My 2013/14 Arizona hiking season is underway with three long treks and multiple short hikes under my belt. I have been extremely pleased with how strong I feel and how confident I am in handling my diabetes.
In late July I wrote my first blogpost about hiking and discussed the possibility of hypoglycemia while out on the trail and the necessity of carrying a Glucagon kit. My second hiking post in August discussed my personal rules for being safe in the outdoors and how I’ve learned to balance acceptable blood glucose numbers with safety and a passion for the beautiful Arizona landscape.
In this post I plan to talk about how I prepare for short and easy hikes. I’ll discuss specifics of what supplies I carry, how I eat, and how I adjust my insulin. Although these short hikes are easier to manage than some of the crazy-long difficult hikes I do with my Friday hiking group, it is still important to plan and make decisions that keep me safe.
I categorize easy hikes as 3-5 miles in distance with some elevation changes, but not the think-you’re-gonna-puke climbs that are ubiquitous in Arizona. Because I walk my dog 3 miles every morning, is there a difference between a walk and a hike? Probably not, except that I call it a walk on neighborhood streets and a hike when I’m in the desert.
Supplies I Carry:
I never walk my dog without a full tube of glucose tabs (40g carb) in my pocket and I always carry my phone. I don’t take water because neither Abby the Black Lab nor I mind waiting until we get home to drink. I also don’t carry ID beyond what is on my medical alert bracelet (Name, Type 1 Diabetes, Insulin Dependent, ICE with my husband’s cell phone number). Maybe I should, but I don’t.
I am extremely lucky to live a few blocks from the McDowell Mountain Regional Park, an Arizona gem of 21,000 acres of desert beauty with hiking trails, bike trails, and campgrounds. There are mountains to climb and multiple flat easy walking paths. The views are fantastic. If I walk from home to explore this area, I carry a bottle of water in addition to glucose tabs and my phone. I don’t know exactly why I add the bottle of water except that it is a sensible rule to never go into the desert without water. I also carry a photo ID along with my required park pass.
If I am hiking farther from home, I take a fanny pack that holds two bottles of water, a pack of granola bars, some fruit gummies, and of course my glucose tabs, phone, and photo ID. I also take my BG meter which I never do when I’m just walking/hiking from home. Although I’m willing to trust my Dexcom for an hour or two near home, I want back-up for driving and for longer periods of time.
The vast majority of my hikes and walks take place in the morning and breakfast is the meal I need to be concerned about. What is working for me right now is to limit carbs so that I don’t have to worry much about active insulin. At the same time I must have some carbs or my BG will go up with post-dawn phenomenon or whatever you want to call it. My current breakfast of choice is plain Greek yogurt mixed with berries or apple pieces for a total of about 15 carbs.
Because I have the luxury of being able to walk/hike after breakfast almost every day, my basal rates have exercise built into them. If I don’t exercise, I usually need to use a temporary basal to up my rates through the morning. If I’m a bit low before starting to hike, I often munch on 1 or 2 glucose tabs and then use a temporary basal of zero for 30 minutes. It’s just like proactively using the Medtronic Threshold Suspend!
I think I’ve outlined just about everything I do in preparation for short and easy hikes. Because each of us is different in our fitness level, insulin requirements, and goals, what I do is not necessarily what you should do. But you should think about everything that I mentioned. Maybe you like to carry your BG meter on short neighborhood walks. Great, then do it. Or possibly you need to start a temporary basal two hours ahead of exercise. Then set an alarm so you remember to dial back the insulin. If a walk of one-half mile is a challenge for you, it doesn’t matter. Get out there and be proud of what you can accomplish.
The only “musts” that I prescribe are to always carry fast-acting glucose and to always wear some sort of medical ID. Glucose tabs, gel, or whatever. Choose what works for you and don’t leave home without it. There are lots of nice medical ID’s out there and find one that you are willing to wear 24/7/365 for the rest of your life or until there is a cure.
And if you are taking your dog with you, don’t forget the poop bags:-)