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Five ways that rehab from a serious knee injury is like backpacking

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HCSR has been sure quiet of late. In April, after 37 years of competitive play, I decimated the critical innards of my knee playing soccer, shredding my ACL, PCL and meniscus. I was merely running to clear a ball, planted and then collapsed like a sniper’s bullet had tunneled through my melon.

The timing couldn’t have been worse. (As if there’s good time for your knee to explode.) My wife had just accepted a great job here in Las Vegas, so I had to work in surgery and the most critical, most painful period of my rehab into a cross-country relo from North Carolina. And because of the knee, my plans to guide backpacking trips this summer became impossible. You want to know pain? Say this out loud: “Sorry man, I can’t guide in Yosemite this summer because I blew out my knee.”

All the pain, hassles, self-loathing, appointments, step downs and hamstring stretches aside, I managed to keep my internal hiker intact. As you know, it’s what is inside that sometimes gets you out of the woods.

> Don’t dayhike without the essentials. Because I couldn’t move around well for a while, whenever I managed to leave basecamp (the couch) to crutch my way around the house, I donned a summit pack, the Marmot Kompressor Plus, which contained my meds, a bottle of water, sometimes my computer, the remote (ever need to switch off The View only to see the bus parked across the room? F#@!ing nightmare.) and some food. It also contained a plastic bag that I used to seal my travel coffee mug against caffinating the rest of my gear. The REI Camp Cup is as spill-proof a mug as I’ve tested. Oh, and by no means do I ever put a full mug of anything in my pack in an actual backcountry situation. But if I had to …

> Use bowls with solid lids. When mis-measured water turns morning oatmeal into oatmeals, it’s best to have a bowl with a solid closure system so you can get it in the brain of your pack and not have to scrape your trail lunch from Cordura. Oh, and always keep your spoon with your bowl. Something small and versatile is ideal, like the C.R.K.T’ Eat’N Tool. (Best piece of gear purchased in some time.) Trying to transport a bowl of tomato soup without a lid across your wife’s carpet, while your leg is locked straight in a metal cage and also wrapped in a compression bandage that perfectly times the blood rush to your foot with your presence just beyond the point of no-return is tantamount to trying to tip-toe around a rutting bull moose after being sprayed with a bottle of Ms. Moose’s favorite liquid estrogen. It’s not going to end well. And something is going to be stained red.

> There will be setbacks. Like getting cliffed-out after hours of bushwacking off-trail or being tent trapped below the summit because of three days of thunderstorms, there will be times when you question yourself. Should I just get to the point where I can walk and forget about climbing and backpacking? Do I really need to surf again? This is when it’s key to trust in your professionals and know that the route they’ve planned will get you back to where you need to be. Stay positive and avoid risk. It’s a long journey, so measure success by progress, not location.

> Collect trail beta. While not everyone I know who has had a knee injury suffered theirs with equal severity, it helps to talk to others who have been down the path. If not just because misery loves company, it’s important for you to be aware of the tough sections that lie ahead. And that it does get easier.

> Rest and nutrition is important. It’s rare for a rested, well-fed and hydrated hiker to get lost or demonstrate poor judgement in the backcountry. During your recovery, eat well, get rest when you can (meds) and keep yourself aware of what’s going on with your body. Plus, you will lose weight. I’m down ten pounds last I checked. My muscle mass is a muscle mess. The quad on my bad leg looks like a sausage casing stuffed with Cool Whip.

Despite how common this injury may be, it can be pretty damn devastating to an active person. The pain comes from more than not being able to clip in to some singletrack or bound over a fallen tree on a trail run. It comes from watching your wife bike through Red Rock Canyon by herself, take stairs two at a time and get to walk the dog twice a day because your knee can’t handle the pavement for more than a 100 yards. Her help and understanding have been more than one can ask for. Which reminds me of one more way rehab from reconstructive knee surgery is like backpacking: it never hurts to have a great partner along for the journey.

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