In July of this year, Blood Red was given the opportunity to support 4 female athletes in a 4-day, 100-mile expedition on stand up paddle boards that took them through a network of rivers and channels on the east coast of the United States.
The ringleader was Erin Spineto, an athlete and teacher who was looking for a new adventure, having completed a12.5-mile swim around Key West, and a 100-mile solo sail on a 22-foot boat. Erin advertised to various online groups for potential paddlers to join her, and the applicants filtered in. Three ladies landed on the final line-up.
- Donna Wolf is a clinical exercise physiologist in Norfolk, Virginia with a lifelong passion for running and cycling (road, cyclocross and mountain biking).
- Melissa Kaufman is a health inspector from Bend, Oregon who is into road biking and running.
- JoAnne Brown is a teacher from Alberta Canada who grew up skiing and hiking, and has gotten into trail running, white-water rafting, skydiving and paragliding, apart from completing the Canadian Death Race.
Erin herself is based in San Diego, California and has a background in gymnastics, basketball, surfing, triathlon, open water swimming and sailing. They called themselves the Sea Peptide Salties.
They had never met each other before, and apart from the sporty lifestyle that appeared to be their common thread, Type 1 diabetes was their common concern.
Melissa, JoAnne and Erin all have Type 1 diabetes, a chronic condition in which the body produces little insulin, or none at all. Insulin is needed to process sugar (glucose) into energy, and its absence makes blood sugar levels rise, causing serious damage to the organs over time. For athletes with type 1 diabetes, this means learning to manage blood sugar levels according to one’s activity level and training regime—a very simplistic explanation, when in reality, this involves monitoring what you eat, the energy you expend, and the amount of insulin and nutrients that need to be taken 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all year long.
“I have found that to stay motivated to take good care of my health I have to have a reason to train and stay active–being active is one of the best ways to manage diabetes. So each year I pick a different adventure and spend my year training and planning for it,” says Erin. That, plus the great adventure it was going to be, and the potential to reach out and/or reconnect to others with Type 1 diabetes, were what attracted Melissa and JoAnne to come aboard.
For Donna, who does not have diabetes, the reasons for signing up were slightly different.
“I have been working for many years in the field of habitual physical activity, and its importance for individuals with diabetes as well as those at risk for diabetes.
As a diabetes educator you learn from textbooks and what patients say, but I wanted more. I wanted to be able to experience being with 3 individuals with diabetes and see how their body responds and adapts to this high level of exercise. My goal to be on the team was to take my experience and be able to educate other individuals that have diabetes.”
Coincidentally, Donna was introduced to stand-up paddling 2 years ago, while the others had very minimal experience on a stand-up paddle board. Training together was out of the question, as they were also from different parts of the United States and Canada, with at least 900 miles between the two closest points (Melissa in Oregon, and Erin in San Diego). With a common goal to increase endurance and avoid overuse injuries, on top of managing blood sugar levels, they each created a training plan which complemented their current level of fitness and usual sports activities.
“I had only been on a stand up paddleboard twice before training for this trip, so I did a lot of research on form and technique. I also consulted a coach to get the basics down and to help develop a solid training plan.
My training began in September with overall fitness and base level strength. I started putting in serious time on the water in January. I tend to do better with fewer workouts of a higher quality, so my training week consisted of one long paddle on the weekends and some running/ swimming during the week.”
“I started paddle boarding about 6 months ago at local rivers but I also contributed with my regular sports too. This trip was like nothing I’ve ever done before but I think the mental training of marathon running prepared me the most.”
“I started training about 6 months prior to departure for the trip. I have always been active, so my main training goals were to increase endurance on the water and muscle strength in arms and core muscles. I would train 3-5 days a week on the water, increasing my mileage till I was able to complete 25 miles several days in a row.”
“I actually had a back injury in October 2014 and spent about 5 months working through that which really sucked. In March, I walked most days, and then in April I started going back to classes 4 to 5 days a week at the recreational centre where I live. I purchased my inflatable paddle board and started taking that out for 1-3 hours on weekends in May and June.”
All the training, planning and coordination for the expedition happened long distance over the course of 6 months. By July 2, they all finally met in person, arriving at the Myrtle Beach airport one by one, identically dressed in the Zig cotton hoodies that were supplied by Blood Red. After a good night’s rest, they were truly off on their 100-mile stand up paddling adventure.
Without external support crew, the ladies had to pack and transport all their gear, food and medical supplies for the duration of the 100-mile, 4-day expedition.
Luckily, 30-liter dry bag backpacks were included in the list of items that Blood Red had agreed to send over. They proved perfect for the job.
Donna: “I was able to get 4 days’ worth of clothes, food and supplies in that bag. All contents of the bag stayed dry even when I fell off my board. The backpack straps were great when carrying board and paddle. In addition it was helpful to have the straps to tie down the bag on the board. I cannot wait to use this bag more!”
Erin: “The dry backpacks were crucial for this trip. We had them stuffed to the gills and in the water with waves splashing them all day and not one drop of water got in. They really made the trip. They were super-comfortable through the airports and on the hike from the water to our room each night. And I love that they fit as carry-on luggage. I also loved that the backpacks had an emergency whistle on them, since it was one thing I forgot to pack.”
And why was bringing everything they needed so crucial on this trip? Melissa, who is no stranger to endurance events, explains it pretty clearly.
Melissa: “Everything that you needed for the whole trip had to be packed with you. If I needed medical supplies or sugar there is no 7-11 on the side of water way. In the same regard it was up to us to get to the next location without any assistance. If we didn’t move fast enough we would be coming off the water late at night, in the dark.”
Day 1 was bright and sunny at the put in. “I really enjoyed the calm parts of the day on the water and particularly when we paddled past people’s docks and they called out to us,” says JoAnne. With the weather and the tides cooperating, they were off to a flying start. Things happened more or less as planned, with the exception of Erin’s blood sugar which was persistently high and refused to be corrected. Later, she found out that her Humalog pen (an injection pen for administering fast-acting insulin) was faulty, and she did have a spare.
On Day 2, plans for pleasant paddling and a civilized lunch stop were marred by thunderstorms. According to Donna, “The water was rough and it took us a lot longer to paddle the expected miles.”
Erin elaborates on the thunderstorms. “Five minutes after we decided that they were going at an angle to us and we would probably outrun them, they unleashed a torrent of rain and lightning. Standing on open water with a large pole in your hand and not much else around isn’t the safest place to be so we found the nearest dock, threw our boards on it, and went in to find shelter. We were invited in by a family in the first house we saw. We took shelter there while we decided on our next move.”
Even if they paddled hard to make up for the lost time, darkness would have descended before they made it to their next stop which was still 10 miles away on the water. Renting a U-Haul truck for their 12-foot boards was not possible due to holiday closures, and their only option was a drunk driver party bus that their instant host had used the night before. “So we called him (the bus driver) and spent the next 45 minutes squeezed into a party bus with our four boards and all our gear, listening to blaring 80’s rap.” What was meant to be a 45-mile drive became painfully extended, as their driver refused to listen to their directions, and they had to detour several times.
Other minor mishaps also awaited them on Days 3 and 4, such as when Melissa’s board started taking in water after the fiberglass nose cracked. This aggravated her overuse injury on the right foot (from standing and balancing on the board for 20+ miles a day), making the last day very difficult. “I was very fatigued and my foot was in a lot of pain, along with being behind the group. I tried to stay positive and live in the moment of traveling the Intracoastal Waterways. I liked to listen to podcasts as a distraction and let any negative thoughts pass.”
According to Erin, even Melissa’s method for distraction wasn’t spared a near-mishap on the trip.
“Melissa used the (Blood Red) phone case and at one point, (it) got thrown in the water and (she) lost hold of her phone, but it floated her phone until we could grab it, once again not a drop of moisture got in.”
“We also spent a large amount of time trying to overcome hiccups with our diabetes technology which isn’t so easy when you’re floating down river,” says Erin.
Not surprising, as most other diabetes technology weren’t exactly designed for wet, humid, and extreme sport environments. That’s includes JoAnne’s insulin pump. “I also had some issues with my insulin pump not sticking with the humidity and actually had to do a pump site change on the water and wrap it on really well with KT tape.”
Despite all the hassles, the Sea Peptide Salties all agree that their journey was nothing short of awesome.
“It was great going on a physically demanding adventure with other type 1s,” says Melissa. “It’s a relief to not be judged for needing a low blood sugar break or to replace pump sites that fall off from being wet all day.”
Erin loved the reactions from people that they met along the way. “They would ask where we were headed. The look of confusion and surprise was priceless as we told them that we were paddling 100 miles over four days. “Wilmington?!?! Really?!?! And you came from Myrtle Beach?!?! Really?!?!?! Is that even possible?”
“I also love the pace of life when you are up with the sunrise and you are outdoors all day until sunset with only one goal, to put in the miles. All of the multitasking and stress of managing a life in the city melts away and life is simple again.”
Not a bad experience for four people who agreed to go on an expedition before they even met. In fact, Erin’s already planning the next adventures.
November is World Diabetes Month, and as designated by the World Health Organization, November 14 is World Diabetes Day.
(Photo credits to Sea peptide Salties, Erin Spineto, Donna Wolf, Melissa Kauffman and JoAnne Brown)