Challengers’ Reflections

John Arlington – Washington, DC, USA  – reflects on how the Challenge forges friendships.

One of the remarkable things about the TGO Challenge is how strangers can become fast friends over just a few days. And I have the evidence to prove it!

The photo on the left shows three tents belonging to challengers on three different routes who camped at the same site on Day 3. Notice how all the tent doors are facing away from each other? Now take a look at the photo on the right, taken on Day 13. Although the Challengers shown on Day 3 went their separate ways, two of us ran into each other more than a week later and, along with a third challenger, camped together in the Fetteresso Forest. We’ve all three remained in contact since, and we’ve no doubt we’ll camp together again on future TGOs.


 

Martin Banfield – Timperley, UK – remembers lonely wild camps and the generosity of Challengers

I thought my 2017 Challenge route would be a sociable one. That proved true on the boat from Oban to Lismore, and for the walk up the island and beyond to Appin, but after climbing through a jungle to the summit of Airds Hill, Aaron and I went our separate ways. I didn’t meet any other Challengers, despite passing through the fleshpots of Bridge of Orchy and Tyndrum, for a good many days. Then, after a fine high camp at the end of the Ben Lawers ridge, I descended to Kenmore to discover Ngumo and Di enjoying a fine luncheon. I joined them for a good long break, waved them off, and went to settle my bill. It had been paid. Thanks go to those two generous Challengers. Then it was off to another wild camping spot and no more sightings of other Challengers until the last day of my walk. But I did enjoy eight wonderful wild camps, none of them blighted by the sight of wind farms or hydro projects, and so far as I’m aware my tent was seen by just one person, a gamekeeper in a patrolling vehicle, in all that time. Brilliant, but I did welcome the company of random strangers from time to time.


 

Hein Hogenhuis – Didam, Netherlands –  recounts how even a ten time Challenger can make a “stupid, stupid mistake”!

Oh no, it was not a mistake to participate in this Challenge, not at all! No, the mistake was quite another story, which I will tell.

On the first Sunday I reached the Corbett of An Sidhean early in the morning. The weather promised to be fine and clouds were lifting. After this Corbett I had planned a splendid ridge walk on the Strathfarrar Munros.

On the summit of An Sidhean I looked around and I looked on the map, for just a few moments, and had soon decided in what direction I should go. So I went and had a splendid high level walk. I loved the walk on firm, grassy ground and enjoyed the play of the clouds around the highest tops, the occasional distant shower and the melancholic call of the golden plover. I was a bit surprised how long it took to reach Sgurr na Fearstaig and I did not see the loch I expected tot see. But no alarm bells ringed. And I walked and walked and enjoyed!

Suddenly I found myself on the summit of a solitary hill. The views were splendid and I was amazed that the Fannaichs looked so near and that I could make out the Fisherfields so clearly! But I was on the top of a solitary hill. This could not be the Strathfarrar ridge. So finally I took my GPS out to check my exact whereabouts, and guess what…….. I was on the summit of the very remote Corbett of Bac an Eich! But I had walked and walked and enjoyed!

Now I only had to reschedule my route and one and a half day later I was back on my normal route.
That is also the Challenge!
But still I had walked and walked and enjoyed!


 

Harry James – Newcastle-upon-Tyne – tells of memories made and lessons learnt on his crossing.

The aim of my Challenge was to link three Scottish walking trails, Affric-Kintail Way, Great Glen Way and the East Highland Way to make a crossing of Scotland plus one ‘trade’ route via the Cairngorms, Braemar to Montrose.
Total distance was 345km (214 miles) and 5100m (16700ft) of climbing over 14 days with a total of 120 hours walking – average 8.5 hours per day. The 3 Scottish walking trails, all on Harvey’s maps (very good for navigation) were a total of 145km (90 miles) and 1800m (590ft) of climbing.

Memorable moments
Affric Hotel, welcoming warden, Hannah, in the company of Hugh and Barbara, also on the TGOC. They know who they are and the dram of Jura whisky did the trick on the first night. Many thanks, Hugh.
Then, the long 2 days after the Affric Hotel to Killin and then on to Invermoristan via Drumnadrochit, 65km (40 miles) over 2 days and 20 hours of walking but in almost perfect weather, possibly too hot.
The “canal” walk down the Great Glen – no Loch Ness monster but boats aplenty. Passing Ardverikie House on the East Highland Way, shades of the Queen’s residence at Balmoral and often used as a substitute film set, eg Glenbogle Castle in “Monarch of the Glen”.
From Kingussie into Glen Feshie, Braemar, Tarfside, White Water Bridge and Montrose taking on board welcoming tea and scone at Newtonmore Hostel from Sue. My thanks.
Beer followed by fish and chips with other challengers at Edzell. Yes, another rite of passage.
A switchback of a journey which created an expedition with memorable moments for me to dine out on when I returned to Newcastle upon Tyne.

Lessons learnt
These are many, from normal apprehension on Day 1 and the flexibility you may need depending on weather and your own physical condition. An essential is to “make friends” with the weather.
An absolute is the positive mindset you develop (empowering) as the days go by to ensure that you remain in control of your challenge to successfully complete coast to coast across Scotland.
The essence of the challenge is a personal journey planned and executed by yourself is, yes, a great adventure for all, irrespective of age. My sons say to me “for you it is a Big Boy’s D of E” and it is – what next?


 

and finally  . . . .

Colin Bennett – Congleton, UK –  takes us on a time travelling trip to TGOC2040

After my 30th crossing it struck me that it doesn’t seem to get any harder as technological advances more or less cancel out the effects of ageing. So that got me thinking about some of the changes which have occurred since my first Challenge in 2008.

I had upgraded to the latest generation of inflatable tent for this year and was keen to see how it performed. Weighing only 100g and made of the new graphene polymer it packs down to almost nothing; the pump is another 100g and quickly blows the groundsheet/mattress to its full 15cm thickness. The flysheet takes slightly longer because it works best at 150psi. When they first introduced them it was easy to have one blow away but now they won’t inflate until you have the auto deflation anchor fully secured. I liked it as it is totally windproof when you want, and, being double skinned with a 4mm gap, an excellent insulator. You do need to open the vents most nights and sometimes leave the fan running to prevent condensation.

With the new tent this is the first year I have been fully electric. Tesla changed backpacking forever when they produced a battery which could store twice as much energy as propane, gram for gram. Indeed the introduction of the CelluLite battery changed the world. I switched to induction cooking, or, mostly, in fact, just boiling water, a few years ago and will never go back although I am tempted by one of the microwave pots.

To get to my start at Shiel Bridge I decided to cross the border at Gretna as the queues at Berwick last year were horrendous. I wish Scotland hadn’t become the 51st state but I can see why they voted for it. It’s said there are now more Scots in Birmingham than in Edinburgh and even Queen Nicola now lives in Monaco. They used to adore her although when she introduced the Monarchy Referendum two weeks after getting independence the writing was on the wall. I recommend Gretna, I was quickly through and back on the train to Inverness. Several familiar faces were on the train and, on arrival at Inverness, I quickly found 3 others to share a UGoPod to Shiel Bridge.

I set off the next morning heading for Glen Quoich carrying three days food which would take me to Fort Augustus. You don’t need to carry much food any more, because nowhere in Scotland is more than 20 minutes from a DroneBase. I know people with the more expensive drone subscriptions can summon one in the morning, send up to 7kg to a depot and recall it with the next day’s food when they find a campsite. 80kph winds will cause drone-out but the forecasts are so accurate now that they won’t be taken by surprise. Maybe when I get older I will stop carrying food – if you time it right you can do the whole Challenge inside the first month’s free subscription and then cancel.

For most of my crossing the weather was good. Since the Challenge switched to late April to avoid the midges its been fairly benign most years; generally even the Munros are free of snow. You used to have to be careful of boggy areas but now the most difficult obstacle are the slopes covered with head height bracken; the remaining vetters have built a database of these and can mostly issue a warning. Most entrants no longer need a route vetting anyway, because, as I did this year, one can choose and download one from the library of more than 800 approved ones walked in earler years.

I stayed at a B&B in Fort Augustus and had 3 more days food delivered. There were still many opportunities to walk with other Challengers as I set off into the Monadhliaths, but it was very windy and quite hard to converse. This was the first time I had seen the Glen Doe Fusion Power Station but it is externally a fairly uninspiring building – you wouldn’t realize it is supplying half of Scotland’s electricity; it is quite sad walking past the stumps of all the redundant wind turbines though. However, it is still magnificently wild when you get into the Monadhliaths proper. I managed to find a sheltered campsite near Carn Odhar na Criche and stayed high all the next day and, although the forecast indicated the wind would pick up, I almost reached my next campsite before the wind duly became too strong for walking and I had to descend to camp. The following morning I started what was consequently a long road and track walk into Boat of Garten and one of my feet was causing me concern when I got there. The next day was a rest day which I hoped would allow it to recover. Next morning I left with enough food to get me to Inverurie on the 5th day with a minor top-up at a shop in Tomintoul and had 5 nights camping before I reached the coast.

Challenge control has much less to do now as it can see everybody’s position in real time. Most people now switch on their idCams and, if you look at the Challenge Channel you can see about 250 real time views of Scotland (500 in the middle week). Control insists that even those without video enabled must leave position reporting switched on – the fixes are so accurate that control can tell whether two people are sharing a tent or just pitched close and, occasionally, they have been known to notice when two signals overlap. But they still provide a friendly face and any advice if you need it and over the next two days I talked to them about my increasingly sore foot. My original plan had been to reach the coast at Forvie Church near Newburgh but I rerouted to go direct along roads to Aberdeen because it saved about 10 hours walking over the last 4 days. Aberdeen is like a ghost town these days (maybe they are all in Birmingham?) and it is quite unsettling.

But I was thinking that some things never change as I made my way to Montrose and the Park Hotel. A pile of rucksacks outside; a distinct aroma inside and a friendly welcome and coffee as you sign in. This is only the third year that 300 people have started on each of the first two Fridays and they were expecting a record number of successful crossings. There were two others with 30 crossings at the meal that night and one with 50 and I wished I’d started when I was 20 years younger.