Welcome to Camp! – Part 1

By December 15, 2017Fresh Air Blog

CIM Note: We wanted to bring you a different perspective on our Slipstreams. In the coming weeks, we’ll be featuring a mini-series of blogs by Brad Lee. He experienced Summer Slipstream in his first ever Slipstream experience this year. His reflections, observations and letter home are all chronicled in the following posts.

Hello, Mother. Hello, Father.
Here I am at camp – near Muskoka.
Camp is very entertaining
And they say we’ll have some fun when it stops raining!

The beginning.

 Which was the case during the last weekend of September, on the road to Algonquin Park.

Summer was making a brave effort of hanging on. Highway 400, heading north of Toronto, soon gave up its city greys and fallow fields for the tenacious greens of the boreal forest. The miles ticked by, as did vaguely familiar place names – Severn Bridge, Burk’s Falls, Gravenhurst, Bracebridge, and Huntsville. Then a turn east along the last ribbon of highway before the map gives way to dirt, hard rock, portages, and canoe routes.

Rain threatened to bring a quick end to the season, and the mercury was forecast to plunge precipitously. Overhead, clouds were moving fast, producing both microbursts and bouts of bright sunshine. I’d left home a day ahead of predictable weekend traffic, giving myself plenty of time to think about my first “summer camp with adults living with Type 1 diabetes.” I was comforted that if things didn’t work out, I could always bolt for familiarity, and enjoy an adventure in Ontario’s Algonquin wilderness by myself.

I’d be lying if I said I knew exactly why I was heading so far off the beaten track. I’d first heard about Connected in Motion’s Summer Slipstream on Facebook. After a quick online registration, I’d even received messages from complete strangers, who also planned to be in Algonquin that weekend. One friendly camper was bringing a posse of T1D pals from Upper Peninsula Michigan and elsewhere in the northeastern United States.

Sounded sort of like my kind of people. Maybe.

Rain, definitely. The windshield wipers slapped rough rhythm to Neil Young rocking in the free world. Last minute, I’d thrown in the three-season down bag, dry suit, gloves, and other cold-weather gear. The inflatable kayak, life vest, fly rod and fly boxes were still in the car from the last trip. A cooler held instant noodles, a jar of peanut butter, a hefty bag of trail mix, bottles of water, and a small sack of chia seeds – that last item a nod towards lower carb breakfasts, after an introduction to author Adam Brown’s “Bright Spots and Landmines,” and better blood-sugar A1c readings.

Thoughts. Self-doubt. Reclamation.

For the longest time, I’d wanted to reclaim parts of my life that happened before diabetes. Those halcyon days when I could rely on myself, and not live in constant fear that something could – and probably would – go disastrously wrong. But with Dr. Banting’s insulin discovery and today’s modern technology, like the pump on my hip, and portable blood-sugar monitors, I could manage to stay alive and well, on my own terms. 

Still, there was always that nagging thought of something going wrong. Every time I packed for a trip, my mind weighed the possibilities and consequences. A battery dies. A needle breaks. An injection site is scar tissue, and synthetic insulin is not absorbed. Low blood-sugar unawareness. Not enough fast sugar to recover. Overexertion. Hypoglycemia. Night lows. Sugar highs. Headaches. Blurred consciousness. Poor planning, I’ve learned, always has its consequences where Type 1 is concerned. What if I get a bad batch of insulin? What if, what if, what if? Plan A gives way to Plan B, and then C, then D, and then what? My systems fail. I fail.

There have been enough hard lessons as a result of poor planning. It’s been downright depressing some days and weeks when complete and total emotional rejection kicks in. I’ve always worked through it – what other choice do I have? – and I’ve sometimes lacked the will to keep on keeping on. There’s no rest from diabetes – ever. Learning never stops with this disease. Everything is trial and error.

Along the way, self-doubt has been a constant companion. I’ve trained myself to have faith, weak as it may be at times, and to consider the alternatives. I’m always trying to gain perspective, and to keep my faith. I console myself with the knowledge that Type 1 diabetes is just one part of my being. But it is also such a big part of life that it’s frequently at centre stage. When I meet with the endocrinologist, and his team of well-meaning educators, nurses, nutritionists and administrators, I steel myself for our encounters. 

I remember my backstory, consider feeble excuses, and ultimately know that telling the truth is probably the best bet. I try diligently to absorb the doctor’s advice, moving from science to practice to personal acceptance. Sometimes it works, other times it takes more effort. They speak about targets, protocols, pattern management, and advanced skills. Fix fasting first! I just try to get through each day, counting carbs, eating, bolusing insulin, and trying to keep a balance. The rest of life is a juggling act.

But driving to camp, I had the creeping feeling that the solitary path I’d chosen in life with diabetes was no longer serving my best interests.

Sugar highs, sugar lows. I try to remind myself not to dwell on the dramatic unknowns; pushing out the bad thoughts that were part of my early experience and education. Fear, hate, anger, and loathing, inward and outward, proved to be strong lessons that have been difficult to break. I’ve learned that knowledge really is power, in living with this often inexplicable, and still incurable disease. But driving to camp, I had the creeping feeling that the solitary path I’d chosen in life with diabetes was no longer serving my best interests.

Camp Arowhon – and my first weekend event in the so-called “slipstream” – promised something different. I hoped that I could develop a new approach and learn in the company of others, who shared the Type 1 diabetes experience. I needed to rebuild my courage and confidence in order to regain control over my diabetic life.

Arrival.

I checked into the Wolf’s Den Bunkhouse, just outside the West Gate to Algonquin Park. I would be just a few minutes’ drive from iconic Canoe Lake, where Group of Seven influencer Tom Thomson mysteriously lost his life. Not too far north lay Camp Arowhon, where fellow Slipstreamers would convene the next day.

I prepared an early dinner of instant laksa noodles and carrots, its sweet coconut curry aroma wafting through the communal kitchen and dining rooms. Outside in the crisp night air, lanterns built to brightness and headlamps flickered. I could hear the breeze in the pines, and I imagined what the nearby Oxtongue River would look like at first light.

My sleep was uneasy, and the threadbare hostel blanket I’d been given failed to keep out the cold in the unheated dormitory. I put on a sweater, and draped my anorak over my body, but continued to shiver into the night. At some point, I decided to get up to answer the call and ended up running to my car and rummaging for my sleeping bag. The hostel manager’s dog looked on curiously, as I stood in the dim light. The truth was I wasn’t accustomed to sleeping in the hostel, despite having romanticized the idea from younger years and backpacking through Europe and Asia. Roughing it, it dawned on me, was all about perspective. In my sleep-deprived and semi-conscious state, I decided it would be a good idea to sleep in my car.

About Brad Lee

Brad Lee is a recovering journalist and avid fly angler who’s as happy chasing fish, in rivers or by Hobie kayak, as he is introducing others to the sport. Sixteen years on, he’s still learning to live well with Type 1 diabetes. He enjoys sharing good food with friends, cooking, travelling and exploring Ontario and the world.