MILES OF PORTRAITS: ALASKA — Living With Type 1 Diabetes as a Cyclist

March 30, 2019
Ten years later and I’m a little more careful about how I go about eating this funnel cake. Santa Monica, CA | March 2019

March 30th, 2009
The day I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

Ten years ago to the week, on a college tour with my dad, I sat on this very pier and ate a funnel cake smothered in sugar. I had lost 30 pounds despite my raging appetite. Turns out, I could have easily been in a coma.

Stuck in traffic on the freeway, I remember my mouth being so dry we had to make an emergency exit towards a Jack In The Box to get some apple juice – the drink I constantly craved for months. I remember during English class, we went around the room and read parts of Othello. When it got to my turn, my 20/20 vision had been replaced by blurry vision; I looked at the book and realized I couldn’t read one word.

Exploring California with my father when I should have been in the emergency room. Santa Monica, CA | March 2009

After trudging through six months of textbook symptoms, my pediatrician told me that I probably have type 1 diabetes (T1D). I took the subway to the emergency room with my mom and complained that I’d have to take an injection a day for the rest of my life. That’s what my teenage mind thought having T1D meant.

Little did I know that what it essentially meant was that I’d have to do all the work for my non-functioning pancreas.

Out of shame, I’d inject myself behind bathroom stalls and under tables. But quickly, I’d grow more comfortable injecting myself on crowded subway cars. I’d even do it while having conversations with strangers.

And today, 10 years later, the on and offline diabetes communities have empowered me to embrace this disease because, at the end of the day, it is part of my identity. I’m proud to show off the Dexcom on my arm, inject myself in public, and educate those unaware of what it means to live with T1D. Because I was them 10 years ago.

It’s crazy how I’ve gone from injecting myself in a bathroom stall to injecting myself on the cover of Adventure Cyclist Magazine.

I talk about how my mother is the main reason I’m out here riding my bicycle, but my type 1 diabetes is in large part to thank, too. It’s made me realize that my health is not a guarantee. But more importantly, it’s made me grateful for what the human body is capable of despite whatever challenges we all hold. How resilient we are and how we’ve all got something. And how we’re out here, despite it all.

Some of the thousand miles from Miles of Portraits: Alaska in 2018.
Making up for my non-functioning pancreas on the ride through Alaska.

Annalisa van den Bergh and Erik Douds are the creators of Miles of Portraits, a magazine and film about the people they meet as they ride their bicycles around the world. In the feature article of Adventure Cycling’s April issue, Annalisa tells the story of their 1,000-mile Alaskan bike trip through the lens of the blood sugar graphs they both use to manage their T1D. Get the free PDF here.

Meet them in person! They’re currently cycling from Los Angeles to Santa Fe, stopping at REIs along the way to share their story. Register here for an event in Arizona and New Mexico.

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