They say time is a great healer, and I guess I have to agree. It's been nearly seven weeks since Bev, Chris and I headed north for our foray in to the Cairngorms. Bev sensibly forayed from the comfort of the Fife Arms and a VW Golf, whereas Chris and I made progress by foot in to the hills. The blisters, achey legs and fatigued brains have been restored, leaving behind some niggly questions. Neither of us had a great deal of backpacking experience, so these three days raised quite a number of issues, some of which are surmountable and others which may not be. Read on, and let me know your thoughts.
Firstly, I think I'll talk about the Physical Aspects of our hike. I deliberately chose a route that wouldn't provide too much agro from a navigational point of view. Up one valley, along another and then south crossing from one valley to another. Land Rover tracks, stalkers paths with the odd bit of heather/bog trotting. So that wasn't too much of a problem. I did also want to see how we would cope with a long day, carrying hefty loads, and that definitely was a tougher proposition for us. The second day was quite committing as we had no shortcut back to anywhere if we found the going too much, so we really had to dig deep mid-afternoon. I think we both felt a little unsure about our ability to do those sort of distances for ten or twelve days running. One other aspect that would need to be honed is campcraft. I am pretty confident that, like anything, the more you do it the easier it becomes. Backpacking skills are a whole level (or two!) up from your usual dayhiking skillset, and getting them dialled makes the whole thing easier, safer and way more enjoyable, I imagine! We did ok, but I think a "smooth and by the numbers" routine when making/breaking camp is something we do well to aspire to. I suppose kit comes in to the "physical" side of things too, and overall I was pleased with how things worked. I need to practice rigging the Trailstar, and I need to cut down on weight which I think would be in three areas: clothing, food and paunch.
Then there were the Mental Issues. Hmmm, that doesn't look good! One of the biggest things that both Chris and I struggled with was the absence of wives. I know loads of people like getting away from their respective spouses/partners, but we were not of that type. Ensconced under flapping silnylon at Derry Lodge we both confessed, like the old soppies we are, that we missed our wives. And this feeling didn't go away. We were just as bad the next day. And the day after that. I'm not sure how you get round that, or indeed why you would want to. Unfortunately, neither of our girls has the health to join in on a 180 mile hike so this could be a challenge-buster, as I don't think we've got it in us to wave them off for the best part of two weeks. Another issue that raised it's head was that of the very nature of the TGO Challenge itself. We found at times that we were just head down, ploughing on for the next break or campsite and not really enjoying the experience of being where we were. Is a linear, timed (after a fashion) hike the right sort of event for us? Would we rather be a little freer in our scheduling, stopping where we want, exploring where we fancy, rather than grinding the clicks out? Especially when the last few days seem to be mainly an uninspiring trudge through the eastern flatlands (no offence meant to anyone who likes that bit of the walk, or indeed lives there)? I recall Cameron McNeish describing his feelings of unease as he headed away from the hills when he wrote about his first Challenge in TGO last year, and I can certainly understand them. West is best!
So questions to be answered:
1. Is our navigation up to the job? Pick the route according to you ability, do a course, practice, practice, practice.
2. Are our fitness levels were they need to be? Walk, diet, hike: simples.
3. Campcraft? Nothing beats getting out there and doing it I guess!
4. Kit-wise, some weighing and judicious choosing should get things a little closer to where they need to be.
5. Can we be wife-free for two weeks? I don't know, but I think not...
6. Do I actually want to do the TGO Challenge? Yes, and No. I love the idea of it, I love the wilds of Scotland, I love the idea of digging deep when things go pear-shaped, but I don't know if I love the idea of forcing those things to fit an organised, however loosely, event.
(To be frank, the first four questions can be answered fairly easily, I think it's the last two that are the clinchers...)
Please don't take this post the wrong way. I really enjoyed the experience I had seven weeks ago, and I completely understand why people come from across the globe, year after year, to be part of the TGO Challenge. I am constantly inspired by the blogs, photos and articles that Challengers post. As I type this I really feel the need to get out in the boonies somewhere and pitch up. I've got the gear, I've got some idea, and I definitely love the experience. The question is, do I want that experience to be on the TGO?
I guess only I can answer that.
P.S. If you haven't had the chance to read Chris' view of our hike then you could do worse than go here.