I knew there was going to be a moment when it hit me - a moment when all of a sudden this enormous life changing decision caught up with me and it happened at the airport drop off.
I got out of the car and burst into tears. I hadn't prepared for this to happen at all- I'd spent the last few hours of the car journey speed reading Sandra Sandburg's book Lean In, so for once I had actually read a book cover to cover. This meant that I was caught completely off guard when we arrived and had only a few minutes to say goodbye and leave Stan's parents. As I wandered through the airport I analysed why I had gotten so upset. Was I going to miss my family and friends? Was I tired after a weekend of farewell partying? Or was I just scared? I decided it was a confused combination, but that because I hadn't mentally prepared for the moment, I lost all perspective.
I had started reflecting on the trail properly since I finished work a week previously and after advice from several through-hikers it was obvious that I needed to clearly define the reasons for quitting my job, flying to the Canadian wilderness and hiking non-stop for 2 1/2 months.
Despite being in the clouds for the majority of the flight, the clouds parted to allow a stunning view over Greenland and the abundance of icebergs below. What an incredible sight. In that moment I suddenly felt very insignificant; dwarfed by the scale of these icy giants clearly visible floating from 30,000 feet up.
I had never been to Canada. In fact, I had never flown out of an airport and turned right - always left to sunnier climates. This was me choosing to take the different turn and head for the cold, the wet and the unyielding Rocky Mountains.
What had I done?
Total kit for the both of us
Taking the bigger decisions in my life has often stemmed from the need to control the things I can't - and for me these can be reduced to love, time and death.
There's a reason I'm going on this journey and his name is Stan. I would have never contemplated this adventure without him and what initially started out as his idea and me supporting him has now evolved into a journey for the both of us. He has been at my side unfaltering in his support and motivation for my own goals as long as we have been together and this is my way of giving back. As two professionals we don't get to spend as much time together as we would like and this trip will allow us some well earned time together creating a mountain full of memories in the process.
This is something which seems to pass quicker and quicker for me these days (am I getting old!?). In my job it is abundantly clear that just because you are young doesn't mean you have lots of it, and you never know the condition you will live out the rest of your years in. To quote an Appalachian Trail through-hiker Zach Davis, "Postponing happiness until retirement is a flawed life approach", and I couldn't agree more. Live for the now and appreciate every minute of good health and mind.
None of us can escape this and this is no more evident than in my day to day job. Death doesn't discriminate; age, worth, class, education, have no bearing here. Recent events have taught me how fragile the line is between healthy and not, and the worst thing I can image is feeling cheated - like you didn't live your fullest life. So jump in with both feet and don't worry about getting wet.
Education has massively shaped who I am, having spent only four years of my life outside of formal education - the first two and the last two. The mottos of my school and university ring particularly true for this journey and help explain why I'm taking on this challenge.
"BE THE BEST YOU CAN BE"
The concept of being the best possible version of yourself is such a refreshing idea. It takes away grades and expectations and just asks you to do your best. Put simply this could be just trying to be kind as often as possible or striving for politeness. I try hard to emulate these things but can fall short despite my best attempts. However that's just the point - as long as you are trying your best that is your best you.
"WHATEVER THY HAND FINDETH TO DO, DO IT WITH THY MIGHT"
I am known for not doing things by halves, and this often takes the shape of an over-catered dinner party. In surgical careers, time out at all is frowned upon let alone time out to "travel" and so I felt I needed to justify this time by doing something impressive and on a large scale. However, to those people who dislike time out from training, I say this, would you not rather have a surgeon who has looked themselves square in the face and thought of the goal they are least likely to achieve in their lifetime and still they set about competing it? Does that not say more about character and determination than sitting on the career ladder and progressing year on year but not engaging? I may be putting myself a year behind academically but this trip will teach me infinite things about my own character and its limits, and for me that is time well spent.
Just outside the post office where we sent our resupply boxes from
While it was not intended to be, I think this will be a very personal journey for both myself and Stan but what a joy it is to be able to share in that together. The journey will stoke us with years of anecdotes and memories and the ultimate feeling of achieving something huge together.
I hope the time on the trail will enable me to reflect on my life and its course, and will shape me as the surgeon I am determined to become. To quote a film I am watching as we fly over the Rockies before our descent into Vancouver,"notice the collateral beauty", and that's exactly what I intend to do.