Getting gnarly with a pump – by Helen May
I am not very good at sitting still. The idea of a week’s holiday spent sitting around the pool “relaxing” is my idea of hell. A flight across the Atlantic is only made possible through the use of movies and books and food (even if, as a vegetarian, I know the food will be pasta). Even on a night flight, I need an aisle seat so I can get up and walk up and down and up and down and up and down … the aisles to stretch my legs.
On my latest holiday, I avoided the tedium of a flight by holidaying in the UK. OK, the five and a half hour drive from the South West to the North East was tedious, but the views were more interesting than constant clouds that you can see from an aircraft and I did have a chance for short stops to see the delights of motorway service stations along the way.
The holiday was spent sight seeing and, mostly walking. But for a change, and to make use of the bikes we had hauled up with us, my partner and I spent a day mountain biking. My boyfriend was well up for it. On the other hand, I was … apprehensive. I’ve done a little off road cycling but that was a long time ago and never with my pump. As a practice, we had ridden along the local tow path for 20 miles but, being a tow path, it was flat and the hints in the name with mountain biking: it was not going to be flat. Apart from that, the only cycling I have done in the last five years is a static bike at the gym … which I found boring, even when watching a rock climbing video. At least I knew the mountain biking would not be boring.
The drive to the mountain bike trail was just over an hour along windy roads so I had enough time to digest my breakfast and start getting slightly nervous about the cycling. We decided to go for Moderate route but it was described as having “several sections of sweeping single track”, “climbs into the forest” and “an exhilarating run down single track,” so I knew there would be some challenges along the route. This became clear when I measured my blood glucose level and discovered it was high, before I started. So I gave myself an insulin boost before setting off.
When I say “set off”, it was a not great departure. The bike was in the wrong gear, I was unfamiliar with the gear changer and the route started along an uphill gravelly path. Not the best start when I was already feeling apprehensive. However, once the gears were sorted and we were on a logging track, things improved a bit. It was still uphill and it was rocky. I was glad the bike had suspension and I was wearing “appropriately supportive underwear” as I bounced up and down and up.
Finally, we saw an arrow heading off into the woods. This first single track was smoother than the logging track and downhill which gave me a chance to stop pedalling and freewheel. However, I could not relax: the path was narrow and windy and had a couple of obstacles to avoid. But I was starting to see the point in getting off road.
Unfortunately, it didn’t last, we were soon back on the bumpy logging track for some more climbing. But we were soon rewarded with amazing views over the forest and down to the lake below. I took the opportunity to check my blood glucose again. This was easier said that done balancing the bike on rocky ground whilst pulling my backpack forward, extracting my meter, holding it with one hand as I did a finger prick and got the blood onto the strip.
After all of this, the result was … a higher reading than before I started. Maybe not too surprising as the ride had some scary bits and some tough short climbs. I decided to have more insulin to attempt to bring the reading down but to keep an eye out for a later drop.
The route continued: the very bouncy logging tracks were replaced by more single tracks through amazing scenery – some beautiful moss covered undergrowth, out on to a bleak, recently “harvested” tree stump field and along some rocky little meadows. Most of the time was either climbing or downhill. As the route continued, the steepness increased.
I had a few nervy moments when I decided vertical rocky cliffs, regardless how short, were more suited to abseiling than cycling. It was at one of these precipices I decided upon a “voluntary dismount”. Unfortunately, the track was only wide enough for a bicycle tyre so, as I stepped onto uneven ground, I twisted my ankle. I was very aware of the irony: my mountain bike injury happened because I thought the downhill I aimed to avoid was too dangerous. Despite that, I remounted and continued on my way … with the logic being my ankle would be more stable on a pedal than uneven ground.
By now I had forgotten about my diabetes, my blood glucose and my pump. All my thoughts were on surviving the switchbacks and plank bridges and avoiding most of the lose stones. After about two hours, as a rock kicked out from my back wheel on a steep ascent, I started to think I had had some fun but was ready for it to end. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how much further I had to go but there was only one way. So each time we started a downhill, I hoped this was the last downhill towards the lakeside road below.
Eventually, we started our final descent: the water was in sight; just a few more switchbacks to go. I’m not sure if it was the expectation of the end or the layout of the route, or a slowly growing confidence, but this was my favourite part. I just let myself go. Maybe not entirely in control but I stayed on the bike and the bike stayed on the track. If it wasn’t for the helmet and sweat holding it in place, I would have felt the wind in my hair as I freewheeled over another tree root, down another rocky crag, bounced over some more stones and, finally, reached the, relatively, smooth road below. I would like to say it was flat but, alas, there were still some climbs for my tired legs to get up but they were easy compared to what I’d been over.
As a sculpture came in sight at the lakeside, we decided to have a well-earned rest, packet of crisps and another blood glucose reading. Despite my early thoughts to keep an eye on my diabetes, there had been too many other obstacles to avoid in the last 90 minutes. From the amount of energy I had during some of the later ascents, I knew that my reading would no longer be high. I wasn’t really surprised, in hindsight, that it was now slightly too low (only a little bit). So I decided to have no insulin for the crisps and reduce my intake for the rest of the day.
Although I had some nervous moments and my diabetes did not behave 100%, I had fun. I will definitely be mountain biking again. Despite forgetting about my pump during the ride, I was very grateful to have it with me for the rest of the day when it was much easier to stop my blood glucose from dropping again than it would have been with a pen. And on the ride, although it was difficult to get to my meter, it was easier to adjust my insulin with the pump than it was to get out the pen, change the needle and inject.