Appalachian Trail (AT) Happiness: My Damn Knees

Appalachian Trail (AT) Happiness: My Damn Knees

2So I’m starting out this post with a message myself and to the rest of the hikers out there doing miles on the Appalachian Trail.  We’re too hard on ourselves, I address this in an earlier post around folks who quit the trail, but it needs to be addressed to those of us still hiking as well.  A moment of Duh, please.  Hiking the Appalachian Trail is hard!

Those of you not hiking get that, those of us actually doing it sometimes need to be reminded of just how hard it is and how hard what we are doing is.  The best reminders come from folks, normal, fit people who look at you and go, no way, no way in hell I could ever do that.  The mountains in Georgia are some of the most brutal I’ve ever hiked due to the grade, the quality of the trails and the weather conditions when we hiked through them in March.  I know what I’m talking about, I’ve hiked in the high passes of the Himalayas, sections of the PCT, Bryce, Zion, and I tell you, Georgia is really gnarly.  Add in being new thru-hikers, carrying too much weight and you have one hell of a challenge.

Yet, we chastised ourselves for going too slow and not doing enough miles while people younger, fitter, stronger and better hikers dropped out around us left and right.  We climbed the highest point on the trail in the Great Smoky mountains at over 6000 feet.  We spent weeks in NC and TN walking and sleeping over 5000 feet in sunshine, fog, rain and even snow.

We all fell, we all hurt our bodies and bruised our pride.  We continued to nag ourselves about our lack of speed and stamina and every day we saw fewer and fewer folks on the trail.  Most of us have toes and portions of our feet that are destroyed, this includes gorgeous calluses, lost toe-nails, broken toes, and parts of our feet and toes that no longer have feeling and I wonder if they ever will again.

I've seen much worse that this on other hikers.  It's the toe underneath not the nail that's black.  Eventually the tip of my toe shriveled up and fell off.

I’ve seen much worse that this on other hikers. It’s the toe underneath not the nail that’s black. Eventually the tip of my toe shriveled up and fell off.

Some of my early and lovely calluses

Some of my early and lovely calluses

We’ve suffered rashes, sprains and strains.  We’ve trashed gear, broken trekking poles, ripped up backpacks, worn out pairs of shoes, don’t even get me started on what we’ve done to our socks, but here’s a picture of what my socks did to me.

20150427_203408The point is though we’re doing it, even if you did two days out here, you flipped your life upside down and jumped with both feet into the deep end of adventure.  We should be proud of ourselves, we should go easier on ourselves.  It’s hard at times though, when you run into your third triple crown (AT, CDT, PCT) hiker of the day, when someone enters camp after an easy 25 mile day and you just crawled through 15 miles.  On the trail we forget we’re with the hiking elite, the upper 1% of folks who ever strap on a backpack.  The comparisons to these folks feed our self-abuse.  So go easy on yourself my fellow brothers and sisters, we’re awesome!!!

land 31I’m trying to hold onto this message today, it’s been a hard day my friends.  After resting my knee for several days and taking light walks on the beach, yes the beach.  I took a short walk with just a compression brace on my bad knee, a little test, and, well, it failed.  It hurts today and that really sucks and has tanked my mood.

My rehab location on Cape Cod for the last 5 days.

My rehab location on Cape Cod for the last 5 days.

My knee is serviceable, I’ve purchased a heavier brace for it and I have a week to be ready to do a week long hike on the AT in Southern VT with one of my best friends.  That will be the real test, if that goes well we rock and roll.  If it does ok, we keep going, if it sucks, well then I have to seriously consider coming off the trail before I do any kind of permanent damage.  The good news is that I’ve had pain, some weakness but no debilitating pain and most importantly no swelling at all.  So likely I’m dealing with a combination of tendinitis, cartilage loss, arthritis and just old-fatman-itis.

So far I’ve done nearly 700 miles on the trail.  A friend the other night told me how proud I should be of what I’ve done and I am.  For a 50 year old fat man to jump out and do 700 miles on America’s premier hiking trail, I should be and am proud of what I’ve accomplished, but I want more. I started totally afraid my back wouldn’t handle the weight, that I wasn’t experienced enough, that my knees would fail.  The reality is that my knees have done well, were it not for my injury on the “humps” heading into Roan, TN, I would be in great shape right now and I’ve been fortunate enough to have been walking some of the most beautiful mountains on earth.

The summit of Mt. Unaka

The summit of Mt. Unaka

I am determined friends, I will absolutely do over 800 miles and am focused on covering at least 1000 miles if I have to slack pack the last couple of hundred miles to get there.  I will do more miles than Bill Bryson did!  So keep your fingers crossed, send me all the prayers and positive hippy vibes you can muster.  Even after spending five days in a beautiful room on the beach at Cape Cod I’m craving life on the trail, you can’t understand unless you’ve done it, how much trail life infects your very being, just another commonality it shares with Burning Man, but more about that in another post.

Up in the Smokies

Up in the Smokies

Have a happy day my friends ~ Rev Kane

About revmichaelkane

Reverend Michael Kane is a writer, photographer, educator, speaker, adventurer and a general sampler of life. His most recent book about hiking and happiness is Appalachian Trail Happiness available in soft cover and Kindle on Amazon
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2 Responses to Appalachian Trail (AT) Happiness: My Damn Knees

  1. Nicolette says:

    What a great post!!! My husband and I just got back from a section hike (113.9 miles from Unicoi Gap in Georgia to Fontana Dam in North Carolina) where we were the “slow” ones (and we’re only 29 & 31 years old), beating ourselves up when others were hiking faster, taking fewer breaks, and thinking about night-hiking another 13 miles after the 15 they’d just finished, just for fun. We constantly felt inferior but we accomplished our goal in 9 days and smile about it now. So you’re right. We’re all pretty badass not matter how and when we reach our own finish line.

    I, too, have knee issues so I get it. RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) then get back at it again. You can do it! You sound smart enough to know how far to push it. I’ll be sending positive hippy vibes!

    • revmichaelkane says:

      Thanks Nicolette and congrats on completing your section hike, that’s a pretty gnarly section you did, way too go! ~ Rev Kane

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