So, after a year of living through the COVID-19 pandemic, after my brother-in-law finally was able to be vaccinated, we decided it was time to get away. We booked a trip to hike and backpack in the Grand Canyon for 4 days and 3 nights at the beginning of May. While flying still felt very strange, being outside in the canyon seemed like the safest way to travel without significantly increasing our COVID risk. I think that this whole process taught me some lessons that I can bring to my life and the practice of medicine. And since this is a blog, of course it must be a nice number of lessons, so let’s call it five. . .
We’d done an overnight in the canyon once a few years ago, and I distinctly remember being fairly miserable on the hike out. Since you start at the top, the really hard part for me was the uphill climb going out, and as the sign says:
This time, I was going to prepare. I bought a weighted vest, and gradually built up until I was able to walk on the treadmill at 15% incline for 2 hours with 40 lbs on my back. Now this wasn’t quite the same as it was going to be in the canyon (my basement is 65 degrees and shady, while the floor of the canyon was more like 95 degrees with baking sun) but it was a start. I also did a few longer hikes (with the weighted pack) on the weekends in the woods. The canyon hike ended up still being quite strenuous, but I believe my preparations ahead of time are what allowed me to actually complete it.
*Our guide told us that often people would just decide they couldn’t do it, and she would have to carry their pack for them in addition to her own. She already had a 70-lb pack (compared to our 35). I couldn’t imagine putting her in that position unless I was mostly dead.
Don’t try to do too much
One place where physicians often get themselves in trouble is thinking that they know more than they do. Somehow, being an expert in one field, gives us false confidence that we know more than we do about everything. Sometimes, we don’t understand our own limitations very well, or maybe we don’t know enough to know what we don’t know. Acting without proper knowledge and training can lead to disaster. Just ask Vomiting Victor:
Every year people try hike down to the river and back in one day. Some are successful, but many run into trouble. Not enough food, not enough water, and not physically ready for the challenge of a hike like this. People die every year from dehydration on the trails, and during our hike we even saw a helicopter rescue of an older man who had been hiking for days without food, and was out of water. Somehow, these helicopter pilots were able to land right on the edge of a cliff to be able to reach this hiker. It’s tough to see from this picture, but that is a very steep drop off right where the helicopter has landed. I’m guessing the pilot had to get out the passenger door, because I don’t think they were getting out the driver side. . .
We always want to challenge ourselves, and this is what helps us grow, but make sure you’re doing so in a way that leaves some margin for error, and doesn’t create catastrophic consequences. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. . .