Monday, January 25, 2016

Sheer Heart Attack.


Photo: Ogwen MRT

Last summer, I received a phone call which no one wants to hear. A friend and former climbing partner had died suddenly at home from a massive heart attack. Dave was only in his sixties and was still out in the mountains every week with his Collie.Tramping oe'r hill and down dale right until the end. Although it was a shock, this wasn't the first time outdoorsy friends have suffered heart attacks. Four friends have so far bounced back from heart attacks and what they all had in common is that they are all either of average weight or on the skinny side of average. None of them smoked, ate badly, drank heavily and all were/are highly active.

How can this happen? Is it genetics, stress, overworking the body or just a freak occurrence that defies explanation?

What I do know from my days in a mountain rescue team is that deaths in the mountains from heart attacks far outweighs deaths from falls. In a nutshell, if you are going climbing on Tryfan, you've more chance of dropping dead on your way up to the Heather Terrace than falling off Munich!

My aforementioned friend was once on his way up Foel Goch above Nant Francon when he stopped to chat to a walker who had stopped for a fag and a coffee on his way down . When Dave returned he noticed that the walker was still there and as he passed he noticed that his cigarette was still held between his fingers but had burnt down to ash.Yes..he'd just expired from a heart attack. A few weeks later on the same mountain,a female friend walked up with her husband. Near the top he stopped for a rest and urged her to carry on to the top without him. Yes...you've guessed it. By the time she got back to him he'd passed away.

Of course,if we lived our lives by avoiding risk, stress or exercise we wouldn't get out of bed and the only life worth living is one in which we push ourselves to our limits to achieve something of lasting worth. However, we can't ignore the fact that once you get passed 50 or 60,the risk of heart attack increases considerably. Not that young people or the younger middle aged don't suffer heart attacks too,but stats show that the mid 50's to mid 60's seem to be the optimum age for a heart attack. Those old climbers and walkers who reach their 70's and 80's are more likely to succumb from other ailments like cancer, dementia, Parkinsons, and strokes it appears.

Somebody once told me that the average life expectancy of a member of the UK Fell and Rock Club is 88. That's way above the UK average so does this throw another element into the stats. A matter of class? Given that clubs like the F and R, the Climber's Club and the Alpine club overwhelmingly have a middle class membership, does it suggest that you can avoid a heart attack if, as a nice educated middle class professional ,you are more conversant with the positive effects of exercise and diet and the detrimental effects of smoking and boozing?

Well, yes and no. Yes in that if you are aware of those positive and negative elements it can help you live a longer, healthier life; No in that as previously mentioned, none of my friends who suffered heart attacks were obese,junk food gobbling, chain smoking boozers.

In the last couple of years I've twice undergone heart tests. Once after I had a dizzy spell and palpitations while driving on a motorway. The doctor suspected an irregular heartbeat and I wore a monitor for seven days which revealed no abnormalities in my heart patterns,and recently, after suffering chest pains-in hindsight probably indigestion- I had two sessions on a tread mill and a cycling machine which again raised no issues.

For years now and without medical recommendation, I've taken one 75mg aspirin a day in the hope and belief that aspirin reduces the risk of blood clots which cause heart attacks and strokes. Will the strategy work? Who knows? Heart Attacks in the mountains from exertion appears to be something of a lottery for all concerned but maybe,just maybe,that tiny little pill might just be the difference between life and death?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Mellow Yellow...Rejoining the V Dub Camper cult!




EX AA Van Camper Conversion
It must be over ten years since I owned a camper van-V Dub of course- and I've always planned to get another one day. I started looking on eBay and Autotrader in the summer and couldn't believe just how much even beat up old bay campers from the 70's, in need of restoration were going for! Volkswagen has always enjoyed an iconic status in the field and despite the competition from other makers like Renault, Peaugeot, Ford, Fiat and the Japanese manufacturers,these other makes just don't cut the mustard in the 'cool' stakes whatever their practical and mechanical merits.

I was watching Cameron McNeish's excellent BBC Scotland programmes aired over Xmas on iPlayer at the weekend and Cameron was waxing lyrical about his state of the art camper complete with every home from home comfort you could wish for. I think it was a Hyundai and these modern campers can set you back over £40k these days. You could buy a house in Blaenau Ffestiniog for that! In a way, impressive though these luxury campers are with regard to creature comforts, I'm more inclined towards the more basic facilities provided in an older bus like the earlier VW's. Let's face it,you will have to use one of these luxury buses a lot to make it financially worthwhile given that you can hire a cottage quite cheaply these days. Especially through AirB&B

When I bought a V Dub Camper back in the day I would often roll up at someone's house where I'd noticed a neglected camper sitting in the drive. More often than not they would be willing to sell and for as little as £125 I've bought a V Dub bus to restore and sell on at a profit. That was then and this is now. As I've mentioned above, those days are long gone and V Dubs of all types fetch top dollar. With this in mind, I'm in the process of buying another VW camper which I noticed on my travels. Like a lot of bright yellow campers, it's an ex AA van which has been well converted into a camper with a raising roof,cooker,fridge,sink and ro-ro double bed. Unlike my previous campers this has a turbo diesel engine so I'll expect about ten mpg more than the gas guzzling 1600 petrol engines in the bays which would struggle to deliver 25mpg.

I'm not planning any trips in the next few months but I've pencilled in the Lakes for a maiden voyage around April. After that, well the Scottish west coast, Northumbria and Cornwall are on the summer agenda. Not being a fan of commercial camp sites I'll be checking on isolated locations where you can park up for the night. Google Earth is good for this. As the late Ian Dury wrote..

soon I was rumbling through the morning fog
with my long haired children and my one eyed dog
with the trucks and the buses and the trailer-vans
my long throw horns playing Steely Dan


Wagon's Roll!