Archive for January 16th, 2006

Arlene & Sarah: Women on the Verge

I write to you from chilly Philadelphia, where I'm performing my show Ben Franklin: Unplugged through Saturday. But thanks to the magic of pre-taping, back in my beloved Bay Area our TV show goes on! I do realize that neither of my extraordinary guests on tonight's program (at 7:30 p.m., to be repeated on Friday at 10:30 p.m.), mountaineer Arlene Blum or big-wave surfer Sarah Gerhardt, would consider my current predicament -- ensconced in a hotel room while outside the sun sets on a crisp, clear, slightly sub-freezing day -- particularly challenging. But to cut me a little slack here, both of them do grade challenges on quite a steep curve.

Arlene BlumBlum has been the first woman -- and often the first American -- to climb several of the world's highest peaks. Gerhardt was the first woman to surf "Maverick's," a huge wave off the coast of Half Moon Bay. (I get enough thrills from the shallow pool at the Y, thank you very much.) I learned that though a generation apart in age, Blum and Gerhardt (who cites the climber as an inspiration) share a striking number of similarities: both endured extremely trying childhoods, both faced resistance from men in their field, and (this one's really surprising) both have doctorates in physical chemistry. (It would be cool if some postdoc out there could do a study to see if there's any statistical correlation between physical chemistry and physical courage. All I ask is a little thank-you when your article runs in Scientific American.)

Sarah GerhardFor more on these two pioneers, check out Blum's new memoir Breaking Trail: A Climbing Life and a lovely new documentary about Gerhard, One Winter Story, by Elizabeth Pepin (a producer on our show!).

As for me, I must now brave the elements and hike over to a nearby restaurant, where I'll be dining with several Franklin scholars who have gathered here to celebrate Franklin's 300th birthday tomorrow. And lest you think that this activity has no relevance to tonight's TV program, let me just mention that Ben, an avid wind-surfer, is the only Founding Father honored at the International Swimming Hall of Fame. (I'm not sure if he was much of a mountain-climber, though I understand his kite got up pretty high. ...)

4 comments January 16th, 2006

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