Trying to design a daily routine or decipher the ins and outs of blood sugar control to keep numbers in zone is immeasurably difficult, and I won’t claim that I’ve figured it out. In my everyday life, I have good days and bad days when it comes to my BG levels, and I feel I am in a constant battle for more good days. While it hasn’t made this management any easier, outside of work and school I love pursuing adventure sports that push me out of my comfort zone; and learning to govern this disease and adapt my normal management procedures to fit into the constraints of sports like backcountry skiing, spelunking, and paragliding has been immensely gratifying. Paragliding has become a particularly obsessive passion of mine, and offers some unique challenges to diabetes management.
After taking lessons and getting my paragliding license, I started flying at some of the smaller hills around Bozeman to perfect my launches and landings. This meant a lot of short hikes and vigilant monitoring of blood sugars as launching and landing any aircraft takes finesse, correct timing, and mental capacity that would be hindered by lows. This motivated me to look into CGMs, and I started using a Dexcom which has been an unbelievably helpful tool in management in and out of sports. After a couple hundred flights off the training hills (150-250 vertical feet) and “the M” (900 vertical feet), I was pushing for longer flights. I remember flying Mt Baldy in the Bridger mountain range with two friends, a 4,500ft peak that took two and a half hours of hiking, two glucose treatments to stop dropping BGs, and finally a 20-minute flight. This was the first time I truly got to feel like I was in the air with other people as my friends Jerad and Eric and I were near each other enough that we could holler back and forth. I learned the hard way on this flight that temperature drops about 3.3˚F per 1,000ft which adds to the cold of the constant wind imposed by moving through the air, all resulting in excruciating pain in my hands as they started to thaw about 5 minutes after landing!
My flights became much longer as my group of paragliding friends and I found conditions for lift. We started in ridge lift at Point of the Mountain near Salt Lake Utah. Ridge lift is caused by wind hitting a hillside and moving vertically up and over the hill; under a paragliding wing, we can climb higher up into the sky in this vertical airflow. Here my flights changed immediately from minutes in duration to 2 or 3 hours in the air, thousands of feet above where we launched, taking in incredible views of the expansive Wasatch mountain range and the city below. I found more sites to soar in ridge lift, including one of my favorites in Montana that has brought me up a few thousand feet above paradise valley, watching the sunset cast orange and pink light onto the Absaroka mountains as I make my approach for landing.
Blood sugar management posed a new challenge due to the duration of these flights.