I had my best day ever  just a short while ago and I owe it all to a low blood sugar. It all started a few days ago, after our type 1 meetup in Joshua Tree as I spent several days climbing with Rob in Las Vegas (you may remember him from Project365 and our many adventures together). He asked me, “Dude, do you want to link up a bunch of moderate routes over the next few days? I only have a couple days off, so we would have to get up early every day and just crush ourselves and see how much we can climb in 3 days.”

I’ve come to regard Robs invitations with a bit of hesitancy because his idea of fun often involves a lot of what I would not consider fun at all. At the same time I had a keen awareness of my 2016 goal to climb 100,000 feet slipping away from me. One of the things I’ve come to appreciate about Rob is the fact that he always seems able to push me out of my comfort zone without making me feel unsafe or obligated. There is this overarching sense of normalization through our actions–in other words, we aren’t doing anything extraordinary, we are simply making extraordinary things normal by doing them.

I’ve been looking for bigger challenges through which to test the effectiveness of the Keto diet as it measures up to greater athletic output. Simply put, I want more freedom from my diabetes. So far, I haven’t found the end of my tether with the Keto diet in the mountains and to be honest, I’ve been a little afraid to keep pushing–because the further it enables me to go, the bigger the letdown (and the consequences) may be. I’m stuck between the terror of flying too close to the sun and staying on the ground looking up at the open sky with resentment.

With three days of climbing queued up before me, each day holding about 1,000 vertical feet and an early start, I shrugged and accepted my fate. ‘Sure. I’d be down for that. Exactly how early are we planning on getting out there?

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Day 1: We geared up for an ascent of “Crimson Chrysalis” a classic moderate route that requires a pretty strenuous approach. I knew that it would entail at least 1.5 hours of hiking with a heavy pack so I skipped my breakfast bolus injection but kept my basal insulin at the “normal” level. Eggs, bacon, nuts and coconut oil “bulletproof” coffee kept my motor running all the way to the base of the cliff–at which point I decided that I should look at my CGM which showed a gradual but consistent slide from around 140 where I started–to 70.

I drew the short straw to lead the first pitch and I anticipated a continuing drop in my blood sugar so I ate a low carb tortilla wrap–loaded with almond butter and espresso beans. Yes, you heard right–it sounds odd but it’s amazing. I thought this mini-meal had enough firepower to get me over the hump of a low blood sugar–so I started up the first pitch, trusting my snack to do it’s job as I climbed. The climbing was exquisite–beautiful holds etched into the dark, desert patina–plentiful options for hands and feet but still thought provoking. The protection was not lacking but going 20 feet between pieces helped keep my attention focused.

Bzzzt! Bzzzt! Bzzt! Bzzzt! BEEP BEEP BEEP!

Oh balls‘ I thought as I heard the dreaded sound of my CGM screaming for attention. That was four buzzes and three beeps…that’s a definite “Oh shit” low blood sugar alarm for sure. I was about 70 feet off the deck at this point but Rob heard the sound of my doom and called up cheerfully to me to make sure I knew that I was still expected to finish off the pitch in good form.

I quickly assessed my situation–my last anchor was about 25 feet below me. If I fell I’d go more than twice that distance and likely smash my feet and ankles on the way down. I looked for an easy option to build an anchor close by and found nothing suitable. Stopping wasn’t an option and the consequences of falling were not insignificant. This was the moment that I’d never fully experienced before–the coalescence of all my fears and risk factors–being runout and unable to easily get up or down to treat my low blood sugar.

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I looked inward for a moment and took inventory. Fear, check. Shame, check. Self doubt, check. Still, I felt like I had the energy to deal with this crisis and since there was no other option, I did my best to avoid overgripping the hold in my left hand while my right hand fished the package of Shot Bloks out of my pocket. If you’ve ever worn a climbing harness you will appreciate the dexterity that this took, blood sugar not withstanding. I squeezed out one Shot Blok into my mouth–I didn’t want to overtreat my low and wind up spiking my blood sugar.

That was it. I’d done everything I could and now I had to move on and deal with the climbing between me and the top of the first pitch. My blood sugar would have to fix itself independent of my worrying and moment to moment inspection. I ignored the clamor of my Dexcom and pulled down, stepped up and repeated. About 10 minutes later I found myself clipping the chains and anchoring in. Pitch 1 of 9 was complete.

The remainder of the day was pretty ordinary. My blood sugar came back up, sure enough. After about 500 more feet of climbing, the wind whipped up and Rob suggested that we finish the route another day rather than risk the wind “sticking” our rope when rappelled off of the summit. I felt totally content bailing–because I got through the crux of my diabetes. That felt like a big accomplishment.

We simul-rapped to the ground and when we touched down I felt a sort of elation–joy even. It was as though I had let go of a huge burden that I’d been carrying without even knowing it. I faced my diabetes, my fear, and I prevailed. For the first time in years I felt truly excited about climbing more on the following days. I no longer felt like I was heading unprepared into a critical test. I felt equipped to seize the freedom that I’d slowly given away to the fear of “what could happen if…

Stay tuned for the second two days of our climbing in Red Rock Nevada–coming up on the next blog post!

Ok. So here’s where I’d like to hear from you. Tell me about a time when you confronted your diabetes head on–or share a question you had when reading this article.

If you’d like to chat in private send me an email: steve@livingvertical.org