Thursday, October 09, 2014

Still Grand, even from a limited perspective

 My plan for Fall Grand Canyon 2014 was to drive around the big ditch with my mom, who serves as the support crewperson every year, and often doesn't have any company for this thankless task. I thought it was a great plan to spend some quality one-on-one time with my mom, and still catch some glimpses of this geographical marvel from the rim. Like my Lonely Highway Drive, these trips sounded like great choices until I strung them all together, and realized I was setting myself up for A LOT of car time in the span of six days. (2,773 miles. Google Maps says it's 45 hours worth!) All of this sitting in one position aggravated my knee substantially. I'd been working daily on my range of motion, and every time I stepped out of the car, it felt like I had been set back two weeks at least. I was able to get my flexibility back after short walks, mostly, but some soreness and stiffness persisted.

 My dad hiked across the canyon with his friends Raj and Chad. Raj is an Ironman triathlete and Chad has posted a bunch of fast marathons, and I'm working to coax them toward the dark side (trail running.) The fact I needed walking sticks and a brace to walk 300 feet to overlooks probably did not help my cause.

 After we drove from the North Rim to the South Rim — a 200-mile drive to bridge a 24-mile hike — I decided to meander down the Bright Angel trail to greet my dad and friends. In my memory this trail was buttery smooth with gentle inclines, but in my current physical state it morphed to something perplexingly rocky and steep. I clickity-clacked down very slowly, making a visual note of every foot placement, and went down the rockier steps sideways. My mother was adamant that this hike was a bad idea and I admit it was a risk — any fall or fast motion against the aggravated tendon has the potential to re-injure or worsen the tear. Since I'm still fighting that feeling of instability, I can't really trust the leg to hold its own weight, so even simple walking carries this risk. Beat will be shaking his head vigorously as he reads this ... "long-term thinking!" he'll scold. But, gah, this slow walking just felt so good. On the way back up I was able to keep up with my dad by stiffening the whole leg and effectively not using the joint — climbing peg-legged, at the expense of my calf muscle. There was more soreness afterward, and I admit to some regret, but ultimately I don't believe these motions aggravated the healing process. Really, there has to be a point where I start the path back to mobility. That is never an easy or straightforward divide to bridge.

Before I headed home, my dad and I walked for an hour on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. I was happy that my knee felt strong for that entire outing (by strong, I mean, "not feeling like it might buckle underneath me at any moment.") I do believe the healing is going well — I have no more swelling, only infrequent and low-level pain, and a full range of motion. But I do worry about that stability issue. If ligaments are torn, the instability can persist long after they're technically healed, because the ligament isn't tight enough to support the knee. I suspect my left MCL was compromised last year, and that old injury was possibly aggravated in this year's knee-shredding, which also involved enough soft-tissue damage to cause bruising. Now I likely have a compromised LCL as well, and while I can pedal a bike without issue (although not much in the way of strength), any and all weight-bearing activities still feel iffy. I plan to discuss this with my doctor at an appointment this week, although he is likely to scold me as well because he recommended I do nothing for four weeks.

I realize this is a boring blog post. I keep going back to posts from last summer to try to get a better grasp on the symptoms and recovery of what I believed to be an MCL injury, but there's nothing useful. So I'm posting now just to have some record of the recovery process, boring walks and all.

But it certainly was a beautiful fall weekend in Utah and Arizona. I'm glad I went. 


  1. Yikes, that's more driving than hiking the pct. Not sure if this helps but years ago I had arthroscopic surgery in one knee and a pcl stretch in another, and my knees are awesome now. All things shall pass. Do you like swimming? Admittedly boring but a great injury exercise. Use a pool buoy so your legs don't move. Gives you great biceps.

  2. Thanks Mary. I still have no real insight into what was wrong with my knee last June and July, nor certainty about what's wrong now (I could go down the MRI road, but probably won't unless I stop making progress.)

    I had frequent knee pain and what I perceived as bad knees for years, while I was still quite young (starting around age 24.) In 2007, a doctor told me I'd probably grapple with osteoarthritis for the rest of my life. That was the injury that finally spurred me to take up hiking on a more regular basis again, followed by regular running in 2010. I'd call 2010 my turning point, and my knees have been largely pain-free ever since, save for these bouts with these injuries spurred by tumbles and bike crashes. Any time some one gives me that old saw about "running will ruin your knees," I just smile. I think running — and building the appropriate muscle balance to support my activities — is what saved my knees.

    Masters swimming classes are one of those things I've considered, along with yoga, about taking up to achieve even better balance in my body. I run into lots of personal roadblocks with these things — reluctance to pay for exercise, disdain for indoor exercise, etc. But I keep telling myself this will be the injury to spur me to take more positive habits.

  3. Jill I have followed your blog since stumbling on your 2009 Tour Divide ride. I so admire all of your adventures and time and time again I am gob smacked by what your body has to and does endure. I can only imagine the frustration you must be feeling at present.I sincerely hope you heal quickly.


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