It’s been almost five months since 80 of us arrived at the top of the Grouse Grind outside Vancouver, British Columbia. It was a clear and sunny day and we had views for miles in every direction — a fitting place to wrap up the adventure of a lifetime. That adventure included thousands of miles cycling and 49 different summit views in 48 states and Canada. But more importantly it included meeting more than 3,000 people dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease (PD) who collectively helped the Tour de Fox raise over $2.5 million for research!
For me the Tour was a euphoric blur — new place after new place, beautiful views, warm faces and a lot of time spent on a bike seat. Since it ended, it’s been fun to catch up with people I met along the way to hear about their experience with the Tour. After all, with thousands of participants, this project has taken on many forms. I asked a few people to share their experience.
Veronica Tuerffs, who joined us for multiple events this summer including our climb to Colorado’s highest peak, talked about what it meant to reach the summit with such a large group of family and friends.
"Being able to be on a summit is a magical thing. That feeling of accomplishment is one that I have been unable to find anywhere else. When you are able to get there with a group of friends and family though, it becomes much less about conquering something and so much more about completing something together. You literally get to look back on what you just accomplished with those that worked on it with you and say, ‘Wow, look what we just did.’ There are not many times in today's day and age when you are standing side-by-side with the people you are collaborating with and get to reflect together in real time.”
Veronica was part of a group that was climbing in support of (and alongside!) Greg Gerhard, her future father-in-law, who was diagnosed with PD in 2009.
"My soon to be father-in-law and I have climbed together a lot…but this felt different. The moment on the summit of Mt. Elbert was very touching. I wasn't only seeing him accomplish a climb, I was seeing him do it surrounded by 10 people that were there for him — who were cheering him and others on the whole time — who dedicated their climb to him. I’ve never felt more honored to stand on a summit.”
I remember that day and the Gerhard family vividly. In fact, I was fighting back tears as I turned and headed down from the top. But crew member Chris Stanley had the wherewithal, like he always did that summer, to capture the Gerhard’s moment on film. When I asked Chris about his most memorable moments from the Tour, the climb with the Gerhards was at the top of his list.
“The top of Mt. Elbert in Colorado was a very special place. Climbing mountains, especially ones the size of Elbert, is an emotional rollercoaster. Is the weather going to be okay? Am I properly equipped? Is this switchback ever going to end? And when you're responsible for leading people up mountains — the peaks and troughs of the experience are amplified. When Greg reached the top of the mountain and was greeted by his family and friends I started to cry. I wasn't sure why. Greg isn't my Dad and I had only met him once before, but I was filled with joy and proud of the Tour crew for helping to build this experience.”
Chris hits the nail on the head. Everyone on the crew and those who worked so hard to make the Tour a reality felt a real sense of pride and privilege when witnessing moments like this.
The highest mountain on the Tour route was California’s Mt. Whitney. This climb took three days and involved tents, ropes, harnesses and a large team. We got to know each other very well over those three days of mutual exhaustion that created a lasting shared experience. I caught up with Christina Hunt-Fuhr, one of the California climbers. She trained, climbed and fundraised for her dad Jerry Hunt, who passed away four years after his PD diagnosis in 2001. Christina talked about how the climb made her feel closer to her father.
"I kept thinking about the conversations I used to have with my dad after he was diagnosed. He would tell me how he was sad (and scared) knowing that the moments [of clarity] would be temporary. Occasionally, he would ask me to go on a walk when he was having one of his better days. Something about getting outside and moving — even if it was just to the corner and back — made him feel better. So, while training for the hike, I’d often climb a mountain by myself with a full backpack, which slowed me down — just like he had been slowed down — and I’d think about him. I also thought the route we took to Whitney was extra meaningful, since it was full of unique challenges, and people with Parkinson's are presented with unique challenges every day. When faced with challenges, it reminded me of the importance of focusing on one day — or one step — at a time and allowing others around you to help you in whatever way that makes sense to you.”
Christina is a relatively recent convert to extensive outdoor activities. When I spoke to her recently though, she was in the car with her son, heading out on a camping trip (in February!, oh to live in California…) so I asked her if there was anything about our climb that had left a lasting impact on her.
"There are so many aspects of the trip (and of training for it) that have stuck with me. Something about being in nature, with the beautiful and ever-changing landscapes, and raising money for a cause that didn't personally involve me, just reminded me that life is bigger than me. Whenever I start to get caught up in my day-to-day drama, I still find myself thinking about it. The entire journey has helped me be more present and more thankful for every moment. It has also reminded me of the importance of continuing to challenge myself in various ways. It just makes every day so much more exciting!”
I knew everyone’s experiences were unique last summer, but it seems like many of the takeaways and lessons are in-line with one another. From state to state and summit to summit the Tour connected people who were once separate. Either way, I couldn’t be more proud to be part of the Tour family — one I hope to see grow in 2016.