Ballater, Sunday recap
Is it at all possible to travel and not reference a song that Willie Nelson sang?
The days are dwindling down, but not into September or October, but rather Tuesday and Wednesday.
Before I sink into my typical despair of a trip ending, let’s recap the last few days.
I hitchhiked out of Beamer, bound for Balmoral Castle, to reconnect with my route. I was picked up by the first car, a new black Volvo, driven by an old white guy. John, was a dairy farmer with 250 head of cattle (“Small for the states, but big here, aye.”) and of all places, he had been to Minneapolis. “They have wonderful sperm in Minnesota!” He said.
John had been on a buying trip for his dairy farm, and had been very pleased with the results. I thanked him, on behalf of Minnesota sperm makers and replied there is so much more to Minnesota than just sperm. 3M, for example, has a wonderful line of tapes and coatings. But enough about the draw of Minnesota.
I hiked out of Balmoral around 09:15 and arrived in Ballater before noon.
Monuments like these are scattered willy nilly at Balmoral Castle.
7.8 miles and only 33 floors. The weather has been magnificent. Sunny everyday with not a hint of rain. Compared to last year, when it rained on me every day, this is heaven. Every Challenger has commented on the weather. Russ has said, after 18 crossings, this is the best weather. Ever.
The track through Balmoral. No Queen in sight.
To lighten my load, I shipped my tent and sleeping bag onto Montrose, which necessitates finding a place to stay in every village.
I rolled into Ballater slightly concerned, and after looking around, found a bedroom above a bar for 30 quid a night. After a bath and a clothes wash, I walked into town, to the Alexander Hotel, a known hangout for TGOCers.
Before the Alexander, I stopped by my favorite Chinese take-out for some wonton soup in the park.
There, sitting and eating away, were Humphrey and Shep.
Humphrey on the left and Shep.
We traded stories, with more TGOCers wandering in and joining the conversation.
Back to the hotel for a rest up and then back to the Alexander for dinner and more stories. Here is one story worth sharing, to give you an idea of why this is called the challenge.
Glen is a Texan and the founder of Gossamer Gear, a designer and manufacturer of ultra light-weight hiking gear, who is traveling with Ian, another Texan and a young couple from Colorado (sorry did not remember their names), who are hiking fiends.
They were hiking across a bog, in day two or three, when one of the men, not Glen, went down in the bog up to his hips. It was terribly funny, with photos taken and laughs all ’round. Only, he could not get himself out, he was stuck. As Humphrey described it, he was standing on the bones of Scotsmen who had fallen before him.
His friends were naturally able to get him out with more than a bit of work. But think about it. Had he been on his own, he would surely have died. He could not free himself. Stuck, upright, like a shrine at Balmoral Castle. For eternity, an American as a cautionary tale.
Up and on the road by 09:15, a lovely path along the River Dee, that goes all the way to Aberdeen, on the coast. It is an old railway bed and level as it can be. A quarter of the way down the path, I came up to Mick, and he and I walked together into Aboyne.
Mick, the Iron Horse
Mick is ex RAF, a submarine hunter (and headed to a reunion further North in the next month). He and his wife Gail, have hiked just about everything there is to hike. They have hiked John O’Groats to Lands End (the Southern tip of England to the Northern tip of Scotland), 500 miles on the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) and countless other hikes. Mick is finishing his 10th crossing and while he is doing that, Gail is collecting mountain tops.
The gorse is in full bloom.
We hiked and talked, and talked and hiked. Gail is following along (using her time to climb anything tall and dangerous) with the caravan, the one they spent eight months in, traveling through Norway and Europe.
Am I envious? Well, I do not believe there is an emoji available that fully connotes this but I imagine it is green and looks like envy. Oh, and maybe a little bit like Kim Kardashian (someone never satisfied).
We arrived in Aboyne in record time. Once there looking for a place to stay, I spent a fair amount of time with a very kindly shop employee, looking for a place but to no avail. So I grabbed a bus back to Ballater and my original room, above the bar. Did I mention they do karaoke? Did I mention I hate Karaoke?
Your faithful journalist arriving in Aboyne.
Tomorrow, it is a bus back to Aboyne and then on to Banchory. Two days left of hiking. Two days left of TGOC 2018.