While we were in central Oregon, I decided to attempt another treatment for my SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth – get the background story here). This time I would do 14 days of the elemental diet. I had attempted three weeks of the elemental diet back in March and had made it to Day 17. The elemental diet involves eating only the essential nutrients broken down into the most basic molecules so that the body can quickly absorb them without the assistance of the intestinal microbes. The whole point is to feed the body and starve the microbes. (This is NOT something you want to do unless you have an overgrowth of the wrong type of microbes in your small intestine like I do. For healthy people without SIBO, feeding the microbes is important to maintaining good health.) The diet consists of the 21 amino acids used by the human body to make protein, glucose, fatty acids, salt, and a vitamin and mineral supplement. To make it a little easier, I also ate one serving of meat per day, because meat supposedly does not feed the bacteria I am trying to starve.
The amino acids are the worst part of the diet. To be brutally honest, they taste like farts, if you could drink a fart, or maybe a combination of jet exhaust and sewage! Many people struggle to keep it down. I had perfected my method of getting through the diet during the first round back in March. I mixed up a cocktail of the amino acids, salt, some glucose, and the vitamin and mineral supplement in water each morning, took a deep breath, and sucked it down through a straw as quickly as possible. Then I followed it up with a teaspoon of honey (simple, easily absorbed sugars) sprinkled with sea salt to remove the terrible taste from my tongue. It wasn’t easy, but in the morning before I was awake enough to start dreading the drink seemed to be the only time I could get it down. I figured one serving of the amino acids per day was enough since I was getting protein from the meat I ate at dinnertime. The rest of the day I drank tablespoons of olive oil with a dusting of sea salt and glucose tea (a couple of tablespoons of glucose in a cup of water). I counted calories and attempted to get at least 1,500 calories per day.
During my first experience with the elemental diet, I was so nauseous and weak that the sickeningly sweet glucose tea and greasy oil was a challenge to get down, and I barely made it to 1,000 calories per day. I felt like I had the flu for the entire duration of the diet, and the liquid food went straight through me like a rocket and out the other end, and sometimes it came back up. I also had terrible reflux. I was pretty much bed-ridden the entire time. They call it die-off. The bacteria starving and dying in large numbers causes flu-like symptoms. However, I had made it to 17 days, and a follow-up test showed that I had reduced my overgrowth to half the original pre-treatment numbers. Even though it was an extremely difficult treatment, I realized that I would probably have to do it again and again if I wanted to try to eradicate SIBO entirely. So, I decided to take on Round 2 of the elemental diet.
Since home is now anywhere we can take our trailer, I went hunting for the perfect place in Oregon/Washington to get through another two weeks of the elemental diet. It would either have to be a place where we had a good internet and cable connection to keep me entertained while having the “flu” or a place that was incredibly peaceful and beautiful where I could enjoy the view. Oh, and another stipulation was that we needed to be in an RV park with, ahem, full sewer hookups! We planned on spending some time in Portland after my treatment so that I could have an in-person appointment with my naturopathic doctor there. I pulled up Google Maps, zoomed out a bit from the Portland area and typed in “RV Park.” I spotted a park that appeared to be in the middle of wilderness just south of Mount Adams in southern Washington called Elk Meadows RV Park. I called them up, and they seemed a bit surprised when I asked for 17 days (14 for the diet and 3 to adapt to eating real food again). Since Labor Day fell in the middle of that time, they didn’t have anything at first. However, the next morning, one of the owners of the RV Park called me to say that she had an unusual spot available up on the hill, a switchback above the rest of the park and a switchback below their house with an incredible view of Mount Adams, and was I interested? I asked about what it was like to tow a 30-foot trailer up the switchback, and she said they once had a 40-foot motorhome in this spot. I said “yes, we’ll take it!”
On August 26th, we left Crooked River Ranch and headed north to Trout Lake. We had to take the long way there to avoid some roads and bridges across the Columbia River that are known to be sketchy in an RV. We took Oregon State Route 97 all the way to the Columbia River and crossed at Biggs Junction. From there, we took Washington State Route 14, winding along the Columbia River Gorge, through a tunnel at Lyle, and then headed north at White Salmon. White Salmon, by the way, is a cute and quiet little town surrounded by hills of evergreens next to the Columbia River Gorge, where mosaics of white salmon painted on the downtown roads denote the crosswalks. We didn’t get a chance to try any of the unique and highly rated restaurants downtown since I was on my diet, but we did make the trek from Trout Lake to White Salmon a couple of times during our stay to stock up on olive oil for me and real food for Michael.
After checking in at Elk Meadows RV Park, the owners pulled up on their ATV and cautioned us about the hill up to our campsite. We would need to use our four-wheel drive and take it slowly, but they were sure we would be fine. They said after 17 days up there we probably won’t want to leave. As we approached the private drive and the bottom of the hill, the camp host stepped out and asked “Site 1A??” We said “yes,” and he said “good luck,” giving us a not-so-confident grin!
Michael did a fantastic job getting Foxy + Blondie up the hill and backed into our campsite on the switchback. The four-wheel drive did its job, and after a little back and forth at the top of the switchback, Michael backed our trailer into our new yard for the next 17 days. They weren’t kidding. We had an incredible view of Mount Adams and the meadow below. That night we sat outside and gazed at the dazzling display of stars and caught the end of the Perseid meteor shower.
We spent most of the first week enjoying our “yard.” After I drank down my morning amino acid cocktail, we sat outside with our tea and coffee enjoying the view and watching the birds. We had expected to get caught up on our blog during our stay, but the wireless internet offered by the RV park only worked within a few feet of the office, and there was no data service on the Verizon network anywhere near Trout Lake. We were off the communication grid with the exception of a few good radio stations. These circumstances only enhanced the experience. We relaxed and soaked up the sights, sounds, and smells of wilderness. I finally had the chance to unfold my new picnic mat that I purchased at Camping World, and I unrolled my yoga mat on top and stretched out on the ground under the warm sun, looking out over the conifers, the meadows, and beyond to Mount Adams. There is something about being on the ground, not the floor of a house or RV, but the actual Earth. I feel more connected, to the Earth, and to everything, and this connection brings me peace.
I had prepared myself for another round of the flu, but the elemental diet was not affecting me in the same way this time. I felt a little achy and fatigued the first few days, but for the most part, I felt fairly normal. I was able to take in more olive oil, and I seemed to actually be absorbing it and getting energy from it, unlike the last time. (One of the consequences of SIBO is damage to the intestine that makes it difficult to absorb fats, and during my first round of the elemental diet, the fats went straight through me.) On the one hand, I was disappointed, because there were no signs of bacteria die-off. On the other hand, I felt hopeful that maybe this was an indication that at least part of my intestine was healing. The other big positive was that now, instead of lying in bed feeling sick, I could do some exploring in the wilderness that surrounded us.
After a couple of rainy days, we went down the hill to explore the trail that led from Elk Meadows out to the Trout Lake Natural Area Preserve. It was an easy trail through the woods along a creek with views of Mount Adams just below our hillside campsite. The recent rains had enhanced the sweet Christmas smell of the fir trees, and the birds were out and singing. Trout Lake was created by volcanic activity at nearby Mount Adams that blocked the creek, but over the years, sediment continued to fill in the lake, and now it is a small lake surrounded by expansive wet meadows. The Trout Lake wetlands are home to the Oregon spotted frog, one of only five remaining populations of the frog in Washington State (see more about Trout Lake here). When we arrived at the lake, we spotted a couple of river otters playing on the opposite side of the lake. After this first visit to Trout Lake, on the days when we stayed close to home, we walked on this trail before sunset and enjoyed the reflections of Mount Adams in the lake waters and the sounds of elk calling in the meadows.