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Glad it was NOT deja vu all over again!

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Six years ago I had a bit of an interruption to my hiking
that, blessedly, did not end my dreams.
Indeed, since that operation, I've done over 1000 miles on The Trail.

It was thus with an EXTREME sense of "Oh no, not AGAIN!" that I felt a similar kind pain in that same knee last month.
I decided to see a doctor BEFORE I was limping around this time, and (again) I was sent to an orthopedic specialist who arranged for an x-ray, and then an MRI. The results for these procedures were ambiguous -- the orthopedist said he saw no evidence of a tear in my MCL, but did see some evidence of arthritis. The latter was sufficiently minor that it did not show up on the x-ray, but was visible on the MRI. If my pain was arthritis, that would actually be a good thing, as it could be managed with exercise and pain medicine. However, there was ALSO a chance that I had a minor tear that would increase if I continued to do what caused the tear in the first place.
How could this ambiguity be resolved? Ironically, the only way to tell if I had an injury that would end my hiking for this year would be to go out hiking and see if the pain got worse!
So that's what I did.

My initial test was a 3.5 mile hike, on almost flat ground, at a nature preserve close to my home. This resulted in no noticeable pain increase, so I decided to check out what backpacking on the A.T. would do. If I was going to be ruin my knee doing this activity, I wanted to find out right away!
However, I did not want to risk being forced to limp with increasing pain for several days, so I planned a (ridiculously easy) overnight from where I had left off -- Carver's Gap on the TN-NC border. Noting that the Greasy Creek Friendly ('GCF,' the owner doesn't want to call her a place a "hostel") was a mere eleven miles from that point, with a shelter an easy hike up the hill, I saw I could park my car at GCF in the afternoon, get a shuttle to Carver's, spend the night at the shelter, and then do an easy trek back to my car. A simple phone call did all the arrangements, and I was off on Monday.
I had little trouble getting to GCF
by Tuesday afternoon (remember, I live in the Philly area -- so it's a LONG drive down to North Carolina!), despite getting caught in drenching rain while driving up Greasy Creek Road. Fortunately, the rain was moving north at this point, so Carver's Gap was already clear when I got dropped off. The hike up the hill went withOUT increasing pain, and I spent a pleasant evening at the Roan High Knob Shelter with a family enjoying its introduction to backpacking.
The enjoyment of the beautiful weather, at a nice shelter, was DESPITE too much trash at this shelter, some of which I hauled out. C'mon people -- we can do better than this!!

The hike back to GCF was not exactly an exercise in solitude -- I came across dozens of people, including two groups of Boy Scouts. And there was some degree of discomfort due to my being almost completely out of shape for this activity. Nevertheless, the pain in my knee did NOT increase. If anything, at the end of this trip, my knee was where I hurt the LEAST. So, even though I'm not a doctor -- heck, I don't even play one on TV -- I feel safe to conclude that I can continue to backpack this summer.
Despite pouring rain all over the East Coast this week -- including the area where I was walking -- I only faced ten minutes of drizzle while on The Trail. I had no falls, and only one minor bug bite -- better than usual for me! In other words, I'm as good(?) as I've ever been!
I had little trouble getting to Greasy Creek Gap by mid-afternoon. Despite my planning, mapping, and (quite good, if I my say) sense of direction; I still wasn't 100% certain about the route down from the Gap to the Friendly. I hope the next people making this trek won't be as unsure as I was.

A drive home went fairly well, and I'm now planning how to extend my miles. Because it now takes well over a day of driving to get from home to a starting point for a backpack, I'm going to have to get a little more creative in my planning. You'll hear more of (mis)adventures as they occur!
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