The Skin Job: Taking the plunge

I will admit, this is one of those introspective posts, where I deep dive into my thoughts about big life decisions and changes.

On Friday, I had my consultation with my Surgeon and we discussed the ideal plan for me and the surgery. We spoke about the procedure, it will be a modified Circumferential Lipectomy (Also knows as:  Body lift , Belt Lipectomy, and more) , the modified aspect of it is that I will not have the 360 incision, it will be closer to 310 degrees.

The surgery will take 4.5-5 hours and I will be in the Hospital for 2 days. Afterwards, I will be taken care of at home for a few days, and then have a few weeks off to recuperate. With my job changes and such, this makes for a perfect time to have this done, and the timeline works well for me.

The surgeon said that my skin was in good shape despite losing all the weight. He said the immortal words “What areas of your body are you concerned about.” and we talked about the areas of my concern. For me, they were the my belly, and the FUPA. The discussion was good, and frank, and from everything he said, it sounds like this will be a relatively routine surgery.

The surgeon was not of the “Nip/Tuck” world, and he was very good and professional. I was worried about any comments about shape and size or “the ideal” and pushing that… but there wasn’t any of it. he looked at me and offered what he felt was needed, and it always felt more like what I wanted rather what he thought I needed. It was good.

At the end of the Consultation, I felt really strong and excited about the procedure, and was pretty confident.

Then the thinking began.

Over the weekend, I have vacillated between excitement, dread, being terrified, and questioning if this is right for me.

The excitement comes from the Journey. The work I have put in over the last 15 months has culminated to this. By being diligent, working hard, being mindful, this procedure is the capstone of a lot of work and dedication to a new lifestyle and a new body.

My dread comes in the form of the procedure itself. It feels invasive, it feels major, and the recovery is not in days or a week like before, but weeks, and over a month. I dread the recovery time and the pain and the feeling incompetent.

Terrified. This is a big one. I worry about how I will look. The scars, the way I will feel. Will my skin feel the same? Will I feel odd? will the scars be so blatantly obvious? What if there is complications? The new shape of me… will I get used to it? Is is something I will start slavishly push?

And is this for me? Yes… deep down I know this is the last step in what I have worked for. I question because of my fear, I question because it is not “vital surgery.” It is something that swirls in my mind over and over.

This morning, I was speaking to my Husband about this. The way he framed it was in terms of this not being a separate procedure to the Bariatric surgery I had 15 months ago. He sees this as the Surgery at the other side of things. With that perspective, it feels a bit better. It is something that I have worked towards, but is still incomplete. I have changed, and my skin is apart of that change. And while the old stereotypes towards “plastic surgery” bang on in my mind, I have begun to learn to retrain myself and remind myself that This is a part of bariatric life, and to embrace it.

And so I am.

Still freaks me out a bit though.

Tomorrow, we will hopefully set a date for the surgery, and from there I will gear up for the next step!

 

The Skin Job: An Introduction

Last week, I got an email from my Doctor overseeing my Bariatric Surgery informing me that I have been referred to a plastic surgeon for my loose skin.

*blink blink*

In my last meeting with the doctor, we talked about having surgery to get rid of the excess skin, and while I have always thought about the process, there was a disconnect between talking, planning, and then it actually happening. So when I got the letter last week, I was surprised.

Yesterday, I got the call from the Plastic Surgeon, and I am scheduled for my consultation next week with a view to having the surgery in late June.

The technical term for what I am likely having is an Abdominoplasty. With that, I will also have some remedial liposuction to help “even things out.” Next week I will go for an examination, and then map out what are my options. From there, they will give me an estimate (like for a car) on how much it will cost. Then, of course, is the actual surgery and recovery.

I will admit that I am not completely ready for the surgery. For 15 months I have talked about having it done, but there was not real “emotion” behind it. It was something theoretical, something for the future. When the future is now 4-6 weeks away, it puts a whole new spin on things.

So what do I do? I search the internet of course!

Now searching for Plastic Surgery pictures and videos online is a rather harrowing experience. First, if you have any body issues, you will be confronted with it immediately. You see tons of shapes and bodies that do not fit the norm that you see online. You also see the ravages of surgery directly afterward, and later, the recovery one or two years on.

Further, when it comes to male plastic surgery, you get a lot of interesting things being fed to you. For example, one Plastic Surgery website in Arizona described the Male Tummy Tuck as such (Emphasis Mine):

“The goal of a male tummy tuck is to create a masculine and athletic abdomen and waist area. The incisions for a male tummy tuck are comparable to that of a regular abdominoplasty. The other components of the procedure are designed, however, to create a more square and athletic waist as opposed to a more hour-glass shape that many women desire.”

Some word choices aside, I found the path of appealing to the opposite sex doing nothing for me… surprising. But the language and the imagery is pretty typical. “You are doing this to become desirable again.”

However, the website does make me ask why I want this skin surgery, why this change? Why now? Is it just vanity that I want a firmer body? Is it a “good job” for the work I have done? Is it frivolous and childish to want this? Do I want this?

All of these thoughts rush through my mind as I prepare for the possible surgery.

So, let’s unpack the why a bit.

For years I have not been happy with my body. From the weight, to how I look, and how I perceive myself, I have struggled. For much of it, it was primarily my weight. I didn’t like how clothes fit on me, I did not like how they felt. I focus so much on the number, and if that number was good, then I would be happy.

Each time I would lose weight, I would see the loose skin, like my oversized clothes, it felt like a progression, but also a safety net. And each time, as I regained the weight, my skin would fit me. During 2016 and leading up to the surgery, my body was starting to tell me that it was no longer healthy, and while I wanted to be thinner, I wanted to be healthy a bit more, so that is when surgery came into play.

Now, 15 months later, I have kept the weight off…the longest I have kept the weight off, and the skin is as loose as ever. Each time I see it, it reminds me of my journey, but I feel it is also that security blanket. “You are going to get big again WanderingExPat, so make sure you keep me around” it seems to say to me as I look in the mirror. For all my progress, and all my gains, I worry that I am that eternal fat kid who will ultimately fail.

I still don’t feel “me” in some respects. While I “recognise” myself after the weight loss, and I am happy with my weight, my face, and most of my body, it is my tummy (and the FUPA) that I still struggle with. There are still clothes that should fit me but don’t because of the skin. There are areas of my body that are unflattering because it is just a lot of loose stuff there, and… yes… I want to change my shape a bit.

Is it vain? Self-centered? Egotistical? I look at some of the videos with men talking about Tummy Tucks, The first video was from a guy who… in my opinion was absolutely fine with his midsection, and while I won’t knock him at all for having the surgery, what I saw in him was absolutely nothing in me. The second video was a bit better, and it made me a bit more comfortable about the surgery. I look at pictures and I see the results, and I just worry that mine won’t be as good, or I should lose more weight before I do this… I have a lot of thoughts running through my mind.

I also worry about post-surgery life. How bad will the scars be? how much will actually change? If I gain weight, will I ruin it all?

I will admit, watching these videos ramp up my emotions on every level. From the worry of pain, the emotion of losing the skin. The final portion of this journey… I am nervous and scared. But it is not going to stop me. This is just a new mountain to climb.

I will be the first person I know that has had a male tummy tuck. And while I am sure there are men I know who had had it and have said nothing, it does feel a bit of uncharted territory. I just hope that my story will resonate with others who are struggling to take the plunge.

And don’t worry, I suspect that this will be an ongoing series as I work through this.

Thanks for reading.

The Tongariro Adventure: Part 4

This is a multi-part story of my Tongariro Adventure: Here is Part 1,  Part 2,  and Part 3

 

The sun rises at 6:19am. The Hut warden advised us that the weather would be clear and that the sun rises across the valley. With people going the counter-clock direction of the Circuit (I was going clockwise), people started stirring at 5:15am. I bolted awake at the sounds. It is a surreal experience. Normally, I am the only one awake in the morning, and seeing *everyone* awake at 5:30 was pretty interesting. Today is supposed to be a short day, only three hours of walking, so I do not have to be awake so early. However, with the promise of a great sunrise, and being a morning person, I got out of bed, and started my day.

With the skies clear overnight, the weather was cold during this late January summer (… which is still weird to say honestly). I walked out to the ridge, dotted with tents, and in the valley below, some low clouds hung beneath. In the distance, a line of mountains with clouds seeping in between them, like caulk in a brick wall. The other trampers were beginning to come out and gather to see the sunrise, and impatiently, I actually moved away, further along, the ridge to sit on some rocks.

The morning was still, and the conversations of the trampers wafted over to me. For the first time on the entire trip, I decided to take out my headphones. Normally, I listen to music while I walk, but over the last two days, I wanted to conserve battery and focus on the walk itself. But now… I had a particularly appropriate song for this moment.  I search for my Spotify tramping list, and quickly find the song. Time was approaching, and I flipped on the song and took out my camera.

And… Here comes the Sun.

 

19 - Sunrise at Oturere Hut2

Sunrise at Oturere Hut

This moment was honestly an emotional one. So many thoughts washed over me. I have seen many sunrises in my life, but the location, reflecting on the last year of my life. Thinking about family who are gone… tears welled up inside of me and spilled out. Frantically taking photos while the rapidly rising sun… I felt both sheepish and proud of the moment.

Finally, I put the camera down and just watch the morning unfold before me, and soon, the other trampers were moving out, beginning to start their day.

I went back to the hut and had some breakfast. Yogurt and muesli was on the menu and once again, it was surprisingly good. Perhaps it was because it was the third day of eating freeze dried food, but I contend it was good anyway.

I ended up heading out right at 8am. The sky still clear and the weather warming quickly. I set out for the next hut.

The path was rolling. I thought to myself “Today’s word is Undulating” as I walked over the lava fields. There were few shrubs as I headed to a far ridge full of trees. The path was quiet, with a few people walking the other direction. A couple more Germans and behind me, a woman who was training for an Ironman, running with a full pack. Eventually, I got close to the ridge when two trampers, The German and the Russian couple caught up. We traveled along a bit and headed into the sudden forest at the base of the ridge.

 

21 - Forest before the Waihohonu Hut

The sudden woods near the Wai

 

By 11am, I made it to the campground and quickly set up my tent. I found a nice place near the river.

 

Camp

Settling into my tent

 

 

Now it is 11 o’clock and I am done for the day… so what to do? The Waihohonu Hut is at the crossroads of the Tongariro Northern Circuit and the Ruapehu “Round the Mountain” walk.  People on the trail refer to it as “the Palace” and it was the nicest hut I saw on the trip. I walked into the hut and met up with the people who were slowing coming in from around the park. Soon, I fell into a group of trampers. The German and Russian couple and a solo Italian tramper from another trail and we decided to head off to find a Natural spring a couple of Kilometers away.

Soon, we were out and chatting, and getting to know each other. Being a solitary walker, I found this quite a change to my normal mode, and surprisingly, I really enjoyed it. The Italian man was in New Zealand for a year working at a Cheese factory and soon we were talking about the right way to make mozzarella. The German and Russian were fashion photographers and soon we were talking about cameras and the crazy world of photography. I talked about my life as a trainer, and how I came to live in New Zealand. Soon, we made it the spring, and filled our water and went in for a swim.

I have to tell you. The water was honestly, the coldest water I have ever tasted. It was amazing. Fritz, the German, was crazy enough to go and take a swim, and we laughed as he roared like a bear at the sheer magnitude of the freezing water. We moved a little down the water source, and laid out to enjoy the water where possible, and enjoy the day. Soon, a larger group of Germans we had met yesterday had arrived, and more people descended on our spring. It was a really relaxed and fun time, and again, I felt that I belonged. While I was walking solo, I wasn’t alone.

 

Friends

With some friends at the Spring

 

Eventually, the skies started to darken and we headed back to the camp. We talked and met more people who were coming in, and soon, the place was filled. The Hut warden, nicknamed “Horse” came in, and once again, we were given a great history lesson of the area, and in between rain showers, I retired to my tent. Despite the short day, I felt that this was my favorite part of the trip. The walk, the friends, and the walking without a huge pack was great. I nodded to sleep with the insects buzzing in the night and the waxing moon peaking out from the clouds. Tomorrow, I head home, I am excited, but also a little sad that this journey is about to end.

 

The Tongariro Adventure: Part 3

This is a multi-part story of my Tongariro Adventure: Here is Part 1 and Part 2

Descending Tongariro

Climbing down the Tongariro Crossing

The decent off Tongariro was again difficult, but after the scoria section, it felt like a breeze. The ground was hard and rocky as the trail wound its way down the mountain.

Soon, I was let out on a lava plain/desert are with giant boulders strewn around from previous eruptions. The broken landscape felt chaotic as if a large child haphazardly left their toys after losing interests. The flies here were almost overwhelming, with the constant buzzing in your ears, and flashes of them around your periphery. Here, away from the crowds, I was given a bit more space to think and contemplate. I came upon a couple of the Kiwi Family, an older couple. The man walking with a walking cane/stick, and the woman walking with a knee wrap. They were having a little bit of a time with the decent. We ended up walking for a bit, talking about our backgrounds and our lives. She was quite quiet, focusing on her walk, but he spoke about his travels around New Zealand, and his aversion to large cities. He felt that Hamilton was still a bit too big for him, but he is mostly used to it. These trips helped him get away from the crowds.

Descending into Mordor

It felt like Mother Nature couldn’t decide what to do with this place. 

They decided to rest a bit, and I continued into the broken landscape. Crossing dry river bed, and climbing over rocky rifts. The sun beat down and while clouds were building, they seem to dodge the actual sun, making sure it beat down on me harshly.

 

22 - Oturere Hut
Oturere Hut

I began to start seeking out the Hut. Hoping to see the hut like last time in the distance. I would see each rise and hope that once I reach the top, I would see the hut in the distance, giving me that extra motivation with each step. The trail seemed to mock me however with only showing my the next signpost. Again and again, I had my hopes dashed. I turned a corner in between two rises, and suddenly, I saw it. Well… I saw something.

 

 

Along the trail, there are trail markers that lead your way. In many areas of the Circuit, there is no discernible trail, every 50 to 100 meters there is a marker sticking out of the ground pointing you to the next marker. Normally, they have a simple orange triangle pointing you along. This time, however, in addition to the pointer, there was a 1KM sign. That’s it. But it was enough. Despite not seeing the hut, and having no other sign than this vague hope that in 1 km, I will be done. I picked up my pace. Up and down over the rocky plain, and suddenly, as I turned a corner, there it was. The hut was small, and in front of it, a wide area leading up to the edge of a ridge where the tents were staying, the view swept out east into a valley. Behind the Hut was a low ridge to partially protect the hut, but also a wide expanse where you could see Mt. Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu in the distance.

A good part of the Kiwi Family was there having their lunch. I checked the time and saw that made it to the hut in just under 6 hours. While the day wasn’t my most strenuous looking back (My Birthday walk was longer and had greater elevation), I felt the most accomplished by far in my tramping in the last year. I walked inside and saw that the hut was smaller than the last one. The place felt homey with one large area for cooking, eating, and about a dozen or so beds, and two side rooms: one for people who snore, and another room for 6-7 people. The Kiwi Family wasn’t staying at this hut tonight, so I was one of the first people to get to the hut for the day. I quickly took a bed in the private non-snoring room.

 

Waterfall

Waterfalls near Oturere Hut

After dropping off my things. I started to explore the area. About 300 meters away was a waterfall bringing water to the valley below. The water’s roar was inticing after two days of sweaty walking, so I grabbed my towel and jandals and wandered down to the falls. When I arrived, I found out I wasn’t alone, as two other trampers, the German and Russian couple Fritz and Anastasia, decided to take a dip in the water as well. The water was frigid as I waded into one of the collecting pools above the falls. The water was just a little too cold for me, and as I was leaving the pool, I felt the first splatter of rain. The clouds have finally made it to the area. In the distance, thunder rumbled, and we hurried back to the hut. A child-like smile crept across my face; the second day of storms in a row! I thought to myself.

 

Over the next few hours, thunder and lightning rolled its way around the mountains. Since I was safely in the hut, I was able to relax and listen to the rain and thunder as it fell. The Auckland Siblings came in a short time later, and the last of the family left for their last three hours hike.

The Hut filled up throughout the afternoon, as the people from all areas of the park descended on this little patch of earth. There seemed to be even more Germans than before, now we had people from Poland, Quebec, the UK, Tonga, Japan, and more. Despite the rain, everyone seemed to be in good spirits, and when the Hut warden came to talk, the weather had begun to lift, and that heat had receded.

After the talk, there was a very chill atmosphere around the hut. The clouds from Ruapehu and Ngaruhoe were clearing, and an amazing Sunset was starting to unfold in front of us.

 

17 - Mt. Ngaurohoe 5

Mt. Ngaruhoe as the clouds begin to clear

Soon, people were perched on the various boulders around the hut to watch the changing light and clouds around the mountains. The Auckland Siblings were taking photos and joking around. The Quebecois were laying on top of the largest boulder soaking in the last of the sunlight of the day. The Hut Warden was simply drinking some coffee and enjoying the sights.

As the light faded, the Mountain gave us one last show.

Special - Amazing Sunset of Mt. Nguruhoe

Sunset and the dying of the light

Looking back, I saw “the hells of Mount Doom” as the sun drenched the area in red light. The imagination ran wild as I saw the wisps of cloud stream into the darkness. As a traveler, I also try to see sunsets and sunrises as I often feel that these are some of the best times of day to see a place. At sunset, you have the world going into sleep, where the busy day is winding down and preparing for rest. The moon was out for a good part of the night, but despite the added light, the night was gorgeous and calm. I woke up again late and looked out at the stars. It was becoming my nightly ritual.

I took stock of where I was. I was halfway finished with the walk, I was feeling good, and good weather was with me. I figured I had done the toughest part of the trek. But I definitely had more in store for me in the next two days.

 

 

The Tongariro Adventure: Part 2

This is apart of a multi-part post on my 4 Day Tongariro Northern Circuit Tramp. Here is Part 1

 

Morning of Day Two

Despite the weather reports, the sky was clear.  

 

My Phone alarm wakes me at 5:15am, I turn and groan slightly. The ground is hard, though I am sleeping on an inflatable mattress and wrapped in a warm sleeping bag, I am just not ready to wake up. I hear snoring from a tent further down and despite my best efforts. I found myself drifting off to sleep…

Suddenly, my eyes pop up, the sky is much lighter, but I can tell it is still before sunrise. I look at my watch and see that it is 5:45. “Shit” I whisper to myself, I wanted to start on the trail AT 6… oh well… Don’t think about it. I get up and start getting ready for the day. I step out, and despite the weather forecast for a cloudy morning, there are no clouds in the sky… anywhere. The day is brilliantly clear, and there are no winds on the mountain. Luck is with me.

This is the big day of the walk, where I will do my greatest ascent, as well as deal with the most people on the trail. Day 2 of the Tongariro Northern Circuit aligns with a fair portion of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which is a 1-day hike which is highly popular in New Zealand. Started about 1.5 km from our hut, they walk the same path we do until just after the crossing, at which point they continue to the north-west, and we trampers head to the South. I am scheduled to take 5 hours to get to the Emerald Lakes, and 2 hours to get to Oturere Hut.

 

Day 2 Elevation Profile

Day Two Elevation profile

 

I gather my things and get packed early. My tent is still a little wet, but I don’t have too much time for it to dry out before I leave. With everything packed and stored, I leave Mangatepopo Hut at 6:50am. I am the third group to leave, with some of the Family leaving first, and another couple leaving shortly after. I see David and Tracy, the Auckland Siblings moving around and we agree to meet up at the next hut.

 

The walk at the beginning went uphill steadily, with some expanses where you were walking on boardwalks protecting the landscape nearby. It was easy walking, allowing me to eat my breakfast on the go. This consisted of a couple of Apple bars, and a Chocolate and Peanut bar. This area is called “The Saddle.” Off to the left, however, before things got serious, was a side trip to Soda Springs. My mind immediately went to another Soda Springs.

Soda Springs Oregon Trail

Chuckling, I turned instead towards the beginning of the true hike of the day.

 

 

Warning Sign for hiking

Well, this is encouraging. 

You are greeted by a sign basically saying “Are you SURE you want to do this?” taking the picture of it, I decide that, yes… after 5 months of planning, and two destination changes… and carrying 20kgs of stuff on me, that YES, yes I want to do this.

 

I was then greeted by a large number of stairs.

UGH, stairs, my nemesis. If I wanted to walk stairs, I would climb a building! Though logically I know that stairs are needed in these situations, it just tells me that this is a very steep section of the walk. I make my way up. Slowly winding my way up the stairs. The sun is definitely up, but behind the mountain, so I am luckily in the shade through most of the initial ascent. People, whom some of the other trampers called “Daywalkers” as they were only doing the day hike, were passing me slowly and surely.  About a third of the way up, David and Tracy meet up with me. We stop to chat briefly, remarking on the number of people on the hike and took some pictures of each other. They went on ahead of me, and I slowly trudge up the mountain.

 

Devils Staircase

Walking up Devil’s Staircase

Finally, I make it to the top of the ascent, huffing, and puffing, and sweaty from the effort, and I am greeted by a long 1km plain between Mt. Tongariro and Mt. Ngauruhoe. This feels like being on the moon. There is nothing this far up, except for boulders and flies. Winded, but energetic. I take my time crossing this desolate high plain. To my right, the stately Ngauruhoe, which is often better known as Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies. I did think it appropriate that I was carrying a hobbit-sized object on my back. In that moment, I felt a kinship to Samwise Gamgee that I am sure others have also experienced. To the Left, the 6 peaks of Tongariro. The previous night, the Warden’s spoke to us about Tongariro’s many peaks, born from destructive volcanic explosions. We will be climbing on one of Tongariro’s peaks, though the other 5 are off limits for Maori religious and Cultural Landmarks. After the plain, there is another difficult ascent to Tongariro. The walk was rocky and contentious, with chains in a couple of parts to help pull yourself up. There were also areas where you could stop to take photos. I took advantage of that at several points. This 30-minute ascent ended up taking me 45 minutes. I was a little disappointed in myself with this, but I was coming to realise that this is not a race and that just be doing it, is enough. So letting the Day Walkers pass by with no packs on should feel like a defeat, but just a different race.

10 - Aaron at Mt Ngauruhoe.jpg

On the Tongariro Northern Circuit/Alpine Crossing

 

With each step, I saw the top of the mountain get closer to view, and I willed myself to keep pushing. “You can do it” I would motivate myself. Give me praise for small victories, and set short goals to achieve quickly so I kept going. I pushed for the final 10-15 meters, and pop out on the top…

… to see that there was still more to go.

I audibly groaned, and a woman next to me chucked, “There is ALWAYS more!”

 

Red Crater

Looking Down into Red Crater

I decided to stop and take a look around. To my right, there was the massive Red Crater, which must have been a result of a massive volcanic explosion. This was also where I first smelled sulfur for the first time today. It is an active geological area, and I could see steam rising lazily from the vents on the sides of the mountains. Ahead of me was another rise, where scoria rock covered the peak. This rock, which consisted of sandy pebbled as big as your fingernails, was slippery and hard to maneuver. I slowly made my way up to this new summit, taking the care to not slide or slip to much.  Finally, I hit the top. Look out and down the other side to see sulfur lakes, steam rising, and the long decent north and south.

 

 

Climbind down

Only slightly stressed out

Directly in front of me, however, was this scoria descent. If climbing up it was difficult, climbing down felt perilous. I slowly made my way down, using my walking poles to balance myself as my feet felt for any foothold. I cringed every time my foot would slip. Thoughts of tumbling into a lake, or down the Red Crater filled my mind as I took one step, and then another. The views were spectacular, and every time I reached for my camera, that thought of falling over washed over me. Stressful, but I just took my time.

 

One step at a time, I get to a place where I felt comfortable enough to take some photos. Then, the final steps of this scoria. After a few more minutes of stressful walking, I hit the firm ground, and I slip down over to the Emerald Lakes.

 

12 - Emerald Lake 1

One of the Emerald Lakes

 

Here, a fair few people are sitting down and having lunch, so I decided to sit down and break out my trail mix. I check my watch, and it only 11am. What should have taken me 6 hours to get to Emerald lakes, it only took me four. A surprise for me. While I felt I was moving really slowly, in reality, I was ahead of the curve. As I was finishing up my lunch, I looked over and saw David and Tracy finishing up their lunch. I caught up with them! They were going to go up to the Blue Lake, the last of the sulfur lakes, but that was a 30-minute detour from our hut. With the heat, and the sun… I decided to not take the side trip, and instead, head directly to the hut.

The Emerald Lakes was a treat. The sulfur bubbling up through the water changes the color of the water into Greens and Blues. On one pond, you could see a seaweed kelp-like plants growing inside of it. The smaller lake/pond was not frequented because it was the first area after the turnoff from the hut. The sky and clouds reflected mirror-like on the water and made the whole thing quite picturesque. I saw the older Czech Couple sitting nearby, taking photos, and a couple of the Kiwi Family were wandering around. I was on task, and I was pretty happy with my progress. Clouds were starting to build up, and while I may not have experience with mountains, I do know what weather can be like with a lot of unstable hot air and unpredictable wind currents. So I decide to set off towards the Oturere Hut.

 

13 - Emerald Lake 2

About to head to the next stop. 

 

The Tongariro Adventure: Part 1

This will be a multi-part post on my 4 Day Tongariro Northern Circuit Tramp.

On Saturday morning, I laid in my bed excited and anxious about the day ahead of me. The sun had not yet risen, and the night before, I spent a lot of time getting my pack just right. I was a bit nervous I was taking too much stuff, but I was able to handle the pack well, and last moment, decided to take my full-frame camera to take pictures with. This meant a second bag and having an over-the-shoulder camera bag, I decided I will wear it in front of me for easy access.

My dog was snuggling up to me, and my husband slept softly next to me. It was 6:15 and I had to get going. I get up, and shower, the last one for 4 days, and I quietly get ready. Bag, Shoes, Socks, a second pair of socks, battery pack, walking sticks, camera…. Yup… I am ready. The car is packed up and I head off to the store. It opens at 7am, and I am feeling a little sheepish being the person who is almost waiting for the place to open. I grab some sausage from the hot food area for breakfast, and I start to head down south.

 

At the Beginning

Setting out from Whakapapa Village

The drive from Auckland to Tongariro is 4.5 hours, and the drive was beautiful. Clear skies greeted me for most of the drive down, and after hitting Waitomo Caves, I have started to reach areas of New Zealand I haven’t yet visited. The rolling hills and valleys laid out before me as I eventually entered Kings Country, the central region of the North Island. My car climbed in elevation as I was reaching the central plateau where Tongariro stood. Clouds started to come in and blanket the area, but undeterred, I continued on. Listening to my Tramping playlist, I am getting myself into hiking mode. Finally, after a couple of stops, I had to pick up a blister pack just in case, I see Whakapapa Village, which is basically the entry/exit point of the park for this area. In front of me is the Chateau Tongariro, a large hotel with Mt. Ngauruhoe and Mt. Ruapehu bracketed behind it. It immediately made me think of McMichael Hall from my Alma Mater, combined with the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. It has the same grand, stark, and slightly ominous feeling to it.

I suddenly realise that the place is very crowded. Cars, lining up and down the road as I approach the visitor’s centre. People walking with numbers on their back.. there is a race going on today…. Dang it, I should have checked for that.

I make my way to where a man is pulling out of a 60-minute parking spot. I [ull into the spot so that I can at least check in and get my bearings.

The Visitor centre has a nice exhibit of the region and feels very much like any visitor centre you have been to at a National Park. After speaking to the people at the front desk, I am signed in, and given the race, being allocated a special parking pass so that I do not need to move my car.

 

Mt Ruapehu On day one.jpg

Mt. Ruapehu as Clouds begin to roll in

Score!

 

Meanwhile, two other trampers, siblings from Auckland are also signing in. The younger of the two is only 18, and his older sister, around 25 or so is leading the charge on the logistics of the walk. We find out we will travel all four days together, so I bid them farewell for the moment, and tell them I will meet them at the Hut. Secretly I am glad that I am at least talking to people, and that If I get out before them, they can help me out if I run into trouble. preparations. I load up my bag, a heavy 15-20kgs worth, and I set off.

The first day of the Northern Circuit is relatively short at 3 hours. As you make your way away from the village, and across the western part of the circuit. Since I was starting the Trail, during the aforementioned race, this meant that for the first couple of kms I was fighting against a steady stream of worn out runners on the track. Soon, there was a turnoff to the Mangatepopo Hut and I was off on my own.

Once I made the turnoff, I climbed out of the forest and entered what would become a familiar sight. The land here is broken by many dry streambeds, and gives the appearance of a volcanic alpine field… which is exactly what you expect. In many ways, It reminds me of parts of Iceland, with the same short, squat bushes, and hardy plant life.

 

On the Way to Mangatepopo Hut

A Storms a-comin’!

 

The weather was overcast, and in the distance, some darker clouds were rolling in, and to my right, you could see Mt. Ngauruhoe covered in dense clouds. This section is only a three-hour hike, and I was making a good time, with occasional stops to take photos or watch the weather. Rain threatened fall a few times before deciding to finally give me a light shower. Thunder rolled distantly as I wondered how conductive was I with two metal walking sticks.

The skies were getting progressively darker, and I while I love thunderstorms, being stuck in one on my first day was not what I had in mind. So, I picked up my pace a bit and started looking for the hut.

 

02 - Mangatepopo Hut 1

Mangatepopo Hut

And finally, I turn a corner and see the small building off in the distance. A grin came to my face, with the rain stopping, starting, and stopping again, I rolled into the Mangatepopo Hut in just under 3 hours. The place was already full, with people who were doing the Northern Circuit in the opposite direction as I was arriving earlier in the day, and a large family of 15 going in the same direction I was going.

 

I set my stuff down and go looking for a place to put up my tent. Finding a spot, I start to set up my tent, and rain begins to fall. It is still a sprinkle, but the clouds portend worse weather. Luckily, a few other hikers came in to help. Naomi from Germany, Gabriel from the US, and Emma from New Zealand, all pitched in and my tent was up in no time. Soon, we were all safely in the hut as the storm rolled over us. Behind us, Mt. Ngauruhoe sat blanketed in deep clouds, and Tongariro would peak out between storms.

 

07 - Thunderstorm 1

Storms heading off

We had our hut talk, which is basically the health and safety information in case of fire, earthquake… or eruption, and through that talk, we all introduced ourselves. The family of 15 were from Hamilton, and they do a Great Walk every year. They were definitely the ones commanding the hut. Then there were people from the US, (A Guy from Wisconsin, and a Physiotherapist from New Jersey), an older couple from the Czech Republic, a German and Russian Couple, a fellow from Tonga, and a few others, including myself, the Auckland Siblings, and other kiwis who had come in about a half hour or so after me. The hut Wardens who were in attendance were surprised at the large Kiwi family, but otherwise, the composition of the group seemed typical: people traveling to New Zealand for adventure and tramping. Many people I spoke to were on months-long holidays, and in Wisconsin’s case, he had been traveling for 5 years. There was definitely a tinge of jealousy when I heard that.

 

Around the talk, everyone was preparing and eating their dinners. I pulled out my first dinner; Beef Teriyaki, and it was surprisingly good. The food being surprisingly good would be a running theme throughout the trip, and it wasn’t just me who thought so. Credit must be given to the New Zealand companies that make this food, almost to a person were impressed with them.

 

06 - Mt Ngauruhoe 1

Mt. Ngauruhoe the night before

The night was setting in, and I made my way to my tent. The clouds were starting to roll away, and I got some good views of Mt. Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. The weather report called for early clouds on the mountain but leading to a fine day with afternoon thunderstorms. Our wardens gave us the heads up to leave early, to first beat the crowds, but more importantly, beat the heat.

 

With that on my mind, I headed to my tent and settled down for the night.

That is until around 1:30 in the morning.

Of course insomnia hits. Being excited and anxious, I initially only got 4 hours of sleep, and here I was… awake. The wind had died, and I opened my tent to see the vanishing waxing Gibbous moon. The stars were still fairly washed out by the light, but I could see Orion upside down fighting the ground. Off to the east, where it was darker, I could see the Milky Way starting to come out.

But dang, it was cold. Despite having on some thermal pants and shirt, I found myself quite cold. So a quick trip to the bathroom, and back. I tried to settle back into sleep.  Around 3am, I found myself still awake, with thoughts running through my mind. I decided to get out again, knowing the moon had now fully set, and its light out of the way. And there, I saw an incredible site. Having been in Rarotonga a couple of weeks before. I had seen a multitude of stars. But I was still stuck by the tyranny of light pollution, even on that small island. That was not the case that evening. With nothing for miles around us, the Milky Way became their own clouds, and the stars blazed and twinkled with a determined fierceness. I couldn’t even compare the sky to my midwestern days, or the nights in Pauanui… light pollution always tinged the sky in some way.

I found myself just staring up at the sky as I did as a child, finding the constellations I knew, and wondering about the others I have yet to learn. Even the constellations I did know had so many more stars than I was used to, it was one of those moments you feel so small and tiny, and feel the vastness of the universe, even though you can only see your own neighborhood.

The weather still being cold, I got back into my tent and wrapped myself up. A few minutes later, I nodded asleep. I had a big day ahead of me tomorrow, and I needed to be ready. Maybe 5-6 hours of sleep is enough.

The Tongariro Adventure

How do you start a post on a blog you haven’t touched in a few weeks?

You start at the beginning you silly.

Well, over the last few weeks, I have been preparing for the Tongariro Northern Circuit.  The journey to this weekend has been a long one and a journey with a couple of unintended turns. After my surgery last year, I made the decision to do the Milford Track over Christmas and New Years. I prepared myself and on the day to book my accommodation, the website died and I was called into a meeting. After the meeting was finished, the site had returned, but the spots were all booked out.

My backup for that was the Hillary Trail. Over the last few months, I have been tramping through the Waitakere Ranges and the Hunua Ranges to prepare for the Hillary. However, in early December, disaster struck. The Maori Iwi placed a rāhui on the Waitakere Ranges, with the Auckland Council asking people to not tramp into the area in order to save the massive Kauri Tree.

This meant that my plans for the Hillary were dashed. With short notice, and not many places to look towards. I settled on Tongariro Northern Circuit. The Crossing (which will comprise mostly of Day 2 for me) was on my list for this season, but when I was researching, I found the 4-day hike version and decided this will be my new goal.

And now… tomorrow I will start that walk.

Since the Waitakere Ranges closure, I have done some pretty good walks. On my Birthday, I did an epic 22.5km walk over 6 hours with some friends in the Hunua Ranges. I found an awesome area about 90 minutes outside Auckland which is pretty awesome. Then, over Christmas, I was out on the Coromandel and I did a fair bit of walking through there as well.

And finally, about 10 days ago, I went to Rarotonga, and there I did the Cross Island walk. This walk was great in that I had to do more climbing and reaching than I usually do, and the tropical conditions were the challenge as I went through the bush. The climbing was great, and the distance turned out to be only 9km, but a challenging 9KM, and felt ready to do more.

All of this has led up to this weekend’s 43km walk. I am excited about this walk, my first multi-day camping adventure. Based on my weekend camping experience last year, I am taking some additional measures to make sure that I am happy and healthy for the whole trip. Mainly, I am making sure I take pain relief, and likely a knee brace just in case. I have bought my food, and I am in a pretty happy with that.

Also, with this being an Alpine walk and not a temperate forest walk like I had originally intended, I will be carting some warmer clothes just in case.

I am a little daunted honestly, on the eve of my first Great Walk, and I obviously have some jitters going into tomorrow. I am also doing this solo, and while I will definitely not be alone on the trail, I suspect between 40 and 60 people will be walking the same segment I am day to day, I will be functionally on my own otherwise.

So, tomorrow, I start and will likely be out of contact until Tuesday, so until then, wish me luck and I will let you know how it goes!

The Hillary Trail: impasse, decision, and reflection

Journey before Destination

Brandon Sanderson – Stormlight Archive Series

Right now, I am reading a book by Brandon Sanderson named Oathbringer. It is a fantastic book in a fantastic series that I adore (future post alert!) In the book, there is the above refrain repeated often in the series,  and it is one that I find myself saying as I write this post. My goal is the destination, but the journey… the training, the discovery, the trials… that is what is important.

Last week, I received a pretty big piece of news in relation to my upcoming Hillary Trail walk.

It was announced that the Te Kawerau ā Maki iwi has placed a Rāhui on the Waitakere Ranges. This… made me need to learn a few things in my new home of New Zealand. An Iwi is the largest social group of Maori in an area. Often translated to a Nation, a confederation, or a tribe, Iwis make up the largest political system in Maoridom. For Americans, think of the Navaho Nation. Iwis work with the government on matters pertaining tot he Maori, but also matters of conservation, the environment, and other areas stipulated in the Treaty of Waitangi.

rāhui is an edict by the iwi that forbids entrance and passage into an area. In this case… the Waitakere Ranges… where the Hillary Trail runs right through.

Why are they doing this you ask? It is because of the Kauri Trees. The Kauri trees are facing a large dieback and possible extinction due to microbes that are killing the root system of the trees. The infection is carried through the soil, and can easily hitch rides on muddy shoes, animals, and water.  Kauri Trees are very old and grow very slowly. They were once logged heavily in the early days of European colonization of the North Island but was stopped starting in the 1920’s. Kauri Dieback started showing up in the mid-2000’s, and despite attempts to slow the spread of the disease, it has exploded in the last few years infecting upwards of 20% of the remaining Kauri Tree population in the Waitakeres… home of the largest remaining stand of Kauri Trees.

A big issue is that people who walk the park are not doing what is necessary to protect the trees. I routinely see people take dogs into the Waitakeres, which is not allowed, and people do not use the cleaning stations, nor the sprays designed to kill the microbes.

The relationship between iwi and the government is a tumultuous one. The Treaty was not honored for a very long time and starting in the 1980’s, there have been attempts to change that. Despite that, the iwis move is not binding in any way. People can come and go through the park regardless of what the iwi does or decide.

Today, however, the Auckland Council is going to vote on what to do about the situation. They are considering 5 options, one of which is the closure of the entire park as per the iwis wishes. The other 4 options will be considered, but it is likely parts of the park will be closed indefinitely. However, while  Waitakere councillor Penny Hulse has stated that a complete park closure is impossible to uphold (the park is 160 square kilometers), people should respect the rāhui.

When I heard the news last week, I was despondent. after missing out on going on the Milford Track earlier in the year, I chose the Hillary because it was something that I could do in my backyard so to speak. It was a challenge I made for myself, and for the last few months, I have strived hard to achieve it. I have pushed myself, I have hyped myself, and I learned to love and enjoy the Waitakere ranges in their beauty of awesomeness. Now, with a month to go before the big walk, I am told that I shouldn’t and that my walking it could further harm the region.

Upset, Angry, shamed that I was angry, crushed at the loss of a goal, all went through my head. On one hand, there is nothing stopping me from walking the Hillary. It is highly doubtful that the Council will close the park, and the iwi has little bearing on laws. I can’t get arrested, they can’t bar the forest from me, or anyone (they even admit this). But… isn’t that what people have done for the last 150 years here in New Zealand? Ignore the Maori and their wishes when it didn’t suit them? English colonials ignored the Treaty, followed then by the NZ Government. The US had done similarly to Native Americans, making treaties and promises only to ignore them when it suited the US prerogative.

No, I can’t do that. Whenever I think about walking the Hillary in defiance of the iwis wishes, I get an empty pit in my stomach and I feel like I am ignoring one of the biggest reasons I am doing the Hillary in the first place: embracing this nation as my new home. And in the end, if I ignore the rules because they don’t suit me, I am not embracing my new home or those around me.

With the vote today, I will look to both the Council and the Iwi on what they want to do. It is likely that a two-pronged approach will happen. I suspect that the high-risk areas: Kauri Cascade, the Montana Heritage Trail, and other areas will be closed off from the public. I also suspect that they will also step up funding to combat the microbe, having found some success in areas, and being able to identify Kauri trees resistant to the microbe. If the iwi is satisfied with the decision and drops the rāhui, then I will go on my walk. If they keep the rāhui in place, then I will cancel my walk… which is a bit devastating. I love the Waitakeres, I want to walk them as much as I can. There is still so much of it I haven’t seen, but I can’t enjoy it if I am also going to help destroy it.

This also makes me worried about the Hunua Ranges, the next closest area of walks for me, which also have Kauri trees, and may be the next to close.

With this development, I tried to look at other great walks to go on during the Christmas/New Year break, and I have found that everything is either too far away, fully booked, or what is available is luxury tramping that is way too expensive. This made me very upset. Again, I have been hiking and training for months for this, and now… so close to the event, the rug gets pulled out from under me.

So… next steps.

If I cannot do the Hillary, I am going to look for a 2-day walk somewhere in the Hunuas or the Coromandel Ranges for me to go walking. I am considering the Pinnacles walk which is either a 1 or 2-day walk or I may do something in the East Hunua Ranges. Both are relatively close to me, so I should be able to find something. I just hope I can find a campground or hut to stay at.

The other thing I have done… is that I have decided to do the Tongariro Northern Circuit at the end of January. This is a great walk that also includes the Tongariro Crossing, something I was planning to do this summer anyhow. This 4-day walk will be just as challenging as the Hillary, so I am glad I was able to find campsites and a hut to stay at. The area is already protected, and it does not have any Kauri trees. So no danger there. It *is* considered sacred, but I will follow the rules of the local iwi there and that is perfectly fine for me.

If the Hillary does pull through, I will be thrilled, but only if the Iwi and the Council agree. Otherwise, I will go further afield.

“If the Journey itself is indeed the most important piece, rather than the destination itself, then I traveled not to avoid duty – but to seek it.”

Brandon Sanderson – Oathbringer Chapter 120

It is a reminder that sometimes the goal is not what you should focus on, and this situation is making me recognise that a bit more. I hope I can do the Hillary, but I am prepared to change the destination, for, in the end, it is not as important as the journey.

The Journey: A Story about Poop

Programming note: I haven’t been on top of posting in the last couple of weeks. I apologise. I will be catching up with that as we go forward. Don’t worry, I ain’t dead yet!

There is something taboo about talking about your bowel movements. Pooping is one of those supremely private acts that, unless you’re a parent with young children, is something you try to do as secretly as possible.

For me, my shyness about my bowel movements meant that I avoided pooping in public restrooms or anywhere other than the 1-2 designated “safe places” for me to poop.

So, to talk about your bowel movements, well… it is like confessing a dark secret, and you never know how people will react. With surprise? Disgust? Morbid curiosity about how others poop? Am I pooping wrong, do I poop in strange ways?

So today, I am going to talk about Poop. If you are squeamish or don’t want to read, feel free to move on. But this will be some rather personal stuff, so be kind, and wipe appropriately.

 

*deep breath, * let’s jump in (metaphorically)

 

So, there is a thing called the “Bristol Stool Scale” which was developed in 1997 to categorise bowel movements. This handy scale, made into a chart (that’s illustrated!) helps you understand what is a good stool, and what is a bad stool. I will be using this to help explain my stools without going into the gory details. It is also interesting that this scale is only 20 years old as if categorising poop wasn’t really thought of until the mid-90’s.

 

Also, it illustrated all the different types of poop. I mean… 7 categories? Really? I never thought of a poop scale being that differentiated, but… apparently, it is.

 

Pre-surgery, my bowel movements were… pun intended… very shitty. My Stool would sit on 6-7 on the Bristol scale for the last few years. This, of course, led to a very miserable experience. Prior to surgery, I couldn’t remember a time when my stool was anywhere near regular for more than a one-off. In many respects, I figured that it was my new normal. I would have a bowel movement once or twice a day, it would be explosive, and then I would move on. This had led to some unhappy bum health as well. Being a gay man, I feel we are more… attuned… to that area of the body, and it never felt right or in “good shape.” However, that is a conversation for another post.

Now, this is likely based a lot on the food I was eating. I ate a lot of take out, I would eat a lot of carbs, I would also eat a lot of processed foods and junk food. Even during my weight loss periods, my stool had been all over the place, with 5-7 on the Bristol scale being my normal and everything else deviating from that.

Then the surgery happened.

To say my Bowel movements changed would be an understatement. I mean, who knew that sewing your stomach together would lead to shitting in a completely different way.

Immediately post surgery, my stool was next to non-existent. Mostly due to my diet, I would go to the bathroom rarely, going 1-2 a week rather than a day. As I moved into Pureed Foods, and later, soft foods. The stool reflected my diet: still, on the 5-6 scale, less 7’s which was always good. When I got into solid foods, for a long while, my stool sat comfortably on the 5 scale, with each week getting more “regular” as it were.

Then, I started exercising, and from there, my food consumption had to go up. With more food, more variation, I figured my bowel would return to its old ways. However, it seemed the change again. With the absence of Fast Food, Junk Food, and high carb counts, my stool then went into mostly Type 4…. And a lot of it… and the frequency changed. I went from 1-2 a day pre Surgery to 2-3 times a week post-surgery, and now, I basically poop whenever I eat too much.

So… that seems to be good… I think?

The other thing is that along with the changes on the Bristol scale, other things have changed when it comes to my stool. i.e. color and smell.

So… color. That is one of those things you also never talk about. Of course, your poop is *supposed* to be brown, but that hadn’t been the reality for me for a long time. The Mayo clinic gives a good rundown of what the different poop colors mean.

 

I like to use this site, (and its big image) because not only do they use the poop emoji, in a semi-serious way but the information is the same. My Pre-Surgery poop color would range from very light Brown to green, to yellow. With Brown/Yellow being more of the norm than the exception.  Again, this was my “normal” and having never really thought about my stool color, I never really talked about it with doctors.

Post surgery though, the Yellow and green has gone away (except once but I think that is fine given the information). I get only brown to dark brown poops now when I go to the bathroom. It looks weird to me now.

And lastly, the smell. Now, this is interesting. When searching for more info about “smelly poops” you find a lot of not so definitive answers of what that means. The closest I came was the US National Library of Medicine, which gives some rather high-level answers to the smelly question. In short, the smell of my poop got worse post-surgery. According to the site, that could be due to two main things: diet change (check), and Malabsorption. Since a theme of Bariatric surgery is a period of malabsorption in the body, this makes sense. But daaaaamn, it is not pleasant. After 10 months living the post-surgery life, I have come to expect a smellier poop.

Because Surgery changes everything, this process has been incredibly interesting to me. You are so used to how your body functions, and then you do something like bariatric surgery, and what you knew was out the window.

In stepping back, it is apparent how unhealthy I was being, and my poop was reflecting that. I was eating shit, and therefore my bowel health was shit. Now that I am eating better, I am shitting better (but overall smellier).

Now… onto the next topic… sex.

 

But let’s not mix the two topics.

Breaking down the Election

So today was the first major election since President Donald Trump became President. In the states of Virginia and New Jersey, they held races for Governor. Virginia also held their races for the House of Delegates, the lower house in Virginia. Other places in the country had a variety of local races. From New York City to New Hampshire, Georgia, Utah, and Washington.

In short, the Democrats had a great night. Winning the Governorships in Virginia and New Jersey, and winning every major election coast to coast with the exception of UT-3 where they had a special election to replace Republican Jason Chaffetz, which was an expected GOP hold anyhow.  The Democrats also have flipped seats in Georgia, Washington, Virginia (more on that in a moment), New Hampshire, New York, and Pennsylvania. this is a pretty big election for the Democrats… even if it wasn’t nationwide.

This election is always interesting because a lot of pundits will use these results to begin predicting the 2018 midterm elections, where the US House of Representatives and 1/3 of the US Senate will be up for re-election. In many ways, they are correct to do this, as previous elections have seen these results help guide the mood going into 2018.

So in the spirit of reading the political tea leaves. I have done a little research into the Virginia House of Delegates Races to see if we can see some trends in the results.

Now I will fully admit here, I am not a statistician. I am “ok” with numbers… as long as there isn’t too much crazy stuff in it. However, I think these numbers speak well to the mood of Virginia, and potentially, the mood of the Country. So… let’s dig in.

Below is a table of the Contested Virginia Delegate Seats, and comparing the 2013 election with tonight’s election. I looked at the Margin of Victory in both races, the difference (swing) between the two, as well as the Turnout Percentage.

VA Election

I want to point out a few things in the numbers.

1) Firstly, the Republicans enjoyed a 66-34 Split in the House coming into this election. This was done in part because of the GOP Redistricting the state in 2011 embedding their advantage for the rest of the decade. IWhile several seats are uncalled at the moment, there is a real chance that the House will be split 50/50.

2) The Swing within the state is remarkable, with almost every seat seeing a swing to the Democrats. In seats where the Republican was safe, the swing seemed to be lower, but time and time again, there was a surprising swing towards the Democrats. The Average Swing was towards the Democrats by 13.1%. If this is duplicated in 2018, the House would flip to the Democrats with room to spare. Also, this is in line with the latest polls giving the Democrats an 11 point lead over Republicans in the House elections next year. Virginia proves that the gap is real, especially since Virginia is a battleground state. These should be scary numbers for any Republican running next year, regardless of where.

3) Turnout was up across the state. While looking at 2013, the turnout was up by 18.7% statewide, with some districts having over 30% increased voter turnout over 2013.

4) There is something weird in Delegate Seat 3. Not only did it buck the trend and the Republican gained in his margin of Victory, but turnout was down in this seat, which was the only seat to see turnout was lower.  I am a bit dubious about this, and I want to ask some questions as to what has happened.

What is interesting here was that the Democrats had a 13% swing, yet they still only got 50 Seats in the House of Delegates. This is the power of Gerrymandering. To overcome this, there needed to be a larger than expected Voter turnout. This is crucial to understand why it is so hard to overcome a gerrymandered district. in 2011, the GOP set up the current map so that they would have a built-in advantage to keep on winning. It looks like voter sentiment has turned against them, and now the Democrats look poised to turn the tables in 2021 (Unless the Supreme Court interferes… which another post for another time).

So what does this mean for 2018? While you cannot make a direct correlation between the results tonight and what will happen a year from now, it is important to see the state of the game moving forward: The Republicans are vulnerable. Several of these seats were won in surprising fashion. For example, in Delegate seat 13, Arch Conservative Bob Marshall lost his seat to Danica Roem, a Transgender woman who ented the race after Marshall tried, and failed to pass an Anti-Trans Bathroom bill. Roem becomes the first openly Trans lawmaker in the country, which… coming from a fairly conservative area of the state, is pretty epic. These races indicate that the Democrats are more enthusiastic about voting, are coming out more in the vote, and more importantly, winning and creating the momentum going into 2018.

Also hidden in the election results, two more GOP House Reps have announced they are retiring. This only adds to the list of other vacating GOP House members going into 2018, and generally, you don’t retire when your team is winning. I suspect that there will be more retirements between now and the end of the year.

The reaction from the Republicans has been all over the map. Donald Trump and Breitbart have both stated that the Virginia GOP candidate for Governor Ed Gillespie, a Republican moderate, did not align himself with Trump and therefore lost the race. Breitbart was quick to label Gillespie as a “Swamp Thing” and quickly blamed him and his lack of support for Trump to be the reason he lost. However, they have glossed over the massive losses in the Virginia Delegate races. Gillespie should not have depressed the GOP bote that much, and further, many Delegates lost by greater swings than Gillespie. This should be sending warning signals to the GOP in general.

In other races across the country, the same story played out: Higher turnout than 2013 and surprising victories by Democrats. In Georgia, two special elections for state seats flipped to the Democrats, both of which were fairly surprising. Pundits are wondering what this will mean for the Special election for Alabama Senate slated for December 12. While I think that Republican Roy Moore is still the Favorite for the election, it does give the Democrats some hopes of flipping Attorney General’s Jeff Sessions old seat over the Democrats during a crucial election year.

What this will do to the Tax Reform Bill currently in the House is up for debate, but as the Republican Majority heads into an election year, they may not be seeing so much of a Wave against them, but rather a Tsunami, and right now, Donald Trump looks to be an Anchor around their feet, dooming far more than they expect.