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Know Your Knees

If you’re a biker or hiker, your knees are the part of your body taking the most abuse; more so for hikers, but certainly the knees of mountain bikers take a fair amount of pounding.  I can’t say it was the years of hiking and biking that wore out my knee.  Most likely it was the two decades of skydiving and skiing in my youth that did the most damage, or perhaps it was my former profession as a telephone lineman, climbing thousands of telephone poles and falling off a few.  But in any case, the carnage that once was my knee has been cleaned up and with new (used) tissue knitting itself into its new home I’m looking forward to returning to a life of vigorous outdoor adventure again.

The Knee as I Know It:

The largest joint in your body is the knee.  It consists of four bones and a complicated mess of ligaments and muscles.  The four bones are the thigh bone, two shin bones and a knee cap. Let’s skip the technical lingo, we’re cyclists not anatomists.  Stringing these bones together and wound tighter than banjo strings are ligaments.  I know exactly where I was and what I was doing when mine finally snapped.

I had just hopped off the chairlift on Sugar Mountain near Boone North Carolina and was beginning a night-time descent down an icy double black diamond run named “Woopdedoo”.  This was a run I’d done many times before and I wasn’t doing anything foolish.  I wasn’t skiing out of bounds or overly fast.  I wasn’t skiing beyond my capabilities.  My old knee just said “enough already” and down I went.  The ‘yard sale’ I created was pretty spectacular. Skis over there, poles over yonder, goggles and gloves hanging from tree limbs.

I was lucky it happened on a ski slope and not on a solo back country hike. Ski Patrol sledded me off the mountain, splinted my leg and very politely, got me off the property. I was a poor college student with no insurance and no family support, so I created a cardboard splint to immobilize my knee, bought a cane from the department store and spent a couple of weeks on a friends couch downing whatever pills they were willing to share. You do what you gotta do, right?

So I lived the next ten years without an ACL and tried to maintain the same level of outdoor activity.  Road cycling and touring was my go to sport because it required less stability from my knee.  And I managed to return to backpacking, albeit with as little weight as possible.  But I took some very nasty falls and usually in the most innocuous of places.  I would be getting out of my car or climbing the stairs to my bedroom and it was like I had no knee at all.  I would crumple to the ground writhing in pain.  I became fearful of what would happen if I collapsed in the middle of a river fishing or cycling solo on a closed Blue Ridge Parkway.  Totally screwed just about sums it up.

I could “coulda-woulda-shoulda” myself to death right now.  I should have gotten this repaired years ago when the damage was less. I should have braced my knee more often and not pushed my body so hard.  But it is what it is.  I’ve taken this body of mine to some pretty incredible places, underneath the ocean to explore reefs and wrecks, flew it through the air after flinging it out the door of airplanes, visited beautiful mountain tops and explored part of my corner of the world by bike. The price for all this?  One knee. Not bad.


Categories: Gear
  1. June 9, 2012 at 11:45 am

    are you laying there thinking????
    other wise that was some good thinking…
    bodies do get old…
    and then you think about ….man i could have killed myself…for doing such an such…

    • The Velo Hobo
      June 9, 2012 at 12:07 pm

      Too true. I’ve never really been scared while doing something – an adrenaline thing I guess. But laying awake the next morning thinking “I really could have cratered-into-the-ground on that one” really scared the stuff out of me.

      Now that I’m closing in on 50, I’m more than happy to have nice calm adventures that invlove ice cream and cheese burgers along the side of the road.

      • June 9, 2012 at 6:08 pm

        this i understand…nice calm adventures…good meals…comfortable sleeping conditions…
        and a serious good cup of coffee in the morning…i some how have reached the age of 62…
        from all of the shenanigans i managed to get involved …
        and i still can get on my bike….that i am thankful for…
        i wish you a speedy recovery…

  2. June 9, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    Did you have health insurance when you blew it out? Not judging, just curious. It’s not a story I have heard other Canadians tell. We hear a lot of horror stories: not from Canadians, but Americans! We live in fear of paying for emergency care in the US on a trip, even those of us wise enough to load up on private insurance. I hurt my ankle in a minor way in Joshua Tree, and prayed it would be fine. It is, more or less, but the ligaments are loose

    • The Velo Hobo
      June 10, 2012 at 8:05 am

      The first time, no I didn’t. So I just suffered through it. This last time I did (I do) have pretty good insurance. I really wish we had a Canadian type system here as well. Maybe someday, but I doubt it. It seems silly to me that it’s ok for us Americans to share the cost of aircraft carriers, roads, libraries, public buildings, etc, but let someone mention pooling our resources to cover medical care and it’s a communist plot.

      Thanks for the comment, Jack

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