Free Range Humans

Against a deep black sky, a perfectly halved moon illuminated our small campsite set within the welcoming confines of a scrubby circle of tall grasses and short trees. Nearby, a tributary flowing down into Flat Laurel Creek gurgled the sound of its boundary.

We arrived at our home for the evening before nightfall, when the sun was just releasing its hold on the day. We’d hiked since noon, eating a picnic lunch on the crest of Tennant Mountain, right below the plaque that marks its peak. We hiked over wet and rocky trails where blobs of clear eggs, punctuated by the promise of new frog life, bobbed in pools and puddles. The only other real wildlife we saw was a pack of undergrad males on their spring break, all having reunited in Pisgah Forest from their various schools.

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I hadn’t been back in the mountains, like really back in them, since I moved away from AVL in August. I was afraid to return sooner – afraid that if I didn’t separate myself enough and bond with the land and people in the Piedmont that I’d just live in the mountains in my mind instead of in the world all around me. But coming back home on this trip to Black Balsam and Sam’s Knob felt solid. My friend from school, my backpacking buddy two trips in a row now, couldn’t stop commenting on just how perfect everything was. That’s a heavy word and yet she was so right. You know those moments when you have an awareness of how totally happy and satisfied you are at the time? The whole trip was like that for both of us (I’m willing to say from our continual debriefing). And I was aware, maybe because we’d spent the previous week running from classroom to computer to meetings to google hangouts, that it was so perfect because we had so much less. So much less stimulation, so many fewer options, so many less modes of communication.

And yet I felt more connected.

Laying under the stars, dreaming of life thousands of years ago, my mind was at peace.

It was a good break for my mind all the way around. Only reflecting back now, since this is a blog about life with diabetes, do I realize that thoughts about diabetes don’t dominate any aspect of the trip (except one, and I’ll get there). Of course I thought about diabetes the whole time, as a backdrop to everything else, but I didn’t notice so much that I was thinking about it. It didn’t frustrate me to be thinking about it and I didn’t worry about it. When I reached a level of competency with diabetes I assumed that I had grown with it as far as I would. I had learned that diabetes was in fact manageable but thought that it would never get easier. And that is true; the actual management and burden of diabetes doesn’t necessarily get easier in and of itself, although it does change. But it’s sort of like (I would imagine) a marathon runner training for something and then experiencing a level of ease with certain aspects of it. Yes the last couple miles, or shaving speed, or steep courses, are still a challenge, but there is a certain level of ease with running a distance that to me, a non-runner, seems insurmountable.

Ok, so I mentioned that one aspect of the trip when diabetes did announce itself loudly: the great Bear vs. Nightime-Low debate. If you’re a person with T1d you understand that you can’t go to sleep without knowing where the food is in the house. For me, I keep a honey bear right by my bed. But when I’m backpacking, my goal is to keep bears far, far away from my bed. So what to do?

And I really don’t know. What we did was secure and hang our food appropriately, far, far away from our campsite. One of the recent times that I went backpacking I had to tear the bear bag down from a tree in the middle of the night to get to more carbohydrates, and I just wasn’t prepared to do that again, so I decided to keep two honey zinger packets in the tent.

Sure enough I woke up in the middle of the night with a serious low. I’m not proud of these backpacking lows and I’m still trying to work them out. Walking all day with an extra 30-50 lbs. on my back exhausts my muscles in an unusual way. Even if I got to bed at 175 mg/dl, with very little insulin on board, I could wake up in the 30’s, like I did on this trip. Luckily I had the zingers. This time I stored them in my empty nalgene, which I thought, with it’s good seal, thick plastic, and odor of aquamura, would deter a bear as well as anything else I had. A pelican case could be another option.

So here’s the part where I need some diabexpertise: what do people with T1d who backpack do when they’re camping, say out West, where the stakes involve grizzlies? What do you do here in the East? I really appreciate your comments and dialogue!

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Give the Piedmont a Chance

Twenty-eight years and I don’t think I’ve ever missed a Fall in the mountains – until now. The suburbs of Atlanta where I grew up never felt like home, but I still remember being instantly embraced by the mountains on family travels. When I was a little over a year old, my parents carried me up Mt. LeConte, swaddled against the misty cold in a trash-bag poncho. We spent weekends in our cabin in Toccoa, GA, nestled in a soft pine forest interspersed with tall poplars and beech trees.

During high school my dad and I traveled from Atlanta to Wesser, NC, on Friday afternoons so we could launch into the icy waters of the Nantahala and feel the crisp breezes that sweep through the gorge in early Fall. Needless to say, moving to Asheville a decade ago was more like coming home than leaving it.

In August of this year I loaded up my belongings and drove away from my rented bungalow, my roommate for the past four years, a street full of friends, my nephew who came into the world just a few months before, my job and my mountains. I’m pursuing an MPH at UNC Chapel Hill, so leaving my job felt like a natural progression. The telephone, email and even Facebook help me stay in touch with friends and family. But you can’t call the mountains. I’ve scrolled back through my photo reel, read my old poetry, and meditated with their image in my mind, but still my heart aches for them. Their support and unwavering presence has always inspired me to seek that sort of peace in myself.

Maybe it was an effort to be strong like the mountains, probably it was just self-protection, but I decided I needed to stay in the triangle over fall-break. I would never miss the woods in October, so a girlfriend and I decided to make our Piedmont backpacking dreams a reality.

Read the rest here:

http://www.blueridgeoutdoors.com/hiking/give-the-piedmont-a-chance/

 

Getting Found in Lost Cove

Here’s a link to a recent article from Blue Ridge Outdoors online that I wrote after a backpacking trip with a bunch of friends in the Wilson’s Creek area of NC. It reminded me how much my friends care about my health and well-being and the way that Type 1 makes me think on my feet!

http://www.blueridgeoutdoors.com/go-outside/getting-found-in-lost-cove/

This is my friend Laura and I, super excited about life and the trail!
This is my friend Laura and I, super excited about life and the trail!

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!

Carrying the Weight: Backpacking with Diabetes

When I was first with diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, backpacking became yet another line on my mental list of things I’d probably not be able to do now that I was managing such a complicated condition.

Although the first thing they reassured me of (while I was still in the ER, without me asking), was that with the advent of modern technology, I would be able to safely have children, they did not assure me I’d still be able to romp through mountain streams, swim in crystal clear pools, and sleep under the stars. They did not go so far as to assure me that I’d still be able to stretch my skirt over my kayak and paddle all day, or travel to third world countries. Needless to say, the first consolation did not address my main concerns.

Read on below:

http://www.blueridgeoutdoors.com/hiking/backpacking-with-diabetes/

A Backpack and a Paper Home

September 2011

Well, it’s been a long, busy road since my last post – taking me out of N.C. and into France. From there I traveled through Switzerland, into the edge of Austria, up into the corner of Germany and back again to my home base in the Loire Valley. Along the way I stopped in Zurich, Montreaux, Chamonix, and other parts of France. I carried my insulin in frio packs from hostel to hostel, sometimes finding a refrigerator and sometimes continuing to re-wet the pack every day or so to keep them cold. I ate an elaborate array of cheeses and pates in Paris, sausage and pretzel breads in Austria, and not much in Switzerland since everything was so expensive! It was a bread-filled time for me, lots of baguettes and butter, but also a lot of walking. Traveling for 2.5 months without a car necessitates a lot of time on your feet. And for a month of that I carried a 40 lb. backpack with me, full of medical supplies, clothes, hiking boots, and the essential memory recording equipment; a journal, camera, and two sketchpads. This was a solo adventure for me in many ways, even through the times that I was with friends or my french family. It was part of my journey towards feeling unrestrained, and yet in many ways I did feel constricted for parts of it. I realize in hindsight how that has opened up my life now; how like in yoga class after an intense twist your body is filled with oxygen and energy once you release the bind. I feel a new sense of direction and motivation after my trip that releases at unexpected moments.

Diabetically speaking, carrying my supplies was less of a hassle and challenge than I expected. I guess I’m getting better at it. When I traveled in Costa Rica during my Junior year of college, I had a lot of scary lows, a lot of fear over not having my supplies or finding myself unprepared and without access to what I needed, food or medical-wise. But even though I traveled for much of the time alone, staying in hostels where no one knew I was diabetic and even if I’d wanted to tell them I might have had to do it in German (French and Spanish I can do, but there are so many languages in Europe!), I don’t have any poignant memories of diabetes impeding what I wanted to do. Realizing that makes me want to shout with joy. I have become accepting of this condition to the point that I was surprised to suddenly recognize at some point that I had not been thinking about it. That is like stage three acceptance! (I have a feeling there are many more stages).

So I want to talk more about the trip, but my brain is already catapulting into the future with dreams and plans of my life as a nutritionist, diabetes educator, and food policy activist. Maybe I’ll never call diabetes a blessing in disguise, but it is really powerful for me to admit that having this condition has and still is shaping my passion, my drive, and my relationship with my body for the better. It is even shaping my career choices at this point, and I am so excited to be on the cusp of dealing with this global epidemic that is such an indicator of the pressing issues of our time. The rise in diabetes correlates with our disconnection and disharmony with the Earth, it follows poverty and economic inequality, it speaks to racial and economic separation, it illustrates how our lifestyles and priorities have so rapidly changed, largely affected by media and marketing.

Whoo, I feel I’m off on a tangent. I am experimenting with using this technology information share free-for-all as a way to be more connected, not less so, and I think blogging is an amazing way to empower the individual. Between managing a new job and diabetes it’s hard to find time to write, but writing is one way I manage my stress, and stress is the main culprit in my diabetes management. I kept a journal all through my trip and wrote in it nearly everyday – I think it served as a friend and comfort to me through my lonely times, of which there were many. Journaling for me is a way to jump into a self-expression that requires no explanation, no background, and no structure; no sense has to be made. It almost always grounds me when I am floating for some reason or the other, maybe it’s traveling, searching for a job and purpose, or uncertainty in my relationships. It is for me, and it is simple. In a world of complicated diabetes management that changes everyday, my journal is stable and always ready to listen. In a strange way it holds me accountable to myself as well. I have read back over past journals and realized that at some level I knew all along whether a situation was going to be healthy or sustainable for me, even if I have not always heeded that intuition. I’ve realized too that I have the power to view diabetes as a blessing and the lessons that it has brought to me as gifts, all through reassuring myself before I ever needed reassuring. It is powerful and amazing to honor yourself by recording whatever speaks to you in the moment.