The reason why currently no new hiking reports are published is simple – knee pain!

This year in August I wanted to go on my first multi-day tour with the tent. I chose the Harzer Hexenstieg which all reports described as beautiful. The hike should be a reward for me to have quit smoking and it should also prove to me that my performance has increased.

So I got the equipment, food and the necessary tickets and booked camping sites and two hotels. Unfortunately it turned out that the journey and the first hiking day should become the longest day trip of my life. I had to stop the hike in the late afternoon and drove back to Hamburg the same evening.

What exactly has led to this and what I have learned from it, I would like to introduce to you in this article. Maybe it will help you assess your performance before your first longer tour.

Some background information

  • I quit smoking in January this year and by July I had gained 16 kilos, even though I hadn’t changed my eating habits – thanks metabolism! 😉
  • I wasn’t trained to walk with a large and relatively heavy backpack. I only walked around in the Globetrotter with my backpack for half an hour and later at home – fully packed – for about another hour. I thought that would be enough to get a feel for it – far from it! If only I had listened to the good woman in the Globetrotter and made a longer day trip with the luggage.
  • I have never walked with hiking poles before, but I bought some for this tour to relieve my knees. But it seems to need a little practice to be able to walk properly with walking sticks.

What’s the matter with you?

In the morning I took the train from Hamburg to my starting point in Osterode. The backpack was packed and I was fully motivated. Arriving in Osterode I wanted to have a look at the place, the historical market place, the city wall and the old castle were waiting for me.

Kornmarkt und Marktkirche St. Aegidien
Corn Market and Market Church St. Aegidien
Die zugewachsene Söse am Kornmagazin
The overgrown Söse at the Kornmagazin
Blick auf Osterode am Harz
View of Osterode at the Harz Mountains
Burgruine "Alte Burg" auf dem Friedhof Osterode
Castle ruin “Alte Burg” at the cemetery Osterode

At a swivel grill on the market place I strengthened myself once more and set off. The Old Castle is situated on the site of a cemetery on a rather steep slope. To find the castle there is quite exhausting, as it goes up and down a lot. From the city stroll and the search for the old castle already quite exhausted I finally arrived at the starting point of the hike.

Start- und Zielpunkt des Harzer Hexenstiegs
Start and finish point of the Harz Witch Hike

Not only was I physically already pretty much in the bucket, there was also the fact that the backpack squeaked with every step and that can be quite annoying in the long run (keyword: psychological stress?).

The actual hike begins

Nevertheless I started the tour with a lot of energy! The weather was great and I was excited to see what was coming. The first stage of the Harzer Hexenstieg has an ascent of about 600 meters, which doesn’t sound so violent at first. With 18 kilos of luggage on your back (too much!), 16 kilos more on your stomach (much too much!) and zero experience in long-distance hiking as well as a steady climb, it’s quite a lot.

Ein Blick zurück offenbart den stetigen Anstieg
A look back reveals the steady increase

After about 3,5 kilometres of the only 12 kilometres long day stage I was ready! Completely sweaty and with back pain I took a break at the “Köte Köhlerhütte”, the former resting place of the donkey drivers. To give you an impression how ready I was at this early time, I present one of my rare videos. The videos are even so rare that this is the first one as far as I remember 😉

Since I had already used up two thirds of my 2.5 litres of water at that time, the time would theoretically have been now to stop the stage and run back downhill the 3.5 kilometres. But you don’t want to admit it, that’s something I have to learn – to recognize and accept your own limits.

And what happened next?

I walked on to the campsite Prahljust or I tried it, but after about 3 more kilometers my right knee started to hurt a lot. So strong that I couldn’t fully load the leg anymore. Here were the walking sticks – which I had hardly used so far – gold value, as a crutch! The remaining 5 kilometres I did more on all fours than in an upright walk, always leaning on the walking sticks and with many breaks with little water.

When I arrived at the campsite I was physically and psychologically completely exhausted. Thank God I could get a (very expensive) taxi back to Osterode and also a train back to Hamburg I got booked.

Back in Hamburg the next day I went straight to the doctor who sent me directly to the CT with the suspicion of an injured inner meniscus at the right knee. Three days later it was clear that thank God it wasn’t an injury but just an overload and I didn’t bring any permanent damage home from this trip. The overload can be traced back to a too weak musculature to be able to compensate for the 18 kilos of the backpack and the additional body weight since January.

What do we do now?

On the advice of my doctor I have now taken a break for 8 weeks and have strengthened my leg and back muscles. I have developed a training program for myself that is very easy to do at home and which I have explained to you in more detail in the article Fit ohne Geräte – Body Weight Übungen für Wanderer.

So there won’t be any new hikes before Christmas. Afterwards we start the new hiking year with a lot of momentum! I will use the calmer time to complete my travel reports about the West Highland Way and my Ireland trip last year and to work on a few more topics. In addition, the travel planning for next year is on the agenda (Ireland in September – Kerry Way – is already fixed!).

Have you already reached your limits and ignored them? How do you deal with such situations? Tell me in the comments!

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