Thank you to CIM tripper and social media guru, Virtue, for this guest post.
Another trip for the books.
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of joining 14 other people with type 1 diabetes on the third Annual CIM Canoe Trip. This year we ventured into the backcountry of Algonquin to experience the warmth of the forest, the cool calm waters of Tom Thomson Lake, the quiet serenity of a night paddle across Burnt Island… and the gut wrenching screams of the pterodactyl-like ravens that came out at the break of dawn.
But let’s back up and start at the beginning: Toronto. Canoe trippers from across Canada convened Thursday evening to kick off the adventure. We started with a meet and greet. I had met most of the people at other events, but there were a few new faces. Those who wanted started on a Medtronic CGM (Continuous Glucose Monitoring) to use for the duration of the trip, tested out Bayer’s USB meter, and loaded up on Dex4 tablets (what great sponsors we have!) Then, we talked a bit about logistics: who was driving, where we were canoeing, what we’d be eating.
Fast forward through a 4 am wake-up call, a few hours of driving and… 8:30 am Friday morning six canoes pushed off from shore under a gorgeous blue sky and sparkling morning sun. After a bit of a paddle we came up to the first portage of the weekend. There, we shouldered canoes and put on packs bigger than myself and killed the Joe Lake Portage in one run. We managed to canoe to Tom Thomson by early afternoon and score the most beautiful site on the lake. This is where the early morning start really paid off, as we were able to relax and swim for the afternoon.
To say that we were tired by the time the sun went down would be an understatement. In addition to the early start, many of us had waded through lows during the first bout of the trip as we sought the perfect ratio of carbs and/or basal reductions to activity. Nevertheless, it was at least 10:30 pm by the time we all made it to bed. This was one of my favourite parts of the trip: the weather was so clear and promising that we slept with the fly off the tent. Essentially, there was just a thin mesh between me and the outside world and I fell asleep gazing up at the stars.
Unfortunately, my sleep did not last long, as at around 3 am our tent was disturbed by an intruder. I imagine that upon reading this you are picturing some sort of critter at our door, but no, it was one of the Jen’s on the trip. She had gotten a little lost during the early morning bathroom break and thought our tent was her own. Soon enough, however, I was back to sleep…
Again, unfortunately, this did not last long, as at around 5 am a massive raven perched itself above our camp and sang an early morning tune comparable to nails on a chalkboard. I don’t know how, but I managed to fall asleep once more. When I woke up it was to the smell of coffee brewing and oatmeal cooking. I loaded up on the carbs, because I had a feeling I was going to need it for the rest of the day.
And I was right, not too soon after the morning launch we came across the second and longest portage of the trip. Normally I wouldn’t think twice at walking 1.4 km, but carrying a canoe or a monster pack on your shoulders quickly renders that distance into a very long trip. Add diabetes to the mix, and that trip can feel much longer.
After a somewhat treacherous trek uphill Amy stopped in front of me and asked if I had any glucose tabs handy. “Yes,” I thought, “they are very handy, if only I was not carrying the weight of a house on my back and holding two paddles and a bailer.” After a bit of a juggle I pulled out the glucose tabs and handed them to Amy. When done, I put them away as awkwardly as I had taken them out and began to step back on my path… only to realize that I, too, was low.
Despite the brain fog that accompanied I managed to remember I had stuffed a tube of glucose gel into my life jacket pocket. Getting it out was a bit tricky, peeling off the safety seal was trickier, but walking down the path and getting the gel out of the tube without hands was the trickiest. I don’t know why, but I somehow imagined myself looking like a very weighted seal balancing that tubing between my lips. I was grateful that not long after I was done with it another CIM tripper walked past and took the empty glucose package to dump into my pack. It was nice to know that there were other people around that got what a low was like, didn’t think I looked like a weird seal, and could help out during those strange feeling times.
Luckily, lunch was not too far behind, as we landed at our campsite by early afternoon. Again, we had the rest of the day to relax. We canoed out to another island on the lake and dove off the sides of cliffs of various heights into the cool waters below. Upon return to the site people split off to do their own thing: many of us partook in an afternoon yoga session, Mike took a nap by the water and awoke to a snapping turtle checking out his toes, others laid in the warmth of the afternoon sun.
Unbeknownst to me I was onto my second low of the day, as I got into the water and swam a short distance to the other side of the lake. It was not until I was standing on the rock of the other side that I turned to Shauna, my swimming buddy that afternoon, and said two words: “Uh, oh.” Pause. “I’m pretty sure I’m low.” I also vaguely remember repeating, “I’m sure it’s fine. I’ll just hang out here and then swim back.”
Shauna, however, was not low and therefore much smarter than me at the time. She organized a rescue by swimming back for a full bottle of glucose tabs. Being low I was not very good at hiding a look of utter disgust as I realized the flavour catered to me was orange, my least favourite taste in the history of eating. Like a trooper, though, I shoved six of those nasty tabs into my mouth to bring that blood glucose back up. Before long I was swimming back to camp and Shauna followed, balancing the Dex4 bottle atop her head.
A few other favourite trip moments came later that day. First, I re-learned how to stern a canoe. My previous attempts had been somewhat miserable. I had gotten really good at going in circles, but not very skilled at directing the canoe forward. This year, for some reason, I sterned like a boss. Second, Jen and Amy, who organized the trip, gave out awards to everyone for different accomplishments during the trek. Me and my champ sterning got the “Most Improved Sterning” award. Afterward, we had a somewhat strange cake-like cookie creation with candles for Anne’s 29th birthday and Meredith’s 3rd diabetes anniversary. Finally, the last memorable moment of the Sunday came after nightfall, when we set out in canoes to the middle of the lake. Jen made loon calls and we all sat back to look up at the starry sky.
The following morning we were again awoken by the friendly sound of raven screech. We packed up our stuff and headed out for the final leg of the trip. Slightly different from the open waters of the rest of the route, we travelled along a river for part of the afternoon. There we crossed paths with fish and frogs and beavers. Again we stopped to do some cliff diving after lunch. I sterned the canoe for the final stretch of the trip, landing on the shore where we had started only a few days prior. We all met up back on land, took some photos, said our goodbyes, and headed back to our respective home towns.
I always find it funny that coming to these events, where managing diabetes should be a total draining nightmare, not only end making me feel like diabetes was no big deal, but also leave me feel re-invigorated about taking on the challenge of diabetes. For me, I think it is because it is one of the few times that I don’t feel like I have to deal with it alone or be the odd one out. If I say I’m low, everybody not only knows what needs to happen, but what it feels like too. If I say I’m having a horrible high, there are people there who know how disappointing and uncomfortable that can be. You see little bits of the outside world weigh in throughout the weekend—people feeling badly about an A1C number, someone angry because they realize in hindsight they need less/more insulin, others talking about hurtful comments people without diabetes have made about their care… But somehow at the end of the trip I always manage to feel inspired by the people around me to take manage the best I can and know that in that circle that is always more than good enough.
They say ‘blood is thicker than water’, but insulin seems easier to share… So, thanks again to Jen, Amy, Shauna, Jill, Mike, Meredith, Luke, Jen, Becky, Hank, Vicki, Katie, Anne, and Marna for making me feel like family.
Thank you to our trip sponsors, Medtronic and Bayer, to Mountain Equipment Co-op for their trip grant, to Mike Last for his stellar photography skills and and Hank Devos for his film making mastery. More coming soon!