Sunday, May 31, 2009

from the Great Glen Way Trail in Scotland: tic tac toe

We’re in Inverness now. Sore, each in different parts of the body, but deeply content. Hiking clear across Scotland – initially, it seemed too big of a challenge. And yet, the things I worried about proved manageable. The thing I did not worry about proved to be the greatest problem, ultimately posing the highest risk. It’s like that in life – you worry needlessly over so much and you hardly give a passing thought to thing that do you in. More on that in a bit.

I left Ocean with a report on waking up on Saturday to the view of Loch Ness at the time of sunrise. Let me pick it up from there.

Refreshed. Onwards! We continue high above the shores of Loch Ness. Truly, I can not get enough of her!


But the trail begins to dive inwards now. We are leaving behind not only Loch Ness, but the forests at her banks. Still, this is enchanting countryside. Bucolic, serene, with the highland cattle and ever present sheep to remind you where you are.




After four hours of moderate hills and quiet landscapes, we are in Drumnadrochit. I have adjusted to the different rhythm of our days. Morning coffee cannot come in the morning. It has to come when the next village crosses our way. On this day, it comes in the late afternoon.

And I have a chance to post (see post below)! I hurry – it’s a long process to unload photos, pick better ones, adjust them as needed, put them up in flickr, transfer them to blogger, write the text – really, the more interesting the day, the more time it takes to put it on Ocean. The Loch Ness Center has functional WiFi, and for the price of a cup of tea, we sit down and I do my work. The Internet is grindingly slow. Finally at 6:30, I say the magic words – I’m done!

For his incredible patience, I reward Ed with a promise to camp again. And it’s the right thing to do. The last stretch is the longest of the Great Glen Way. Putting in some uphill miles now is a good idea, especially since the sun, normally so welcome, and giving vivid contours to the stunning landscape, gets to be significantly hot at midday. Ed goes through water at a speed I’ve never seen in anyone (he refills in streams and purifies with iodine). Now, in the evening, the hike is less of a toil.


We hike for several hours – through forests that are first dense and dark, then thinning, until the terrain looks like the stubs on a man’s unshaven face. With a few hairs left behind.


We pitch a tent just as the sun sets (close to 10). There isn’t a view this night. Nor do we have the comfort of a brook nearby. But it’s late and we haven’t eaten much and the map shows a tedious landscape ahead. And so we sleep here, along the road used once to haul back these trees that smell like pine heaven.

In the morning (today), we’re up early. It’s still a long hike to Inverness. At first, the views are tremendous. We’re away from Loch Ness now, and the moors and hills stretch into the distance – with patches of brown (the still dormant heather), yellow (the gorse) and green, all against a blue sky (note the windmills!).


But walking is a slow thing. There is a lot of hot path from one hill to the next. In this last stretch, the hike seems both interminable and magnificent.


And then, it all ends. We enter a forest and a few miles later, we are at the outskirts of Inverness.

We have walked from coast to coast.

So, where does the title for this post come from? And doesn’t it seem that all was simple and trouble free once the weather improved?

I’ll roll you back to my last post, where I wrote about moments of bliss. On this walk, we were reminded that even in moments of bliss, there is always that tiny element of struggle: nothing is without thorn or (more aptly, because it's Scotland) thistle. My toe, for example, got a significant and irritating blister (hence the “toe” in the tic tac toe).

But by far, the biggest issue came for us when, halfway through the hike, I found the first "tic". We had been warned of midges and we had come prepared for their onslaught. The midges stayed away, but the unheralded ticks did not.

Toward the end, we spent a good amount of time hunting our skin surfaces for tikcs. And we found not an insignificant number of them. Unprepared, we had to remove them as best we could. Lyme disease isn’t as widespread as it is in the States, but it’s here and on the rise. So, now we know. A warning to those setting out in the Highlands -- do as you would in Wisconsin (or elsewhere in the States): avoid brushing against their habitat, wear long duds, bring tweezers, know what to look for. Where there’s a sheep, there’s a tick.


Oh, why the “tac” in the title? Well, I’ve not mentioned that the village of Drumnadrochit has taken on the Loch Ness monster theme to a commercial level that is sort of, well, just a tiny bit tacky.


This is the village that has lured tour groups with an entire Loch Ness Monster Center. I’m not sure what’s on display there. But I am grateful for it – it’s where we found access to WiFi.

IMPORTANT NOTE: for the next eight 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!