Sunday, 12 August 2018

Writing workshop!

I decided a few weeks ago to take a workshop called "Crafting the Category Romance" run by my talented cousin who writes category romance under the pen name of Michelle Karl. If you're wondering what category romance is, they're the books put out mostly by Harlequin (although other companies publish them as well) and are lines called "Intrigue," "Super Romance," or "Historical." All the books in the lines follow the same themes and I refer to them as "book candy" where you read them for 100% entertainment value which is a completely valid reason to read a book.

I've been knocking around the idea of trying to write fiction for awhile and have tried it a few times in the past but it always frustrated me because I never had a clear goal. Now my goal is to write a full book! Nothing like jumping in with both feet. I'm trying romance because I read quite a bit of the genre (although not many category books until the last few weeks) so figure it's a good place to start rather than attempting sweeping epic about dragons and zombies.

Michelle writes for the 'Love Inspired Suspense' Harlequin line which is the Christian themed romance line of Harlequin. There are pretty strict guidelines about what the characters can and can not do - no swearing, drinking, or gambling allowed. Only a few brief kisses by way of romance. I'm aiming for this line too because 1) I've read quite a few of them and 2) I feel more comfortable starting out if I don't have to write a open door passionate affair.

Mom and I spent a lot of time on the Footpath coming up with ideas for my class and since it's a suspense theme, a lot of ways the heroine could get in trouble or almost be murdered only to be saved by the hero. I'm going with a Fundy Footpath location because it's fresh in my mind and this way I don't have to dream up a new spot. After many discussions on how someone could be stalked or pushed off a cliff, Mom then ended up having nightmares about someone coming after us while hiking so then we started discussing different topics. But now I have a list called "ways to almost die while hiking" that I have to figure out how to incorporate into the story.

So far the workshop has a been really informative and very inspiring on ways to get started as a fiction writer. I hope that I can write the book, even if it never gets published, because I think it will help my writing overall and it's always fun to try new challenges.

Anyway, that's what I'm up to these days between avoiding the heat and dehydrating food for Mom and I's next overnight hike (to be determined).

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Hiking the Fundy Footpath

Last week, Mom and I hiked the Fundy Footpath completing one of Mom's lifelong goals. Last year we started overnight camping with a few one night hikes and this year we were more strategic about building up to the four day hike. We started with one night at the Kenomee canyon in Economy, NS and followed up with a two night trip around Cape Chignecto. We decided after that that we were ready to tackle the Footpath.
All smiles at the beginning!
We began in St. Martins at the suspension bridge on a foggy Friday and set off toward Alma.
Two minutes in!
The hiking itself was intense. The trail was not overly long but the ascents and descents made every kilometre seem longer. The full bags on our backs didn't help either. I think the intensity of the cliffs surprises some people who are not ready for New Brunswick to be tough. The trail repeatedly goes from sea level to the top of the 200m cliffs. We broke every day down to the number of climbs we would have to do that day.

Day One

The first day was our “easy day” with only a few serious climbs.The first section from St. Martins to Little Salmon River had some stairs and a few bridges to help with the cliffs and crossing streams. I'm not sure the stairs helped everywhere because instead of switch backs, the stairs meant climbing straight up or down the hills on the wet wobbly stairs.

First stream crossing.
It was pretty foggy that first day so we didn't have great views at the look-offs but at least it was not actively raining. The people we met on the first day were soaked, having hiked through the rain of the previous two days and seemed happy to be almost done. They all had a certain look in their eyes when they said things like “wow it was hilly” and “those cliffs...” and trailed off without finishing the sentence. We had been warned before but it was a reminder that this would be tougher than Cape Chignecto.
Stairs down to Cradle Brook.
We camped at Cradle Brook and after filtering and boiling water for the next day (this is the only way I feel comfortable drinking stream water with my low immune system. It means carrying more fuel and spending a lot of time waiting for water to boil but I'm pretty nervous drinking raw water otherwise), we spent the evening on the rocky beach watching the fog roll into shore. And stretching our tired bodies. A lot of stretching.

The cliff to climb in the morning.
Day Two

The second day we started by climbing out of the Cradle Brook valley and after breaking for lunch, tackled the climb out of the Little Salmon River ravine. 
Little Salmon River.
All our meals were dehydrated food we prepared and were quite delicious. We had a supper of cheesy veggies, shrimp, and rice, and another of a tomato bean mushroom risotto. For lunch we had chili or soup that we would prep at breakfast and keep (semi) warm in a thermos. When matched with melba toast and rehydrated hummus, it was quite filling. Our hunger was the special ingredient that made every meal taste amazing.

The climb out of Little Salmon River was everything we had been warned. It started with fairly okay switchbacks and then the trail narrowed so it felt as though it would only take one misstep to tumble down the hill. The wet roots and rocks didn't help the footing.

Kilometre sign before the climb! 23km left to the park!
We reached a point where the trail widened so there was less “I'm going to fall into the ravine” fear. We stopped at a little look off and I started to feel a bit lightheaded. My legs also started really complaining. At first I thought it was just the heat and humidity that was taking me down so I drank a ton of my Gatorade but that didn't really help. Two minutes later, I was convinced that I wouldn't be able to do the trail anymore because I felt so weak. And then I realized it was probably just my blood sugars (after this long as a diabetic, you would think I would recognize the symptoms faster). Sure enough, my sugars were low. I stuffed my face with some food and waited for my body to feel better.

Managing my diabetes is the hardest part medically for me on these multi-day hikes. My anti-rejection medication, vitamins, and digestive enzymes add weight but they're so routine that I don't really think about it. The water I treat as much as possible to avoid dying a stupid death, but managing my blood sugars with activity is always a struggle. I can generally manage okay with regular exercise but when I'm doing an intense activity, day after day, my blood sugars and dosage requirements get thrown off.

It doesn't help that I take two types of insulin, short and long acting. The short acting I take before every meal and ideally it kicks in after two hours. The long term one I take in the morning and it's suppose peak with my prednisone in the afternoon. Of course, exercise affects everything. It changes how fast the insulin is absorbed, it varies how much I need with food, and there is always an cumulative effect to think about.

One thing I have learned from getting diabetes is how much exercise changes blood sugars for me. Short intense exercise in the morning has a reducing effect for the rest of the day. Also, sustained intense activity one day can lead to reductions on the next day as well. But then sometimes intense activity means my pancreas kicks in and decides to make insulin to help me out. It's all very confusing. It's a lot of science and a little bit of magic to get my dosage right on multi-day hikes.

The crash I had on the Little Salmon River incline was my only one of the entire Footpath hike which is really good for me. I had a couple on the Cape Chignecto trail but it seems I'm getting better at management for these types of events.
Bridge across Rapidly Brook
Once my blood sugar levels were back up to a reasonable level, I felt much better. The trail all seemed much more manageable as well. Once we were at the top, we had some reprieve before it was back down to Rapidly Brook. The day continued and we had a nice break at the beautiful Wolfe Brook when the sun came out. I would have camped there for the night but Mom wanted to keep going to our planned stop. 
Quick stretch break.
We made it to Telegraph Brook where the camping site was close to the rocky beach beside the waterfall. It was a beautiful place to camp. A predator bird (a peregrine falcon maybe?) kept flying over the ravine, making the most terrifying screech as it flew overhead.
Campsite at Telegraph Brook.
Day Three

The rain started around 2am. I think. Mom says I slept through most of it but woke up when it started thundering. The lightning seemed scary close but that may have been because we only had a thin tent between us and the storm. Thankfully the most intense rain ended by morning, leaving a mist and occasional drizzle. We tried our best to keep everything dry but we were pretty wet by the time we started hiking.

That morning we met Amy and Dad at an access road. They drove through the maze of back roads behind Sussex and brought us some new supplies. Is this cheating? Maybe. But it's not like it shortened our time any and we were carrying a lot of fuel for my high maintenance water demands. It was nice to get a change of dry clothes and drink water that didn't have a hint of old coffee (we stored our boiled water in old coffee bags while it cooled). The iced coffee and raspberries Amy brought were heavenly. We packed up enough stuff to last us to a fifth day just in case we needed it.
It cleared off in the afternoon for a great view of St. Martin's head.
That third day was a shorter day which was nice because it was unbelievably humid after the rain. The air had that 'pea soup' quality that has come to define this summer in the Maritimes. We managed but were very happy by the time we reached our campsite at the Brandy Brook beside the Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum waterfall. There was no beach access that night but we were able to dry out our stuff a bit before we went to bed.
Airing out the tent!
Day Four

The fourth and last day was our longest. Thankfully, the weather was cooperating and the humidity had finally dropped. The perfect day for hiking 18km. We crossed Goose Creek around low tide as planned (there is no way to cross at high tide) and after that the kilometre markers seemed to pass by at a reasonable speed even with the five climbs that day. 
Goose Creek!

We reached the zero kilometre trail marker of the Fundy Footpath at Goose River and I wish I had captured Mom's squeal of excitement at that point.
Look at that sweat shine.
We were officially done but there was another 10km to get to an actual access road. The last 10km through Fundy National Park is pretty boring. It has all been turned into a mountain biking trail so it's wide and mostly gravel. Very monotonous after spending four days on a beautiful trail through the forest. It was an anticlimactic way to end the hike. But at least it wasn't very strenuous (although the loose rocks were surprisingly hard on the bottom of our feet) and after a few hours on that trail we were out! 
Yay done!
Dad was there waiting for us with sticky buns from Alma and then took our smelly selves for some fried food at the take out.

The Conclusion

I said a few times while on the Footpath that it was the hardest hike I've ever done but I'm not really sure that's true. I never doubted my physical ability to do it (minus the one time I had low blood sugar). There was never any point where I looked at the cliff ahead and thought "I can't climb up that." I had descents where I said, “Wow, that was terrible” and ascents where I said, “I hope we don't have to go back down for awhile” but my legs were strong and carried me through. I was tired but fully capable.

So was it more demanding than the hike in Naxos to 'Zeus's cave' where I must have thrown up at least 4 times along the way? Or the hike in Newfoundland where I had to turn around early because the humidity and heat made me feel nauseous and unable to breathe? Those made me physically sick with my CF lungs.

The difference between my past experiences and now makes me feel as though I've lived two separated lives. My pre-transplant life where I threw up on hikes and the post transplant hike where I can tackle one of the hardest hikes in the Maritimes without a second thought. It's such a disconnect that I sometimes don't even feel like that part was real. But I still remember it vividly, how I couldn't even imagine ever feeling so healthy again that the Footpath would be on my radar. How it became a struggle some mornings to just get to the street car to take me to physiotherapy at the hospital.

I am so privileged to have been given this gift. My new lungs have helped change my body to be stronger and healthier than it ever has before. Sure, I still need rest days. I need my chill days where I relax and read my book or watch TV but that's part of the balance. And one side of the balance is to strap on my bag and hike for four days through the wilderness of New Brunswick.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Is the heat wave over yet? I've escaped to the coast (by that I mean hiking the Fundy foot path) where I'm hoping it's a bit cooler in the woods beside the Bay of Fundy.

Amy was interviewed by CBC to discuss what it's like having cystic fibrosis after she tweeted angrily to the universe about how she couldn't breathe back in early July. Since the heat seems to be ongoing, I feel as though it still applies.

I don't feel it so much with the breathing but definitely do with the risk of dehydration. It's always a struggle to stay hydrated even when I'm not doing anything.

Here is the article. I linked the headline and then copied and pasted it from CBC.

Heat wave forcing people with health conditions to hide indoors

The challenges of living with cystic fibrosis during a New Brunswick heat wave

Many New Brunswick residents are hitting the beach, pool or neighbourhood splash pad to beat the heat, but Amy Watson, 36, is hiding inside her air-conditioned home.
But hiding from the heat isn't a choice.
With a lung capacity of only 25 to 30 per cent, being outside in this week's heat could result in a medical emergency.
"When I walk outside it's like a truck sitting on my chest basically."


    Watson was born with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that affects the entire body but primarily the lungs and digestive system.
    An accumulation of thick mucus in the lungs and digestive system makes it hard to breathe and to digest foods.
    Simple tasks, like going out to pick up groceries, or checking the clothesline in the middle of the afternoon can cause breathing troubles.

    'Like breathing soup'

    Watson says that the humidity is what causes the breathing troubles.
    "It's like you're trying to breathe soup," she said. "The air is so thick that you're trying to breathe and pull in that thick air."
    Not being able to take a full breath along with the presence of thick mucus in the airways makes it extremely difficult to inhale the hot and heavy air.
    "They just can't normally get a deep full lung of air due to the damage to their lungs," said Barbara Walls, director of health promotion at the New Brunswick Lung Association.
    That means getting less oxygen than people with healthy lungs. Less oxygen causes the body to tire a lot easier and faster than the average person.

    It's not just breathing  

    Watson isn't just worrying about breathing in the scorching heat. She also has to worry about dehydration.
    People with cystic fibrosis get dehydrated much faster than the average person. Those with the genetic disease also lose salt faster through their sweat.
    "Not being able to regulate their temperature, and on top you put an environmental stress of heat and humidity. It's going to be very uncomfortable for them physically and to try and breathe," said Walls.  
    Watson says she and others with cystic fibrosis have to stay constantly hydrated by drinking both water and sports drinks. She also eats foods with higher salt content to get back to normal levels.

    What to do to keep cool?

    Hiding away in her air-conditioned home and planning her day around cooler times, in mornings or evenings, are helping Watson get through the heat wave.
     "You have to evaluate if what you're doing is worth the risk to your health and usually it's not," she said.
    Walls said there are small things people with or without respiratory illnesses can do to feel good and stay cool during the heat wave.
    One of her tips is to monitor the air quality in your city.
    "Air quality can seriously impact how you're feeling," she said. "It can trigger asthma attacks and exacerbate symptoms of your lung disease."
    Drinking water, wearing light and loose clothing and avoiding the outdoors between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. are also good ways to avoid getting too hot. 

    Sunday, 22 July 2018

    Gaspé Peninsula and the Sunken Cost Fallacy

    I always read stories of people getting stuck in blueberry fields or on back dirt roads with their vehicles and thought “silly people, why would they think that is a road? Why would they not just turn around?” The people always say that they were trusting their GPS because it had never led them astray before and figured it was a shortcut of sorts. The thing about following Google Maps or a GPS is that they always work so well in a city that when you go to the country or to a new area, you forget about the limitations of technology. Roads seem to all look the same from space and anyone from the area knows that the logging or tractor road isn't a throughway but a computer and satellite can't yet tell the difference. And so the tourists go off through the field and everyone has a good laugh knowing confidently they would never be so naive.

    My parents, Amy, and I, recently went on a road trip around the Gaspé peninsula. Being from New Brunswick, we always heard how beautiful that part of Canada is but it always seemed too close for a “real” vacation yet too far away for a “staycation.” We decided this was the year to see that part of our country.

    We drove the eight hours from the south of New Brunswick to our hostel close to the Fornillon National Park. We stopped for an extended break near Percé Rock to stretch our legs. Mom and Dad had talked about Percé Rock as a tourism site on the drive up while Amy and I didn't know what they were referring to. When we got there, we discovered it is a large rock to shore where the water has carved out a hole in the middle. Apparently it is one of the big Quebec tourism things according to the brochures. “See our big rock with a hole in it! You can look at it from various angles and then kayak out to it!”

    Percé Rock!
    I can't mock it that much because New Brunswick has much of their tourism campaign centred around oddly shaped soil erosion as well. “Come see our sandstone rock formations that look vaguely like flower pots! Some of them also have holes in them and watch out that the tide doesn't wash you out to sea!” At least Quebec doesn't charge 10$ a person to look at their rock.

    There was a board walk and tower built on the beach by the rock so we walked around and then climbed up to get a better view and take some pictures. Amy stayed on the ground because spending energy climbing a tower seemed like a stupid use of her limited energy. We could see some whales from shore which was exciting because we love whale watching.

    Whale!
    We are the family that pulls over on the side of the road to watch whales swim by. We will pull out blankets to keep us warm while we sit in the rain watching them feed. On a road trip in Newfoundland, the whales would be shockingly close to shore due to the steep ocean drop-offs so if Amy or I were driving, we were known to suddenly pull over to watch. For some reason, Isaiah decided he had enough of that and took over driving while alongside the ocean. He said it was “so we could look for whales safely instead of killing us all while we drove and looked for whales at the same time.”
    Whale showing off!
    We spent a few days in Fornollin National Park going on hikes, watching whales and seals from shore, and taking many pictures of birds fishing. Amy and I went out on a clear night and took some amazing night sky pictures in the park.
    Sisters at night.
    We kept looking for moose but didn't see any even though the park rangers kept saying how many are in the park. I felt that if we had put the camera away, a moose would have sauntered down the road in front of us.
    The park is beautiful. 
    We then spent a day driving to the more inland provincial park, Parc national de la Gaspésie where we were staying outside of the park in a chalet more in the woods.

    Getting to the chalet is when the Watson family learned how how people end up getting stuck in blueberry fields from following Google. You think “that would never happen to me, why are people so stupid?” This is the story of those people.

    We knew that we were staying at a chalet in, basically the middle of the woods, so figured the road the lodging would not be great. We assumed it would not be paved or particularly well marked so we weren't too surprised at the start when our Google maps directions told us to drive through a residential area and then the houses and paved road ended.

    This did not throw up a red flag to anyone because there were no signs to indicate that the official road had ended. No sign saying dead end. It was simply a road that turned from pavement to dirt. This happens all the time in rural Canada, nothing to think twice about.

    About 10 minutes in, the road became significantly narrower. It also had gone gradually from crushed rock to more of an actual dirt road. Down to one lane where we thought “hmmm, this seems suspiciously not like a road” but Google told us that the destination was 20 more minutes down the road so why would we turn around now? It was the end of a long driving day and we all just wanted to get to the destination. Turning around now and asking for better directions would cost us way more time than continuing down this path.

    This is what economists like to call “sunken cost fallacy” where you feel as though you have to keep doing something because you don't want the time or money that you invested to be a waste. So you keep investing in the failing business instead of cutting your loses or continue driving down the now-obviously-a-four-wheeler-trail because now Google says you are just ten minutes away instead of making the rational decision of turning around and finding an actual road.

    The only thing that kept us going were wooden blue arrow markers seemingly directing us through the maze of trails. Of course we didn't know if the arrows meant a way through the forest or if it was a Hansel and Gretel situation where instead of being lured in by the candy house, the modern cannibalistic witch in the forest used Google, a promise of almost being at our destination, and wooden blue arrows that seemed like vague road markers to get lost tourist to her house. I was honestly so car sick at that point that I would have openly welcomed a witch with a candy house.

    Dad kept zooming down the trail with confidence that none of us felt, crossed over a few suspicious puddles of water never knowing how deep the pothole would be, while I was in the back seat trying to keep my lunch in my stomach, Amy wouldn't stop apologizing for booking this place in the wilderness while she kept consulting Google Maps on her phone, and Mom kept hitting an imaginary brake with her foot. Fun times for all.

    At this point you are probably thinking, “Wow, good thing you were driving something sturdy with four wheel drive like a truck or SUV.” Yeah, we were in the Toyota Matrix. The good thing about the Matrix is that it has surprisingly high clearance and Mom and Dad have driven it down terrible dirt roads in New Brunswick to get to kayaking spots so this wasn't so unusual for the car. However, it was still quite unpleasant.

    Eventually we crossed a hill and we could see a church on the horizon. A church! That meant people and probably a non-four wheeler road!

    And then we could see power lines. Power lines! Hope of people!

    Eventually we reached a fork where the two options were to either go right, down a steep hill where it looked like the trail had been washed out or left, staying on higher ground with a newly cut trail. At this point Google wanted us to go through the washed out road but we decided that would be a really terrible life decision so followed the newly cut path.

    And suddenly we were on a road. An actual two lane road with a power line and crushed gravel. One minute up a hill and there was the lodge and the cabins (named chalets to make them fancier). We had finally made it.

    I sat outside trying to recover from my car sickness while the rest of my family registered. The man told them that almost everyone comes through that four wheeler trail the first time and that sometimes GPS tells people to go through an even worse trail. He had already rescued two couples this summer with his tractor on the second trail. Then he gave a little chuckle while commenting on technology which Amy said made her want to throat punch him. Why wouldn't you send that information out on an email when people reserved a spot? It's not that hard to auto-respond to everyone saying, “Oh by the way, Google gives directions through the four wheeler trails and you should not follow them.”

    The cabin was quite nice and cozy and next morning when we drove to the provincial park, we zipped along the main road, past the entrance to the four wheeler trail and made it to town in about 20 minutes. We hiked in the park and had a wonderful time. We made it back home to New Brunswick with no further drama. 
    Cabin just after dusk.
    The lesson here is to never trust technology and to not so quickly judge those people who get lost following their GPS because it could easily be you on your next road trip.

    Sunday, 15 July 2018

    Not Since Moses Run

    We did the Not Since Moses Run today! We camped at the 5 Island campground last night so we didn't have to drive so far in the morning.

    Campsite!
    S'mores to build up my strength for the run!
    The run was a muddy mess but a lot of fun. We just walked the 5km and jogged for about 1 min before it turned into a mud fest. Isaiah had some system of run-skating on the mud but I found that as long as I didn't stop moving I was fine. The second I stopped to do anything, I was up to my ankles in mud.


    An enjoyable part was destroying the sneakers that I wore during my pre and post transplant process. I got them right before I moved to Toronto and wore them every physiotherapy session for the year plus before my transplant and during the long recovery. I had long since replaced them but they sat in the basement for just a challenge like this.And now they're a muddy ruined mess! It's very satisfying.
    Isaiah wondering how he got into this mess. 
    Everyone who can run through mud faster than me
    The end!