Chronic Illness, Type 1 Diabetes

I Went Camping for the First Time Since My Type 1 Diabetes Diagnosis

Disclaimer: Zach and I followed all regulations put in place by the US Department of Agriculture in response to COVID-19 when visiting the Dakota Prairie Grasslands. Our campsite was open to campers, and we did not enter any part of the Grasslands that was still closed to visitors to help slow the spread of COVID-19. As states begin their re-opening process, it’s important to double check what implementations have been put in place in response to COVID-19 for wherever you are visiting. While many states have made the decision to open parks back up to visitors, that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s true for your location. It’s also important to remember that you still need to be practicing social distancing, even when outdoors, and to bring items like hand sanitizer (if available) along with you.

The last time I went camping, I was an un-diagnosed Type 1 Diabetic. Yep, you read that right. It was July 2016 and my friends and I decided we needed a weekend get away so we drove to the Black Hills in South Dakota. While it was such a fun time, I’m pretty sure that I spent the majority of that trip going to the bathroom. (Frequent urination, as it turns out, is a symptom of diabetes.) I didn’t grow up going camping, but after a seventeen day camping trip for a science credit back in high school, I fell in love. Until this past weekend, I haven’t been camping since that trip back in July 2016. I had missed going camping, but I was a little apprehensive about how much different this experience would now be. Everything changes when you have Type 1 Diabetes, even things like camping.

I think one of the most overwhelming parts of traveling with Type 1 Diabetes is packing. My boyfriend and I were going to be gone a total of 48 hours. While that seems like a small amount of time for someone to be gone, I had now pack for unknowns that didn’t exist for me the last time I went camping. I wasn’t going to have to change my insulin pump site or continuous glucose monitor (CGM) sensor while I was camping, but I needed to be prepared in case of one those two devices failed. I needed to make sure I had test strips, lancets, and a back up glucose meter in the event that my CGM lost signal or failed. I needed to make sure I not only had packed insulin, but had a way to keep it cool in the warm weather. And what I think was my biggest concern, I needed to make sure I had ways to treat any low blood sugar episodes I may have while I was out in the middle of no where. Preparing for this trip felt a little daunting. I definitely felt like I had over packed, but I’d rather be over prepared than under.

Mudpie Campground, Little Missouri National Grassland

My boyfriend, Zach, and I drove about four hours west to the Medora, North Dakota area. I was a little uneasy on the drive there, mostly I was worried that I had forgotten something, but the excitement of finally being able to go camping again was a great distraction. When we arrived at our campsite, we immediately started setting up camp. I brought two bags: one for my clothes and one for my pancreas. Zach brought a cooler where we kept a few gallons of water, our food and alcohol for the weekend, and where I kept my insulin. I brought a few different options to treat my lows, and kept a juice box or two in our tent. (There were not any bears where we were camping.) After feeling more confident that I had everything I needed to survive a night in the wilderness with T1D, we called it a night.

The next morning, we woke up, ate breakfast, and mapped out our day. We had plans to hike up to Devil’s Pass, go kayaking on the Little Missouri River, and then explore Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It was going to be an active day, and my main priority was trying to get through it with not just as little low blood sugar episodes as possible, but little high blood sugar episodes as well. I had brought a fanny back with my to carry my phone, insulin pump PDM, phone, and water, but to my surprise, Zach packed me a bigger hiking back pack that made it easier to carry everything I needed with me. While the morning started out a little rough, my blood sugar was high for the majority of our first hike, I was able to keep myself in range throughout kayaking and while we drove around Teddy Roosevelt National Park. Keeping my blood sugar levels in range while camping was something had anxiety about leading up to the trip, and I was pleasantly surprised with how my levels behaved.

Devils Pass, Billings County, North Dakota

Another big thing I had anxiety over while camping was having a low blood sugar episode during the middle of the night. While I did have my cell phone on me so that I could still get my CGM readings, I didn’t have any cell service which meant that my mom couldn’t reach me if I didn’t wake up to a low alert. I had to hope that I either I heard the alarm and woke up before I got too low, or that Zach heard my alarm. I paid attention to my levels, and thanks to the help of some juice boxes before bed and a few temporary basal rates during the night, I was able to avoid any potentially dangerous lows! I didn’t go high overnight either which was an added bonus as I was worried that may over-treat an overnight low in paranoia, and then wake up high and exhausted.

I went into this camping trip with quite a bit of anxiety that T1D would ruin my love for camping. Diabetes has the potential to turn situations we love into experiences that we want to forget, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I planned, maybe a bit too extensively, for my two day trip. I made a list of what to pack and I checked it twice. I kept an eye on my blood sugar levels more than I do during a typical day, and that helped me avoid lows and highs so I could spend more time enjoying my trip instead of treating. It wasn’t a flawless trip, and there were definitely things I could have done better to help manage my diabetes while camping. The good news, though, is that everything gets better with practice, even things like camping and diabetes.

Kayaking on the Little Missouri River near Teddy Roosevelt National Park

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