Lord, How I hate Bogs.

Woke up to an absolutely beautiful day.

Packed up and head into the bog with Steven, Rob and Tilo.

Ready for the day (or so I thought).

They soon outpaced me and I was on my own, scrambling up boggy hills. There was no track, I kept one peak to my right and another on my left and trekked on.

It looks benign enough, but it is a wetland.

I struggled up and around multiple rivulets of water, trying my best not to fall. But several times I did (no need for a photo of my shins).

After walking through the bog and up and over a hill, still a bog (how can water be like that?).

The way down on the other side of the hill was 45º. I bounced down the best I could. Then, an odd thing happened, my left knee started to ache.

I discounted it as just discomfort from the slog through, up and over the bog.

Is that snow, or a crazy wolf from a 1940’s Warner Brothers cartoon?

I finally reached the river where I turned left onto a track.

Typical outstanding view along the track.

But as I walked down the track my knee started to throb. That is not the part of my anatomy that I want to throb. And it was a surprise to me, I’ve never had knee problems. I have had foot problems, mostly putting them in my mouth.

The track turned into a road and I struggled on. I made another eight or ten kilometers until I came to the point where I needed to turn right and walk through a gorge and then left on a road, all-in-all another ten clicks into Cannich.

The road through beautiful country.

A crossroads. Yours truly was at decision time.

My legs were ready to go, with the exception of my left knee. It was like Bernie Sanders holding out on a Senate vote. “No damn way you are doing that without me!”

And damn those independents, he won. As I realized I may not be able to walk the distance, A Land Rover came along the road and I flagged him down.

John had been out trout fishing all day (caught a few, too small, the flys are not out yet) and I asked him for a ride. “Hop in.” He said, “and ignore the smell, my dog found a dead pigeon and rolled around in it.” The windows were down and the smell was something beyond what I have encountered.

John was a newspaper pressman for 35 years until he and the rest of his crew were sacked because of economics. It was cheaper to print the papers in another town and ship them from there. Now he works for a Laird, managing the land. “I rather like it. It’s so different being outside all day.” He said.

John brought me into Cannich, which was my end point for the day.

After a pint in the village, I hobbled over to the road to Drumnadrochit and started hitchhiking to my hotel. I walked along the road with absolutely no traffic. So, the good news is I was able to walk off three kilometers from my deficit.

Finally, I was picked up by Paul and Karen from England. Paul is doing the TGOC for the first time and Karen, his wife and ground crew, had just picked him up from his end point in Cannich to bring him into Drumnadrochit and their hotel.

And they were kind enough to bring me to my hotel with the promise of picking me up at 09:00 and a lift back to Cannich so we could hike into Drumnadrochit.

My knee is killing me, a game changer.

A stats up date:

Day 01: Strathcarron to Pait Lodge:
22 kilometers
763 meter climb (273 stories)

Pait Lodge to Cannich (interrupted)
31 kilometers (19k actual)

781 meter climb, actual 508 meters (154 stories)

Today, tomorrow.

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I’m Alive. Barely.

Saturday, Drumnadrochit

We’ll get to that, but first, Friday, kick-off day.

That’s me, beginning Day One.

I signed out of Strathcarron at 09:00 and fifteen minutes later started hicking up the trail with Russ (doing his 20th crossing, Herman (his fifth crossing I believe, Dutch) and Andy and his wife, Kate? (he doing his tenth crossing and she doing her eighth, from Birmingham, UK).

The path after a klick or two started going straight up. And continued that way for another five or six, then down hill into a bog and then a track to a bothy where we had lunch.

That’s the path, as wide as my shoes, and it’s up, up, up.

Along the way, William (7th crossing, from Barbados) caught up with us.

Typical breathtaking vista.

We hiked on a service road for a kilometer until it gave way to a rutted path and then a narrow path for another three or four klicks until it gave way to a bog and disappeared complete.

William, Andy, Kate taking a break, me as well but I’m taking the picture so you can’t see me, but trust me I am there (holding a camera).

I had hiked ahead of them and soon did not see them at all but assumed I would at Pait Lodge.

The bog was a challenge. Five to six kilometers of wetness, jumping dozens and dozens of water runoffs from the hills. I finally understand the phrase, “Don’t get bogged down.”

I kept the water to my right and after hours, made it to Pait Lodge.

Home sweet home

Stop by some time.

The weather for most of the day was sunny and then turned to clouds. Medium cool which is perfect for hiking but the wind was straight into us and had the power to push us back.

It drizzled lightly the last couple of hours, with only the need to put the rucksack cover on and a light rain jacket.

By the time I made camp, the rain came down and the wind picked up. I camped with Steven (Scot, 7th crossing) and Rob and Tilo (Dutch, first crossing).

While several other groups said they were camping at Pait Lodge, they never showed up. Only hope it worked out for them

The wind finally died down and the rain stopped mid-evening.

So, a quick health update. My feet are fine, any problems I mentioned before seem to have cleared up.Only real problem is I simply cannot eat. I choke down a bit while (whilst) walking but I don’t know if that is enough. Once I got to Pait Lodge I made some curry ramen. Ate it all and tossed it a minute later. And with all the hiking, regardless of the amount of water I drink, I never pee. Now sorry to share this with you but I have a theory: It is reported the masses in North Korea believe that Kim Jong Un does not need to go to the toilet. That he is so supreme, he simply burn’s it up. But, think about it. He might not need it go number two because he is heaving most of his food. And do you know why he doesn’t pee?Little Rocket Man is a hiker!It makes perfect sense. The People’s Republic of North Korea has beautiful mountains, great for hiking. And with thousands of people imprisoned for simply wanting a better life, he has the opportunity to have an unlimited workforce to create a wonderful array of hiking trails. So that’s it, I think The Great Leader is also A Great Hiker.I’m going to reach out and see if he would like to join TGOC. And I’ll pay the registration fee.More later, too exhausted to talk about today.Yip, yip.

Yet Once Again, I Have Arrived at My Departure.

Last we spoke, I was about to board the Caledonian Flyer. Let me correct myself, it is the Caledonian Sleeper.

Last we spoke, I was about to board one-of-the-greatest-trains-on-earth. Let me correct myself, it is one-of-the-trains-on-earth.

I wasn’t expecting the Orient Express (they don’t cross the channel) and I had taken this train before (TGOC 2016) but still, it was wanting.

Scottish Rail is bringing on new trains and when booked, we were told this trip would be one of them. But it wasn’t.

Imagine how cool it would have been to fly over on the inaugural BA Airbus 380A (did that) and in the same trip, take the inaugural Caledonian Sleeper! Make it better? How about an invitation to the inaugural wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan? I’m still counting on it. While it adds to the weight on my back, I did bring my tux. I know they are inviting last minute “common folk” and think I might make the list. I’ve noticed several people pointing at me, whispering and laughing. No doubt those are their secret agents.

I and a bunch of TGOCers border the train around 20:30. I found my cabin, dumped my pack, changed out of my hiking boots into camp shoes and went down to the Fort Williams club car to hunt down Alan Sloman and Lord Elpus who are headed to…well I forget. Some Scottish hamlet that they haven’t been band from entering.

Tony, providing drink and sustenance, Alan and Phil (Lord Elpus)

We were soon joined by several other brothers and sisters in arms (well, armed in man made fabrics and hundreds of zippers) and talked about past trips, this trip and why didn’t we get one of the new trains?

As the train was splitting in a bit, I hightailed it back to my section headed to Inverness. There I ran into Russ who I believe is doing his 25th crossing and Gordon, who has only done a dozen or so.

In our conversation we shared our routes and Russ and I are doing a similar one. When I mentioned my day two was from Pait Lodge (not a lodge but a place) to Cannich, he bowed. “That’s a two day trip!” And then I think I heard him say under his breath, “You twit!”

So now, before I’ve started, I’m challenged. It’s a bog, there’s no path and I’m on my own. And to top that off, no one has come forward to invite me to the royal wedding.

But moving on…

I strongly suggest you take an overnight train trip, with your own cabin. Whatever you do, do not try to sleep on a chair. To bring up Dante one more time, I believe sleeping in a train seat is certainly one of the circles.

A sleeping car, however, is heaven. It is your own little world. Once you turn in, the movement lulls you to sleep. You sleep like a baby.

You are up every two hours.

We arrived in Inverness around 08:30, I shopped for fresh food to bring hiking and then boarded the train to Strathcarron at 10:55.

Downtown Inverness

The train ride was just shy of two hours and arrived at Strathcarron. There was a bus waiting that took me to Lochcarron—four miles away—where I am staying, prior to my start tomorrow.

The inn I am staying at is the Lochcarron Hotel, found on the internet and like me, cheap and easy.

View outside the hotel’s restaurant window, Loch Carron across the street.

That aside, instead of frozen pizzas and bad Shepard’s Pie, here is the specials menu in their restaurant:

And here are the langoustines that cost $13.00 (£8.95)

How were they? Worth considering moving here for.

That’s it for today. It all starts tomorrow. It may be a few days before I can post again. When I do, I’m very certain I’ll have a story or three.

Yip yip.

“In llama land there’s a one man band and he’ll toot his flute for you, come fly with me let’s fly, let’s fly away.”

If you don’t know who sang that, stop reading this right now.

I know adventure is just around the corner. Only right now, what’s right around the corner are just more corners.

I’m packed, I’m ready, I’m waiting for 20:30 this evening when I can board the Caledonian Flyer, one of the greatest trains on this earth, to deliver me overnight to Inverness (by the way to one of the greatest country’s on this earth) and then the next day another train onto Strathcarron, my departure point.

Tuesday was another holding day, studying my maps and trying to remember the difference between east and west (this will be important later).

Nick, Belinda and I went out for dinner around sevenish, looking for a decent pub in the neighboring villages. But for some reason or another, they didn’t fill the bill.

They were too busy. Or they were not busy enough. The menu was printed on the wrong paper. They didn’t grovel enough. I never knew I was such a tough customer.

We eventually ended up with tapas in Faringdon. Yes, when in Rome, eat in Spain. It was very nice, indeed.

Home to the news and tea.

Wednesday

Up to sort out my suitcase which gets mailed to Montrose and once again (for the upteenth time) check my backpack to ensure I have not forgotten anything.

I had an issue with the train station to the West Country a few days earlier (it was closed for some odd reason) and decided to check on my return to London. Of all things there was a rail strike planned for later in the day and yours truly could potentially be stuck so far from my north bound train that I might has well never left the states.

So rather than leaving Longcot at a civilized 15:00 or 16:00 and then casually making my way to the train (remember, one of the greatest train rides on earth) I scrambled out of the Boyd’s at 10:30, praying I might make it to London.

A possible strike? Confusion to the enemy!, as long as I get to my destination.

After fearing the worse and forcing Belinda (remember, Belinder) to drive freakishly fast, we arrived in record time. I assume it was record time because Nick was pounding the roof and threatening to throw up.

And all of that for nothing. I bought my ticket, a train showed up five minutes later and made record time to London with no one coming even close to threatening to throw up. And while the online announcements said the cars would be packed, there were five other people in my car, in addition to me.

Nick and Belinda dropping me off at the station.

Made it to Euston Station, put my rucksack in storage (Lord, my vocabulary is starting to Bloody shift already) and have been taking up the time, hiking around for six hours, eating and snooping about.

I did stop in a pub and saw this sign and had to try it.

Now should anyone say to me “Why, I’ll eat my hat!” I can reply, “No need to, I’ve already tried mine.”

It’s time to mosey on down to the station (for the you-know-what-kind-of-train-it-is). The Caledonian Flyer will be packed with TGOCers. While normally God fearing people, as they get further north, they do become a tad unmanageable. I can hardly wait.

More later. Yip Yip.

Holding Pattern Update.

I call it a holding pattern, bidding my time until my hiking departure this Friday, so shall make this brief.

Left London for Nick & Belinda’s mid morning on the train to Swindon, then by taxi on to Longcot.

Lovely lunch with N & B, and B’s sister, brother-in-law and their three children.

The Boyd’s lovely back garden.

After an extended lunch, yours truly took a nap to better acclimate to the time change.

Then off to the local, The King and Queen for drinks with Simon and Andy, whom we’ve all talked about before and Harold and Heidi, who are married.

Heidi and Harold on the left, then Tony, Simon, Nick, Belinda and Andy.

Harold & Heidi are Norwegian Air Force personnel, staying for an extended visit attending the local British war college. Heidi is a Major, her husband’s superior, and just recently returned from Iraq. Harold is doing a dissertation (I asked him what it was on and he only looked at me and said if he told me he would have to harm me).

Home and to bed.

Today, Monday, is a bank holiday and we are having lunch with Peter and Sareeta Jordan.

Peter, Nick TMS and Satina in their backyard.

Peter is a pretty famous photographer who has traveled the world for Time Magazine, UK. Lunch was Italian and delicious.

Below is a photo Peter took back in the 80’s.

He got a call one day asking if he could show up at 10 Downing Street for a photo shoot. He asked who he was to shoot and the caller said President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher. Well, he decided to take the assignment.

The photo was for Reagan’s birthday and the PM wanted it to be with Churchill (as above).

Reagan asked Peter who he worked for and Peter replied Time. “Well, you’re one of us!” Regan replied and Thatcher immediately responded; “No Ronnie, he’s a Brit, he’s one of us.”

PM Thatcher’s signature is faded but there, right next to the great communicator’s (his given title but not be me).

Getting antsy. Ready to hike.

“London calling, yes, I was there, too. And you know what they said? Well, some of it was true.”

Thank you, The Clash. Just my way of saying with yet another musical reference, that I have safely arrived. The plane was sparkling new, it served its function well, in that we didn’t crash.

Prior to leaving, my dear, sweet, mother-in-law gave me two religious medallions to carry, one to protect me and the other as a traveling companion. The protection one is working perfectly as the plane did its job (see above).

My traveling partner, however, has been left behind.

Let me explain.

The medallion I was given is similar in nature to this one:

It is an image of St. Clarence, who I believe is the patron saint of jazz musicians. If that is even remotely true, then it perfectly describes my recently deceased father-in-law, Clarence “Em” Swartout. A true jazz cat, traveler and all round great guy.

So having Em riding around in my pocket was a source of great joy and inspiration on this crossing. My plan was to, upon arriving in St.Cyrus, walk down to the sea and toss the medallion as far as I could. He dug Scotland.

Only things don’t always turn out as we hope.

On the flight over I had changed from my jeans into a pair of pants that are infinitely more comfortable to wear on a transatlantic flight.

20 minutes from Heathrow, I got up to change for landing. While (whilst for you Brits) walking down the aisle, I felt something hit my leg. The medallion had fallen from my jeans pocket.

It was Em and I do believe I heard him shout, “You can’t get rid of me that easy!”

After everyone departed the plane, I spent 20 minutes with a couple of flight attendants crawling around on the deck looking for it. Of course, it was gone. And I thought, so was any chance of a successful crossing.

Instead of tossing him into the sea, I had left him in the top deck, forward cabin, of an Airbus 380A. Mind you, the plane is spanking new, and he loved to travel, so that’s not so bad a place to end up.

But, more on that later.

Because of my the delay on the flight, crawling on my hands and knees, I was the last one through customs which ended up taking over an hour. Then it was the Underground into London and to the Sloane Club. Not a Club connected with Amex but rather with the Minneapolis Club, where we have reciprocity. You gotta love connections.

After check-in I headed a few blocks from the Club to the Duke of Wellington. When I worked in London—as a child—this was my local. Owned by the Mercers, they are now deader than doornails.

The Duke of Boots, Ebury Street

While (whilst for Eastenders) it has changed a bit, it is still the same comfortable pub I remember.

After that it was back to the Club to sleep and then dinner across the street at Caraffini, an Italian place that is outstanding, where I write this as I eat.

Tomorrow it’s off to the West Country to visit Nick and Belinda (remember, pronounced Belinder) for a few days and rest up for TGOC.

Now, back to Em. When I lost his pin, I thought it was cataclysmic to my crossing. I was counting on him in my pocket to help me across. Losing it was clearly an omen that I was going down. I screwed up. If I haven’t mentioned it, this crossing has me nervous.

But now I realize it’s all good. He may not be in my pocket. But he is still in my heart. He was right, “You can’t get rid of me that easily!”

Yip, Yip.