As the float plane landed on a remote lake in the Alaskan tundra, I looked forward to the week-long caribou hunt that lied ahead. Just because you have diabetes doesn’t mean that you can’t live life. Diabetics can be found in just about every sport or activity that exists, and some of these activities can be highly effective against diabetes. However, you do have to prepare for what can go wrong when you are hundreds of miles away from medical help or where evacuation may not come for days.
As a Type-2 diabetic, I figured that if I had any issues at all, it would result from low blood sugar. I’ve never had an issue with low blood sugar, but it’s best to be prepared, so I packed some candy just in case. I was confident that the strenuous walking (that can only be described as walking on a carpet with bowling balls underneath) would be sufficient exercise to keep my blood sugar from becoming elevated. Although I didn’t bring along a glucometer, I’m sure that the hours that I spent walking up and down hills, negotiating the uneven terrain, and wading through pools of water was beneficial.
Carbohydrates are often seen as a bad thing for diabetics. However, when you are doing strenuous and calorie-draining activities, such as cross-country hiking, long-ranging self-guided hunts, or climbing mountains, you need energy–energy comes in the form of carbohydrates. Although low insulin production impedes the ability for our bodies to convert glucose into usable energy, there are products on the market that will help your body metabolize glucose. Unless you have a camp cook or time to cook your meals, it takes a concentrated effort to eat well-balanced meals when you’re in remote locations. Prepackaged meals such as the military’s Meals Ready to Eat (MRE’s) are a good option. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any MREs, as I had overestimated my ability to forage and underestimated how much food I needed to pack, which left me with a growling empty stomach for most of the hunt.
Foot care is always a concern for diabetics. When you are using your feet as the only mode of transportation to cover miles of terrain, they can take a beating, which usually comes in the form of blisters and hotspots. Two and a half weeks after the hunt, the outside of my big toes still show blisters from where they rubbed against the boot. As a rule, you should never buy a new pair of boots and set out on an adventure that requires a lot of walking. You may not notice any rubbing from walking around the house in your boots, but a 1-2 mile walk can reveal problem areas. To help protect your feet, it’s a good idea to apply mole skin to areas of your feet that rub against your boot. Wearing quality socks and changing socks daily is a good way to ensure that your feet stay in good working condition. While my toes are still sore, they feel like a new pair of feet compared to how they felt at the end of the hunt.
Diabetes is not a barrier or excuse to not get outside and enjoy nature. As I drove the ten hours along the Dalton Highway back to Fairbanks, I felt a sense of accomplishment. Not only had I helped the other two members of my hunting party get their caribou, but I had also endured the harsh elements of the Alaskan tundra and had done so as a diabetic. If you’ve never visited Alaska, it is a sight to behold. I was surprised to see that the famous Alaskan pipeline is nothing more than a silver tubular pipeline on stilts that runs north to south along the Dalton highway–I was expecting to see more. Many people are skeptical of diabetics participating in extreme or remote activities, but there is no reason a person with diabetes can’t continue doing the things that they love. Life is short and with diabetes it can be even shorter, so live life!