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Meet the Fuhrers.

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Crossing into Canada from Montana at the Roosville border crossing station was our first order of business–and turned out to be a bit of a challenge. I suggested to Stefanie that she capture some B-roll of us showing our passports and making small talk with the border crossing agents as we went across. The red-faced young woman at the window when we pulled up was somewhat less than cordial. She demanded that we put away the camera and bluntly stated that she didn’t want to be involved “whatever it is that you people are doing”.

I am customarily quite meek when confronted by law enforcement, but I was a bit affronted that she was so terse in her reference to Project 365. “Seriously?” I asked. “Do you know what we are even doing this for?”

She ignored my questions entirely and my desire to engage her in any sort of further conversation vanished like flatulence in a stiff breeze. She instructed me to pull around to the side and wait for an agent to “assist us” and assured us that someone would be right with us.

I began to fear that the type of “assistance” I was in for would involve latex exam gloves and that I would have to wait for hours to even get to that point. As it turned out, I was only half right; no cavity searches ensued, but we sat there for an hour watching the border agents in their office doing absolutely nothing until my surly friend finally came out and handed us our passports and wished us a good trip.

With no more mobile internet access (roaming charges are exorbitant!) we headed north into British Columbia with our only directions being to “drive 3 hours north and turn left into the town of Edgewater. Look for a red Honda FIT”. Navigation was simple enough but converting miles per hour into kilometers per hour by doing long division in my head nearly caused me to wreck the car when I wasn’t busy exceeding the speed limit.

After exploring the back streets of Edgewater and wishing that I had gotten an actual address from Martin when I had the opportunity, we were almost ready to break down and eat the roaming charges and send out a distress email, but then we found the right house. We had driven 1300 miles with general directions and found ourselves in the driveway of a fellow Type 1 climber who happened to live at the foot of the mountain range that had haunted my dreams since the first day I dared to dream of being a climber myself.

We exited the vehicle and almost immediately three figures appeared on the porch in front of us. They moved towards us to greet us and while I was absent-mindedly introducing my wife and myself I was trying to get my bearings and size up our new friends. I recognized Martin from his gmail chat avatar and he was flanked by his parents (Hans and Lilo Fuhrer) who were kind enough to host our meeting. They greeted us with thick German accents and despite their apparent age, their eyes shone with energy and strength. I turned to Martin and attempted to figure out where to begin.

What do you say to someone when you drive halfway across the continent to meet them based on sharing a love of climbing and a need to self-regulate a portion of your endocrine function? I felt strangely awkward not knowing immediately what to say–but at the same time I was happy because I realized that I couldn’t think of much to say because on a certain level, we already understood each other. Diabetes is like that–and so is climbing.

So I opted to just stand there in the driveway like a mental patient, smiling and nodding and doing my best to take in and catalog all the offers of snacks, meals and hot drinks that were being offered. Lilo even had a sage tea brewing because she had heard about Stefanie’s being under the weather. I couldn’t say no to a couple of cookies whose ingredients would satisfy even the most austere nutritional snobs (I should know after all!) and with food and drink in hand the five of us sat down on the porch to get to know each other.

Martin was a few year my senior and had been living with type 1 diabetes for almost a decade. We compared notes about our respective diagnosis stories and exchanged rough sketches of our day to day management. It was clear that we had wildly differing dietary proclivities and that our routines were not at all the same–but instead of being worried I began to see that our understanding of our own needs would allow us to integrate with each other rather than interfering as I had feared.

Lilo and Hans were very involved in the discussion; they had vivid recollections of first encountering type 1 diabetes and shared their concerns about feeling helpless when blood sugars misbehaved but at the same time they were unwavering in their stance that having diabetes was nothing that should stop anyone from living their life to the fullest.

Lilo and Hans Fuhrer (photo by Martin Fuhrer)

Lilo was also accomplished in the mountains; a gymnast and skier as well as a climber, being the first female to ascend the Diretissima on Yamnuska in 1964–a route that was on par with the some of the hardest rock climbs that had been established at that time. She also competed and medaled in national ski competitions in the cross-country category. She too had seen triumph and loss of life in the vertical world at a time when mountain sports were predominated by male athletes but was unflinching in her enthusiasm.

Hans Fuhrer, 76 years young, still crushing it. (photo: Martin Fuhrer)

Lilo and Martin Fuhrer (photo: Martin Fuhrer)

Martin had, not surprisingly grown up in the mountains and had spent his formative years climbing. Diabetes came to him during his college years and prompted him to seek out the challenges of his adolescence once again and he had done so with full support from his parents. How strange, I thought. My parents think Im crazy for climbing. Martin’s upbringing in the mountains with his parents taught him to accept challenges and simply normalize them until they were just another day out climbing. Talk about empowerment!

These people were no armchair climbers and yet they were so humble. I couldn’t have guessed even a fraction of their depth as mountaineers from what I had been told in emails. These were pioneers; true, old school legends; giants upon whose shoulders several generations of climbers had stood to see further into the future. Lilo and Hans Fuhrer sat before us, now in their mid seventies with undiminished energy and full knowledge of all of the consequences of living in the mountains and told us how excited they were that we had taken on Project 365 and that they were excited that Martin and I would be able to partner together for some climbing in the Bugaboos.

I was completely overwhelmed upon hearing this. I was sitting on the porch exchanging stories and pleasantries with people who had climbed with Fritz Wiessner, Fred Beckey, Chuck Pratt, Royal Robbins and many many others who are now climbing legends. Google some of the preceding names if you haven’t heard of them. As a climber, you couldn’t fall ass-backwards into a richer experience than what I was experiencing. It would be the equivalent of going to buy a guitar amplifier off of craigslist and finding out that it had been played by Jimi Hendrix.

I suddenly had a really good feeling about the upcoming climbing. I felt like my life was about to change and though I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, I just felt so connected to these people and I knew Martin and I would really click in the mountains.

Martin and I broke off and took a short hike out to a bluff overlooking the headwaters of the Columbia River and we talked privately about our perspectives on climbing and diabetes. It amazed me how much we shared in common; we had traveled similar paths without ever knowing it and had found diabetes to be an opportunity to excel rather than a curse. Suddenly I felt totally understood. I felt validated–like climbing mountains every day for a year was normal–or that it could be.

I took on Project 365 not to show off how I manage to excel but because what I do is normal in my world and can be normal for anyone–and meeting someone else who made me feel completely normal was incredibly empowering for me. I had been so concerned with empowering other PWD that I had forgotten that I needed empowerment too. As I tried to contain my excitement, not wanting to scare off my new climbing partner with excessive exuberance, I thought about what a colossal blunder it would have been if I had not driven 1300 miles to meet up in response to a seemingly random email.


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