As I packed my backpack before the long, hard hike I took yesterday, I found myself downplaying my needs. I should preface that statement by saying that I really didn’t know it was going to be a long, hard hike. I do go hiking sometimes and I certainly grew up going hiking at least once a month or so with my family back home, so I have plenty of experience doing the physical sport of hiking. People up here in the Pacific Northwest, though–they don’t mess around. If you’re going to hike around here, it’s all about how much altitude you’re going to gain and how many miles you’re going to cover and how many mountains you’ll be able to see from the summit. We don’t really have that in Ohio.
My friend, Darel, who invited me on the hike, had told me repeatedly in the emails to bring lots of water because there were long stretches of the trail that were exposed to the sun. I thought, “I don’t really get thirsty when I’m exercising. I probably don’t need that much water.” I only own two large water bottles and I wasn’t excited about carrying that much weight in my pack. “Well, I guess I can leave one bottle in the car if I don’t carry it up. I better take both just in case,” I finally decided. Darel also said to bring a lunch to enjoy from the top, while surveying the four mountains we’d have in view. I had packed a simple lunch of spicy tortilla chips and this black bean and corn mixture that I was passing off as salsa. I threw in a couple packs of string cheese and thought I was overprepared. “How long could this hike be? What else would I need to eat?” I stared into my cupboard scanning the food to see if I was forgetting anything. I reached in and grabbed my last Crunchy Peanut Butter Clif Bar and threw it in the bag, just in case. (I only keep these on hand for emergencies, actually, because they spike my BG like nothing else, but have some good fat and protein to make the carbs last longer.) I almost rolled my eyes as I grabbed my bag of dried cranberries and threw that in, too. It was like I was caving in to my smarter self saying, “Come on, just in case,” and my prideful self was saying, “Oh, fine.” I had woken up high, had eaten my standard breakfast of eggs and juice (with no inslulin), so I figured I was running a little high anyway. As I was waiting for my ride, though, some nagging suspicion told me that I should eat something else substantial before I left the house. I quickly threw together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that I took with me in the car (and took a less-than-usual one unit of insulin for it, might I add).
Well, friends, I’m here to tell you that I consumed every single thing that I just documented–including both bottles of water–while hiking the Granite Mountain Trail in Snoqualmie Pass, Washington. (It wasn’t like I tore through all of that food and then turned my backpack upside-down desperate for more, but I did eat everything I brought. And a few of Darel’s cashews.)
The drive from my house to the trailhead is probably 30 to 45 minutes, and during that time I guess the insulin was being absorbed more quickly than the PB&J was. I was clearly oblivious to this as we drove through the beautiful landscape of what us Seattlites call “the East Side.” Darel, who has years of Wilderness First Responder training, asked Juliet, our other friend who was hiking with us, if she had any medical conditions that might come into play during our hike. I took my turn after Juliet and calmly explained, as I have many times before, that I keep my glucose here and I have this bracelet with all my emergency contacts here and, “I will almost always feel it coming on way before you’d need to use any of these things, but just in case.” I checked Darel’s guidebook to get a better feel for the hike and read Page 118 to learn that this trail “is a killer.” I continued reading how the trail was excruciatingly difficult and tiring, complete with risk of avalanche. I suddenly felt somewhat sick to my stomach, but I reassured myself with the fact that I had just eaten a whole peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and I had tons of food, so I could just take it slow and monitor my BG as I went along. “I’m probably running really high right now,” I thought. I sat back in my seat and closed my eyes as my stomach sickness subsided. I think it was just the whole reading-while-in-a-moving-vehicle thing…
It’s funny how diabetes has warped my entire sense of what constitutes as my well-being. Prior to my diagnosis, I would have read Page 118 of the guidebook and been nervous about the strenuous climb, but now I simply run through an inventory of my supplies for treating lows. You could tell me that I was about to embark on a trail that required you to run backwards up a steep cliff and then jump off that cliff into a freezing-cold lake and my immediate mental response would be to calculate how many carbs that might use up. This is not to say that this is an accurate way to judge an activity’s difficulty, or whether I should complete it, but it’s certainly where my mind goes first. Does anyone else have this experience?
We stopped the car and started to gather our things for the afternoon. I pulled out my meter and stared in disbelief: 88. What?! I try to always be around 150 before starting any physical activity, and I wanted to be at least that high before heading into a “killer” hike in the wilderness that might, I learned, take all day. The choice suddenly became clear: either I could start fueling now and treat as I went along the trail, or I could sit in the car for eight hours.
The fear may have helped me in this scenario, since that usually drives my BG up, and I grabbed my Clif Bar and tore it open. I recited the mantra that has now become standard for this take-opportunities-as-they-come-to-you life I live: Let’s do this. If you read the description of the trail, you will see that it is quite difficult, but absolutely beautiful. Thankfully, my meter seemed to work just fine all the way up the mountain and I just took things slow. I finished the Clif Bar and headed into the dried cranberries, hoovering around the 70s and 80s for most of the trip up. When we stopped for lunch, about an hour before the summit, I was at 111. I ate my chips and “salsa”–more foods that typically shoot me through the ceiling–and the cheese. We slowed our pace and headed toward the top as Mount Rainier was peaking out from behind the closer mountain ranges.
Melting snow and gushing waterfalls urged us onward, as did Juliet’s dog, Macks, and the view from the top was truly awe-inspiring. We took a nice break and applied more bug spray, telling stories of other mountains, other hikes, and other breath-taking views. I was feeling a sense of relief that the hardest part was over and I knew I’d be able to make it down just fine. I actually had one more pack of crunchy granola bars that I always keep in my backpack (who knows when the expiration date is, but…) that I could turn to if it came to that, and Darel had enough food to feed a family of four, so I figured I was safe.
The trip down was another three hours and I was doing fine. The miles passed with wonderful conversations about our pasts and our plans for the future. With my mind off my BG level, I was able to listen and speak more freely. I was thankful to be spending the afternoon on the mountainside with friends… and I was thankful that I happened to throw in all my “extra” food. Upon reaching the parking lot, we stretched our legs and jumped in the car, off to see what the nearby Scott’s Dairy Freeze had to offer in the way of celebratory dinners.
There was a lot to celebrate: I just climbed Granite Mountain. And it was sunny. And I took good care of myself. And I got to know my friends better. And I peed in the woods.
Let this be a lesson, though, that the extra handfuls of snacks will always be a good idea. I keep trying to remind myself of something I learned in my first Sports and Diabetes Group Northwest meeting: without fuel, your body is useless. Throw in the fuel, friends. And please remind me of that, too.