Dr Laura Irwin, Dr Reza Noori / UK Core Trainee Anaesthetists
Laura and Reza are trainee anaesthetic doctors in the West of Scotland, where they have shared and cultivated their passions for fitness training, rock climbing, mountain biking and photography. The duo have recently taken time away from regular doctoring to embark on one serious biking tour; Adventure Medic will be following their progress. Their plan, to cycle the length of the Andes, is a somewhat ambitious one, no doubt leading to some stiff knees and painful derrières. Their bold charitable aim is to raise one pound per mile cycled for the the NGO charity Lifebox, and here they tell us about the charity that inspired them, their prep, and what the epic trip will involve.
The Andes. The longest mountain range in the world, forming the spine of the South American continent. It spans a massive 7,242 km from the rugged peaks of Patagonia to the northern shores of Venezuela, traversing a total of 7 countries. It averages an elevation of 3961 m – three times the height of Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest peak. The highest point of Mount Aconcagua, towering in at 6,962 m, boasts of being the highest point on the whole of the American continent and is second of the highest of the 7 summits, surpassed only by the great Mount Everest.
Our expedition starts in Ushuaia, the most southerly town in the world. We aim to cycle, unaided, to the northernmost part of the Andes, finishing in the La Guarjira Peninsula which forms the border between Colombia and Venezuela. If the climbing season allows, we aim to attempt to summit Mount Aconcagua on our way.
To travel the length of the Andes using nothing but self-driven power, grit and determination remains a true test, necessitating both physical and psychological strength. We hope that our months of preparation and excitement, together with the support from friends, family and people along the way, will help us in in our journey.
Lifebox: The Whys and Wherefores
We had already decided to pursue this adventure for a worthwhile cause, and when working out which charity to support it became pretty obvious that something anaesthesia-related would take the spotlight. After hearing of Lifebox, there wasn’t much further discussion.
Lifebox is an NGO charity that was co-founded by Professor Atul Gawande and four of the world’s leading healthcare organisations – including the UK’s Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland – with the principle aim of improving surgical safety in low-resource countries. Despite the advances in surgical safety in the developed world, tens of thousands of operating rooms worldwide still do not have access to basic monitoring equipment, with over 7 million lives at risk each year.
Lifebox provides equipment, education and support to hospitals with limited resources. They distribute pulse oximeters – a simple piece of equipment that measures a patient’s oxygen level – to allow implementation of the WHO surgical safety checklist, which has been shown to reduce the rate of death and complications by more than one third. It’s an organisation that truly saves lives.
We aim to raise one pound per mile cycled, amounting to some £9000 and to donate this to Lifebox. Each pulse oximeter costs approximately £160 to purchase and so with our donation we hope to equip 50 operating rooms in limited-resource settings with pulse oximeters, improving surgical safety for thousands of individuals. In addition, we will be involved with a distribution and training program in South America experiencing first-hand just how important their work is.
The Prep and the First Few Days
Once we’d decided to spend months on the back of a bike, some preparation was in order. We broke it down into small chunks and tackled each one in turn. The funding essentially revolved around many, many A&E shifts, meaning some pretty taxing 70-80 hour weeks. Much of the main prep involved Spanish language lessons, of which we took 2-3 hours per week for a couple of months before starting. It was challenging getting the hours in in-between work and locuming, but well worth it and, for the anaesthetists among you, good to be learning something that wasn’t FRCA orientated.
Then there was the physical training… we both do a lot of sport, but about 3 months before departure we recruited a really psyched personal trainer who worked on our strength and cardiovascular fitness. The training sessions were brutal and we mixed them with circuit training and spinning sessions. Our trainer, Daniel, provided plenty of positive energy and great advice and it actually ended up as a fun learning experience about the balance between fitness, mental attitude and diet.
We plan to release a video blog on a monthly basis to document our journey, with the hope to create a more personal connection with those following our adventure at home. Not only has this added a huge amount of weight to the kit that we must now haul for thousands of kilometers, but it may well be a tricky to capture and edit footage whilst on the road and exhausted. Always up for a challenge.
So to the last few days and the first few days. Close to departure we rested and ate a lot (a lot, a lot!), and put on about 8-9kg to see us through the first few weeks of cycling. We saw friends and family, and it was great to spend time chilling out with everyone before the start. Then the off. The start of the trip was… well, it was cold, windy and more difficult than we had anticipated. Laura put it well when she said that “you can’t really plan for this kind of trip”. You can minimise problems but you can’t eliminate them; even with the experience of cycling London to Cape Town, this was a whole different kettle of fish. After years of cycling and being injury free, the first few weeks were slowed down by quadriceps tendonitis – which is… painful during cycling. But as luck would have it, after some frustrating but necessary rest, the tendon healed and we got back on the bikes.
And so it begins! The cycling is hard, but the landscape is just amazing. We’re well into our first few weeks. Keep in touch, we’d love your support, and there’s more to follow…
Adventure Medic will keep you up to date with Reza and Laura’s ups, downs and in-betweens along their journey. In the meantime if you’d like to find out more, see their videos and help them with their charitable goal, here are the places to look and follow:
Website / Fifty7degreessouth.squarespace.com
Facebook / Fifty7 Degrees South
Instagram / fifty7degreessouth
Twitter / @fifty7_south
Donate / Reza and Laura’s Lifebox Fundraising Page
Lifebox / Find out more about Lifebox here
And finally, you can see quite how brutal those fitness sessions were on Laura and Reza’s pre-departure videoblog.