Into the Wild

I returned from an incredible adventure in Alaska mere days ago, and I am already en route to Albania for the next trip. As usual, my life is packed full and totally crazy. And I love it!

The journey to the wilds of Alaska started in Anchorage. After a night of "roughing it", my best friend Bill and I headed to Farewell with Lake Clark Air.

A Piper Navajo took us into the bush. Our flight over the mountains was IFR with a bit of ice build up on the wings. I was pretty happy when we descended out of the clouds and the runway was in sight. I sometimes think that being a pilot can make these kinds of flights a little more nerve wracking than if I were just blissfully ignorant of flying and weather conditions. We were met plane-side by Spencer, Jon, Ben, and Jacob – our crew for the next 10 days. They have these really cool WWII keeps that crawl through the mountains. The bumpy ride was much appreciated given that the only other alternative would have been to schlep all of our gear the 10+ miles to sheep camp. The trip to camp was made a little more exciting by getting one of the jeeps stuck in fairly high, swiftly moving water. Luckily a strong winch was all it took to get our convoy back on dry land.

Home for the next 10 days was quite luxurious. There were two wooden platforms with wall tent tops. Each of these sported a wood burning stove – meaning that not only was it so cozy in there, but you could also dry out all of your gear and clothing each evening. This certainly tops any previous hunting camp set up that I have ever experienced. We were all anxious to get out into the mountains but unfortunately we were totally weathered in the first day. Thankfully I brought plenty to read with me…

The scenery was unbelievable. I always love being so far from anything or anyone. We hiked from 8-10 hours per day. Most of the mileage was covered by scrabbling up rivers. Hip boots kept me somewhat dry – until I fell in the river of course. It felt great to be out in the mountain air. The mountains were steep, my bed was warm, the food was tasty, and the company was great. All leading to a memorable trip.

Stay tuned for race coverage of the Global Limits ultra marathon taking place in Albania. This is my first time to this country and also the first time that an ultra event has taken place here. Should be an adventure!

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New Zealand

I had the good fortune to visit New Zealand for a second time this spring.  What a beautiful place with excellent food & wine and wonderful people!  It literally takes days to get there, but is totally worth the trip.  

First glances of the North Island from the plane:


On the drive to Mesopotamia station on the South Island:


Gotta have at least one NZ selfie……


Enjoying the scenery on the one sunny day that I had while there:


I made a new hunting buddy:


Okay, maybe more than one NZ selfie…. This is a much better reflection of what the weather was like:


I was lucky enough to get my first helicopter “lesson”!  Way harder to control than I was expecting!  There is a lot going on when trying to fly just straight and level!


This amazing 76-year-old gentleman took me up in his airplane one afternoon to do some aerobatics together.  After the first Immelmann, we were both hooting and hollering and high fiving.  Not a memory I will soon forget.


And that my friends is a week of NZ in photos!

Brazil photos

As promised, here are additional photos that I took while in Brazil on my actual camera – gasp! I know… it’s hard to believe in the iPhone age. 

I call this one, um, “working” the camera:

Mauricio!

Pre-dawn start of the long stage:

Scary log to crawl under:

This is exactly why the log was scary to crawl under:

Ash checking his own pulse with our first patient in the back of the ambulance:

A few photos of the water starts:

Everything is bigger in the jungle, even the grasshoppers:

Jungle checkpoint:


The day after the race, the medical team was fortunate enough to get taken out on one of the riverboats. We spent the day swinging in hammocks, drinking beer, eating BBQ, and jumping off the boat. All on our private beach out in the middle of the Amazon. It was seriously one of the best days ever. 


So that concludes my Brazil coverage. Finally. I miss my jungle team!!!! I can’t wait to go back next year. 


And for those of you interested in the day to day life of an ER/Wilderness doc, check out my instagram:

amysuebiondich

#shamelessplug

Mais Brazil

Well here is the continuation of my Brazil adventures.  Enjoy!

Race Day 4:

The morning started early for those of us sleeping at the deep jungle camp.  Our medical team waited for all of the runners to clear out before we started packing up.  I enjoyed the experience in the jungle but I will not miss being surrounded by an army of spiders.  We filed out down the tight trail single file.  It was interesting to actually see what was beyond the trail in front of you in contrast to the night before.  Crawling under the downed tree wasn’t quite as scary in the daylight but I did have to ask numerous times if there were any giant spiders on my back… old habits die hard I guess.  We rushed down the trail to our meeting point, and then had some time to wait and goof off before the truck came to pick us up.  I think that highlight of this particular day was the truck ride out of the jungle with 7 of the medics piled into the back as we drove at (what felt like) high speed through the jungle.  Vicky and Shirley were perched up on the roof of the truck – I felt like it was witnessing a real life video game as they had to duck and dodge any tree branches or vines.  Needless to say, the whole ride was absolute chaos.  And an absolute blast.  


Camp this evening was a pretty amazing spot right on the beach.  There was a cold stream that led right into a tributary of the Amazon.  It had been another long, hot day and so once my feet hit the stream, I basically just laid face down in it.  It was like heaven!  

Great photo that Bill Hamrick took of me at the campsite.

The foot care is really starting to ramp up at this point in the race.


This cutie little pup was at one of the checkpoints.

Race day 5:

Today started extremely early as this was the 100+ km day for the runners.  The racers had a cut-off time of sorts today.  They have to make it to one of the camps by mid-afternoon otherwise they will get held there for the night.  The race director doesn’t want folks going through certain parts of the jungle by themselves in the middle of the night.  Regardless, it is going to be a long couple of days for everyone.  So this morning, we were up at 2am with the start at 4am.  After the camp cleared out, I’m not gonna lie, I took one of the most delicious naps of my life.  I crawled back into my hammock and fell asleep for a few extra hours.  I woke up to the cool breeze coming off of the river and an absolutely beautiful view.  The foreign sounds of jumbled Portuguese mingled with my dream as I slowly came back into consciousness.  

Bill, an American medical student and an all-round great guy, drew the short straw today and would be stuck hanging out with me on the ambulance.  Our local ambulance crew took us to a local “coffee shop” on the way out to the checkpoints.  It was little more than a picnic table in someone’s home, but the people were gracious and the coffee was hot and strong.  It was such a nice way to start off our long day.  

We hung out with Vicky at one of the checkpoints.  My heart went out to the runners as there was a large bee’s nest along the course and almost all of the runners were stung numerous times.  We spent quite a bit of time trying to pull dead bees out of people’s hair and even pulling stingers out.  Thankfully everyone was okay, and even more thankfully, no one had anaphylaxis to bee stings.


Our next stop was a checkpoint a little further down the road.  And what a checkpoint it was!  There was a nice little covered structure by the road where we could hang out in the shade.  But even better – there was a small river just down the road that was icy cold.  Bill and I strolled down and enjoyed the cold water as well as the local culture.  This seemed to be a real hot spot for local young people and there were tunes bumping out of car stereos as we soaked in the coolness.  One of my favorite moments was when we recognized one of the songs… it was Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door…. in Portuguese!!! Amazing!  Bill and I were singing along in our best Axl Rose impressions.  What a great moment!

Our camp for the night was another slice of jungle that had been machete-d into submission by our bombeiros.  The camp was slowly filling with the runners that had not made the cut off time.  


Everyone looked pretty good as they came in.  I think that the runners are starting to feel the proximity of the finish already at this point.  I tried to catch some sleep early as I knew that we would be up and down all night as the runners came in.  I was woken up in order to go out and check on a runner who some of the medics had some concerns about hyponatremia.  This can be a really serious and scary diagnosis.  Thankfully by the time I got to the runner, the team had done such a great job taking care of this individual that they were basically back at their baseline.  I hung out for a bit before the pull of my hammock  became just too great to resist.  Back to bed again as the next morning’s start will once again come early.  

Race Day 6:

Alright, second half of the long stage.  And it feels like we are on the home stretch for the race overall.  The start was at 6am but our camp was awoken long before this time by the cacophany of howler monkeys.  If you have never heard a howler monkey, you should definitely google it.  It is a crazy noise to hear in the wee hours of the morning in the middle of the jungle.  One of the British medics put it best when they related the howler monkey cry to that of a dementor from Harry Potter.  Seriously, google it.  

But anyway, Bill and I headed to CP6.  It was sooooo cool.  Right on the beach.  I’m a bit jealous of the medics who got to spend the night there.  Runners were ecstatic to get down on the beach and get to jump into the water.  A lot of people’s feet were pretty rough, and Shirley & Andy took great care of everyone.


After we finally tore ourselves away from this little slice of paradise, we tried to bop around to more of the checkpoints.  As impressive as the off-road skills of our Fiat ambulance have been, we finally got the point where we could go no further.  There were a couple of dicey spots where we almost got stuck in the sand.  So we jumped in one of the local staff member’s truck and finally were able to get out to some of the checkpoints.  They were all gorgeous!  The second half of the course was pretty much all along the beach.


And the camp was also right on the beach once again.  Bill and I made it back right at sunset.  It was Bill’s birthday, and Shirley managed to make it really special by getting several cakes and gathering the runners to sing a rousing rendition of “happy birthday”.


It was extremely late when the last of the runners made it in, as expected.  But the camp was electric as the race is almost complete!  One last stage in the morning – a mere half marathon.  I can’t wait to see everyone cross the finish line!

Race Day 7:

Last day!  I can’t believe that another race is almost over!  It was already a celebration at the start.  Our medics got a chance to run/walk the last stage if they wanted to.


The rest of our crew got to head straight to the finish.  I love being at the finish!  It’s so exciting (and dare I say emotional) to watch everyone complete this monstrous achievement.  Vicky, Shirley, and I took advantage of some photo ops with the ambulance before we jetted off to the finish-line.


The finish for the race was right on the beach at a small restaurant.  It was a really nice set up.  The emotion of watching the racers did not disappoint.  We all had a great time hanging out.  The relief, of both the medics and the runners, of another race being safely completed was palpable.  Time to celebrate!


Okay folks, we are about finished with my coverage of the Jungle Marathon 2016.  One more installment to go – which will cover one of the best days of my life as well as random photos from my camera.

Brazil is amazing!!!!

I know that I have gotten horribly behind with my blog (and mainly life in general). I got back from Brazil about 3 weeks ago now. It was seriously one of the best trips that I have ever been on. Ever. It was absolutely incredible. The experience of being in the jungle, along with the good fortune of being able to make so many amazing new friends was without compare. So without further ado, I will finally publish the first installment of the Jungle Marathon 2016.
Pre-race day 1:

I made uneventful flights from Orlando to Miami, and then Miami to Brasilia. I had a few hours in Brasilia, so I sat outside for awhile in the nice cool weather. I then braved security – which was interesting since I speak no Portuguese and apparently most people in Brasilia speak no English. I had no clue what the Brazilian version of a TSA lady was trying to tell me, but eventually after getting wanded down and then walking through the metal detector several times, I had my carry-on baggage and hadn’t been violated too badly. I had a similar excursion into hilarity and misunderstanding when I tried to get a coffee and breakfast. I finally ended up with a espresso-sized cup of coffee and no breakfast. Hmmmm, apparently talking slower and louder in English does not mean that I am better understood….. I eventually got boarded on my next flight. My plane stopped in Manaus, but then finally I was touching down in Santarem. First stage of the journey over, but the adventure is just beginning.


I was met at the airport by Shirley, the race director, and a few of her local staff. I was thankfully taken directly to the boat in Santarem rather than having to find a taxi to take me to Alto de Chao. After my experience in Brasilia, I’m not sure how well it would have gone…. On the drive to the dock, I realized that unfortunately it seems like slums or poor areas tend to look pretty similar no matter where in the world you are. And Brazil is no exception. Soon we were pulling up to a bustling dock where our noble river chariot was awaiting. There were river boats wedged in along each side of the dock. They looked like a throw-back to the 1920’s in the American South. They were grand two or three level affairs with white wrap-around railings. People walked back and forth with every manner of foodstuff or general equipment balanced precariously on their heads. It was hot and humid and chaotic and awesome!  


We boarded the boat and I was overwhelmed by meeting the medical team. Vicky, the medical/logistic lead, had already commandeered the top floor of the boat and the medics were sitting in a circle under the hammocks playing Uno. We have a huge crew of paramedics from the UK. They are a great group who seem to be having a great time and are really friendly. I got a bit of the rundown for the race (I knew next to nothing before showing up), and tried my first round of introductions. We hung out at the dock for awhile and then set sail for Alto de Chao. It was so lovely to be standing on the deck of the boat, the hot breeze caressing your face, and watching the wide river slowly roll along with you. I loved it!


We were greeted with a lightning storm as we pulled into Alto de Chao. The crew disembarked and walked into town for dinner. We found a tiny place outdoors with white plastic chairs and plenty of locals dining. I don’t think any of us were quite sure what we were ordering but the beers were cold and delicious. The meat came on sword skewers just like the fancy Brazilian steakhouses at home. The fish were fried whole and just incredible. It was a really nice meal.  


After strolling back to our river queen, I stood along the railing of the boat until the weariness of the past 2 travel days overcame me. The moon shimmered over the river. The soft roar of nervous runners was on the breeze. Time for sleep in my hammock on the river. Perfect!

Pre-race day 2:
Of course, everyone was awake and moving and noisy before the sun had even rose. I was a little grumpy but was rewarded for the early hour by a beautiful sunrise over the tributary of the Amazon. Our group went for an early morning swim. It seems our boat had docked on a private sandy beach with jungle as a dramatic backdrop. The water was warm as we bobbed along. I think everyone probably had piranhas and sting rays on the brain – well at least I did. Hot water was waiting in the aft kitchen of the boat and I had my rations of oatmeal and green tea. It tasted good this morning, but ask me again in a week how I feel about it… 

Time to set sail again. We floated lazily down to a small town perched on the beach. Hammocks were strung in a shady yard, and a small hanging village was formed. I spent an hour finally going through all of my bags and getting organized. An obligatory swim in the river was made before it was time to settle in and get ready to check racer’s medical forms.  


No surprises with the medical check-in. Most everyone confessed to no medical issues or medications. It usually isn’t until day 3 or 4 that you find out if people really have medical problems because they start coming to you when things aren’t going that well. In one race, a runner kept getting dizzy and orthostatic. It turns out that they had on a clonidine patch (a blood pressure medication) but of course had never confessed to having hypertension, and had “none” listed under their med list. I guess people are worried that we won’t allow them to run if they admit to their high cholesterol…  

I took a bath in the river, even busting out my shampoo and conditioner. It was quite nice. I brought fancy conditioner so that I could actually comb through my hair. I sweated my ass off while eating my first backpacker meal. And just waited for the sun to come down in the hopes that the air would cool a bit. There was a gorgeous sunset. I made it about 30 minutes after it got dark before I scrambled up into my hammock. I read my book about the Amazon for a bit before drifting blissfully to sleep.  
Pre-race day 3:
I slept so well! Have I mentioned that I love sleeping in a hammock!?! There was the typical dog fights and rooster crows overnight. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are – the dogs are quiet and sleeping during the day and cause a ruckus all night. And the internal clock of roosters is bullocks. They crow and doodle-do all night.
Today is the briefing day. The morning started off with our jungle survival guys telling us about everything that could kill you in the jungle. Which is pretty much everything. They had a slideshow and brought in a tiny boa constrictor. It was pretty neat. The Bombeiro painted an impressive picture with his jungle hat, his survival vests, his tall black boots, and his machete strapped to his waist.

I gave my usual talk about heat, hydration, and hygiene as well as my “mean Mommy” speech about how the runners needed to take care of their own feet. I received a spontaneous round of applause when I was able to remember all of the names of our large medical team.  



From left to right, top row first: Shirley, Ryan, Andy, Emily, Vicky, Nicole, Gary, Reuben, Helen, Bill; Katie, Ash, Sam, Debbie, Rhon, me

It was really difficult to hear anything about the first day’s course/race because it was pissing down rain and we were in an open building with a tin roof. After the race briefing, there was nothing to do but wait. The rain continued so I scurried out into the rain to get my hammock down and bring it inside. No sense starting off with everything being soggy. I’m sure that I will have plenty of wet, muddy, sogginess throughout the rest of the week.


The rain continued as dusk settled in, so I set up my hammock inside. I figured that I was going to have a nice quiet night in there. Oh no. One of the dogs kept wanting to get inside. Then she started rifling through the trash. Then all of the boy dogs wanted to come in after her since she was in heat. Well I guess that it’s always something about these races. I fortunately was finally able to get a bit of sleep after everything calmed down.
Race day 1
Finally it’s time for folks to start running! I’m glad that it’s race day. It must be hard for the runners to just wait around for days, nervous for the race to start, restless. Everyone looked happy at the start. We waited around base camp for about an hour and half. I wanted to ensure that most runners were to CP1, aka the point of no return, before taking off in my ambulance. Oh yeah, I get an ambulance this race. I have a driver, a Brazilian EMT, a British medic, and a teeny tiny Fiat ambulance. I can choose where I want to go and just kind of cruise around from place to place. I feel like medical royalty. 

Our medical team in the back of a truck with all of our luggage.  We were very safety conscious while in Brazil….


We first headed off for Checkpoint 2. They had quite a few runners through already. It seemed like a really neat place to have stayed overnight. Our medics seemed like they were having a good time. After hanging out for an hour, we then cruised over to CP3. At a few hills, the local EMT with us had to get out to offload some weight. We fishtailed all the way up, and luckily made them all. At CP3, there was a little black monkey cruising around. He was maybe a foot and a half tall and was wandering around our checkpoint with his little arms up, waving about. He would want to be friendly, but inevitably would get scared, and then run up one of the villagers legs and hug them around the neck. It was really neat. There were also giant tarantulas in the rafters of the little palm thatched shelter that the medics had slept in the night before. Yikes. My first big spider….


We finally headed back to camp. It’s a big open area with plenty of trees to hang hammocks from in the middle of a village. We are close to the river and while we were down there, we saw a huge empty turtle shell and a meter long iguana. It’s pretty cool getting to see so much of the wildlife and we are only one day in. I don’t want to jinx anything, but this has been sooooo cool so far.  

One of the last runners was struggling and Shirley asked me to go out and check on him. I threw on my cuben fiber pack and headed that way. He was doing okay, just moving slow, and mentally totally done. I have a feeling that he may still want to continue on tomorrow but we will see. It’s always amazing how shitty people can feel and look when they come into camp, and then look like a new person in the morning. Otherwise, we had an easy night medically. Only a few people strolled into our medical area and it was mainly just social visits. 

Race day 2:
I fell asleep hard but unfortunately had a much too early awaking. The Brazilian contingency woke up at 4am. Yes, that’s right, 4am. They started calling across the camp to each other and then singing. Again, I guess it’s always something at a race.
All runners started the race this morning. The race began with a river crossing. It was a fair way to swim, especially when you consider that they were wearing packs and shoes and clothes as well. Everyone made it across safely, some needing more assistance and some with more fear than others. We all packed up camp once the runners were gone and Debbie and I loaded up into the ambulance. 

We leap-frogged our way from one checkpoint to the other – hanging out for an hour and two and then moving on. In order to get to CP 2, we had to bushwhack for a bit. Unfortunately Debbie and I had shorts and flip flops on. It was going okay until our local guide looked back at us and warned us to watch for snakes. My legs were already eaten up by ants and now they got tore up with all of the grabby grasses. It has been interesting to see the sites where the Bombeiros have created a camp out of nothing. They will hack down the thick jungle into a clearing and then stay up all night on the perimeter to protect our medics. Pretty cool.  

Once we arrived at CP3, I’m pretty sure that Debbie got engaged and married to a local. He kept making animals out of palm fronds and handing them to her. We figured after the third gift acceptance that they were officially betrothed. We got called back to CP2. Unfortunately the two guys in the ambulance with me speak no English, so all I knew is that someone was “bad” at CP2. I figured that it would be the runner from last night, but I had no idea what to expect. I thought about different worst case scenarios on the way there, and then was pleasantly surprised when we pulled up and saw our runner sitting up on the back of the pick-up truck, looking just fine. He had just gotten dizzy in the jungle and then subsequently given up mentally. So our first runner was out…..

We escorted him back to camp and regrouped with the team. Our little village was already set up upon my return. The rest of the medics were so sweet, and had saved spots for our hammocks so that we could all be close to each other. Our dropped runner laid on the tarp for awhile and then picked himself up and sauntered off looking quite well.  

I had an actual real shower on the boat! It was amazing! I washed and conditioned my hair. And even plucked my eyebrows! Which I’m almost embarrassed to admit, but whatever – Luxury in the jungle. The rest of my afternoon consisted of wandering around camp, checking in on folks. Then sitting on the tarp with the medics and bullshitting. I laid in my hammock for awhile reading. I walked down to the river with some of the runners. All in all, quite relaxing. Our “clinic” picked up a little in the evening with foot care issues. (Of course, what else would we possibly do at a race????). But the medics were happy to help and take care of feet. And if they’re happy, I’m happy. I got my hair french-braided by Emily. While I was sitting there, one of the medics handed me a cup of one of the local drinks. I felt like a proper princess!

I could only stomach ramen noodles for dinner. I got the dinner sweats bad! I just can’t eat in this heat. I could barely wait for bed. I went through the process of digging through my bags numerous times to find toothbrush and toothpaste, then my jammies, then my vitamins, then my kindle, and on and on. Hammock time! Two stages down! Six to go!

Race Day 3:

Once again, there were some early risers in the group. Luckily I was able to get another half hour of sleep after the madness began. It was another river start for the racers. This time an even further swim. No mishaps once again. It was a beautiful view down the river with the sun just rising. The local villagers turned out to watch these crazy people who have decided to undertake this epic foot voyage through their jungle.

I’m not sure what happened this morning but I’m pretty sure that no one knew where the checkpoints were or what was going on. They told us CP1 had closed only an hour after the start of the race. Given the timing from yesterday – I didn’t see how this was possible. And then they told us it was a 5 km walk to CP2 where earlier someone who spoke good English told me it was a 500 meter walk. So who knows… But I didn’t think it was good for me to be roughly an hour walk from the ambulance so onward we went to CP3.

CP3 is amazing! It’s in the shade within an indigenous village. The chief sat proudly with his feather headdress and his beautiful children running around him. The children are gorgeous. They have their bodies painted and feather halos on their heads. They smile shyly for the cameras and giggle when you show them their photo. The chief walked me through his village and showed off where they have their formal dances, their church, and their bee population for making honey. 


The runners look surprisingly well for the distance and the heat. CP3 is roughly the halfway point. The front runners came in in a group of 3 – 2 Brazilians and 1 Australian. They looked like they were really pushing it. I’m pleasantly surprised at how great people are doing. Ash and I spent a lovely 30 minutes down by a cold river on a rickety bench with our feet in the water. It was a much needed break and re-set. Apparently camp tonight is in the “deep jungle”…… don don doooooonnnnnnnnn.


So on our way to the starting off point for the deep jungle, we got a call that someone was “bad”. Once again, that’s the only information that I had. So we headed back out over the extremely bumpy roads in our Fiat ambulance to see what was up. We stopped to ask villagers several times where the different access points to the course was from the road and from my limited knowledge of Portuguese, it seemed like we were getting differing opinions. But we finally found a jungle access point, and just as we were hiking uphill, we saw the Bombeiros along with the communication team with our runner. He was walking with some minor assistance and one of the locals was carrying his pack for him. He had some dizziness and numbness while hiking, but it quickly resolved after he made the decision to pull himself out of the race.

We had our first patient laid out on the stretcher. Ash was especially excited since this was his first ambulance ride after becoming a certified paramedic. Hopefully it was memorable for him. We had a long car ride and then ended up in a parking lot for a national forest. There were loads of loggers getting off of buses and filing into their bunks. We were told that we now needed a different truck to take us 20km into the jungle where we could reach a point where it was a short walk to the campsite. But then we didn’t know where the trucks were or when they would be coming for us. I rushed to pack my overnight bag. And then…. we waited.


And waited.

And waited.
And waited. Welcome to Brazil.  
They finally invited us in for dinner after we were told that no one could get a hold of the trucks that were supposed to pick us up. On the plus side, we had a delicious dinner of fish stew and rice alone with fresh juice and coffee. And there were fans in the dining room. And sit down toilets. Luxury! But after dinner, things got weird when 15 of the loggers came in to watch a football game. One guy was making kissy fish (that’s what my niece calls kissy face) at me. And everywhere I turned, I was getting seriously eye-f$%!ed. I was really uncomfortable. Probably the most I have ever been at a race. I would have rather taken my chances out in the jungle alone with the jaguars rather than slept in that building with those el creepos.  

So right when I’m about to blow my top, we get the announcement that the truck is now here. Yahoo! But then we are told that the radiator is out. Boo! They told us that they can’t get us into the jungle. I was starting to get a bit frustrated about the delays and started giving the local guys the business. Well lo and behold, they lifted the hood of the truck, banged a wrench around a little bit, and surprise, the truck was fixed. Finally, we were headed to the deep jungle camp! I’m excited!
The trail was pitch black with jungle close on either side. The truck rocketed through the night into ever deepening darkness. Each bump and jolt heightened my excitement. It’s hard to describe, but it was all just really intense and exciting. I kept hoping to see some form of exotic wildlife but all I saw was more jungle illuminated in the truck’s headlights.  
Finally we stopped. As the doors swung open, the closeness of the jungle was deafening. Time to hike in the dark for 15 minutes. Of course, the first wildlife that I encountered was a ginormous tarantula. Bleh! Ash wanted me to tell him where it was so he could get a picture and I told him – “Well I’m not f-ing coming back to show you!”. The path wound through the vegetation, barely able to claim a small space for itself. My headlight kept illuminating green eyes on the forest floor – more spiders. I probably saw over 10 huge spiders. We walked along downed trees and crawled underneath a heavy trunk. I was surprised by how fearful I felt. And it was stupid, because it was just of the spiders. Silly me. We saw lights bobbing in the distance – camp!
It was a cluster finding a place to hang a hammock given how small this little man-made gap in the jungle was, and we ended up waking up the entire medical team in the process. We met the runners as they came in. Everyone was held back at the last checkpoint so a larger group could come through the jungle together. Everyone looked battered but overall no worse for the wear. I don’t think that I have ever climbed into my hammock in such a disgusting state. I could smell myself just marinating in my own special blend of B.O., dried sweat, sunscreen, bug spray, and spider fear. Not even good. I think that this was one of the first times that I went to bed that dirty. Even worse was when I had to get up in the middle of the night to pee and the entire perimeter was little green eyes.  
We all made it safely through the night. No jaguar maulings. This was such a freaking cool experience. And I hope that I don’t forget it anytime soon.

So as an aside, I have bunch more photos to go with this first half of the trip.  But unfortunately when I uploaded photos from my camera, they for some reason aren’t available to post onto the blog site.  So after I finish the race coverage, I will post a bunch more photos.  Sorry!  I am pretty much the least tech savvy person ever.

Brazil!

I’m off to my next big adventure – the Amazon jungle!  There is a race down there that is reported to be one of the toughest and wildest in the world.  And I’m the sole doctor!?!  It’s not as bad as it sounds, there is a very experienced paramedic team from the UK that will be staffing the event.  They will probably be able to teach me a thing or two about the jungle.  It was a whirlwind of packing before the event, as usual.  We will spend 10 days out in the wilds so that’s a lot of food, etc to plan for.  I somehow was able to turn this:


Into this:


Thankfully most of the medical supplies will already be down in Brazil, waiting for me.  I only had to pack tape as well as my personal equipment that I like to have for my 24 hour bag.  This is going to be a mega-adventure to say the least.  After our initial 12-hour boat ride downriver overnight, we will be sleeping out in the jungle.  Our accommodations each evening will be in the comfort of hammocks.  Any of you who have read my previous race posts knows my love of sleeping in hammocks.  The runners will have to endure numerous water crossings in addition to just plain slogging through the swamp.  And the wildlife!  I spent some time looking up the flora and fauna of the Amazon, and I have come to the conclusion that pretty much everything there can kill you.  There are poisonous dart frogs, bullet ants with incredibly painful bites, piranha, bull sharks, assassin bugs, pit vipers, electric eels, tarantulas, giant centipedes, anacondas, the Brazilian wandering spider, vampire bats, caiman, and even jaguars,  oh my.  

This may be one of my biggest adventures yet!  I can’t wait for this experience.  I’ll share detailed race coverage upon my return!!!

AK- The Arctic Tundra

So I got back from Alaska about 2 weeks ago now.  There has been a bit of a delay in me posting photos because I went straight to Minnesota for work, and now am in Vegas (VEGAS!!!!) for a delayed birthday celebration.  Hope you enjoy the photos, etc.

My trip up north did not start out too well.  My flight to Fairbanks was scheduled on the day that Delta totally crashed.  Well their computer system did anyway, I guess it’s poor form to refer to airlines crashing.  But anyway, after my flight had been delayed several times, the Delta rep announced that we would begin pre-boarding in 5 minutes.  And then the next announcement was that the flight was cancelled because we did not have a flight crew for it.  That seems like a pretty dramatic change of tune but whatever.  So then of course there is the mass mob of angry passengers making a bum rush on all available ticket counter agents.  After several hours of trying to get on flights that never quite worked out, several rounds of wine and snacks from the Delta club, and trying not to cry from frustration on more than one occasion, I finally put up the white flag and accepted a flight for the next day.  I must have really looked terrible (I had worked an overnight shift, packed for the trip, and then came straight to the airport so at this point had been awake for about 30 hours…..), because one of the Delta ladies took pity on me and put me up in a really nice hotel by the airport and arranged for transportation for me.  

My brief respite was shattered when flights started becoming delayed later and later the following day as well.  I finally got into Fairbanks 3 hours after originally planned.  But at least I made it to Alaska.  But I still had a ways to go.  After lugging what felt like 200 pounds of gear and a gun case to my hotel, I treated myself to a beer and ate almost an entire pizza.  Don’t judge me…..


The plan was for me to get on a smaller airline, Wright Air Service, in the morning to get on a Cessna Caravan that would fly me up to Anaktuvuk Pass.  This is a very tiny town without any roads leading to it in the interior of Alaska.  My hunting outfitter, Rich Guthrie,  was to pick me up there in his Piper SuperCub and we would fly to the main hunting cabin at Galbraith Lake.  But of course, nothing can go smoothly, and the weather was too poor for Rich to be able to make it in.  So then I changed my flight to a different tiny town, Coldfoot, because at least this one had a road leading in and out of it.  When the Caravan touched down on the gravel runway, I was relieved to see Rich and my guide, Nate Turner, waiting for the plane to pull up.  I finally made it…. We took a 3 hour drive up the Dalton Highway with the mountains and the pipeline as our constant companions.  


Both Rich and Nate had really cool bush airplanes:


The next day, Nate and I were dropped off to begin our hunt.  The flight to the river valley was just gorgeous.  The tundra rolls out in undulating waves in every direction.  Narrow streams wind underneath a tight cover of willows.  We saw a few caribou grazing on hillsides.


We touched down gently on the tundra, and suddenly I was at my home away from home for the next 10 days.  The tundra close up is not monochromatic at all, but is a riot of different colors – patches of red compete with yellows and greens along with the omnipresent blueberry plants.  The textures of the tundra too are very different with tight clumps of tussocks acting as islands in swampy spots.  To walk over the ground is almost like walking in a bouncy house with a definite spring and push back as you lift your feet.  I had never been in a landscape like this, and I loved it.  The novelty of eating wild blueberries never wore off even after consuming about 50 pounds of the little blue buggers.

Camp:


The week spent out in the bush was so much fun, and my hunt was a successful one.  The weather ranged from hot with the sun in your eyes, to freezing cold and shivering by the time that we walked back to camp.  The only constant was the bugs.  I can’t believe that you can be sitting there, freezing your keister off, and still be getting eaten alive by mosquitos.  Alaska is a crazy place…  Rich and Nate are two absolutely stand up guys and I could not have enjoyed getting to know them more.  I would love to go back up to Alaska again to hunt with them.  I can’t even tell you how great they treated me and what a neat deal the whole experience was.  And I was sad having to leave both Nate and Rich behind.  I would say that my first visit to Alaska was both a successful and memorable one!

Here is a week out on the tundra in photos:

Blueberry pancakes!

Rich and his SuperCub:

Nate and I flying back to Anaktuvuk Pass in his Cessna 180

My new gig

So I just started a new job.  I still work in the ER, but now I’m working for a locums company.  Locums is a fancy term for temporarily filling in for another physician.  It almost seems too good to be true – I let my company, VISTA, know what area of the country I would like to work in, and what my availability is, and then they set up everything for me.  Even better is that I have it worked out that I get reimbursed for flying my plane to the different locations.  Awesome!

My new commute:


Company vehicle:


The office:


So that’s what I’ve been up to.  I go back to work in a few days and then my next adventure is a trip up north.  Way up north.  I’ll be spending 10 days north of the Arctic Circle in Alaska.

Still more Thailand!!!

Day 6: SCUBA

We were up early for a SCUBA diving trip that we had booked two days prior.  The moment that my head came off of the pillow, I instantly regretted my decision to stay out late and have both mojitos and a beer at the boxing match.  Oh well, you only live once, right?  We hastily packed day bags and tried to wolf down a few items from the buffet.  They were just starting to lay everything out and I felt like we were literally taking things off of the workers’ trays before they could lay them out on the buffet tables.  We ran out front to meet the shuttle van that would whisk if away to a fun day of SCUBA diving.  Well, almost.   First we had to stop at like 14 other hotels to pick up other people that were to be whisked away to a fun day of SCUBA diving.

We finally arrived at the tiny dive school that was right on the water.  After getting our wetsuits and masks, we were ushered out to the waiting boat.  It was both a high speed and high bump ride out to Koh Tao and Chumpman.  For those of you wondering, I was still regretting last night’s decisions….  But it was worth it once we pulled up to a little slice of Thai paradise.


We got to go on two dives.  The first dive was really cool – there was an underwater spire that we explored around.  We saw a ton of giant groupers.  And I mean giant.  Most of these suckers were much bigger than me.  In between dives, we had an excellent lunch of curry and fried chicken on the boat.  This is a far cry of the soggy sub sandwiches that I’ve been served before on full day dive excursions.  It was crazy hot out even while being on the water.  Every 5 minutes had me hopping into the ocean to try and cool off a little.  Our 2nd dive was a little disappointing.  The visibility was very poor – probably the worst that I have ever dove in.  I could barely make out the bright neon fins or masks of the divers around me.  But I guess that diving in the worst conditions is still better than being at work…..

The boat ride back was quite windy and bumpy but it went by quickly.  We got dropped off in town so that we could get lunch at “Ninja Crepes”.  Totally random.  It was also really random music at our hotel’s happy hour.  There was live music – it turned out to be a band of Filipino’s playing mainly American country music from the 1950’s with some Creedence Clearwater Revival thrown in there for good measure.  They were quite good!

Day 7: Saga of the pants

Today we moved to a different hotel.  The theme of this day is going to be linen pants.  Jenn and I had ordered linen pants from a tailor shop, Mr. Jimmy’s – they measure you and then make you custom pants within a day or two.  We went after breakfast to try on a pair before we committed to any more pairs.  They were pretty nice but nothing spectacular – but they were cheap and you’re not going to find nice linen pants at home for a the same price.  We then headed to our new digs, Peace Resort.


We got in some pool and beach time.  And even a beachside yoga class.  We kept hearing about a night market that was held in nearby Fisherman’s village.  It was really cool.  Lots of cheap tourist trinkets, but also tons of street vendor food and fresh produce.


The three of us got Thai massage, side by side by side.  Which always ups the hilarity when someone’s masseuse is being a little rough on them.  You hear someone shout or gasp and you wonder, “Oh God, I hope mine doesn’t do that to me next.” Thai massage really is a full contact sport.  Here we are, pretty pumped about our massages:


Jenn and I got torn away from one the night market much too soon as we were supposed to go back to the tailor, Mr. Jimmy’s, to pick up our pants.  We took a 30 minute taxi ride over there and no one was at the shop.  The shop was open but no one was around.  We asked local shopkeepers if anyone knew what was going on.  We tried calling.  Nothing.  After waiting for another 30 minutes, we decided to go ahead and try our pile of pants on.  They were terrible!  I don’t understand how custom pants could fit so poorly!  We decided to scrap the whole venture and got the heck out of there.  I was tempted to take the pants and run but Jenn, always the voice of reason, pointed out that Thai prison probably isn’t that awesome.  Fair enough.

By the time we got back to Bo Phut (where our hotel was), the night market was shutting down.  And all the restaurants were closed!  We hit a new low when we had to eat cup o’ noodles and chips for dinner from a nearby 7-11.  Damn you Mr. Jimmy!  

Day 8: Bye Koh Samui

We were rudely awakened by the tailor calling our hotel room.  After shouting back and forth for 30 minutes, I think he finally realized that Jenn and I weren’t going to waste any more of our vacation dealing with his crummy pants.  What a scam.  

Since yoga was so good the day before, we decided to try the free Aqua Aerobics class that was offered by the hotel.  It was the three of us and then a bunch of ladies twice our age, bobbing around in the pool for an hour.  The other hotel guests seemed to think this was hilarious so we had an audience for our workout.  It was goofy but actually really fun.  

The highlight of the day was lunch.  We scampered down the hot beach where there was a tiny kayak sitting.  A Thai couple was serving up fresh salads and spring rolls.  We watched the woman make the dressing and chop up everything for green mango and corn salads.  It was probably some of the best food that we had while in Thailand and it came to a grand total of $2.  

The airport at Koh Samui was really nice.  And thankfully there was no Mr. Jimmy waiting for us with the police.  We walked around pretty lily pads and through open air architecture as the sun set over the tarmac.  


Tatiana thought it was hilarious that she ordered me a kosher meal for the flight.  Well now I feel bad for people everywhere who keep kosher because this is what I was served:


And just like that, we were back in Bangkok.  Our hotel was quaint but a little dingy and dated.  And apparently we were right next to the infamous Patpong.  Wikipedia lists it as an “entertainment” district but it’s essentially where all of the really seedy sex shows, etc. are located.  We unfortunately discovered this because we found ourselves walking through it at 11pm.  Our hotel clerk had given us directions for where to find a restaurant for a late night dinner and we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of the Bangkok red light district.  I’m pretty sure that I didn’t want anything that was on those menus….

All is well that ends well and we finally found a non-adults only place to have dinner.  The odd combo of quesadillas, pad Thai, and cold beer was oddly satisfying.  I can’t believe that I have to start the long trip home tomorrow.

Day 9: Last day

Last day in Thailand.  I’m bummed.  We had another hotel buffet breakfast.  Then we headed to the weekend market.  Jenn and I had so much fun there last weekend, that we wanted Tatiana to experience the splendor of the sprawling market.  We took the subway there which was surprisingly easy and pleasant.  It even had air con!


We found even more fun stuff this time!  And I was able to buy the sandals and clothes that I wanted last trip here when we ran out of money.  I also bought my friends and family some gifts.  I wish that I could say that I bought more gifts than things for myself but it wasn’t even close.  I even broke down and bought the ubiquitous “health balm” that all of the massage parlors used.  It’s kind of like a tiger balm basically.

Ever wonder where to stock up on fake fruit?


More market shots:


I had to leave Jenn and Tatiana in the hot, close stalls of the market because it was time for me to catch a flight.  I braved the subway by myself which went just fine.  There was definitely some interesting people watching.  I got one last foot massage on the way back, and I think it was like the best one yet.  I passed through a beautiful square on the way back too.


I can’t believe that the trip is over!  I really really enjoyed Thailand but at the same time, am ready to go home.  I would definitely come back.  Thanks to Jenn and Tatiana for such an awesome trip!


Headed home:

More Thailand!

Day 3: The proper shoes

Jenn and I woke up to a phone call from the front desk.  Her friend, Tatiana, had arrived in Bangkok.  Tatiana had just completed a season as one of the Mount Everest base camp doctors.  The timing worked out perfectly for her to meet us in Thailand for a week of relaxation and warm weather.  We were planning on seeing the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Reclining Buddha today.  I could not believe it, but they have uber in Bangkok!?!  We stopped and go’ed our way through traffic in order to get to the other side of the city.  We went first to the Reclining Buddha.  It was a whole temple complex with incredibly ornate buildings, numerous Buddha statues, and of course the reclining Buddha.  


The scale of the reposing Buddha was impressive.

And who doesn’t love a good bathroom sign?

It was incredibly hot out.  I mean I guess we should have expected that given that it was summer in SE Asia, but still, it was hot.  We stopped in a little cafe that had air conditioning and cold beer.  The pad Thai wasn’t bad either.  Then we encountered our first and only scam of the trip.  As we were walking to the Grand Palace, we were stopped by a Thai gentleman who inquired where we were going.  This wasn’t unusual as a lot of random locals would ask us where we were from or engage in other polite chit chat.  I’m not sure if the Thai were friendly, wanted to practice their English, or both.  But I digress… After we told this particular guy that we were headed to the Grand Palace, he was sad to inform us that it was already closed for the day.  We all thought this was weird but it was a Sunday so who knows.  He instead offered to have his tuk tuk driver take us on a city tour complete with another bout of temple sightseeing.  The three of us piled into the back of the tuk tuk.


And were whisked away to another constellation of Buddha statues.  Check out the feet!


But then things started to go south.  The driver then took us to a tourist booking agency.  When we told him that he didn’t need to buy any tours, he basically refused to keep driving.  Then he told us that we would have to buy him gas for the tuk tuk.  When we threatened to get out without paying him, he quickly changed his tune and dropped us off at one of the boat docks on the river.  Definitely a little sketchy.  

We hopped on a local river boat right about at Sunset.  The destination was the State Building.


There was an awesome SkyBar on top of the building that we wanted to check out.  It was actually one of the filming locations for the movie, “Hangover 2”.  We showed up in our tourist garb and were promptly turned right back around by the elegantly dressed women who worked there.  Apparently you could not wear flip flops at the SkyBar.  Okay…. So we found ourselves on the dirty, muggy, crowded streets of Bangkok in order to buy “proper shoes”.  We found a department store and were all able to buy shoes for about $10 a piece.  The funny part (to me at least) is that my Rainbow brand flip flops cost about 3 times as much as my “smart casual” dress code shoes.  But the bar was totally worth it!


We were somehow able to get reservations at Nahm, which was recently the top restaurant in Bangkok.  We ordered numerous dishes to share between the three of us.  It was pretty much a taste explosion.  And an excellent end to an excellent day.


Day 4: Koh Samui

Time to head down south to the beach!  Pretty much everyone that Jenn and I had talked to had recommended that we go to Koh Samui while in Thailand, so that’s where we booked our flights to.  Our hotel comprised of little bungalows next to the beach with a pool and an outdoor bar.  It was so nice and so cheap!


We headed straight to the beach!  Well maybe not straight to the beach, we had to get cocktails first, we aren’t barbarians…


We found out that the Thai massages on the island were every bit as good as those in Bangkok.  Whew, what a relief.  Since you are fully clothed while receiving a Thai massage, most establishments don’t think twice about putting you right next to someone else.  Jenn and my dueling massages hit a crescendo when we were simultaneously pulled back into a bow pose (for those of you not familiar with yoga, imagine being face down and then having your arms pulled back and legs pushed up so that your back is in the shape of the letter C on its side).  We looked over at each other and just burst out laughing.

The night ended with a gluttonous amount of fresh seafood.  A girl could get used to this life…..

Day 5: Thai boxing

The three of us woke up just in time for a pretty spectacular buffet breakfast at the hotel.  We were going to try to find a place to rent kayaks or stand-up paddle boards, but instead found ourselves poolside for the noon happy hour instead.  Tatiana went to take Thai cooking classes but Jenn and I opted to just eat more Thai cooking.  We went to a really cool restaurant right on the beach called The Library.  It was probably one of the fancier lunches that I have had complete with crab street tacos, pad Thai, duck, topped off with a bottle of wine.


After all that relaxing and eating, it was time for another massage.  I’m not going to lie, this one was pretty rough.  I thought for sure that I was either going to get my back broke or end up with a torn hamstring.  The masseuse was actually standing and walking on me! But I’m pretty sure that someone who weighs more than you and has a mustache should not be the one doing the back walking!!! 

The grand finale to our day was Muay Thai – a full contact match of Thai style fighting.  We had been seeing billboard laden trucks blasting “Eye of the Tiger” going up and down the streets advertising the match for the past two days.  It was an experience!  There was a lot of ritual involved prior to the fight with the fighters doing a lot of bowing and stylized dance (fighting?) moves.  The match was accompanied by live musicians.  Wikipedia informs me that this music is referred to as Sarama.  It is performed by four musicians playing oboes, Thai drums, and cymbals.  The sweltering heat of the warehouse we were in along with the rhythmic Sarama led to an almost hypnotic experience.  There was a section labeled “Thai Only” where the locals packed in to cheer for their favorite fighter.  It was almost more entertaining to watch this section trash-talk the fighters while leaning over the railing rather than the fight itself.  


After almost three hours, we had gotten our fill of Muay Thai.  Such a cool experience!  We all promptly poured into bed upon reaching the hotel.  It was going to be an early morning….

Stay tuned for our next adventure.