How to Bike Across America with Type 1 Diabetes

The DiabetesAbroad team is joining a wave of everyday athletes who are cycling across America to prove we can achieve anything.

The DiabetesAbroad team, consisting of three team members, are cycling from Yorktown, Virginia to finish in Vancouver Island, British Columbia. We plan on providing daily updates (as long as internet is available) along with resources so anyone can go on a long-distance cycling trip in the future.

This joins a movement of cyclist teams from Novo Nordisk to Beyond Type 1 who believe that people living with diabetes can become athletic champions.

Answering the First 10 Questions that Everyone Asks

I want to begin this article by saying "thank you" to Adventure Cycling and acrazyguyonabike for being sources of inspiration and resources for cyclists in America. Every role model in our life deserves acknowledge as much as possible.

Q1: Why are you cycling across America?

A: Each year I try to take on a challenge that pushes me both physically and mentally. In 2016, a high school friend of mine and I trained for 8 months to go from being able to run a 5K to crossing the finish line of the Copenhagen Marathon.

I knew Annalisa had biked across America before and thought that now more than ever we need to see and understand our country. She agreed and said that there is no better way than by bike.

As diabetics we always hear “you can do anything.” I want to encourage everyone to be the example others look as living proof.

Q2: Who are you going with?

A: The DiabetesAbroad team consists of Annalisa van den Bergh (type 1), Taylor Gordan, and Erik Douds (type 1).

Erik and Annalisa met in New York City through "The New York Type 1 Diabetes Meetup Group," while Taylor hails from New Orleans as a medical student interested in this journey. You can find out more about each rider:

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Annalisa Van Den Bergh is no novice to life on two pedals. She returns to the Transamerica Trail to complete the loop she started in her teenage years from San Francisco.

Along the way, she is capturing the photos of everyone she meets.

@ANNALISAVDBERGH

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Taylor Gordan joins the team from New Orleans as a medical student. She may not 100% know it, but Taylor is about to become an expert in wilderness medicine for type 1 diabetic patients.

She promises to bring the team to at least one wedding while on the trail.

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Erik Douds is an endurance athlete and travel leader with type 1 diabetes. His diagnosis at the age of 16 taught him that nothing in life should be taken for granted.

He works alongside organizations such as JDRF and Diabetes Sports Project on topics of health and wellness.

Q3: How long, what is the route, daily travel commitment?

A: We are following the Transamerica trail from the Atlantic to Pacific Coast. That means dipping the back wheel into the ocean at Yorktown, VA and then finishing in Astoria, Oregon when we reach the Pacific.

The trip is going to take 3 months with roughly 60 miles each day. Some days are going to be slower, like when climbing the hills of Missouri, while the flat planes of Kansas are going to allow for longer, further days.

Erik is then going a bit further to join the Canadian non-profit Connected in Motion for a week-long hike in Vancouver Island with a group of hikers with diabetes.

Q3: Can you predict any challenges that you're preparing for?

  • Challenge #1Low blood sugars. Cycling is an endurance sport that drives our blood sugar down throughout the day. You can read how cyclists without diabetes are concerned about "the bonk" or what happens when cycling on an empty stomach. Our blood sugar can go so low that we could pass out while riding. There are instances of athletes with type 1 diabetes becoming low, losing their ability to focus, and crashing during races. The fear is very real.
  • Challenge #2: Managing nutrition. A good way to spot an athlete with diabetes verse one without the condition is the amount of food in the jersey pockets. We are going to burn roughly 4,000-5,000 calories per day if we cycle for eight hours. That means properly fueling throughout the day and timing that appropriately with our blood sugars to optimize performance and prevent low blood sugars along with high blood sugars. There is a constant balance between carbohydrates needed for fuel with insulin required as medical treatment.

  • Challenge #3: Unexpected emergencies. Any situation can quickly escalate being an athlete with type 1 diabetes. A low blood sugar can be a small annoyance if you have the proper food to treat it. Without this fuel, this situation can turn into a life-threatening emergency. Emergencies can become complicated as dehydrating combines with blood sugar management.

Q4: Where are you going to sleep and wash?

A: Who says we are going to wash?? Although we are packing tents to carry on our bikes, we are planning to use the kindness of strangers to find warm places to sleep at night. The trail has been around since 1976, thus Route 76 as the official name, and many churches and organizations have built little hostels for nomads. There is even a grandmother who is known as the “Famous Cookie Lady” that has welcomed thousands into her home over the years.

Useful resources:

Q5: What area/ city /vista are you looking forward to seeing?

A: As a boy born and raised in New Jersey, and living in New York City, “small town America” is something that almost feels like it is out of a storybook. I am really excited to spend time outside of urban areas to experience how millions of Americans live every single day. I hope to finish this trip having a better sense of the country I call “home.”

Q6: How did you meet and decide to make this trip together?

A: Annalisa and I met during a potluck for a diabetic group in New York City that she hosted on her roof. There were many great friends that I made that night. This group hosts about 1 or 2 dinners each month in Manhattan or Brooklyn as a chance for people living in the city with diabetes to kick back and relax.

Q7: Would you be willing to do this trip alone?

A: The short answer: no. Although I am someone that appreciates spending time by myself, all my races and adventures are about the people that come along for the adventure. I have spent time traveling to countries like Thailand and Cambodia by myself, and you meet amazing people along the way. However, there is something magical about going on an adventure with a group.

Q8: How important is partnering or relying on a companion to make this trip possible?

A: I think more than anything, having another person is important for the mental aspect of the trip. You can have someone there to help push you through the tough times, which I’m sure there will be many, and someone to keep your spirits lifted.

Q9: What mindset do you have for making it all the way?

A: James and I had a running motto of “everything or bust.” That means giving something 100% or why do it at all? Sometimes, something will come up that truly prevents us from reaching the finish line, but the biggest obstacle in life is ourselves. We must keep pushing forward to continue growing in life.

The Postcard Campaign offers handwritten updates from the trail for every ten dollar contribution. Click the image to learn more or follow this link (ends August 18th): www.diabetesabroad.com/postcard

The Postcard Campaign offers handwritten updates from the trail for every ten dollar contribution. Click the image to learn more or follow this link (ends August 18th): www.diabetesabroad.com/postcard

Q10: How can I support this trip and follow along?

First, making it this far and reading about the journey is an honor. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Anyone can get updates from the trip by signing up in the newsletter box below. We are planning to send out daily messages as long as there is internet.

If you are feeling personally moved by this adventure of a lifetime that you can get a handwritten postcard from the trail, while also supporting our team. Click here to view our postcard campaign.

Finally, any brands that have a physical product can set up an interview and see if there is a match to bring something along for this international endurance challenge. We are expecting to send out approximately 10 resupply boxes that will be filled with health products, protein bars, recovery items, new gear, and mementos from home.