Ponies, pods, and Backpackin’ with Diabetes

I’m waking up dreaming of the trail and wishing that I was still out there in Grayson Highlands on the AT, trudging along with my loaded down pack and passing fields of wild ponies.

I want to talk in this blog post about packing the backpack with diabetes in mind because it’s a challenge on a physical and emotional level. Whenever I get ready for a backpacking trip, especially the first one of the season, I experience some level of dread at the thought of forgetting something vital. When I’m going through my mental and paper list I find myself playing through some of the ‘what if’ scenarios, that I might encounter if my pod alarmed, if my insulin vial broke or got too hot, if my pdm malfunctioned all together. To a large extent this sort of preventive troubleshooting is necessary, and it’s a little necessary, or has been for me, to spiral into the worst case scenario so that I’m literally prepared for it, because that is what T1 diabetes requires.

The problem for me is when that attitude carries over into the rest of my packing, and sometimes my life in general. I think the necessary preparedness of Type 1 makes it easier for me to keep this worst case scenario thinking, which often leaves me with a very heavy pack and a pretty stressed out mind, until I get about a mile down the trail and feel my whole body and being relax into the mountains.

On our trip this past weekend this moment came decisively after we had crested a small windswept knoll and entered a calm stretch of forest full of ferns and rhododendron, tulip poplar and beech trees. I was breathing heavier because my pack was so gigantic and on one inhale it felt as if I’d taken in the peace and simplicity around me. I exhaled out and came into the environment and felt my worries about the future and the stress I was holding onto from the past week fall away completely.

I did find that I could have left out a lot from my load. After all the necessary diabetes supplies and back-up supplies were in I didn’t have much time for finesse with the rest of my packing. Next time I will not throw in a whole pack of tortillas for one overnight trip in which I might eat 3, maybe 4 maximum. I won’t bring tupperware, but instead will use baggies for my celery and carrots. I won’t bring 5 oranges! Whoops. I wasn’t counting, I was just tossing things in.
I also probably didn’t need two water filtration systems on a trip with others who were bringing their own method too, but this is something I go back and fort on. I have really enjoyed using aqua mura because to me it is simple, I know it’s working, and it tastes…frankly I like the way it tastes which is almost imperceptible, but a little lemony. However I’m looking for any good water filtration recommendations and leaning towards a ‘Sawyer System’ that my friend recommended.

I plan on designing some methods and gear to help myself stay organized and cut weight on the trail, but I’m not there yet. Right now all I can think about is the next trip. One thing I won’t cut out is the tiny bottle of hot sauce I brought, because it easily pushed our food experience from good to great.
Wearing the pump was a really positive experience on the trail but only because I avoided disaster and changed a pod early the night before we set-off. I could see in the pod window that a little blood was pulling up and even though I was getting insulin because I was trending low, I decided to change it there on my wooden cot, versus in the woods. As soon as I removed the pod blood streamed from the infusion site and I knew I would have soon enough encountered a problem with poor absorption. My next placement seemed perfect, pod right below where my waist belt would fall, and it held firm the whole trip. I was also able to turn my basal rate way down and lessen the constant lows that I usually just eat my way through, drinking honey straight from a honey bear or eating clif shot bloks or glucose tab after glucose tab on the trail. I still ate constantly, but my mind was clear and my body felt strong most of the time.

I’m eager to hear any other T1’s experience’s hiking and backpacking, so please leave your tips and comments!

4 thoughts on “Ponies, pods, and Backpackin’ with Diabetes

  1. Aloha! Thank you so much for your blog. You have no idea how much it helped me feel me again, knowing that I can still live a full life (ie backpack! hike! camp!) without the dementor called diabetes hovering above me. I had resigned myself that I could only ever travel the safe (read: boring) way through planes and trains rather than outdoors without refrigeration for insulin and whatnot. Though I know diabetics still have some limitations, you’ve shown me that the borders are much broader than I thought possible. It’s a condition that we have and must make minor adjustments in our lives to accommodate, but nonetheless, it doesn’t stop us from being us. The road goes ever on.

  2. And thank you for reading and for your comment. Knowing that my journey resonates with others is what keeps me inspired to write! You can do all those things – it’s a lot of work that others won’t always be able to see, but it’s worth it and I think it might mean all the more. It’s definitely an adventure.

  3. Hi! I am a pretty experienced backpacker but wife is new to the experience. She also is type 1. We did a short trip this weekend and everything was great! My question though, what do you do about snacks incase you go low at night? Common sense says not to bring food in the tent so you don’t invite bears in with you. We had some fruit snacks in the tent just incase, but I am curious what other diabetic backpackers do when in bear country. Thanks!

    1. Hey Tim! Thanks for reading and for your question. I am going to link you to my latest article in Blue Ridge Outdoors about this very thing, although it is the scariest example of why you need to be prepared for this as a T1. http://www.blueridgeoutdoors.com/go-outside/getting-found-in-lost-cove/
      Typically I use honey zinger packets. They have 30 grams of carbs each and are completely sealed until you have to open them. You can order them on Amazon and they are cheaper. If I get low at night I’d rather eat a little too much and go high than stay low while I’m sleeping, so I’ll down one of those and then put the wrapper tightly sealed in a plastic bag. My mistake last time, because of bear concerns, was just bringing one pack into the tent. It’s important to note though that I’m dealing with black bears, so I would be more cautious and concerned if it were grizzlies, etc. I am curious as well to hear what other T1’s do, so maybe there will be other responses! So glad y’all got out there!

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