I’m a Kansas girl. I love the prairies. We have the most stunning sunsets of all 50 states, in my opinion. But I also love to travel, which is perfect because Kansas is in the middle of everything. I can drive to the beautiful mountains of Colorado in less than eight hours.
But I learned young that traveling from Kansas to the Colorado Rockies wreaks havoc on my asthmatic flatlander system. So in case you’re going to Colorado anytime soon and in case you happen to be one of my fellow flatlanders who doesn’t know about this, I thought I’d share my tips for thriving in higher altitudes when you live on a pancake like Kansas.
Tip 1: Take it slow.
I’m all for marathon driving days. I like to get where I’m going fast. But if you start out in Wichita (1,300 feet) in the morning and drive straight 10 hours to Gunnison, Colorado (7,700 feet), you may have issues. Granted, traveling 6,000 feet in a day isn’t as drastic as traveling 10,000 or 15,000 feet in a day. If you do that, you’re likely to have severe medical issues. From Wichita to Gunnison may just make you uncomfortable.
Either way, slow down. Don’t walk as fast. Don’t go sprinting up the side of a hill. I mean, you can, but your body won’t thank you.
Give it a few days to adjust. Then, you can run around like a crazy person.
Tip 2: Drink water.
Everybody says it, I know. But the reason everybody says it is because it’s true! Drink water. Drink lots of water. It’s a pain, I know, because you have to go to the bathroom more, but drinking water is honestly the first, most important step in combating altitude sickness.
If you wake up in the morning with a headache, drink water. If you feel tired, drink water. If you aren’t hungry, drink water. If you’re dizzy, drink water.
If you think you’ve drunk enough water, you haven’t. And Coke doesn’t count. Or pop. Or soda. Or whatever you call it. Neither does coffee or tea.
Tip 3: Eat light but high calorie
Leave that Atkins Diet Book at home, boys and girls. While you’re in the mountains, you need carbs. Not the bad-for-you ones. The good ones. The complex ones like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans.
But don’t eat a lot. Eat small meals, but eat frequently. Your body needs the energy, but it won’t be able to process a lot of food all at once.
You need protein too, especially if you’ve got a blood sugar issue. But make sure you’re eating a balanced meal.
Tip 4: Rest more than you think you need to.
If you’ve grown up in the flatlands, you’re used to operating in an oxygen-rich environment. When you get up into the higher altitudes, there’s not as much oxygen.
Your body has to operate on less oxygen than it’s used to, and that takes work. So you want to make sure your system is getting enough rest to do its job properly.
If you’re tired, stop. If you need to sit down, sit down. Especially in the first few days of your visit.
Tip 5: Seriously. Drink water.
Are you tired of me saying it yet? I promise you, it works.
When I was younger, I didn’t believe it. I thought I could tackle Colorado while I was drinking my normal amount of water (which was pretty much none). I was miserable. I’ll never forget having to sit outside the laundromat at Mesa Verde while my family got to explore inside the cave dwellings. I was so sick at my stomach and tired and groggy that I couldn’t even stand upright.
If I would have drunk more water than Coke, I probably would have been fine. I learned that lesson the hard way.
Headache, dizziness, feeling tired, lack of appetite, nausea, and vomiting—if you experience any or all of these symptoms, you have altitude sickness.
Now, if you drink water (and have been drinking water), and you STILL feel awful, that could mean something else is wrong. Probably your best bet at that point is to get out of the higher altitudes. Go down to a lower altitude and see if you feel better.
If you do, there might be a more serious problem going on, and you should go find a doctor.
Tip 6: Have fun.
The mountains are a wonderful place to get away from the craziness of everyday life. You can listen to birds sing, see gorgeous scenery, cook over a campfire, munch down on S’mores, and freeze your hiney off in a tent in the middle of August.
Just be sure to prepare yourself for a trip to the higher altitudes. You won’t regret it.
Extra Tip: If you’re camping, find a place with a decent outhouse. With all the water you should be drinking, you’ll be glad.