Sarah Ketcheson

Sarah Ketcheson, elementary school teacher, adventurer, Type 1 since 1999.

It’s 2008 and I am sitting on an airplane, departing for Nairobi, Kenya for 5 weeks. All of a sudden, I hear a crack. In an attempt to nap on the plane, I had taken off my glasses and put them into the front pocket. I am now holding two lenses in my hand, with no spare set to replace them with. Welcome to adventure.

Shortly after being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, I went on a 3 day canoe trip. I felt amazed that I could still do these types of trips. The thought of being able to travel successfully while balancing everything seemed like a foreign language with no translation book, but over the years I have found myself wanting to try an increasing number of new activities.

Adventures can happen anywhere: I have travelled to Africa, Ecuador, Peru, Cuba, throughout the United States and from coast to coast in Canada. Many of my adventures happen in my backyard, the Rocky Mountains. The destination is just one piece of the puzzle.

Whenever I feel that adventure tingle start, the first thing I do is purchase a giant box of Ziploc baggies. These become the luggage for my diabetes supplies. I am a chronic over-packer, often bringing triple the amount of supplies needed. I become part squirrel, tucking bars of different varieties and flavors into obscure pockets (which makes for fun discoveries years afterwards). My living room becomes a warehouse, with piles of infusion sets, cartridges and needles perfectly laid out in groups. This style of packing is often at the expense of, say, an extra t-shirt, but the confidence that I get from knowing that I can control something allows me to ignore the coffee stain appearing on my only pair of jeans.

My pack and I are then ready to take off. When I hiked the West Coast Trail, a 75 km long backpacking trip, diabetes served to motivate me each day. I experimented with temporary basals on my pump, clambered up and down 3-dozen ladders, and would think every night about the bag of jube jubes hidden in a secret pocket. It is an incredibly empowering feeling to know that these trips are do-able.

Similarly, travelling throughout Ecuador in South America, my question changed from “What can’t I do?” to “What do I want to do?” A rafting trip, Amazon hike, ziplining, and a tree swing later (along with some attempts to speak terrible Spanish), I realized that diabetes really becomes part of the trip instead of becoming the whole trip.

That said, diabetes can be a demanding travel partner. I have spent many hours sitting on hiking trails, kilometres away from anything, eating granola bars and muttering (sometimes loudly) about my low blood sugar. I have been in the middle of a tree pose in hot yoga class and have had my sensor start screeching. I have been high up on a mountain peak in Kananaskis country, the view distracted by the need to pee right away due to high blood sugars. My most recent adventure took me to a Salt Spring Island yoga retreat where I had an epiphany: life beeps. Nothing ever goes exactly according to plan, and blood sugars will rise and fall as they do when impacted by any number of variables. Some foods will have no carb counts (try carb counting goat stew in a mud hut) but I just have to focus on doing the best I can, in that moment

Travelling allows you to see new things, meet new people and change your perspective. Diabetes gets jealous of this, and demands that you look at it all the time. But there is so much more out there. It should sit beside you for the ride, not become the ride. My most exciting travel stories generally never include a commentary about my blood sugars. Rather, they recount meeting new friends, trying new activities and making new discoveries.