Annalisa van den Bergh: What Cycling Really, Really Far Taught Us About Our Type 1 Diabetes

 Annalisa en route to completing her goal of cycling across the country!

Annalisa en route to completing her goal of cycling across the country!

Erik and I only did one true training ride before cycling across the country on Adventure Cycling’s TransAmerica Trail. Around this time a year ago, we hopped on the Metro-North with a few friends from our type 1 diabetes Meetup group and headed to Peekskill, New York.
 
I remember how our insulin pumps malfunctioned at the same time on the train ride. Time constraints forced us to double task. As we were talking to a fellow cyclist, we applied new pods to our bare skin like clockwork. It didn’t seem to faze him because as it turns out, his wife is a diabetic.
 
We got off the train, hiked up Bear Mountain and proceeded to bike 55 miles back to Manhattan. No big deal or anything.
 
Actually, scratch that. It was a huge deal.
 
Both of our blood sugars kept dropping and it seemed no amount of granola bars and gummy bears would keep our numbers stable. 
 
We stopped. 
 
We ate. 
 
We stopped.
 
We ate.
 
We stopped.
 
We ate.
 
You get it.
 
It was dark by the time we finally crossed the George Washington Bridge into the city. We rode across it with giddy excitement for our upcoming cross-country ride but also a newfound reality check for what we were about to face — diabetes-wise.
 
But we made it work. Through 3 am Dexcom alarms that probably annoyed the hell out of Taylor — the only light sleeper of our trio, through dehydration and altitude inflicted high blood sugars, through an elevated A1C, roadside Omnipod malfunctions, heat waves, and bad insulin, we dipped those damn tires in the Pacific. We learned a ton about how to manage this condition on the trip and are now so much more confident about handling diabetes on the road because of it.

We learned it’s better to carry more water and food than less.

 Annalisa with Erik and their friend Taylor, left, who doesn’t actually have diabetes, but tried on a Dexcom sensor in solidarity to compare numbers.

Annalisa with Erik and their friend Taylor, left, who doesn’t actually have diabetes, but tried on a Dexcom sensor in solidarity to compare numbers.

We learned gas stations are great places to ship medications since they’re open late and have plenty of refrigerators.
 
We learned that after a long day of cycling, putting your foot down will cause your blood sugar to skyrocket like a switch. Raising your basal rate a few hours before you plan to stop biking helps.
 
If you cliff dive wearing an Omnipod, it WILL fall off — which is why there are two Omnipods at the bottom of a swimming hole at Missouri’s Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park.
 
Higher elevation means higher blood sugars.

Heat truly can render your insulin unusable. Keep it under a frozen water bottle in your food bag.
 
If you want to lower your blood sugar STAT, just drink a lot of water, take a lot of insulin, and pedal your heart out.

Gummy bears are probably the only low snack that won’t melt in the summer heat.

You never know where you’ll find your next supply of medications. Like, I don’t know, maybe in a roadside drug trade with a T1D cyclist you meet in the middle of nowhere.

 Justin and Annalisa making supply swaps on the side of the road in Kansas. 

Justin and Annalisa making supply swaps on the side of the road in Kansas. 

In what seemed like a mirage, I met Justin and Ashtyn Mann of the LIVEabetes Tour in Kansas. The siblings were cycling the TransAmerica eastbound, raising money for diabetes research. Justin, also a type 1 diabetic, was out of Dexcom continuous glucose monitor sensors and I had extra. I was running low on insulin and he had extra vials. So we traded!

Next week I’m heading back to Peekskill. This time, I’ll be reuniting with Mark, another member of my “TransAm fam”. We’re going to ride a 250-mile loop to the Delaware Water Gap. 
 
No big deal or anything.

*This article is re-published with permission from Annalisa's blog, Work From Bike.

 

 Annalisa van den Bergh is the founder of  Work From Bike    as well as a graphic designer, illustrator, writer, and photographer living with type 1 diabetes. Her clients include  The Financial Times  and  Teen Vogue.  You can learn more about Annalisa via her website,  workfrombike.com , and Instagram,  annalisavdbergh . We will also post updates on the Every Step Counts Scholarship blog as Annalisa completes her next 250-mile loop! 

Annalisa van den Bergh is the founder of Work From Bike as well as a graphic designer, illustrator, writer, and photographer living with type 1 diabetes. Her clients include The Financial Times and Teen Vogue. You can learn more about Annalisa via her website, workfrombike.com, and Instagram, annalisavdbergh. We will also post updates on the Every Step Counts Scholarship blog as Annalisa completes her next 250-mile loop!