I want to start off by saying this is not a happy fun camping post showing photos of pretty locations, sunrises, sunsets and maybe a random animal. This is a post about me and living the life I live and camping with an inflammatory disease called ulcerative colitis.
Prologe – Colitis history, can skip to ‘this is where it starts’ if only interested in the camping related story:
I have been wanting to tell this story for quite some time, in hopes that it will possibly help someone in some way who may be experiencing issues that might inhibit them from doing the things they love. I am not looking for sympathy, suggestions, advice or any of the like. My only objective in publishing this post is to share my story, as I normally do, in hope of inspiring others.
In 2003, I was living in Niagara Falls and working as a server in a few different restaurants. Life was moving along. I had a nice house, good friends and what I thought was an okay life. I honestly don’t remember how it began, but like a bout with the flu, one day you are fine, the next you are in the bathroom 5, 10, 15, 20, 30 times a day and you wonder what you ate or what awful person gave you ‘that bug’ you can’t seem to shake. I would literally eat and as the saying goes, it would go right through me, like within minutes on some days, in and out.
My Doctor told me I had the flu and put me on a clear fluids diet. I was on that clear fluids diet waitressing 3 jobs for almost 6 weeks. I lost 43 lbs and was down to a size 1, the smallest I’d ever been and I was very unhealthy. I couldn’t keep food in me at all and could not gain any nutrients and it was awful. I was constantly nauseous and hungry and just sick all the time.
I began doing research on the computer, yes, we had them back then, but it was time consuming and not nearly as easy as it is today. Still, I persisted and believed from almost the start I had Ulcerative Colitis. I went into chat groups, talked to others and learned everything I could. I booked a colonoscopy and had to wait 3 months. At the rate I was going, I might be close to death by then. They wouldn’t give me any medication until the colonoscopy confirmed what I already knew, so the only thing I could do, was manage my diet. Most believed that colitis was triggered by two main things, stress and diet, except for that one doctor I fired after our first consult. LOL. He thought food had no impact on colitis…. what?
I was desperate. I needed to pay my mortgage, my bills and it was very hard waitressing in restaurants when food was making me sick, so I had to find a solution on my own. Many people I’d met online suggested a food journal so I could find my triggers, so it began.
I had a small booklet that I wrote in every day. I wrote every single thing I ate and started with only one food. Day 1: Dry Toast. Day 2: Toast with butter. Day 3: Toast with butter and strawberry jam. TRIGGER. Each day I would add only one new food item and went by suggestions of what the triggers would be from what I’d learned in my research. The main ones being, nuts, seeds, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, dairy, spicy food and greasy food. My personal triggers included cooked fruit and vegetables and even juices. Basically, I had to eat unhealthy foods until my colon healed and I was out of the flare and without medication this was not easy to resolve, but I had no other options, so I continued on, learning what my new body loved and hated, what made it have cramps and/or immediately rejected it.
By the time I had my colonscopy 3 months later, I had healed quite a bit of my colon. My symptoms were still bad but I was keeping certain foods in me and getting some type of energy from it and had a very good idea of what I could and couldn’t eat without issue. The colonoscopy, an entirely horrible event all in it’s own, confirmed what I had told the doctors all along, I had UC, Ulcerative Colitis and needed medication. I went on Asacol taking 12 pills a day and reduced them significantly after about 6 months. I continued eating what I now knew wouldn’t hurt me and in no time I was out of my flare. By the end of 2004, I was back to my old self, more or less. I had gained some weight back and I was now going to the bathroom maybe two or three times a day as opposed to 20 or 30 as I was in the height of the illness. Soon, I was totally off the medication and good to go.
I watched what I ate over the years, eating trigger foods once and a while with no issues. Every so often I would eat too many things that weren’t on my approved list and I would have issues, I would cut back and be okay again in no time and so life went on.
In 2011, I went for one of my follow up colonoscopies and was told that my colon looked great and I didn’t have to book another colonoscopy for 5 more years. I continued doing what I was doing and everything was good. Every so often I would forget I had colitis and eat things over and over again that were triggers and eventually they would catch up to me and cause issues. I would learn my lesson, eliminate those things and move on once again.
In 2014 I tried green smoothies, totally forgetting I even had colitis anymore. It was a very bad choice. After 4 days on green smoothies, the colitis came back in full force and didn’t let go. I had to go back on medication and it took me almost a year to get back to where I was. From then on, the symptoms came back on and off and I had to be even more mindful of my body and the things it told me.
In July of 2015, I started my blog and Camper Christina was born. I began adventuring on a weekly basis and spending as much time outdoors as possible, year round.
This is where the camping part of this story begins:
I consider myself lucky to have had to initially wait 3 months for my first colonscopy. It was hell, but it forced me to keep my food journal and note every single thing that bothered me and didn’t. From then on, my mind always knew what was what and what I needed to be cautious of. For example, if I wanted ice cream, I would have to consider where I was and if a bathroom would be nearby, just in case. If I was planning a trip, what foods could I eat that would let me mostly sleep through the night etc etc.
Camping with colitis is difficult in some cases, but super easy in others.
Camping with colitis is easy because when I am in the backcountry, I am usually alone and in a remote place, most of the time. As long as I have my little shovel with me and some TP and some ziplocks, I am good to go. (things any good colitis camper has with them always). I can dig a hole pretty much anywhere as long as it’s the suggested distance from a water source or a trail and I have no issues. Done and done.
In the city, this is much harder. I have to actually locate places with washrooms and not only places with washrooms but places that will allow me to use their washroom and places that the washroom isn’t on the 2nd story of a giant maze to get there, for example Zehrs or Superstore. They tend to put their washrooms up on the top floor which you have to first ascend a spiral staircase in front of everyone, so if you don’t make it, people will see you, then walk along a hallway, again, in sight of the entire store, to get to the washroom. This makes porta pottys my favorite. Yes, they smell and they are more or less unpleasant, however, you can literally pull off a road or highway and are experiencing relief almost instantly. These are the things I think about on a regular basis and on most trips I venture out on.
So, in the backcountry the biggest issue of ‘going’, is almost always easy and covered making backcountry camping easier with colitis than real life in most cases.
However, backcountry camping with colitis has other issues in store for colitis that make it more difficult.
For starters, the food. A very large amount of camping food, trail food, etc, is super high in fiber which is the opposite for me, as it is for everyone else. Yes, it gives you energy, many types are non perishable, it is easy to carry, easy to pack and all those awesome things, but it’s also horrible for me colitis-wise and so I tend to stay away from it on trips. There is a decent chance that I could eat some trail mix, or a granola bar, etc, and be perfectly fine because at the stage I’m at, I usually have to eat something bad repetitively before things go south, but as most times I’m not in a convenient place, such as paddling on a lake for an hour in a canoe, on a portage with other people, in a dry suit….. (worst!), I don’t even attempt to test that theory out and avoid all the things. Did I mention dry suits are the worst?
So for my snacks, I pack things like chocolate chip cookies, fudgeos, corn chips, chocolate etc. These things do not give you a lot to go on and therefore it is harder for me to do as much as I want to as I don’t have those nuts or seeds or fruit or things that give the nutrients my body needs to push harder and do more.
When I do succumb to attempting to consume some of these things, I often regret them and instead of my body getting those nutrients I need, the item is rejected almost immediately from my body and instead of feeling better, I feel much much worse because I’ve not only eliminated the item that was supposed to help me, but anything else that was inside of me, giving me energy along with it, and now I am also feeling nauseous and dehydrated, maybe a bit sad or down due to what happened, and just overall drained. You know that feeling you get when you have the flu and you just want to curl up in a ball and watch Netflix all day, but here I am 2 portages and 2 lakes away from my campsite, so the show must go on, so on I go.
Nightime is generally difficult for me and pretty much the hardest part, except for winter camping which is obviously harder. Regardless of whatever I eat, I almost always need to visit the privy at least once in the middle of the night, lately, like on my Temagami trip, when symptoms were worse, it was more like 3, 4 and 5 times a night. This doesn’t leave much time for sleeping and resting which many times on portaging trips, is something I desperately need. I’m already low on energy due to the inefficient foods I need to consume to avoid the issues, but with lack of sleep added, I really am not in the best situation. When my body should be repairing and restoring itself, something I badly need on these difficult portage trips, it’s doing the opposite.
The last 5 years or so, even though most of my symptoms are in remission, I still have continued to have a symptom of extreme urgency when I wake up in the morning. Basically, within a minute or two of my body becoming upright, this includes just sitting up to get out of my sleeping bag, I need to go. So if my zipper gets stuck on my sleeping bag, or my tent, or I can’t get my shoes on fast enough, or put on a rain coat or jacket when it’s raining, I am doomed for an accident. This has been one of my biggest hurdles to get over when I’m camping and one of the unrevealed, until now, reasons, I prefer to camp solo. I have made a few modifications to things to assist this from happening, but it is always on my mind when I am lying down to sleep at night. Things I do to try and prevent any issues from happening is ensuring the toilet paper is by the door, the zipper is in a certain place on the tent, the flashlight is in my pocket in case it’s still dark, and my shoes are in the same spot, pre-tied at the door but not too tight so I can slip them on. I also have to sleep on my back as it gets closer to morning. I have even, in some instances, slept with my raincoat or rain pants on, because if it’s pouring rain when I run out, I’m getting soaked. I don’t have time to do anything when I wake up except hurry as fast as I can to wherever the privy is or wherever the hole is that I predug the night before. The funny part about this is, it happens every single time I wake up. So, if I get up at 5am, and go through it, then decide to go back to sleep until 6:00 or 7:00, it happens again then, and again if I go back to sleep again. For this reason, I always pack lots of extra underwear and ziplocks in case I don’t survive the departure in a timely fashion.
The hardest thing for me to do with colitis, is winter camping. Not only do I have to do all the pre mentioned things above, but I have to also get my coat on and make sure I have my gloves, my hat and am warm enough while I am out at the privy. If I am on crown land or in a place that doesn’t have a privy, I have to predig my hole and ensure everything is totally set for me to just get up and go. Also, getting up in the night is one thing, but doing so when it’s -20 or more, is so much harder. But I do all these things to follow my dreams and live my passions. Again, I am not looking for sympathy and am not complaining, I just want people to understand, the struggle is real, and some things can be overcome if you want them badly enough. I know there are others in worse situations, and I don’t know how they handle it, this is just my story and how I deal with it.
I am perfectly aware that this is not a pleasant post for anyone to read. It is not one for me to write either, however, it was one that I believe needed to be written. I have contemplated writing this post for years now and I finally think it’s time. I want to get it out there. I want people to know, things aren’t always easy. Things aren’t always as they seem. I have issues and going camping isn’t always an easy thing for me to do, but it is my heart and it is my passion and due to that, I do whatever I have to do to make it work. I want people to know that you can do things you love too, even if you have obstacles in the way. Yes, it might be hard, maybe even embarrassing or something you don’t want to hear about or talk about, but if it helps just one person, then it is worth it to me.
I have had an amazing run here on CamperChristina.com over the last 3.5 years. I have published at least one blog post every single week since my very first post in July of 2015. I believe this may very well be my last official weekly written blog post. I have some seriously wonderful and dedicated readers here at CamperChristina.com, however, the views have been declining greatly over the last few years and it seems to me that people are far more interested in the video versions of the trip, than the written version. As I become busier, it has been extremely difficult to keep all the balls in the air, so to speak, and something has to give. It actually breaks my heart to stop writing my weekly posts, however, my energy will now be focused on another type of writing which I will be announcing in the next year if all goes well. In the meantime, I will continue to publish posts here as I see fit, such as instructional posts or some that are needed to be written, as well as put to video. The blog will continue to be here to view all previous posts and I will be posting to it occasionally as mentioned above, but just not on a regular weekly basis.
I am truly grateful for every view, every comment and every kind word I’ve received through this medium and hope that everyone can understand how difficult this decision is for me. I encourage you to check out my youtube channel which will still give the same accounts of my travels, but in video format. I hope everyone can understand and will support me in this very tough decision.