Friday, May 30, 2014

Sometimes, you just gotta play it smart!

I had a really tough decision to make this week.  I've been nursing a swollen knee that my physical therapist assured me would be better by Tuesday, just in time for my scheduled 3-day hike on the Appalachian Trail.  I had iced and babied it for weeks and had told myself it was getting well enough to go on the trip because that's what I REALLY wanted to do! This hike would have finished me on the AT in the Smoky Mountains since we had done the other half last summer.  The video of that hike can be found HERE.

On Monday morning, the day before the hike, I finished packing my backpack. I had gotten the weight down to only 23 pounds in an effort to make it easier on my knee.  That's almost 10 pounds lighter than last year! Just to be on the safe side, I shouldered my pack, tightened up the hip belt and shoulder straps and headed out the front door of my house for a quick trip around the neighborhood as a test run for the knee.  It felt pretty good on the road and I didn't think the distance was going to be a problem. However, just to be on the safe side, I looked for and climbed some neighborhood hillsides and immediately, I knew I was in trouble.  These grassy, smooth hills were nothing like the intensity of the rocky climbs and descents I knew full well the AT would throw at me. But with every step on them, my knee let me know it simply wasn't ready. Devastated, I came home, informed my hiking buddies that I could not go on Tuesday, but immediately offered to provide the shuttle they would need anyway.

They don't call them the Smoky Mountains for nothing!

On Tuesday morning, we traveled up Newfound Gap Road and then up Clingman's Dome Road to the trailhead where I would leave them to hike without me.  Was this difficult? It may be one of the hardest days I've had associated in any way with hiking.  But, I did it for the good of the group.  I could have gone and then gotten part way to realize that I had to turn back.  There's no way they would have let me hike back alone, so I would have ruined their trip too.  I just wasn't going to take that chance. Instead, I said goodbye at the trailhead and wished them a safe and enjoyable journey, fighting back the tears that had come so readily on Monday.  I did stop at an overlook or two on my way back to civilization to snap the shots in this post, and the views were pretty enough to be some consolation.

Also, on the way back, I stopped to pick up my 500 Miles Hiked pin from the rangers at Sugarlands Visitor Center and let them check me off in their register.  That was the suggestion of one of my hiking buddies. She knew that would help me feel a bit better, and she was right!

I will hike again! I'm just not sure how long that will be.  In the meantime, I plan on making a few short, low-key hikes to strengthen the knee and reclaim the sanity that I lose if I don't go to the mountains on a regular basis.  In a couple weeks, I'll know if surgery is in the picture or not.  I'm definitely praying that it won't be, but if it is, I'll still be back!

I'd love to hear about your hardest moments relative to hiking! Would you be willing to share?


  1. In November 2013 I started a solo overnight backpack that I couldn't finish on the AT in Virginia. A few miles into the first day my knee began to hurt (IT band) and by mile 14, just a mile from my planned campsite, I was struggling badly and wondering how in the world I would finish the remaining 15 miles the next day. Then I saw a side trail, checked to see if I had a cell signal, and called my shuttle driver to come find me, and I bailed out in the dark. I was worried about damage to my knee (actually both of them were hurting pretty badly by then), frustrated at not finishing that overnight goal, and then the long winter set in. I didn't backpack for about four months (although I did some light dayhiking). I did some IT band exercises regularly, increased my running schedule as the weather improved in spring, and am now back to backpacking with no pain. Last weekend I had a 22-mile day, a new PR!. It is difficult to postpone a goal but you have to take care of your body. The mountains will be there. BTW, I completed the Smokies 900 in 2009, over the course of one year. It was a wonderful time in my life and led to many other hiking adventures. Good luck to you!

    1. Wow! That IS tough! I just know that's what would have happened to me if I hadn't gone out around the neighborhood the day before and faced the tough reality that the knee just wouldn't do it. I'm glad you recovered so well. Congratulations on your new PR! That's amazing! Hiking the 900 in ONE year! That's another Wow! Congratulations again!