The last trek on Madeira was tough, damn tough. The Caminho Real 23 had 8500 meters of elevation throughout 180 kilometers of distance. We packed that journey into a week, and carried a heavy pack with camping gear and I carried a lot of photography gear including a drone and multiple lenses. The adventure was awesome and I’m stoked at how the article and photos turned out. However, there was a price to pay.
On day five of seven on the trek, I started to feel a sharp pain high up in my left hamstring. Aches and pains on a trip like that with a heavy pack are normal but this one wasn’t going away. On the fifth night of the trek it hurt to get out of bed and event tying up my shoes was a difficult task. I wanted to continue and hoped it would go away. It didn’t.
Day six and seven of the trek were quite hard for my body. The incline made the injury worse and the sharpness intensified. I grabbed some anti-inflammatories on day six but it was a band-aid approach not a cure. I soldiered through the last two days of 50 kilometers and more than 2,500 meters of incline. We completed the route but I returned to Funchal with a hobble and an injury to take care of.
With a positive outlook, I hoped with a few days of rest and some anti-inflammatory drugs my injury would solve itself. My Mount Kilimanjaro trek was in exactly 3 weeks from the day of my injury, which seemed like a good amount of time to recover. I visited the osteopath in Madeira twice during my last week and gave it as much rest as possible. However, by the time I left Madeira, I still had sharp pain, high up in my hamstring and radiating down my leg.
I had arrived to Madeira with an achilles issue and it was a bit of a sad transit not knowing if I could hike at all on Madeira. Unfortunately, I left with another sad transit to Tanzania. All I could think about was this damn injury and how I just wanted to be able to attempt to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. I’m usually pretty good at putting injuries into perspective and am well rehearsed at the disappointments they bring by now. A few hip surgeries, leg paralysis and countless injuries throughout my career have made me a rehab veteran.
I had planned to arrive early in Tanzania to climb Mt. Meru and do some other trekking before Mount Kilimanjaro. However, now my goal was just to be able to walk without pain before attempting to climb to ‘Africa’s Roof’, the highest point on the continent. I checked into a mid-range hotel with a pool called Outpost Lodge in Arusha and began treating what I believed to be hamstring tendinitis and inflammation in my hip joint.
My days consisted of foam rolling, core strengthening, gluteal activation, yoga, deep stretching, resting, laying by the pool, and watching Youtube videos on how to treat hamstring tendinitis. After the first day or two, I started going for a daily walk, knowing that I needed to start walking soon if I was going to be able to trek up a mountain in two weeks’ time.
It was a very, very frustrating weeks. Improvement is rarely linear and some days you feel that you have made gains and then a sharp pain still hanging around can ruin the mood of the whole day. In the end my attitude was to do as much as I can and be as dedicated as I can to this rehab and then what will be will be. If I can’t hike Mount Kilimanjaro, the world will go on and while it will be acutely disappointing and frustrating it won’t be a big deal in the grand scheme of my life.
I found a local massage center at a hotel nearby and the lady became my unofficial physiotherapist. She gave me three deep-tissue massages throughout the week, which helped to loosen up my hips and back. The hip and hamstring seemed to be loosening up but even on my flat walks, I still felt restricted and had some tightness in my hamstring. I was doing about 8 kilometers of walking each day with a few small hills involved but nothing that would give me too much confidence about climbing a mountain. I tried to remain positive despite my doubts.
I finally found a physio in Arusha with just four days to go before my trek and he was able to perform a number of tests to specify the origin of the pain. I had suspected for a few days that it wasn’t hamstring tendinitis because my hamstring was quite strong in many of the excersises and tests that it should be weak in if that injury were the case. Could it be a sciatic nerve issue? With a hip like mine, which has arthritis and mangles tissues from my two surgeries, it can be hard to always pinpoint one specific issue. However, we did a few tests and decided that it was neither tendinitis or sciatica and rather inflammation caused by extremely tight lower back and gluteal from the large load carried on the trek. That was good news.
The physio did ultrasound and two days of manual therapy on my back and glute. He also put me onto a stronger anti-inflammatory to help ease the tightness. With just days to go before the trek, I finally found some hope in the siutation and could walk pain free. I’m yet to tackle any major incline, but feel more confident to atleast survive the trek and continue the rehab after Mount Kilimanjaro if need be.
While this situation was quite unlucky I’m feeling very fortunate it has at least given me a chance. The body and injuries can be cruel at times. I put in six solid months of training in Madeira and feel ready for Kilimanjaro but sometimes the body just has an issue that holds you back. Injuries always break me and then allow me to put the pieces back together. They allow you to take stock, put things into perspective and above all they ensure that you cherish your time being active and with mobility.
After all of the injuries I’ve had throughout my years, I definitely find myself extremely grateful every time I can complete a hike or an activity without any serious discomfort. I know the pain and frustration that comes with having that taken away so it’s a beautiful thing when you take no adventure for granted. Given my lead up, even having the opportunity to attempt Mount Kilimanjaro is something of a blessing. I’ll probably be more stoked at the trailhead than some of those at the summit and that’s not a bad way to head out on an adventure after all.