Third Times a Charm

The Great Outdoor Challenge (TGOC) is now officially 30 days away.

I leave for the UK on Friday, May 4, to spend a few days in the country with, yes of course, Nick and Belinda.

Right now, scanning maps, packing, working out (well, if you call watching Tom Hanks in Castaway exercise), and generally trying to understand why I am doing this again. Well, mostly because it is a challenge and mostly because it is fun (with the exception of the rain, the cold, the freeze dried food, the constant climbs, the back aches and the lack of decent Chardonnay).

So, stay tuned. We are back. We are ready. We are hoping to hike into the Royal Wedding.


A Recap of the Zipper/Velcro Convention.

As I mentioned. I finished. Exhausted. Sore. And satisfied. 

A friend of mine, Mark Wirt, a capable Ironman in his own right (and for years the fastest man in his age group for the one mile), asked if I planned as much this time as the first time, his assumption being, once you’ve done it, you rely on muscle memory. And he was right. The first crossing I literally spent hours a week in planning, going over maps, double checking my kit list and arranging logistics. This time, not so much. 

But I have to say the second crossing, aside from the route selected, was harder than the first. Because this time I knew what to expect. 

Last year it was all new. Most unexpected and it was expected I had to persevere. Which I did. This year, I knew what was coming. I knew the back pain, I knew the rain was going to be an omnipotent partner. I knew what I was getting myself into. Last year it was blind bravado that got me through. This year it was blind determination. More than one TGOC’r has said it is all a mind game. 

Anyhow, last night was the reception dinner for all who finished this year, over 250. Some had a smaller dinner the night before and some the night after. But this was the big one. 

Dinner was at 19:30 and by 18:30 the place was packed with zippers, Velcro, man-made materials and the only cotton worn, were the t-shirts celebrating the 2017 crossing. 

Russ, the ever charming gentleman he is, congratulating those who have done this a dozen times.
There were toasts and stories and the acknowledgement that this is a singular club you cannot buy your way into. You earn it by hiking. Simple as that. 

It’s hard to describe the feeling of bonhomie, a feeling of being a part of a family you never knew existed. As I’ve said before, a Jet amongst Jets. A singular amongst a host of singulars. 


Humphrey, whom I believe is on his 20+ or so crossing and may very well have been conceived on the trail, pulled together a band that played exceptionally well: They were quite wonderful. Humphrey in white.

Well, that’s about it. The crossing is done and I am melancholy. As I said earlier, the first was perhaps a tad bit more rewarding, having done it. The second, more difficult in that I knew it wasn’t a cake walk. But did it, I did.

So, a final update on my feet:As you can see, a couple nails are good to go. Last year, I lost seven, this year it looks like five. The big toenail on my left foot is already flapping, which is okay. I’m thinking I can keep breath mints stored under there. Let me know if you need a throat freshener. I have them. I’d show you the bottoms but again, I don’t want to put you off venison.

That’s it. Melancholy. But happy. Ready to come home.

But what? Wait! Fuck! I’m starting to think about next year. Lord, have mercy.

Thus ending the sermon.

(I’m ready for that orange juice in the dining room.)

Arbroath. Last Stop.

I made it. 

Up at 07:00, minimal breakfast and on the road at 08:00 

Hiked for an hour, than took a bus to get to my starting point. Then on the road:The road was pleasant and the weather warm. 

Finally arrived in Arbroath around noon:My feet in the ocean

Along the way, whenever I mentioned I was going to end up in Arbroath, I was always told to have a Smokie. A Smokie is a smoked haddock. My first Smokie. And it was all it was hyped up to be. It was outstanding. Warm, Smokie and delicious. 

Here is the shop next door that made it:

After lunch, I boarded a bus to Montrose and signed in:

That’s it. More later. Brain dead. Exhausted. But happy. 

Forfar Update

Alright, a confession, I had dinner at a sit down Chinese restaurant. Was going to keep this lowkey but we have no secrets, do we? Well a few, for instance, not many of you know I am berift of hair.

Anyhow, had dinner at a really good Cantonese place (yeah, the Chinese have a hold on me) and rather than walk back to the hotel, walked up the Highstreet to a bar in tribute to Robert Burns. Ended up talking to some great old guys (put me in that category). 

We toasted Nickerson. And they sent their condolences. That’s Steve on the left, an ex-chef with a bad knee on his way to Portagual at the end of June. Next to him is Scott, the bartender, who I believe, we entertained with our spittal and wit. Finally is Johnnie (not to be confused with John who was ten years younger and left earlier), who is going to the Canary Islands in a forenight. John worked on ships when he was younger and has seem more of the world than most.

But the great thing is, we all toasted Nickerson.

Nickerson was a great cat.

That’s it. Time for bed.

Forfar? For sure! But First, I Gotta Stop By Letham.

Tuesday, May 23, Forfar

Up at 08:00, minimal breakfast at the hotel and on the road by 09:40.

Walking out of town I came across this sculpture:It’s for Bon Scott (1946-1980), lead singer in AC/DC. Apparently, Peter Pan was not the only boy from Kirriemuir who refused to grow up. 

It was fitting that today being my second to the last day of hiking and the last with any chance of being wild, was a smorgasbord of hiking experiences. 

The first bit was hiking along a medium busy “A” road out of town until I could cut into the countryside. I went from minor roads to farm roads. 

To pathsTo fans bahing hello (or could that be, “Bugger off, bitch.”)Down these narrow, narrow dents in the countryside.
Then to a bit of a bog (loved it) and shoulder wide paths through the countryside. I hiked through farm fields, lost the path and had to scramble.My actual hike for the day was to Letham, but there was no lodging available so I hiked there and then doubled back to Forfar. Far? Not really.

Made it to The Queens Hotel around 16:00. Another great place in the middle of nowhere. 

One more day to go. I’m ready for it to be over but delighted for today’s varied hikes. 

And finally, two cool cats died today:Roger Moore, who played a pretty cool James Bond.


Nickerson, sunning himself yesterday. He played a pretty cool friend. 

26k 240m

Day 10 of hiking. Two days left. Two days for self reflection.

Monday, May 22, Kirriemuir

There is a saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” (Thank you old Greek guys). 

But again, there is many a life examined, not worth living. I suspect I end up somewhere in between. 

Many friends thought this hike would be a great way to get out of the day-to-day stress and pull of life and really have an opportunity to muse, think grand thoughts and hone in on the meaning  of life.

The fact is, and I say this from the perspective of other TGOC’rs as well, it is all about putting one foot in front of the other and trying to maintain a comfortable body temperature. 

If you think about it, what more in life is there but moving ahead and not freezing? Not freezing physicially, not freezing emotionally, not freezing when the path of life suddenly sucks you up to your knees in muck. 

So right now, that’s as close as I can get to introspection. Although, right now, my body temperature is ideal, and my legs are muck free.

Up at 07:30, breakfast at the hotel and on the road at 09:37. 

The day started off actually sunny. The gods of Scotland were having a laugh. The weather turned gray, about 45 minutes into the hike and and hour later was pouring rain.This is rape seed, prior to being oil. It is a huge crop in Scotland.Part of today was along the Alyth Burn.

There were, as always, great views, even in the rain. But the truth is, not much really to report for the day except slight back soreness and wet shoes. I think of walking in wet shoes as walking in a warm brown tea. A horrible disgusting warm brown tea.

I arrived in Kirriemuir in the afternoon to a small inn, with outstanding food. No more Chinese for me (for the foreseeable future).

Kirriemuir is the birthplace of Sir James Matthew Barrie, who wrote Peter Pan. Above my bed is this inscription:

That is it for today, with the exception of one very sad thing. One of my favorite cats to ever own me, Nickerson, is on his death bed. He’s old, he’s had a good life and it is his time. But darn, I wish I could be there so he doesn’t think I abandoned him. In the second life, we could all do a lot worse than come back as a domestic cat.

Nini, Nickerson.

26km 487m

Back Roads.

Sunday, May 21, Blairgowrie & Rattray

Forgot to mention yesterday there was a wedding party going on in the hotel. It looked like a kilt convention. 

After checking in I had lunch then explored the village and found a pub around the corner where the wedding party had spilled into. 

Meet Paul, Frank Maxwell (wearing the Maxwell tartan) and Richie, wearing the colors of the isle of Skye (forget the clan). Great guys all, Paul was a roughneck in the North Sea, three weeks on, three weeks off. 

Up and breakfast at 08:30. Packed and on the road at 09:45. The town of DunkeldThe view from my room.

The day started out dull gray but dry. That wasn’t to be for long. The initial path, at the beginning of the day was lovely but straight up.Great vistas.

Really not much to report except these guys were for some reason fascinated by my approach:

The road continued with more great views.

Almost to town when I saw this sign:That is what I look like hiking down the road but I don’t know the purpose of the sign. I think it might be an early warning system for young people. A metaphor. WARNING: AROUND THE NEXT CORNER THIS WILL BE YOU. Something like that. 

Finally came up to one of my favorite things, a sign indicating I have arrived.

It’s a very cool little town on the River Ericht. 
Ran into TGOCr Phillip, whom I first met at Rannoch Station. We talked in the hotel pub then, for me it was up to catch up on this and chill.

I did manage to find Chinese take-out and yes, ate my share. Not a big day, not a bad day. Just one day closer to completion. Three days to go.

17km.  235m