into the vertical world and our escort down the mountain. I joke with Hans that it's not often one gets escorted off a mountain by the (former) head of SAR under such pleasant circumstances. His laughter drifts back over his shoulder as he is already out and away down the trail, ahead of Martin and I.
I hope that I can find that much joy and strength in the mountains when I too am 80 years old.
LivingVertical isn't for everyone. It's for YOU. That's why I am asking you for the opportunity to make this mission, this message my full-time priority by pledging support for our work via our recently launched Patreon campaign. It's loaded with exclusive rewards which you can see for yourself, including our first foray into print media--The AdventureRx Journal.
Over the past few years you've watched me attempt to juggle the disparate goals of supporting a family and creating revolutionary adventure media that can overthrow the limitations of type 1 diabetes.
I've decided to stop juggling.
I've committed to LivingVertical full time. That means sink or swim--a test that I've been able to protect LivingVertical from for years. I've worked many different jobs to support this effort myself and I don't regret keeping it on life support in order to get back to this point of giving it my full time focus. Now, the question is 'How long can I afford to maintain this commitment while supporting my family?'.
When I first began working to create empowering adventure films, blogs and photos in 2011 I had a sort of luxury of being free to live in the dirt. Literally. I took great pride in doing more with less. It felt rebellious to start taking a stand without asking for "permission" from corporate sponsors. Having basically no overhead made us hard to squash--like post apocalyptic cockroaches. I never anticipated success. When Project365 was completed there was too much momentum to just walk away from LivingVertical--but no pathway for sustaining a living from it either. I assumed that if LivingVertical was good enough some company would sweep me off my feet and give us the financial support required to ride off into the sunset creating inspiration and empowerment for the world at no cost.
I often have been told that "It would be great if (insert drug/device company name here) sponsored you! Seems like you would be a great fit. Have you ever looked into that?" I have had some great relationships with sponsors in the past--but we never rode off together into the sunset. Short term engagements left me searching for ways to attract the next short term engagements. My focus couldn't be the work and the message. The message mattered to me and my audience--but it wasn't what was supporting me financially.
The reason I am attempting to crowd-fund the backbone of our support is because I want to change that. I believe that my audience and the message come first. Having audience support is what allows that freedom to exist.
No one is entitled to having an audience, let alone support from that audience. The fact that you're here with me means that I've been given a wonderful gift already. I have no intention of putting my work behind a wall and making it pay-to-play. I'm asking you for the opportunity to make the free, public work of LivingVertical bigger, better and more impactful.
I wanted to write a technical post about a question I keep getting regarding the ketogenic diet and hypoglycemia. Even if you're not into the keto diet, I think you may find some useful ideas to make low blood sugar less invasive in the short term. I recently shot a series of videos about the ketogenic diet and diabetes as part of my daily YouTube vlogging and you can check those out and subscribe here.
My general goal in my diabetes management is minimalism. Minimal intervention, treatment and daily impact. The most basic manifestation of this is to aim for the use of less insulin, which can create greater blood sugar stability. This strategy led me to a low carb diet. The need to have athletic performance in addition to the blood sugar stability led me one step further to the keto diet.
You can call me diabetic if that's what works for you. I won't call the language police to shut down communications. Silence doesn't help those of us living with this condition and it doesn't help the outside world deal more gracefully with admittedly difficult subject matter.
I'm not saying that words don't matter. Words do matter--not because of an inherent value in the words themselves but because of the context. Words matter because of how we interact with them. Trying to protect ourselves from terms themselves is asking the wrong question. Leaning into the effort of influencing context and controlling the narrative is proactive. It's something for which we can take responsibility. We can change what words mean through action. That starts with taking ownership in our own life. The point of this exercise is to change our perspective. The benefit to us is a better life, independent of the willfully ignorant.
Scrutinizing semantics shifts the focus outside of the things we control. Asking how we can break underlying ignorance seems closer to the mark. Person with diabetes, climber, diabetic, diabetic climber--are all accurate. None of those words makes me who I am. They don't define me--I define them. Doing that work is something I own--it's not something I'm willing to outsource. The heart of being successful with this disease involves questioning everything and being independent enough to formulate your own rules based on what works for you, not playing by rules handed down from internet authority figures or arcane medical tropes.
I'm aware that I'm asking you to freely reject my position as part of my platform. I'm no authority figure. I'm just one person. I'll choose to define the value of diabetes for myself, thank you. That includes all the words and the nomenclature that comes with it. It's my disease and I'll paint it any color I want.
We do a lot of measuring in diabetes--but are we measuring what matters? As you may know, I've been on the east coast for about a week or so and I've been doing a little "experiment" that I'd like you to participate in. I am sharing a video each day--on my YouTube channel. It's been a great opportunity to work on my video story telling (starting with some lighter "cat videos" to get warmed up!) as I prepare for a big climbing project this fall and it's the pathway I am following as I push the message of empowerment and redefining the limitations of life with type 1 diabetes. I'm still sharing blogs because those are good outlets for photographs, opinion pieces and technical discussion-- but the play by play of my adventures--well, that's moving to a different stadium with more seating. I truly hope you'll subscribe to our channel and be part of a new frontier (new for LivingVertical) that we are navigating. These forays are always way better with friends.
During my time in New York City, I had a chance to meet up with a good friend and we did an informal interview for the vlog. It got me thinking about some of the common complaints and touch-points that I've been noticing a lot in the community. There's a tension between a segment of the diabetes community who think diabetes isn't that hard--and others who think it's basically impossible. I have been looking for years for a way to bridge that gap and inspire those who are burnt out--and borrow from the success I have had in order to equip those willing to fight on.
I know that it's cathartic to hear leaders in our community say that it's impossible to control our blood sugar. While I don't disagree with this assertion, I believe it's an incomplete message without equal priority being given to the things we can control. Effort is the focus. Effort is good or bad. Effort should absolutely be judged--because effort is one of the things we can control. Clear black and white language must apply to our self-review or else we will create loopholes to escape our responsibility.
I write this as a flawed, lazy and impatient person who spends a good deal of creative energy trying to trick my "future-self" into doing the right thing from the comfort of what will soon be the past. I'm not advocating open season on judging each other--since that process is already working out beautifully on Facebook in this harmonious political climate--but I'm saying that it's worth holding ourselves accountable. We are not delicate snowflakes that will wilt under the duress. We will grind our teeth at times and soldier on, better off for having done so.
I would ask you to stay the hands reaching for your pitchforks and torches--because the quality of the effort is not determined by the outcome. You can do everything right and get the wrong results. I've seen it happen in climbing, in losing friends to their own demons, in diabetes too, of course--and the only refuge we have is knowing that our best effort was given in the fight. Sometimes that must be enough.
I'll give a quick example. When I started LivingVertical, I got some pretty hateful comments from people who were complete outsiders. They judged my desire to use climbing to empower and inspire as being a flimsy publicity stunt that would ultimately detract from getting funding for real, meaty solutions like a "cure". My initial reaction was to say "What the hell?! I show up trying to give people this gift and I get kicked in the teeth?" It's true that my critics were trolls and they were completely out of line. It's also true that encountering that judgement gave me a moment to pause and examine what I could be doing or saying to increase the clarity of my purpose. It made me that much more committed to examining my own intentions. I avoided a lot of pitfalls because I did not want to do anything to validate the trolls.
Adjust expectations and emphasis to favor the effort and let go of the outcome. Then, choose your battle and fight like hell.