Snowed in with the Type 1 Community


Editor’s Note: Kelsey is a member of Beyond Type 1’s Global Ambassador Council and Riding on Insulin is a grantee of Beyond Type 1. See here for other Beyond Type 1 grantees and portfolio programs.

This weekend, I flew to California to volunteer at a Riding on Insulin camp at Kirkwood Mountain, about an hour outside of South Lake Tahoe. Talk about an adventure.

As we drove up to Kirkwood Mountain on Thursday, I couldn’t believe the amount of snow that appeared almost out of nowhere on either side of the road. By the time we reached our destination, my mind was blown. I grew up on a mountain, so I’m pretty used to snow. But this was unlike anything I had ever seen. Thankful that my friend Dustin, who works for Riding on Insulin, is from Montana and used to driving in the snow, we made our way to the cabin and the other coaches started arriving.

Friday night brought families from all over California and even some from across the country who had flown in just for Riding on Insulin. I love the excitement that fills the room as kids with type 1 diabetes and their families hear about what the next day of skiing and snowboarding will bring. I was especially excited to meet some of the other volunteers for the weekend—including some of the Beyond Type 1 staff who I had gotten to know through the type 1 diabetes (T1D) online community, texting, Instagram and the Beyond Type 1 app—but had never met in person! I was giddy with excitement to meet Dana and Mary and definitely hug tackled both of them. (Sorry, not sorry, guys.)

Up bright and early on Saturday, we filled up on breakfast carbs and protein and headed to “home base” to meet our teams. I was paired up with an awesome medical volunteer, Paula, who has worked at diabetes camps for years and we immediately hit it off.  It was seriously a blast to work with Paula all day as she showed just as much as enthusiasm cheering on a camper as she did setting temp basals. We hit the bunny hill with our group of six beginner skiers, four of which have type 1. To say we had a great day is definitely an understatement. These kiddos were stoked to be there and eager to learn to ski. Watching their faces after they successfully got on a chairlift for the first time was priceless.

Our day was completed with blue skies and relatively calm winds down at the bunny hill. By the time we headed in for dinner, the cloud cover had moved in and the wind was picking up. We knew a storm was coming but none of us predicted what would happen next.

We headed back to the cabin, down a small side road and pulled ourselves and our bags up the already steep, at least 10 foot snowbank in front of the path to the door. I love spending time with the other coaches, all of whom have type 1 and most of whom work in the diabetes community. All exhausted from a day of riding, we packed up, ready to drive the two and a half hours back to the airport in the morning, and headed to bed.

I woke up next to a completely white window. I could hear some of the other coaches talking downstairs about road closures. Not knowing what exactly was going on I went downstairs, still thinking we would be on our way to the airport in a few hours. The storm that hit overnight was of epic proportions. In just 12 hours, our car was entirely covered, our road snowed in, and the glass door of our second story living room showed snow packed nearly to the top. All roads leaving the mountain were closed with “no estimated time open” (a term we all came to despise). It was clear that for now, we were stuck. We changed our flights out of Sacramento to that evening, hoping that the roads would open early afternoon and we could make it down the mountain in time.

Mid-morning, we were able to dig out our cars and drive a mile up the road to the ski resort. Some of the coaches took advantage of being stuck on the mountain and hit the slopes. Meanwhile, it was becoming clear that the roads would not open in time for us to leave that afternoon, and we started questioning just how long it would be until we were able to drive out. We all became very thankful that we all packed enough insulin to get us through the next couple days and for the extra low blood sugar treatments that were left over from ROI camp. We stocked up on some food and headed back to the cabin.

After scaling the now much taller snowbank to get to the front door (at times successfully digging out snow stairs, other times using a pick-axe to hoist ourselves up) we spent the evening watching 80s movies and making arrangements for flights/work/commitments. Thankful that we were in a safe, warm, place with plenty of diabetes supplies between the four of us with type 1, it could definitely be worse. We constantly checked for updates, the roads showing no sign of opening and the snow, no sign of stopping. We fell asleep hoping to wake up to clear skies and roads.

Day two, I woke up to, if possible, even more snow outside my window. Roads still weren’t open, with no ETO, and we spent a few hours wondering how long this would last.

My favorite part of all of this was who we were stuck with. Yes, we were snowed in and all wanted to get back home to our families and jobs. But the diabetes community is a small world and our little adventure proved it. This Monday morning, I woke up, went downstairs, grabbed my computer and set up Chris Dudley Foundation shop next to Dana from Beyond Type 1. Later, Dustin from Riding on Insulin joined us in the kitchen. Complete with coffee, laptops, notebooks and planners, we spent a couple of hours working. While we were all working on our own projects, it was clear that we all have the same goals and missions of serving people living with type 1 diabetes. I learned so much from both Dana and Dustin this weekend. I expected to come home from this trip tired, but didn’t anticipate the inspiration I would gain. But as I’m on my way back to Portland, I’m fired up. I’m ready to hit the ground running. Being around the kids, as well as the other nonprofits in the diabetes world reminds me what we all do this for and how grateful I am for my job with the Chris Dudley Foundation and that I get to work in this community.

We were able to drive out around 11 a.m. and made it down the mountain to the airport with no issues. It wasn’t the weekend any of us expected, but it was definitely one we will always remember.

This story was originally published on More than a Number.

Read I Love Riding on Insulin Camps by Isaac Jensen.

Read more from Kelsey here.

WRITTEN BY Kelsey Tullis, POSTED 03/07/17, UPDATED 10/07/22

Kelsey was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1999 at 7 years old. She has worked and volunteered for numerous camps for children with type 1 diabetes (T1D) including Gales Creek Camp, Riding on Insulin and the Chris Dudley Basketball Camp. Kelsey joined the Chris Dudley Foundation full time in January of 2016 as the community relations coordinator. Fun fact? Kelsey has been to eight Taylor Swift concerts!