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type1 adventures

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Last Call From Her Brain

I wrote this fictional story of an ultra runner who has type 1 diabetes for a Creative Writing class I am currently taking from the University of Alaska Fairbanks taught by Diana Severin. The story is also posted in my fiction section. I met Diana while I was in Sitka, Alaska and she is the writer for an interesting follow up story on Chris McCandless (Into The Wild). The story appeared in Outside Magazine. Click the box below:


Old Pueblo Endurance Run Aid Station

Old Pueblo Endurance Run Aid Station

Last Call From Her Brain

     “If I can just reach Melendrez Pass”, mumbled Kelsey as she quietly shuffled her trail shoes along the dusty dirt path, high in the Santa Rita Mountains. At 5,784 feet the pass is not a high one, but one that she had worked hard to attain. While dimly realizing she still had about nine miles of rough, desert terrain to battle.

     Unfortunately, her battle was much deeper, more personal than those limited miles depicted on her ruffled race map.

     At the age of three, Kelsey had been living the normal life of a child growing up in Helena, Montana. Some tantrums, swirled in with laughter, pulling the cat’s tail and a quizzical nature that made Kelsey a walking textbook of childhood life.

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     Then life took a turn, that caught the Jackson family off guard and Kelsey had been losing weight, drinking extreme amounts of water and had a bewildering lack of energy. Life should not be sucked out of someone so young and usually vibrant. Her body was doing the only thing it could do in this extreme situation. Flush out the extra sugar as she now had type 1 diabetes and her pancreas was no longer making insulin, a hormone that helps the glucose in your blood get into your cells to be used for energy.

     Kelsey looks back. No one is in sight. She has been running on her own for the last couple of hours. The start gun went off promptly at 6 am and she was joined by Brad as #105 and #134 rambled forward in the dark as the Old Pueblo Endurance Run adventure left historic Kentucky Camp as the headlights bobbed and the footsteps headed north, on a chilly Arizona morning. Brad, ever complaining about sore knees, had dropped out at the Gardner Canyon Aid Station suggesting that he would rather be at home, eating pizza than enduring a ‘sufferfest’ that he actually had paid to be a part of. Kelsey had trained and felt ready for the event but there would be a few question marks as the race drew near. “You Go Girl!” yelled Brad as he stepped into the aid station. An untied shoe and an open trail running pack, with a few items that had found a new home along the course, seemed to sum up Brad’s mentality. On to conquer pizza while the K machine said a quick goodbye and strode toward the next aid station at Cave Creek and the brief thought of whether she had enough food in her pack to cover her for the coming stretch of climbs and distant aid stations. She quickly did a swipe on the last section of the table and grabbed two more Hammer Nutrition gel packs.

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     This was a challenging race as Kelsey and Brad had contemplated their options for races in the Southwest for the coming season. Due to extreme temperatures during the summertime, this race had an early March date. Runners would encounter the mid 70’s which for many stumbling out of the frozen north would feel severe.

     Kelsey had been successful with 50k races and leaned toward an event that would further challenge her and maybe give her success that she initially felt she could never achieve while having diabetes. She had been a good steward with the diagnosis and had taken care of herself as well as possible and she was enjoying better blood sugar control with an insulin pump and a cgms (continuous glucose monitor system). A cgms is an advanced way for people with diabetes to check blood glucose readings in real time or monitor glucose readings over a period of time. The combination of these two made exercising and endurance events easier to control.

     In most people with type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system, which normally fights infection, attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. As a result, your pancreas stops making insulin. Without insulin, glucose can’t get into your cells and your blood glucose rises above normal. People with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin every day to stay alive.

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     The weight of this diagnosis had sent shockwaves through the Jackson family. Kelsey’s father, John, had very limited knowledge of the new discovery that Kelsey would have the rest of her life. What he knew about diabetes could be written on a small post-it note with room left over. What he did know is that the condition is usually genetic and that no one on either side of the Jackson family lineage had diabetes. So much for that theory. For the next twenty-seven years, John and Cynthia and their other children Sara and Jake would support Kelsey as she

     Besides some extra sugar in her system, Kelsey also has a dose of grit coursing through that 5-foot 6-inch frame. She knew that that would be her insurance ticket if she needed to cash it in. Now, where was Melendrez Pass?

     People with type 1 diabetes are more likely to get heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, high blood pressure, blindness, nerve damage, and gum disease. Untreated type 1 diabetes can cause coma. It can even kill you.

     While annoying, the ‘beep, beep, beep’ coming from her insulin pump was meant to relay important notices from the mechanical wizard that relied so heavily upon. It could be a warning that her sugar was getting low, the battery needed changing, she was almost out of insulin, or that the cgms sensor needed to be changed. The beep continued while Kelsey juggled the pump, while she ran, to see what the message was. She had an unsettled feeling, deep inside, of what this particular sound might signify. ‘Sensor Expired’ is what the screen indicated. With the rush of packing necessary food, supplies, gear bags for two aid stations, and a monumentally bad night of sleep, the all-important status of the cgms had not been checked on. Now she would rely on old fashioned blood sugar checks with a glucose meter. She shuffled through her bag for the meter. And shuffled some more. No meter. She yelled in anger and frustration. Her words tumbled down the mountainside.

     Kelsey had been consumed by too much at the same time and was could not remember what her last blood sugar was. She was tired, now stressed, alone, and still a distance from the finish. She began to panic. Nearly forty miles into a difficult trail race, she had expected to be extremely tired and there might be some ups and downs in her blood sugar, which would likely affect her energy level. The fatigue had a grip on her and it was now seizing her thought process. Were her blood sugar ok?

     She continued labored motion forward, ever so slowly. Unfortunately, the next aid station was unmanned, but she had faith that there would be a good selection of gels, treats, bananas and maybe even some solid, healthy food if someone had bothered to load it into a 4 wheel drive for delivery.

     Kelsey now lacked awareness of what was around her and the beauty that was around her went by, even more slowly, as her loping run became a staggered walk. After some effort, she ripped the running pack off of her back as it fell to the ground. For a moment she stood still, not knowing what to do. Her brain needed glucose to operate and it was functioning on fumes. She had made the difficult task to deal with the pack in search of some carbohydrates in case that she had low blood sugar. She was not sure of what she needed, but it was better to eat and be wrong than to not eat at all. She knew what the consequences can be of not taking care of a low blood sugar. The sad reality is that she had easy access to the glucose packets in the front of her pack. Her mind was now on hold.

     She trembled, and slowly reached for the pack. This effort made her dizzy and she stumbled onto one knee. The thought urgently streamed across her dysfunctional organ of soft nervous tissue that she needed food now or...

     Now stretched across the dirt road she collapsed and had the pack behind her and now useless as her mind lost connection with the rest of her body. She was now in a coma and would rely on her grit and a helicopter flight to see her back at the starting line of the Old Pueblo Endurance Run the next year.

  

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Cautionary Tails

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Cautionary Tails

On my evening run through the Arizona desert last night I had a number of wildlife encounters. Expected during the summer season and remarkably common during my runs on my local trail route. I would encounter two Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes this evening which gives me almost as many sightings as all of last year (a record year for me). It is still June with about four months of watching where I step and hearing the occasional rattle, jingling while I sort out how close I am to the snake.

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Of the many assorted and interesting critters I experience while I take in the desert environment, the most often seen, in this order are deer, rabbits and you guessed it, rattlesnakes. Twenty one at last count for the Spring and Early Summer season. Getting rather close to the number that welcomed me on my runs last year.

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I love wildlife encounters and, well, snake encounters are a not quite a love affair but I do take on a trail runner crazy enough to run through the desert in the summer time, will trek through snake territory and will have a few meet and greet sessions with other inhabitants toting a rattle. It is their home and I do respect that simple fact.

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Do rattlesnake's give my heart a jolt? No, but there is a bump in the heart rate when I take a quick dodge to the left or right to avoid a snake.  They can blend in very well to the desert floor but I have had to become great with those scaly senses.

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Very, very thankful that of all the creatures on the planet, the rattlesnake rates high on the list of animals that let you know of its presence. A beautiful fact and one of the reasons I have an admiration for the scaly and sometimes noisy, scary creatures of horror films and jolting newspaper articles. Oh, those stories of people who get bitten after decapitating a rattlesnake are primal fear unleashed. 

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I have adjusted my trail runs, slightly, due to encounters at the start of my trail. There are one of two 'friendly' slithery reptiles along the start of my trail time. Roughly eight or nine meet & greets within the first minute of the trail. I had to wonder about the fact that there was a r snake 20 feet up the trail. The photo below is another run-in that is at the exact start of the trail. Sheeesh! I now walk this lively section.

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Clock is ticking toward my next run. Almost all of the wildlife I see on my runs is during the suppertime excursion. I will have my eyes dialed in for any and all wildlife, capture what I can with my camera and enjoy getting out in nature and continue to improve my health and diabetes care. And watch my step.

If you find yourself trekking through rattlesnake territory, do be ultra careful. I have read about some horrendous encounters with some devastating results after interactions with Mr. Rattlesnake.

 

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Plan to share another angle on my wild wildlife experiences. Could include Gila Monsters, Tarantulas (yes, I pick them up!), Desert Tortoises, Bobcats, Javelina's (no, don't pick those up), Giant Desert Centipedes, and who knows what else might appear in my blog.

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Black Rattlesnake

Black Rattlesnake

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Fat Biking is a Thing

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Fat Biking is a Thing

I have shared that I am a runner at heart but adventure is plugged into my dna. For the most part I thrive with new challenges and experiences. Yes, fat biking is a thing and I am slightly addicted after riding through the desert with Billy Joe. Billy Joe was on our No Limits team of riders with type 1 diabetes who competed in 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo (mountain bike race). In his bike arena sits mountain and road bikes and two fat bikes. Just enough for the two of us to take on the desert. 

Vlog from the Fat Biking Adventure

We zig-zagged through some neighborhoods that soon found us in front of a wash and unlimited sand and rocks. Time to ride, but very, very slowwwwwwwlllyyyy. Oh, and those fat bikes, having tires that are better suited for go carts, are also extremely heavy. They do allow you to ride in terrain that is not suitable for other types of bikes.

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It was grand to be back on a bike after a long hiatus off of the saddle. I hope to get back on my mountain bike but will be challenged by the coming three digit temperatures that will swell the desert with a zapping heat that frightens me with the horrifying thought of having a helmet on my head. 

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Video below gives the viewer a glimpse of a rather fun sport. #8 in my vlog series.

The bike path above us was bustling with weekend riders and runners enjoying their time on pavement. It was a beautiful day and the scenery, while stark in areas, afforded the quiet moments to power the fat bike through sand and over a landscape of rocks, rocks and more dang rocks. 

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While those monster tires churned through the varied sand and rock obstacles, the bike was unsuccessful at finding victory in deep sand. Or, my skill set was not quit as deep as the unforgiving layer of sand.

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I did fall a few times but only one fall will be highly featured in this blog. Almost done with our route through the Pantano Wash, I found a notable rock that had my name on it and I crashed to the desert floor. Also crashing was my insulin pump which had a short but sweet meeting with the mentioned rock. The noise that my pump squealed out was loud, irritating and the sign of death as our ride was now over (except for the pedal back to Billy Joe's home). Pump was now dead and I needed to make my way to a syringe and insulin and eventually a previously used insulin pump in my archives. Not a stunning way to end the day but an excellent way to spend the day. Thanks go to Medtronic for promptly zipping a new insulin pump my way. 

Snapshot from the video after the crash.

Snapshot from the video after the crash.

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2 Peaks Adventure in Alaska

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2 Peaks Adventure in Alaska

2 Peaks Adventure in Alaska

Following the Canadian Death Race in July of 2011, I was open to another adventure, one a little closer to my home in Sitka, Alaska.  Out my window, opposite the Pacific Ocean breaking under my home, I could see 2 prominent peaks near downtown (Mt. Verstovia & Gavan Hill).  Gavan Hill is known for the ever popular and long suffering Alpine Adventure Race.  Mt. Verstovia is known for its wickedly steep, rugged trail that climbs 2550 feet in about 2.5 miles.  

Gavan Hill trail is no less brutal, with about 2400 feet gained in 1.6 miles.  This would be my own custom created event.  A signature event without the aid stations.

Video of the 2 Peaks adventure

I elected to run/walk from a parking lot (Sitka National Historical Park) between the 2 peaks, run to Verstovia, grunt up to picnic rock, zoom down, run to Gavan Hill and of course, up, up, up to a point that I felt was a high point.  Trail does continue from there but I wound be content with about 5,000 feet of gain for the elevation deposit for the day.

This is trail running/walking in SE Alaska.  One of the nastier sections.

The effort would take place in September, about a month after my 23+ mile, 6,500 foot (elevation gain) ordeal at the Canadian Death Race.  This was a momentous occasion as I signed on to run with the I Challenge Diabetes team.  I had recently had knee surgery and  was hoping for one of the easier legs.  That easier leg transformed into the toughest leg as others on the team withdrew or pleaded a little louder than I.  

The timing should have been perfect for the 2 peaks effort, but I managed only 1 hill training run before September rolled in.  Also rolling in was weather.......SE Alaska rainforest weather at its gnarliest. The teeth would bite later in the day.

1st view point on Mt. Verstovia (800? foot elevation)

I set off with a well stocked Osprey running pack.  The blood sugars were good and the day appeared to be in a stable hold.  It might be a decent day, weather wise in the rain forest.  Could it be?

Despite a lack of specific training, meaning, actually running up hills, I made my way up Verstovia.  Slow but sure, a mix of walking and running.  I passed 1 person (if memory serves me correctly), my only link to humanity on either trail.

I had brought along a camera that was lacking in quality and performance but was waterproof.  I shot footage at various stages, knowing that I would eventually piece together a somewhat rough film (see link above).  It would take 21 clips to create the short film that would be my introduction into the world of filmmaking.  I have been working on my first 'real', quality film as I work through the footage of a No Limits Sea Kayak Expedition,  tentatively, named 'Alaskan Waters'.  

Near the first summit of Verstovia

I would reach picnic rock, which is the first summit of Verstovia in good shape.  The Arrowhead is the true top of Mt. Verstovia was jutting just above me.  A more technical approach, which I was not willing to attempt without a partner. 

Goal #2, Gavan Hill

The weather was turning as I made my way down the mountain.  As evidence by my array of photos, running SE Alaska trails is a challenge and requires a major dose of concentration.  I had a lot of trail time and was somewhat skilled at the ballet on rocks.  Having diabetes increased my need for good planning and focus.  I had dealt with higher blood sugars for the first half of the run but would eventually level out.  

Gavan Hill

I hit the trail head of Verstovia and made a right turn.  On to Gavan Hill.

1st viewpoint on Gavan Hill, approximately 1,000+ feet up

A bit more tired, Gavan would require more walking and an onslaught of nature as the wind, rain and a thick,  layer of wetness became the next chapter in my 2 Peaks experience.

Gavan Hill near the first summit

I would glance at my watch and realize that darkness would begin to envelope the mountain terrain soon and the dismal day would usher in darkness quicker.  

Near the top of the first Gavan Hill summit

Reaching the trail head, I shot a final memory of the 2 Peaks experience.  Darkness casting its shadow across the Last Frontier. Deep in the woods the evening came at an alarming rate as I ran toward my vehicle.  There was an encouraging glow of light and life as I escaped the veil of forest behind me.  

7 hours after my first steps toward Verstovia, I slowed my run to a walk and unlocked my car door.  Done.  A tired, but happy thumbs up for another adventure check off the list.

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A Wild(life) Year in Photography!

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A Wild(life) Year in Photography!

A Wild(life) Year in Photography!

Me and the Roaming Bison in Colorado.  

Photo by Eric Peffer.

It has been been a wild year for me, in many aspects.  One of those areas that continues to make my head swirl, is the amazing desert I live in and the wildlife I have had the opportunity to spend some quality time with.  

Most of the photos are from my home base in Catalina, Arizona, although photo adventures to Colorado and New Mexico have added some new animals and geography to my photo line up.

Part of the large herd of elk in Colorado (approximately 150)

I have a number of things in my favor:

1.  An eye for things that are 'wild'

2.  a 70-300 lens

3.  Many of my photo adventures are with a wildlife biologist.

4.  I run in an a desert area where I see maybe 1 person a month.  More of a true desert setting. 

5.  Just plain luck

Family of 4 Bobcats in the neighborhood

Many of my photos are taken during my daily runs through the desert.  I typically run near sunset, which I feel is a better time to see animals plus it puts me on the highest road in our area to capture stunning sunsets.  The runs limit my camera options but I have had good success with a decent point and shoot camera (Samsung WB350F).  The Samsung is sporting a 42x zoom.  Oh yeah!

One of the four bobcats (family) in the neighborhood

My goal, when possible, is to take film along with photos.  I may put together a film blog for this year.  

I think back to last year and I did not get much in the way of wildlife photos while this year has been phenomenal.  Looking toward 2016. 

Wild horses near Fort Garland, CO

Enjoy the photos! 

When I grab my camera, I aim to get photos and video.  Check out the videos on my latest blog:  

A Wild(life) Year in Video!

Wild horse near Fort Garland, CO

Bighorn Sheep - Taos, NM

Redtail Hawk - Klondyke, AZ

Not totally 'wild' but a wild setting - near La Veta, Colorado

Rattlesnake on one of my runs - Catalina, AZ

Roadrunner near the house - Catalina, AZ

At the house

A Javelina visit during a run - Catalina, AZ

Horned Lizard during a run - Catalina, AZ

Young Desert Tortoise - Catalina, AZ

Walking Stick, almost stepped on and bypassed - Catalina, AZ

Tarantula visit on a run - Catalina, AZ

Tarantula on one of my runs

Gila Monster at the house - Catalina, AZ

Family of 4 Bobcats in the neighborhood - Catalina, AZ

Bobcat photo published in a local paper

Young Desert Tortoise on a desert run - Catalina, AZ

A brief stop during the Race Across America as wild horses cross the road in Utah

During the Race Across America - Pagosa Springs, CO

Praying Mantis, Lori & Eric in Klondyke, AZ

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