Thursday, June 30, 2016

I Hate My Knees

Staunton, Virginia to Damascus, Virginia (1,700-1,930 miles)

Take it easy.

Don't push it.

Baby the knees.

You've got plenty of time to make it to Seattle before winter.

These are the thoughts that cycle through my mind as I leave Staunton and head back to the TransAm. I'm rested—took 20 days off at a friend's house to rehab my knees—and I feel good. If I can make myself slow down . . . take pressure off the knees . . . if I can only make myself slow down.

Slowing down is not in my make up, especially when I'm on a long journey and there is a chance of running into winter because I don't reach my destination soon enough. In this adventure, not only do I need to reach my next star, I need to cycle away from it, to the south, to a warmer climate. Unfortunately, even if I get to Seattle in time, winter will be breathing down my neck as I make the turn toward San Diego.

Still, these knees . . . got to baby these knees.

With that in mind, I ignore them and pound out 75 miles through Appalachian hill country. I've ridden this section 9 times, and this is the first time I cover the distance between Staunton and Troutville in a day. To heck with my knees. I'm in command of my body, and it will do what I tell it to do.

The city park serves as a respite for both TransAmers and AT thru-hikers, and I meet a guy headed to Maine. Firecracker is from Britain, and he's traveling with a core pack weight of seven pounds. He's been on the trail a month and mentions he plans on hiking the Triple Crown. I entertain him with a few stories that happened on my own Triple Crown thru-hikes, and we talk well into the night.

The next morning, under a blue sky, I mount my bike and can't make a full pedal revolution because of the pain in my right knee. The pain is intense, a burning ligament under the patella, and it hurts at the top of my stroke. I'm worried about ripping the ligament away from the bone, get off, spend 15 minutes doing various stretches. I get on my bike and pedal tentatively away from the park. The pain is gone, but I am under no illusion that it is gone for good. I also notice something else, a looseness on the back side of my knee, which suggests it's hyper-extended.

It's Sunday morning, little traffic, so I ride through Roanoke and Salem instead of taking the circuitous and ultra-hilly TransAm route, arrive at Christiansburg a few hours later. The knee pain starts up again and it's so bad I get off the bike and stand alongside the road wondering what I'm going to do.

Push my bike to Seattle?

I push my bike up a steep hill, get to the top and pedal a few times. No pain. Okay, so Ride between the Stars is not over yet. I pedal into Radford, call it an early day, get a motel room. The Executive Motel is nice and clean, and the proprietor charges me his regular rate of $35.00 for the night. I swallow ibuprofen, pills 5,6,7, and 8 for the day, stretch out on the bed, and turn on the television. I watch the seventh game of the NBA championship until I fall asleep, wake up the next day with a knee that will hardly bend. After walking around to loosen it up, I kneel on the floor and press back toward my heels for a few minutes. Good. It's loosened up.

But not for long.

My knee tightens throughout the day, and each time I dismount and walk. I get on the New River Trail and ride toward Galax. This Rails to Trails is packed cinder and gravel, and follows the river through increasingly hilly terrain. The trail, however, is fairly level, which is why I took it. I need to take pressure off my knees—both are hurting—and I'm hoping the easy ride will put me on the route to recovery. I take a 90 minute break to cook and eat a supper of Lipton Noodles, stretch out in my hammock, listen to the metallic whir of cicadas in the forest. When I roll out of my hammock and come erect, the pain under my right patella is so severe I can't walk more than a few steps.

Tunnel on New River Trail

I hobble to a picnic table and sink to my butt. Where is that ibuprofen? I take four pills, get out the Tylenol, swallow two more pills. The pain lessens after awhile, and I get back on the bike and ride along the river. The trail feels like a leafy green tunnel, and I'm happy to cycle out of it into the small town of Fries. I take a ten minute break, get back on my bike, can't make a full revolution with my right leg.

This is ridiculous.

I won't be able to cycle much longer if this keeps happening.
New River

I walk.

I stretch.

I walk and stretch some more.

Then I ride another few miles and stop at a convenience store to fill up my water bottles. My trip meter sits on 65 miles for the day. A guy in a truck drives up, gets out, asks if I remember him. It takes a second—I talked to him and his wife earlier that day on the New River Trail—but then I smile and nod his way. John and Donna have a site in a nearby campground, and he invites me to spend the night.

"I'd be delighted," I say.

We load my bike into the bed and whisk down the road to a green-grass campground alongside a placid river. John and Donna want to tour when they retire, and we talk about our dreams and adventures over a meal of hamburger, sausage, bacon, and vegetables. Delicious. I shower, bed down for the night, and in the morning John takes me back to the trail. We are kindred souls, and I feel a connection that suggests I'll see him sometime in the future. We shake hands and he drives back down the road, leaving me with a choice of cycling or going to the Troutdale hostel and taking more time off.
John and Donna

I choose the hostel and enjoy the hours I spend with Rising Sun, longtime friend and caretaker of this beautiful location. On the second night a storm rolls through, wind gusts upward of 60 miles per hour.
Rising Sun / Caretaker


There goes a tent pole. (One bent, one broken.)

Fortunately, I'm under the pavilion watching this happen.

Not so fortunately, now that my tent has collapsed, my gear is getting wet. I hobble into the deluge and drag my tent to safety. Now where are those spare pole parts? Oh, in the right rear pannier. I spend the next few minutes moping around on my bad knees, studying my poles, break into a grin that won't stop. You wanted adventure, buddy, and with adventure comes adversity. Fix your poles, stretch your knees, get over your bad luck.

In the morning, Pete, a trail angel to hikers and cyclists, brings burritos for breakfast. Sausage and cheese and jalapenos. Yum yum. I cycle toward Damascus with a full stomach, hoping the three days of downtime helped my knees. The left doesn't feel too bad, but the right is back to its old tricks, and before long I'm walking to stretch it out.
Trail Angel Pete

I limp into Damascus, a 27 mile day, dismount and wonder what the future holds.  


  1. My new motto is "Don't push it," for so many reasons. I'm glad you're pushing it, though. Someone has to. Wish I had some advice to give you. Maybe check in with a doctor? (And I won't tell you how heavy my pack is for our little family camping trip that begins tomorrow. It's heavy...)


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