Walking through Innsbruck

To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world. – Freya Stark

I stayed in a small Air BnB across an azure blue river that ran straight through the middle of Innsbruck. I walked there for the first time from the train station – my gracious host offered to pick me up, but I screwed up military time in a text message and told him I was coming 2 hours after my actual arrival. He gave me directions and I looked them up using the train station’s wifi (which was the only way I could use my phone) and headed on my way.

Google Maps estimated a 25 minute walk. I arrived an hour and a half later. Although I was toting my backpack stuffed to the brim, a rolling suitcase, and finally my purse, flung around my shoulders, I wasn’t slowed down too much by my baggage. I just simply couldn’t stop spinning around in circles to take in the shining spirit of the city. Here’s my walk in pictures:

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I strolled across the street to a pedestrian only plaza where shoppers and diners milled and mingled.

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…before finding this strange alley of murals. That closest one is a kiwi on a chicken bone. Perhaps a show of peace among vegans and carnivores (although I’m doubtful).

img_0402.jpg I didn’t stay at this hotel; I just took this picture to prove I was really in Innsbruck.

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I walked across the bridge towards my new abode in the wake of mountains all around.

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Et voila, practically home. The huge wooden door was tucked behind a swath of climbing red ivy between two classically Austrian buildings.

Everyone was walking or biking up and down the steep hills. In many places there were wide pedestrian sidewalks next to double-lane bike paths, bordered by a line of trees and flowers, before finally meeting the edge of a quietly buzzing road on which the motorists dutifully slowed on yellow and stopped on red.

It took me awhile (I mean like two weeks after I returned) to realize why I felt (at least in part) such a sense of peace in Innsbruck. It could have been the mountains all around or the fact that I was at a conference where everyone was thinking and talking obsessively about diabetes (just like me!), but another huge part of it was the pervasive walkability of the city. Pervasive because it was unavoidable – you couldn’t get where you needed to go without walking. It didn’t just feel safe to walk alongside the cars, but in many places there were no cars at all. The restaurant I ate at twice – Osterreich – which I actually thought had something to do with an Ostrich, before I realized how painfully complacent my brain was acting – was only accessible via foot. And, what’s more, the whole time you sat, enjoying grilled chicken or roasted sausages, fluffy piles of freshly grated horseradish, or mounds of sauerkraut, you could watch, not cars whizzing by, but a live feed of humans doing human things.

IMG_0475.jpgFor example, this brass band bedecked in green, who lined up to play in the heart of the city.

Walking is one of my favorite things. But also, walking is one of my favorite things about traveling. I’m grateful to have a car, but I don’t like cars. I like moving more slowly through life and having the chance, if I so choose, to reach out and touch it. And diabetes loves a walk. People talk about the benefits of exercise for diabetes management, as if exercise was some strange set of unnatural activities that the body must be guided through. I’ll admit, I go for a run every now and then, and it does bring my blood sugar down, but for me, there’s nothing like walking to bring my body into balance. Adam Brown, a writer often featured on diaTribe, explains the blood sugar benefits of walking beautifully here. When my bg is high, instead of dropping rapidly like I do while running, I glide towards a more reasonably blood sugar. Instead of tiring me out, a long walk makes me ready for another walk, or a night of dancing (lucky for me too, because of all the specialists, pediatric endocrinologists are the best dancers).

My last day in Innsbruck, after cramming my head full of presentations and standing up to do a couple myself, I took myself on a mind-clearing walk. My host had told me there was a tram to the top of the mountain, so I headed up the hill towards the peak. Shockingly, I did eventually find the tram, but then decided that my budget preferred continuing to walk. Oh also, that’s another thing, walking is cheap!

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Not to mention beautiful.

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Gazing out over Innsbruck, I felt overwhelmingly grateful for my experience and for all the people who helped me get there. Although I enjoy the feeling of solo exploration, traveling, more than anything else I think, makes our interconnectedness blazingly obvious. I was guided by countless mentors and passed from hand to hand of old and new friends on this journey. Thanks to each and every one.

Leaving Vienna in the morning

**Monday of this week was World Diabetes Day 2017, so in honor of all my diabetes sisters, brothers, and supporters, this post will offer a little more intimate look at the diadetails of my life than others.

After yoga Monday evening in Vienna, I followed a group of yogi/inis to a delicious dinner of Vietnamese food. Yes, definitely Vietnamese and not Viennese – although I would end up eating a lot of traditionally Austrian fare. I was just a little bit low by the time we arrived at the restaurant [70 mg/dl or so], which was really a pleasant surprise after battling some higher numbers on the sedentary plane ride. I ordered an ‘Elderberry Water,’ description in German, so I was taking a total leap. It was, in fact, an elderberry-infused glass of water – and totally delicious.

I also ordered several other things – Vietnamese crepes and spring rolls with interesting mayo-based sauces. As a lover of sauce I was delighted. I was also almost delirious from exhaustion, approaching the evening of the day that should have been a night, but it was wonderful to be sitting at a table with people living their lives in this new city I’d just stumbled in to.

That night, teeth brushed, ready to climb the ladder to my lofted bed, I found the walk back to the apartment could not compete with the long plane flight, screwed up schedule, and reduced control over food choices. Nevertheless, despite a blood sugar of 201 mg/dl, I took an extra shot and crawled happily into bed.

Every morning I wake up and check my blood sugar. Then, as my coffee is percolating, I take my shot – the same amount each morning unless something exceptional is happening that day. I have my first cup of coffee and plan the day while my insulin activates, so to speak. It’s a wonderful routine – a forced stillness and reflection courtesy of diabetes. When I awoke in Vienna to a dreamy light pouring into the vaulted living room, my blood sugar had evened out to some degree (mid-hundreds). I drank my coffee staring out onto the criss-cross of streets below and apartment windows across.

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Unless you have it, at this point you may need a diabetes glossary to understand a few concepts:

Walk competing with a plane ride…What?

Insulin activating…Hmm?

The day-to-day details of life with diabetes are heightened when traveling, precisely because of the exciting release of control that a good adventure requires. So at the same time that you’re sinking into the moment, diabetes can loom even bigger in the back of your mind. But I’ve learned, slowly, painfully over the years, to not let it steal the joy of the unknown from me.

A few ways I’ve successfully experienced this reclaiming of joy:

  • Allow myself a wider target range while traveling – if I’m not dropping dangerously low at night, I’ve succeeded! Likewise, as long as I can bring a high blood sugar down, things are fine. Interestingly, often this more ‘relaxed’ attitude brings with it surprisingly ‘good’ numbers.
  • Tin foil and plastic Ziplock bags at all time. How could a Ziplock bag improve my bg numbers while traveling? – you ask. Well, this may not be true for everyone, but I am the sort of person who doesn’t need to eat a whole treat to be satisfied, but who feels utterly denied if I can’t try a bite of something I’m offered. I don’t typically buy or order things that don’t support my blood sugar, but if they are there and free – I just gotta know. There are only a few exceptions I turn my nose up at completely (likelihood increases if said ‘food’ is enveloped in sealed plastic). So if I get a treat while traveling, say a flakey pastry pinwheel like they displayed on small square, porcelain plates at the conference during coffee breaks, I have a delicious bite (sometimes two) and pop it in the bag. Although often I throw away the remains before completely consuming it, it’s still less waste overall because one treat extends over a whole day, or sometimes even two or three (remember to refrigerate when necessary)!
  • And let’s talk about refrigeration. I always arm myself with a doctor’s note before traveling that states that I will be traveling with my medications and that they will need to stay cool. Perhaps because of this, or maybe my medical id bracelet (also essential when traveling alone), or because I am open about proclaiming my diabetes in airports, I have always been able to carry a little cooler with me without being stopped for having what is technically an ‘extra’ carry-on bag. I never let this cooler out of my reach – not to put it in overhead bins and definitely not to check it. I’m curious if others with T1D have successfully traveled with small coolers. Mine is soft and I use a little tiny icepack – which does flag the security scanners sometimes. Both times this has happened I have been cleared to continue on my merry way.

My diabetes travel guidelines in summary:

  • Be kind to myself, aka loosen up
  • Carry Ziplock bags or tinfoil
  • Be open/up front about diabetes

I packed a yogurt in my icepack for my four-hour train journey to Innsbruck, during which I would retrace on the ground the route I had flown the previous day. I jostled back in forth from one side of the train to the other trying to catch views of mountain peaks and aquamarine waterways, before finally being lulled into a nap by the hum of the rails.

 

Immersive Experience

I’m at the beach, looking out at the ocean. As my mom pointed out, the horizon line is choppy and each wave is being attacked ferociously by the wind, causing a thick fan of mist to spray from it.

This morning, inspired by the rhythm and beauty of the sea, we talked about moments in life that become preserved (perfectly?) in our memories. Of course as mother and daughter we had some shared moments to talk about – and also some individual ones. I told mom about a moment I shared with a friend of mine on a backpacking trip, when we rushed to the tip-top of a peak called ‘Shining Rock,’ with just too little time before the sunset to search for and find out cameras in our wet packs. When we hit the crest of the mountain and emerged onto the quartz outcrop, the sun was breaking through the clouds in an array of colors and beams that took our breath away. It reminded me of the ocean in a way – like seeing underneath the water. The clouds set a soft horizon line over the expanse of blue ridges.

There was a moment in this moment when we both were exasperated by our lack of picture-taking devices – but then came the freedom. When ‘preservation’ with a camera is possible it’s hard to resist the fantasy that holding on to these moments in our lives is possible (oops, I guess this is a continuation of my explication on change). When preservation is impossible, say we don’t have cameras and we left our phones locked up in the car, immersion becomes possible. What are the ingredients of immersion? Dedication, curiosity, gratitude? I don’t know. I would say though, that those moments in life that we can never forget, are most likely ones in which we were not concerned with holding on.

With a Minute to Spare

Chapter 2

So at 8:05 pm I’m sitting on the plane to Miami muttering, “Come on, come on,” under my breath, and hoping they start the engines soon. By 9:00 I felt like I had aged several years and my cortisol was jumping up and down like a jack russell terrier. I had one of those little in-flight tracker screens right in front of me, and although I enjoy many traditional flight hobbies like writing in my journal, doing crossword puzzles, and reading SkyMag, this time all I could bring myself to do, literally, for two hours, was watch that little plane icon move slowly through my home state (Georgia), and onwards towards the tip of Florida.

At 9:05 the estimated arrival time had jumped back from the original 10:15 (which remember would leave me with a total of 5 minutes to make my connecting flight) to 9:44 pm. I would have, calculating time for deboarding, at least 20 minutes of straight running time before the gate to my second flight closed. At this time, I did decide to update my journal. In it I wrote:

24 minutes to destino. Quick update, I’m on the plane. BG (blood glucose) is 320 mg/dl. Was so low in Raleigh that I couldn’t think. Didn’t take insulin for a long time. We are set to arrive @ 9:44 and then depart at 10:20. As long as no gate change I’ll be at F25 (only 20 gates away from where we arriving). I’m going to write an update at 10:40 pm saying I made it, and my BG will be perfect. Then I will fall into a nice sleep until 4 am, then write for an hour. Someday I’ll learn Portuguese.

This was my last journal entry for four days.

Back on the plane, as we declined in elevation towards our destination, I looked at the screen, then back at the overhead compartment, then at my purse, then at all the people around me, in a nervous loop. There were so many people in front of me, and I knew I had to get off of that plane. A flight attendant walked by. I asked her if she could help me. I said, “Hello there…I know this might be a weird request, but my connecting flight leaves at 10:20, and that lady up there, hers leaves pretty soon too, and if there’s any way we can get off this plane, like, first, or sooner, that’d be great.”

She agreed to make an announcement over the loudspeaker. She was very kind.

5 minutes later, as people rustled around and the captain updated us of our status repeatedly, a quiet announcement urging passengers to allow those with close connecting flights to depart first, was made. The attendant warned me that most likely, people would take little heed, especially those in first class.

And yet a door opened. Behind me, a couple on their way to an island off the coast of Florida, anticipating their vacation, had heard my anxious request. “You’ve got a close connector too?” One of the women asked. I sighed. “Yeah, it’s pretty close…” “Yeah ours got crunched with the delay. What’s yours?” she asked. I told her. “OH, that is close. That makes me feel pretty good about ours.” Despite this, she was very sympathetic. ”Here’s what you need to do,” she said. Follow us off of here and we’ll get you pointed towards the Sky Train. You’ve got to get on the Sky Train because where we are, you’re never gonna make it on foot all the way to your next gate. This airport is a giant.”

Now remember, our flight was arriving considerably early. It was 9:40, and we were descending towards a gentle landing. At 9:44 we touched down.

At 9:55 we were still waiting behind several other planes on a slow, slow pathway towards deboarding. Our huge machine idled in the queue. I began to feel flushed and frantic (noticing a theme?).

My friends from a few seats back knew that everything wasn’t going to go as smoothly as they’d originally presented. They amended the plan. “Ok, here’s what you’ve gotta do. As soon as we get up there, and they turn off the seatbelt sign, we’re gonna stand up and make an opening for you so you can get your backpack and get off of here. And then, don’t look back. Don’t wait for us, we’ll just slow you down. You gotta get off this plane and run like hell. You gotta get to gate 11 (9 gates away) and get on the Sky Train. I think you’ll have to go up some stairs…”

At that moment we docked.

The seatbelt sign went off.

My friends stood up, and I began to act.

I heaved my Osprey backpack from the overhead compartment and hiccupped down the aisle, meeting the line as it slowly moved off of the plane. I stepped onto the connecting bridge and could see the light of the airport at the other end, but I was still blocked by a throng of passengers. I tried to wait patiently because I don’t like pushing through crowds or running around other people who I could potentially crash into. So I slowly trudged along, until suddenly, in the Miami airport, at what was now 10:08 pm, I saw an opening, and I made a break for it.

My backpack was flapping on my back because I hadn’t buckled the waist strap and my purse was bouncing repeatedly into my stomach. If I had ever pushed myself this hard in high school track, I might have placed in a race. I had never run like this before. I also had never run before wearing a 35 lb. backpack. There was no one in the airport, no one out in front of me. Which is sort of a figure of speech because there were a few others, walking on the moving sidewalks which had been disabled because of how late it was. After about two minutes of running, my hair flying into my face, cheeks red, eyes wide, heaving breaths from the exertion, I see a business man and I think, he must know how this airport works. As I pass him on my right, I turn my head like a frenzied bull and with panic in my eyes I scream, “Where’s the Sky Train?!” “What?” he queries back. “THE SKY TRAIN?!!!”

I still don’t know where the Sky Train was. He failed my question a second time and I waved my hand at him in dismissal before continuing to sprint through the deserted airport.

Up ahead, one of those little cars was sitting horizontal in my path. As I approached it, I yelled to the conductor, “Please, sir, I’ve got to get to gate F25,” and instead of dodging it, I jumped on (not recommended behavior).

I learned my friend’s name, and where he was from, and that he had no faith that I would make my flight because moments before he had taken the last passenger who they were calling for over the loudspeaker to the very same gate.

I disagreed with him, but I was grateful for his kind presence and effort, nevertheless. We sped (at 5 mph) through the airport. My hair flew behind me, finally out of my mouth and eyes. I began to try to breathe again, although my lungs burned and my chest was tight. I was invigorated, I was going to make it. I had 1 minute before they would close the gate at 10:10 pm as we neared F25.

…To be continued.

Can’t stop thinking about…

Costa Rica right now. It’s cold here in North Carolina! Here are some pics now and then, side by side. It’s crazy how much our climate shapes us. Right now I’m going to the gym or bundling up for walks, down there I was rambling outside and running by the surf.

Diabetes was wild in Costa Rica. It was the first time I’d ever introduced myself to new people as a person with diabetes. Before that it was all about telling people who knew me that I’d been diagnosed. In some ways, it was sort of a relief to not have to explain how I got sick, stayed sick, and was finally diagnosed. To not have to fight people’s expectations of how I would be based on how they knew me before.

It’s nice to have better words to explain diabetes now. It’s taken me ten years – there have been a lot of hard emotions to sort through when it comes to how much to share, how much to ask for help. Being vulnerable with friends though, and there is a lot of interesting research right now about vulnerability that seems to confirm this, in my experience has blessed me with deeper relationships and more trust.

Travel Pic of the Week

I want to start a little project called ‘Travel Pic of The Week.’ I plan to pick a picture at semi-random and then narrate the context around it. I have so many amazing pictures from travels in the U.S., Costa Rica, and Europe that I think this will be a nice way to bring life back to those memories. Thanks and Enjoy!

a deceptively tranquil path leading to the Cote Sauvage:

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In 2011 I traveled to France to explore, meet my father’s family, and speak as much French as I could. My father flew over and spent the first two weeks of my three month trip with me. We started in Paris visiting his aunt, my great-aunt and then worked our way to the Loire Valley to visit cousins. We rented a car and drove from Paris up along the Cote Sauvage, which means ‘Wild Coast,’ staying at a couple of inns along the way, one that was right on the seashore. This was a path leading to a peaceful stretch of beach that one spilled out onto after stepping out of the sliding back door of our room. At the peculiar little inn where we stayed we dined on toast and preserves in the morning and played game after game of pool at night in the parlor. During the couple of days we spent there I roamed the coast, which is indeed fantastically wild and craggy, with waves beating against the rocks and shooting up foam and fisherman in long rubber overalls hauling writhing sea bass in on their lines. DSCN0235