Inspirational story

I was sent this story by a friend who is totally deaf and visually impaired. Check this out, its amazing.

Blind student earns medical degree, sees no limits
By Andy Manis, AP

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The young medical student was nervous as he slid the soft, thin tube down into the patient’s windpipe. It was a delicate maneuver — and he knew he had to get it right.

Tim Cordes leaned over the patient as his professor and a team of others closely monitored his every step. Carefully, he positioned the tube, waiting for the special signal that oxygen was flowing.

The anesthesia machine was set to emit musical tones to confirm the tube was in the trachea and carbon dioxide was present. Soon, Cordes heard the sounds. He double-checked with a stethoscope. All was OK. He had completed the intubation.

Several times over two weeks, Cordes performed this difficult task at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics. His professor, Dr. George Arndt, marveled at his student’s skills.

“He was 100%,” the doctor says. “He did it better than the people who could see.”

Tim Cordes is blind.

He has mastered much in his 28 years: Jujitsu. Biochemistry. Water-skiing. Musical composition. Any one of these accomplishments would be impressive. Together, they’re dazzling. And now, there’s more luster for his gold-plated resume with a new title: Doctor.

Cordes has earned his M.D.

In a world where skeptics always seem to be saying, stop, this isn’t something a blind person should be doing, it was one more barrier overcome. There are only a handful of blind doctors in this country. But Cordes makes it clear he could not have joined this elite club alone.

“I signed on with a bunch of real team players who decided that things are only impossible until they’re done,” he says.

That’s modesty speaking. Cordes finished medical school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the top sixth of his class (he received just one B), earning honors, accolades and admirers along the way.

“He was confident, he was professional, he was respectful and he was a great listener,” says Sandy Roof, a nurse practitioner who worked with Cordes as part of a training program in a small-town clinic.

Without sight, Cordes had to learn how to identify clusters of spaghetti-thin nerves and vessels in cadavers, study X-rays, read EKGs and patient charts, examine slides showing slices of the brain, diagnose rashes — and more.

He used a variety of special tools, including raised line drawings, a computer that simultaneously reads into his earpiece whatever he types, a visual describer, a portable printer that allowed him to write notes for patient charts, and a device called an Optacon that has a small camera with vibrating pins that help his fingers feel images.

“It was kind of whatever worked,” Cordes says. “Sometimes you can psych yourself out and anticipate problems that don’t materialize. … You can sit there and plan for every contingency or you just go out and do things. … That was the best way.”

That’s been his philosophy much of his life. Cordes was just 5 months old when he was diagnosed with Leber’s disease. He wore glasses by age 2, and gradually lost his sight. At age 16, when his peers were getting their car keys, he took his first steps with a guide dog.

Still, blindness didn’t stop him.

He wrestled and earned a black belt in tae kwon do and jujitsu. An academic whiz, he graduated as valedictorian at the University of Notre Dame as a crowd of 10,000 gave him a standing ovation.

Cordes finished medical school in December but still is working on his Ph.D., studying the structure of a protein involved in a bacteria that causes pneumonia and other infections.

Though he spends 10 to 12 hours a day in the lab, Cordes also carried the Olympic torch when it made its way through Wisconsin in 2002 (he runs four miles twice a week) and has managed to give a few motivational speeches and accept an award or two.

He’s even found time to fall in love; he’s engaged to a medical school student.

But Tim Cordes doesn’t want to be cast as the noble hero of a Hallmark special.

“I just think that you deal with what you’re dealt,” he says. “I’ve just been trying to do the best with what I’ve got. I don’t think that’s any different than anybody else.”

He also shuns suggestions his IQ leaves his peers in the dust.

“I just work hard and study,” he says. “If you’re not modest, you’re probably overestimating yourself.”

Through the years, plenty of people have underestimated Cordes.

That was especially true when he applied for medical school and was rejected by several universities, despite glowing references, two years of antibiotics research and a 3.99 undergraduate average as a biochemistry major.

Even when Wisconsin-Madison accepted him, Cordes says, he knew there was “some healthy skepticism.” But, he adds, “the people I worked with were top notch and really gave me a chance.”

The dean of the medical school, Dr. Philip Farrell, says the faculty determined early on that Cordes would have “a successful experience. Once you decide that, it’s only a question of options and choices.”

Farrell worried a bit how Cordes might fare in the hospital settings, but says he needn’t have.

“We’ve learned from him as much as he’s learned from us … one should never assume that any student is going to have a barrier, an obstacle, that they can’t overcome,” he says.

Sandy Roof, the nurse practitioner who worked with Cordes in a clinic in the town of Waterloo, wondered about that.

“My first reaction was the same as others’: How can he possibly see and treat patients?” she says. “I was skeptical, but within a short time I realized he was very capable, very sensitive.”

She recalls watching him examine a patient with a rash, feel the area, ask the appropriate questions — and come up with a correct diagnosis.

“He didn’t try and sell himself,” Roof adds. “He just did what needed to be done.”

Cordes says he thinks people accepted him because most of his training was in a teaching hospital, where he blended in with other medical students. One patient apparently didn’t even realize the young man treating him was blind.

Cordes grins as he recalls examining a 7-year-old while making the hospital rounds with Vance, his German shepherd guide dog. The next day, he saw the boy’s father, who said, “I think you did a great job. (But) when my son got out, he asked me, ‘What’s the dog for?’ ”

With his sandy hair and choirboy’s face, Cordes became a familiar sight with Vance at the university hospital. The two were so good at navigating the maze of hallways that interns would sometimes ask Cordes for the quickest route to a particular destination.

Some professors say Cordes compensates for his lack of sight with his other senses — especially his incredible sense of touch. “He can pick up things with his hands you and I wouldn’t pick up — like vibrations,” says Arndt, the anesthesiology professor.

Cordes says some of his most valuable lessons came from doctors who believed in showing rather than telling.

“You can describe what it feels like to put your hand on the aorta and feel someone’s blood flowing through it,” he says, his face lighting up, “but until you feel it, you really don’t get a sense of what that’s like.”

Dr. Yolanda Becker, assistant professor of surgery who performs transplants, noticed that Cordes had a talent for finding veins. “I tell the students, ‘You have to feel them … you just can’t look.’ For Tim, that was not an option.”

Becker soon became one more member of Tim Cordes’ fan club.

“He was a breath of fresh air,” she says. “He appreciated the fact people took time with him to feel the pulse, feel the grafts, feel where the kidneys are. … He asked very good questions.”

Cordes’ training included observing surgery, helping treat psychiatric patients at a veterans hospital and traveling beyond the hospital walls to the rural corners of Wisconsin.

For six weeks, he experienced the front lines of medicine with Dr. Ben Schmidt, accompanying him from house calls to the hospital, tending to everything from heart trouble to chicken scratches.

They took time, too, to indulge Cordes’ passion for cars. Cordes, who reads Road & Track and Car and Driver magazines faithfully, is a Porsche fan. Knowing that, an internist in Schmidt’s clinic brought her husband’s metallic gray Turbo 911 to work one day. Schmidt took the wheel, roaring down the road with Cordes in the passenger seat — his keen hearing detecting the sounds of the valves opening up.

Cordes also enjoys camping and canoeing with his fiancee, Blue-leaf Hannah (her exotic first name comes from a character in “Centennial,” a James Michener novel). They met when both interviewed for medical school.

“I was just mostly curious how he was going to do it,” she says. “I must have asked him a million questions.”

“I figured she was just sizing up the competition,” he teases.

She was impressed. “He was smart and pretty modest,” she says.

“Handsome, too,” he adds.

“Yes, handsome,” she laughs.

They began dating and will marry this fall. It’s a match made for Mensa. Hannah is now in medical school. She already has a Ph.D. in pharmacology — her dissertation was on a human protein implicated in heart disease called thrombospondin.

“Too long for a Scrabble game,” Cordes jokes.

The two have talked about starting a research lab together someday.

Looking back on medical school, Cordes says he savored the chance to help deliver babies and observe surgery — things he’s probably not going to do again. “I just made it a point to treasure them while I had them,” he says.

He once thought he’d become a researcher but is now considering psychiatry and internal medicine. “The surprise for me was how much I liked dealing with the human side,” he says. “It took a little work to get over. I’m kind of a shy guy.”

Cordes plans to attend graduation ceremonies in May.

For now, he’s humble about his latest milestone.

“I might be the front man in the show but there were lot of people involved,” he says. “Everybody was giving a good effort for me and I wanted to do right by them.”

An interesting quotation on life!

This was sent to me by a good friend, Ryan Monahan
Any feedback is welcome

“When Life Was Full There Was No History”

“In the age when life on earth was full, no one paid any special
attention to worthy men, nor did they single out the man of ability.
Rulers were simply the highest branches on the tree, and the people
were like deer in the woods. They were honest and rightous without
realizing that they were ‘doing their duty’. They loved each other
and did not know that this was ‘love of neighbor.’ They deceived no
one yet they did not know that they were ‘men to be trusted.’ They
were reliable and did not know that this was ‘good faith.’ They lived
freely together giving and taking, and did not know that they were

For this reason their deeds have not been narrated.

They made no history.

– Chuang Tzu. [XII. 13.]

Living in the moment

Living in the Moment.

When Jimi Hendrix set his guitar on fire at the end of his gig in Monterey, California in Spring 1967, he began the ‘Summer of Love’ and started something electric. He blazed through four years of psychedelia before his sudden demise in October 1970. However, in that short period he left his mark on the world as he ‘lived in the moment.’

Although I have not set the world alight in quite the same fashion, I too, have lived in the moment.

I am a blind-deaf traveller who explores the world with a different point of view! I began when a teenager, crashing hostels at all hours of the night, travelling to rock conserts, getting locked out of dorms etc. I was young and wild back then! I travelled the world by day and drank by night. I did it all; drinking anything from ten to fifteen beers a night and several hours later I would be jumping off the highest structure I could find, hopefully strapped to a bungee chord, but not necessarily caring!

My first oversees adventures took me to the US in a combination of study and travel, I discovered much, especially about drink and sex! One such adventure involved an outing to Hooters where I got to feel some! Another journey took me to New Orleans where I engaged in a week of heavy drinking plus lots of Jazz, sex and food – Southern culture is terrific! I later headed to Australia and New Zealand. My mition was to escape, just as many young backpackers want. The pressures of family background and fear of responsibility the usual excuses. I wanted more, I needed to prove myself – take on the world blind and with my cane in my hand.

I travelled the entire country of Australia in two months, living in the moment, hitting bars, chasing and feeling up girls, rocking to any live music I could find, jumping out of aeroplanes, rafting rivers, feeling crocodiles – anything that was slightly wild or daring. Not caring about the dangers, I wanted to feel it all, the frill of crashing into an unknown wave of water or exploring the drop of cool air with my entire body. Trying to anticipate what I could not see was frightening and eletric. I live and die having fun on the road. This is my epistemology. Have fun and live in the moment. Life is very short. I discovered this when aged just seventeen. I lost my best friend through an illness and my dad through old age. It eventually taught me a valuable lesson. Life is very short, we only live once so enjoy it and do what ever makes you happy.

In 2004-05 I decided to take on the entire world, beginning in South America and finishing in Africa. One friend said I was mad to go to South America, with no sight and no command of Spanish, I just grinned and said “I would manage”, wanting the challenge. A friend had been somewhere I had not therefore, It was a land to concure. I got my mobility confidence when young and nothing stops me. I put my faith in the kindness of fellow travellers and locals and off I go.

That trip taught me many valuable lessons, humility to my fellow person, that the poorest people are often the kindest – they give you their heart, its all they have. I also learnt that possessions mean very little after getting everything stolen in the Yukon, Canada when camping. I could have been in the tent and attacked or killed, I was lucky. Health and happiness are the only real valuable items in life.

I am the luckiest person I know, my disability has afforded me the time to travel, but I put my mind and body to it, wanting to ‘live in the moment’.

I no longer drink, partly because it was killing me and partly due to a kidney disease. I have been travelling with this problem for the last four years and it has finally forced me to take things slightly easier. However, I aim to never stop travelling.

Quitting drinking was the best thing I ever did because, it gave me another dimention to travelling. It meant I could ‘see’ the world through all my senses; skin, ears, smell, feet, heat detecters, and most importantly, my mind. Being sober meant I could envelop my surroundings much more deeply. I am able to  meet people and see in them their true character just by listening to their conversation. I can appreciate totally the change in atmosphere as I climb a mountain, enter woods, swim in the ocean. Being blind gives me my own imagination. This is how I travel. I create pictures in my mind from sounds, smells and energy from my surroundings.

I now travel for the people and for the isolation. New Zealand, Iceland, Southern Argentina, Canada and Alaska have both these qualities. Amazing people with time, humour and open-mindedness in abundance and miles of open isolated terrain – what I consider beautiful.

I live to travel, to meet people, hear their individual experiences, be introduced to new ideas and different cultures, I live in the moment. If it ended tomorrow, I’d have no regrets.

I have been to forty one country, visited all fifty US States and just crossed the Arctic circle. My next challenges are to get a kidney transplant, reach Ant-arctica and walk the Appolation trail.

I have dreams and goals, ideas and aspirations. I live in the moment.

Iceland Part Two.

Iceland essay — Part 2

The only place to be is on the road.

Meeting people and having fun is what we do!

My second week in Iceland was mind blowing — an experience never to be forgotten.

Ryan, the young but mature American I had met, and I hit the road for a drive around Iceland’s coast on a journey of inspiration and soul enlightenment. For me, it was a chance to travel by road and gain yet more adventure of titanic proportions. We learnt much, became life-long friends and discovered a little more about ourselves, life and humanity, while simultaneously expanding our knowledge of each other’s emotional and intellectual boundaries. It was not a journey for the faint-hearted.

On an early morning in late October, Ryan and I obtained a small car, the cheapest in the lot and after signing the necessary insurance papers, we set off on our journey of great discovery. The car was tiny, made of the flimsiest metal imaginable and looked like it would not withstand half an hour of any off-road conditions. We threw our gear in the back and with three CDs between us, we set off.

Our first stop was the small harbour town of Vik on the south coast, which means ‘bay’ in Icelandic. It was only a two and a half hour drive and once Ryan had his bearings, the journey was straightforward. Once we were on the highway, a ring road that circles and services the entire island, we made good progress, only getting slightly lost once. The road was empty apart from the occasional vehicle that would try to shunt us off the road. It was a bleak landscape outside of Reykjavik, nothing but dark, rocky, barren land with no trees or vegetation. We saw some occasional sheep, the coastline near Vik and some odd looking shapes that Ryan described as marshmallows! They were bundles of hay tied up with white plastic sheets to protect them from the elements — a frequent sight throughout our journey.

We drove through the small town of Vik, past the bay and fishing harbour and up a hill to the hostel, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. A small, upstairs/downstairs, stone structure that resembled an old prison, at least on the inside. It was quiet and warm enough, which was all we needed. It was the downstairs dorms that reminded me of a prison-like atmosphere more than anything. After we had stowed our gear and settled in, we got directions from the young receptionist and went exploring. Everything was reached by car, it was the only way to get to any of the attractions; this being such a remote landscape and country. Public transport would have taken me to the major towns, but that would have been it. Ryan as guide, driver and great company made the trip much more accessible and entertaining for me.

Our first stop was Sonheimajökull — a peninsula of Myrdalsjokull, a very large glacier. Ryan described it as a hand with five protruding fingers and we were going to try to find one of them. It was a good half hour drive back before we pulled off the road and headed down a track. Ryan had his first moment of indecision at this point, as our small car was not built for off-road driving and he was unsure about the insurance. I said go for it. He grinned and agreed. We headed down the track and the car bounced and wobbled and careered from each ditch. Ryan gripped the wheel and concentrated intensely, but I could hear the fear in his voice. I just grinned and egged him on. Stones flew as we slowly crawled along. At one point we crossed a ditch of water over three metres wide, the wheels went under. Ryan asked if we should go back, I grinned and said “No place to turn, keep going my friend.” Finally, the track finished and we reached a car park. Ryan pulled in where there were other vehicles, and said there was a trail. He could see some of the glacier up above, looking white, large and magnificent. Now it was just a steep climb and the elements to face. There was a large group walking on the glacier on an organized trek, but we did not have the equipment to do this. Ryan talked briefly with one of the guides who said, “Go walk the trail up and get some good views.” I pulled on my waterproof jacket and zipped it up against the biting, freezing wind and we went for it. Ryan is around 6 feet in height and sturdy, so helped me along and was magnificent as a guide.

The first part of the upward trail had loose rocks and protrusions. We followed a small stream where Ryan constantly took pictures. We stopped at the first point to get a good view and listen to the flowing water. Ryan got his bearings and we continued along the track, which broadened out and became sandy. There were large mounds that sloped quickly into large valleys, and soon we were trudging up and down these soil hillocks like a series of mountain ranges. One moment heaving up and then next sliding down. The soil underfoot gave way with our combined weight. It was hard going and I became breathless, but it was great fun. Eventually, this finished and the steep climb began. It was full of small stones and big rocks, mostly gravel, which gradually got steeper. At the top, we were promised a great view of the ice protrusion, with flowing water all around. Ryan helped, pushed and guided as I used my cane to get me up the rocks and slope. I grunted, sweated and panted. I stopped at one semi-level point and got my breath, as it was getting vertical now. Ryan, amazed at my stamina and ability not to give in or turn back, asked if I wished to continue or go back. I said, “No I’ll go up on hands and knees if necessary!” This is what I did after just a few more steps. I scrambled up the terrain holding on to big rocks and pushed with my feet, stretched for the next foothold or handhold, what ever I could grip and lever myself forwards and upwards. Ryan just marveled at my tenacity.

The wind was cold to freezing, but it was mostly dry, which was a bonus. Eventually, after much pushing, grunting, panting, stopping and scrambling, with soil and mud all over my hands and clothes, we made it and went over the top. What scenery! A breathtaking expanse of water, with a delightful little stream running through the rocks and down the mountain. Ryan could see the ice protrusion and people walking the glacier. He said it was beautiful, large, cold and expansive. I just enjoyed the silence except for the falling water. It was cold with a crisp wind, quiet with rugged rocks and raw terrain all around — nature at its finest. A bleakness, which transcended beauty.

Twenty minutes later we began the descent, and that was fun I can tell you. I held on to Ryan’s arm and we slowly stepped, stumbled and slid down the mountainside. The slope was nearly vertical in places and I marveled that I had managed to climb such a steep gradient, almost completely unaided. That’s the adventurer in me! We slipped and slid, moving rocks and almost fell several times, Ryan caught me, and I caught him when he slipped. It was a joint effort that cemented our friendship. Half way down the route the rain moved in and as we neared the lower slope, it became almost torrential just to add to the fun. The wind drove it into our faces and my hands became frozen. The adventurous traveller does not use gloves! Tired and soaked, we eventually returned to the lower trail and back over the sandy hillocks to the car. Now we had the slow and bumpy journey back along the track, if we dared. The wind blew the rain away and we headed back to the coast. The ice protrusion had been magnificent. I had a sensation of a large expanse that was bleak and cold protruding into the dark sky. A large, jagged finger, splendid and foreboding. Everything was rugged and bleak. I felt almost like we were the only people there and in many respects we were.

We went on to Dyrholaey, Iceland’s most southern promontory. It was another long drive to find the trail that lead to this open and isolated area. Ryan eventually found it, but there were no signposts or lights anywhere. It was just a windy, open expanse of rock protruding into the North Atlantic Ocean, but what a place. The wind hit me like a boulder and threatened to blow us both off the island. It just threw itself at us. This was just an open expanse with nothing to stop it — terrific but destructive. I just stood there listening to the sea crash against the rocks below and felt the wind constantly hitting me, rocking me off my feet. Ryan described the empty expanse, then we walked along the cliff path to a spot where Ryan could see the ‘Needles’, Reynisdranger — black lava columns rising out of the sea. Legend has it that these are trolls frozen in time! I stood on a mound of rock to get a better feel of the elements and enjoyed it all. It felt like the edge of space and time, with the forces of wind and sea mixed together producing its own orchestra, with Ryan and I its only audience — solicitly brilliant. One final intake of breath and we returned to the car and headed back to the hostel, stopping in Vik for a hot meal on the way — the lamb soup is highly recommended. We spent a quiet night in the hostel kitchen, talking to a couple from England and four people from Lithuania — I meet them all when I’m traveling.

We left early next morning after acquiring a woolly hat for me to protect my ears from the ever changing and aggressive elements. Our next destination was along the east coast to Skaftafell — Iceland’s largest national park and the site of its largest glacier, Vatnajokull. With provisions of water and non-wheat bread for Ryan and Sprite and potato chips for me, we went in search of this ice monstrosity. We alternated between conversation and the three CDs, making the journey slide by productively. I learnt about Ryan’s family and he mine, along with information about our siblings. I mentioning my older brother and sister and highlighting the closeness with my mum. We mainly debated history vs. philosophy, when Ryan suggested history is pointless as it is subjective and reflective. I argued that without history we have no present, but recognized that occasionally it is good to pause and examine the authors of history and their epistemology. The banter was good fun and amusing.

It took little time to discover the park in the mist, but it took considerably longer to locate the entrance, as it appeared to have more than one. Another bumpy trail finally led us to an area with walkable paths. Again, we saw nobody apart from one couple at a stop where we inspected part of a metal bridge that was washed away during a stupendous storm one winter. We were now in the land of the Gods and anything was possible, blizzards, snowfalls, volcanic eruptions and avalanches. The park naturally was deserted. The weather had been abysmal ever since leaving Vik, with forceful winds and heavy rain. The precipitation was curious, one minute it fell in heavy droplets, then next blowing away.

At the park, Ryan studied a map and chose the middle trail of three, after explaining the distances of each. Heavy rain attacked us as we discussed tactics, but once we began walking it disappeared completely only to start again the moment we arrived back at the car park several hours later. Luck was with us, as a three-hour good weather window gave us a delightful, comfortable walk. The ramble up hill began with a fairly easy path which only became steep once or twice. We climbed, stepped over roots and stones, and enjoyed the stillness and beauty of the environment. Ryan said he could sense the giant glacier, but he could not see it as yet. We eventually discovered a flowing stream that led to several tributaries and one or two waterfalls. We continued climbing. At one point, I had to clamber over several rocks and boulders with Ryan’s help. There were several wooden bridges and mud, so we had to watch our step carefully. The bridges had no rails so was fun trying not to fall off. I used my cane and Ryan relaxed. The waterfalls were delicious and the sound, tranquil — one was quite large and the sound rumbled. The water cascade made me feel remote and calm, at peace in a fascinating landscape of wilderness. Eventually, we escaped the rocks and hiked up onto a smooth, wide path that led to some grasslands where there were houses and a paved path that paralleled some fields and a farm or two. This led to more fields where horses were quietly grazing. We hit a dead end and re-traced our steps. I walked ahead and I felt like I was in a wonderland, no sound anywhere, it was blissful.

We returned a different way taking an alternative trail that took us down more rocks, across yet another river-stream and down several rough steps. Ryan was able to get a glimpse of the glacier, and I sensed the cold expanse, but to get nearer to it would have meant another hike of over 5 miles (8 km) and daylight was fading. Back at the car and with rain returning in sheets, we decided to head for the town of Hofn — pronounced ‘Hep’ which means harbour. The weather deteriorated further as we drove around the park so we slowly made our way to the southeast coastal town. There were no lights to guide us nor any signposts and the traffic was remote to say the least, a ghost road, but wonderful to be on it. It was after 9.00 pm by the time we found the town and somewhere to eat. Tired, cold and hungry, we had an expensive meal and then went to find the hostel. By this point, the rain was torrential and windswept. We eventually found the hostel in the dark only to be rudely informed it was full and to go down the road a way. Ryan was tired and irritable, and was struggling in the horrendous weather conditions. I was little help, but gave encouragement wherever possible. He found the building, but as we drove up he overran and we hit an unseen step in the dark. I felt the bang and bump and heard the front bumper cave in. Ryan swore and tried to reverse. I got out and went into the hostel with the owner, a smug bastard who was just standing there, watching. Ryan was swearing profusely and tried to repair the damage.

The next morning, the light of day showed us that the front bumper was hanging off at one corner. Ryan managed somehow to push it back on and we retreated from Hofn a little worried, but determined to continue in high spirits and in pursuit of more adventure. However, we did not bargain for what came next.

Once the bumper was back on and all our bags were reloaded, we hit the road. The weather was still horrendous, with swirling winds and driving rain. Ryan was in better spirits and even though we had not seen any of Hofn, apart from the warm but expensive restaurant the previous evening, it was enough. Our first adventure was a drive back the way we had come to Jökulsarlon, a glacial lagoon or lake. It is situated at the south end of the large glacier Vatnajökull, between Skaftafell National Park and Höfn. It had large sheets of ice floating in a river and sounded fantastic. It took us about an hour to find it. I was mainly interested in it because the James Bond movie, ‘A View To A Kill’, was filmed there. The movie company had to get permission from the government to freeze the salt water so that they could drive sports cars on the water! However, when we arrived, the weather was still abysmal and the rain was torrential.

The vast open area was expansive and the sight must have been amazing. I imagined large lumps of ice floating downstream. However, because of the disgusting weather and the fact that I could not see it, it seemed silly to get soaked for nothing. The extreme degree of the elements took any sense of atmosphere away from me. Therefore, we continued our journey north.

We had been told that the east coast held some of the most beautiful and remote scenery of the entire island; mainly mountainous terrain and coastline before a series of fjords where there was only fishing villages. It was a drive along an empty highway with just the mountains, coast road and cliffs for company. The rain continued and the wind howled. We chatted and drove, I slipped in and out of sleep. This is where it began, the wind and rain, darkness and deadly dangerous scenery, intrepid high peaked mountains with ice water cascading down it on one side and a treacherous, narrow cliff edge coast road with a sheer drop into the freezing Atlantic, on the other side. The wind increased; Ryan and I looked at each other, and suddenly realised we were in the midst of the fight of our lives. The tiny tin car was bumped and buffeted by the wind, but Ryan drove on with intense concentration, eyes straight ahead and hands tight on the wheel. He said visibility was down to only a few metres and it was getting darker, wetter and windier by the minute — and also gas was getting low!! I grinned and said, “Keep going, we will find one of these fjord towns eventually.” It felt like we were the only people out there and at times we were the only vehicle on the road, all alone in this bleak, but impressive landscape that was destructive, but beautiful.

The wind became stronger still and just as I was dozing off again, BANG, the wind really hit us and rocked the tiny car. I thought it was an avalanche from the adjacent mountains where the tributaries of rivers were running down them like veins through the barren rock. Geographical blood lines in an otherwise land of rock and ice. We were rocked, shaken, blown and rained upon — the elements were wild and visibility was decreasing constantly. Notwithstanding the weather, we were continiously pelted by roadside stones; one of which cracked the windscreen. It was a hair-raising journey, on a narrow cliff edge road, battered by all elements while Ryan was doing his best to keep us in one piece, even though he knew that one slight slip could send us off into the ice chilling Atlantic below. All I could do was keep him company, confident in his determination and my self-belief in my ability to survive anything.

We eventually came across a tiny cod-fishing town called Stöðvarfjörður, in the east fjords. It was early afternoon when we pulled into the ghost town. There was a petrol station and a small supermarket that naturally was closed. We had been sharing the petrol cost equally and it was Ryan’s turn to buy. The machine was automatic, where you just used your debit/credit card. Ryan only had a credit card, but the machine wanted a pin number. I suggested getting some food and shelter — the rain was still torrential. The gas indicator was pointing to red, but food and warmth seemed more important. We found a restaurant that was open and the owners invited us in. Two drowned rats from the road!

We had not realized until the locals in the restaurant told us, that we had just driven through a full-blown hurricane. One lady said, “The winds are up to 40 metres per second and small log houses are coming off their foundations.” “Unbelievable” I said. We had been very lucky and could easily have been swept away. We were served a local fish called luðo, which is pronounced ‘lutho’. It was delicious and was accompanied by mash potatoes and vegetables. We then gathered provisions from the local store that was attached to the restaurant and made plans for our next destination.

After finding there were no hostels open anywhere on the east coast, we decided to drive all the way to Akureryi in the north. Well fed and a little warmer and dryer we hit the road once again; we returned to the petrol station and with a little intellectual thought, Ryan worked out his pin number, purchased some gas and we drove out of town, travelling up the east coast heading north.

The hostile weather finally abated sometime around early evening when we began to climb into the highlands, where driving became easier and even pleasant. Ryan and I laughed about our near death adventure, exclaiming that we had become stronger and better men for the experience, however, more was to follow. We continued climbing and eventually it got completely dark. There were no lights anywhere, not on the highway or in the hills and mountains. The air was very cool and much thinner; I opened my window to taste the air on occasions and it was delicious. We pulled into the large stylish city of Egilstaðir, which means Egle’s Place, around 9.00 pm and drove around investigating the city. Ryan was impressed, he discovered this electric crucifix and a pretty looking church – oh the joys of digital cameras!

We continued north. The darkness deepened and the mountains appeared higher; soon we were driving through them, along a roadway cut through massive peaks, where the air was crisp and clean — an idyllic paradise. Things were quiet for a while, we drove in companionated silence until, suddenly, from nowhere, the sky just lit up — that was Ryan’s description! We came over the rise of a hill and Ryan suddenly braked and said, “My God”. He just froze, amazed. Ahead of us in the sky he could see the Northern Lights, a chemical atmospheric light display. He described them as green clouds dancing gently in the sky. We got out of the car and stood on the roadside in complete darkness, except for these twinkling lights. It was truly amazing; I jumped with joy as the atmosphere was just astonishing. They are difficult to see at the best of times and in Iceland, particularly difficult due to the constant dramatic change in weather. We were inspirationally lucky; the weather for once was still, with a cloudless sky and no wind. We were blessed by magic. I felt privileged just to be there beneath them. It is true I could not see them and Ryan could have made it all up, but his astonishing verbal outburst suggested otherwise — it was the Northern lights alright — we both felt elated. The air around us was very still and cold, and the landscape was vast with a concentration of eeriness.

“On a dark and deserted highway…” (The Egles, Hotel California, 1976)

Spellbound, we continued our electrifying journey and reached Akureryi, Iceland’s second largest city around 10.30 pm and tried to find, first the hostel and secondly food. However, we were unfortunate as the only hostel in the complex city was closed. After exploring several alternative establishments of accommodation and being told in one place that we couldn’t afford the price, we decided to sleep in the car with the weak, but functioning heating. An uncomfortable and fitful night sleep was presented to us both. Next morning, just as I was taking a toilet break behind the car, someone displayed a sign on the hostel, ‘Closed for renovation’. We could not believe our bad luck, swore profusely and then laughed about it. We decided to go and explore the city, get some coffee and see what, if anything, the locals had to offer.

Ryan found the people somewhat unfriendly and snooty, though one lady in an information centre gave us some tourist ideas and was helpful with information and directions. A plan was organized and we managed to book a hostel in a town in the western region before heading back towards the northeast.

We headed to the Myvatn region in search of hot pools and a large waterfall plus anything else that was of interest. The drive was pleasant and the weather, though windy, was dry — which was something of a bonus. Eventually, we came across Goðafoss — the waterfall of the Gods. It was a nice waterfall, although in my opinion, not quite as impressive as the golden waterfall near Reykjavik. The sound was delightful and in a country void of humans and most other life forms, it was both soothing and comforting. Ryan had been driving for four days in horrendous conditions with little sleep. It was time to get him some relaxation, so we headed for Myvatn Geothermal hot Pool. Similar to the blue Lagoon, but not as hot, it still improved our tired bodies immeasurably. Again, I found it strange lying in hot water with my head stuck in freezing wind. There was nobody about save for one local and a couple from England. The five of us relaxed in the naturally heated minerals, let the elements soften our skin and remove toxins from our body. Ryan could breathe normally again after our experiences.

Afterwards we drove around and explored Myvatn Lake, which was surrounded by volcanoes. The huge lake had a strange mist emanating from it; the smell of sulphur was very strong, to say the least! We explored Dimmuborgir, which are peculiar lava formations formed during the fissure eruption of Ludentsborgir volcano. The terrain was amazing; rough and rugged lava formed rock and huge craters, most of which we could not actually reach. We returned west heading for the western edge of Iceland for a night, before heading back to Reykjavik. Our destination that night was the small town of Hrutafjörður.

We saw nothing of the town and stayed in a creepy hostel called Saeberg Hostel — a lonely ghost house on the lake. It resembled something out of the ‘Shining’! We arrived around dusk, to find the large place unoccupied and the door open. After a brief inspection, we discovered the two level building held nothing of interest or danger and settled in for an early night. Our final day took us to Grabrok , a volcanic crater in the north west. We started late, not departing until midday. We just left the payment for our stay under the phone. The owner was obviously very trusting. It was meant to be a long drive back to Reykjavik, but it turned out to be quite leisurely, and we were able to stop along the way. The volcano crater was pretty unimpressive, just a large dent in the ground, and reached by climbing a series of dodgy wooden steps. We found the area and set off up a gravelly trail that took us to the steps. The weather that morning had been frosty, and as we travelled it became colder and began to snow. There was snow on the steps, which I found a challenge to climb. At the top of this first flight  , there was another path that led to yet more steps, where I decided to wait while Ryan went and explored. He said there was little to see so we retraced our steps. Descending was even more of a challenge as the wooden planks had become slippery and one or two were broken.

We continued our journey and while driving back to the capital, we spotted the most unusual item of the entire trip — a giant stone coke can, very scenic! It was huge — just standing in a field surrounded by a moat of mud. We went and explored it before heading to the uninteresting town of Akranes, and its geological and maritime museum. After a quick inventory we headed to Reykjavik, arriving just as dusk fell. Our plan on arriving back at the car hire was to ditch the car and run! However, with three bags, this was rather difficult. The car hire was closed, so we pushed the keys through the door, collected our bags and went in search of the nearest bus stop. Two hours later, we arrived back at the Reykjavik Youth Hostel where we had met and our journey had begun five days earlier.

What a journey and what a story! We had survived in almost one piece, and the only damage sustained was a knocked off bumper and a cracked windscreen! Noone would notice would they?! Ryan and I had created a friendship to stand the test of time, partners in crime, travellers together, his young, dry wit and my old synical humour. We had undertaken an adventure Mark Twain, the late nineteenth century novelist, would have been proud of. Thank you Ryan for making it such fun and an even better adventure than I would have had alone.

It is not every day you survive a hurricane and stand under the Northern Lights!

Iceland was magical and exploring its entire outer perimeter was breathtaking. I would recommend it to anyone; you would have fun and be blown away by its uniqueness and beauty — we certainly were.

I saw Iceland through its textures of rock and ice, its hot pools and chilling winds, the smell of sulphur, its sound of rain and its warm people. Eating whale meat and lamb soup was a pleasure and walking, hiking and crawling over its rough, harsh, but beautiful, intriguing terrain was marvellous. Iceland I will not forget.

The Tornado Nobody Saw!

It happened quietly, almost unexpectedly. A gentle gust which got gradually stronger until we were swept off our feet. However, there were so few who witnessed it we called it the tornado that nobody saw. When it was over we were left breathless.

I was in the US when it occurred, travelling as usual. However, I was not in the dustball of Oklahoma or the flat lands of Kansas like you might expect, no, I witnessed this phenomenon in Athens, Georgia.

I along with a few locals and some friends of friends, were in this quaint southern town to hear music. A friend of mine, Ryan, a guy I met in Iceland and who other tails have been written about, and his band were going to put on a performance – they were the tornado that nobody saw.

Ryan was the main star of this enterprise along with his Brother Chris Monahan who played drums, Josh McMichael was on base and a young guy named Ben Lewis played banjo and mandolin. Ryan played lead guitar and sang. I introduced the quartet to the mostly empty bar room as ‘Ryan Monahan and guests’. It went down a treat.

It began quietly enough, Ryan opened with a solo piece named ‘Mr. and Ms. Understanding’, which resembled the gentle cool breeze of the Rocky Mountains. Then it began, and the storm crashed as Chris hit the drums and the tornado gained velocity as the boys increased the volume. Each song had its own unique quality, an individual sardonic twist. Tracks such as  ‘Consequence’ and ‘Love Me Sober’ exposed themselves for what they were, lyrical truths with a twist  and a tuch of dark humour. At one point during the set the musical wind howled and wipt up a fury of motion. One could have said the ‘eye of the storm’ was the song ‘Revolving Doors’, a kind of jazzy rock classy number full of rich guitar chords and mandolin tricks. The storm eventually blew itself out as Ryan ended the gig with a couple of gentler numbers before the band rejoined for the final little burst of wind. Then that was it, an hour and a half of around a dozen songs of rock-jazz excentricity with soprano-folk vocals, offset by a steady base and heavy experimental drumming. Ben interacted with soft clever string playing, giving the music an added intelectial quality. He was probably the most talented of the musicians. The music was original which was in itself refreshing. Even the Billy Joel cover called ‘Everybody Loves You Now’ had its own personal ryan Monahan touch.

I went crazy at every heavy turn of rift, crash of drum, change of chord. I yeld and encouraged like any lover of music should. It was just a shame that there were so few people there to witness it. Ryan is a natural and has plenty of material. He should go far.

We can only hope that one or two men from the music profession were there to discover what we all saw.

It was amazing, electrifying – it was indeed the tornado that nobody saw.