Peggy Gudgell shows some of her works.
At Large in Ballard: No Filter
By Peggy Sturdivant
Raise your hand if this has happened to you, or if you are this type of parent.
Your parents have rented motorcycles in Laos and you’re riding behind your mother when just around the blind curve there’s a jackknifed bus or a steep drop. So did your mom try to brake or lay the motorcycle flat? This would be on the year round trip around the world when your parents took you out of school, like every other seventh grader, right?
The answer to the above might depend on whether your mother when asked, “Would you like to be one of the first American women to summit Mt. Everest?” would answer yes without hesitation.
She might also need to be the type of woman who would convince her husband to quit his job and bicycle around the world for three years. And then take up blacksmithing when parasites acquired in Africa cut into her usual athleticism. Just another Ballard mom?
So wrong, Peggy Luce Gudgell is not an ordinary mother, Ballardite or even citizen of the world. She is a woman who knows to consume life in big, confident bites. As the youngest of six children growing up in Spokane she had so much energy and natural desire to summit anything that her parents didn’t know what to make of her.
When she discovered climbing while working as a bicycle messenger in Seattle Gudgell found the natural fit for her restlessness. When the Northwest American Everest Expedition decided they needed another woman for their planned summit of Mt. Everest in Nepal they called around, “Do you know a woman strong enough to summit the tallest peak in the world?” Which is why a stranger called Peggy Gudgell one evening asking her if she wanted to try for the team.
Within only a few months she was part of an amateur team that had to trek over a 100 miles just to begin the climb, carrying 240 tons of equipment. She’s listed as the second American woman to summit Mt. Everest. To me that implies someone else got there much earlier; in fact the first woman was two days ahead of her. Unfortunately for the third woman on the team the brief window of weather possible for what’s now considered an “old style climb” closed and her group was forced off the mountain by high winds.
Then Peggy Luce was 29 years old and had only been climbing for a few years. She knew that the summit of Mt. Everest would not be what defined her. Her participation did lead her to marry the journalist who interviewed her (two-day engagement) but she knew there was far more ahead of her in life. For example, other summits and living in London with her husband when he was with ABC News. She would greet him at the door, “Did you quit your job yet?”
Gudgell credits her insistence on their subsequent three-year bicycle trip with saving her husband’s life because it kept his heart pumping until a potentially deadly problem was discovered in his 40s. She reminds him every day that their adventurousness saved his life, especially in light of the deaths of her parents, a brother and a close friend. Compared to mortality, being robbed of their passports, money and electronics early in their year-round trip with their daughter was just a problem to be solved.
If Peggy Gudgell could change anything in her life it would be to spare her daughter the horrible moment of thinking her mother dead when she had indeed laid the motorcycle flat so as not to hit the bus. But they all survived, although Gudgell had broken ribs and a concussion. It would also have been helpful if she hadn’t been undermined for years by chronic illness that doctors wouldn’t believe was connected to parasites acquired during her climbing days in Africa. Now she is learning to live with, and better manage, the parasites.
When she was no longer strong enough to run any distance and climb any mountain Peggy Gudgell asked herself, what’s my third act? She realized she’d always wanted to weld and create are. Now she combines stained glass and metal work, making indoor and outdoor object such as mirrors, railings and garden art. This fulfills her need to be physical. And building a family house on Shaw Island by hand, right down to mixing their own concrete.
Peggy Gudgell will also admit that she has “no filter.” Which is why her talk, “Climbing Mt. Everest” at Teen Space at the Ballard Library on March 16, 2014 isn’t for adults. She’ll be discussing some of her adventures as one of the occasional adults invited as a speaker or guest artist as part of Teen Space happenings. Teen Space is designed to be a free, open and welcoming place for all teens, 6-12th grades.
A tomboy grown into a very strong woman, Peggy Gudgell knew from the moment she learned she was expecting a girl that she would have a girly-girl. All she wants is for her daughter to love what she does. “I tell her you don’t have to live big but it doesn’t mean you can’t think big.”
As for the story she may share with teens about a doctor on an expedition with a leech on his private parts…I won’t give away the punch line. Peggy Luce Gudgell really knows how to tell a story.
Peggy Luce Gudgell will share climbing stories, photos and equipment at Teen Space, Ballard Library at 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 16th.