Kayakin’ with Diabetes

October 2013

imageOmnipod on the water, a success.  As a paddler I try to be  more minimalistic than other times, which can be a challenge with diabetes.  But my boat is a Wavesport XXX, an old model from 99’, with no foot space, no cockpit, not much space period.  I fill the back with a throw rope, a big yellow sponge, and two pelican cases full of snacks and supplies.  In one case I keep a quick dry cloth for blood sugar checks, my ‘river meter,’ a novolog and lantus pen, 3 pen needles, 4 alcohol swabs (never know when somebody’s gonna scrape a knuckle), and some glucose tabs.  In the other I keep my glucagon kit, a granola bar, 2 disposable eye drops, and some other snack; today it was beef jerky.  I leave my pdm in the car, maybe in a cooler away from the freezer pack itself, because if you’re swimming, you want to worry about your boat, your paddle, and yourself, not your $1000 piece of durable medical equipment!

Then there are my water shoes attached with a carabener, a water bottle, and extra dry layers.  That leaves barely enough space for me.  Despite being strapped into a tiny container, half boat, half woman, there is something incredibly freeing about being one with the boat.  Couple that with finding the river’s line of least resistance and surging down a rapid – blissful and riveting.

Paddling is always a great reset for me, giving me that experience of being absorbed in the present by its very nature.  Holding that feeling all day and using my body to accomplish a goal helps me remember what it is like to be fully present, not puzzling or planning.  Diabetes sometimes can be a hard balance between planning ahead, reflecting back (often analyzing and criticizing), and going with the flow of the moment (with all of its unexpected holes, strainers, and whirlpools).  More and more I’m learning that both are necessary to be healthy, happy, and move forward.  For me a successful day on the river means advanced planning for blood sugar management so that I can focus my attention on the river and not on diabetes.

I use checklists.  It’s taken me a long time to realize that I just can’t keep everything I need to have organized in my head, much less my home, without real, printed-on-paper checklists.  When going out on the river I use the five finger test:  boat is your thumb, then each finger is helmet, life jacket, paddle, and skirt.  It doesn’t matter the order though because basically if you miss any one of those you’ve got to borrow or go back.  Now layer onto that all there is to keep up with diabetes on land: meter, test strips, insulin, extra pods, batteries, glucagon, glucose, alcohol swabs, etc.  Maybe you’re paddling the Nantahala, one of Western North Carolina’s icy beauties, so you need to have warm layers, a dry top, extra dry clothes in the car.  Perhaps you’re like me and you’re always voraciously hungry, especially after being a little cold and using your muscles all day.  That means snacks in the car for your return.  My favorite river snacks are beef or turkey jerky sticks, nut butter packets (try ‘Jason’s’ almond butter, peanut butter, and chocolate hazelnut butter in single serving packets), and celery, apple, and carrot for dipping.  Today I made a sandwich on ‘Farm and Sparrow’ bread from the local tailgate market spread with sunflower butter, layered with avocado slices, and splashed with balsamic vinegar.  I’m an exploratory eater.  Nothing to spoil and the river keeps it pretty cold anyway.  I like to eat relatively low-carb on the river but have back up carbs in case I go low.  I find that the less fast-acting insulin I can take the better to minimize the risk of lows.  That being said my basal needs seem to go up from both the cold water and the muscular exertion.  My big safety trick is keeping a honey zinger packet in the front pouch of my life jacket.  They can get pricey at $1.25 a piece, but the bulk packs are available at a lower cost from multiple sellers on Amazon.  I definitely have glucose tabs in my boat but the zingers are packaged in waterproof plastic (nothing worse than a soggy luna bar), easy to eat fast and you don’t even have to chew.  That’s helpful if you have to get your blood sugar up and can’t find a place to eddy out.  Of course trying to paddle, tear open a packet, and eat honey, is not ideal, but with diabetes you’ve always got to be prepared with the back-up that will let you do what you got to do, if you’re going to do it at all.

One of the last two check-boxes on the list is a great group of friends with some experienced paddlers in it, at least one or two.  And let them know you have diabetes.  Be that girl who introduces herself with, “I’m Katie (insert your name, don’t steal mine), I love to get outside, meet new people, and I have type 1 diabetes!!”  And give your glucagon kit to that seasoned paddler who has a dry bag.  Don’t keep it in your boat – because if you flip over and your boat is one place and you are another, well, what good is it going to do you then?

Final check-box: plunge in.  Check that sugar thirty minutes before you get on, check it two minutes before you get on.  Check over what you need to have with you all day in your boat, check it over again.   Flex those muscles, stretch the skirt with all your might over the cockpit, and launch into the rapids.  Now you’re a boater as much as your a diabetic.  We become whatever identity we embrace.

I am a boater. 

I am a diabetic. 

I am a planner.

I am an adventurer.

A friend I met on the river who organizes trips for a WNC paddlers meet-up group got me in touch with a friend of hers who is getting into paddling now that she is landlocked and her first love, scuba diving, isn’t easily accessible.  Her friend has lived with type 1 for forty two years.  Now that’s inspiring!  When we were getting to know each other over email she wrote me, “I love the water because it fills up what life drains from me.”  Type 1 diabetes can drain out quite a bit.  The background stress, the wondering, checking, assessing, judging, criticizing – all of that takes something from the rawness of our experience.  Like my new friend, the river rehydrates my soul as well.  I have found no faster way to feel the pulse of nature than to be taken in by the current of a wave train and merge with the force of the water.

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