Into the mountains I sneak
To camp by a lake on a creek
The permit I bought
To be alone with my thought
And remember the important third week
Synopsis: I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. I danced back from the brink of burnout in 2010, and, honoring a one-year non-compete clause, went for adventures working in out-of-the-way locations. After jobs in Alaska, New Zealand, Iowa, and Nebraska, I returned home and took a part-time position with a Community Health Center. I did two short assignments in Petersburg, Alaska. On Sept 2, I turned in my 30 days notice.
I went elk hunting in Colorado with a friend from Iowa and two friends from Colorado.
Acclimatization to altitude comes as a huge barrier to flatlanders hunting, and we flew out two days early to spend a couple of nights at altitude. Where before I announced I would never spend the first night in camp over 10,000 feet, I compromised this time. We spent three nights at 8500 feet and then pitched our tents at 11,500.
I felt every foot of that altitude more than I felt every year of my age, 24 more than any of my companions.
Knowing the physiology helps understand the process of getting used to low oxygen, but it does not speed the process. By this time we’ve all learned the importance of maintaining good hydration. And we’ve all come to a phase in our careers where we can afford good gear.
Along the way I took care of one person with a sprained ankle, another with posterior tibial tendonitis. I gave good advice to a person who drinks more than he should.
While the younger guys ran around canyons and rim rock, I spent most of my days pretending to hunt and being alone with my thoughts. I would put the cap on the muzzle loader and walk 300 yards along the edge of the glacial lake to a spot overlooking an elk wallow. With spires of fractured granite towering a thousand feet over me, I watched the tortured landscape and thought about my upcoming career move.
My job brings me much satisfaction. I speak a lot of Spanish and I get to do a lot of pediatrics. I work under top-notch management with great coworkers and outstanding colleagues.
But I cannot abide an electronic medical record system that parasitizes 2 hours a day in gratuitous delays.
The more I thought the better I liked my decision.
After the 7 mile walk out (at 12000 feet), the first shower in a week, the celebratory meal at the swank restaurant, and a night in a bed, we sat in the airport in Durango and struck up a conversation with another Iowan.
He walked from Denver to Durango along the Colorado Trail.
I didn’t ask what he thought about during those 5 weeks, but we talked about wildlife. And after a little bit I asked what day he started walking; I added 21 days to that and said, “On September 6 you had the start of a health problem. What was it?”
I explained the three week rule, the summation of microtraumas accumulated in the course of accommodating to a new level of fitness.
And I thought about how I’ll have to watch out for the 21st day after I leave my job.