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Preparing for A Backpacking Trip to Iceland!

The streets of the city of Reykjavik, Iceland

In the fall of 2016, our son, Morgan, flew through Reykjavik, Iceland, on his way to study abroad. He was in the country for only 36 hours, so didn’t get a chance to see much of anything beyond the city. He promised himself that he would get back to Iceland to see all of its natural beauty sometime in the future.

The future is now! For two weeks in August, he and my husband, Robert, are going to share a trip of a lifetime backpacking in Iceland! The preparation for this trip has taken almost 9 months to put together, and the food is almost the least of it.

Iceland is part of the European Union, so it wasn’t necessary to fly to an embassy here in the USA to obtain a Visa. Both already have passports, so that box was checked easily.

Both also carry medications, and Iceland has strict requirements of medications being in the original prescription box and the medication must not expired. This has required some work on Morgan’s part.

Morgan is now in the work world, and has his own medical insurance. He needed to find an allergist in the Denver area, where he now lives, to obtain current prescriptions for Albuterol, a steroid inhaler and his Auvi-Q’s. This was a big step because he has only seen one allergist his entire life, and she retired just as he was graduating from college. He wanted to find the same wonderful care he had received from her, and as luck would have it, he found an allergist that had trained with her many years ago! His enormous history in three medical files was copied and sent to this new allergist. Morgan forewarned the doctor that there was 20+ years of appointments, skin prick tests and reactions to pore over. All went well with the new patient appointment, and as a Mom, I’m thrilled Morgan has found a very capable allergist to continue his care!

Since Morgan flew Icelandair previously, and had no difficulties at all, they decided to fly the same airline. Morgan always brings his own food on airplanes, and doesn’t expect to be served a safe meal. They don’t serve peanuts on flights, which is great!

The next step was to figure out what the father/son duo were going to pack to bring with them on the airplane. Robert and Morgan have an annual week long camping trip each summer in the Lake City area of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. It is a trip they both look forward to every year. They have all the gear (and then some!) that they would need to camp in the Rockies. However, Iceland is a little different in that they don’t allow campfires. So, they will be renting a camping stove in Iceland, along with tables and chairs. And they will bring jet boils for water heating.

Everything in Iceland is expensive – food, camping equipment and sleeping bags. They will be bringing as many supplies as they can fit in their suitcases while ensuring the bags are under the weight limit. Even frying pans from Walmart will be packed in their luggage!

They plan on purchasing an abundance of their food in Iceland as they travel from location to location; however, as a backup they are also bringing Mountain House brand freeze dried food that just need hot water added. This too will be packed in their luggage. They don’t want to risk trying to find freeze dried food in Iceland, since this brand may not be available. Mountain House is the only brand that we have found that doesn’t have Morgan’s allergens – peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, fish and shellfish.

In Iceland, camping is allowed only in designated camping sites. The good news is that there are no bugs, spiders, mosquitos or snakes. And the only animals are arctic fox, mice, rabbit and reindeer – so nothing warranting concern for an animal getting aggressive like bears will in the Rockies.

Since Iceland is known for its fishing and a fish-oriented diet, they will be taking extra caution with Morgan’s anaphylactic fish allergy. Morgan can’t even stand the smell of fish, so shopping in stores or markets may get interesting!

This is a trip of a lifetime, and the two are SO excited for this adventure! I will be reporting back with a blog post after they return, and I’m sure the two of them will be providing many pictures and commentary too.

Stress and Mast Cell Activation

white blood cell. mast cell or a mastocyte, labrocyte. mast cells are the cells responsible for causing allergic reactions or anaphylaxis, also aide in the healing of wounds and defense against invading pathogens.

There are many stresses in our world that can cause a mast cell to degranulate: pollens, chemicals, foods, illness, injury and even good old emotional “stress.” If you have a mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) diagnosis, being mindful of stress is key to keeping your condition from negatively affecting your life.

I have found that there are some stresses that are more easily managed, such as the foods that I eat or the chemicals that are in my home. I make sure that I never “cheat” with foods. I know which foods I can tolerate, and I always maintain my diet with only those organic foods. Is it hard to be that vigilant? Yes, it is! However, I know my body well enough now to understand that adding any extra stress doesn’t make me feel good, and certainly puts my physical and mental health at risk if a stressor comes along that I can’t foresee.

My husband and I have recently begun using only non-toxic products in our house for cleaning. We’ve found that the Better Life brand is great, and they have every kind of product you can think of for glass cleaning, dusting, dishwasher soap, etc. (By the way, I’m not receiving any funding for this endorsement. It’s based purely on my experience.)

Other stresses are more difficult to learn how to manage. I’ve gotten better through the years to be able to recognize when my work is creating too much of a burden on my time, thereby creating stress. I am blessed to be able to work out of my home, which assists not only with the environment in which I work, but also that I can make my own foods in my own kitchen, and I can take a 20 minute afternoon nap if I feel so inclined.

I can’t stop the spring or fall pollen flares, but I can be mindful of increasing my use of antihistamines, taking a shower before bed, and keeping the windows of my home closed and the air conditioning on. All of these actions help to lower the stress load of pollens on my body.

Having an allergic reaction to a bee sting last summer created a storm of mast cells that necessitated a round of Prednisone to calm down the reaction. Any type of allergic reaction creates tremendous stress on the body, and especially for those of us with MCAS. I am always aware of bees in my environment since I’ve had a bad reaction previous to this one, and I carry an Auvi-Q in case the reaction is severe. Sometimes, though, a bee comes out of nowhere which is what occurred with this sting.

Late last year, I got a case of bronchitis that lasted 6 weeks, and left only after taking an antibiotic, which I haven’t had to take in over 12 years. The stress of the illness plus the medication was difficult for my body to recover from, and my mast cells were trying to be helpful by degranulating. Instead, I felt sick to my stomach in addition to coughing! Bodies do heal, and slowly I got better.

Also, over this past year, I have twice had injuries. I fell on a gravel path last year, spraining my ankle. It took months to get back to “normal” of being able to walk. My mast cells reacted for about two weeks with a storm of activity while my nervous system responded to the bruising and swelling of my ankle. I increased my Ketotifen to calm down my system, and took care of myself. Because of my sensitive stomach, I’m unable to take any type of pain medications – even Tylenol or Advil – without having more mast cell degranulation. Therefore, I get the opportunity to rest, breathe into the pain and to heal instead of taking pain medication and moving back into life right away.

Last week, I was in a car accident when a 1/2 ton truck ran into my car going 40+ mph. I thankfully was able to walk/limp away from the accident, however my car was totaled. The impact on my muscles, and the bruises that continued to show up for days, showed me what a stress the accident had put on my body. Sometimes, there’s nothing we can do when a big stressor shows up. I’m very grateful that my body had been doing really well with no illnesses or issues for a good 5 months before the accident occurred. And it’s been a difficult recovery where once again I’m unable to take any pain medications.

My goal is balance – balancing the stress in my life which plays out on my mast cells. It requires for me to be constantly aware of my body and my environment. I have to be a good advocate for myself, especially if I’m in a location that is filled with perfumes or smoke, and get out immediately! I worry less and less about what others think about me, and whether they think I’m weird. I’m sensitive, and that’s a good thing!