I’ve been hiking with painful ankles and tendons for roughly five days now, and much to my chagrin, I’m popping about a dozen ibuprofen daily. It’s not the smartest move to be masking the pain, but they do help with reducing the swelling around my ankle and tendons.
My left ankle has yet to heal fully and remains swollen, and I pulled the uppermost tendon on my right foot/shin a few days ago; I haven’t seen a doctor yet, but my own research points to the extensor digitorum longus. It doesn’t hurt at all on the climbs, but going along the flats and especially downhill is agonizing with each step: heel to toe, and when the front of my foot touches the ground it stretches that tendon – sharp pain. I’ve been trying to land flat-footed and it helps, but I’m taking the whole weight of that right step on my right hip now instead of the knee/quad, so my hip aches.
I’d bought two ankle braces from Walmart while in Newport and have been wearing one on my left [rolled] ankle; it’s been pretty good so far (read: not rolled since). The right tendon issue started during the massive descent from Mt. Cammerer in the Smokies after leaving Cosby Knob Shelter with St. Croix, Blue, and Bitter Goat. The hike down was a 3,000′ descent over 4.2 miles to Davenport Gap. It was long, painful, and extremely unpleasant. Every step pulled on that tendon and yanked at it with such deep ripping pain that my face would wince and grimace on every, single, step. It was the first time that I had to stop and rest going downhill. Imagine for a second: I’m pretty much taking on steep prolonged climbs without stopping, and it’s the descents that are bringing me to a painful halt — all the while I’m concentrating on where I placed my left foot — none of this made any sense to me, I became frustrated and angry. After finding the balls to stay on the trail after the previous day’s ankle roll, I now had this new injury to contend with.
I was waking every hour or so at Brown Gap, and each time I would drop an expletive; I’d completely forgotten to take out my painkillers from my bear bag which was hanging 15′ off the ground over 200′ away from my camp. This wasn’t a mistake I’d make a second time. I dragged myself up at 7:00am and launched into morning mode: bear bag down, breakfast readiness, hammock breakdown, teeth brushing, water guzzling, pack packed, and I was off. It was 9:00am by the time I set off, and it was a doozie of a climb off the bat. Things leveled off and we reached Max Patch in good time. We had complete 360° views, and it was some of most serene landscape I’d seen since Springer. The top of Max Patch is one huge dome of grass, like a hemispherical lawn. Gorgeous.
Downhill again for 5 miles and it was slow going again for me. The ibuprofen I was popping — sometimes 3 or 4 at a time — was wearing off in a few hours and my tendon was killing me.
We passed two women walking south in the AT with their dog, Rusty; one of the ladies, Rebecca, told us that her husband Tom was at Lemon Gap with trail magic. Apparently he was there making bacon and eggs, along with homemade cinnamon buns and biscuits. Our spirits lifted instantly and our pace increased to what seemed a jog. Tom and his truck came into view along with a long row of lawn chairs, and a picnic table full of food, tea, and other goodies. Fist bumps with Tom and we filled our plates with sustenance. I think my favorite thing about the whole scene were the chairs. It was so good to sit, just to park my arse and not move. I was in heaven and so were my feet.
We took a lovely 45 minute break and I literally had to peel myself off my seat. Standing I could feel my knees and feet had locked up. I’d been praying for a hill, a goddam mountain to climb so it wouldn’t hurt anymore. Just beyond Lemon Gap and the incredible generosity of Tom and Rebecca, we arrived at the base of Walnut Mountain. I let out a sigh of relief; finally a climb.
Thank. Shitting. God.
Walnut wasn’t a huge climb, but it was steep in places and I could keep moving, and moving uphill. I wasn’t in pain anymore. It was a descent on the other side and I took it slowly, then I was at the base of Bluff Mountain — fu*king brilliant — 1,000′ elevation gain over 1.7 miles. I was up and at the summit pretty quickly and stopped to take some shots.
We’d decided earlier in the day to hike the 15.8 miles from Brown Gap to Old Road, and our campsite was 3.2 miles away… and 1,971′ down. Come the f*ck on. At this point I was completely and utterly over going downhill. It hurt, and really, really badly. My ibuprofen were lasting two hours at a time at this point, and for the most part doing absolutely nothing for my extensor tendon – nothing.
By the time we got to Old Road I was an angry and twisted old man. Hobbling off the trail I found two trees to set up my hammock and set to work. Not before dropping another three vitamin I’s (ibuprofen are commonly nicknamed vitamin I on the trail). Cap, TD, Tank and I set up shelter alongside one another and we shot the shit for about an hour until I hit the sack about 7:00pm. Hanging and swinging gently, I was out like a light.
It was about 11:00pm the first time I woke up to a throbbing ankle. Three vitamin I’s and I was back asleep again… until 1:30am. Rinse, repeat, four more times.
One good thing: my calves are starting to look like they’re made out of blocks of granite.