A Wonderful Time for a Knee Injury, Part II

I closed my eyes and braced myself for what I knew was coming

The left side of my body collided with the tree and then my left foot hooked onto its trunk while the rest of me continued to fall down the mountain, yanking my left leg nearer my shoulder than it would ever voluntarily go. I felt right away that something was wrong, but I had the wind knocked out of me and was sort of in shock, so it was difficult to tell how wrong things really were.

Mekala had stopped and looked back to see me facedown on the side of the trail with my arms and legs and skis and poles scattered every which way. She ran back up the hill and plopped down next to me.

“Oh my God! Jess, are you okay?”

“I don’t know,” I said, still in the process of catching my breath.

I rolled over onto my back and discovered that I could still lift my left leg up and bend it at the knee. It didn’t feel great, but we decided that the fact that I could do those things meant we were clear of any true catastrophes. Mekala gathered up my things and asked if I thought I could make it back down. I wasn’t sure, but I definitely needed another minute to just lay in the snow.


It seemed all was well

Finally I got back up, grabbed the poles, and stepped into the bindings. I was a little shaky, but so far so good. I decided to go for it. My knee was definitely tender, but amazingly I did not find skiing to be bothersome at all. We made it to the bottom without a hitch and then rode the lift up for two more runs.


But all was not

When we finally decided to call it a day, however, it became clear that I was in more trouble than I thought. The first step out of my skis brought a sharp shooting pain to my left knee. I hobbled behind Mekala up the stairs into the lodge where we met up with Sarah. I winced and whimpered my way through a spectacular struggle to take my boots off and then spent the rest of the afternoon wallowing in agonized self-pity, feebly trying to distract myself from my woes with hot chocolate with extra whipped cream.


But I totally had it under control

That night when I got home, I iced my knee and Googled my symptoms. It looked like I had probably torn my MCL (WAY BETTER than tearing your ACL, the internet assured me) and that my lack of major swelling and ability to put weight on my leg without it giving out from under me indicated it was only a minor injury. Satisfied with WebMD’s diagnosis, I decided that I was perfectly capable of managing my own recovery. As long as I rested the injured leg and didn’t re-tear the ligament while it was healing, I should be all better just in time for my departure.

The next morning, my first attempt to swing my legs over to get out of bed was met with untold amounts of pain as daggers shot from my knee up through my groin and down to my ankles. Anything I did that required the use of my legs was invariably uncomfortable and sometimes unbearable. I told my dad about my situation. He said I needed to see an orthopedist. I told him I would be fine. He insisted and said he would help pay for it. I told him I was really fine and started to limp away. Then I broke down and asked for his doctor’s number.

After I made the appointment, Dad shook his head.

“Jess, why on Earth would you go skiing right before you walk the Appalachian Trail?”

It was a fair question.

I visited the doctor three days later and was pleased when he confirmed the sunny prognosis I had gotten from the internet. He told me that I had indeed torn my MCL (again, WAY BETTER than tearing my ACL), that the injury was minor, and that if I allowed it to heal properly I should make a full recovery just in time for the hike. He referred me to a physical therapist who provided me with an exercise routine to keep my legs in working order, as well as a list of activities to avoid.


Two and a half weeks later and…

I am happy to report that my knee is working pretty darn well. It does not hurt to put all my weight on it and it doesn’t hurt to walk or ride the little stationary bike at the gym. It still hurts to bend and lift it though, like when I put my boots on or climb the stairs, and it has been over a week since I have really felt any difference for better or worse. Still, I have my fingers crossed and I remain optimistic that it will all work out just in time.

I suppose that in 18 days as Chelsea and I take our first steps along the approach trail up to Springer, the moment of truth will come. Until then, I think the best I can do is follow the advice of my physical therapist: wear the brace, do the exercises, don’t hike, don’t run, and for the love of God, don’t ski into anymore trees.

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Comments 4

  • Gary Stell : Feb 20th

    Wow! So sorry you blew up your knee! Hopefully it will continue to heal before the AT ! Maybe I’ll see ya on the trail! Happy Trails!

  • Kiah : Feb 23rd

    Howdy, fellow New Hampshirite! Oddly enough, I have a similar story, but with a much more lengthy recovery! I had grand plans to hike NoBo in 2017, but dislocated my kneecap in October. Even though I crossed my fingers, did the healing-knee-dance, and sent all the good vibes I could muster out into the universe, all was not well, and I discovered that I managed to tear both menisci, MCL, ACL, and patellar tendon – So. One surgery down, one to go, and hoping for a 2018 go-round! Best of luck to you, I hope you have the time of your life, and that your knee cooperates! 🙂

    • Jessica Tinios : Feb 27th

      Oh no! That is so horrible! What a bummer. I hope your surgeries are a success and that 2018 winds up being your year to thru hike. Good luck!

  • George Prive : Mar 23rd

    February 19 was my 75th birthday. Miss seeing you at the Hatch. So envious of your AT hike. Love your posts.


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