Saturday, September 25, 2010

SICK! .. no not sick, like cool, I mean really sick

There's something nasty going around and I've got it. Perhaps the combined stress of returning to life in Toronto, getting in the bike accident last week and the ominous knocking of my financial institution on my door has left me depleted. It amazes me that drinking wine, eating chocolate and riding a bike crazy distances every day for a month allowed me to remain perfectly healthy .. and two weeks back in Toronto has knocked me on my ass with illness.
Alas, I'm not going to bore you with the details of the virus only to say: severe congestion, what has felt like knives in my throat and a headache that mimicks a parade of elephants, one at at time, stepping down, crushing my brain only to allow it to pop up again before the next comes along to repeat the process.
When I contracted the virus on Thursday afternoon, I looked in the cupboard to check out my options for cure. This is how you cure your cold from your cupboard:
1) Garlic becomes your best friend! Use it raw; chew and swallow it for a sore throat. You will stink - perhaps for days! If you have a sensitive stomach, beware! It may cause some burning and discomfort if you take it on an empty stomach. Alternatively, chow down some garlic sandwiches with avocado, salt, lemon and raw garlic on bread or toast. Or sautee your garlic and put it over what you're eating. Garlic has an antimicrobial agent called allicin which helps kill viruses.
2) Lemon and honey tea .. drink a lot of freshly sqweezed lemon tea. Lemon is high in vitamin C. Honey is antimicrobial which also helps kill viruses. Manuka honey is best studied for its antimicrobial properties but, if you don't have this in your cupboard, any honey is better than none. Add some ginger as a decongestant and to warm up the body.
3) Steam with eucalyptus oil. Heat some water, put it in a bowl with a few drops of eucalyptus oil and put your face over with a towel over your head: inhale deeply. The eucalyptus oil will help clear congestion.
4) Salt: this is one of the few times that excess salt is actually good for you! Gargle with it as often as you can to sooth a sore throat. Do neti (nasal salt water rinse) to clear excess mucous and soothe the nasal passages. If you're going to be up every few hours at night, why not be gargling and rinsing?!
5) Wrap up: wrap yourself up like a mummy and increase your core temperature. The reason that our bodies produce a fever is because viruses cannot live in high temperature environments. Support your immune system by creating a little heat of your own and sweat it out!
6) Water: drink a ton of it. When viruses are killed, they emit endotoxins. Drinking a lot of water helps flush these toxins out of the body eliminating the burden on your detoxification system. It will also keep you hydrated!

In addition to the above suggestion, fuel your body with warming foods: stews, soups, cayenne pepper and cinnamon. Get a lot of rest and a little light exercise: a few sun salutations or a 15 minute walk will actually stimulate your immune system.
You will be a garlicy, sweaty, mucousy excuse for a human being for a day or two. If you have a partner, for the sake of your relationship, do not let them witness this experience. Have them sleep on the couch or vacate the house for a few days!

It is now less than 48 hours after contracting the virus: my elephants have gone back to Africa and taken the headache with them, the knives from my throat are now back in my cutlery drawer; I am only left with a bit of excess, nasal mucous. Recovery in two days is NORMAL: viruses should not last 3 weeks! If they are lingering on, this may indicate that your immune response is not as effective as it could be. In this case, get your butt to a naturopathic doctor and get some support for your immune system!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Step-by-Step, Falling-Off-Your-Bike Recovery Program

I had this brilliant plan: rush down to Queen's Park on my lunch break to catch a glimpse of Michael Barry and Ryder Hesjedal at the PRO men's race. If I left at 1:45pm, I'd be able to see the last 40 minutes, visit with a few people and fly back to work.
For those of you who don't know, the aforementioned "pros" are a few of our best Canadian cyclists. Ryder Hesjedal placed 7th overall in this year's Tour de France and Michael Barry was on the US Postal Team in the glory days of Lance Armstrong! It is not everyday that these guys come over to grace our Toronto streets with the beautiful elegance of their absolute talent. For a little footage, check it out online:

Flying back to work with wind in my hair .. ok, I admit, I do not wear a helmet when I am commuting; when I'm really riding (on my race bike) I ALWAYS wear a helmet. Judge me if you like! I know that it's stupid. I know that helmets save lives. I know that regardless of what bike I am riding, I am probably riding WAY TOO fast to not be wearing a helmet, but there is nothing like feeling the wind in your hair. I suppose if it precedes a cracked skull on the pavement, it might be just as effective to use a blow dryer to simulate the sensation!

Feeling inspired (and with the knowledge that I would likely arrive back to work late), I rode even faster. Sailing across the via-duct with sun on my face, I chose to run an orange light. Coming up on a leisure cyclist at 35km/hr, I proceeded to pass .. at which point he decided that it was a good idea to, without looking, ride across the adjacent crosswalk. This, of course, resulted in his bike colliding with my high-speed front wheel, sending yours truly flying in the air, shoes smoothly sailing on the wind and both landing hap-hazardly on the paved surface below!

What do you do when you fall off your bike?

1. See if you can stand. If you can, clear the course; in other words, GET OFF THE ROAD! If you can move your limbs, they're likely not broken. If there are bones sticking out of your skin: well, that's not good.
2. After you've assessed yourself and taken a few deep breaths, assess the bike!

Before I go on, let me just say that the most life threatening injuries can be the one's that you can't see: a ruptured spleen for instance, which may cause some pain over the left side of your chest cavity and could lead to an internal hemorrhage if untreated, or a concussion, which could result in brain swelling and damage and may present with dizziness, inability to concentrate, nausea and fatigue.

3. Good back to work or, if you have the option, go home .. if you need to, wait for the ambulance! (I went back to work)
4. ARNICA!!!! Homeopathic Arnica is used to treat trauma, both topically and internally. An appropriate pellet dose internally for acute trauma is a potency of 30CH. Take it as often as you need to to relieve bruising, pain due to trauma and pulled muscles. Slather the topical form on liberally and regularly to expedite healing.
5. Take a bath with 2 full cups of Epsom salts. Epsom salts contain magnesium which will relax the muscles that tightened up during impact.
6. Keep moving!! Light movement will promote circulation and direct "cytokines" that encourage healing to the site of injury. In addition, GENTLE movement will minimize swelling. FYI: don't move broken limbs if they're not casted!
7. Get treated for ongoing trauma: kinesiotaping, acupuncture and massage all work well to assist in healing and will help you avoid developing chronic pain. (To all of my colleagues, I will be requesting a massage session between patient visits tomorrow)! :)

Since I'm writing this, I have not died. I am pretty battered: bruised left hip, knee and shoulder, sore back and neck and scraped up left hand. But I will survive! I leave you all with some cycling wisdom from 84 year old Gordy Shields, US record holder and National Cycling Champion:
"Yet in spite of the danger, this sport has a fascination that, to me, no other sport gives. Yes, I know I will crash and while I will do all in my power to avoid it, I will not give up any forms of my riding".

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Obstacles on the Path of Passion

Today was a hard day.
You see, choosing to be a Naturopathic Doctor has been a path of passion.
Previous to my returning to school, I've lived a few different lives: the Yukon, Trinidad, an Ashram in India, corporate Toronto; all of these lives have encouraged my desire to help people and my want to add a little more love to the world.
Often after hearing of my many pasts, I am admired for going back to school at such a late age to start a new career, "a career with meaning". This admiration generally evokes a sense of empowerment and pride in me at the life that I have chosen.

It's only on mornings like this, after being out of the country for a month (earning NO income), and opening a newly received bill to find that my bank has "restructured" my student LOC payments and lovingly requests that I cough up an extra LOT of money for September 30th, that I question my path.

You see, I am not a rich lady. In fact, I have worked my hands to the bone to achieve the little that I have. I would be lying if I tried to convince you that financial demands that extend my limited means to the point of fraying make me stronger. They don't initially .. I often break down in sobs, seriously ask myself whether I am too old to sell my body for a reasonable amount of street cash and wonder if the bank would find me in Tahiti.

After the breakdown this morning, I made some espresso and thought about declaring bankruptcy. Deciding that this is probably best avoided, I resigned myself to the fact that I may not eat for the next few months (or years).

I have noticed in my limited experience that, when faced with challenge, the universe often brings you the reassurance that you need: little, sutble messages that tell you that you really are on the right path. Unpacking my handbag this evening revealed a small jewelery box; the delicate home of a beautiful, handmade broach given to me by a woman as a token of appreciation for the depth in which I've helped her. Payment for actions we preform in life come from more than just money: it comes from experiencing someone else's successes, it comes from sharing love, indulging in laughter, tasting good cheese and finding comfort in perfect espresso. It comes from knowing that sometimes your smallest effort effects positive change in the life of another. Its about knowing, with conviction, that you may not be able to eat out ever again, but you do have the power to add love to the world.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Addicted to Bliss

The market in my neighbourhood happens on Tuesdays from 3pm-7pm. I often miss the opportunity to shop there due to my office schedule. This Tuesday was a different story however.
Being in Europe for a month reinforced all my blissful addictions: cycling, good espresso, chocolate and completely non-naturopathic gluten-rich fresh breads! The market in Cabbagetown is much like being in Europe. The beautiful, baked goods, the rich, dark chocolate pucks, the aroma of freshly roasted java blends and even the occasional cute cycling boy all tickle my urge to indulge!

Lately, my self-talk has been going something like this, "Oh Gail, you've only been back for a week .. you NEED another espresso simply to get you over the jetlag! "Jumping back into a strict naturopathic regime seems a little extreme at this point, doesn't it"?! "Maybe we can just coast on chocolate until Christmas and adopt a few resolutions for 2011"!

Walking around, salivating, fighting with my own mind and listening to the sweet whispers of chocolate on the wind, carassing my ears, resulted in this: "there must be SOMETHING I can do with chocolate pucks that will justify their ingestion"?!

Chatting with the chocolate monger led to a wink, a smile or two and a big, stuffed bag of raw chocolate in my arms! A few minutes walk home, a 20-30 minutes of prep led to this:

Raw Chocolate Balls

2/3 cup steal cut oats, finely chopped
3-4 tbsp of chopped walnuts
1 tbsp of chia seed, ground
3 tbsp pitted dates
3-4 tbsp water
1-2 ounces of raw chocolate chopped into small pieces

Mix all the above, dry ingredients (excluding the chocolate chunks). Heat the pitted dates in a saucepan with the 3-4tbsp of water (to soften). Blend the dates with a hand blender until smooth. Let cool for 5 minutes and mix into dry ingredients. Blend the raw chocolate into the mixture and shape into balls. Let set in the fridge for 30 minutes. Enjoy! **If you would like a LITTLE more sweetness, add a tbsp of maple syrup**

This is the thing: indulgence doesn't have to be sinful!

Most chocolate is roasted during processing before being made into bars to expand the complexity of its flavour. There are many healthy and naturally occuring oils in chocolate. Roasting, however, potentially denatures these oils and causes their rancidity. The chocolate chosen from the market is raw (not roasted) and combined with ground hemp and agave nectar, to cut the bitterness. The ground hemp adds a little protein and fiber to the mix, the agave cuts the bitterness of the raw chocolate and the chocolate itself, provides a ton of antioxidants and healthy fat (check out

The ingredients in Raw Chocolate Balls provide healthy fibers called lignans which assist in keeping cholesterol in check (in the steal cut oats and chia), magnesium (in walnuts) to assist in energy production, sleep and muscle soreness and fatigue and natural sugar (fructose from the dates).

It's now Wednesday: I am still addicted to my chocolate bliss. However, I would like to inform you all, despite the battle in my head, it is my second day without espresso! Let's see how long THAT lasts! :)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Family Affair

My brother and I are different people: he is a hard-working, successful, relatively conservative individual who is one of the most intelligent people I know. I, on the other hand, am a little more free-spirited, live to love, enjoy work but also like to play and .. well, I would need to combine four Gail's, with different knowledge bases, to give my brother a run for his money intellectually.
Although I am proud of my brother and his accomplishments, there was a time when his many successes completely invalidated me. This, my friends, is one of the reasons why signing up for the Ride for Karen every year brings me joy. My brother has become notorious for doing a few rides on the trainer and a couple 20-30 minute rides outside before embarking on the hilly, 160km ride that honours Karen Tobias and her battle with cancer. The process usually includes my brother suffering, me bearing witness to his suffering and gaining a single, proud moment when he needs my help (for a change) at which time, I provide a draft. (In cycling, this is when one rider rides ahead of another to break the wind. It can decrease the following riders workload by up to 30%)! An additional proud moment is often achieved when we run into high school friends of my brother at the rest stop and they refer to his needing help from his little sister to get him through the ride (part of me cringes at how this must make his ears bleed while the other part of me experiences this unique sense of absolute GLEE)!

The Ride for Karen is a family affair in every sense of the word from my sibling rivalry that finally finds fair ground, to the relationship that Kirk and Kris Tobias share that has enabled such a successful and meaningful event. The 160km of riding, in sometimes rain, sometimes cold and rarely sun, has raised over $1,300,000.00 in the last eight years which has gone towards improving the cancer care facilities at Sunnybrook hospital and sent numerous children with cancer to summer camp.

In addition, this ride also gives individuals an opportunity to find purpose in their athletic endeavours. Many people on the ride have experienced cancer in some capacity: through their own cancer experience or one of a friend or loved one. This event attracts a group of riders that seem to pour their heart and soul into the ride for the purpose of supporting others. The passion extends beyond the day of the ride: as friends, we all gather the afternoon before the ride to make over 500 sandwich wraps to fuel the riders the next day. Positive energy comes together to create a movement that supports a growing need.

This blog entry is an opportunity to encourage all you casual and avid cyclists to check out the ride for Karen: The three different distances allow every cyclist to participate. All you need is a bike! :)

Saturday, September 4, 2010


One word: redemption. Who knew that a girl could redeem herself on one of the hardest climbs of the Tour de France?

Much has transpired: after death on the Alps, I rented a car and headed down to the south of France. My intention was to spend my days drinking wine, eating good food and exploring all the beauty that Provence and the Luberon have to offer.

Its interesting to note the difference in climates between the Alps and the south-central part of France. The dry mountain air of the Alps and the weather systems that roll in in a moments notice often result in rides that begin sunny and end cold and wet (or vice versa)! The Luberon is also dry but, contrary to the Alps, it is consistently hot and windy, much like a desert. Both environments offer their own challenges when it comes to cycling any distance.

I made my way to the famed Chateauneuf du Papes region of France. Despite what many people think, this is a wine-producing region and not a single winery. As a result, the options for tasting wines from many different producers was endless. The way it works in France is that you can either go to the winery itself or you can go into Chateauneuf du Papes (which is a town) and go to a place de degustation (a place for tasting). Because the town was so beautiful, I chose the latter. I found myself across from a woman who,while speaking broken english (as I attempted french), pulled out bottle after bottle of wine for me to taste. Apparently, lighter wines are best tasted first (white, rose and reds with less tannins) so the palate is not obscured. After these, then the richer wines come into play: the deeper, full-bodied reds. The experience was exceptional! The wine is better than any that I've tried and comes at a much more reasonable price than anything imported to Canada.

I couldn't stay too long though for fear of getting completely annilated and not being able to drive! So after a quick bite to eat, I headed off the the chocolate factory for a tour of continued indulgence. By the time I had my fill of rich, dark chocolate it was late in the day .. just enough time of daylight left to drive up Mt Ventoux and then back to Fontaine de Vaucluse (to my hotel). At this point, I honestly thought that having spent a week climbing in the Alps, the drive up to the top of Ventoux would be enough to satisfy my curiosity about the mountain so I could let go of the thought of climbing it on my bike until my next visit to France. It was quite the contrary: I began looking at the km markers on the side of the road that indicate what km of the mountain you have reached. I began evaluating the grade % and thinking about how my legs would feel at various parts of each km. Then something else happened. Something that happens to every athlete: there was a nervousness in my stomach, an anxious yearning to be on my bike, the need to get to the top driven by strength, perseverence and will instead of gasoline! And so, the decision was made: I was coming back the next day to climb Mt Ventoux on the bike.

The thing about Mt Ventoux is that the last 3-4km is completely exposed to the elements. At one point this mountain was covered in trees only to be clear cut. Unfortunately, because the soil has dried and eroded so dramatically, this mountain will never successfully be replanted. What this means for cyclists is that, after you've already ridden 18km up steep inclines, you are faced with the last 3-4km of insane sun and wind that whistles across the top of the mountain like a hurricane (I could not get out of my car at the top the evening before for fear of being blown away)!

To the day of the climb: you know those days where everything just comes together? You've eaten well the night before, are well hydrated, the legs are rested, you've sleep long and deep and you wake up ready for the challenge ahead? This is how I started my climb up Mt Ventoux.

I will not lie to you: Mt Ventoux is probably the hardest climb that I have done. The wind at the top is insane, the gradient of the climb is steep (11%) .. hence my celebration at the km marker that indicated 10.5%. It is amazing how much easier 0.5% can feel! In addition, climbing alone brings with it an entirely different experience: you are forced to dig deep within yourself and find the strength and drive to keep going. There is a satisfaction that comes with this that is difficult to describe. I talked to a few guys enduring the same pain - a couple of which I passed and one of which passed me - it was nice to know that we were all up there suffering it out. The top was the most incredible: happy, tired people (all men, not a woman is sight!) that were all smiling and taking photos. My legs at the end of it were tired, but I didn't crack like I did on the Madeleine. There was a beauty in the experience, a patience with the process of simply one pedal stroke at a time and a personal power obtained with the last few hundred meters to the top. Mt Ventoux has taught me why people love climbing mountains so much: it is a spiritual journey with one of the greatest rewards.. standing at the top of the world and almost touching the heavens.

I am back in the Netherlands now .. back to flat, windy riding. The mountains have changed me - like they have changed every rider that I know that has ever climbed them. Suffering aside, I miss the journey and look forward to the day that I can return.

I will leave you all with these words of climbing wisdom given to me from Steve: when climbing a mountain on your bike, leave your tires a little flatter(10-15psi less). Air expands with altitude and the tires will get firmer as you go up. On descents, be sure you don't break too much: this heats up your rims and may predispose you to a flat tire. And lastly, if you are a woman that rides a bike, get out to the mountains!! We need more women out there!