Aftermath

So the trip is long over and it’s back to reality. The trip seemed to last a lifetime, and being away seems a lifetime ago. I must be on my third lifetime in a month.

There are plenty of photographs up at http://www.facebook.com/HittingTheHills. Few of them are of me, which is one of the benefits of being the person holding the camera.

There had been suggestions of developing a Hitting The Hills board game, and I dabbled with the idea of putting together a comic; the issue with both ideas mostly being that I can’t draw. As a result there may yet be a book of the comic of the blog of the trip. If I ever get around to writing it then it will be completely fictional. Well, almost completely. Names will be changed to protect the guilty.

This blog isn’t going to be completely ignored while I procrastinate on writing an epic novel that will almost surely result in me very nearly, but not quite, becoming a real writer. I’ll also be slowly reviewing the odd bits of kit we took, putting together a kit list, uploading a breakdown of the miles done per day and so on.

The book will have to be mostly fictitious. It’s easy to forget bits of what happened, and it’s strange what you remember. There are things that I neglected to mention in the blog, or didn’t seem so important or funny at the time; for example almost injuring myself stretching on the first day, or my uncanny ability to find fried food, even in the wilderness.

Some things are hard to describe. There are moments that I wished I had captured on camera. There was the time when we were shuffling up to Culloden camp site and we were asked by the lady running the campsite where we had come from. Upon replying with “Inverness” her response was “Oh, well, I don’t feel sorry for you now”. Whereas my response of a “well screw you” glare and a comment of “We started in Glasgow last week” was adequately venomous, the wounded look on Heley’s face had more than a hint of malevolence to it. A snapshot of that moment would have become an internet sensation, and I’m sure something a little like this was going on in Heley’s head: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28S-aOWtFdo

With over £1100 raised so far, and still hoping a few more people cough up some pennies, some aspects of the trip have been a success. The club has really grown over the last few months, and it’s great to see other people getting involved and helping out more.

In other ways the trip was less successful. Both Heley and I are on the long term injury list. We didn’t manage all the miles and I’m still gutted that I didn’t get to the finish line on foot. There will be other dramatic adventures though. Perhaps I’ll try the 267 miles of the Pennine Way or the 2181 miles of the Appalachian Trail. My sense of adventure has certainly not been dulled by the failure.

Who knows, I might wander up back into the hills this winter to catch up on the bits of the trip I missed… and besides, the Cape Wrath Trail starts not far from Ben Nevis, and it’s only 200 miles long, that’s just a wee stroll.

There is a story behind this, but I'm not going to tell you it.

Cows!!!

Day 9: Director’s Cut

If only they had rucksacks!

Warning: Heley and Phill crossing

I didn’t really write about Day 9 at the time, not least because it was the longest day we walked. It was 32.42 miles long and it had the most ups and downs. We accumulated a total of 5453.59 feet up and 5512.86 back down. It was also a day designed by the devil himself. I’m pretty sure looking back I’ve blocked out the worst parts of the day, so here’s something more akin to a tamed down executive summary. Enjoy.

You know it’s going to be a bad day when you are woken in the middle of the night by some animal being attacked in the wilds. You know things are going to get worse when the other person in the tent can’t get back to sleep because they need to pee, but can’t go out to pee because there may be some wee beastie out there that preys specifically on the weak of bladder. Did I mention that it was cold, wet and windy too?

Anyway, 4 hours next to a wide awake person needing to pee didn’t sound like fun, nor did any possibility of 4 hours next to someone fast asleep having accidently got to the point where they didn’t need to pee anymore. So the cold and wet was braved in order to ensure that no wild animals were lurking in the attempt to catch us off guard in the middle of the night.

I returned to the tent cold and wet. A few hours later I awoke to find that I was still cold and wet, but had lost all ability or care about how to get warm, I was quite miserably suffering away in my sleeping bag wondering whether death by hypothermia was a valid excuse for a night in a bed and breakfast. At least a hospital would be warm.

Heley was up early and so made me tea, that helped and eventually I dragged my frozen, lazy backside out of the tent to discover Heley being eaten alive by midges. Midges are attracted to the carbon dioxide in your breath. It’s hard to avoid them without breathing. Luckily for those of us still in possession of legs, they can’t keep up with you if you are walking around. Heley wasn’t walking around. She was sullenly sat there and so, sat in a dense cloud of wee bitey things, had neatly turned herself into breakfast.

I packed as quickly as possible after shepherding Heley away from the midge-cloud for a moment’s respite. We then trundled off to Fort Augustus in silence, where I was sure that Heley would announce that she was done and would find the quickest way back to Cambridge. All credit to her for sticking it out, although I suspect that continuing was partly so that she could watch me suffer too.

I can’t really recall much of that leg of the journey. It seemed to mostly contain Heley and myself either ignoring each other or walking a hundred meters apart. I think each time one of us started a conversation the other just answered with a glare which only meant that keeping talking would almost certainly end badly. I’m glad that the sharp knife was safely hidden in my rucksack, although I’m sure Heley could have made good use of the trekking pole.

A brief moment of happiness occurred when we realised we were already in Fort Augustus. We considered walking through the town before settling down for tea, but by this point we had no intention of walking even an inch further than absolutely necessary. However, we were attracted to a particularly large sign that promised tea and cakes in the form of a café overlooking Loch Ness. It promised much more than it delivered, not least because it was shut. We’d walked an extra couple of hundred meters to get there. It did adequately sum up how I felt about life at that point.

Instead we settled for a little pub and had a cup of tea there. It was pleasant enough, I suppose. We left the pub, walked a little further through the town and found a plethora of wonderful looking places promising hot drinks and snackables. We’d not even reached lunchtime at this point and it was looking increasingly likely that Day 9 was just out to get us.

At least we weren’t the only ones suffering. A “Monster” challenge around Loch Ness took relay teams of four running and cycling around the loch with a distance of 120 km to cover. They were heading in the opposite direction to us. Most of them were very polite and always said hi as they passed. They only had to say “Hi” to us once; I had to acknowledge each of them as they cycled past. There were bloody hundreds of them. Heley was in no mood to acknowledge anyone.

Onwards we trudged. Trudging being the operative word, onwards being the slowest of the words and we being something I use in the loosest sense of the term.

Somewhere I had read the advice that duct tape is great for taping blisters. Elastoplast is great for taping blisters. Duct tape, not so much. While Heley hobbled onwards I attempted to duct tape my feet back together. A couple of miles later the lesson was learnt and I took the duct tape back off. I also learnt another lesson – duct tape is a bitch to get off.

There must have been some good points along this stretch. I say good, I certainly feel like I actually mean tolerable. We chatted for a bit, the mood lifted and then we broke. Some people collect stamps or keyrings from their travels, Heley and I collect injuries. By about 3pm I was ready to pitch the tent and ignore the rest of the day. Convincing Heley to stop for the day was never going to be a viable option, so on we plodded, ever slower.

Civilisation came in the form of Invermoriston. I can’t remember much about the place other than being sat on a bench near a car park while I attempted to solve the problem that was my feet. The place also had public toilets and a shop, which from our point of view made it a big town. Heley collected more supplies of diet coke and chewing gum, whilst I almost twisted my ankle on the step outside the shop. That would have been an embarrassing way to end the journey.

Eventually, after another couple of hours walking, we had a judgement call to make, to wild camp or attempt to make it to a campsite at East Lewiston. The decision was made, onwards we wobbled. We knew it was going to be late by the time we got to the campsite, and it just seemed to get later and later the more we walked.

We moved very quickly towards the end, ignoring the pain just to get to the campsite. We resembled the Elderly People sign as we walked. Campsite located, tent up, food cooked, we got everything sorted like clockwork. You’d think we were experts at the way everything got sorted in the dark.

Somehow, over the best tuna and rice I have ever tasted, we looked back at the day and laughed. I think the only other choice was to look back at it and cry, and hell, you gotta laugh.

 

Image courtesy of Ethan Prater

Putting things into perspective

I’ve pulled the distances out of our GPS logger. In our eleven days spent walking with rucksacks we walked 247.94 miles. That’s just over twenty-two and a half miles per day, carrying over twenty percent of our bodyweight on our backs.

It doesn’t take into account any of the distance we walked around Fort William during our day off (which we didn’t bother to log), an evening walking around Inverness, nor any of the distance done once we reached Aberdeen.

As it turns out, we used the logger on one day in Aberdeen, just to add some extra distance to our total, while seeing if it was possible for us to walk any distance without rucksacks. It turned out we were in no fit state to continue walking. We still covered another 13.74 miles, taking us up to a grand total of 261.68 miles logged during the trip in Scotland.

Our “height ascended” totalled over 37,110 feet. That’s a little over seven miles high. We walked in the clouds and next to the sea. We’ve gone up, down and around in wind, rain and sun. Just look at a map of Britain and see where Inverness is in relation to Glasgow. We walked that.

That's actually quite a long way to walk.

So we were short of our target of 350 miles. But if you add in the distances we didn’t log around Fort William, Inverness and Aberdeen, and include the 50 miles in North Wales and 42 miles in Ely then we have walked over 350 miles for DC Boxing club. Just not quite in the way we intended.

It’s official

Ivan, head coach of DC Boxing and Justin, a long running senior boxer and coach, both had words of encouragement at the start of the trip, which Phill and Heley took with them, along with their 20kg bags. Now at the premature end of their journey, we asked them again for their thoughts.

1) Now that Phill and Heley have officially announced that they will not be able to complete the trip, what are your thoughts?

Ivan: Disappointed for them. But if you’ve given your all, you can’t ask for more. Logic has to take sense.

Justin: They’ve done amazing.

2) How do you feel about what they have managed to achieve for the club, in terms of both raising the profile of the club and the money they have raised?

Ivan: Whether they raised £2 or £2000, it’s not about the finance. They’ve given their time for the club, and put something back in. It’s generated a lot of interest. It’s a shame people just don’t have the money to sponsor more.

Justin: Brilliant. They’ve gone out and done it, and it shows what the club means to people.

3) Despite Phill and Heley’s clear achievement, if they were to feel disappointed or a sense of failure in anyway, what would you say to them?

Ivan: They haven’t failed at all. We can only imagine how hard it was out there from reading the stories. They didn’t fail, they just didn’t reach the goal they set out to. If failure is raising money for the club and raising awareness for the club, then call it failure. It has got a lot of people talking and money for the club towards the much-needed new ring.

Justin: Injury takes over the braveness. You’ve got to be realistic. Your mind is trying to work over your injury, but sometimes you can’t carry on.

4) How else do you plan to raise money for the new ring? 

Ivan: Last year we had a shave night. ‘It’s a knockout’ is coming up to raise awareness, but not a lot of money. Dunno – ask Justin!

Justin: ‘It’s a knockout’ is on this week. There’ll be a stall and scaffolding with bags. 30 seconds. £1 a go. So hopefully we can raise a bit of money there.

On the site alone, Phill and Heley have raised £862.70 so far. They’re still planning to reach £1000, with a welcome-home-empty-your-pockets bucket bash. With Ivan’s wisdom and experience, and Justin’s duracell-positivity, I’m pretty sure we’ll reach the target £1500, because it’s not about the money. It’s about the club. 

Day 13: Glorious Failure

If there were two words to sum up Scottish sport those would be them. Threaten to succeed just enough that people start to believe then, in the dying seconds, snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

They are now the words I am using to describe our attempt to walk from Glasgow to Aberdeen via Inverness. We’ve finished up at yet another casualty department. Three strikes and you’re out, and so, after so many miles, it has now become the time to finally throw the towel in.

Heley can now add shin splints to her list of injuries. The doctor looked at us and asked if we were able to listen to what our bodies were telling us. We said no and asked for a translation. She spelt it out for us; we needed to stop. It was that simple, either we stop or we risk chronic problems and turning our recovery time into months.

Essentially, it is now time for us to stop playing silly buggers and to be proud of what we have achieved. Three months ago this crazy plan had not even entered my mind. I’ve previously only camped out for long weekends, Heley hadn’t even been camping in seven years. Despite both of us being quite fit, neither of us are great walkers. Heley even admitted to not particularly liking either camping or walking!

It’s difficult to describe how I feel sat here on a train. Relieved not to have to put myself through any more punishment. Disappointed not to be making it to Aberdeen by foot. I think overall we should be satisfied with what we have achieved.

We think we have walked 230 miles in eleven days of walking. We should hopefully have a GPS log of where we have been, so more detailed and accurate figures will be uploaded along with photos on our return.

Heley and I would like to thank everyone who has shown us support during our journey. Thank you to everyone who left us words of encouragement along the way. We rarely had time to respond, but all the comments were appreciated.

We shall rest up in Aberdeen for a few days. After that if we are able we shall go for a few walks to keep the journey going and to increase our total number of miles. But for now we are done.

It’s been fun but I’m exhausted. In some ways it may have been a failure, but by god it was glorious.