Remember when I mentioned this commandment of my religion?

If a day includes the possibility for skiing, then there must be skiing.

And earlier this month I wrote about the "last" snow of the season?

But two days ago [April 1, 2021], the ground was again white with snow. I was hoping that maybe there’d be another day of late season skiing, but no, not enough. I think that’s it.

Well it turns out that I was right about the first quote and wrong about the second. This morning we woke up to about 3" of snow on April 21st. I could see that because the ground was so warm that the snow on the pavement would be gone immediately — skiing probably was not possible. But I went out to shovel the mush on the driveway and the snow was still coming down furiously. I thought why not?


This is showing the empty (since at least 2018!) CRE building behind my house whose parking lot I use as my personal 700m speedskating track. This spring I’ve already skated 95km in that parking lot right where this photo is showing and just last week I was skating there in shorts and a t-shirt.


This shot right behind my backyard shows how tenuous the snow is for skiing.

This post really isn’t about me skiing which is more of an anomalous amusement. It is about that damned Plague. Stupid Plague! And knees.

Monday I had to go downtown for a hassling by La Migra and I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to park a car in a downtown area but I am not James Bond — who does it effortlessly, really his most impressive trick. So I brought a bicycle of course and went to one of the free marina parking lots (which I know way too well). As I started riding to their fortress, I was shocked to feel a pain in my left knee.

What the fuck is this? In that other skiing post I mentioned a time some 30 years ago where I landed from a massive big air jump with my ski in a hole, and ripped up my knee pretty severely. After that healed I had never had any serious/noticeable knee pain. Ever.

Here I was riding a bike, one of the things I’m most comfortable doing and that my body is best prepared for, and my knee is hurting? Light gentle flat-ground bike riding with no heavy cargo! It hurt on the way back and I was utterly mystified. I figured maybe I’d slept on it badly or something and that it was really just a little thing. Joints may hurt as a part of my inevitable decline and decay as I get old, but if that’s the cause it could not possibly be a very salient thing all of a sudden one morning for no fucking reason.

With that in mind and being very, very annoyed at this, I spent two hours in the afternoon riding to Lockport. Which is an absolutely gorgeous ride along bike trails following the Erie Canal. I could feel my knee was not as delighted about the outing as the rest of me, but it also wasn’t resisting the effort enough for me to turn back.

Back home, I was pretty tired and my knee was just getting worse. Finally it got to the point where I could barely climb stairs. It was now rivaling that skiing accident for worst knee pain of my life! Remember, at this point I had absolutely no recollection of any possible cause for this at all. My knees are in absolutely bonkers good shape! I was absolutely mystified.

But thinking back on my last 17 months, I realized that there have been quite a few things like this where over days or even hours I go from being 100% super healthy to suffering the worst form of some malady of my life. Muscle pain in various places. I was deaf in my left ear in January of 2020 and deaf in my right ear from August 2020 through January 2021. Some days I’d be way more exhausted than if I’d ridden 100 miles — but having done absolutely nothing. I know shin splints well enough from my running days, but I had the worst shin splints of my life last year — from doing nothing! There were unexplained bruises on my arms and legs. I had five or so suspicious plague pox on my chest randomly throughout last year (compare with a dozen or so while suffering the full range of symptoms in December 2019).

Hmmm. What does the internet say about a search term "joint pain covid"?

Ah ha. Here’s a list of "COVID-19 (coronavirus): Long-term effects" from the Mayo Clinic. 1. Fatigue (I probably slept around 400 more hours in 2020 than 2019). 2. Shortness of breath (why is bringing the laundry up from the basement more of a serious aerobic endeavor than skiing up a freaking high-altitude mountain?). 3. Cough (I’m rethinking all the coughing that has seemed incidental — if you coughed twice as much as your healthy normal self, would you notice?). And…

4. Joint pain.

Great. Fucking great. I have previously mentioned how eerie it is that Covid seems to have "very similar symptoms to Lyme disease". Here is the CDC’s list of "Later Signs and Symptoms" of Lyme disease with #4 being:

Arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, particularly the knees and other large joints.

Do note that almost all of the long term symptoms of Lyme and C19 correspond pretty neatly. Anyway. Arthritis seems like a kind of pain that people who are good at ignoring pain can start building the skill to ignore.

Back to that crazy skiing hobby. Since I’m obviously enthusiastic, a few weeks back I wondered if it was possible to buy the dorkiest exercise machine ever invented: the NordicTrack indoor cross country skiing trainer. The answer is yes! I found one on Craigslist for $50. Deal! Like almost all old exercise equipment on CL, it was not terribly accurate to call it "used". I find it too boring and dorky to do too much of that but I like to do a couple of minutes a day on a hard setting to keep my skiing muscles ready for freak spring snow storms.

Now we get to the interesting bit. (Finally!) So I’m a guy in superb physical shape with no problems or maladies except now, thanks to the strange lingering after-effects of The Plague, I suddenly have a freakish attack of ridiculous knee arthritis. The question I am in a perfect position to answer is this: how stressful is cross country skiing on one’s knees?

Well, I could barely step up onto that NordicTrack yesterday and stepping down was incredibly painful. But I did the skiing itself 100% pain-free! My skiing this morning? My knees were 100% fine until I was back home climbing my garage steps.

Already my knee is much better than Monday. Now that I have mentally moved it out of the category of sensible physiological sensations to crazyland Plague effects, I can make much more sense of it. It is attacking just like the myalgia did. And, like those attacks of freak causeless muscle pain, it’s improving as rapidly as it afflicted me — I predict this knee pain will be almost hard to recall by next week (one of the reasons I’m writing about it).

So with the insight of that experience, let me summarize my opinions about how to have healthy knees.

  • Do not get The Plague.

  • Do not get Lyme disease.

  • Sitting around 24/7/365 doing nothing (at a desk working, watching TV, driving, etc.) is categorically terrible for every part of you, including your knees.

  • Like birds flying, walking is what we bipeds evolved to do. Any knee pain while walking is probably a well calibrated signal — if your knees don’t hurt doing it, then walking is probably quite healthy for them. Backpacks, beer guts, and tough terrain complicate the situation.

  • Stair climbing — seems to be the most painful part of my knee problems right now, so maybe exercise caution exercising with a stair climbing machine.

  • Running makes you healthy and light, but is not ideal for knees. I think the advantages and disadvantages are close, but that it is a slight net loss for knee health for most people. The lighter your natural body composition is, the better.

  • Bike riding is hard on the knees and simultaneously strengthens them. Probably a wash. It’s best to avoid radical changes in cycling activity levels (increase workouts gradually). But even if you do suddenly start riding 200km/day (e.g. touring) any resulting knee pain will likely sort itself out eventually as you build strength. If you have knee problems and like cycling, consider a recumbent bike.

  • Though not as bad as cycling, rowing also can be hard on the knees and yet strengthens them. You can also shorten the stroke to ensure it’s a net win.

  • Skating (ice and inline) seems benign for knees, but quirky problems could cause trouble.

  • I am skeptical about too much swimming being good for shoulders, but it is very gentle on the knees. Running in a pool may be the best knee exercise there is. If you have a stupid California apartment motel pool, just treading water for 20 min is a great exercise and great for knees.

  • Alpine skiing is asking for trouble. Your knees hate moguls more than you do.

  • Cross country skiing (classic) probably burns more watts without causing any stress to your knees than anything else you can do.

UPDATE 2021-04-24

As promised that knee pain was completely gone in a couple of days. Yesterday I cycled into a raging headwind for 45 minutes (30 min return) — no problem. Today I set my PR on my 10.5km speedskating course in the parking lot — no problem. Spiky virus, you’re messing with the wrong guy.