When I was in my early 20s a friend of mine told me he was going backpacking in the Jefferson Wilderness Area located in Oregon and asked if I would like to go. The trail he was hiking would lead to Marion Lake, not far from Mount Jefferson. Living in Salem Oregon at the time and only a two-hour drive, I accepted. I had never backpacked before but it all sounded fun. I borrowed a backpack from a neighbor and filled it up with camping gear. I had the time of my life! Later I would head into the Jefferson Wilderness Area, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and camping several nights under the star filled sky listening only to the slight breeze and small animals that walked around at night searching for a meal. I had the best times of my life there. I even took my children hiking and camping as early as 5 years old. But mostly I went by myself.
Ten years later I found out I had diabetes and I was told that I could no longer hike several days because it was hard to manage my glucose level. If something went wrong I could die. Which can be true if you are not very careful. That did not stop me. I CONTROL MY DIABETES. IT DOESN’T CONTROL ME. At 54 years old, I still backpack and I still love doing it. If you have diabetes and you love the outdoors like I do, here are a few things you should do to make sure your visit is worry free.
1. I must keep my insulin cold. Instead of taking freezer packs with me that are heave and eventually thaw out, I use Frio Cooling Products. These work great when you are gone for several days and need to keep your insulin cold. I use them all the time.
2. Always, always take candy, trail mix, and or a powdered sugar supplement you add to water with you. Hiking burns a lot of carbohydrates. Even if you have diabetes and are not on insulin you can get hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Take plenty with you. There have been many times I have needed it. If you are hiking in the wilderness there isn’t anyone to help you if you pass out due to hypoglycemia.
3. Test your glucose level often. Every one-to-two hours. If it starts to get low, eat something.
4. Don’t over eat! Sometimes when we are burning carbohydrates we tend to over eat. Yes, you will need to eat more because you are burning more. But overeating isn’t good either. Again, test often. Keep you glucose level as close to normal as you can.
5. Let your doctor know you are hiking. He can give you medical advise tailored to your health.
6. If you hike alone (and I do) let someone close to you know when you are leaving, where you are going, and when you will return. I give my wife a map and highlight the trails I will be on. She drops me off and picks me up. There is rarely cell phone service so far away from civilization. Someone needs to know when to call for help and know where you are hiking so someone can find you in case everything goes wrong. Which leads me to my last point…
7. When I give my wife a map highlighting the trails I will be hiking, I do not stray from those trails. If something goes wrong my wife and emergency personnel need to know where to find me. If I stray from my original plan, I may wind up dead and no one will know where I am.
I love hiking. I love the wilderness. Being careful and following these steps is the difference between a great backpacking trip and a dangerous one. Be safe. Hiking with diabetes isn’t for everyone. If you like to hike it is not over if you develop diabetes. It just means you have to be better prepared and more cautious.