Murphy's Law and Backpacking in Spain with T1D

Meghan Carter, Simmons College '17

In life there are always firsts. Sometimes those firsts can be scary. Your first steps, your first day of school, and your first time driving come to mind. As a person with type 1 diabetes (T1D), my life is defined by a few other “firsts.” My first time giving myself a shot, my first sleepover after diagnosis, my first site change, and what this story is about, my first time travelling abroad with T1D. All my “firsts” had been scary, yet so rewarding, so I knew this experience wouldn’t be any different.

I chose to walk 500 miles across Spain for six weeks with nothing but me and my hiking pack on a trail called the El Camino de Santiago. There would be daily 90 degree temperatures and hiking up and down mountains for over 10 miles each day, all while carrying 15 pounds on my back. This was definitely going to be a challenge.

How was the time change going to affect my blood sugar? How was all this activity going to affect my blood sugar? How would I know how many carbs were in the Spanish meals? And most importantly how was I supposed to fit all of the insulin, test strips, pump cartridges, and Dexcom sensors in a backpack that was only big enough to hold my clothes and other needed items? Even with all of these questions running through my mind, everything still worked out!

I had spent a lot of time preparing for this trip. As a T1D Murphy’s Law has come into my life a few times, so I made sure to pack twice the amount of supplies I would need. I had to remember to pack a backup blood glucose meter, meter batteries, glucagon, a backup insulin pump, and extra charging cables for my Tandem t:slim and Dexcom (which I call Dex). Unfortunately, I was not able to get a backup transmitter or receiver for my Dex. Of course (thanks Murphy), during my first week of the trip, my Dex broke. I had become very reliant on it for this trip, predicting lows, noticing trends and changes in my blood sugar, and providing a safe cushion at nighttime. I might even say I love my Dexc more than I love my insulin pump. Getting through the following 5 weeks without Dex was going to be tough, but I wasn’t going to let it stop me. Instead I took breaks to check my blood sugar (good thing I packed double the strips!) and all would be fine.

Even though it may have required some extra preparation and work, this was the most rewarding trip of my life. I enjoyed seeing the never ending green rolling landscapes atop the Pyrenees Mountains, trekking through a forest of flowering eucalyptus trees with a sweet minty aroma, and meeting people from all around the world.

My summer in Spain was amazing and I am glad I faced the challenge of another “first.” Diabetes can get in the way sometimes, but with a little extra effort, we can do anything! If you are given an opportunity, don’t let it be the diabetes that stops you.

A few things I have learned from this trip:

  1. Frio packs are the best investment I have ever made for keeping my insulin safe. Well worth the money!
  2. Gatorade powder is a great compact way to treat low blood sugars (and stay hydrated!) if you have access to water. It can be easily modified to have more or less sugar in your drink.
  3. Murphy’s Law: what can go wrong, will go wrong.

Editor's Note: You can also find this post on Tumblr.