As an optometric assistant (1984)
Return to Reality

After returning to Calgary, my arms disappeared. I was on my bike when it happened, hunched over my handlebars, peddling away, when suddenly they vanished! Certain that I was going to slam face first into the pavement without my arms to stop me, I screamed! A moment later, my arms reappeared. It was the only time a hallucination truly scared me, but it also turned out to be my last hallucination; I believe it marked the end of my schizophrenia. By then even the night sky had lost its luster and appeared normal for the first time in 15 years. At 32, after eight years of megavitamin therapy, I was finally free of the illness.

In the years to follow, and as I grew confident that my schizophrenia wouldn't return, I slowly reduced my vitamin regiment. After several years without any sign of a relapse, I stopped taking megadoses altogether.

Since then I've enjoyed good health. I can't be sure if megavitamin therapy cured me, yet I don't believe it was a complete coincidence that I began improving after I started taking huge amounts of vitamins, after my dose of B3 was increased to four grams a day. In the least, I think it hastened my recovery. In any case, I was fortunate for few schizophrenics ever fully recover.

So how did I get schizophrenia in the first place? It's generally accepted that it's caused by bad parents or bad genes, but a growing number of psychiatrists now believe viruses are implicated. Not the kind of virus that is passed by contact, but a virus that resides in all of us, a virus that entered our DNA millions of years ago. Our immune system keeps this virus in check, but during pregnancy a cold or a flu may activate this virus, causing disturbances in the fetal brain that can later lead to schizophrenia. (see “The Insanity Virus,” Discover Magazine).

When I returned to Calgary I had hoped to find work as an ophthalmic assistant, but not surprisingly, I found no openings for such esoteric employment. Instead, I took a job as an optometric assistant. Working with clients, I helped them select frames and lenses, and then fitted them with finished eyeglasses. I soon fell into the routine of going to work five days a week. I didn't have a car so I suffered a long commute to work, a commute that was dull except for one day when I ran into a woman on a bridge who was considering jumping.

After selling glasses for three years, I grew bored. I quit only to drift from job to job, mostly at health food and computer stores. At one point, when I couldn't find work in Alberta, I moved to Ontario. Instead of taking a job, though, I took a room at a hospital after a runaway trailer slammed into me while I was cycling. After taking months to convalesce, I returned to Calgary.

Despite my accident, I was still passionate about cycling. I joined the Elbow Valley Cycling Club and spent my weekends biking with them. When I wasn't riding with the EVCC, I was cycling solo or with friends. I did short day trips as well as “centuries” (a “century” is a hundred miles in one day). One day I did a double century, cycling from Calgary to well past Banff and back, a 12-hour trip. I also did multi-day trips such as the Golden Triangle, a three-day, 300 km ride encompassing Banff, Golden and Radium; the Silver Triangle, a three-day trip in BC; and the Tour of the Swan River Valley (TOSRV), a two-day, 340 km ride in Montana.

In the late '80s I shifted to a new sport: mountain biking. Instead of racing up highways I began tearing down mountain paths. I fell in with friends who shared my passion for mountain biking, and we created a casual mountain biking club: The Offroad Toads. The Offroad Toads comprised of a core group of a half dozen avid cyclists along with several riders who rode infrequently. We took our little group seriously. On weekends we headed to the mountains and followed trips described in Backcountry Biking in the Canadian Rockies. On one occasion we had a bear encounter in Banff National Park.

Not only was I physically active in the '80s, but I was also studious. Years ago when I studied computer science at university, schizophrenia had sapped my desire to learn, but now my curiosity and enthusiasm were unfettered and I was free to rekindle my interest in computers. Of course, much had changed since the early '70s. Computers that once filled a room now sat on a desktop! In 1984 I bought a Commodore 64 and began writing and selling programs to Ahoy! Magazine.

Commodore wasn't the only company producing personal computers. A company called “Apple” introduced the Macintosh. Unlike other machines of its time that were restricted to a type-in interface, Mac computers used a mouse to navigate the screen. In 1985 the Apple Laserwriter and Aldus PageMaker appeared, and along with the Macintosh, they ushered in a new industry: desktop publishing, or graphic designing as it's called today.

In 1988 few people knew what desktop publishing was, let alone held such a job. I had no experience, but it sounded like fascinating work. So when I came across a want ad for a desktop publisher at the Calgary Jewish Centre, I jumped on it. Using a portfolio that included my artwork and my published computer programs, I applied for the position and got the job. I quickly learned to use a Mac Plus along with the preferred software of the time, QuarkXPress and Illustrator.

Although I was biking, hiking and playing frisbee at the time, I had never taken fitness seriously. Up until then, my only exercise were pushups, but I did them faithfully. When I was 14 I began doing ten a day and before finishing high school, I was doing a hundred pushups a day, every day. And I kept it up. However, I ceased doing pushups when I was 38, when I started working at the Calgary Jewish Centre. The Centre had a gym and free membership for employees, so I began working out several hours a week. After I left the Centre, I continued working out at other gyms until 2001. Since then, I've taken to working out a few hours a week at home. And I resumed doing pushups daily. I'm impressed with this simple yet intense core and upper-body exercise that takes me about a minute and can be done anywhere.

I did graphic designing at the Centre for over five years before moving on to do design work for other companies, mostly print shops. Then in 2001, following the dot com bubble burst, the demand for graphic designers fell, especially for middle-aged, unschooled designers like me. It was just as well, for after 13 years I was facing burn-out from the stressful, fast-paced publishing industry. I was ready for a change and it was a big change. I took a warehouse job where I still work today.

Just before switching careers, I also changed my outdoor pursuits. After road biking in my thirties and mountain biking in my forties, I was ready to devote myself to a different sport after I turned 50: scrambling. Up until then, I had hiked or scrambled up mountains sporadically, but now the activity took priority.

For a time I belonged to a hiking club, the Hostel Outdoor Group (HOGs). While hiking with the HOGs, I met a lovely, vibrant woman, Dinah, who shared my passion for the mountains (not too mention an appreciation for humour and wit). She would become my partner not only in the great outdoors but in life.

Although I enjoyed the camaraderie that the HOGs provided, I decided to leave its confines and explore on my own. All around me were peaks begging to be bagged, and I wanted to pick and choose among them. Along with Dinah, and occasionally friends, I began organizing my own trips.

At first I chose mountains selected from Alan Kane's popular book, Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies. I emailed Alan about some of his scrambles, asking questions or making suggestions. Nothing of import I thought, but in his 2003 edition of Scrambles, Alan added my name to his Acknowledgements page.

I'm not always content to climb peaks found only in books. Sometimes a peak will catch my eye when climbing or driving through the mountains. Often too, I'll become intrigued by a mountain that I see on a map. So I began ascending summits that didn't have published routes. Dinah and I find more satisfaction and excitement in climbing a mountain without prior knowledge of a route. Nor do we confine ourselves to the dry season. When snow lies deep on mountain slopes, we take to snowshoeing. And of course, I post my trip reports on my website.

On an internet scrambling forum, Dinah and I crossed paths with Andrew Nugara, an ardent climber of new summits. Sometimes we use one another's routes, and on a few occasions, Dinah and I have teamed up to climb with Andrew.

Andrew routefinds his way up scores of peaks each year with unflagging enthusiasm. In 2007 he wrote More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies. Then in 2011 he followed it up with another book, Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies. Dinah and I are pleased to be acknowledged in both his books.

Dinah and I have logged hundreds of mountain adventures, and we continue to climb peaks and post trip reports. There's always a peak somewhere that will have us wondering: what would it be like to stand on its summit.

Afterword
I've told bits and pieces of my past to friends and relatives, but putting it all together into one story has been incredibly rewarding. Upon reflection, I've come a long way: from the misfortune of having schizophrenia, to the good fortune of being treated by a doctor who helped me recover; from being sidelined from university, to a late career in graphic designing; and from being apprehensive of stepping outside, to climbing mountains solo. Along the way, I've had more than my share of unusual experiences. Borrowing a phrase from a Grateful Dead song: “What a long, strange trip it's been.”


1995

Backpacking on the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park (1997)
 

Mountain biking with the Offroad Toads (1997)
 


2011

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