Many new ostomates wonder how to deal with their output on hikes, as we usually have to empty our appliances every 4-6 hours. The answer is to dig a “cathole.” This is the term commonly used by backpackers for a hole to bury feces in. Because this is a very important skill for any outdoor enthusiast with an ostomy (or IBD) to have, I created a short video to cover some of the basics.
I am guessing that I have dug around 500 catholes in the backcountry in my lifetime. As an ileostomate, I am increasing that number at a rapid rate. Gone are the pre-ulcerative colitis days of having 1 or 2 bowel movements in a day. Now I consistently empty my pouch around 6 times in 24 hours. On the trips when I don’t use closed-end pouches, that equals 48 catholes on a 7-day trip! Knowing how to properly dig a cathole to protect the environment and water sources is crucial.
On a three-day backpacking trip this past weekend, my husband and I finished our fifth and sixth 14ers (a peak above 14,000 feet) since the beginning of July. Most summers before this, I was lucky if I did one or two. I have definitely caught the 14er fever. Hiking these peaks has provided me with the perfect opportunity to get outdoors and challenge myself physically while still babying my abdominal muscles. Indoors, I do a battery of physical therapy exercises that safely strengthen my core. In concert, these two activities will prepare me for the more rigorous demands of technical rock climbing in the future.
While hiking these peaks, I have been amazed at how quickly I am progressing and getting my strength back. While I walked the first one at a turtle’s pace, I am now hiking the peaks briskly and with little fatigue. All these successful peak hikes have also made me realize how well I have adapted to my ileostomy. Managing my appliance on the trail using both closed-end and drainable pouches has become second-nature. Moreover, changing my wafer outdoors, which is one of the things I was most fearful of, has proved to be very similar to doing it indoors except that I must pack out the trash (and the views while changing are more spectacular).
However, one aspect of my ileostomy that still baffles me is figuring out how much water to drink. One function of the colon is to absorb water. When it is removed, the small intestine is able to adapt and take on some of this role, but not as well. Because of this, ileostomates must drink more water to avoid dehydration. It has not been unusual for me to drink 8+ quarts of water on some of my all-day hikes. Up to this trip, I have not had any issues with dehydration. However, conditions were different on this excursion. The temperatures while making the strenuous uphill hike to camp were in the 80s which is warm for the elevation we were at. Despite drinking almost 3 quarts of water (some of which included a sport drink mix) and eating plenty of snacks along the way, I got to camp with a headache and bad nausea. Before we proceeded to empty our backpacks and set up our tent, I sat in the shade and drank some more fluids. In about an hour, I felt better. I upped my water intake over the next two days and did not run into the problem again.
“How about going ziplining,” our friend suggested. My first thought was, Absolutely! That sounds fun, I have always wanted to try it. My second thought was, Wait, what about my ostomy? How will my pouching system hold up to zipping through the air in a harness attached to a cable? Not to mention that there won’t be any restrooms for three hours. What if my pouch explodes or leaks? Maybe I should hold off.
Some fears keep you alive– like being afraid to climb higher on a route because it is above your ability, or being terrified of a river crossing because you know it might sweep you off of your feet and send you into the rapids. But there are also those fears that don’t have such dire consequences. The ones that pop into our heads and stop us from doing things that would actually be rewarding and good for us.
I recognized that the fears that were trying to stop me from going ziplining were of the latter variety and purged them from my head. I knew I could go 4-5 hours before draining my pouch– even longer if I pushed it a bit and let my appliance fill up a tad more. I knew the harness would likely cause no problems and that I was strong enough for the adventure. There was no reason not to give it a try.
We signed up for a 5-stage tour through the tree tops at the Crested Butte ski resort. One of the rules was that you couldn’t carry anything in your hands, so I guzzled a bunch of water to avoid getting dehydrated. Then we met with our guides and harnessed up. Much to my delight, the bulky, adjustable one-size-fits all harnesses still worked fine with my pouch. The upper part of the hip belt sat well above my stoma, and the harness barely touched my appliance.
We never imagined how many views this blog might get, and we’re pleasantly surprised. Thank you to the many readers out there, and thanks to all the other bloggers who have cross-posted material from Ostomy Outdoors.
Now that we’ve been rolling out material for a couple of months, we realize the new follower could become overwhelmed, especially in the video department.
To that end, there’s a dedicated page called Adventure Videos, linked in the top menu bar. It lists all of our videos chronologically, starting with the short introduction that was created just after the idea of Ostomy Outdoors was hatched. As of today, there are eight separate clips (the epic backpacking chronicle had to be split into two parts).
So if there are some you haven’t seen yet, sit back, relax, and enjoy some adventure, Ostomy Outdoors-style.
I hope you’ll leave a comment here with your own outdoor tips, or anything at all you’d like to share.
Today was Bike to Work Day in Denver. I work up in the foothills, and my daily commute is 26 miles round-trip with roughly 2000 feet of elevation gain. Though I did successfully complete this lengthy excursion for this event last summer, I figured it would be a bit too much after surgery when I am not yet at full strength. Instead, I drove to the park-and-ride 5 miles from work, and made a shorter trip on my bike from that starting point. It ended up being perfect. The route had just enough uphill to work my muscles and get my heart rate up without making me too exhausted. As seems to be the case with all outdoor sports I have been trying so far, I had absolutely no issues with my appliance or ostomy. I wore my usual combo of a Nu Hope Cool-Comfort hernia prevention belt under Comfizz briefs to hold it in place. Over this, I wore the same chamois-padded mountain biking shorts I always wore before surgery. This may sound like a lot of layers, but I find it very comfortable, and I love the way my core muscles feel supported.
Actually, the funniest moment of the trip happened before I left the house. I sometimes get phantom urges where it feels like I have to take a BM even though it is physically impossible with my colon gone and everything sewn up. I got these sensations a lot in the first month after surgery; now I only feel them occasionally. Well, this morning as I was making breakfast and packing up when I witnessed one. Forgetting completely about my ostomy, I thought, “I better really try to go the bathroom before I leave, or I will be miserable holding it on the ride with no toilet possibilities on the way.” Then I remembered that this most definitely wouldn’t be an issue and laughed out loud! These are the moments when I really love having my ileostomy instead of ulcerative colitis!
Biking was not my only sport-related accomplishment this week. I also went for my first jog. I hadn’t really planned my grand entrance back into running. I figured my body would tell me when it was time. Well, last Monday, I gazed out the window and got this overwhelming urge to run. And so I did.
As my feet began to rhythmically hit the ground, I paid close attention to my abdomen. One of my silly fears with running was that my insides were going to shake like a maraca with all the space left where my colon once was. But, no, there were no strange sensations in my abdominal cavity. In fact, everything with running felt really natural, as if I had only been away from it for a few weeks and not almost a year. I went at a slow jog and interspersed it with walking as needed. I ended up going three more times during the past week, the last of which is filmed in the following video.
There is nothing as satisfying as knowing that you have faced a challenge and succeeded beyond your wildest hopes. That is how my recent four-day backpacking trip to Rocky Mountain National Park over Memorial Day weekend felt. We hiked 3.5 miles from the car and camped for three nights at 10,500 feet, exploring some of the neighboring terrain on day hikes. (The trip is chronicled in a two-part video: Episode 5.)
Throughout the whole trip, I kept having to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t in some spectacular dream, feeling so strong and healthy. Was it really only four months ago that I was still toting around a wound vac to heal my stubborn abdominal incision? At that time, my wound still hurt too much to even go on the shortest hike. Now here I was in the middle of the remote and snowy mountains, toting a backpack instead of my vac, immersed in the beauty of nature and feeling pretty much unstoppable.
What an amazing week of outdoor adventure it has been. We are still working on the video for our backpacking trip last weekend, as there is a lot of footage to sort through. We hope to get it on the site in the next week.
Until then, we created a short film covering a fun day-hike Doug and I completed along with Doug’s dad and our good friend. Shadow Canyon, leading to South Boulder Peak and Bear Peak in Boulder, Colorado’s famed Flatirons, has always been one of my favorite hikes. It is a challenging ascent that links up two peaks, and has around 3000 feet of elevation gain in a little over 3 miles. I have been day-hiking a bunch to get strong again, and figured I was finally up for something more strenuous. And was I ever! I could not believe how great I felt on the entire hike. Everyday I realize more and more how my diseased colon had held me back. Now that it is gone, I am blissfully getting used to my new “normal” and loving life!
There were a couple of new things to deal with on this excursion. One was scorching temperatures. The high today was 90 degrees–definitely my warmest hike since surgery. I had to really stay on top of hydration and ended up tanking up on water before getting to the trailhead, drinking about 4.5 liters of water on the actual hike and then guzzling another 1.5 liters when I returned home. I am finding that avoiding dehydration on the trail is not that difficult. It just takes planning to make sure you carry enough water, and then some self-discipline to make sure you drink, drink, drink.
It is crazy what goes through your mind before surgery. Of course, I was worried about all the big things like how painful surgery would be, and how well my stoma would function, and if I would have any complications. But many times, other goofy little worries would pop into my head that should not have been on my radar screen. One of those was whether or not I would be able to eat GORP.
GORP, or good old raisins and peanuts, was a staple of my wilderness diet. I would create all sorts of great mixes with dried fruit, nuts and a variety of chocolates and candies. Yet nuts and raisins are both on the list of foods to be cautious with when you have an ileostomy. I feared that I would never be able to take one of my favorite treats into the wilderness again.
On April 16, Doug and I headed out for our first post-surgery backpacking trip. We chose an easy and short route for the overnight excursion, though weather threw us a challenging curve ball. Still, it felt wonderful to be out there again. There was one other unexpected bonus: the campsite had a privy. After years of constantly scoping out the closest bathroom due to UC, it was funny to find one in the wilderness.
My biggest concern on the trip was keeping my pack light. I wanted to make sure I took it easy on this first excursion to let my body adjust to carrying a load of gear again.
I managed to get three days of snowboarding in this season which is more than I ever would have imagined!
Of course, one would hope that post-surgery improvement in sports would occur in a linear fashion, getting better and better each time. Unfortunately, that was not the case for me. My third day of snowboarding on May 8th (closing day at the resort) was the most frustrating. It had nothing to do with my ostomy, which once again caused no problems at all. The problem was hard-packed snow and not knowing how much beating up my body could handle.