I’ve been retired for over twelve years now, which has enabled me to do a reasonable amount of backpacking including four TGO Challenges, three of which were complete crossings. Over most of that period, my body has been in decent shape for the rigours of backpacking. I did have a minor back issue some years ago, but it never really restricted me.
Then in 2019, I injured my knee in Scotland and had to bail out of a trip. I tweaked a knee ligament so that I couldn’t walk without pain. After rest, physio and exercises, it took about a year to recover. Even then it was another year or so before I felt it was back to some semblance of normality. I was still cautious and wore a knee support.
Of course, lockdowns meant I couldn’t do much backpacking so it was difficult to know whether it was really fully recovered. Age is obviously a factor too. I recognised that I needed to do some strengthening exercises, which I started this year and seemed to make a difference.
This year all seemed to be going well. I did a trip to the Yorkshire Dales, where I seemed to have returned to fitness with no problems from my knee. I’ve done some shorter walks with no issues. I did an overnighter with a friend on Kinder with some tough off piste stuff. No issues. Then I did a full circuit of Kinder Scout and felt really good. This year I’ve not had to use the knee support either.
Unfortunately, right at the end of my Kinder circuit, I fell and hit my head and other knee really hard. I was lucky not to be knocked out. While my head recovered quickly, my right knee (not the one I injured in Scotland) has been slow to recover. On my Dartmoor trip it was uncomfortable going downhill and on uneven ground. It’s probably a bruised kneecap which apparently does take sometime to heal.
Walking from the car park to Taw Marsh, my right knee was complaining a bit, but not enough to be an issue. Everything seemed fine, but it the morning, my left knee didn’t feel quite right. There was some discomfort behind my knee. Again it wasn’t bad enough to stop me, but as a precaution, I put on my knee support.
I packed and walked up to Metheral Hill. When I reached the boundary stone, I decided to go off the path to cut across the top. It was very uneven and tussocky, hard on the knees and feet. By this time the discomfort was more noticeable behind my knee. Then I got a recurrence of the Morton’s neuroma in my left foot that I had a few years back. Every time my foot pushed on the outside of my boot, it compressed my metatarsals and sent what felt like an electric shock up through my foot.
Luckily I didn’t have to go too far off piste before I hit a path again. On more level ground, things seemed to calm down. Getting over Wild Tor and Watern Tor was ok, with just occasional shocks. However, it was more difficult on the far side of Watern Tor towards Teignhead Farm as I was effectively contouring on a slope with the same issue of pressing my foot on the outside of the boot.
I was regretting not using leather boots rather than fabric boots as leather probably would’ve been more supportive and might have mitigated the issue. Half way to the farm, I got a 3G signal and checked the weather forecast. It didn’t look great from evening for about 48 hours.
So with the foot/knee issues and the weather outlook, I decided to not go as far as I had planned. That meant I could take it slowly and rest the next day as the weather looked miserable. I made it ok to camp and sat out the next day and following morning.
When I set out to return to Taw Marsh, I had only a half day’s walk, so I knew I could take it easy. I also decided to take a lower route via Scorhill, partly because there was less ascent and better ground, but also because there had been a lot of rain. Scorhill has a clapper bridge and a footbridge over the streams, so there’d be no issue with flood water.
In the past I’ve found that toe separators alleviate Morton’s neuroma. I didn’t have any of those, but I did have some gel toe protectors to prevent bruising. Using two of those seemed to largely get rid of the “electric shocks”. The knee issues were still noticeable but not crippling so I managed to get the walk done. The last part up and over Hound Tor was a bit uncomfortable but not too bad. I must admit I was relieved to get back to Taw Marsh as it would only be a short walk in the morning back to the car.
I have to say, my confidence has been knocked a bit by this. I had hoped both knee issues and Morton’s neuroma were behind me. I think the Morton’s neuroma is manageable with the toe protectors. I’m also investigating footbeds.
The knees are a little more tricky. I think my right knee (the one I bashed) will eventually be ok. Bruised bones take a long time to heal apparently. It does seem to be improving although I still notice it a bit going downhill and if I sit down for too long.
My left knee is a bit more of an issue. The good news is I don’t think it’s anything to do with the ligament as it’s a different area (back of the knee). I think it’s to do with flexibility and straining it when kneeling in the tent. I noticed a while ago that my left knee doesn’t bend as far as my right. In addition to my knee strengthening exercises, I have been doing some simple stretching exercises. Clearly these haven’t been enough.
Once the discomfort has disappeared (not there yet), I’m going to start some more stretching exercises. In fact I’m going to find some more general stretching exercises too. The problem with modern living is we don’t really stretch our bodies, so as we get older we become less flexible. I have a friend who is a physio so I’m going to ask her.
I can’t see myself doing any backpacking before next March, so I can rest my body until it’s healed and then start over again with strength and stretching exercises. I’ve got an exercise bike too, so I need to be more disciplined about using that. Most days I go out for a couple of brisk walks too.
Hopefully, I can get back on track, but these niggly injuries are annoying. One further thing that is a bit of a trial is that in the cold, damp months my left knee aches like crazy. I’m experimenting with a simple elastic bandage to see if keeping it warm helps. Age is a bummer. The big lesson is as you get older you do have to work to stay fit. In the past, I didn’t really have to bother much. It’s annoying not being able to have complete confidence in your body’s resilience.