Sunday, April 10, 2011

Leech Attack

On our last day in Australia, Carleen and John (Brent’s sister and her partner) took us out on a hike in Ku-Ring-Gai National Park near their home in Hornsby (north of Sydney). It was a phenomenal, scenic, lush, beautiful hike and we had a wonderful time – it was the best send-off possible… well… maybe except for one small part.

After walking several kilometres, ooh-ing, and aahh-ing, and taking an annoying amount of photos, we began passing groups of hikers who all offered a brief warning – watch out for the leeches. Uh… hello… we’re in a forest, but, ok, thanks for the tip. I had been fascinated by the enormous ant hills all over Oz, and we reached a section of trail where the trees were thinner and it was more of a low (chest height), thick foliage. There were several of these ant skyscrapers, and it was our last day so I stopped to get a picture of them.

As I was bent down checking out the ant hills, I noticed a “twig” that was waving about sort of like it was searching for something. I realized that I was looking at a leech. Cool! We’d walked several kilometres without seeing one of these, and everyone seemed pretty excited about them, so I made sure to get a picture of him.

We kept walking, and soon, Carleen noticed that she had several of these guys crawling on her shoes and socks. Turned out Brent did, too. We stopped briefly and pulled a few leeches off and kept going. We could see them everywhere on the trail – sitting on the ground, waving about, searching for a shoe to attach to. For some reason – John speculated that it was the lighter coloured shoes, Carleen and Brent got more of them than he or I did.

That put a fairly quick end to picture-taking time and we decided to zoom through that section of trail. Every couple of minutes, Car or Brent would stop and do some leech removal, often requiring Brent’s help – these little guys can REALLY hang on. Once, when Car stopped, she dug around and discovered a leech had gotten into her sock and was firmly attached to her ankle. She commenced with the shrieking and dancing around that one does when they discover a leech inside their sock firmly attached to her ankle and yelled something that sounded like “Brent!Brent!Brent!Help!”. Brent ran over and performed a leech extraction, but since it had been completely attached on her, her ankle bled out for about a half hour after that.

We really kicked it into high gear after that – zooming down the trail, but compelled to stop occasionally to make sure we didn’t have any hangers-on that were getting dangerously close to pay-dirt.

Finally we reached a more open and dry section of trail (an old road) where we could stop and finish the leech removal. Seriously, these guys can REALLY hang on. You had to grab them, practically squishing them to get a grip, and tug like crazy. They seemed to have the ability to hang on with both ends, so sometimes you’d pull the end off that was stuck to your shoe or sock and the other end would swing around and grab on to you.

Because they could grab with both ends, they moved kind of like inch worms, crawling up… up… up… your shoe, sometimes stopping to try and attach to your sock, and sometimes getting more ambitious and finding their way inside the shoe (or in the case of Car’s “favourite”, inside a sock).

I had a lot of them on my shoes and some on my socks. Some of them were hiding out in the treads of my trail runners. I wasn’t very good at pulling them off, so I took to using a stick to try and pry them off.

In the final scene, our three terrorized heroes (Car, Brent and Rhonda… with John looking on in bemused impatience), danced around on the road flinging leeches in every direction… oh, but wait… somehow they can tell where you are (maybe smell?)… and each one of us had created a circle of leeches around us where we’d tossed them off, and in an almost coordinated fashion (or so it seemed), the armies of leeches circled and inch-worm creeped their way towards us trying for round two.

At the end of the hike, I thanked John for taking us out. He laughed because he thought I was being sarcastic, but I wasn’t. It had been a beautiful hike, and the stuff with the leeches… well, that’ll buff out… and it makes a great story!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

It's Not About The Bike: Taming My Inner Lance Armstrong

Why do I do this to myself? Why am I constantly comparing myself to others and finding myself wanting and feeling frustrated and ashamed? I don’t consider myself to be a competitive person. I don’t care about being the fastest or the strongest or reaching the most peaks or getting there first. Really, I don’t... so why do I do this to myself?

In the early days of the COC, I pushed myself pretty hard. There were very few volunteers, and I felt compelled to offer people the activities they wanted at the pace they wanted. It was a constant struggle of trying to keep up, and feeling like I had to “beg” people to stay in the back with me so I wouldn’t be left alone. As the club, and the volunteer team, grew, I was able to back off and figure out what I really wanted to do for me. I met people, hiked with them, and watched them move on to the more challenging activities. Gradually, though, I started to gather up some friends who stuck around... who enjoyed what I enjoyed, and some of them (yay for Brent, Marg and David... and several others who pop in and out) even enjoy doing stuff at my pace.

I’ve never been an athletic person… I don’t think my family has that gene. I hiked for the first time when I started the COC. I’m an ex-smoker who, very very regrettably, acquired a lovely lung condition related to that past sin. These are my physical parameters, and as I found my “pace buddies”, I came to accept that I do a lesser distance and slower pace than many (but not all) of the people around me, and I’ve been ok with that. In fact, I’ve become quite protective of “my pace” and I don’t plan activities that are going to make me feel bad, or with people who are going to make me feel bad. I’m out there to have fun, see some great scenery, marvel at some wonderful critters, and build community with my wonderful friends – not feel pushed to go further or faster or longer.

It hit me really hard, though, that I couldn’t do the cycle touring at the pace that Brent had set out for us for Australia. Honestly, I shouldn’t have expected to be able to – we’d both over-estimated what I would be able to do. His original calculation went something like this: Rhonda can ride 100km/day, with hills, but that’s a full day. We want to have time to do other stuff, though, and go more slowly and enjoy ourselves, so let’s lop off 30% and plan for riding about 70km/day. Australia is the flattest continent in the world, so that means less hills and easier riding, too. Sounds reasonable, right? I thought so. I didn’t give that a second thought. I was looking forward to getting off my butt after this long, brutal winter and pedaling off these ten pounds that have found me since I quit riding to work.

Oh, but we left out one variable. Weight. I’ll come back to that, but first of all I have to interrupt myself to say… Australia… or at least the parts we went to… is amazingly UNFLAT. OK, weight. I know... yes, I do know… that when I add weight to my day, I have to cut the distance by about half. This includes backpacking (rather than day hiking) and snow shoeing (rather than day hiking). My preferred maximum for a day hike is about 18km. My preferred maximum for a day of backpacking or snow shoeing is about 8 or 9km. Half. Let’s re-visit that calculation: Rhonda can ride 100km/day, with hills, SUPPORTED (ie. with a van bringing all the stuff), but that’s a full day. Add the weight – Rhonda carrying her own stuff – and we have to cut that in half. 50km/day. That will be a full day. Lop some off to allow time for other things, and we’re looking at a reasonable plan of 35 to 40km/day.

It became very apparent, very early on, that with the mountains in Tasmania, and carrying my gear with me, there was no way I was going to do 70km/day and have time to enjoy other things. I knew that Brent could easily have done it, and I know that just about everyone else I know who cycles would have easily been able to do it. I felt wretched, especially because I was ruining the best-laid plan of my partner, and I didn’t want to disappoint him. Fortunately, Brent doesn’t seem to have been disappointed at all. He was perfectly fine with modifying our plans to accommodate his “small and weak” girlfriend (my words, not his). But it took me days to get over it... in a way I’m still getting over it. I’m going to have to find a way to carry my attitude about my hiking pace over to cycling and just be happy with it. I don’t care about being the fastest or the strongest or getting there first. Really, I don’t... so it’s time to adjust my attitude to my own abilities and be happy.

Incidentally, Brent had planned to ride about 1000km in Australia. We ended up riding just a little over 500. Pretty much half.