Traveling can be such an incredible experience, but too often people with diabetes don't realize they are able to take on some of the most spectacular adventures that exist in this world.
Longtime type 1 Jeremy Larsen hopes to change that. He's an American who's been living with T1D for more than three decades, and for the past decade has resided in Osaka on Japan's main island. We introduced Jeremy about four years ago, as he was creating his 70-130 blog and website, based on his goals of living without limits while staying in that BG range.
Now, Jeremy has embarked on an exciting new adventure here in the United States: the National Parks T1D Road Trip, a three-month journey across the States, visiting multiple national parks all while managing his own diabetes, and raising awareness and money for the JDRF. He recently hit the halfway point of his 90-day travel adventure, and today we're excited to have Jeremy share his story with our readers here at the 'Mine.
A National Parks Road Trip with T1D, by Jeremy Larsen
I woke up this morning in a small tent near a quiet little stream. It was 6:00 am and I wiggled out of my sleeping bag, unzipped the tent door, and stumbled out into the slowly brightening dawn for my first blood sugar check of the day.
It was 117 – a triumph, given that my camping blood sugars haven’t been all that great so far on this road trip. I joined the birds in their merry chirping. A good diabetes morning indeed!
The last six weeks have been a blur of campsites, motels, deserts, swamps, and forests. And of course insulin pens and test strips. This is the sort of unusual life I’m living these days: For three months I’m driving around America, visiting national parks and taking scenic drives through some of the most beautiful landscapes on the continent.
As I write this I've been to nearly 20 national parks and driven through 17 states over 8,000 miles, mostly on small two-lane roads. And I’m only halfway done.
The National Parks T1D Road Trip combines three things I love: traveling to new places, inspiring other diabetics to follow their dreams, and raising money for JDRF, the leading global type 1 diabetes research organization.
This idea began a couple of years ago when I realized that there are more national parks in the U.S. than I knew of. For fun, I mapped them all out and let my mind wander. What do these places look like? How many could I get to in, say, three months? How much would it cost?
And what would the voyage teach me about diabetes?
The longer the idea gestated the more it became set in stone: I had to do this. I hadn't been on a good road trip in several years, and never one longer than two weeks. I'd hit the road with only the vaguest of plans, leaving the rest open to whim and chance. Sounded like yet another incredible experience the world was offering up. Who was I to say no?
Luckily, as an English teacher in Japan, getting three months off was fairly simple: my work is all short-term contracts and so I just told my agent that I couldn't accept any contracts during this time period. Of course, I won't get any salary for three months either, but one must make sacrifices for these sorts of life-changing adventures.
And what an indescribable trip it's been already. Along with my (non-D) travel partner Masayo, I've seen spindly trees waving their arms in California's Joshua Tree. Gigantic cacti have towered over me, looking like they just jumped out of a Road Runner cartoon and planted themselves by the thousands along the roadside in Arizona. Frogs have bleeped loudly in dark waters while I waved off dragonflies and checked my finger in Louisiana's swampy Barataria Preserve.
Noisy rivers have been overcome by noisier rain as I sat besieged but thrilled in my waterproof tent in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, and I've downed packets of glucose a mile beneath the ground on a sugar-crushing hike into New Mexico's majestic Carlsbad Caverns.
In between these riveting experiences I've managed to steal a few hours or a day off to write about my travels on my website, 70-130.com -- named after my target blood sugar range. I hope that by publicizing the places I go and being honest about my diabetes successes and failures, I can inspire others who have an itch but let their condition hold them back from scratching it.
I also want to reach out to anyone, diabetic or not, who wants to help people with type 1 diabetes live healthier, longer, and more rewarding lives. That's why the JDRF is a part of this for me, as I feel this organization is a great one that really helps all of us. Their goal is a world in which T1D has been eradicated and they're funding research into several different programs that may realize this elusive dream. My goal is to raise $2,500 that I will donate to the JDRF, and while my trip is half over and I'm not quite halfway to the goal yet, I believe I'll get there because the cause is just too positive to be denied.
Helping me visit all of these national parks is a free lifetime pass called America the Beautiful Access Pass, available to anyone with a disability. It gets you free admission into every park and often half-price campsite fees. Does diabetes qualify for this pass? Nobody seems to know for sure.
I asked a park ranger at Joshua Tree who told me it would be no problem, then another who wasn't as encouraging. But she handed me a clipboard and pen, I signed the form, and received my very own Access Pass.
But should I have? My research indicates that there's no specific official policy; it's up to the person to decide whether they have a qualifying condition. On the "yes" side, using it can alert rangers that you may have an issue while in the park (they don't want any medical emergencies). On the "no" side, using diabetes to save money is pretty tacky. And do you really want to sign an official document telling the government you have a "disability"?
So I do what several other diabetics do: I have the pass but use it sparingly. If you're interested I'd advise you to ask a ranger at any national park about it. A pass can be nice to have as a medical heads-up to park rangers, and you can choose to pay full entrance fees, shop at the visitor centers, and/or put money in donation boxes anyway.
For its part, diabetes has been complicating this trip in ways besides just blood sugar. Keeping insulin cold is a challenge, especially in the sun-baked desert southwest. I keep a hardshell cooler in the car with ice packs; food and insulin go in there when it's not in a motel refrigerator. It's been working well so far but I watch it like a hawk.
I also have to carry glucose tablets everywhere, especially on hikes and in campsites. This is tough in bear country, where you aren't supposed to have any food in your tent. Those critters can smell anything and you could be attacked in the night. I tend to do a final check before sleeping and leave the glucose in the nearby car.
One good thing about driving around so much is that eventually I'm likely to be close to some of my online friends. A few diabetics have contacted me on Twitter (@70_130) and suggested we meet up when I'm in their neck of the woods. I love the idea though so far I've been unable to; hopefully I'll have the chance to make new real-life friends when I roll through their towns in the second part of this adventure.
For now I'm off to plan tomorrow's route – something I rarely do until the night before. I hope it's as nice as today's: a curvy little road with no other cars, winding through a stunning canyon surrounded by rocky red outcrops sporting pale green grass and dark shrubs. It was so mesmerizing that my post-lunch reading of 241 didn't even have the chance to annoy me.
Diabetes can't stop you from living your life – not even if you choose to do something insane like driving around for months at a time eating cottage cheese and cookies out of your car. Stay vigilant and positive and you'll find a way to handle the D-tails.
Stay tuned for the latest. See you on the road!
Thanks for this awesome account of your trip so far, Jeremy! We look forward to hearing how the rest of it goes.