Submitted March 20, 2012

Unexpected Knee Pain on Appalachian Hike

My name is Christopher Robert Doerner. My current residence is listed below. I am 35 years old and the father of four (3 boys, 1 girl). I have had so many outdoor adventures that I am not sure that I can pick just one. I am originally from Louisiana but now live in North Carolina. I was fishing before I was walking. I drove a boat before a tractor or a truck. I have hunted and fished in Louisiana, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Colorado. I have camped in most of those states as well as Virginia in almost every weather situation. From snorkeling and sunsets in the Keys to predawn turkey stalks to mountain biking in Telluride, I have had many great memories!

I mention the above not to toot my own horn; quite the opposite, in fact. I have been very blessed and lucky and am fortunate to still be alive and walking on my own two legs. More recently I have enjoyed camping and backpacking. A couple of years ago a couple of buddies and I arranged a long weekend to attempt the Bartram Loop (~60 miles) in western North Carolina. It is a relatively popular hike coinciding with parts of the Appalachian Trail. The second day myself and one of my buddies began to experience tremendous knee pain. It was like nothing I had ever experienced (football, The Marines, etc.). It was not muscular but rather an inflamed joint. That second night it rained which didn't bother us as we had made it to a shelter. We took some Aleve and agreed to soldier on.

At this point we had covered approximately 17 or 18 miles of the trail. We started the morning with more Aleve but soon discovered that anything less than a liver-thrashing dose of the Aleve was not keeping the pain away. We managed to hobble about two more miles up the trail before we reached a cross trail and a decision: two miles down the side trail to a road or four miles to the next semi-populated area. At this point both knees had begun to burn, sting, and send lightning bolts of pain to my brain due to my compensating for the injured side. My friend seemed worse. He had located a large stick to use as a crutch. We both winced with every step. We decided to play it safe and take the side trail out.

Unbeknownst to us no one had been down the side trail in quite some time, certainly not since the last hurricane had come through. At many points huge trees were down across the trail which was etched narrowly into a ridge side with a rocky creek 50 to 80 feet directly below. It took us the better part of four hours to traverse these two miles, at times having to remove our packs and hand them forward over and under obstacles, in bucket brigade fashion, too narrow to otherwise pass. We normally hike at a 1.5 to 2.5 mph pace, depending on terrain. This was extremely rough going. We made it to the river below, removed our boots and socks, forded it, and eventually flagged down a guy in a Jeep Cherokee, who, for drove us three and our gear to where out third buddy got a cellphone signal. He was able to call his friend to bring us all back to the trail head and our cars.

I walked with a cane for some time afterward (8 weeks) and the doctor said that there was some extreme swelling but that with continued icing and elevation I would make a full recovery without surgery. I didn't trust him but he was right. That was two years ago and my knees have been just fine....until a couple of weeks ago when we did 23 miles in two days. I am lying in bed now knowing that it was and will continue to be worth it.

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