Appalachian Trail (AT) Happiness: One Week, My Knees, VT & MA
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ~ Henry David Thoreau
So, for those of you who have not been following along let me summarize my life since March 7th. On that date I started a thru-hike attempt on the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain, GA to Mount Katahdin, ME. A little 2189 miles stroll up America’s East Coast mountain chains.
Georgia was amazingly hard, steep hills full of mud and rocks and terribly hard descents and as a poor descender I spent a lot of time swearing at rocks and of course falling. I almost quit on the second week, but I didn’t. Georgia gave way to North Carolina and long mountain ascents and much better trails, although bigger climbs I dug North Carolina’s trails. We then entered and exited the Tennessee mountains numerous times as we walked the TN/NC border. We walking through the Smoky Mountains with their beautiful views, bears and many regulations as only a federally run park can muster. We then entered the big state, Virginia, with over 500 miles of the Appalachian Trail and easier trails, or at least we believed from the profile maps.
I don’t have great knees, a genetic gift from my father’s side of the family and although I played sports through high school and a bit in college I had never seriously hurt them. However, they bothered me from time to time and I was concerned on this trip how the extra weight and walking would impact them. I found out early that if I pushed to hard my knees became sore, but a brief rest would quickly set them right. Eventually I started wearing small compression braces to help me out.
It was on the humps coming out of Over Mountain Shelter in a 45 mile an hour rain storm that I hurt my left knee. The wind blew my foot slightly to the side and it caused me to awkwardly step off of the side of a grass tuft. I spun off and went down twisting my knee in the process. Of course in a 45 mph rain storm, while soaked, in the open and with the thermometer reading in the 40’s, laying on the ground worrying about your knee is not an option unless you’d like to add hypothermia to your list of issues. So I got up and “walked it off.” I actually count myself lucky, another hiker did almost the identical thing that day on the same ground, the difference was that his injury took him off the trail immediately and to the surgeon shortly thereafter. After a two day rest I moved forward to Virginia.
The trails leading to Damascus are some of the nicest flattest trails I’ve encountered and I made good time getting to Damascus. However my left knee was incredibly stiff and so I took a full week there hoping to get my knee back to a near normal state. It seemed to work, I walked from Damascus to Marion, VA and got off the trail for a side trip to play tourist in Washington, DC. Concerned I didn’t have 2100 miles in my knee I bounced ahead 300 miles north of Marion and started the Shenandoah National Park (SNP). After walking through the SNP I headed for Harpers Ferry, WV along the trail which included a section of the trail known as the “Roller Coaster.” The “Roller Coaster” is 13.5 miles of densely packed ascents and descents, these are not big hills but 300 to 400 foot ascents and descents one right after another. We did 9 miles the first day and the final 4.5 plus some additional miles the next day leaving us with 7 miles to go to Harpers Ferry.
We finished the first day at the Bear’s Den Hostel and my knee felt fine, I was relieved cruised through the next day feeling great. However, waking up the morning before the final walk into Harpers Ferry, my knee felt like nothing inside was connected and side to side movement caused me shooting pains. Luckily, if I kept my knee from moving side to side I could go up or downhill without much discomfort. So I pushed into Harpers Ferry and pulled the plug for a time on the my hike.
I then spent two weeks rehabbing my knees in the Northeast, first laying at the beach for a week, (hey I’m on vacation 🙂 ). Then doing some light walking back where my family lives in upstate New York. I had planned to hike a portion of the trail in Southern Vermont with a good friend from college the week of June 13th and this now turned into a test hike with heavy consequences. If the week went well I could continue my thru-hike attempt, if it went just ok, then I’d likely pick some sections after a rest and retire the attempt. Worse case scenario if the hike went poorly my Appalachian Trail Days were likely over.
Here’s a photo of Bryan and I, and my mother’s finger, as we set off from Bennington, VT on Saturday, June 13th.
The plan was to do a fairly light week, Bennington, VT to Lee, MA over 8 days, only a little over 70 miles but with some good and variable terrain it would be a good way to test my knee, let my friend experience a little bit of what thru-hiking the AT is like, and give us a week of time to spend together. So I nervously set out to find out what VT, MA and my knees had in store for me. I’ll continue this post tomorrow, have a happy day my friends. ~ Rev Kane