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FIGHTING BACK

by Dan "Seeker" Wingo

I'm a baby-boomer. I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes two years ago. I have a family, two dogs, and a few banks to support, so I thought it best to be physically conservative after I was diagnosed. "Gotta be careful. Don't make things worse. Don't push the envelope. Avoid anything that could cause injury. Live a bland life." That was my mantra.

One day I realized this overly passive lifestyle was allowing the disease to control me, even though I had graduated to a diet and exercise regimen. So I decided to fight back in my own little way -- nothing major, like jumping out of a plane or trying out for a spot on one of the reality TV shows. Sure, I needed to be cautious. But I felt the need to personally assert myself over the disease somehow. Hmmm, I like the woods. I have camping equipment. How bout a solo three-day walkabout? We have a wonderful trail in the Monongahela National Forest that would be just right. Sometime in April, just when Spring has sprung. It would be achievable, despite some concerns.

Of course, there had to be concerns. My wife was concerned because the area is bear country and I would be in there when grumpy, hungry bears would be roaming around. She was concerned I might have a hypoglycemic episode, somehow injure myself, and lie there for days without help. I acknowledged those possibilities, but my concerns were different and personally more worrisome. I had two major concerns: getting blisters on my feet; and/or losing my way along the trail. The bears in the area are shy and avoid man. I would do my best to do likewise. As far as the hypoglycemic situation is concerned, I know what that feels like just before it comes on, and am now more attuned to my body than I was, pre-disease. I would carry glucose tabs. To allay my concerns about blisters, I took along a blister kit, wore my best pair of hiking boots, wool socks, and sock liners. A good map, compass, GPS unit, FRS radio, strobe, and cell phone rounded out my solution for getting lost. Anyhow, good equipment would make even getting lost tolerable.

Equipment consisted of a backpack, my Clark hammock (I sleep above-ground), sleeping bag and pad, pot and stove, lighting, clothing, lots of socks, food, water, low-carb snacks, book, and writing material. I also took along a water purifier, as I assumed even mountain water might have some little nasties that could make life difficult for me. Other than diet, foreseeable problems had been worked out. I was ready to start my trek.

According to my references, a typical hour's worth of backpacking for my weight (175 pounds) is an expenditure of about 520 calories per hour. I planned to do a minimum of four hours of hiking each day which means I already exceed my regular target intake of 1500 calories per day. Great way to lose weight, eh? But still, I wanted to get the right combination of carbohydrates, fat, protein, etc., so I would have energy enough to thoroughly enjoy the trail. My solution was to simply increase the number and size of my snacks with the hiker's secret weapon, gorp "good ol' raisins and peanuts"-- also called "trail mix"). And since I was burning up all that fuel, I would reward myself with an apple, on occasion. Yum!

The day finally arrived and I drove to the trailhead, parked, and started down the trail -- map in hand. The weather was good, but the trail was wet, narrow, and mucky. The mud was about four inches deep in places.

Unlike my walks in urban areas, the trail rarely was flat. It was quite hilly instead, and definitely challenging. I was glad I had chosen to bring along a walking staff. It helped with balance. Unfortunately, I had unintentionally increased my workload by packing way too much stuff. I'm embarrassed to say I was carrying a pack weighing 57 pounds(almost one-third of my own weight. Ten of those pounds was water. Consequently, I had worked up a good sweat after only five minutes hiking. I was breathing hard after about 20 minutes and decided to stop for a timely lunch in the shade near a stream. I ate that first apple. It tasted fantastic. I reached my first destination after about an hour and a half of walking -- so much for four hours hiking per day. I found a good place to hang my hammock and set up camp.

Three experienced hikers, the youngest probably 60 years old, stopped by for a rest before pushing on. They were in good shape and spirits after four days on the trail. Initially, I was somewhat put out by their intrusion on my solitude, but concluded they had no way to know I didn't want any company. Trail etiquette required me to greet them, at least. Upon reflection, I am very happy they stopped by. They prove one can be active in the "golden years." The old adage that "one is as old as one feels," may have some merit after all. I spent the rest of the day just thinking. No enlightening solutions to world or personal problems. No epiphany. Just plain ol' daydreaming. Didn't burn too many calories with that task, I'm sure.

At some point, I turned on my weather radio. The forecast for the rest of the weekend was for lots of rain and thunderstorms. Drat! I put off a decision to cut short my walkabout until the following morning, hoping for a better forecast. It rained during the night, but I was warm and dry inside my hammock. The following morning's forecast was no better, so I decided to change my planned route to get in at least some more walking before I went home that day. The trail I chose turned out to be even more challenging than the previous day. There were steeper ascents and descents. Lots of muck. More sweating, huffing, and puffing. I must have drunk at least a quart of water, perhaps more, in an hour. Quite honestly, I was somewhat relieved to finally arrive at my vehicle.

Did I see any bears? No, not even any tracks or scat. Did I get blisters? No. Did I get lost? No. Did I have a hypoglycemic episode? No. Did my secret weapon (gorp) live up to expectations? Can't say. I only used it once during a particularly challenging ascent. My energy was flagging but picked up quickly soon after I ate that 15 grams of carbohydrate.

So what, then, did I learn? I learned that diabetes no longer has the control over me it had the day before. I learned I should dramatically pare down pack weight. I learned my little walkabout caused me to lose four pounds in one day. I learned my stubborn streak is actually an advantage -- I can do whatever I set out to do, provided I set realistic goals. Would I recommend this to others? Absolutely.

But check with your doctor first to see if you're up to it physically. And another bit of advice: You don't have to go solo. Enjoy Mother Nature with someone you want to be with. The key is to put the disease in perspective. Ignoring it is dangerous. But you can control how it affects the way you live your life. Strive to fight back in your own way. You'll feel better about yourself if you do. I know I do.