Tag Archives: First Descents

The Power of a First Descent


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At the age of 13, Brad Ludden’s parents told him he could do anything he wanted with his life. He took it literally and did the thing he loved the most–whitewater kayaking. By 18 he was living his dream; he had signed on as Nike’s first sponsored whitewater kayaker, was on the cover of Outside Magazine, traveling the globe in search of first descents on remote rivers, and filming with the largest production companies in the outdoor industry.


Brad Ludden dropping in at Khao Yai

Despite all of his success, something was missing. Brad wanted to share the positive bounty of whitewater kayaking by giving the gift of outdoor adventure to others who needed it more.

After watching his Aunt fight cancer, he started First Descents, an organization that provides free outdoor adventure therapy to young adults with cancer. The organization has helped over 2,000 young adults live beyond their disease by providing them free multi-day adventure experiences.

Brad is an excellent example of someone spreading the love. Perhaps because of his early success, and the ultimate push to ever-increasing risk that comes with it, Brad saw beyond his own experiences. He turned his striving for excellence into a desire to share his experiences with others.

Brad could have simply brought his friends kayaking. Or he could have been happy with the first 15 clients that experienced the transformative power of moving water that first summer. But that wasn’t enough.


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Brad is still in the forefront at First Descents, opening new participants to outdoor adventures, and his work is truly making a difference.

Join me this Wednesday at 8 am Pacific on The Edge Radio when I talk to Brad Ludden about his own first descents, the First Descents organization and the power of getting out on the edge.

Diabetics Pushing the Edge of Normal


Sean Busby

Sean Busby, a Type 1 diabetic, has lately been bagging big lines in Iceland, Antarctica and Patagonia. According to an article at Espn, Sean is preparing for a trip to Greenland with a few first descents in his sights.  While most adventurers worry about their water freezing or their boots getting left out in the cold, for Sean if his insulin freezes while he’s on a remote continent, nowhere near a drugstore, he’s toast.

I should know. I’m a diabetic too, and learning to compensate for the disease in an outdoor setting offers a unique set of challenges. Sean uses a OmniPod, which attaches to his skin, keeping the insulin close to his body, away from freezing temperatures. Containing 3 day’s worth of insulin, the pod can maintain his latest doses, but the vial, the one he will use to refill the pod, must also stay out of the elements.

That isn’t easy when you’re climbing in subzero temperatures. For that matter, it’s pretty challenging even on the slopes at Crystal, or any overnight backpacking trip. Extreme temperatures, either hot or cold, will render the insulin useless.

I use an insulin pump (the Medtronic Paradigm). It has many of the advantages of the pod, but I can take it off when I jump in the shower or even go surfing. I’d be afraid the pod would get ripped off in the breaking waves. Furthermore, if I have a low blood sugar, John knows how to disconnect the pump, in the event of an emergency.

When I was first diagnosed with diabetes nearly twenty years ago, my doctor told me not to worry. Innovations in diabetes management were on the horizon. A mechanical pancreas, capable of monitoring blood sugar levels and dispensing insulin accordingly was just around the corner. Twenty years later, they haven’t gotten much closer.

Instead, most diabetes research funding goes into fixing the Type 2 epidemic. 1.9 million people were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2010. Many of those are due to lifestyle—the wrong diet and lack of exercise. Whereas Type 1, on the other hand, is an auto-immune disease.

Mt. Rainier

When my doctor told me that I could live a “relatively normal life” as a diabetic, my heart sunk. I didn’t want to live a normal life, and any scale diminishing that even by a fraction seemed devastating. A year later, I climbed Mt. Rainier. I recently published an article about that trip—the first post-diagnosis physical test of my body and my medication—in Diabetes Forecast Magazine. I hadn’t yet figured out the ratio for hard physical activity to insulin levels. My doctor had told me to cut my insulin in half on the climb up, assuming that the aerobic exercise would bypass my caloric intake to metabolize my food without the help of the medication. Too much insulin and I ran the risk of a severe low blood sugar reaction. Instead, I went the opposite way and when I reached the summit and checked my blood sugar, it made sense. I’d struggled the last few hours, each footstep a gargantuan effort. When I saw my blood sugar on my glucometer, I understood why. At 365, all the calories I’d been eating were just sitting in my blood stream, causing long term damage, but not getting into my muscles. Without insulin, sugar stays locked in your blood, where it can’t do anything but harm. Too little insulin in the blood stream and your brain could starve. Too much and you risk vascular damage. It’s a balancing act more difficult than the tallest of slacklines.

So, this is why I’m even more impressed with Sean Busby. Props to him. Way to advance the edge of diabetic normal, Sean. If bagging first descents in Greenland is “relatively normal”, then I guess it isn’t so bad.

Check out Sean’s website, Riding on Insulin, where he offers skiing and snowboard camps for diabetics. Go Sean!