So, a few days ago I received a message from a mother of a UC’er asking about people who had experience hiking the Appalachian Trail with ulcerative colitis. For those who don’t know, that particular trail is in the Eastern United States and runs from Georgia up to Maine. The length is around 2,200 miles or 3,500 km. Most people don’t hike the whole trail all at once, but for the purposes of this post, let’s consider any type of long(ish) hike whether it be a full day hike or multi day backpacking hike/trip.
I myself have never hiked the Appalachian Trail or AT as some call it, but I’ve done a bit of backpacking. But all my multi-day hiking has been post-ulcerative colitis diagnosis…so after October of 2008.
And that means…help is needed here once again.
What are some bits of advice for going on a hike with ulcerative colitis?
For me, the first automatic thought about being out in nature or away from “normal bathrooms” is the basic question of where, what and how will the whole “time to use the toilet” process work out?
As the AT has all sorts of resources online, they do in-fact have a section talking about “sanitation”. https://appalachiantrail.org/explore/plan-and-prepare/hiking-basics/health/
For example, this particular trail has quite an extensive amount of “huts/shelters” that long range hikers can sleep in or near. But, most of these shelters DO NOT have flush toilets. Instead, there are out-houses that are more or less an enlarged doghouse with a toilet-like sit-down-deal with a hole in the middle. Or some variation of that. But the point being, normal bathrooms often are not around when you are out in nature (or “the bush” as they say in Australia).
So, what they recommend is the following:
No one should venture onto the A.T. without a trowel or a wide tent stake, used for digging a 6- to 8-inch deep “cathole” to bury waste. Keep in mind the following guidelines when pooping in the woods:
-Bury feces at least 200 feet or 80 paces away from water, trails, or shelters.
-Use a stick to mix dirt with your waste, which hastens decomposition and discourages animals from digging it up.
-Used toilet paper should either be buried in your cathole or carried out in a sealed plastic bag.
-Hygiene products such as sanitary napkins should always be carried out.
-Use soap and water; hand sanitizers kill some germs but are not as effective against norovirus.”
For anybody UC or not, going to the bathroom out in the woods is quite a new experience, but as long as others aren’t walking by or checking you out, it can be much easier and relaxing than you think. I’ve got a bit of experience after 12 plus years of UC, and as long as the mosquitos are going too crazy, for sure anybody with UC can pull it off.
But, there are some much more complicated parts to hiking, especially multi-day hiking and UC medications.
Long Time in Nature and UC Medications
Now the topic of keeping up with medications and being out on the trail for several days or perhaps weeks/months. How does someone keep this squared away?
And are there any tricks to keeping your medications refrigerated and cool if they need to be stored a certain way while trying to tackle a long hiking trail?
Maybe there are some other ideas about medications and hiking, or extra hardcore exercise and UC meds that some folks have insight into..?
Go For It
It made me happy to read the email from the mother of the UC’er who will be hiking this coming summer. Looking back, it is pretty clear to me that no matter what my UC condition was prior to engaging in an outdoor nature relaxed activity, it was almost always better after spending time in the outdoors. Perhaps it has to do with the un-connected to modern-fast-paced society of “city-life”. Or maybe stress levels magically go down and un-activate the immune response when out in nature. Maybe it is from sitting around the campfire for too many hours somehow calms the colon. Or, maybe there is an unknown mystery we will never know that allows nature to help the UC tribe out.
If you have any thoughts on how to get the most from a long hike while managing UC, please lend a comment with your ideas. Not everyone has access to the Appalachian trail, but most people are able to find some hiking somewhat close to where you live. So pitch in on how to pull it off successfully with UC.
Happy trails and don’t forget your shovel,
I started site and the eNewsletter(you can join that below) shortly after being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in October of 2008 with severe pancolitis (when my whole colon was inflamed).
For me, it was a very rough start with severe symptoms. Getting bounced from medication to medication was not easy or too helpful. But, I did meet another UC’er, changes several parts of my diet, and of course the rest is history.
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