My Unlikely Hero

I have found a role model. She isn’t fast or renowned. She’s old. And slow. And arthritic. She’s got bad knees.

It's never too cold for this lady!

It’s never too cold for this lady!

Every day I see this elderly woman ride her bicycle through town. Rain, snow, cold, wind, heat – they do not stop her. Gaze forward, dauntless and stoic, she grinds through the slush, while I drive past in my SUV and urge my blasting heater to warm up.

For years I have seen her bicycling through the streets of Moab, and always I wanted to know why. Why was she out there? Why did she never take a break?

I wanted to know so badly, I decided to ask her.

Suddenly it became difficult to catch this silent cyclist of the streets. There she was! But I was late for a meeting. There she was! But I had promised my wife this trip to the supermarket would be quick. There she was! But once I’d found a place to park, she was gone, vanished up the bike path along Mill Creek.

Finally, one sunny day in late February, fates aligned. I stopped and hailed her, standing astride my bike. She stopped too. “Hello,” she said.

“Hi. I see you riding out here all the time. If you don’t mind my asking, what’s your story?”

With a smile and a humble shrug, Julie Podmore invited me over to her house to talk. Apparently her ride couldn’t be interrupted.

Her story was more magnificent and far-reaching than I could have imagined.

Mont Blanc and the Auguilles above Chamonix.

Mont Blanc and the Auguilles above Chamonix. (1957)

Born in Toronto to a free-spirit father who flew dirigibles in World War I, Julie was given an early taste of the outdoors. They camped and hiked. He told stories of his adventures in the cavalry and in China and in Alaska living with the Eskimos. She was encouraged to seek a path to the places that breathed life into her soul.

The Matterhorn before traverse of the Smott Ridge to Hornli Route. (1957)

The Matterhorn before traverse of the Smott Ridge to Hornli Route. (1957)

Julie’s path would lead across North America and throughout Europe and Asia. In 1957, at a time when few women rock climbed and even fewer attempted alpine peaks, Julie found herself in uncharted territory. She said, “This was a man’s world. When we did a traverse of the Matterhorn, we were up there for 28 hours, up one ridge and down the other. We met a group of Germans on the way down, and they asked me if I had climbed it. They looked absolutely amazed because they have never known a woman to go up there.”

Julie Podmore, Bill Chaplin, and Bill Briggs crossing a Norwegian Fjord. (1957)

Julie Podmore, Bill Chaplin, and Bill Briggs crossing a Norwegian Fjord. (1957)

England, Norway, France, Mexico, Nepal, India – she traveled in search of the sacred. “I loved the mountains,” she said. “When you start climbing, it’s like having a relationship with the mountains. You feel closer to nature, and, I think, closer to God. To me, there’s more spirituality in that than in going to church.”

Bill Briggs on lead with Julie seconding on Jaegervasstind, above the Arctic Circle. (1957)

Bill Briggs on lead with Julie seconding on Jaegervasstind, above the Arctic Circle. (1957)

From a first ascent above the arctic circle in Norway to ski instructing at Sugar Bowl in California to picking apricots in the Okanagan Valley, Julie’s route directed her everywhere there was anything to climb. She knew many legendary climbers before they became legends. We shared stories of obscure crags in the Adirondacks where we both had serendipitously climbed, separated by only a half century.

Julie climbing with Dr. John Turner at Mt. King, Quebec.

Julie climbing with Dr. JM Turner at Mt. King, Quebec.

Sitting in Julie’s home, surrounded by her stunning oil paintings of the Tetons, shocked by a lady who had been a pioneer for women in the Golden Age, I still wanted to know: why ride?

“I moved to Moab in 1988. I would get up every morning and put on my boots and hike up on the cliffs. My knees finally gave out on me. I thought, I’ve got to do something for exercise, so I started cycling instead. I’ve always had a bicycle. When I lived as a secretary in Toronto, I didn’t have a car, so I used to ride my bicycle to work. I had grease all around the bottom of my dresses.”

“I see you out there in all kinds of weather,” I said. “It must be hard sometimes when the weather’s bad.”

“This arthritis gives me a lot of pain. And if I don’t get the circulation going, it gives me more pain. So I will go out when I’d much sooner crawl back into bed. When I don’t do it, I feel really decadent. Sitting around won’t do me any good.

Julie in Moab, UT. (2014)

Julie in Moab, UT. (2014)

When she couldn’t climb any longer, Julie took up hiking. When she couldn’t hike any longer, she tuned her bicycle. Every day I see Julie pedal through my neighborhood, and I celebrate my new role model, someone who has quietly persevered through a broken back and over snowy ridgelines and despite arthritis. Julie Podmore is a hero, and she reminds me to appreciate the stories hidden behind people we see everyday.

Through Julie, I understand the courage it takes to see out your wild life in this wild world.

Julie on Sweet Dreams at Bon Echo, Ontario.

Julie on Sweet Dreams at Bon Echo, Ontario.

Julie and Dr. JM Turner at Bon Echo, Ontario.

Julie and Dr. JM Turner at Bon Echo, Ontario.

 

 

 

(Original published in the Moab Sun News, April 2014)

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10 thoughts on “My Unlikely Hero

  1. Great article, it just begins to graze the tip of the iceberg. Julie has numerous stories of amazing and crazy treks. She is definantly one of the early women pioneers of mountaineering.

      • Hello, This is Ed Webster writing to you from Maine. I did some rock climbing around Moab in the 70s & 80s. Super Crack, the first ascent, in 1976 – Castleton, The Priest, Moses, The Titan, Cottontail Tower solo…. I also knew Dr. John Turner quite well, and I visited him in England in 2013, one year before he passed away. I’m writing a profile of John Turner’s life & climbs, his era, for Alpinist Magazine. Any chance you might be able to connect me with Julie Podmore ? My email is edwebster at mtnimagery.com ; HM: (207) 833-0940. Thank you so very much. It’s just a Marvelous Story on Julie !! very sincerely, Ed

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