Pumped for the PCT: Thru-Hiking with Type 1 Diabetes
Hello! I’m Kristina Larson, I’m Type 1 Diabetic, and I will be starting a NOBO PCT attempt in April 2023 with my little brother.
What is Type 1 Diabetes?
I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when I was 17 years old, and since I’m now 34, I’ve had been diabetic for half of my life! Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disease and is thought to be genetic (research is ongoing!). Your immune system basically hulks out one day and in a supremely misguided moment of over-achievement, it targets and attacks your beta cells in your pancreas who, up until that point, have been dutifully producing insulin so that you can actually convert glucose into energy. Because Type 1 Diabetics can no longer produce enough or any insulin at all (me), we become dependent on an external source of insulin to keep on living.
T1D Treatment Options
There are two main options for insulin therapy – MDI (multiple daily injections) or pump therapy (now you’re understanding the punny blog title). After years of MDI and giving myself upwards of 7 injections per day of long and fast acting insulin, I switched about 10 years ago to pump therapy. I use an Omnipod5 insulin pump, which sticks to my tummy and has a small cannula inserted that gives me fast-acting insulin throughout the day and after I eat carbs. The beauty of this particular pump is that it is, as the name implies, a pod and thus there are no pesky tubes ready to catch on any and everything.
In tandem with my insulin pump, I wear a Dexcom G6 CGM (continuous glucose monitor). CGMs have allowed diabetics to go from pricking our poor finger tips (to measure our blood glucose level) 10+ times a day to virtually never having to manually test AND seeing blood sugar readings every couple of minutes on our phone screen! It even yells at you if your blood sugar is high or low, which has literally saved countless lives! Being able to see your blood sugar graphed like this also allows you to make more informed decisions since you can see the trend visually (versus just seeing a singular data point when you prick your finger).
Why am I hiking the PCT?
1. Because I want to.
First of all, I really really want to. I absolutely love backpacking and the thought of doing it for many months with my little brother (who is my bestest friend), supported emotionally and resupplied by my all-star husband, is a no-brainer for me.
2. Anything is easier when you see someone else do it first.
Second, ANYTHING is easier to do if you see someone else do it first. As a Type 1 Diabetic, I avoided certain adventures and experiences for many years simply because I didn’t think that they were possible with T1D. Between not seeing anyone online with my condition doing those things and doctors telling me it was not even an option, I figured that I was just destined to lead a lower-risk (and lower-fun) life. But then my stubbornness kicked in and started figuring out through trial and error how to do harder and bigger things with my Diabetes. Even now in 2023, with at least a couple of T1 Diabetics having completed the PCT, I struggle to find anyone who has done it on pump therapy (which is a non-negotiable for me). I’m here to tell my fellow diabadassers how to plan pump/sensor/insulin resupplies, how to keep that insanely expensive insulin cold, how to bring backup supplies for any anomaly, and how to manage your blood sugars so that you aren’t riding the world’s least fun rollercoaster (i.e. your blood sugar roaring up and down endlessly).
3. Regret is heavy.
Third, regret is heavier than the extra diabetes supplies that I have to carry. It’s also heavier than the extra stress, on top of all the usual thru-hiking stress, of managing your blood sugars, treating lows and then immediately resuming a hard climb, coordinating meds refills, carrying tons of Diabetes supplies to reduce your dependency on hiking into towns, etc. There will never be a convenient-enough time to do something like this and the years will just keep ticking forward. Furthermore, you truly never know what the future holds. When all of these reasons for hiking finally pushed me over the edge and I turned to my now-husband on the couch and said, “What if I hike the PCT next year?” and he said “DO IT”, the decision was made.
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