Sunday, November 30, 2008

First Post - The Background

Finally got it working! Welcome to this, the blog following the freakishly-tall Ryan McWilliams as he works his way around the world. Since I am guessing that most of the people reading this are somewhat familiar with the protagonist, I will not be giving an in-depth background, just the following brief information.

The purpose of this blog is to act as a bit of a journal AND save family/friends the suspense of wondering whether the reason I am not communicating is because I have been reduced to highway flatsteak rather than the usual cause of my lack of communication: simple laziness.

The story of this little jaunt actually begins back in 1985, when my family and I (parents and brother) bicycled New Zealand from Auckland to Queenstown. At the time, I was seven years old. This may at first seem somewhat amazing until you realize that, even at age seven, I was still freakishly tall and could fit on a 10-speed bike. This made hills more palatable than a similar trip taken with my old Huffy. I also had very little to carry at that time.

1985 standing by bike with hobbit

This picture was taken in New Zealand in 1985. Note the awesome blue socks. My sense of style has not changed.

We continued on to Australia and Fiji for more bicycling, then later in England/Portugal/Spain. Out of all of those locales, New Zealand seemed to hang on to my psyche. I think this was partially the copious mountains and ocean, partially the length of time we spent there (2-3 months), and mostly the people. It seems like everyone has heard of how fantastic the Kiwis are, and my contribution to the stereotype is this: Several times during this 1985 bicycle tour, we actually took the train to catch up to where we should have made it to because of the frequency that we were asked to stay for tea or spend the night or go sailing or help herd sheep (true story!) or go diving. We actually traveled at night several times so that we could make miles.

Suffice it to say that this was an incredible trip. The final tally on miles actually bicycled was just over 1,000.

Fast forward about 24 years. These years, in short, included lots of other short trips and time spent subsisting in very rural Alaska, as well as about 18 years in Missouri. This 18 years included a long stretch of schooling where I progressed up to the twenty-third grade, which for me finished with my family medicine residency graduation. Now, I was very careful during medical school and residency not to sign my soul over to anyone (read: the military) in exchange for covering the cost of my medical training (I imagine it would have been like a much more boring version of "Devil Went Down to Georgia" where the banjo contest is replaced by "who can come up with the longest differential diagnosis for 'fatigue'"). Once I was done, I would be able to make my own destiny and do all the things that I had put off.

116-1605_IMG Medical school graduation (actually my brother's at UCLA, but I stole a robe to take this picture and it gets the point across)

The little flaw in the plan soon reared its ugly head in the form of my first medical school loan payment, which easily equalled my house payment at the time. At the monetary state I was in at the end of residency, I soon would have been selling all the extra letters after my name on Ebay to stay afloat. Long-term travel was not a good option.

Long story short, I have been doing locum tenens now for about two years. This means that I work in one clinic or hospital for as short a time as 3 months, then move to a new area, rinse, and repeat. It's a great way to see the world from above the financial red zone. In my case, I have moved to the west coast and then finally returning to Alaska, where I have spent almost two fantastic years. I have now saved up enough money to take some real time off in a way that I have been unable to do . . . well, ever.


Backcountry skiing at Lane Glacier near Wasilla, Alaska. Sarah Palin was in the process of shooting a moose just off camera.


Sporting some fine Viking chops while hiking Lazy Mountain near Palmer, Alaska after work one day.


Mountain biking in Keppler Park - I always think this looks like Missouri until you look above the tree line.

IMGP0582 Hiking the Nike Missile Silo near Anchorage - total cold war awesomeness. Cue the Rocky IV music.


Camping out in Denali National Park. The black cans are supposed to be bear-proof, but have you SEEN a bear out here? I think these cans act more like a tasty candy shell for the food inside.


Caught this rainbow trout in the Kenai River. He was released immediately after this picture was taken (just so PETA knows).

So it's back to New Zealand. I keep thinking how great it would be to see the country from an adult perspective and contrast that to the kid perspective. It would be amazing to re-image places that we took pictures of in 1985 to see how they have changed. And I want to see how much of my rose-tinted memory is really true.

I'm going to bicycle it again, partially because that's how we did it back in '85, but also because I need to be a good role model for all of my patients to whom I preach exercise and health. The plan is to go further this time, going first north of Auckland to the very northern tip of New Zealand, then go all the way to the southern tip.

Hope this gives at least a partial explanation, will continue this later. . .