Friday, May 29, 2009

from the Great Glen Way Trail in Scotland: pushing

I had thought of several subtitles for this post: every pain has an end; exhaustion; it was not my fault; it very much was my fault; it was the fault of the British telly; etc. None capture the essence of the day well. I’m still trying to understand how it came to be that at 9:30 p.m., I could hardly put one foot in front of the other and the end to the day's hike seemed intolerably distant.

Sure, we had planned to push ourselves a little – to do more than the recommended miles for each day. Yes, I know, we’re not athletes and we’re both getting very close to the what some would call the golden years, but still, we are full of energy and our physical stamina is high.

But there is the matter of the heavy packs – I’m carrying a lot of gear in addition to the usual daily stuff. And then there’s the issue of the weather. It was supposed to clear up (the telly said!). Instead, it clouded over and what started out as a gray drizzle…


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Progressively turned into a heavy drizzle and then somewhere between that and light but constant rain.


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And still, our first segment – 13.5 miles through the National Forest that borders Loch Lochy – had segments of hope. My hood would come off, I would grin and pose for photos…


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…I would hum a nice ditty and tally forth.


The ditties stopped when the trickle of wetness felt its way down my neck and the breeze lost its warmth and the climb began to reflect the hilliness of the terrain.

I would still occasionally take out the camera – the green forest is dense and beautiful and the ferns and wild flowers at the edge of the path are stunning even in the rain.


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But mostly, I would keep it under cover.

And so we lumber forth. We like to pause in our hikes – to look out, to admire, to sit quietly and reflect on the landscape around us. We try once and I get chilled and that puts an the end to our beloved pauses.

Except, as we leave the forest...


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... and approach the end of the day’s segment (at 4 p.m.) at a wee village just at the tip of Loch Lochy, we do pause. There is a barge, artfully converted into a pub. Used to Scottish weather, the owners have a woodstove going, and a room to hang up wet garments and more importantly, in addition to the tea and hot chocolate, they offer us bowls of hot soup. It all goes to my head.


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And, Ed in an uncharacteristic move, suggests that we split a pint. After going back and forth as to whether it should be pale (my preference) or dark and bitter (his preference), the bartender prompts that we should each get a half pint and therefore stay with our own likes and I think – how cool! Bartenders understand that sometimes compromise is tough to accomplish.

For example, compromise in the matter of camping. I have agreed to occasionally camp. But the rain has caused me to reconsider. We’ve pitched tents in damp weather plenty of times. To me, these are the tough times in camping. So, if a few more miles can put you in a warm b&b, wouldn’t you rather hike the extra miles than pitch in a puddle and throw wet gear in a tent?

It is this kind of reasoning (on my part) that leads me to suggest that we walk the whole next segment and push for Fort Augustus – another 10 miles up the trail. Fort Augustus has b&b’s. In Fort Augustus we can dry off. Then, in subsequent days, we can camp. Especially since the bartender assures us that the barometer is on the rise.

Ed agrees. He's less into the "dry off at the b&b idea," but the man likes a physical challenge. We call a handful of b&b’s, find one with an available room and set out.

I notice right away – the minute we leave the barge, that my upper legs are hurting. I shrug it off. That’s what you get for sitting down for too long.

At least the barometer appeares to be on target. The rain is definitely pausing. The clouds are still there, but they are higher, as if they're giving up on the likes of us, looking for other souls to torture elsewhere. I take out my camera again and snap one for the road as Ed moves ahead of me (note the Great Glen Way trail marker at the side -- it is an exceptionally well marked trail).


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But still, we do not pause. I begin to realize that I am very tired. And that when I do pause, my legs stiffen. The pain of getting them to a working state again is too much.

And so we push ourselves. Along a rail bed that has shreds of the Industrial Revolution still in evidence. [On the one side – the old and in this case failed rail link, and on the other – a canal that was as important to commerce in the centuries of Britain’s industrial expansion.]

Now, of course, it is all very green, very forgotten.


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On the other side of the water we can occasionally hear cars moving along the road. You have to wonder if that, too, will become obsolete two hundred years from now, so that this area will be a museum to failed forms of transportation.

Occasionally we pass pleasant meadows – ideal camping places. And of course, we should have pitched a tent (the recent law in Scotland permits hiking and overnight tenting on any private land, with very few restrictions; it’s a camper’s dream to be able to do this at will!). But now I feel obligated to the place we have called. Someone is holding a room for us. Someone is counting on our promised payment.

We walk on.


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By now, even Ed is hurting. We each develop a list of short complaints – mine are heavily concentrated on gnawing pain – legs, feet, shoulders. Pain. We smile to each other in support, but the smiles are fleeting, hardly worth the physical effort.

We are back at the side of the Caledonian Canal and I remember yesterday’s endless walk along an earlier stretch of this same canal, hoping that each bend would be the last. How poorly we learn the lessons of our past!


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I call our b&b person and tell her that our pace has slackened considerably. Indeed, that we are basically without strength. It would be close to 10 before we would arrive.

Each trail has an end and each day ends with the hope that tomorrow there will be sun and the limbs will loosen up again. But on this night, we are spent. The b&b person senses the tiredness in my voice. She sends her daughter to fetch us just at the point where the trail enters the village of St Augustus. It saves us the half mile hike to her guest house. I have never felt more grateful.


IMPORTANT NOTE: for the next ten days (until June 9th), my Internet access is going to be very uncertain. Over my years of blogging, I can think of only a handful of times where I could not post because of a connection problem. This may well be another such time. I will try – I’ll be hiking and kayaking with my computer in my pack (scary thought that it is). But we’re not sure if we’ll find places to stay (we have our sleeping bags) let alone places to hook up. So, stay patient please!

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