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