Category Archives: Survival Skills

Weekly High-Five Report: Ultimate Road-Trippers


The ultimate road trip

Everyone loves a good road trip. I’ve spent weeks cruising the backroads of the PNW and Western States, searching for snaking roads that lead to free camping spots by the river, or overgrown forest service roads with room enough for a girl and her truck. I’ve spent moonless nights at trailheads, in the parking lot of a ferry terminal, and the day-use only lot of a climbing area.

But I never spent a night in a Walmart parking lot.

Amy and Bracken Christensen on the road

On November 7th, 2010, Amy and Bracken Christensen of took off for the ultimate road trip. They outfitted their van with everything from a garage to a kitchen to a bedroom/living room and hit the road (and the trails and mountains and rocks) for a year.

That’s right. The newlyweds road-tripped for an entire year.

I first found Amy through her life-coaching blog Expand Outdoors, where she offers wisdom and strength for adventurous women. I knew, at first glance, that I had found a kindred spirit.

Last summer, when Amy and Bracken were traveling through Seattle, we met in person, and it was as if we’d known each other for years. I asked Amy about her immediate plans for the night.

“Oh, we’ll probably find a Walmart parking lot for the night.”

“Walmart?” I asked.

Amy explained that Walmart allowed cars to park overnight, many of their lots were lit and secure and in the morning they could freshen up in the bathroom inside.

The boathouse at sunrise

I asked her if they’d prefer to stay in our boat house. I didn’t want to downplay the awesomeness of a Walmart parking lot, but I figured they’d want to stay with us. Our boat house is actually the best part of our house–sitting on Lake Washington with a small apartment over the water. In the morning, they could see Mt. Rainier from the bed. Plus the shower rocks.

The couple accepted heartily. It was already dark, and finding a Walmart at 10pm in a big city wouldn’t be easy.

Plus, I got to see their van up close the next morning. With a hobbit house feel, the van contained tiny spaces and a-place-for-everything efficiency that only a year on the road can hone.

Last week Amy and Bracken completed their year-long road-trip. They traveled 23,000 miles, biking, hiking, running and climbing their way through the Grand Canyon and Glacier National Park and everywhere in between.

This week a giant high-five goes out to Amy and Bracken Christensen for their adventurous spirit, willingness to explore the unknown and openly share their experience with the world. May the next 23,000 miles offer as much enlightenment.

Interview with Lizz Sommars


Radio personality Lizz Sommars of “Conversations” interviewed me on KMTT The Mountain this weekend. If you missed the live version, here’s the podcast. Thanks Lizz for excellent interview. Just click on the link below to open KMTT’s podcast page and play it from there.

What Avalanches Can Tell Me About My Own Weakness


How I Try to Pretend

Five Foot Crown in Bear Pits, March 2011

Weak layers in the snowpack are like fragile layers in our psyche. We can cover over them with slabs of bravado, carefully sintered together and work-hardened. We can pretend they don’t exist, or that subsequent snow has masked the flaw. As a diabetic and a rescuer, I prefer to bridge over my tendency towards low blood sugar reactions and pretend I’m in control.

Just like in the snowpack, weakness lingers. In fact, given the right conditions, cold temperatures and a shallow snowpack, those frailties grow even weaker. Sometimes ignoring those unsightly parts of myself makes them scarier foes, and yet I can’t resist. Who wants to stare her own ugliness down? When I have a low blood sugar reaction I hate to ask for help. It’s a weakness I try to bury. And yet its a ridiculous strategy.

A Ridiculous Strategy

Anna D. tossing a shot onto the slope, Southback Crystal Mt.

This morning I woke at 4 am. Hot sweat pooled in my clavicle and I threw off the sheets. “I’m having a low blood sugar,” I told John as I careened down the hallway toward the kitchen. I stood there naked and sweating and tried to prick my finger and smear the drop of red blood onto the tiny strip. When my brain is starving, it seems to shut off the less important functions like eyesight. I stared at my glucometer and tried to see the number blinking on the screen. It was either 64 or 34, either way a low blood sugar. I lifted my hair off my shoulders and let the sweat cool my skin.

John handed me a glass of orange juice and told me to drink. It was sweet and delicious. Diabetics can’t normally drink juice; it contains far too much sugar. I miss drinking orange juice. I wondered for a moment if drinking juice made the threat of a seizure worth it. I ran my tongue along the slick above my lip, leaned over the counter and rested my face in my hands. I was very tired and starting to get cold.

John helped me back to bed, where I buried myself in the damp sheets. My blood sugar was returning to normal and I shivered. John kept waking up thinking my shaking was the start of a seizure. I told him not to worry; I’d be fine.

Buried Facets

What used to be a forest now lays on the ground just uphill from my house

Just a few feet from my window, century-old trees lay in a jumbled mess. Last season a huge avalanche slid nearly from the top of the mountain and stopped within feet of our apartment. The aftermath of that slide was humbling. Trees and rocks were uprooted, or snapped in half and sent a mile down the slope, to rest just uphill from where I now lay shivering and clutching the sheets against my weakness.

While pretty on the surface, once buried facetted crystal become a dangerous weak layer

When the slide let loose, having been triggered by explosives thrown from a helicopter, the slab failed on an old weak layer. Months before, a rain event followed by cold temperatures had left faceted crystals that later were buried by late-season snow. When the stress of the new snow overcame the strength of the snowpack, huge slides let loose all over the mountain, running on that layer of beautiful, diamond-like crystals that wouldn’t bond.

I couldn’t control my shivering. The wet sheets provided little warmth, and the clock blinked 4:35 am. Between the tree tops outside the window the sky grew lighter. These very trees acted as the last defense against the tons of snow and debris that had nearly buried the bed I now lay in and the window I looked through. Faceted crystals will not bond to anything, will not ask for help from nearby slabs. Buried surface hoar harbors air pockets that create a growing weakness, nibbling away at its surroundings until a layer of crystalline dominoes is poised and ready to fail. The symmetry was almost too much to bear.

With a Little Help From Our Friends

When I look over the past few years of our lives, so many things had to go right. John lived through an impossible diagnosis. The cancer didn’t spread. He got the transplant. We weren’t in our apartment when the avalanche came down. We didn’t get buried.

During a recent interview a radio personality asked me what I’d learned since writing my book. I answered quickly. I knew this one.

My happy place: skiing powder with my husband

I have learned to be grateful. If we didn’t have buried weakness, gratitude wouldn’t come quite as easily. If John hadn’t nearly died we wouldn’t be living so large right now. If I didn’t have diabetes, I might forget to be humble in the face of risk, both on and off the mountain.

Weakness reminds us of our humanity. If we were perfect we wouldn’t need each other. John’s ordeal sintered our marriage, bonding the very crystals of our being together into a cohesive slab.

I looked at the clock again, it was almost 5 am, time to wake up and check the weather forecast. John and I looked at it together this morning, mapping the timing of the storms lining up in the Pacific, strategizing about how to get the mountain open.

If the forecast pans out, we could be open by early next week. Our lives are about to shift again–this time towards the yearly start to our ski season. I look forward to skiing again, feeling gratitude and joy and weakness.

NWCN Television Interview


If you missed my interview yesterday on Northwest Cable News, here it is. In addition to talking about my book, I also reminded skiers and snowboarders how to ski safely this winter. The old maxim, “No friends on a powder day,” might need to change. In deep snow conditions, your friends could save your life. Just saying. Click on the video below to play. And notice that under my name it reads “Crisis Expert”. Who knew??

It’s American Diabetes Month and I Feel Fine


November is Diabetes Month. I suppose, like with any National Something Month, the goal is to raise awareness and money to fight the Something. October has Breast Cancer Awareness; February owns Heart Health; April is a double-whammy with Irritable Bowel Awareness and Distracted Driving Prevention. For every health concern, there’s a month, and Diabetics have November.

A Life With Diabetes

A moment alone checking levels

I rarely mention that I have Type 1 Diabetes; it doesn’t define me. But it is a regular part of my day. It comes up so often in my memoir that I probably should have given Diabetes her own book. But I’m not sure I wanted to give the disease her own stage. We have a rocky relationship, Diabetes and me. I would much rather write a book about my husband’s illness, giving Diabetes only a bit part in the narrative. And I had thought I succeeded until readers reacted with such horror at my near-death low blood sugar reactions. I guess I didn’t realize it was such a big deal.

So, okay. Fine. Diabetes is challenging. Insulin is a fickle mistress. And yes, far too often I go into diabetic shock, which is, for lack of a better word, a full-blown seizure.

Why is that so hard to admit?

Coming to Terms

Summit of Mt. Baker, WA

For many years after I was diagnosed, I pretended to be invincible and unflappable. I wasn’t going to let this two-bit, penny-ante, no-count, nothing of a so-called disease get the better of me. I would climb mountains, I would kayak big rivers, I would spend weeks in the backcountry. And I didn’t care what Diabetes said; she wasn’t going to stop me.

I remember waking up one night in a remote cabin in British Columbia. Ten of us were sleeping in our bags, batting the mice from our pillows and dreaming of the powder-filled glaciers we’d skied that day. But I wasn’t dreaming exactly. It was more like a drugged reverie. The age-dark beams of the roof bowed up and down. Bats flew around my head, lifting the light fabric of my down bag and threatening to carry me away. I almost tapped into the darkest truths that skiing and remote mountains and a blood sugar-addled brain could reach before I delved into a full-on seizure.

Predictably I started sweating and shaking. I screamed and cried. I closed my eyes and moved my head from side to side. My body reared up a few feet off the ground and slammed down.

My friends knew what to do: feed me glucose tablets and orange juice until I came around. And when I woke up, I laughed. Oops. Sorry guys. Didn’t mean to wake you. But their stares were full of fear. We were remote, at least a day’s ski to a phone. What if they couldn’t wake me? What if a helicopter couldn’t pick me up? The look of responsibility weighed heavily on all of us, and I realized I had to strike a peace accord with my sworn enemy.

Balancing Act

After carrying this disease around with me for over 20 years, I’ve had a few scares. Most often it’s not the disease that kills you, but all the complications. Diabetes is hard on your body. The American Diabetes Association has a sobering statistic:

Diabetes kills more people each year than breast cancer and AIDS combined.

Diabetes affects every organ, every blood vessel, every brain cell. If I eat too many carbohydrates without enough insulin, or have too much stress, or get sick, my blood turns to 30 weight car oil, bursting blood vessels and nerves. If I eat too little, or exercise too much, or give myself too much insulin, I can have a low-blood sugar seizure.

Diabetics can do anything

Diabetes is a balancing act between exercise, food, insulin, stress, illness and other factors. But it is also a window into my health. Since I check my blood sugar levels several times a day, I can watch with a transparency unavailable to non-diabetics how my lifestyle affects my body.

The Upside

I can be healthier seeing the fruits of my exercise and the effects of my transgressions. A Chinese proverb claims, “No disease short life; one disease long life.” Because when you have a disease like Diabetes, you have to pay attention. You have to manage your stress and exercise even when your husband is dying. You can’t drink too much, or eat too much or push yourself too hard. Nor can you take a day off and eat a bag of Fritos while watching television.

Hail National Diabetes Month! This is our month and I’m going to celebrate. And by “celebrate” I mean drinking a diet soda, sucking on a sugar-free candy and climbing a peak. What did you think I meant?

Weekly High-Five Report: The Push to The South Pole


On January 17, 2012, two adaptive athletes, John Davis and Grant Korgan, both paralyzed from the waist down, will attempt to reach the South Pole under their own power. Davis and Korgan, along with Doug Stoup and Tal Fletcher, will push themselves 100 miles across Antarctica, planning their arrival to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Robert Scott’s expedition to the South Pole. According to The Push to the South Pole website, the goal of the expedition is to demonstrate,

The capacity of the human spirit to overcome life-altering injuries.  And, perhaps more importantly, the team hopes to inspire people in all walks of life to help others achieve the seemingly insurmountable, to push their own everyday limits, and to live up to their ultimate potential.

Check out this video highlighting the trip and the goals of the expedition. These athletes are beyond inspiring. They are amazing.

The Push – A South Pole Adventure from p2sp on Vimeo.

They even have a countdown to “High-five at the South Pole.” Only 84 days left. Bravo guys. Bravo.

Weekly High-Five Report: Hendrix Music Academy


Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Tina Hendrix, niece of Jimi Hendrix and founder of the Hendrix Music Academy. By all rights, Tina never should have gone to college. According to her, she should have ended up in jail or worse, dead. At 18 years old, she found herself at Harborview, suffering from a gunshot wound. She realized that if she was going to make something of herself she needed to put herself through college.

But it wasn’t until a few years ago that she realized her true calling. Tina claims that she made it through her tumultuous years with the help of others. Now she wants to pay it forward to a new generation of at-risk youth. According to her website, the mission of the Hendrix Music Academy is to “provide music education, intervention, and mentoring programs to at-risk youth, so that they can achieve their highest potential as musicians, leaders, and global citizens.”

With a variety of free music programs (from rock to rap to summer camps) Tina’s academy is saving lives. She wants to take the guns out of kids hands and replace them with guitars. And that’s exactly what she’s doing. One kid at a time. Currently she’s servicing about 30 students, with an additional 30 more on the waiting list. Her goal is to get those kids off the waiting list and into the music programs. Check out her website for how you can help.

To celebrate Jimi’s 69th Birthday, some of her students will be performing at Seattle’s Hard Rock Cafe on November 27th. Check it out.

High-five Tina!