September rolls around and a young/middle-aged/old man/woman's thoughts turn to the TGO Challenge entry form. There it sits, taunting or tempting you from the back of September's TGO. For some, there is no hesitation; they fill it in, write a cheque for £30 and send it off post-haste to John Manning. Others dwell on their entry; maybe they've never done the challenge and are apprehensive about whether they are up to it, or maybe they did it last year and never want to go near it again! Of course, there are the Challenge Old-Timers, not necessarily that old, but veterans of many a crossing. The Challenge for them is an opportunity to be in a place they love, doing something they enjoy, with like-minded, whiskey-drinking chums. I leave it you to decide which camp you fall in to.
What camp do I fall in to?
Well, I'm 42, so I obviously fall in to the "Young Man" category. And I've never done the challenge, so I think I fall in to the "Apprehensive" section too. I am also going to fall in to the "Not Posting an Entry Form In" category.
It feels a bit strange, and final, to type those words. The decision not to enter next year's challenge has been both tough and simple to make. "Explain please" I hear you ask. I will.
It's tough because I love Scotland. I have not visited or walked there as often as I would like, and the Challenge seemed like a perfect opportunity to spend time in a wonderful environment. I have also come a bit late to the backpacking/wild camping aspect of enjoying the outdoors and a chance to test myself doing it is one I really wanted to take. Of course you can't discount the opportunity to by new, lighter, shinier kit, and this is a major driving force in too many of my hobbies. So many things in the Plus column...
If I love all these things so much, then why am I not entering? As I mentioned in a previous post, I really miss my wife when I'm away, and two weeks is just too long. Even if she came up and met me a couple of times I'm not sure that would help. I'm self-employed so we don't always find it easy to take weeks off for holidaying purposes, so for me to take two weeks off and spend it doing my own thing seems a bit selfish. That also links to one of the more mundane reasons to not enter: wonga. Taking two weeks off, during these straitened times, just isn't going to be practical. I thought I had made my mind up that I wasn't going to enter, then the entry form turns up and I go back to planning, thumbing through guidebooks and browsing blogs, but ultimately, in my heart of hearts I just knew it wasn't going to happen.
So where does that leave me, in the hiking/backpacking scheme of things? Is this The End of my backpacking dream? Well, no. I need something to aim for, some reason to keep my fitness levels up over the winter, some excuse to buy that vital titanium-carbon fibre aglet, and some challenge to look forward to. So, to that end, I have been casting about for something to do, and I have found it. I won't go in to details here just yet, but suffice to say, I'll be away from home for just four nights, I'll miss only three days work, I'll walk 100 kilometres and climb over 7400m. Maps have been bought and routes plotted on Grough, Chris and Pete have expressed their interest in joining me, so wheels are creaking in to motion.
So there it is, I am genuinely sad that I won't be entering the Challenge next year (although never say never). However, deep down, I know it's the right thing to do.
(Of course not entering does make a mockery of my site's address, and my Twitter handle, @KenTGOC2012, but I'm hoping you'll all just over look that...)