My 2015 TGO Challenge walk across Scotland (my ninth) went pretty much to plan. I did not fall in any rivers, or slide down any mountains or even get lost to any great degree. The weather was not extreme (mainly) and my fears of crippling foot pain were unfounded. But don’t get the impression that it was boring. Not at all …… I really enjoyed myself and was pleased with how I coped with the more challenging bits and how I even managed to bag a Munro.
Usually I travel up to my start point on the Friday and start walking on the Saturday so am a day behind most people. I always catch them up after a couple of days, but it means that I have to do a few extra km each day in order to cover the distance within the available time. This year I took the sleeper train up to Inverness on the Thursday night and managed to walk the first 8km of my route on the Friday evening. This may not sound like a lot but I think it made a difference – at least mentally. I felt like I’d already got a little bit ahead, and it also allowed me to have some time off in Fort Augustus on day 5.
My Vetter has warned me about the the risk of falling behind on my two big days on the middle Saturday and Sunday. They were both 30km long with 1200m and 900m of ascent on consecutive days. These days did loom large on the horizon as the weekend approached and I admit to being slightly relieved that the weather forecast was for wintry conditions and strong winds on high ground as this gave me the perfect excuse to follow my Foul Weather Alternative and not go over the top of Cairngorm Mountain. However, the good weather on the Sunday enticed me back onto my main route and this proved to be a slow and tiring day. Reaching Ballater and finding space on the campsite was a great relief. I knew which pub all the Challengers would be in but I chose to recover quietly on my own in my tent with a bag of food (and beer) from the Co-op. Whilst that may sound anti-social, I did value the opportunity to speak to fellow Challengers on the campsite and I then realised how few Challengers I’d met in my first week and how a friendly chat with likeminded people can be a boost to the spirit.
A real relief, this year, was that I did not need to use the Ibuprofen that I’d stocked up on before leaving home. Pain on last year’s crossing prompted me to see a podiatrist and I was diagnosed with Plantar Fasciitis and prescribed othotic insoles. I was anxious that the insoles would not be enough to cope with the rough, intensive, long-distance walking of the TGO Challenge but I had hardly any heel (or back) pain at all. Unfortunately, one of the insoles has nearly wrecked the lining of one of my shoes so I’ll have to see if the podiatrist can make any adjustments to stop that happening.
I think I got my food planning right this year. Porridge and prunes for breakfast; oatcakes and cheese, or a sandwich, for lunch; then an instant “serves 2” pasta in the evening. Usually I added extra cheese or bread to the pasta to bulk it out and add some calories. My poshest evening meal was probably ricotta and spinach tortellini stirred into macaroni cheese. There hadn’t been my ideal menu choices at my planned resupply shop so I improvised. It was surprisingly good!
So what did I learn this year? Nothing new, but I reinforced what I already know about having to balance distance, ascent, and terrain. If I want to do some rough cross-country walking then I can’t do long distances – it just takes too long and puts pressure on me to continue walking when I really should stop. Often the walking is easy on the tops …. but getting up there can take ages due to the climb and the inevitable bog and peat hags that always seem to lie between me and anywhere I want to go.
I also realised I do need some company from time-to-time. I walked with a group for most of the penultimate day and I enjoyed it – although I was also glad when we said our goodbyes and I was back on my own. I wouldn’t like to walk in a group every day, but it’s good to have a bit of company occasionally.
This was my 9th crossing and puts me in the privileged position of almost certainly getting a guaranteed place when I next apply (assuming the rules stay the same). I’m now pondering what I need to do to make my 10th crossing special. I think the answer has to be – “do what you’ve always done”. Why change a winning formula? I’ve had good Challenges and one tough, miserable one but I think I now know what I can manage, what is an achievable but challenging target for me, and how to cope when things aren’t going too well. I’ll be back for my tenth …. probably next year.
I blogged a few times on the way. These brief summaries are linked from the 2015 index page. I’ll try to get round to writing a few more detailed reports and adding them to the index page…. but no promises. (The 2014 page is still not finished!)