By: Kerry Devine
Adventure travel is a dream for many, but for Graham Jackson it’s the sort of thing he’s been doing all his life. Born in the country of Lesotho in southern Africa (pronounced “Leh-zoo-too”), he grew up motocross racing and building off-road buggies with his father. When he was 10 years old, he and his family took a safari in a Range Rover across the expansive Kalahari Desert where zebras, lions, and giraffes are known to roam, and summer temperatures range from 68-113 degrees F-and occasionally reach as much as 122 degrees. It was a journey that influenced the course of Jackson’s life.
Jackson grew up to be a world traveler, with a promising career as a motocross racer ahead of him. In 1995 during a backpacking trip across Europe, the 21-year-old Jackson suffered a new kind of adventure: diabetic hyperglycemia. As he was crossing Greece, Jackson became severely dehydrated to the point he couldn’t sweat or swallow. He quickly found a doctor who tested his blood sugar and diagnosed him with type 1 diabetes. “He told me straight out that I did not want to be in a hospital in Greece, and suggested that I go someplace else,” remembers Jackson.
He took heed and immediately left for Austria where his parents were at the time, and spent a week in the hospital recovering before returning to his parents’ home in the UK. Back in London, he got what some might deem unconventional advice from a man with an ironic name: Dr. Reckless. Jackson recalls him saying, “You can continue your life as you are and take care of it, or you can try to change who you are to deal with it. I don’t advise changing who you are because you’re not going to do it.”
Jackson Carries On
Diabetes did not change who he was, but it did alter his life’s path. “They don’t give out racing licenses to diabetics,” he says. The young motocross hopeful was now sidelined forever. It was a blow that lasted a couple of months, but he stepped up to the task of taking care of his diabetes and soldiered on. “I have the Novolog stainless steel pen with changeable steel cartridges, and in fact I got that pen in Austria back in 1995 when I first got diabetes, and I’ve been using it ever since.” His first long-acting insulin turned out to be unstable, and he has since switched to Lantus. Currently he is considering a switch from his trusty OneTouch meter to the iBGStar, which communicates with the iPhone.
Motorcycle racing may not have been part of his life any longer, but he refused to allow his diabetes to slow him down. “I’m pretty pragmatic, and saw it as something you don’t like but have to do.” He earned his BS in Environmental Chemistry from the Colorado School of Mines and was a scientist now, but the impression of his youthful trek across the Kalahari Desert would never leave him. After marrying his longtime girlfriend in 1998, there was only one thing to do: a safari honeymoon. The day after their wedding they began their journey in a Land Rover, a trip that covered 3,000 miles in four weeks, crossing into four different countries.
They enjoyed it so much, they decided to do it again six years later, this time leaving from London and traversing the entire west coast of Africa to Cape Town, South Africa, a 30,000-mile journey that crossed 19 countries on two continents. A lot can go wrong for a diabetic away from home that long, but Jackson was prepared. He took a year’s supply of insulin, test strips, and supplies for what he estimated would be a six-month trip that extended into nine months. “We went for 50 percent safety factor,” he says, essentially doubling the amount he expected he’d need, which turned out to be a good policy.
Oddly enough, it was when he was living comfortably at home in Denver when Jackson had his worst moments. Jackson had stopped at a grocery store during a commute home from work when his glucose level plummeted, and he became delirious. As he left the parking lot the police were tipped off that something was wrong. “All I remember is looking in the rear view mirror and seeing the [police] lights and thinking I had to get out of their way,” and in doing so was involved in a series of car accidents. Luckily, no one was hurt. Now with his change to Lantus and more frequent glucose testing, he’s got it under control. “Given what could have happened, it was incredibly lucky for me.”
Live Life Without Limits
Today, Jackson plans out his adventures as a guide for No Limit Expeditions, taking would-be explorers on fascinating week-long excursions through the jungles of Central America and other locales in a mix of camping and luxury lodges, visiting places like Maya ruins that are otherwise unreachable. When venturing so far from civilization, he plays it safe by having a simple plan and sticking to it. In addition to bringing extra insulin and supplies, he keeps his glucose under control with granola bars by day (ideal with limited luggage space) and glucose tablets at night. Checking his blood sugar at midnight helps him deal with the irregular meal times and carb counts that come with camping for several days. “I came up with what would make Connie feel comfortable, and that was basically that I test more often when I’m down there.”
He makes sense of the choice presented to him years ago by Dr. Reckless by not adapting his life to his diabetes, but rather by adapting his diabetes care to his life. “Learn about your diabetes, understand what it does to you, and understand how to take care of it.” The former motocross hopeful is happy with how things have turned out, and takes the No Limit Expeditions catchphrase, “Live Life Without Limits,” to heart. “There’s not a lot that I’m limited in doing, so I’m pretty happy that I can do what I do.”
You can learn overlanding (vehicle expedition) skills from Graham Jackson at the Overland Expo in Flagstaff, Arizona in May, or join him on a future adventure by visiting www.nolimitx.com.