Staying behind when a spouse goes on a business trip isn't unusual in the United States anymore, but Salt Lake resident Benjean Riedman's wait is anything but usual.
Things are up in the air for her - really up in the air. Her husband's trip involves an attempt to climb Mount Everest.Benjean said she is trying to remain optimistic about the separation from her husband, Fred, who is one of 34 members of the Wyoming Centennial Everest Expedition, better known as "Cowboys on Everest." It was Fred's desire to be one of the few residents of Mother Earth to reach the planet's highest peak that brought the couple together.
The couple met three years ago when plans for the Everest expedition were in their formative stages. Benjean knew Fred was an avid climber and had been to the top of some of the world's highest peaks including Mount McKinley in Alaska and Aconcagua in South America.
About 14 months ago, Fred took a leave from the financial consulting company where he works to devote full time to raising funds for the expedition. Nearly $1 million was needed to finance the climb, which also will involve extensive geological study, testing of a prototype pressure chamber bag to aid people suffering from altitude sickness, and artistic renderings of the mountain. The climb will be made from the Chinese side.
Fred enlisted Benjean, who is corporate sales manager for Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City, to assist in the fund-raising. She organized the expedition's first fund-raiser in Salt Lake City.
"It was during this time that we really became close," said Benjean. That closeness resulted in a June 12 marriage. Six weeks later, Fred was on an Air Force cargo plane bound for China and Mount Everest.
Benjean, who is originally from the Oregon area and is of Chinese descent, said her initial effort to help Fred organize the climb had less than spectacular results. Fred was planning a bicycle ride to Los Angeles where he was to meet with a Chinese representative who had influence with the local government that controls access to the mountain. Fred wanted to be able to greet the man in Chinese. Instead of the planned "I'm glad to make your acquaintance," Fred instead called the man a "son of a turtle."
Fortunately the gaffe was not fatal and the trip won the blessing of the Chinese government.
Benjean's outgoing personality is in stark contrast to the humble, soft-spoken Fred. "We complement each other well, I think," said Benjean. "Fred's the type of person who needs a mouthpiece, and with my kind of work its a natural for me."
But things are not going totally as expected for the expedition. Entry was delayed into the country when the Chinese reneged on a previous agreement to allow an Air Force cargo plane to transport the expedition into Lhasa, Tibet. The plane was at first denied entry into China itself. The government relented after the group paid an additional $24,000, but that got them only as far as Beijing. The equipment was then transferred to trucks, delaying establishment of the base camp by two weeks. Plans still call for the team to make a summit assault on Sept. 25, and Fred is one of six climbers scheduled for the effort.
Meanwhile, Benjean is focusing most of her time on her job. She said she has not left the project totally behind because more money must still be raised, and she is keeping those efforts going. Also, each Monday, a dozen red roses are delivered to her office, a token of Fred's love. A British expedition left satellite communications equipment at the base camp site that the Wyoming group will use to make daily contact with a radio station in Powell, Wyo. The fact that there will be daily contact is reassuring to Benjean.
"It's comforting even though I won't be talking to him directly," she mused and then laughingly added, "and he'll never do this again - ever!"
Benjean said she and Fred will return to the Orient this spring on a belated monthlong honeymoon. But while Benjean may be Fred's first love, his second love - climbing - is always close at hand. Benjean said the couple was looking at maps, planning the honeymoon tour when Fred suggested the possibility of returning through Africa.
"I thought that sounded great until he suggested a little detour so that he could climb Mount Kilimanjaro," Benjean laughed.
Benjean said she supports Fred's climbing and is proud of the dedication that will hopefully allow him to reach a goal he set at age 9. She said understanding what motivates her husband is difficult, but she said she came close when the couple was flying back from San Francisco last year.
"As we approached Salt Lake, we were above the clouds, the sun was setting and all you could see was this pink ocean of clouds. Fred looked out the window and said softly to me, `Do you see those clouds, Benjean? That is why I climb.' "