Travelbetic.

Hiking in Rincon de la Vieja – Ups, Downs and Lessons Learned

Sometimes I find myself having to make the best of a situation when my blood sugar isn’t cooperating. My frequent battle with high morning readings, aka “the dawn phenomenon” can leave me sour in the a.m. and create complications with BG management throughout the day. This is exactly how my day started on our impromptu adventure into the mountains of Rincon de la Vieja.

The swell went flat for awhile during our last week in Costa Rica so we decided to explore the interior of the country for a couple days. Excited to experience something new, we crammed into the car and headed North, bound for a hike up the volcanic slopes of the national park at Rincon de le Vieja.

I awoke that morning feeling groggy, my blood sugar at 187. A little high but not so bad compared to some of my morning readings. I drank a couple cups of coffee, slammed a no carb, protein packed breakfast and hopped in the car, pumped for a jungle adventure. A half hour into the ride I started to feel strange and became restless and cranky.  I checked my sugar and it had rocketed up to 278. With a four plus hour hike ahead of me I was afraid to bolus as it might cause a hypo on the trail. So I sucked it up and dealt with the symptoms. Five of us in a small car on bumpy dirt roads made things worse. Ever since diagnosis I have had trouble with car sickness, has anyone else experienced the same?

Beyond relieved to arrive at the mountain I dove out of the car as fast as possible and took a deep breath of fresh mountain air. I drew in the smell of sweet flowers mixed peculiarly with fresh cow and horse dung. Though strange, it was a delightful smell of raw interior Costa Rica. The Guachipelin Adventure Hotel is a working ranch.  Horses and cattle mingle with the tourists while ranch hands and cabelleros herd and wrangle them right there on the hotel grounds.

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I soon quit feeling sorry for myself as I was overwhelmed by the pure beauty of Rincon de la Vieja. Cloud covered peaks towered over us as we walked about the ranch weaving through lush, green vegetation and vibrant flowers. January is Costa Rica’s dry season so we were delighted to be engulfed by green as the coastal areas were very dry and covered in dust. The cooler mountain air was quite the relief from the scorching heat of the coast. I took a deep fulfilling breath, drank in all the energy I could from this wondrous place and was ready to hit the trail.

Despite the slightly lower temperature, it was still hot and I was still concerned with going low on the trail. Checked my blood again, 190 not bad, and ate some tortillas to carb load. With food in my belly and nature calling my name there was nothing stopping me.

We marched up the volcanic slope through tall dense jungle. Ancient trees with twisted branches stole our gaze as we stumbled up the rock and root strewn trail. I say stumbled because I was rather unprepared for this adventure, rocking weak flat shoes with little traction (I packed for a surf trip). Although my footwear didn’t stop me from releasing my inner monkey.

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Aside from shoes, I also lacked preparation in meal planning for the day. All I brought on the trail were some sweet tarts and a few granola bars. After two hours of hiking, a proper lunch was the furthest thing from my mind as we scaled down into one of the most magnificent waterfalls I have ever seen. With a stroke of luck everyone was leaving as we arrived. We swam around the cool refreshing water and climbed behind the falls alone, feeling as if we were in a dream. The energy of that place consumed me, my time there felt eternal as I soaked in the raw majesty of such a wondrous piece of nature.

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Another check put me at 211. I downed a couple granola bars and (foolishly) gave a 2 unit bolus before we set off for the hot springs to relax our aching muscles. By the time we reached the springs I felt awful. My day went from low to extremely high back to low again. And by low I mean spirits and blood sugar. The 2 hour hike to the hot springs dropped me down to 65 and the lack of a solid lunch made my stomach feel like an endless pit. To top it off the hotel didn’t start serving dinner until 6pm and it was only 4! I downed some orange soda to raise my BG and did my best to enjoy the natural volcanic hot springs which did feel great on my sore feet. 6pm finally rolled around and I indulged in quite a few helpings at the hotel buffet, ending my diabetic rollercoaster for the day.

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Diabetes doesn’t care about your travel plans. It is up to us to plan accordingly and remain diligent in managing sugar levels. But even with the most extensive planning complications can arise, throwing a wrench in the gears of an adventure. I learned a few lessons about myself and carrying the weight of diabetes on this Costa Rican hike.

  • Type 1s don’t have the luxury of complete spontaneity. We must always plan ahead and be ready to manage our sugar in a variety of situations. I let my excitement and anxiousness for this spontaneous hike distract me from preparing properly. Something I’ll never let happen again.
  • I learned to be patient with my travel companions and those around me when a high or low is causing me to be short and irritated. It’s very hard for someone without diabetes to understand the mood swings caused by glucose fluctuations. Their pancreas works so its tough for them to feel empathy.
  • I learned to correct highs as they arise instead of leaving them alone in order to prepare for physical activity and instead carb load just before.
  • Just breathe! What really helped me in the car and once we got to the mountain was taking long, full, slow, deep breaths. Filling up every inch of my being and reminding myself that I am strong and in control of my life (a powerful lesson learned from yoga.)
  • The most important lesson I learned is pack a good lunch! This adventure taught me that I pretty much can’t function without at least 3 solid meals in a day. Never again will I go anywhere without knowing how or where I will get my next meal.

Much like the trail took us down, up and back down again so did my blood sugar and my mood along with it. Hiking Rincon de la Vieja was an amazing adventure and a great learning experience.

Do you have a story about overcoming diabetic adversity on a trip or adventure? Drop it in the comments below!

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