Apalachicola National Forest, FLORIDA

Oh the diabetic rage in Apalachicola National Forest

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“I'm not angry
I'm not angry anymore”
—Elvis Costello

It doesn’t matter how cool and even-tempered a diabetic may be: there will eventually come a time when a blood sugar, or an unfortunate string of them, will enrage you. There was a lot to enjoy about my camping experience in the Florida panhandle on Day 25, but I must admit that an unaccountably high BG reading the next morning was a big let-down.

Having slept at a motel in Bay Minette, AL the night before, Masayo and I drove down small roads and, after getting lost a little bit and having to deal with a poorly-designed train crossing/traffic light on a desolate Sunday morning, finally made it down to the Gulf of Mexico coast of Florida to find a campsite in Apalachicola National Forest.

After another super-windy, almost undoable picnic on the beach, we made it to Wright Lake Campground, located next to its namesake lake in the middle of Apalachicola National Forest. I’d paid extra to make a reservation on recreation.org – my first time to use this service I just found out about. But I didn’t mind the extra $9 fee; I didn’t want to be stuck here with no place to sleep like we did in Joshua Tree National Park.

BG 105 before dinner at the campsite. A great diabetic night coming… or so I thought.

But it wasn’t necessary: there were several open campsites we could have used. Oh well, better safe than sorry.

We set up our tent and set out to make dinner; we had maybe an hour of daylight left. In fact, we were kind of nervous about this night since thunderstorms were forecast for about 7:00 the next morning. Our tent isn’t waterproof; we’d have to wake up and make breakfast early enough to get everything packed up and in the car by the time the rains come.

Dinner was nice: a can of Campbell’s chicken and sausage soup, plus Triscuits and hummus, mini carrots, applesauce, and a cereal bar. My BG before this was excellent, at 105.

And so, after a tasty meal, we were able to gaze upon our new surroundings and fully take them in: the deserts of Arizona and the boggy swamps of Louisiana are recent memories but a world apart from Apalachicola National Forest. This is the south that I grew up in (in Georgia): tall, thin pine trees reaching improbably high into the sky, their spent needles carpeting the ground surrounded by frisky green undergrowth that stretches into the visible distance on all sides. It was quiet tonight; there were only about three other camping parties and none was close to us.

It’s a nice campground though; a wooden building in the middle of the large circle of campsites has bathrooms and even showers. Right next to our campsite was a spigot with drinkable water.

We’re laughing ruefully because of the mosquitos buzzing all around us.

When night fell, the show really began. Apalachicola opened up and showed me some natural wonders I hadn’t anticipated. It’s hard to explain this to city folk – people like me from a month ago, who tend to hang out in urban areas and have lives centered around coffee, wristwatches, and the sounds of traffic – but even the simplest things gain a new beauty and importance on a road trip like this.

So, when the crescent moon revealed itself from behind clouds and beyond even Florida’s pine treetops, I was thrilled. This was supposed to be a grey and cloudy night, maybe windy and merely a way to pass the night at a low expense. But a moon show: well who can argue with that!

Wright Lake at dusk.

But it was later that the real show began: as a cacophony of ribbits and screeches pulsed from the area of Wright Lake (thirty feet away from out tent beyond some reeds and bushes), I saw small flashing green-yellow lights all around us. Fireflies!

As a southerner, and a grown-up, fireflies are nothing new to me. I liked catching them when I was a kid (I once let about a dozen loose in our living room and turned out the lights, thinking they might illuminate the entire room themselves, and was mystified when it didn’t really work). They’re part of the background, usually; you can see them as you walk to or from your car on spring nights. I enjoyed the firefly display in Kuala Selangor, Malaysia a few years ago. But mostly, my outlook on fireflies was like most other peoples’: yeah, so what?

An attempt to capture the fireflies with the camera.

It wasn’t that way tonight in the tent though. I climbed out to get an unbroken view of them, and there were a lot. The entire forest popped with their erratic and randomly-dispersed glows. The critter chorus from the lake was starting to die down, and the fireflies took center stage in this wild circus of the senses. I tried to take photos of them, fighting off a persistent mosquito and trying to focus on something I could barely see through the camera screen. (We’ve really got to buy some insect repellent but we keep forgetting.)

Stars came out too. I had it all. My BG before bed was even admirable: 111 exactly. Fearing an overnight drop I had a cereal bar; I figured I’d wake up in the low 100s.

Dawn came after a peaceful night. There was no rain, but it was cloudy and I couldn’t tell if the sun was actually up yet. Crawling out of the tent, I sat at our wooden picnic table, in the chilly grey and still dawn, to check my BG.

It was 287 mg/dL. My hopes were shattered.

The bathroom building at night.

I could see no reason for it. Everything was fine after dinner, and the cereal bar would have raised me to about 190, from where I should have fallen a little, as I’m used to. As I waited for Masayo to stir I got more and more annoyed at the high reading.

Dark thoughts and a hopeless anger started to fester. What’s the point of struggling for good BG when this happens? I know things don’t always work out, but this was hard to take. A lovely morning in a lovely place and I was robbed of my enjoyment of it.

Thanks a lot, diabetes. Man I was mad.

We made instant coffee and oatmeal with dried fruit, plus another cereal bar. It was good, I guess, and food always tastes better in an interesting environment. But I ate glumly, just getting it down for the sustenance and not any culinary appreciation. I took plenty of insulin for this meal, dialing up a few extra units to take care of the high that had started my day so poorly.

Colorfully dark sea scene in northwest Florida.

Soon we were heading down the road out of Apalachicola National Forest and back towards the coast. It never did rain, though it remained windy and cloudy. It took a couple of hours for my negative mood to lift. My memory of camping in Apalachicola is an almost entirely positive one: the moon, the lake, the fireflies, the quietness, the outsized trees all around. It was all good.

But I’d let diabetes get the better of me. It was only a short time, but my anger served no purpose. Once the anger dissipated I finally saw the need to keep an eye on those morning BGs and try to detect a pattern, then identify and take care of the problem. Reason, logic, analysis, patience: these are what helps with diabetes.

But sometimes, you just have to blow a gasket for your own sanity. Say what you want, but diabetes is never boring.

Do you get angry at blood sugars?
Share your travel stories, give advice, or ask a question in the comments section.

Next page: Day 29: Uncaring seagulls at Canaveral National Seashore

“I ended up with an extremely high blood sugar today, and it was because of a stupid mistake. Thankfully, Canaveral National Seashore was awesome enough to distract me.”

About the author

Jeremy has traveled to over 40 countries, taken several road trips across the United States (and Canada), and lived on and off in Japan for several years. He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1982 but doesn't let a little thing like that stop him from exploring the world.

Jeremy writes about his travels with diabetes on 70-130.com as a way of logging his excursions and of inspiring others who might be feeling hesitant to take their own big bite out of life.

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