To boldly go...
Sitting at dinner in Stephanie Lareau's living room we realized that our plans for our backpacking trip had too many conflicts. Maybe it was her secret sadism, maybe it was the IPA going to her frontal lobe - a light bulb turned on - an alternative was presented. In the four days planned for the trip, climb as many mountains in the Roanoke area as possible. A peak-bagging challenge was created - the gloved was dropped.
12 summits and 1 waterfall were given to us to see how many we could achieve from Sunday morning and be back to Eagle Landing in time for the banquet on Wednesday evening.
Day 1 - Triple Crown
Our setting out was to complete not just some, but ALL of the peaks presented. To that end the Triple Crown of Dragon's Tooth, Mcafee's knob and Tinker's Cliffs had to be completed in one day. Luckily we underestimated how much milage this would be or we might not have attempted it.
Day 2 - The Peaks of Roanoke
Who knew Roanoke was a city full of mountains - there are more left to climb than we managed to bag this misty Monday. After a raining night camping off wildlife rode near Dragon's Tooth we made our way into the outskirts of Roanoke and started on Read Mountain. Stephanie and Copper joined us for 12 o'clock Knob and Roanoke Mountain. Every one was gassed after 6 peaks in less than 24 hours so we pillaged Mill Mountain. Then we drove off to Botetourt County to find a place to sleep for the night.
In case you hadn't noticed we take a lot of selfies - because we climb a lot of mountains
Day 3 - Botetourt County
Woke up to a pretty morning to start Day 3. Started out with a warm hike up Devils Marble Yard - dont let the gentle walk up give you any thought that it doesn't get treacherous hard at the end. Apple Orchard Mountain was next and as the highest point of our expedition it offered some pretty amazing views. We ended the day with Apple Orchard falls - and much to Paula's dismay - ended with an uphill climb back to the car.
Day 4 - Peaks of Otter
Day four started with everyone feeling refreshed and ready to take on the last leg of our challenge. Day Creek must have some rejuvenating powers, because there was some serious talk of cutting the last day short the night before - but everyone was gung-ho this morning. Good thing too - because today would be the most elevation change of any day. The Peaks of Otter aren't long hikes, but they are steep. We got a good start on Flat Top with zero view in the fog at the top. Harkening Hill was a nice little hike but we were starting to lag into our time cushion for getting home on time. Steph joined us for Sharp Top and put the fire under us to get up and back in time for dinner at Eagle Landing. We celebrated our victory at the top of Sharp Top. Then raced down the mountain and made it back in time for dinner.
Catherine: long traction splint w/ stick, climbing harness, ropes, gre-gre on bottom under foot.
Erin: use climbing harness as pelvic stabilizer/splint
Judy: sunglasses out of duct tape and string
Jordan (girl): climbing rope shoulder carry with 2 people
Mary: backpack sling carry with same rope contraption
Josh: cut shirt in spirals from bottom to maximize long bandage potential
Toian: take 2 logs and put shirts through both to create a litter
Kate: 2 logs and tarp for litter
Damien: rope litter using daisy chains
Jim: cut a bevel edge below syringe handle for makeshift tracheostomy
Tim: rope harness
Andre: another type of rope harness (original belay technique)
Matt: sleeping bag stuff sac used as plastic compression for abdominal avulsion
Zach: use bicycle tubing for tourniquet
Brett: camel back tube for irrigation of wounds
Mark: 3 ways to use shirt as a shoulder sling
Mike: fish hook to keep tongue from blocking airway (tie string to shirt and put patient in recovery position)
Claire: duct tape cup
Ianna: makeshift ankle/tib/fib splint with 2 sticks, shirts, and book for foot stabilization
Chrissy: makeshift leg splint with sticks
Dani: tampons for stopping bleeding in wounds, nosebleeds, water filtration and fire starting.
Jose: 2 person carry-out method by overlapping wrist holds making a box for person to sit on and then they can hold your shoulders
Garret: boil/purify water in plastic water bottle by tying it to a long stick and keep bottle moving (by rolling stick) over a fire to keep plastic from melting too much.
Steve: Nalgene head blocks
Duncan: surfboard as backboard and tether to hold c-spine
Daniel: put plastic over blister before duct tape.
February 16, 2018
The last day of scheduled activities before our backpacking trip, the residents group organized a medwars challenge for us in the morning, and that evening we already had buses booked to bring us on a bar crawl in Roanoke for the evening.
We were in teams of three, and mine was Jose and guy Jordan, and we were all on the same page of wanted to get a good hike in and learn whatever we could, rather than running through to finish everything as fast as possible. They gave us a map of the area gridded out, and coordinates to mark the different stations we needed to get to, and then extra directions to get from those stations to some bonus stations. Their map didn’t have trails on it, and only rudimentary elevation lines, so we used to also rudimentary trail systems map to figure out which trails we could take to get close to the stations, some of which were right on the trails, but not all of them. There were 9 required stations, and 4 bonus ones, and we had from 8am to noon to complete it without penalties being incurred.
We’d lucked out and the rain had stopped for the most part by the time we headed out in the 60 degree weather, a lot of us happily in shorts. We got tested on throwing rescue ropes to someone canoeing, how to do a pig tracheostomy, how to start a fire quickly and burn a rope a foot from the ground, how to treat a poorly responsive, uninjured hiker, how to deal with bear spray and bear attacks gone wrong, how to treat hypothermia, how to navigate our way down the side of the bluff without hurting ourselves too bad, and how to navigate off-trail. The three of us worked really well as a team, respecting each other’s opinions, and keeping in mind that the goal was just to figure out how to help the people we needed to in the most efficient way possible. It was really nice to have already seen or been taught how to deal with everything we came across, and I loved how this course presented the same material in a bunch of different, repetitive ways that were also super fun. It seemed like most of the teams worked well, and even though we didn’t get to all the stations before noon (just missed one), it felt like a great day in the classroom.
The residents were all super nice about everything, and were great sports in facilitating our learning while they were also assumedly here to learn stuff. It was a bit of a bummer that it felt like they were coming into the whole group after a lot of us had already had a lot of time to bond, though…
“Does anyone know how to cut hair?,” Mark asked, coming into the family room with his huge beard completely shaved off, which drew gasps and screams from people enough so that people popped out of their rooms and came to the balcony to find out what was going on.
My mom is a hairdresser, and girl Jordan knew her way around an electric razor, so we volunteered, making it clear that we couldn’t promise it working out well.
“I’ll just shave it all off if it doesn’t come out right,” Mark replied, which sounded great—we could have fun playing hairdresser with absolutely no pressure to perform! So we went out on the porch and did our best to fade the back, and I imitated what I’d seen my mom do, using a comb to draw out the long hairs and cut along the line of the comb, twisting it in different angles to get some layering going, eyeballing it with the barest pressure, treating it more like a coloring book with no repurcussions than anything else.
“Do you think you could shave my head after,” Judy asked, as she sat and watched, and the already exciting day got that much more exciting. Judy wears a hijab, so what her hair looks like doesn’t matter too much for the most part, although she has been showing us girls a bunch of pictures of her with her hair done up for the part of the parties/ weddings she goes to that are just for women, so she can be uncovered. She’d shaved her head before, but not for years, and her thick curly hair was at least to her shoulders, which I had just braided Hunger-games style that morning.
So in the girls bathroom Jordan and I shaved her head, leaving her hair about a half a centimeter long, and she looked gorgeously artsy with her amazingly smooth dark cream skin and flawless makeup that she wears every day.
By this time, of course, it was time to hurry up and get ready to go out in Roanoke and get drunk. So all the girls straitened or did up their hair, Judy put makeup on a couple of us (it took her 5 minutes and my skin looked better than I’d ever seen it), and we wore our best going out outfits (which for me was a very far, woodsy version of club-wear), and off we piled into two 14-seater short-buses, drinking beers on the way and continuing the bonding time. I ended up sitting next to Zach, who regaled me with stories of having patients with a mason jar stuck up his rectum, or glow sticks up urethras, or “cock-rings” tourniqueting penises. We decided the scientific definition of hangry is “pre-prandial emotional lability,” and that one of us would need to try and use that in a case study or something at some point—more likely me as I’m going into psychiatry, and we all know hangriness can lead to potential psychotic breaks. Josh educated us on dark matter a little, and we dipped into the ramifications of a ton of the matter around us being invisible to us, and unknow-able.
Then we went to 3 or 4 different breweries, drank a lot, paraded down the empty sidewalks only moderately obnoxious, and ended at Corned Beef dance bar, where Andy wonderfully got the cover knocked down by half for us, and I requested Footloose to break the dance floor in. From there it turned into maybe half a step above your average college night at a club, which was a pretty welcome reprieve from all the learning going on, and all of us stressing over rank lists and the looming match day.
I slept on the way home, the bus vaguely buoyant and spinning behind my eyelids, and was one of the last to wake up around noon the next morning.
Sitting in a Starbucks in Roanoke, it’s a beautiful thing to sit and talk with Ngood (Judy to us), and plan out trips to meet up in Greece, and later for me to meet her in Saudi Arabia for Ramadan in a couple years when I have vacation time again. All over the lodge people are making plans to coordinate road trips together after the course is over, or visiting people in different parts of the country or the world for backpacking trips. It’s hard to get over just how poignantly fortunate I was to stumble upon this rotation and get to know so many incredibly kind, generous, fun-loving people with a broad variety of skill-sets and hobbies. I couldn’t ask for a better networking opportunity that I’ll do everything I can to take advantage of.
For Valentine’s day tomorrow, I’d come up with the idea for us to pick someone else in the rotation for a secret valentine, so we sat and wrote out cute cards, putting tampons in the envelopes for our valentine’s first aid kits, and life-savers for the next time they go caving.
It’s been one of those beautiful afternoons, walking around an unknown city, talking about our lives and making plans, soaking up the last cool rays of sunshine and being happy in newly found friendships.
We were the only two to decide we weren’t up to the group activity today of climbing and learning how to self-rescue (although I made a couple people agree to teach me what they learned later). Taking it easy was the road less travelled, and it made all the difference.
Looking up at swimmers from the bottom of a pool wasn’t something I’d ever really thought about doing. One- it’s kind of infringing on people’s perceived privacy in a big way, but also, it’s just not how I’ve ever swam before.
It felt like being in a modern art exhibit, or one of those movies like American Beauty with the scene of a plastic bag dancing in the wind, spiraling through leaves in the middle of a suburban street. Because there we all were, sitting quietly at the bottom of the deep end in the Y, looking up at the light rippling on the water’s surface, breaking with the bubbles we exhaled as we inhaled oxygen from the tanks on our backs. The water was so many more colors than I expected, with the opaque blue green at the bottom, lightening and clearing up as it got shallower, and the different whites and yellows of the lights and walls refracting against the surface. And then there was the middle-aged man swimming freestyle in patterned white, yellow, green and red shorts that looked to me like images of forks and napkins from a picnic on it (which I’m sure it wasn’t actually). We couldn’t see his head, really, but just his belly and legs pale in the water, swimming like any other person trying to hold on to the fitness that was starting to elude them.
It was such a crazy feeling to be able to sit on the bottom of a pool, breathing calmly, for pretty much as long as we wanted. It felt so surreal to be learning how to methodically and slowly respond to our mouthpieces being knocked out and how to put them back in and breathe again, how to get water out of our masks without returning to the surface, how to communicate with hand signals, and even how to play Frisbee underwater. Talk about amazing and super applicable life skills.
All week I had been trepidating over what was going to happen Thursday night, when we would do our night scenarios. Kirk told us that some teams have stayed out till 3am, and I’m a 9pm bedtime kind of person. There was just a lot of unknown around the whole thing, and he was telling us 42 people were getting bussed in to act as patients, and we were being given lectures on mass casualty incidents…
Ashley Lewis gave us some awesome lectures on search and rescue earlier in the day, and it was so endearing how she was a self-proclaimed “map geek,” and called herself out when she geeked off the deep end. All of the presenters have very clearly loved their subject matter, if it wasn’t already apparent by them making the choice to come from states all over the east coast. It was especially cool to be given a lecture by a woman who looked under 30, and yet was an expert in tracking human and animal footprints, has a master’s degree in geography, and was revered by our other instructors. I’m not a huge fan of the term “girl power,” but it seemed to apply well to her.
After a pretty full day of lectures, and a couple scenarios saving our fellow classmates from “anaphylaxis” and stranded by ankle injuries, Kirk split us into 2 teams, and designated Matt (from Australia) as the Incident Commander of my team, and Chrissy (USA) was the IC for the other team. My role was on one of the hasty teams, which would scope out the position we think the patients might be, triage the patients in order of medical needs, and report back what we’ve found and what resources we need. So I was prepared with my light pack of snacks and water, two light sources, flagging tape to mark patients, emergency blankets and one garbage bag for an emergency shelter. Catherine was the leader of our small team of her, me, and Mike, and she had the radio to communicate with IC back at the lodge.
Around 7 we were told that a plane carrying 12 passengers had crashed. We were given a point last seen on the map, and the direction the witness has seen the plane moving in, so we drew up the radius we needed to search, and picked the trails that would be most likely to be close to it. The medical and rescue team would need to carry up litters and supplies, so they needed us to tell them which trails to take to get to us. There was another hasty team working alongside us, so we split up trails to check, and tried staying in touch with each other along the way as we hiked, shining our flashlights off the trail, searching in the dark for people, yelling out “search and rescue,” and waiting 10 seconds to listen for a response. It was much harder to see anything out there than I thought it would, and I was still a little jostled by the scenario the day before in which our “patient” pulled a gun and shot me and another guy on the medical team. So my worst case scenario here was that the plane was hijacked and we were making ourselves targets for the hijacker.
We lost contact with our IC, and had to use the medical team who was on their way to meet us as a relay on the radio. I was impressed by how professionally everyone was treating the whole thing.
The other hasty team found our patients by a fire and let us know where they were, which was luckily close by. Before I saw they fire, I could hear a woman screaming, which was a little unnerving. As we got closer, I saw that the other hasty team of 3 was there, and they were calling out for us to look for more patients—they only had 4 patients, and we potentially had 12 to find.
“There’s a baby missing that they think might be over here,” Catherine told me as I caught up. So we walked within eye and earshot of each other into the brush away from the fire, looking for the baby, which I was hoping I wouldn’t find.
“There are no more patients,” one of the organizers (who were following us) called out, so we went back to where the patients were. When we got back, the hysterical woman was holding her baby, which was apparently dead, and she was screaming to get closer to her husband, who wasn’t moving 30 feet away, but had 2 people taking care of him. Jim was physically restraining the woman, whose yelling was getting in the way of people hearing each other, or talking into the radios.
I went over to 2 patients who only had one hasty team member with them to see if they wanted help, and was assigned to do the secondary assessment on someone who was marked green, and seemed to only have an ankle injury. He was sitting pretty calmly, which I appreciated, and hung out with him, asking a bunch of questions and helping to apply a good splint. I made sure to pat him down for weapons, even though he thought it was a little overkill, as one of our patients the day before had pulled a gun and shot 2 of the medical team, including myself, while we were trying to bandage him up. We decided to try and not carry him out, but rather help him walk out, but we were in a ravine, so in order to get out of that first, the best thing to do seemed to be having him pull himself up the hill backwards with our hands under his armpits. It took a while, and he was definitely tired by the time we got up to the trail. At that point I sat with him and waited while decisions got made about the other patients who were worse off. The pilot, who was being assessed by Catherine, had chest pain and some shortness of breath, but all of his vitals seemed to be grossly within normal limits, so people were considering walking him out. However, he had a history of hypertension and smoking, which increased his cardiovascular risk, so it was an iffy decision, make even more iffy by the fact that he collapsed after walking a bit, continuing to complain of shortness of breath and chest pain. There was an argument between Catherine and some of the other medical team members as to whether he should be carried out, and eventually the decision was made to walk him out again. When he started walking again, he fell down and passed out, presumably from a heart attack. Catherine tried doing compressions, which she was again told was unnecessary, and he did die anyways. So now the death toll was up to 2 out of 5. We decided to leave him there and come back to recover his body once our red patient was taken care of. So a couple of us started walking out Jason, the ankle injury, with 2 people under his shoulders and two people carrying his legs, while the medical team addressed Casey, the patient with the skull fractures and fractured femur, while his wife continued screaming in grief and fear, clutching her dead child.
Six of us helped Jason down the white trail—the fastest way down, but definitely not wide enough to accommodate all of us, and the steepness at times was definitely precarious. Jordan remembered a great way to help carry people by fashioning bunny loops out of rope with a big knot in the middle for the patient to sit on while the two people at his shoulders draped the bunny loops over their own shoulders to distribute his weight better. I was pretty impressed with her ingenuity. J
It took us about 40 minutes to get him down the trail that usually takes 15 minutes to walk, and when we got to the bottom, Casey’s medical team wasn’t far behind. We found out he had suffered a seizure and died along the way, potentially due to the delay in placing a tourniquet above his ruptured femoral artery, and due to his body being exposed to the cold … now 3 patients dead.
We were given the option to dispatch a helicopter to recover the pilot’s body, but only if we could say exactly where he was on a map… I had pretty significantly lost my sense of direction once we were off the trail, so was very glad when Garrett stepped in and decisively told Mark, one of our paramedic instructors, where he was, and then we were done. Except the other team still wasn’t back, so after putting away our stuff and making sure the patients were all okay, headed back up the trails to see if we could help them with their carry-outs, which eventually got us all back into the lodge a little past midnight.
It was definitely a new experience for me to be out hiking with a group at midnight with flashlights and headlamps, carrying a litter of a person who could drop dead of a heart attack otherwise. What was hardest for me, though, was the sound of a woman screaming for her baby through otherwise silent woods, and walking towards it, afraid of what I might find, and the limitations of my capacity to help.
A lot of people were a little hungover as we started lectures up again, starting our Wilderness First Responder week-long course, and getting a little scared about the scenarios this Thursday night that might keep us out until 3am searching for and rescuing some of our instructors…
It was great learning how to use backboards and hanging out in the sunshine outside.
My favorite part of the day, though, was an impromptu P90x yoga class that Daniel was about to start when a bunch of us came upon him in a back room and joined him, and there were suddenly 12 people doing downward dogs and pigeons in a room whose walls were decorated with tea pots, wooden mallards, books and what looked like a civil war portrait. We were so close that people were getting hit in the head by the person in front of them’s aloft feet. Love this group of people. :)
Three of the coolest men, Chuck, George, and Mark took us caving at Island Forge Cave in the morning and afternoon, in two different groups. The night before George had given us a lecture on how he spent 6 months as a family medicine doctor in Antarctica, and his enthusiasm was just so heartening. He was so excited about showing us the films people had made for a film festival that he didn’t want to stop playing them, even after his lecture was supposed to have ended. He really sold working in Antarctica as an amazing experience.
The next morning we woke up to beautiful thick snowflakes falling, which was inspiringly picturesque on one hand, but we were all wondering whether it would be an issue for caving.
“The beautiful thing about caving is that no matter what the temperature is like outside, it’s always 53 degrees inside caves,” George told us.
I followed the three cavers in my car, on roads that had definitely not been plowed, and only slipped once, but was definitely worried, and totally respected that another car decided to turn around rather than risk the 55 minute drive on winding, rolling back roads.
The caves were awesome, though, despite the couple bats I was terrified of flying out at me with all of us shining our headlamps on, and the weird furry fungus we crawled next to. A lot of the times we were rock climbing along narrow crevices, hands and feet splayed against the walls on either side. Andre, from Denmark, was super nice about waiting up for me and turning around to light my path every 20 feet or so along the trickier parts, and again, the attitude of staying safe and fostering strong communication and learning was wonderfully heartening. At one point we sat around and had a moment of silence in the caves, sitting in a circle, listening to the water dripping in the background, and hearing each other’s breaths, but not much else. Chuck passed around lifesavers for us all to bite on at the same time, smiling big, in order to see whatever’s in the lifesavers glowing in the dark when bitten down on. And then he responsibly passed around a bag for everyone to drop their wrappers in.
When we came back to camp in much better driving conditions, people prepped for the superbowl, bringing mattresses down in front of the big screen, and Jacob, our amazing chef who studied nutrition, provided amazing pizza, buffalo wings, and even buffalo cauliflower for the vegetarians! There were chips and salsa, and a keg of local beer, and a group of 30 people, including our instructors, cheering for the Eagles or Patriots, in this amazing log cabin in the woods. Our friends here from other country’s were here experiencing probably the best classic kind of superbowl party I’ve ever been to, complete with beer pong games.
I’m the kind of person who gets in the car, plugs in the place I need to go, and listens to googlemaps tell me the steps I need to take without looking at the whole set of directions, or even the map, unless I’m just double checking the I put in the right destination. So orienteering didn’t come super easy to me.
Last night we’d had a lecture, workshop on how to find our bearings using a compass and map, and how to match up true north on the maps to our magnetic norths on our compasses, in order to get from point A to point B. I was having a lot of mental blocking, and was so heartened by how nice everyone was about explaining things to me again, and helping me figure it out. It was so cool that we have people going into fields like EM, FM, anesthesia, psychiatry, etc. They’ve spent years doing stuff like river rafting guiding, being in the Canadian military, hiking in Denmark, being a gardner and majoring in philosophy, and writing books on meditation. And we’re all here helping each other learn how to find their way through the woods. Such a unique group. Lol
The morning of the race, I was a little nervous, as it was snowing out, and we didn’t know what to expect. So I overdressed, overate and overhydrated, and then we were given a map of the camp grounds, as well as a topographical map, with 7 destination points marked on and off the trails. We were given 3-5 minutes to look them over before we had to go start, and had to come back with pictures of each piece of marked flagging Dr. McCracken had laid out for us.
Again, my group was Duncan and Jordan, 2 super compassionate, friendly people. Our incentive was to have fun, learn how to get our bearings and get to where we needed to go, and also to be great team players. So we had a great time and took tons of selfies, and didn’t get upset when we lost the trails and took a little longer than expected. The day cleared up and warmed up a little, and it was just such an enriching experience to be able to work together with two other people who were working to be as aware of their surroundings as possible, and translate the information on the maps into ways we could use it to our advantage. It felt like we were all trying to allow for everyone else to take the time they needed to figure out how to understand the logic of our plans, or offer alternative perspectives, that we could all trust would be respected.
When we came across other groups, sometimes we paired up to figure out how to find a piece of flagging, sweeping a wide swath of area together, careful to make sure everyone stayed within earshot and eyeshot of the person next to them. No one felt competitive, and even the people who ended up getting it all done in 88 minutes attributed it to just being really lucky. I assume eventually things might not stay as respectful and friendly, with the biggest emphasis being on humility and fostering strong learning environments, but I’ve got to say- it’s pretty freaking nice.