Coast to Coast Adventure, Day 9

My husband Rob and I have quit our jobs and are moving from Dayton, OH to Medford, OR with our two dogs Moose and Schuyler. Before we settle there, we are embarking on a 2.5 month adventure across the US. I’ll be working as a hospitalist when we get to Oregon in September. 

Day 9: Winter Park and Fraser Colorado. Hike Columbine Lake. Max elevation 11,146 feet.

Whelp. I failed super hard last night. It was supposed to be our first backpacking overnight, and this should have been my view all night. It was not to be, as I sabotaged it.

I chose a trail and place we had been before, Columbine Lake. We started the 4 mile hike in a 5 o clock, a little later than we wanted as it had been raining off and on all day before clearing up.

When we got started the weather was absolutely beautiful. The trail was quiet and secluded at that time of day. We had on our backpacking packs- mine was roughly 25 pounds and Rob’s was roughly 50. His pack was ridiculously big and heavy, and I worried about him. I tried to buy lighter weight gear, but I don’t think I was picky enough, and it added up quickly.

The first 3 miles of the trail weren’t that bad at all. Lovely trail up through a forest and by meadows and streams, graded no more than 15%. I knew the last mile was hard, I remembered from before. It is steeply graded at 25 % or more, and has lots of rocks which make for treacherous footing. It parallels a stream and cascades, and is absolutely gorgeous, but took a lot more effort. Our packs on the rough terrain and 11,000 feet altitude made it excruciating, and I stopped so much that it took us 45 minutes just to do this stretch. Rob was concerned and told me my lips were blue, he said we should turn around, but I said no, we were too close.

Finally, we arrived at the lake. It’s a beautiful alpine lake, nestled in a little valley between high peaks. There was one other person camping there, and he had a fire going. We walked around the lake, searching for tent sites. It was not easy to find somewhere, as the lake was overflowing and there were many pools surrounding it from snow melt. Flat ground was non-existent and mosquitoes swarmed us. At this point from the strenuous exertion and the altitude, I was feeling terribly. I had a headache and felt dizzy and orthostatic. It was one hour or less to sunset.

Rob had said before that we ought to turn back since I was feeling badly, but I wanted to push on. I wanted to do this so badly. As soon as I stopped at the lake and sat down, I started to panic. I’ve had terrible altitude headaches before, and with my head pounding more by the second I went into panic attack mode. Rob looked at my face and said, “we need to go down; we need to go quickly before it is totally dark.”

There was no time to debate. No time to get more water (we’d had only a liter between the two of us this far, not wanting to stop since we were racing the sun.) We quickly put back on our heavy packs and set off down the mountainside. It was a race against the darkness. We yelled out loudly every few seconds, as the twilight hours and location made this territory ripe for bears and moose. Thankfully our antics must have kept them away and mercifully we didn’t fall on our rapid descent. We finally pulled into the parking lot at the trailhead as darkness enveloped the mountains.

We still had an hour drive down a remote, rough road to town. We collapsed into our condo (which we thankfully still had rented, in case something like this happened). I took some medication for my headache and my screaming neck pain and we went to bed.

It feels terrible to have failed at this. Why could I not overcome my fear and panic? I let them get the better of me. In the moment, dehydrated and exhausted, I wasn’t thinking rationally. I worried my headache would envelope me and then the panic just rose and rose in my throat until I felt like I was choking.

The entire time, Rob was my rock. He didn’t get angry when I said I couldn’t stay up there. Despite knowing we had a long and dangerous way down, and needing to go as fast as possible with his whole body aching from his heavy pack, he stoically made sure we all got back down to civilization.

Epic fail overall, but I am proud of us for doing that very hard 8 mile hike with our heavy packs.

Coast to Coast Adventure, Days 5-8

My husband Rob and I have quit our jobs and are moving from Dayton, OH to Medford, OR with our two dogs Moose and Schuyler. Before we settle there, we are embarking on a 2.5 month adventure across the US. I’ll be working as a hospitalist when we get to Oregon in September.

Days 5-8: Winter Park and Fraser Colorado. Hikes Vasquez Creek Trail, Corona Lake, Henderson Spur to the CDT. Max elevation 12,136 feet.

We were warmly greeted in Winter Park by my brother Greg and his significant other, Beth. We had a delicious night out eating Italian food at Volarios and drinking manhattans (Rob had beer, 🤢). Every time I’ve been to visit my brother before I’ve had terrible migraines from drinking at altitude or from going up too high on hikes- so far, fingers crossed 🤞🤞🤞, I’ve avoided this malady this visit. Greg and Beth always try to get us to stay out late, drinking, but Rob and I are getting too old for that! 🤷🏻‍♀️

The next morning, we woke up and got up to get moving. I’ve always wanted to drive up “Moffat Road,” as I see the sign for it whenever we come up the pass from 70. This is a 4×4 road that goes up to Corona Pass and Rollins Pass, up on the divide. This was our first time driving a long off road trail with our Lexus, as we sold the Subaru when we left Ohio. Overall it did very well, but the Subaru had this cool feature where it would let each tire drive independently of the others, which the Lexus does not. It definitely would have come in handy for some huge ruts and puddles we encountered, and it took us an hour and a half to get up the road with all the precision driving.

Corona Lake is a glacial lake just off the road. You actually hike down to the lake at the base of a peak. It was about 11,500 feet elevation, and the trail to the lake was obscured by a few snow fields. The dogs loved the snow! Sky went crazy diving in and rubbing herself all over it. Moose jumped around like a puppy. He also gobbled a bunch of snow and then promptly threw up. This, we ended our hike a little early so he could rest his digestive system.

The drive down the road was just as long, going slow to make surge we didn’t scrape the bottom of the car. The road was actually much busier than I thought it would be, but it was a Saturday morning. The amount of people coming out to the mountains from Denver each weekend is insane. This whole excursion took about 6 hours all told, and the altitude granted me a headache when we were done. Luckily it was mild, and improved with a quiet night in. We finally cooked dinner instead of going out, and I made a healthy and delicious grain salad with veggies for dinner. Still doing AWESOME sticking to my calorie goals 🔥🔥.

Sunday my brother got us set up with an awesome trip on the Clear Creek River. We did the beginner rafting trip with AVA and our guide Conner. It was sooooo fun!!! The water was freezing and running really high due to all the snow, so we had lots of big waves and rapids. We are already planning to go rafting again soon, and try to do some harder level rapids. And bonus: nobody fell out of the boat!

We ended the outing with lunch at a brewery in Idaho Springs, where I had a delicious homemade veggie burger and a summery Moscow mule- Westbound and Down. We ended the day starting a Stranger Things binge- which we are continuing today.

Monday morning we were up bright and early. The daily afternoon storms up in the mountains means very careful planning on our end. We cannot be out in a storm with our dog Moose. His anxiety level is unreal, and he will bolt and take us out with him. So we get up and out by 8 and make sure to set a definitive turn around time that we stick to. After much much much researching we decided to hike the Henderson Spur trail up to the Continental Divide.

This trail starts at at trailhead just across from the Henderson Mine in Empire. The mine is a load whirring noise that you hear for the first and last half mile of the hike, but after that you don’t notice it. The trail goes up for about a mile and a quarter, and then it intersects the Continental Divide Trail. We chose to veer left at this point and hiked another mile and a half up past the timber line. The views were AMAZEBALLS!!!! 🔥🔥

The last time I hiked up to the Divide trail was 2 years ago. At that point I had lost 90 pounds and was in awesome shape, training for a half marathon. Today I walked up that mountain 60 pounds heavier after 18 months of struggle with migraines, chronic neck pain, and anxiety and panic disorder. My health has been challenging to say the least, and has led me to fall way off the wagon and gain back huge amounts of weight, while becoming less and less active. So this hike today meant a lot to me. I needed to see if I could still do it, if there is hope for me to get back into shape again.

The hike was really difficult, 3 miles up switchbacks to the snowy ridge-line. I stopped so many times, panting and lungs burning, quads screaming, and my knee still stiff and swollen from straining it last week. I may have struggled, but I never contemplated stopping until I reached that ridge. I may have a long way to go to get healthy and fit again, but standing up tall on top of the trail, looking out over the beautiful mountains, I felt strong. 💪🏻💪🏻💪🏻

The trail continues to Jones Pass, but at this point we were dead tired and the sky was clouding up, so we turned back. It also was snowed in over on the pass. The way back was blissfully downhill all three miles. My lungs were very grateful for this but my knees and my toes were not- they took a lot of beating going down.

Lucky we turned back when we did as the skies opened up this afternoon with a bad storm. We are riding it out watching more Netflix while the dogs nap. We are still debating over what to do tomorrow- we may go backpacking but only if the weather cooperates. If there is any chance of storm we will have to just do a day hike instead- wait and see! 😊

Coast to Coast Adventure, Days 4-5

My husband Rob and I have quit our jobs and are moving from Dayton, OH to Medford, OR with our two dogs Moose and Schuyler. Before we settle there, we are embarking on a 2.5 month adventure across the US

Heading west days 4-5. Colby KS to Fraser CO. Camp Dick to Beaver Lake hike. Vasquez Creek trail hike. Max elevation 11,808 feet.

Woo boy, we’ve been busy since yesterday. Drove the last slog through Kansas and Western Colorado, which was again so boring and flat! Then bypassed Denver (thank god I hate Denver traffic!) and went to Boulder. First stop was REI, as we needed to pick up a tent footprint (ours having been mysteriously lost and/or accidentally thrown away or not packed?🧐). Had some awesome fresh southwestern fare from Zolo Grill, and then headed out through Lyons to Camp Dick. Lyons is an amazing little Colorado town, please stop by if you are ever in the area. It is so charming and has so many restaurants, coffee shops, and breweries.

Camp Dick (yes of course I laugh every time, we are all adolescents at heart) is located off the St. Vrain Creek. We got there late afternoon and set up camp. I had picked a short but moderate hike to help us get used to the elevation. For real, elevation is soooo hard on a flat-lander like me. I get altitude sickness easily, and I have to stop and rest all the time. Even when we came out two years ago and I was in amazing shape, it was like moving through water. So we knocked out this little hike, up to Beaver Lake. It wasn’t all that grand, but it was a good workout!

Afterwards, our best laid plans went to hell. It started thundering for like an hour, and then stormed. We tried to wait it out at first but Moose wasn’t having it. At the same time, we’ve been noticing our car taking longer to start, so we wanted to get into town to take it to the shop first thing in the morning. After paying way too much for a Holiday Inn, we crashed and slept like the dead.

Luckily the next morning Rob got the car into a shop first thing. They cleaned the fuel injector and switched the battery, they said the starter looked good. It seemed to work, but didn’t last, the Lexus is still taking a second longer to start. Maybe it’s he spark plugs? I have no clue. Hopefully it doesn’t get worse!

We headed up to Estes Park to drive through RMNP. We stopped at the mountain home cafe for some marginal food- there were no good veggie options in Estes for lunch. This was our first time to RMNP, even though I’ve been to Colorado over a half dozen times. You cannot take dogs on any trails in the park, so it’s always been on my shit list. We did do the scenic drive through on route 34.

We were greeted with sleet at 12,000 feet and then lightning strikes and downpours at lower elevations. Given the nasty weather, we managed a few short jaunts off the road, leaving the dogs safe in the car. We spotted a small group of bighorn sheep way up on the highest ridgeline, a huge herd of elk, and a momma and baby moose. They were as startled as we by the storm, and promptly hightailed it out of there. Moose the dog spent most of his time hiding under the front passenger seat where his Dad was sitting.

We got through to the west side of the park and headed down to Winter Park. We had planned to try to hike somewhere, but the weather remained crappy and stormy, so we drove to the grocery store then our condo. We are spending a week in the area since my brother and his girlfriend live here. Resting up and gonna carb up with some Italian food tonight! Mmmmmm. The weather cleared up before dinner, so we got a quick couple miles in!

Sidebar bummer: I strained my bad knee in NC running intervals. It is acting up and swollen and hurting a bit. May put a damper on our hikes, for now lots of ice and nsaids!

Coast to Coast Adventure, Days 2-4

My husband Rob and I have quit our jobs and are moving from Dayton, OH to Medford, OR with our two dogs Moose and Schuyler. Before we settle there, we are embarking on a 2.5 month adventure across the US

Heading west days 2-4. Asheville NC to Colby KS. No good hikes, just walks around town and by our hotels. Elevation Colby 3247 ft.

What to say about these last few days? A LOT of boring, boring driving. 🚙🚙🚙 So many straight, flat roads. It all blends together. We’ve been doing shorter driving days, trying to be on the road 10 hours or less each day. I pass the time reading the New York Times, and it reminds me why I try to never read the news. I end up feeling depressed and hopeless for our country and humanity at large. Besides all the ongoing humanitarian crises in the U.S. this article about elephants hit me in the feels real hard… Did you know elephants are as smart as dolphins? They have emotional intelligence as well, and are sentient about their lives and surroundings. Some zoos are discontinuing their elephant exhibits because they have realized this. Elephants in captivity rarely breed, and when they do the mothers often murder their babies because they are so depressed and despondent 😭😭. I’ll never look at an elephant at the zoo the same. #freetheelephants

At this point our dogs are champion hotel stayers. They are used to it and settle in and snooze all night. 🐶 Schuyler is still being a super reactive ass when we see other dogs. We just stayed with my parents and she was fine with all 3 of their dogs, but when she is on a leash and sees another dog she flips out. She starts barking and snarling and pulling on the leash. It’s ridiculous. She gets so focused on the other dog that she doesn’t respond to any treats, even people food. I’m hoping being out and exposed to more dogs on the trail will help her settle down.

Thanks to the internet I’ve been able to eat pretty healthily on the road. Moe’s tofu bowls are a staple when they are around, so good. We passed through Columbia, MO and stopped at a vegetarian restaurant there. It was sooooo good!!! If you ever are in Missouri, stop in Columbia. It is an adorable little college town and reminds me a lot of Athens, OH in its vibe. They have a ton of cute little restaurants and shops, and we walked the dogs around the university. Yesterday, I did give in to some cravings and had nachos 🤤 and an ice cream cone 🍦- but I’ve still been hitting my target of about 1700 calories a day, so it’s all good.

Rob met a hilarious couple in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn today. They saw him struggling with the dog stuff and getting the car all packed up, and came over to talk. They are driving to California from Nashville. Turns out they left Cali a year ago and moved to Nashville but “It’s way too fucking hot there, we are done with that shit.” So they are headed back to Cali. My kind of people!!! 😂😂😂

Lastly, I’d like to give an award to Colby, KS. You blessed town, you mark the end of humidity. You will hold a special place in my heart. ❤️

This afternoon we will get into the mountains in Colorado and camp in a glacier valley- gonna be a good day. 😁👍

Anybody have any good music recommendations for us? We need some new stuff to listen to on the road.

Coast to Coast Adventure, days 1-2

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My husband and I have quit our jobs and are moving from Dayton, OH to Medford, OR with our two dogs Moose and Schuyler. Before we settle there, we are embarking on a 2.5 month adventure across the US.

Days 1-2 heading west. Hampstead NC to Asheville NC. 375 miles 

Two hikes- Powhatan “lake” which was really just a pond and Pine Tree Loop. Elevation 2100 feet. 

Yesterday we knocked out a pretty easy day of 6 hours driving. We stopped to get dinner (from 131 Main which is the J Alexander’s of the South! What a find!) and then we drove to Powhatan Lake recreational area, which is just west of Asheville. We got there before dark, took a short hike in the 90 degree 90% humidity weather and then set up camp. We laid there for an hour just cooling down and letting our sweat dry. Damian Rice, our camp music of choice, serenaded us. The dogs were exhausted and fell asleep half on and off their beds. Sometime overnight I woke up and kept thinking the shadows on the tent walls were a bear. I coughed loudly to discourage it from bothering us. Since it was not a bear, the shadow left us alone.

This morning started off poorly. I slept in because I didn’t want to get up and wake up Rob. The dogs love sleeping in, so they didn’t help.  By the time we got up and going it was 8:15. One of the many wonderful things about being fat is that I sweat ALL the time. So when we go out hiking, esp in the 90% humidity I’m soaked at rest and it only gets worse once we get moving. This means I usually have to change clothes 2-3 times a day when we are hiking. That adds up to a lot of dirty smelly clothes to tote around. 

Anyways so I am sweaty and cranky and the flies are swarming and I’m snapping at Rob. Moose is pulling me for no reason, so I’m snapping at him, too. 3/4 way into the trail, the day took a sudden turn for the better… we saw our first BEAR! 

Of course we had no phones with either of us to get footage.  It was a medium sized black bear, about 50 feet off the trail. He was extremely unimpressed with us and went about his usual business while we yelled “Hey Bear!” at him. It was a very cool little sighting, next time I hope I can grab a picture. The camp hosts says they have seen bears basically everyday. I hope these poor bears don’t get so habituated that they are killed, we are taking up their space, not the other way around!!!

When we got back to camp up I was cranky again because I felt so disgusting and sweaty and it takes forever to pack up. There were showers at camp, and I eagerly looked forward to an ice cold one. The showers had other plans, as they only spit out very hot water, and I ended up right back where I started. We skipped breakfast because we got a late start, so here’s hoping I stay on track with my calories and don’t eat a lot of junk food in the car today. I’ve been doing awesome with diet and exercise since we left Ohio, I’ve got to keep it up! I’ve been targeting 1700-1800 calories a day, and trying to stick with that, even with exercise. I know once we hit some longer days on the trails I will eat more, and that’s okay. As long as I keep a net negative balance I should start dropping pounds. I’ve resolved not to weigh myself until we get settled in Oregon. Seeing the numbers and the gain is too painful. For now I need to be present in the here and now and focus on each day as it comes.

We are back on the road, the lovely AC full blast. Hoping to make it to St. Louis today, but we’ll see where the day takes us!

#morebearsplease 

#hartsockvandineroadtrip 

#roadtrippin

Stop the Stigma of Mental and Chronic Illness

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I’m a doctor. I have mental illness and chronic illnesses.  I am not ashamed.

It’s taken me years to get to the point in my life where I can say that and not feel shame. Where I can state it as fact and not apologize for it. 

The healthcare industry, and for that matter our society, is a wealth of contradictions. One of them being that healthcare professionals themselves are not allowed to be ill. How many times have you been sick and come in to work anyway? You know that if you call in sick, there is little chance for anyone to replace you, and that your whole team will have to work understaffed. If you are an independent doc, there is no one at all to back you up, and so your patients are forced to reschedule or go to the ER. 

Long term, chronic illness is meant to be buried away and hidden. We tell our patients that they should be open with us, that there is no shame in having an illness, but would we do the same for our colleagues? For as much as our healthcare systems have recently been on the wellness bandwagon, how many of them provide the day to day support for chronic illness? We are good at banding together in acute emergencies, but what about those long lasting issues that will be present for years or even a lifetime? 

Why can’t we acknowledge that we are human beings first? People are fallible, people get sick. It is not a personal failure, it is a fact of life. 

In the last few years, I have found the strength to acknowledge my health issues. Via social media by talking about it openly at work and home, I have admitted that I am in fact not an endless source of physical and mental well-being. I have bad days. I have migraines. I have chronic pain. I have anxiety and panic attacks. Conventional wisdom would tell you that this makes me weak. That it is somehow a failing of my own that I have these issues. That I should keep it to myself. 

But why? I am still the same person. I am still the same physician. Having chronic illness does not make me any less of a doctor. In fact, it’s made me have more empathy and be able to talk and connect with my patients on a real and intimate level. So let’s stand up for ourselves not just as medical providers, but as people. Let stop the stigma of mental illness and chronic illness, for everyone. 

Support Abortion Providers

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I am a family practice trained Hospitalist physician now, but there was a time in my medical residency when I briefly worked at the abortion clinic in my city of Dayton, OH. I was already strongly pro-abortion before, but that experience cemented it for me. That clinic and others like it provide 100% necessary medical care to women. Women who had found birth defects incompatible with life, women who were raped, teenagers who stupidly knew little of how to protect themselves from pregnancy, women pressured by their partners to not use birth control, and women who just didn’t want a child. Women who were religious and sobbed in agony afterwards because they thought they were murdering their child, and women who had the understanding that an embryo or fetus is merely a clump of cells that has no life or meaning outside of its protected environment in the womb. I have also been on the other side, and seen children killed by abuse, children suffering neglect or placed into foster care, and children living with severe birth defects or chronic diseases. I came to realize that every woman has an abortion for a different reason, and that every single one of those reasons is valid.

After that rotation, I came very close to changing my focus and becoming an abortion provider. This had always been at the back of my mind, but in the end, I was too scared. Would I lose family and friends? Would I get constant death threats? What if the irrational protestors attacked me or my family? Would I even be able to find a job with abortion clinics closing all over the country? If I ever wanted to practice a different type of medicine, would I be able to or would I be blackballed? I didn’t have the grit to commit myself to such a risky practice. I still think about it, now more-so than ever. Abortion is a fundamental right of being a woman in America. A right we have fought and even died for over the years. In Dayton, OH right now, the only abortion clinic is going to be forced to close its doors any day now. Not just because the Ohio “heartbeat law” bans abortion after six weeks, but because the clinic has lost a case in court to remain open. The two major health systems in town, one of which I work for, have refused to provide transfer agreements with the clinic. This means that even though the abortion providing physician is licensed and qualified, no hospital will deign to accept his patients if a complication arises. In light of this, the courts have ordered the clinic to close its doors. Abortion, and the women who need it, are under attack all over this nation. It is extremely heroic to choose to provide abortion care in this country, and I thank the providers who have been brave enough to offer this vital service to their patients. I hope that we all band together as healthcare providers to support the physicians on the front line of this contentious issue.

#abortionishealthcare

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