I recently sat down for a conversation with Erden and his wife, Nancy. I wanted to hear their story of how they first met. I'm really curious about their relationship and how it held together during this arduous global journey.
Sitting side by side in the "war room" where I work on preparing the film, they seem intimately connected and comfortable. They sit side by side, close enough to each other to touch, less than an arm's length away. Her hand rests gently on his massive forearm, as a tender gesture of reassurance and support.
There is a visible connection between them. It's palpable. I can feel it. I can see the love they have for each other in their eyes as they refer back and forth to one another. I see something deep…ocean deep.
I can tell right away that this is a great love story. The journey that Erden has undertaken is quite spectacular in it's own right, yet it might be the "B" story to this connection between them. It may be that this entire five year undertaking is really about love.
Maybe it's been there all along. Was it love at first sight? Indeed I've learned there was an immediate attraction they each had when first meeting in Chicago back in May, 2000.
I was intrigued about how this relationship endured when half of their married life was spent apart. Erden was on his journey around the world and Nancy, although based in Seattle, was traveling extensively internationally for her job. As I watched them I thought maybe now they are making up for so much lost time. They are both keenly aware that life is a short proposition for all of us. It can and often does turn on a dime when we might least expect it.
Whatever it is, it is lovely to see. It is warm, ingratiating and sincere. They finish each others sentences with ease. They appear linked in that way that two people have who still love each other. A telepathy of sorts.
When they first met Nancy asked him what he did. Erden could have told her the standard line, "I'm an engineer. And you?" But instead he replied, "Would you want to know what I would rather do?"
It's a great line, I have to admit. One I wish I had used in my college days myself. It would have helped my social life immensely. And of course, how could someone not bite at a question like that? So she said, "Ok. What's that?"
"I'd like to travel around the world under my own power."
I think most people would think, "Ok, no, but really." Not Nancy. She was instantly intrigued, thinking to herself, "what kind of person dreams that big?" She had never met anyone with that kind of aspiration. So here she was, standing beside this no nonsense guy, with a smile and a twinkle in his eye whenever he talked about adventure. She didn't hesitate...wanting to know more.
From that point, life would change quickly for both of them.
So in true adventuring style, they decided to marry in Homer, Alaska on June 15th, 2003, after Erden's ascent of Mt. Denali in late May. Prophetic in a way, I think of what was to come. After the ceremony, Erden would return back home to Seattle via bicycle, towing a loaded trailer with his climbing gear and all the provisions needed for the road. He would call this traveling "Göran-style," after fellow adventurer, Göran Kropp who had bicycled from Sweden to Nepal to climb Everest in 1996.
Years later, at a different stage of their journey, Erden would record a message while at sea, under the moonlight, and send that message to his wife so many miles away.