Saturday, May 15, 2010

Wandergliding is on pause for the moment...

Unfortunately my father was diagnosed with lung cancer just before Christmas last year. Lung cancer is one of the more aggressive cancers but one thing in his favor was that they discovered it at an early stage due to him contracting Legionnaire's disease. Legionnaire's is caused by an airborne bacteria and it really did a number on him. He and my stepmom snowbird down to Phoenix every year to avoid the long Edmontonian winters and he either caught it from an air conditioner in a motel room on the drive down or from their swamp cooler at their place down there. After a few days in the hospital in Arizona, he was medi-vaced back to Edmonton. He was put through a battery of tests including CT and PET scans and this is when the small cell lung cancer was discovered but it was considered to be at an early stage. He underwent four sessions of chemotherapy (three days each session) along with radiation treatment to his chest. He was a trooper through all of this aggressive and borderline sadistic treatment. If you think about it, a patient's body is essentially attacked to the brink of death as the cancer is hopefully eradicated.

I went to visit him in December, around his birthday, and then again in March, just before I began this Wandergliding trip. He insisted that I continue with my plans of touring the world but I did find it tough to head off gallavanting without questioning my of course, family comes first, everything else is second.

About three weeks ago, my father's breathing began to be laboured. Unfortunately he found out that he may have pulmonary fibrosis which is essentially irreversible scarring of the lungs which prevents the alveoli from doing their job. This condition was caused by the radiation therapy he received on his chest and it only affects about 5-15% of all patients who get this treatment. On Tuesday, May 11th, I skyped with my dad and found out that the doctor, Doctor Yee, thought that the fibrosis was severe enough that it may cause him respiratory arrest and that he may only have 7 days left to live. He asked whether he should tell his kids to return home and was told yes. You can imagine how tough those conversations were for him, especially in these days of skype where you not only hear the person, but see them. Within 24 hours, my sister Julie in Maryland, my sister Sarah, her husband Brad and two year old daughter Brenna from Phoenix, and I (coming from London, England) were back in Edmonton at the Cross Cancer Institute.

I have been writing this entry over a number of days as it's been difficult to find the time and right mind frame to work on it. As I type this now, we are actually on day 8 after the doctor stated that he might only have a week left! It has definitely been a roller coaster with good days and bad ones. He's had a couple of episodes, two mornings in a row, where his breathing has been really compromised and his heart raced to try and pump what little oxygen that was getting into his bloodstream around his body. My sister Sarah and I were there for the second and not as severe episode but it was still awfully scary. Watching a loved one, especially a parent, essentially slowly drown is not something I wish on anyone. Of course, it was even more scary for my father. He spiked a fever in both of these cases and that has led the doctors to suspect that he may have pneumonia or some other type of infection so he's been put on antibiotics and we're all hoping that they will do the trick.

Tomorrow my aunt and cousin (Shirley and Gemma) arrive from England to provide some additional support. It's times like these that one finds out the true type of family one has, and I can't say I'm disappointed with mine. My stepmom has been an incredible pillar of strength and the fact that she used to be a nurse (a head nurse at that) definitely helps. My stepsisters and their families have been incredibly supportive as well. Dad, we're all behind you, and we all love you.

So please send your positive thoughts and love in my father's direction. We're not out of the woods yet but every day is a minor victory.

An Unexpected Visit

While Betty was in the garage, on Sunday March 9th, we had some unexpected visitors from Weymouth. Auntie Shirley, my cousin Gemma and her new hubby Charles drove up for a day trip. I guess they figured that this might be the last time they see me before I head off for the summer on the continent. I think this was the third time that they thought I had already set off! How nice of them to do the 2+ hour drive each way just to spend the afternoon with me.

We went for lunch at the Funky End pub and then went back to Sid and Son's apartment to play a new game, "The Oxford Dictionary Game" that Sid had just purchased in the morning at the boot fair that we went too (in general it was a bit of a pathetic boot fair). Surprisingly Sonia and Gemma were the winners! I thought I was going to be a shoe in as my partner was Shirley, a recently retired English teacher.

Lunch at the Funky End:

Playing the Oxford Dictionary game:

My beautiful cousin Gemma:

We had a nice Skype phone call with my dad and Nola before the Weymouthians set off for home. Thanks for the visit guys!

Prepping Betty

Now that I’ve acquired Betty, it’s time to get her ready for a road trip...a big road trip. So, what’s wrong with her? Well Phil, the previous owner, immediately told me that she needs a new leisure battery (that’s lee-shur not leh-sure as we’d say in Canada). The spare tire has a slow leak as well and she’s also empty on gas, Calor gas which is a type of propane which runs the stove, the heater and the fridge. After taking her camping it was obvious that there was a bit of a leak via the vent in the roof too so that must be tended to as well. There was also the issue that she didn’t sport any curtains in the front or the back and seeing as this would be my home for the next 5 months, I needed to correct that deficiency. Did I mention she also had no stereo? Damn, lots to do....

Sid and I ventured to a few different stores on the bank holiday Monday after the camping weekend (what a great cousin!). Poor Sonia works for an international company, SC Johnson, so she had to work that day. We investigated the stereo options at Halfords but unfortunately since there weren’t even any speakers in her; it wasn’t going to be a quick fix. Thankfully we had figured out that using my iPod with my small battery powered speakers that I normally use in my flight deck of my paraglider could work as the stick-on Velcro on the back of them attached nicely to the carpet right above my head so although the wattage output was negligible, the effect was sufficient. I decided to buy a “sat nav” to help me navigate my way around Europe. I do have a GPS for paragliding but I have struggled to get European maps on it (without paying a fortune) and still, it wouldn’t talk to me as the sat navs do. We also ventured to a tire place and it turned out that the spare tire wasn’t the problem, it was the rim. It was rusted badly and I should get a new one.

The following day, while Sid and Sonia were at work, I set my new sat nav toy to take me to a junk yard where I hoped to acquire a cheap rim for the spare tire. I turned onto Victoria Road, one of the main thoroughfares in downtown Aldershot and had traveled no further than 300 meters from Sid’s place when I noticed a real pull to the left in the steering. I pulled over and discovered that the front passenger wheel was flat! Damn...I was just going to fix the spare, what now? I was parked in a one hour parking spot so first thing was to get a sign in my window to avoid getting a ticket. I had a piece of paper but no pen, however from my challenges of acquiring money to purchase Betty, I knew there was a bank nearby where I could use a byro. Okay, next, find a tire store. From some of the jogs I had taken in the past few weeks I had an inkling of where one might be. Well, I was wrong. I eventually asked a couple of guys where one was and then had to ask yet another woman, an auto parts deliverer, where exactly to go and found that it was probably close to a kilometer away from strickened Betty. No problem, I can do this. So I fished out the short little tire iron and the wimpy looking jack and started to attack the problem. Shit, I can’t even get the hub cap off! I ended up breaking a plastic tip on the jack and parts of the hub cap before a young fellow yelled from across the street “Oi, do you need a hand?”. Well sure. Turns out that Paul was a 17 year old mechanic apprentice with a generous heart. It also turned out that he really was still an apprentice and he initially put the jack in the wrong spot and caused a slight collapse in Betty’s body frame before we repositioned it to a load bearing section. He also busted off a bit more of the hub cap but we finally got it off before finding out that the rusted on nuts would not budge with the pathetic little tire iron. Now what? Well, better get a proper tire iron from a garage. Paul and I tried three different places but either their mechanics were out to lunch or they just wouldn’t accommodate me, even with the offer of leaving my credit card and ID. So we ended up at the tire place, Kwik Fit and almost got the same story there. I finally convinced them to lend me a tool but we first had to wait for job on a military police vehicle to be finished first. Half an hour later and back at the van we were able to get the wheel off and we began rolling it back to the tire shop. Paul took the first half of the trip and I did the second. I was awfully lucky that he had stuck around as rolling the wheel and carrying the large tire iron would have been an extremely difficult solo trick.

It turned out that the flat tire was really due to a rusty rim, the same problem that the spare tire had. The Kwik Fit technician cleaned off the rust on the rim, remounted the wheel, aligned it and sent me on my way. Paul still stuck with me even though I mentioned numerous times that he was free to go. I rolled the wheel back to Betty (which strained my back a bit...I still feel my lower couple of vertebrae from a paragliding accident a few years ago). We got the wheel back on and I thanked Paul for his help and we parted ways. I cruised back to Kwik Fit and got them to do the same trick to my spare tire’s rim which they did for free, so in the end, although it cost me three hours of time, I saved having to buy a rim for the spare tire!

The next major item to get sorted out with Betty was the electrical problem. It’s not that useful to have a campervan that doesn’t have interior lights and no functioning fridge. I called a guy who specializes in campervans and by chance he had an opening the following day so he said he would call me in the morning. I hung out at Sid and Sonia’s waiting for the call even though I had some other errands I could have done in preparation for my trip. Well he didn’t call all morning so in the late morning I tried ringing him (note that I’ve been in England long enough now that I don’t call people, I ring them). There was no answer. I tried again a few hours later and it turned out that he was on a train down to Cornwall, in the southwest point of England, as his mom had just died the night before. I guess it wasn’t a shock to him but still, losing a parent is a major event regardless. So now I needed to find another place to get the van looked at. I called back to the campervan supply store who had given me this first contact and the store owner knew of a guy, but didn’t know his name but gave me some rough directions of where he was. Well this could be fun. I eventually found a conglomeration of a few garages tucked away behind a car dealership. It took me three passes around the block to locate the entrance to them but even still I ended up walking in from a block away as it looked like it would be tough to get Betty back out of the narrow alley way. I eventually found a guy that could work on it but not until early next week, and it was only Wednesday. Luckily he called me back and had some time on Friday. The day before I took the van in, a new problem cropped up. I would park, turn the key, take the key out, and Betty would keep on running. Thankfully it’s a manual so I just popped the clutch to stop her...but something else to get dealt with.

I had a day to kill before being able to take Betty in so I decided to rent a Rug Doctor steam cleaner to get some of the grime out of her. Am I ever thankful that I did. I spent an entire afternoon cleaning and four full buckets of extremely dirty water later, I felt Betty was looking much better. To put it in perspective, it only took me two buckets worth to clean Sid and Sonia’s two bedroom flat!

Well, to finally make this long story short, Betty has been in the garage for a week and everything is now working except for the fridge. One possible solution is to buy a cooler that plugs into the 12 volt outlet, but this isn’t ideal. The guy at the garage, Jerem, is going to take one last attempt at it so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I sure didn’t realize it would take this much effort to get her road worthy, or road trip worthy I guess, but it’s all part of the adventure!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Taking Betty Camping

On Friday, April 30th, after picking up Betty, Sid and Sonia hopped in with me and a slew of camping gear and we headed off for a camping weekend in Uffingdon, about an hour and a half west of Aldershot. The forecast wasn't looking great but what did I care...I now have a roof over my head! We arrived around sunset after a bit of traffic on one of the motorways but we had plenty of time to get settled into camp. The campground was a large grassy field with a bit of a dip running down the middle of it. It was at the base of a hill and provided a bit of a view of the countryside to the west. There were already a number of friends at the site including Eve & Jeff, Carolyn & Matt, Glenn & Ana, Brian & Ellie and their two kids Callum and Aidan.

After a drink or two, I thought it was time to get a campfire going as dusk in full flight. We didn't have a hatchet but there was some kindling and also many larger pieces of wood. Jeff jumped in on the fire making as he shares my enthusiasm in this wilderness sport. Unfortunately, it turned out we had differing opinions on technique. I follow the fire pyramid mentality which requires fuel, heat and oxygen. Well Jeff wasn't too believing in the oxygen bit (so I guess he follows the fire line?!?) so he kept piling on the big logs. To counteract this, I grabbed my trusty Stratus frisbee golf disc and began fanning the flames, and fanning the flames, and fanning the flames. We eventually got a nice fire going but it wasn't without consequences. The following day I required some band-aids (or plasters here) on three of my fingers due to some nice skin erosion due to friction...oh well, I'll survive. We had a lovely evening sitting around the campfire, listening to some guitar playing (simultaneous songs at times) and having a few laughs.

The next day, Aidan, Sid, Callum and a few others passed an hour or two with a lively frisbee tossing session. Good way to get the body moving and awake. To add to the revitalization, everyone opted to go for a hike up the big hill beside the campsite. It took 20 minutes or so to walk up and the view of the English countryside was fantastic. We sat at the top for a while soaking it in and then descended a different side to head towards the local pub for an afternoon pint. I was a bit of a straggler and hence the last one to arrive there. It was a good half hour walk to get there...maybe a bit more. We sat outside on a big line of picnic tables. The clouds were starting to get a bit darker and covered most of the sky but thankfully still no rain...yet. I introduced everyone to a darts game called "Half It" before we wandered back to camp.

Hiking up:

The group at the top:

About to head down:

A campsite similar to ours:

Enjoying a pint:

Sid finishing the Half It game:

Another campfire was lit that night and everyone enjoyed sitting around it until a torrential downpour let loose around 1am. Thankfully we had a great gazebo setup that everyone huddled under until the storm passed. It only lasted about 1/2 an hour but it completely drenched the field...yet didn't put out the fire. It was another late night with some great laughs and nice music...gotta love camping.

The next morning the sky was grey and it was raining mildly, but steadily. It was obvious that it was not going to let up so after some brekkie, we packed up and headed home. It was a good test run for Betty as I did discover that she has a bit of a leak in the roof vent but I should be able to take care of that. Great weekend!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Meet Betty...

For the last couple of weeks I have been trying to find a campervan to tour around in for the summer. Not only would I need some trusty wheels but this vehicle would also be my home so it would be nice if it had a few creature comforts like a stove and a fridge, comfy bed. Initially I was looking for a mid to late 80s VW van (a T3) with a left hand drive. With England driving on the wrong...I mean left side of the road, most cars here are right hand drives however the rest of Europe it's the opposite. The first van that I looked at fit my spec sheet. Sid and I drove into London late one Sunday afternoon and in general I liked the looks of it. It did have some noisy shocks and a few dings here and there but those kind of things are to be expected with a 20+ year old set of wheels. The biggest drawback was the price. The guy was asking £4000. I called him back the next day with an offer of £3100 which he countered with £3700.

I still considered that too high and became concerned about how easy, or more likely difficult, it might be to sell a left hand drive in the fall. Right now everyone's buying to go touring around Europe but they'll all be returning in the autumn. So I widened my search to include right hand drives and other models. The next van we saw was a Renault Autosleeper for £2500. Sid, Sonia and I checked it out on our return trip from Auntie Shirley's birthday weekend. It was alright but the interior didn't call out to me and there was a disconcerting rusty hole inside the engine bay...let's see what else is out there.

And this lead me to my next viewing in East Grinstead, about an hour and a quarter from Aldershot. The gentlemen's name was Philip and he was selling a 1989 Ford Transit Autosleeper (Autosleeper is a company that camperizes various models...just as Westfalia does vee-dubs). It has a 2.5 liter diesel engine, so noisy but economical. The interior is pretty decent with a two burner stove and grill, a three way fridge (no, not sexually adventurous but it can run on gas, battery and when the van's plugged in), a small sink and plenty of storage space.

After driving back to Aldershot, I called Phil that evening as he had another inquiry to view it the next day so I had to act fast if I wanted it. I offered him £2300 - a couple hundred pounds off of his asking price as it did require a new leisure battery (that runs the internal electrics) which cost £120 and also needed to be road taxed which was another £205. The spare tire also needed some fixing and there were a few other minor thing but I figured I could sort those out.

I called the insurance company and they were to post the documents that day (a Tuesday). I couldn't go and get the van until I had these in my hands. Wednesday came and went, then Thursday...what, nothing?!? On Sonia's good advice, I called the company and for some reason the docs were still there! Luckily I did receive them on Friday morning so I hopped on the train and went to get the van from Phil. It took us close to 2 hours to get the tax and other documents in order and then I was on my first attempt at driving on British roads! Thankfully I had no problems and thanks to Sonia's sat nav guiding the way, I was back in Aldershot in a little more than an hour.

I decided to call my new wheels/home, in Betty Ford...and I'll let you draw you're own conclusions with that...