West Highland Way, Part 1: Best Laid Plans

It’s been many, many moons ago, but I remember the first time I took flight like it was yesterday. My best friend Adam and I were mucking about around a neighbourhood in Prince George’s County, Maryland, which was only just being developed. All the trees had been cut down and dirt moved into a great mound, creating a wonderful obstacle course for young adventurous types such as ourselves. In today’s social climate of paranoid over-protectionism such places are fenced off and patrolled by guys in XXXL hi-viz jackets. We must of course protect the children from all things outside and movement related, lest they might not grow up and meet that super-sized standard.

As fun as the great mound of dirt and felled trees was we had moved our adventures into the only house which had been started at the time, a classic three story suburban American stick-built box. For us, however, it represented a scene of urban warfare. We battled Nazis from room to room, Adam with his trusty black uzi and myself with an olive green M-16. Although we moved and shot with the precision and deadly accuracy of the best S.W.A.T. teams in the world we were but two and the Nazis were many. Finally, cornered on the top floor, we were left with but one option; jump. We ran across the room, shooting the (non-existent) window out before launching ourselves through the opening and into free space. Adam and I were both 6.

That first big jump served as a prelude for things to come. I climbed up and jumped off/out of countless buildings, trees, hills – whatever I could find. The other kids called me Rambob (like Rambo but with Bob on the end), and it was a rare week which went by that didn’t see me covered in some combination of mud and blood on at least a few occasions.

Fast forward to 1997 and a church parking lot in Romeo, Tennessee, where a few friends and I were playing a bit of basketball. Nothing serious, we were just shooting hoops. At the time I had decent enough ups to dunk. Okay, if I got my steps and the dribble just right, and if there was nobody guarding me, I could sometimes jump high enough to slip the ball over the rim. It also helped if maybe the rim was less than a full 10 feet high, like the one we were using.

On my last ever dunk attempt something in my personal star alignment algorythem went askew and the ball boofed the front of the rim, sending my feet forward and up as my upper body trended back and down. My left foot landed and planted firmly as the rest of my body fell backwards and twisted to the left. I heard and felt three distinct pops from my left knee. Just like that, shit changed forever.

At the time I was managing a busy large and small animal veterinary practice. More weeks than not I was logging 50 or more hours, but the pay was horrible ($6.50 an hour if I recall) and I had no benefits. In other words, I had no health insurance, no sick leave and no money to seek medical treatment on my own. I x-rayed the knee myself at work (shh, that was a no-no) and determined that my ACL, MCL, LCL and meniscus had all been damaged to some degree. I spent the next three months (never missing a day of work) hobbling about on crutches with my leg immobilised by elastic bandages from upper thigh to ankle and popping huge amounts of Ibuprofen. It would be three years or so before my knee regained a fairly normal range of motion, during which time my left calf muscle had atrophied noticeably because of the change in my natural gait.

Since then my knee has “gone out” several times, despite my best efforts at being careful about things. Needless to say I no longer take flight – at least not like I used to – but even seemingly innocuous actions like stooping to tie my shoes has caused a re-injury. Fortunately these re-injury situations have never been as severe as the initial injury. Ten to fourteen days later and I’m usually pain free and back to about 90% of my normal range of motion. I’ll continue to wear a neoprene sleeve for a while after that, in part for a bit of support and compression, but mostly as a tactile reminder to take it easy.

This past Friday – exactly five weeks from our (the wife and I) planned departure on the West Highland Way – my knee went out again. Nearest as I can recall it hadn’t happened since some time in 2006, before Steph and I had even met. Just like that, indeed.

Some of those lumps shouldn't be there. Hair has been removed cause my brace catches and pulls it something fierce.
Some of those lumps shouldn’t be there. Hair has been removed cause my brace catches and pulls it something fierce.

It happened this time at my day job (which shall remain un-named due to the company’s Orwellian social media policy and my proclivity for uncensored musing) when my foot slipped off a low hold for a boulder problem I was setting. Now, falling off of boulder problems is generally no big deal and happens all day every day, but I  must have groaned and crumpled in such a (manly, grizzly bear like) way that the four other adults in my general vicinity immediately knew that something was wrong.

Steph and I have committed ourselves to doing much more in the great outdoors of Scotland this year than last. In fact, we’ve committed to doing more with our lives in general, something largely dependent on me sorting out a healthier work/life balance. To that end – and specifically with regards to our forthcoming West Highland Way adventure – we’ve been racking up hours in the gym and miles on the trail. Hell, I even cycled to work not once but twice last week. Slowly but surely we’ve both been getting stronger, faster, fitter and happier.

Getting stronger, faster, fitter and happier.
Getting stronger, faster, fitter and happier.

So where does my most recent knee re-injury leave us (me)? At most mildly inconvenienced, or in injury related terms I’ll say hobbled but certainly not crippled. The West Highland Way is after all only a (96 mile) walk, and if it takes us eight days to complete rather than six then so be it. With cafes, B&B’s, hostels, hotels and bunkhouses strung along the route we have no need to carry heavy loads anyway. We’re not exactly breaking trail in uncharted territory here. And really we had planned on slowing down our usual pace a bit to take in and photograph the scenery; my gimpy knee will only force us to comply with our stated intentions.

Maybe you think all that climbing and jumping and flying as a child (actual age not withstanding) left my knees (and back, but that’s another issue) vulnerable to injury. Maybe you have kids (we don’t) and choose to keep them tucked safely away inside in front of a TV or computer, hand sanitizer always at the ready. Maybe you’re fine with letting life pass you by one spreadsheet at a time and maybe you think I should just grow up and quit doing silly things like bouldering or hiking or cycling and accept further limitations on what I can and can’t do physically. Fair enough, but I don’t have time for maybe; I’ve got a little adventure to prepare for, only one good leg and less than five weeks before it’s go time. Fate and ligaments be damned, we’re still going.

Putting in the miles never felt so good.
Putting in the miles never felt so good.




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