Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Would you go to Basecamp?

I'm on the verge of going on a very, very big trip. We get 6 weeks of vacation between medical school and residency - and it is the only substantial block of time off that I will get in the next 5 years, so a big trip is indeed the order of the day.

For the last 3 years, Penguin and I have been plotting to paddle across Algonquin Park. We've slowly accumulated all the supplies, painstakingly mapped the route, spent the last 3 summer vacations (measely 1 weekers that they were) testing the route in chunks as well as testing our own endurance and our gear. Now, on the eve of the trip, with all the planning done, it seems entirely possible.

There's only one problem: paddling across the oldest Provincial Park in Canada, not to mention one of the largest, doesn't actually take that much time. In fact, Penguin and I plan on doing the trip - 165 km in total, including all 38km of portaging - in about 2 weeks. That leaves 4 weeks of vacation left.

Now, any normal person might be tempted to say: heck yes! 4 weeks of vacation to relax, spend time with friends and family, read books, pack up and move to a different province... sounds lovely. My response, however, was quite different and can be summed up in one word: PANIC.

I cannot sit around for 4 weeks. Not only will I go stir crazy but I can't bear the thought of losing out on the protected time to adventure - especially when I know that I won't have another opportunity to do a trip longer than a week for the next 5 years.

This, of course, prompted a very desperate and thorough search of the internet for potential trip options. The criteria for the trip included the following:

- must take longer than 1 week
- must be epic
- must be active (ie. no sitting around!)
- must be cheap (less than $3000)
- must include a group, since Penguin probably can't get more than the 2 weeks vacation needed to do Algonquin and I would get lonely by myself.

And here's what I came up with...

Bike Tour across Holland (the country of my heritage) during the tulip season; company: Bike and the Like; problem: trip dates don't line up

Bike from Belgium to Paris, France; company: Bike and the Like; problem: tour is full

Bike (do you see a theme?) the Cabot Trail; company: Freewheeling.ca; problem: trip dates don't line up

Camp on the Floe Edge outside of Pond Inlet and watch wildlife with biologist; company: Adventure Canada; problem: waaaay too expensive

Finally, Steel Wheels turned me onto Intrepid Travel and on their nifty website I found the holy grail of internet-company-based holidays:


Awesome, I thought. The dates are perfect, the budget is within limits, there's a group and a guide, all I have to do is show up. And it will be epic.

But, in the 2 days since God knocked on the door of the internet and I opened the browser called Opportunity, I have found myself feeling strangely ambivalent. And by ambivalent, I don't mean apathetic. I mean: existing at emotional extremes.

The first night, I could not sleep at all. Literally, I starred at the ceiling all night long and could not calm down from the excitement. The perfect trip - and one of the goals on my fridge, too! I had dreamed of seeing everest since I was 8 and discovered a book by Pat Morrow on my parents' bookshelf in the basement. I tore out a centerfold map of everest from a National Geographic magazine shortly thereafter and taped it up on my wall. I would use my finger to trace the route of Hilary, Morrow, and others up along the precarious Khumbu icefall, through all the camps, to the summit dreaming that one day, I would also make the climb. I have read no fewer than 8 first-hand narrative novels about climbing everest and countless magazine and newspaper articles over the years. In fact, one of the major motivating factors for me to go into medicine was the possibility of being an expedition doctor and thereby earning free climbing permits by providing medical support to the team.

To hike to basecamp would be a childhood dream come true.

But then, after I caught up on my sleep the next night, I began to feel uncertain. It was too good to be true. I hadn't done enough research (by which I mean, I had never seriously looked into different companies that do the trek, what vaccines I'd need, how fit I'd have to be, what season to go in, etc). After some more hunting around on the internet, I found a few things:

Intrepid was, by about $1000, the cheapest company to go with. Which was good for my bank balance but not so good for my piece of mind. How were they saving so much money? For one, they didn't offer any food. Local food was to be purchased along the way at the teahouses. This is certainly one way to immerse oneself in the local culture but when you're near the top of the world and the only way in or out is to walk or be evacuated by helicopter, it seems a bit dicey to introduce my naive gastrointestinal system to unfamiliar foods. Especially since you're not sitting around all day and, as with most of my "vacations" there is no plumbing or toilet paper. In contrast, some of the other companies bring along their own camp cooks and make the meals themselves to ensure good hygiene and the like.

Most of the other companies also used both yaks and sherpas to help bring our gear along whereas Intrepid only hires sherpas (not a big deal but I don't know much, so I wonder, why not yaks, too?). Also, the other companies tend to have their hikers sleep in tents vs Intrepid that, once again, utilizes the teahouses for accommodations. None of these are huge concerns but just little points to ponder.

The big sticking point for me is twofold:

1) This would be the realization of a childhood dream. Which means that I really want a good experience (dare I say, perfect)- and right now, it all feels very rushed. To get there and get back in the context of my broader post-medical-school-schedule would require perfect timing and zero errors. It would be very tight to get all the necessary visas, vaccines, medications, gear, etc together before departure day and still study for the LMCC. None of this is impossible by any means though.... so I think what really makes this hard is the mental shift it's taking me to think of my "impossible dream" that occurs at "some future time" becoming a reality in the next 2 months. Like Christmas, one of the best parts of a big adventure is the expectation and excitement leading up to it. I don't want to rush that - I want to savor it. I want time to plan and dissect and trace with my finger along a map every footstep rather than show up, feeling rushed and harried, and unsure of what's coming next.

2) Penguin can only get so much vacation time off - and he raises the valid point that doing both Everest and Algonquin would be a tall order (in the schedule there is one rest day between coming home from Nepal and putting the canoe in the water). He doesn't want to do Algonquin tired (nor do I) because we both know that there will be some tough days, physically, starting with Day 1. He also doesn't want to come back from Algonquin tired because we both have lives and responsibilities. I, for one, have to start surgical residency... and I sure as heck won't be catching up on sleep at that point!

So, when it all boils down, here's what we've got:

Penguin can do one or the other: Everest or Algonquin. I could always do Everest without him but I don't really want to. He is the most important person in my life and climbing to basecamp is one of my most cherished adventures - we'd like to share the experience together.

I won't have time to do Everest until after residency if I don't do it this summer. Algonquin, on the other hand, is relatively more close by and can be broken down into a series of 1 week sections that can be accomplished during different seasons (ie. do the first half one year and come back and do the second half the next year).

But, Algonquin is also a big trip for us. It is the first big adventure that we will be undertaking having planned and executed ourselves. There is no company providing the gear and food and guide. It's all us. And that means a lot to me. I've been pouring over my Algonquin map for the last 3 years. Every time school got tough or I got disillusioned, I'd pull that map out and add up the portages again, tweak the route, plan the campsites... and all would be right in the world again. I would say that I've been working through medical school not so much for the diploma but rather the opportunity to paddle Algonquin. Rather than walking across the stage, I want my convocation to be paddling my way across the wilderness.

This is why I feel ambivalent. Everest or Algonquin? Childhood Dream or 3 Year Project?

It's enough to make my head ache and my heart yearn.

What would you do?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

I needed to walk through a minefield to feel protected.

Just thought I'd put a quick quip in here about an article I recently read in Outside magazine. It's about a prolific white water paddler who recently died on a trip but left a legacy that none will forget. Here's the quote that really touched me:

I need to believe that there is more to this world than what we know. I need to believe there is magic out there. I cannot believe these things blindly, though, and maybe that is why I had to do this mission—to prove to myself that we can do things which are bigger than ourselves. I needed to walk through a minefield to feel protected.
-Hendrik Coetzee

And here's a link to the whole article.

Ben Stookesberry Ruzizi River

Weekly Update: We're Done Clerkship!!!!!

  • Current Scholastic Pursuits
    • I am excited to report that we've all successfully completed clerkship. It's hard to believe that I don't have any more clinical work to do until I start residency in July. No more rounds, no more wards, no more clinics. I'm sure I'll miss it all by the end of the week but right now it just feels like pure bliss. I've done ABSOLUTELY NO work this weekend. AT ALL. And I don't feel guilty. It's pretty awesome.
    • Last night was the grad formal. Everyone got dolled up and I drove up to the Hammer with Scarlet and Constellation. It was an open wine bar, so I'm pretty sure some people are going to be hurting this morning. I understand that wine hangovers are the worst. But, I'm pretty sure everyone had a great time. I even won an award!!! According to the grad committee - I am the "Most Likely to climb Mt Everest blindfolded with my hands tied". Hahaha.

  • Recipe I've Been Drooling Over
    • So, I've been in an eating slump recently and the best cure for that is browsing cookbooks and searching for recipes online. In my search, I stumbled across a free online movie called Earthlings. It's an animal rights film that's very well done, except that it only offers a very biased view of things. For instance, it makes it seem like we only eat beef from factory farms or that we only undertake hunting solely as a sport and not as a subsistence lifestyle. In my case, I will only eat beef that I know was not factory farmed (ie. organic, grass fed, ethically slaughtered). Yes, it's more expensive: both monetarily and in the amount of time and effort it takes to source and acquire things, but at least I sleep better at night for it. I would also prefer to eat game than traditional farm cuts because I generally know that the animal had a better lifestyle than those in captivity. One day, I would ideally like to raise my own chickens for eggs and meat and have acquired my own hunting skills for other game. By being more invested in the process, I know that I make better use of every aspect of the animal (less goes to waste) and the process of preparing and eating becomes more meaningful to me than if I simply buy the disembodied chicken breast that is plastic wrapped at the store. I know that I'm kind of a rarity in this respect but I wish that these sort of films could offer people a staircase to change rather than a black-or-white change-your-whole-lifestyle-or-otherwise-feel-like-a-terrible-person approach.
    • My favourite quote of the whole movie was from the blog that linked me to the film's website: "I think if we're going to teach our children to love animals, we should mean it all the way, right?" (we wilsons)
    • Anyway, this is all to say that my search led me to look up more veggie-based recipes. And oh boy, do I have a list to share with you! But, to keep things simple, I'll keep to my one-recipe a week format unless some of these are too irresistible not to share sooner. I made this porcini risotto for Scarlet and Constellation and Friday night and it was a huge success. YUM!
  • Favourite Thing on Etsy this Week
    • I love, love, love this painting by valentinadesign. The colours and the detailing are exquisite. If I had more money, I would snap up this bird painting and the stag painting (see the side bar on the link) and theme my future living room using that colour scheme. It would be amazing.
The Bird - original painting/drawing on masonite
The Bird - original painting/drawing on masonite

  • What I'm Reading Right Now
    • I'm still reading the Munk Debates. However, I was sidetracked this week by a book introduced to me in our last palliative care session. It's called Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. It's an autobiographical account of this psychiatrist's experience as a POW in Auschwitz and other concentration camps during WWII. During this time, Frankl lost everything: his entire family, including his pregnant wife, were killed. And yet, he managed to find a way to create meaning in his life and used that knowledge to help him survive both during his incarceration and afterwards. From this experience, Frankl developed what he called logotherapy, which he outlines in the second half of the book. It's a short, fast, and moving read that I highly recommend.

  • TED Talk I Watched This Week
    • Hans Rosling is a brilliant Sweedish MD and statistician. He created Gapminder, which is a website that articulates the relationship between different determinants of health on a global scale. Here are two talks by him: the first, on the meaning of the washing machine and the second on just what his statistics mean for how we think of the world and our roles on the global stage. Please watch, it's worth your time.

  • Song of the Week
    • Just in case you haven't had enough TED this week, check out this wicked music video, created by tweaking some TED speeches. It's quite brilliant.

  • Thing I'm Most Grateful for This Week
    • All the wonderful friends and amazing people I've met during this 3 year journey through medical school. 

  • Thing I'm Most Looking Forward to This Week
    • Creating a schedule for my own CIR and planning my post-LMCC vacation!

  • Bunny Photo of the Week
    • Look how tiny Hoyle was when I first brought him home 3 years ago. I'll try and snap a photo of him later today in the basket again for comparison.

Here he is all grown up...

Jazz isn't any smaller, either...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Weekly Update: Happy First Day of Spring!

  • Current Scholastic Pursuits
    • God, there is so much work to do for family medicine. I have 4 papers, 2 presentations, and an exam this week. Wanna know how much I'm done on Sun afternoon? 1 presentation. 2.5 papers. No exam prep. Ungh. Shoot me.

  • Recipe I've Been Drooling Over
    • I plan on trying to make pickled beets this week with my candy cane beets from the market. I hope they're as tasty as they look!
Picture of Pickled Beets Recipe

    • Also, as you all know, I will be making honey cakes this week. Normally, I make them on the 1st day of spring. However, with the ridiculous work load - I'm going to hold off and make them next Sat instead. Place your orders now! The recipe is a secret and I only make them once a year!!

  • Favourite Thing on Etsy this Week
    • I don't know why I'm so into dresses right now but they seem to always be catching my eye. Maybe it's the nice weather. This one would be lovely for summer...
Spring flowers dress in blue

  • What I'm Reading Right Now
    • I'm still working on the Munk Debates. You can probably guess that I haven't had a lot of time for leisure reading in the last week... but I will persevere!

  • TED Talk I Watched This Week
    • Robert Thurman was the first american to be ordained a Tibetian Monk by the Dalai Lama. Here he is discussing compassion...
    • My favourite quote from his talk: "You give birth in your mind to the idea of compassion because you realize that you yourself and your pains and pleasures are finally too small a theatre for you intelligence - it's really too boring - whether you feel like this or that - it's no longer enough... the key to compassion is that it is more fun. Because when you open up like that, what good does it do to add [your own] misery to other people's misery? Compassion means to feel the feelings of others. When you stop focusing on the self-centered... when you get up in the morning and think, what can I do to make another person happy?  And you do that, then your perception broadens. And that is nirvana."

  • Song of the Week
    • Because it's still stuck in my head even though I watched the 1st Year's video 2 weeks ago...

  • Thing I'm Most Grateful for This Week
    • Sunshine!! The weather has finally turned nice. I was really starting to feel down with all the rain. What better remedy to feeling blue than spring bursting forth and warm sunshine on your shoulders.

  • Thing I'm Most Looking Forward to This Week
    • Finishing clerkship on Friday. Wow. Unbelievable, eh?

  • Bunny Photo of the Week
    • Hoyle, at his finest (and most indignant).

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011

    Cottage Medicine

    Click on the article to enlarge for reading. :)

    Because everyone can use a smile...

    A mechanic was removing a cylinder-head from the motor of a Harley motorcycle when he spotted a well-known cardiologist in his shop.

    The cardiologist was there waiting for the service manager to come and take a look at his bike when the mechanic shouted across the garage.

    "Hey, Doc, want to take a look at this?"

    The cardiologist, a bit surprised, walked over to where the mechanic was working on the motorcycle.

    The mechanic straightened up, wiped his hands on a rag and ask, "So Doc, look at this engine. I open its' heart, take the valves out, repair any damage, and then put them back in, and when I finish, it works just like new. So how come I make $39,675 a year and you get the really big bucks ($1,695,759) when you and I are doing basically the same work?"

    The cardiologist paused, smiled and leaned over, then whispered to the mechanic...

    "Try doing it with the engine running."

    Sunday, March 13, 2011

    Weekly Update: March continues to roar.

    • Current Scholastic Pursuits
      • Well, you're all up to date now on where I've matched for CaRMS. I am really, really excited about going to Winnipeg. The program is absolutely amazing and I think it's going to mould me into a competent, confident surgeon just as much as it will allow me to mould myself into the confident, thoughtful person I want to be. As an added bonus, it's the second sunniest city in Canada and one of the coldest. It can't get much better than that!
      • At the present time, however, family medicine continues to grind by. 2 weeks left. Thank goodness. Then review for the LMCC and then DONE! I cannot believe that we're in the home stretch.


    • Favourite Thing on Etsy this Week
    Limited Edition - Findings of a Voyager

    • What I'm Reading Right Now
      • I'm still going with the Munk Debates. There hasn't been a whole lot of reading time in the last week. I'm going to try and find more time in the week to come.

    • TED Talk I Watched This Week
      • Krista Tippett on "Reconnecting with Compassion"

    • Song of the Week
      • This one's for you Penguin!

    • Thing I'm Most Grateful for This Week
      • Matching to U of M!!!

    • Thing I'm Most Looking Forward to This Week
      • Next weekend I'm back in the North to visit Penguin and both our families. It will be my first time seeing everyone since the match, so it will be really lovely to celebrate together.

    • Bunny Photo of the Week
      • "Is it springtime yet? I'm sick of all this grey weather and snow!"
      • Also, "Where's our kibble??!"

      Sunday, March 6, 2011

      Kissing the Cod

      Ok. We're not talking about it but I AM thinking about it... and how much fun it was to tour across the country. And how, even if I'm disappointed in tomorrow's results, it will have all been worth it for all the friends made and experiences I had along the way. Like this one:

      Tomorrow can't go badly, though. Well, I guess if I don't match at all, it would be pretty upsetting. But, if I match anywhere, I will consider myself blessed. Many thanks to all the friends and family who supported me along the way. xo

      Weekly Update: It came in like a Lion, Welcome March!

      • Current Scholastic Pursuits

      • Well, the big day is tomorrow. Aside from a very reassuring heart-to-heart with Penguin over lunch yesterday, we've done a pretty good job at not talking about it. So let's not ruin the mood now. Tonight we're having folks over for a Pre-Match party. We're hosting a cupcake fondu with plenty of alcohol. I made lavender whiskey sour syrup. Penguin brought scotch. We also have rum and Flying Monkeys beer on hand. I think that ought to be enough to keep people distracted.

        • Recipe I've Been Drooling Over

        • I used this recipe to make my own flour tortillas this week and it went surprisingly well! They were delicious and not all that time consuming to make. Then I used the tortillas to make some very yummy black bean and goat cheese quesadillas. YUM!
        Black Bean & Goat Cheese Quesadillas with Guacamole Recipe

        • Favourite Thing on Etsy this Week

        • I love love love this idea. Check out the video of this beautiful work of art in action below.
        night boat automaton

        • What I'm Reading Right Now

        • I'm still working on the Munk Debates. This book moves a little more slowly but it's an enjoyable, enlightening read. I hope you've picked up a copy or gone online to watch the debates for yourself.

          • TED Talk I Watched This Week

          • Michael Specter: The Danger of Science Denial
          • While I don't agree with everything this guy has to say, he's got some solid points in there. My favourite quote: "Which do you prefer: Big Pharma or Big Placebo?"

          • Song of the Week

          • After watching this video, I downloaded Adele's latest album, 21. It's amazing. You can get the original Rolling in the Deep music video on iTunes for free, so I highly recommend you check it out. Below is a brilliant mashup of Adele and Moby, brought to you courtesy of Melon. Enjoy!

          • Thing I'm Most Grateful for This Week

          • Penguin once again tops the charts. If he were a vocalist, he'd be giving Mariah Carey a run for her money. Fortunately, Penguin is not Mariah Carey. Instead, he is the most amazing, calm, reassuring, sincere, and loving man I have ever known. Thanks for being my rock this week, Penguin. We both know that if you hadn't come down this weekend, I'd probably be trying to give the bunnies a bath in highly diluted bleach (having run out of other things to clean).

            • Thing I'm Most Looking Forward to This Week

            • Lord, that thing we're not supposed to talk about finally being OVER. Unnghghgh!

            • Bunny Photo of the Week

            • Saturday night, Penguin and I put a bunch of candles in the fireplace and a blanket on the floor. We were going to catch up on our TV shows by having a romantic fireside picnic. However, the lure of romance crossed the species boundary and our blanket was quickly usurped by some very amorous rabbits... thanks a lot, you guys, for ruining the mood.

            Friday, March 4, 2011

            New Format! Same Fun!

            Hi Everyone,

            I decided to take a few minutes this afternoon and update the format of my blog. This was inspired in part by my frustration with having my videos cut off and in part by the fact that I haven't actually updated the format in 6 years. Seriously, I've been on Blogger for 6 years and never changed my original blog layout. How crazy is that, considering that I rearrange my house furniture about every 6 weeks?!

            Anyway, please write a quick comment to let me know if you like it or if you have any suggestions. Penguin, you'll be pleased to note that you can now leave comments without logging in, so there are no excuses! Hehe.
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