Losing confidence

Start of my 2014 TGO Challenge

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.


18 thoughts on “Losing confidence”

  1. Hello Robin, I enjoy reading about & viewing your adventures. Age is a bummer, but by the sound of your recovery plan you’ll be back on the trail in March. Rest does remarkable things for the body.
    I backpack in the Sierra but have decided that 3 to 4 miles is now enough to get to remote spots at age 73.
    Walk on.

  2. I joined that club a while ago when I torn a calf muscle. After I recovered it wasn’t long before I started having regular achilles problems. It’s frustrating and bloody annoying. I love running but every time I do, the tendons complain and set me back sometimes for weeks. Recently when I was in Greece I had a massage which seriously hurt like hell. For 3 weeks I could hardly walk. When the pain finally faded my achilles problem disappeared in one of my legs. Pain free which I haven’t had for years. I’m still working on the other leg. But the moral is to get help. Don’t suffer in silence or denial but go to someone who knows what they are doing and not just an NHS physio. see an osteopath or chiropractor privately. It will cost money but its money well spent in my opinion. Anyway, all the best for your recovery.

    1. Thanks. I think the issue is the flexibility/mobility of my left knee. I need to be able to kneel down properly and to prevent hyperextending it. One of my friends is a physio so my first port of call is her.

  3. Finding the right recovery and activity specific exercises and stretches is key. I was amazed by those given to me by my therapist after my knee surgery. We discovered I needed to moderate to strengthen without causing inflammation. It was a long slow recovery but one with mostly forward progress. Good luck!

  4. I’ve been taking turmeric for a couple of years now to help with arthritis and various problems with pain and inflammation, and recently I’ve added in Boswellia (frankincense) for added ooomph when my costochondritis is being stubborn. I find it really effective.

  5. That’s a shame to hear, Robin. We seem to be seeing our physio more and more as the years go on and constantly doing exercises, better than the alternative though! I hope things start improving soon.

    1. Thanks. Fortunately it’s not the same issue as I had before. I guess you get to an age where you can’t take things for granted.

  6. Hi Robin, I hope you’re on the road to recovery and you return to full fitness soon. I’ve suffered with Morton’s Neuroma on and off for years and sympathise with your pain. I agree, today’s lifestyle doesn’t encourage good flexibility and resilience. Being in my 60’s, I’ve upped my daily stretching and overall exercise routine to try to slow the effects of ageing. I hope your physio friend can tailor a daily set that gets you back on track. Good luck! PS Our group will be walking the 42 mile Like Wake Walk from Osmotherley to Ravenscar again in June. An annual event which has to be completed within 24 hours. As you can imagine, knee and foot health is key to this kind of trek.

    1. Thanks. I think stretching is something I’ve neglected. Fortunately my MN is very mild and not painful, more discomfort. I thought I’d got rid of it, but obviously not.

  7. Stay positive Robin, and don’t ever give up your dreams. That’s how my husband Ian Adamson lived his life literally right up to the end when he died at the end of August. His dreams and wishes kept on coming true though and I’m taking my strength from the memory of his ability to hope and dream to guide me through my grief.  We knew you from both the TGO (ferry from Drum’ together) and the BP Club Xmas party where you once joined us in our campervan for a chat. Dreams sometimes get fulfilled in unexpected ways but they can still come true. Best wishes to you for health & happiness Jenny Adamson 

    Sent from the all-new AOL app for iOS

    1. Thanks for the encouragement. I’m really sorry to hear about Ian. I have fond memories of you both and your friendship. That’s what the Challenge is all about. ATB, Robin.

  8. Robin I am new to the blog but am really keen to hear if Notch Li is good for British mountains – I see in your recent photos you are using a different tent. Looking for a very light weight one-man tent and as I always use poles seems sensible to use them – but will it stand up to our UK winds etc

    1. At the moment, I’m using the Notch Li, the Durston X-Mid 1P solid and the TT Scarp 1. You are probably referring to the X-Mid 1P. It’s solid in high winds. Although I’ve not had it out in really strong winds, I’ve seen several reports which suggest it’s pretty robust. Given the side panels, it will flap a bit but there is a mid panel guying point to control panel excursions. The Notch Li is smaller and more aerodynamic and probably more suited to high mountain pitches. The Scarp, which doesn’t use trekking poles is bomber. All three are fine for most conditions in the UK as long as the pegging points are firm, which is particularly critical for trekking pole tents. One big advantage of the X-Mid is the interior space compared with the Notch. The inner tent is quite spacious and you get two big porches. Hope that helps.

      1. Thanks so much Robin. I have gone ahead and purchased the NotchLi – in USA :). as I am going there for family thanksgiving – that helps with the price. Then I will be studying your suggested improvements. Have bought long stakes to ensure the ends are secure

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