This month’s featured Travelbetic is the very inspiring Ashika Parsad. This T1D adventurer takes diabetes along on epic backpacking hikes around the mountains of Canada and shows the world that T1D can’t hold her back! Through her #AdventuresofaT1D campaign Ashika is bringing together T1D adventurers and proving there is power in numbers.
At what age were you diagnosed with type 1 and do you think you would be doing the same thing if not for diabetes?
I was diagnosed with type 1 at the age of 8, this year was my 22nd diaversary.
I don’t think I’d be where I am if it weren’t for type 1. Over the years, I’ve come across type 1s who have inspired me and very directly influenced the path I chose to follow. Fellow type 1s Sebastien Sasseville and Will Cross both inspired me to pick up hiking & backcountry travel through their own personal Mt. Everest summits. Sean Busby (Two Sticks and a Board) and Chris Southwell (7C7A) inspired me to dream big by setting high achievements and seeing them through. Chris Jarvis helped me grow by motivating me to overcome obstacles and setbacks.
Those are a few type 1s who inspired me early on and there are countless others who continue to do so now.
Do you believe adventure serves as a form of medicine? How?
Hah, my technical answer, yes. During any form of exercise, our body releases endorphins which interact with the receptors in our brain to help reduce our perception of pain.
In my own words, I never feel better than when I’m outside doing things. I feel great during and after an epic in the mountains – whether it’s a long, hard day uphill, or a quick evening walk to catch the sunset. The more time I spend outdoors, the more I’m at ease with everything around me.
What diabetes gear do you use and why?
I use the Animas Vibe insulin pump and Dexcom CGM. Dexcom has proven to be the most accurate CGM system when it comes to blood sugar monitoring and the Animas Vibe stands up to all sorts of weather when I’m outdoors. As a unit, they’re both easy to use.
I use the new One Touch Verio Flex meter, it has great battery life and I haven’t had any issues with it (so far) in varying temperatures.
It’s worth mentioning, I’m currently sponsored by Animas Canada. Though, I was using their insulin pump before sponsorship.
What diabetes supplies go with you on hikes?
Imagine this… Generally, no one plans to have a ‘bad’ day outdoors. The weather forecast shows sun and you make plans to spend time in the mountains. You anticipate having an amazing day, right? You’ve done this before, you’re heading up a familiar trail, what could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately, bad weather, a wrong turn, unexpected injury, or unstable blood sugars can turn an easy day into an extended emergency.
I plan for the worst case when I’m outdoors simply because you never know what might happen out there. I pack extra infusion sets, extra insulin (long and short acting) which I keep in a thermos on hot days, syringes, my regular glucose meter and a backup with extra test strips, alcohol swabs, adhesives, and loads more.
For an extensive list, check out my post on the 10+6 Essentials for Type 1s in the Backcountry where I touch base on survival priorities and both the non-type 1 and type 1 essentials.
What does a typical hiking day look like for you in terms of nutrition?
When I’m out for a full day hike, I start with a calorie loaded breakfast and a 50% basal reduction. I pack light whenever I can which means I carry calorie-dense foods, including: nuts, trail mix, energy bars, etc. I also like Clif bars, Honey Stinger wafers, various granola bars, and dried fruit.
My go-to for both energy and lows are ShotBloks and Gu gels. Also, specifically for lows, I keep a container of powdered Gatorade – it absorbs quickly, and I have the option of eating it straight or diluting it in water.
To maintain energy, I try to eat something every hour when I’m outdoors, sometimes more often depending on the level and duration of activity. For example, I’ll eat 2-3 pieces of ShotBloks every 45-60 minutes. This can change depending on blood sugar trends, intensity, duration, etc.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced while hiking and how did you overcome?
The biggest challenged I’ve faced was a snowshoe trip a few winters ago. My blood sugars went uncontrollably low and I struggled to bring it up. We ended up having to call Search and Rescue for help and I was lifted off of the mountain at about 1am. That sole incident wasn’t the challenge; the challenge came up after when I started over worrying about low blood sugars during hiking trips.
I developed a fear of low blood sugars in the mountains. Whenever I’d go low, I’d turn right around and head back to the truck, instead of trying to push through, gain control of the situation, and persevere. It was extremely frustrating and disheartening.
I’ve been re-training myself to not be afraid of low blood sugars and not to let them turn me around. With (and without!) a condition like type 1, bad days are sometimes inevitable. Now, instead of turning around, I tend to my blood sugars and bring them back up, regardless of how long it takes. Of course, this attitude depends on a wild variety of things like timing, location, sugar levels, etc.
I recently posted this on my social media channels and I believe it applies here too:
“Low blood sugars used to scare the crap out of me and turn me around in the mountains. If I went too low, I’d turn back out of fear of – well, a lot of things I no longer stress too much about. I used to worry about running out of time and usable daylight, so I got a brighter headlamp. I used to worry about running out of supplies (food & water), so I got a bigger backpack. I used to worry about various worst-case scenarios outdoors, so I got better at trip planning.
Point is, whatever the issue, there’s often a solution. You have to deal with things head on and rationalize the outcome. No matter what goes on, clear your mind, stay on track, and keep pushing forward.”
Give us a few tips for heading into the back country with type 1.
If you’re new to backcountry travel, pack a lot of extra gear/supplies. Take twice the food and water you think you’ll need. From what I’ve seen, people who are new to a sport tend to make more mistakes than those who are seasoned.
There are lots of local hiking groups around, join a group and hang out with some of the more experienced members so you can learn first-hand.
Map out an itinerary and tell someone exactly where you plan to go and when you expect to return.
What message do you wish to convey to the diabetes community and anyone else battling chronic illness?
Type 1 diabetes can be tough to understand and endure. It’s so important to understand you’re not alone in how you feel. Use the resources we have to connect with like-minded folks; I’ve learned there’s truth to ‘strength in numbers’. Be patient with yourself and understand T1D management is a big learning curve and that curve is ever-changing. Stay calm if things don’t go your way and reach out for help. There’s an abundance of who are willing to network and help troubleshoot things.
I’ve started a platform called Adventures of a T1D where I’m trying to stream a collective of type 1s everywhere doing epic things, whether it’s in the mountains, on the water, in sports, wherever! You can find me on Facebook and Instagram. #AdventuresofaT1D
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