Michael Shelver and Patrick Mertes love nature and climbing. Neither has a functioning pancreas. In just 50 days, how does type 1 diabetes affect the need to reach the highest point in each of the 50 states?
Being halfway up a mountain when you have a hypo-an episode of low blood sugar that can cause dizziness, disorientation, and even unconsciousness-is far from ideal.
But it's a risk that friends Michael and Patrick face every day when they try to be the first with diabetes, they believe to reach 50 to 50. It is believed that only 274 people have reached all 50 highest points, most of them throughout their lives, with only a handful available for the 50-day period.
Your mission is to cover more than 16,000 miles, including hiking on 315 miles of trails.
Your type 1 diabetes means that your pancreas does not produce insulin, the vital hormone needed for cells to absorb glucose from food. Without insulin, your cells may lose energy and, over time, dangerously high glucose levels can accumulate in the body.
If you have Type One, insulin must be injected either manually or through an insulin pump that Patrick and Michael use.
Too much or too little insulin can cause problems. And what makes the balancing act more difficult is that so many other things that can affect blood sugar – such as exercise, altitude and adrenaline.
They started with the toughest peak of all – the 6,190-meter-high Denali in Alaska, the highest point in North America. It was both a literal high for her, as well as the source of dozens of sugar deficiencies in the blood, as well as several episodes of ketones, a complication that can occur when blood sugar becomes too high.
& # 39; the hardest in my life & # 39;  Patrick, who has been living with diabetes since 1997 when he was nine years old, says, "What I've struggled the most so far has been Denali height.
" We're pretty high on the standard fast made route – most people need up to 17 days and we were at the top in nine days. This had some influence on blood sugar and on my lung health.
"I'm not a very emotional guy, but it was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life reaching the summit of Denali, not only being able to achieve that goal, but also with Michael Doing so was the next level for me. "
Another problem in the long list is that insulin does not like extreme environments.
- The human cost of insulin in America
- "I was told I would die"
Michael, who was diagnosed with a ten-year-old in 2004, explains, "We need to make sure that our insulin is always in the normal temperature range because it does not work properly outside of this range."
"We had ours on Denali Take insulin and put it in something padded – in this case, we decided to go for a sock – and then put this sock in an insulating flask and use it to sleep in our sleeping bags. It can be up to -40F there – it was about -25F on the summit for us.
"We had to wear a lot of layers with our pumps in our inner jackets to make sure it stayed warm and the hose was ok as it was more likely to freeze, none of which could be exposed to air or water it would be pretty quick Freezing. "
Frozen insulin would mean that it would not work, which could then lead to dangerously high blood sugar levels. h
"In remote areas, we need to ensure that we have sufficient supplies and reserves," he adds. "We can never be too far from a pharmacy if something needs to be replaced – we can not afford not to do that."
Patrick says that at certain altitudes, they "do not use products as they should be used," adding, "At this point, it's trial and error."
What is diabetes?
Millions of people around the world suffer from diabetes. The majority of them, about 95%, suffer from type 2 diabetes, which means that their body does not use insulin properly, a naturally occurring hormone secreted by the pancreas. Insulin is needed to make glucose – formed when carbohydrates are broken down by the body – from the bloodstream to the cells.
Type 2 diabetes can be controlled by diet, exercise, oral medication, or a combination of all three. Sometimes it requires the use of insulin. Certain groups are at a higher risk of developing type 2, and in the United States, this is more common in African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Pacific Islanders, and the elderly.
Type One is an autoimmune disease in which the body does not produce insulin at all and therefore needs to be injected through the skin. It can not be prevented at all and can occur in people of any race, shape and size. It used to be known as juvenile diabetes, but it was not right because it is not a childhood disease and can be diagnosed at any age.
Approximately 1.25 million Americans have type 1 diabetes, with an estimated 40,000 diagnosed each year.
Source: American Diabetes Association
- How Can I Lower My Risk for Type 2 Diabetes?
The men have been friends since 2015 when they met while working for a charitable organization for type 1 diabetes that helped families affected by the disease.
They decided last year to plan a challenge that will enable them to bring together people with Type 1 diabetes and raise money for charities to bring people with type 1 diabetes into the wild.
Patrick says, "We have an affinity for adventure, I was on the John Muir Trail last year, and I called Michael and said, 'I want to find a way to put together a great adventure with so many people from the Type 1 community as we can. "
" It's nice to have someone with you who knows you're out of [blood glucose] 's reach. There's no one with whom I have this Adventure. "
You spent most of your time researching the technology you would use. Instead, they opted for a continuous glucose monitoring system that provides consistent readings and information to your phone or small device
Your insulin pumps also use technology that can cut off insulin supply if blood sugar levels are too low.
They expect to graduate in 41 years, but when they talk to the BBC – on their way to Spruce Knob, West Virginia – they are one day ahead of schedule and now expect to complete the challenge in 39 or 40 days ,
"There was a veritable upsurge in energy levels," says Patrick. "We came up against a wall today at about 2:30 in the night and made a 14-kilometer hike at 8:30, but as long as we have coffee in us and the opportunity to relax, we'll be fine, we'll dine the energy of people coming out and meeting us to the tops – that really enlivens us.
"Diabetes can be a very isolated disease – we do not necessarily look like we're ill or there's anything wrong with us , I think people have trouble understanding that it's a 24-hour business. We never have a day off.
"So if you can build a community around Type 1, it changes a lot and we wanted to prove to the rest of the world that you are planning ahead and have the right attitude, you can do everything with this condition."  One would think that such an exhausting schedule would mean a healthy appetite.
But Michael says, "Height can really affect your appetite, My challenge at the moment is to make sure I eat enough, there's no consistency – we never get eight hours of sleep and three solid meals a day a couple of hours, live off a van, and maybe eat at a gas station. "
Patrick agrees and adds," We try our best to eat better – but we're currently living very well on cereal bars and cheese strips. We were so busy and gone for 12 hours then realized we had nothing to eat, or we just had snacks. "
Michael says," This whole experience is really a metaphor for diabetes, we have months with it spent planning them – and then a huge storm can come up and change the plan – that's the way diabetes works No matter how much you prepare, something will turn up. "
Patrick summarizes her mission.
"For several days I woke up and thought" what the hell am I doing? "
" Then we will have experiences that remind me why we do that. In North Carolina, we made a hike with a high school freshman who has experienced some challenges. When we finished the trek, he said it was like this that had helped him realize that there was light burning in a dark tunnel – and now he wants to do the Appalachian Trail.
"If what we do only helps one child, it's worth it."
Patrick and Michael have now completed the East Coast Summits and travel to the Midwest off some of the larger peaks of the West Coast. Here you can follow their progress.