Stories about adventure, travel, and living. Hope you enjoy.


  • Part 1
  • Part 2
  • Part 3
  • Last

As a twenty year old I was living in the Washington DC area with my parents. I was recovering from a concussion and was out of school for the year. With time and many doctor visits I finally was feeling better and longed to be in the mountains. Things had not been going very well for me and I really needed something to make me feel better, hiking was my choice.

The only close mountains to the area were the Shenandoahs, located about a hundred miles west. It was winter but I talked my father into taking me to the park and dropping me off to camp and hike for a week. The doctors would not let me drive yet and probably would not let me hike if we had asked.

Staying at Big Meadows I was the only camper in the large campground. It had snowed recently and the ranger offered that the other campers left because of the harsh conditions. He was really wondering what I was doing there and where my vehicle was; but I didn’t explain.

It was fun being in the mountains again. Though I was visiting the Park in a limited fashion, by staying in an improved campground, there was no one else camping. I had pretty good equipment for the day in a down bag, mountaineering tent, and good wool and down clothing, making it possible for me to be comfortable in the difficult conditions.

Sitting in the tent at night I read the map by the dim glow of the candle lantern planning my visit to the park. The next morning I would explore the Big Meadows area and eventually hike south to Lewis Springs Falls.

Morning arrived with an oatmeal and hot chocolate breakfast. After cleaning the dishes I packed for the day. I really didn’t have a schedule but I had to get moving because it was too cold to sit and do nothing.

The trails were snowy and icy in spots but I was careful as I hiked around exploring. It did not take long to realize that none of the visitors’ concessions were open at that time of the year. To the best of my knowledge I was the only person in the area. I could run naked through the woods and no one would know, but who wanted to freeze to death.

Hiking to Lewis Springs was easy. I was going to do a loop trail but decided to walk there and back mostly on the famous Appalachian Trail instead. Dreams of being a thru-hiker danced in my head as I walked the mile stretch of the trail. The hike went well and I decided that I was ready for the next day’s hike to Hawksbill Mountain, about four miles distance one way.

After returning to camp I had to go for water about a half mile away. I did not have a large container so the water fetching would be an ongoing task. On my exploring earlier in the day I found a heated restroom with water. No other sources for water seemed obvious, but I don’t think the rangers were worried about pleasing me, the only person in camp. There was probably a secret weather proofed faucet somewhere, but I wasn’t really concerned after I had found the heated restroom.

My life camping was simple, do what was necessary to stay warm. I would eat, hike, or go to the tent. Campfires were not important to me. I cooked on a small camp stove and had learned to live without a fire.

Day two started as a repeat of day one, but I had a sense of anticipation wrapped around my scheduled hike. I knew that hiking alone in the winter was probably not the safest thing for me to do. I also knew that my balance was still disturbed and the doctors had absolutely forbid me from even bumping my head, but my spirit was strong and I was going to be careful.

With a daypack filled with essentials I began the day’s journey. Hawksbill was just a short hike but still was more of a challenge than the previous day. The hike was uneventful. It seemed like I was the only person on the trail that day and I very well could have been. I saw no signs of life. It was cold and brisk with ice or snow covering most of the Appalachian Trail. In my heavy mountaineering boots I plodded carefully toward my destination.

I decided to detour off of the trail a short distance to visit a Potomac Appalachian Trail Club cabin located to the west of the trail. The cabin was locked but had a wonderful porch built facing south which blocked the wind and basked in the winter sun’s rays. Though not planning to break I soon was relaxing in the rustic comfort of the porch. After an hour passed I finally decided to get moving, either to continue up Hawksbill or return to camp.

Regaining the AT I opted to head north again toward the mountain. A short distance led to a spur trail which directed me to the summit, a little less than a mile away. The stiff breeze made me long for the cabin’s front porch. The black ice over the rocky trail slowed my progress and lengthened my traveling time in the wind. I shivered my way to the summit.

There was no joy of accomplishment on reaching the highest point, it was too cold. I was already wearing all of my clothes, so I turned and retreated. Going down the trail was a difficult trek. Slowly I picked my way down the trail. The temperature was still registering in the cold range but at least the wind was at my back. Walking down the spur trail took longer than going up it. I knew that I could not fall and carefully transited the icy trail. I was alone and there was no room for any mistakes. It could be a few days before another hiker was dumb enough to hike the spur trail and my shiver would have stopped for good by then.

Finally I reached the main trail again. All was good. It was warmer in the protection of the forest. I had less than three miles to walk back to camp and it was still early in the afternoon.

With a relaxed gait I passed the trail to the cabin and continued toward the campground. The sun called longingly. Then, it happened. Ice covered a downward sloping rock and as my left boot landed it slid out from under me and I fell unabated forward onto the waiting rocky path.

When I came to my head had a huge bump and open wound over my left eyebrow. The cold or my thick blood helped to stop the leaking fluid. I sat up, light headed but fine. Doing a quick triage, the right knee of my pants was torn and stained with blood, my leg was sore and my hands were sore. Everything seemed minor compared to what the results might have been.

Drawing on my first aid kit, I did a clean up job of my open wounds. I used gauze and tape on my knee (referred to as Knee) and a large band aid for my head. I was sure I was going to live, but needed to get back to camp. I was cold.

Knee was stiffer than expected as I tried to stand. Carefully I began moving, hoping the stiffness would work it’s way out. A great deal of effort went into each step, and Knee informed me of its pain with each movement. I was not moving fast enough to generate heat and was growing colder by the minute. Off the trail in the brush was a suitable walking stick and with it’s use and the favoring of my left leg, I was finally able to increase my speed. Each step hurt, but I was alone and it would be spring before anyone found me dead on the deserted trail. I had no choice but to keep moving, as any form of rescue was impossible. I just had to deal with the pain.

I was less than three miles to the campground where I fell, but the short hike became an endless nightmare on my return. I had to keep moving. I tried to walk faster but Knee complained quickly and showed me how he felt by releasing agonizing jolts of pain. The sun decided to hide behind winter clouds increasing my chill and need for speed. My mind wandered in and out similar to an out of the body experience.

Uncontrollably shivering I continued limping toward camp. After much experimentation I discovered a suitable gait. My left leg did the bulk of the work and as I weighted Knee, the staff I had found eased its load. I anticipated and received the familiar pain with each stride. Life was good. I was moving.

It was dark before I waddled into camp, a tired, cold, hurt boy. I fell into the tent and wrapped myself in the down bag. After a long shivering period of unrest I sat up removed my boots and ate partially frozen fig bars. The food and water seemed to help my chills and soon I was laying motionless in a comatose state.

Morning brought the obvious needs of tending to my physical pains. I wanted to go to the heated restroom to inspect my head bump further, but was too stiff to walk that far. Knee only wanted to rest. I was going to have to work out a compromise with Knee because I had to visit a nearby tree. One of the advantages of camping in a deserted campground is that it is deserted! Knee wasn’t happy with the movement, but my kidneys insisted.

Hobbling back to the tent, I decided that Knee worked some of the stiffness out in the brief excursion. Crawling back into the tent I decided I would try to walk to the restroom, but I would wait until the warmth of the day.

Reading an epic Michener novel, I spent the morning resting. As the tent warmed in the noon’s high rays, I began to prepare for the short half mile hike. Luckily I had a three inch wide elastic bandage in my large first aid kit. With great care I wrapped and rewrapped Knee until I found the correct tension to deliver optimal support. I put on running shoes instead of boots, and stood up out of the tent stiff legged. With staff in hand I made way toward the heated restrooms carrying a back of empty water containers.

The walking was easier than expected and soon I developed a rhythm that worked. Wrapping Knee was probably the key to my improvement, but regardless of the remedy, I was just happy that I was moving mostly pain free.

In the restroom I took a sponge bath in the sink. I knew they did not have hot water, so I brought a thermos full that worked nicely. The knot on my head was still visible - the best I could tell by viewing it in the stainless steel mirror; but the bump didn’t seem to be a medical emergency. I showed no signs of further brain damage. Knee also seemed to be improving better than expected. There was no swelling and little soreness. A hope came over me. I had been depressed thinking that I was going to spend the rest of the week tent bound, but after the examination I realized I was back in the game. I was going to be able to hike.

After I finished washing and cleaning up the restroom, I started back to camp. I was very optimistic as I resumed my gait. Left leg weighted, staff on the right side planted, gently weight my right leg, quickly move my left leg forward, and repeat. Knee was moving effortlessly, but suddenly my left knee (Kknee) began to hurt. Perplexed I tried to understand the source of the pain. Maybe it was the extra weight of my pack heavy with filled water containers or possibly a shift with my foot placements twisted Kknee, but regardless - Kknee hurt.

As I crept along I tried to weight both knees evenly. Knee was feeling better even with the additional weight but Kknee was hurting more. Kknee was demanding attention and voiced it with a ‘ping’ sound accompanied by pain. I moved my staff from the right side to the left and tried to use it to further unweight Kknee. My movement was painfully slow, but I had nothing else to do. I decided that moving slow was better than not moving and I continued to limp along. The strategy seemed to work and I was able to make my way to camp.

Back at camp I left the pack filled with water bottles outside the door of the tent and I flopped inside the tent exhausted. Looking at my knees I reasoned, ‘Knee was hurt in the fall, but was no longer hurting. Kknee began hurting with a ‘ping’ noise on every step. I would wrap Kknee with the elastic bandage!’

With all the care I had taken wrapping Knee, I was now applying to Kknee. Wrapped and secured I decided to move out of the tent for a test drive. With care I stood, grabbed my staff and started a walking tour of the large empty campground. Knee was preforming like he had never been injured and Kknee with the added support, quietly moved along. I decided that the added weight of the water I was carrying probably had something to do with injuring Kknee.

Touring the campground I looked for the ‘best sites’, just in case I ever came back to the camp. The walk went well but then for no reason at all, Knee popped and then continued popping with every step. Pain ensued. Quickly I shifted my weight and allowed Kknee to be favored and used the staff on my right side to help Knee. It was back to slowness again. The good news was the Kknee was painless and quiet.

I made it back to camp, relieved myself, and crawled back into the tent. Laying back I read for the rest of the afternoon. Time passed slowly and I occasionally stopped reading to refigure my walking strategy. I finally realized both knees were injured, it was going to be another five days until my father came to pick me up, and my book was long enough to be holed up in the tent for five days. Without dinner I drifted off to sleep.

As I crawled out of the tent the next morning, the sun was barely peaking out of the clouds on the horizon. I had gone to bed early and then woke early in the morning. Both knees ached and neither wanted to support my weight. Forced to move Knee popped and Kknee pinged as I waddled stiff legged to relieve my bladder. Back in the tent I felt it was time to attempt to soothe both knees’ pains. The problem was I didn’t have enough tape to wrap a knee for support and I only had one elastic bandage. Prodding each knee I was unable to determine which knee hurt the most and most deserving of the bandage. Both knees felt they needed the elastic bandage the most. It was decision time.

Following the wisdom of Solomon, I held the elastic bandage out before my knees and threatened to cut it in half with my trusty Swiss Army Knife. I thought that perhaps one knee might rescind its demand for the whole bandage; but neither budged. Dividing the elastic bandage in half I drew the knife. Holding steadfast to their claims of need, forced me to carry out my threat. Unlike the famous Biblical King, I could not decide who needed the bandage the most and therefore had to cut the poor three inch wide elastic bandage in half.

Wrapping each knee with half of a bandage, I stood and tried to walk. Knee immediately popped and shot a pain up my right leg and Kknee seemed to wait for a few steps until it answered Knee’s complaint. The poor bisected bandage was too weak to support either knee. Leaving the knees to ping and pop the music of a dirge as I marched back to the tent.

My decision to half the bandage left two noisy hurting knees instead of just one. I had to admit that I made the wrong decision. One good leg would be better than none.

My noisy knees hurt unmercifully for the rest of the week confining me to the tent. I still tried various wrapping and walking techniques searching for an answer to the pain. My optimism never failed but I had to give up on hiking. Instead, I finished the Michener novel and spent hours thinking of possible remedies to ease the pain. It seemed that my knees had temporarily won, but I still had a good time dreaming about the trail, thru-hiking and wheelchairs.


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