Smoke ’em if you got ’em.

this is my built in break day. slept in. had lunch (as best I could). caught up on the blog (earlier posts) and basically chilled. and what better place to do it then at Calleter  B&B in Braemar! Julian and Katy took care of me, washed my clothes, fed me great cakes and assured me it was going to get better. 


Finally, my worst day of hiking ever in my life. “Check, please!”

And if only I could have checked out. But there is no escape. No easy way out. No calling Dad or clicking my heals together.

I woke up with everyone else around 6:30 – 7AM and packed up. I had my food hanging from the rafters so no mice could enjoy it. Not that I really enjoyed it. I’ve not been eating. I left around 7:30AM with a few ahead of me and a few behind.  Memory will fail me on this, because that is the great thing about memory, we forget rather quickly the pain. 

I walked down the trail, aware that much of it had been washed away in the Spring meltdown. 

Maybe a mile down the trail, it was gone completely and I found Phil and John climbing up the embankment, hand over hand, 50 feet. Below it was a sheer drop to the rocks and the roaring stream. Now it as my turn. I had 30 pounds on my back, and a whole lot on my mind. 

After a backbreaking effort, I made it to the top. Where I celebrated with a prodigious bowel movement. I literally had the crap scared out of me. It’s really rather cleansing. 

The weather was in the mid 40ºs and raining, but lightly. 

The trail marched on and I followed. My friend Lindsey had said it was two hours on the Glen Fishie trail, an hour on the bog and an hour on the trail to White Bridge, the end of this segment. And I believed him. 

By now the wind and the rain were picking up. The ground dead wet and as in most days, I forded more streams than I can remember. My back was killing me. I would hike for 500 yards, bend over and rest and then walk another 500 yards. My hands were so cold I couldn’t feel them. I’m a Minnesota boy and have put up with my share of cold. But I had never been this cold for so long before. 

To help my back, I wold stop every mile to remove the pack and then bury my hands in my armpits to warm them. I had a rest day waiting for me in Braemar and I wasn’t gong to miss it. That is what drove me on. 

The rain came down in pelts of wet coldness. The wind was so strong, it would move me as I walked. I wasn’t eating or drinking much and would pay for that later.

As I walked across the moor, my boots would sink into the bog up to my knees. 

I finally thought I had made it to White Bridge, only to find out two hours later the bridge I crossed was not White Bridge, but a bridge. Once I reached white Bridge, I had another five miles or so to hike to my B&B. I was determined to make it. Plus there was no other alternative.

There is more to this but just imagine in a repeating pattern: Cold, Wind, Rain, Muck, A Feeling Of Being Lost, Isolation. At this point my eyes were so blurry from the rain, I couldn’t see. Until I realized that my eye we were shutting down as well (later to find out due to de-hydration and no food). So for a recap, my back was out, my eyes were out, my hands were numb, my feet were cramping and wet and I had no clue whether I was heading in the right direction. Interestingly enough, my penis was just fine. Mr. Ed was happy and cheerful. So I had that going for me. 

Finally, 8 hours later I came out at the head of Braemar. My location was isolated and I was concerned I was in the right place. I decided to call the B&B and get a triangulation on my location. My eyes would not focus and my fingers would not work but ten minutes later I managed to phone up Katy and explain my predicament. She generously offered to come get me and I said how long will that be. She replied less than five minutes. Katy asked me how she will recognize me and I said I was the only white guy in black pants and orange jacket there.for that matter, I was the only one there. I was a singular. An outlier. I was in my mind, Shackleford, come back from the dead. 

Katy picked me up in six minutes. Katy, in her mid 30S, prior to opening the B&B with her husband, Julian, had been first oboe for the Scottish National Orchestra. 

In four minutes we were at the Calaeter B&B. Katy & Julian, perfect I keepers they are, gave me a beer and pointed me toward my room and a bath. 

I’ve just re-read this for spelling errors and can see that it downs not completely capture just how miserable I was. But like the mumps, or chicken pox, or a horrible blind date, it is nice to have the worst hike out of my way.

 Walk. Rest. Walk. Rest. 

I left Kinguisse around 8AM and immediately hooked up with Ben, the fine art photographer from Balitimore. Ben is a walking machine but hung with me for a while. We made a couple miles until I had to take off my pack because of yes, my back. I joined Phil, ex Royal Army and Clive, whom I know nothing about but he is a hiker’s hiker. We went a ways and set up for lunch in the cleanest hay barn I have every seen.

The day was a wet one, with rain the entire day, for the most part. Finishing lunch, we packed up and moved on, these guys ahead of me in a mile or so. But I knew my route, had my maps and trudged on, resting as needed because of my, well you know.

I marched on, finally reaching a major stream to ford. I crawled down 40 feet of brambles on the bank to reach the stream.

I mucked around for 15 minutes until I found a bridge over it and had to climb back up the embankment. Fun? So is hair loss.

FInally, 23 kilometers and a 600 meter climb later, I arrived at Glen Feshie and the Bothy. I had hoped to go another 5-6 miles but I was exhausted, it was still raining and here there were people. I walked in and someone handed me a cup of tea and another passed me a flask of whisky. 

At the Bothy were, Phil, Clive, Kenny, Ava, John and several others. There was a fire going and I shared a room with Kenny and Ava, who promised not to snore. A free minutes later the door bursts open and in walks a guy named Lindsey, who was manager of the Bothy, for free for the Laird of the land. Lindsey had worked around the world in the oil industry and is very charming. As it turns out, the laird is Danish and owns the H&M chain of stores. Not only that but he owns six other estates as well. Who would have thought selling blouses could be so profitable?

Lindsey and friend

Kenny & Ava

Lindsey passed around a bottle of whisky and if you didn’t like that, a nice port. 

Finally it was time for bed, with Kenny and I sleeping on the floor because the bunks were too naarrow. And besides, it gave the mice something to play with. Nothing sweeter than a mouse licking you goodnight to get your salt.

Why am I doing this?

Melgrave Bothy To Kinguisse 

I left the bothy around 8AM with John and we walked in the cold morning air. Breakfast had been oatmeal and tea (as most mornings).

Melgrave Bothy

The sun was out and the road was mostly down hill. My back is still hurting, and it is slowing me down. My pack is 25-30 pounds and that is not that heavy. John pulled ahead and I walked on my own, finally arriving at the Garva Bridge, where I found a caravan parked and a guy inviting me in for coffee. I’ve read Stephan King books about guys like this and said hello and good-bye. Until John poked his head out and since it was still attached to him, I came over. As it turns out, Ian was with TGOC and offering tea, coffee and cakes in the morning and whisky, beer, soup and sandwiches at night. Our timing was off so we settled for the tea.

Ian had done the crossing 20 times. 

We bid good-bye and set off again, with John out walking me in a mile or so. Again, my back, it hurts. I need to stop every couple of miles, take off the pack and stretch. But the trail was magnificent. 

This day comprised of walk, rest, walk , rest, repeat. 

36 kilometers and a 500 meter climb later, I arrived in Kinguisse. Not a bad day, not a good day. But a day closer to the Eastern shore. 

And my feet? Well what I like to think are usually in perfect shape are looking like this. Not a bad photo, but in real life, I think they might make you vomit. At least I like to think so.

Instead of the article on TGOC, why oh why couldnt’ it have been an article driving through the cheese country of  Southern France? Merde.

“Thom, it’s up, up, up!”

I should have known it was going to be a hard day, when walking to the start of the trail I saw this sign posted: 

Last night it was Herman who gave today’s entry, its title. And Lord, was he right. Today is a 20 mile hike and a 1270 meter climb on one of General Wade’s MIliraty Roads. These were built in the mid 1700’s to keep the Scotish tribes in line. There are a number of them and while some have been cleaned up to service powerlines, most are a challenge. 

I started off around 9AM and followed Ava and her boyfriend, Kenny and another guy named Nigel. We walked up a mile or so and then they took a left and a right and went straight up the side of a hill, through rough growth for a couple hundred meters. By the way, for the most part I will continue in meters, it’s easier. Think of a meter as a yard with croissant nailed on the end. After all, the Frnch invented it. 

(This guy came out to wish me luck)

No way around it. The hike was going to be long and hard. And my back now was kiiling me. I could maybe hike a half a mile before I had to take my pack off and rest my back. Every topping of the trail showed more trail to climb ahead. Did I mention my back was on fire? 

There were these breathtaking views everywhere. Thank goodness there was something else to take my breath away besides the weight on my back.

Double checking I haven’t made a wrong turn and ended up London.

Finally, and let me just type that again, finally I arrived at the summit. You can tell you’ve summited when you see a pile of rocks

I can safely say, there is nothing more delightful than seeing a pile of rocks. Wouldn’t it be great if we all gave eachother a little pile of rocks when we reach our goals? “You finished that report? Have this pile of rocks!” “What, you washed the kitchen floor? The rocks are on me!” That sort of thing.

The hike down was faster but as Russ had called it earlier, it’s all pigs in a blanket, which is either a difficult descent or a cocktail appetizer.  

For dramatic purpose only, really not that much snow

I arrived at Melgrave Bothy around 6PM, whipped. Now just so you know, a Bothy is a trail cabin, originally set up for sheep herders to crash at whilst tending their, yes you guessed it, sheep. There are 100s across Scotland. This one was great with a fireplace snd a roaring fire in it, thanks to Andrew, a Prince of a guy, who was just there for fun. He was traveling round round the odd climb. He managed to drive in with his dog, Meg, and had the fire going. Is there anything more lovely than this at the end of the day:

Now it was Howard, Nigel, Russ, Herman, Frank, John, Andrew and me staying at the bothy, eating freeze dried food and talking politics, life, the challenge of course and favorite hikes. These guys know them all. Andrew, the consummate host prepared fresh chicken frittatas, to be washed down with beer and wine. Several of us shared several flasks of single malt. 

All in all a perfect night. I set up in a room to share with Howard, who mentioned he might snore a bit. Which I found out was an enormous understatement 

I climbed into my sleeping bag and was trying to fall asleep when I smelled the most horrific odor. I looked around for the source and discovered it was me.

I ache in the places I used to play.

(Updated , Friday the 20th, from Braemar)

Walked from Cougie to Fort Inverness, and the tile says it all, thank you Leonard Cohen for the quote. 

21 miles, an 800 meter climb, then down to 200 and up to 400. It was an arduous day, with grey skies and occasional drops of rain, but not a soaking. I started off on my own and walked 5-8 miles feeling extremely sore. For some reason I cannot get my 25-30 pound rucksack to fit properly and my back is going south, while I travel east. The landscape is, once again, wide open and in it’s own way, remarkable.

I continued on running out of water. This particular stretch had aa few streams but too far away to take the time to fetch more, so I forged ahead. I as passed by one Brit, I’m guessing to be 60-65 years old, who was on his ninth crossing. The number of people who have done this multiple times is astounding. And all the most unassuming people. You may imagine it’s Arnold Schwarzenegger and Wonder Woman passing you but the reality is, it’s more like Alec Guinness and Helen Mirren passing you like you are a stick in the road. 

About five miles out I ran into Sabrina, a young German, Herman, a young Dutchman and Russell, a 75 year old Brit, on his 15th crossing. 

Russ, had done a face plant three days earlier, knocked himself out and dinged up his face. He is still in the hike. Tough as nails, ex-merchant marine and retired director of distribution for a major USA beer company, “Brilliant job, Thom.” Russ met his wife, 45 years ago and they were married in 3 weeks of that first date. She died of Lou Gerhig’s Disease on their wedding anniversary.  

Herman, broke his neck last year and is walking with a bum knee.

Sabrinna, saved me with her water and then a purifier when we came to a dingy stream. Did I mention she was German and prepared for anything? 

Alas, no photo, will try and take one when I see them again. For Russ simply imagine Peter O’Toole, although Peter is not as good looking or a better story teller.

(Just off the trail relaxation point)

Thank goodness they showed up because it was a labyrinth of trails to get to Fort Augustus, but make it we did. 

I ended up in Fort Augustus 10 hours later. Cleaned up and went out for dinner to a pub, where I ran into Ben Marcin, the photographer from Baltimore, whom I was to share a room with in Shiel Bridge, if there was no space for him. I owed him a beer, as we bet on which route was faster to Fort Augustus, and I lost. 

Good conversation, but for me little appetite. Back to the B&B to rinse out clothes and hit the hay.

…and after a hot shower:

Day two, challenging, too.

Day 2 Update

I write this from Kinguisse, at the end of day five. No need to talk about that until we catch up to it. I can fill you in that I am absolutely exhausted.

But not on my hike to Cougie.

I bid adou to Scotland’s oldest hostel and headed down the trail with Tony, heading to Cougie, a farm in the middle of nowhere. Cougie has a long history with TGO and is an oasis of hospitality that is only open two days a year for TGO. 

The weather was still holding up with blue, the temperature in the mid 50’s and the conversation great. Tony is an ex history teacher and has a new book out on Britan’s largest river, and no it is not the Thames. We walked for several hours and met up with Phil, another Brit and hiked with him for a while. He was faster than us and as he disappeared around a bend on the trail I yelled at him to book me a room at Cougie if one was available. 

Again,the views are breathtaking.

Just as we see almost to Cougie, I realized my Wellesley baseball cap had fallen out of my backpack belt while adjusting it. I figured out is was only a mile or so back, so I dropped my pack and trotted back to get it. I know, a reacurring theme. But I found it and and raced back to Tony who was guarding my pack, from whom, I do not know.

We arrived at Cougie around 5:00 and found a good crowd enjoying the sun and conquering another day. 

And what better beer to serve up with stew in the middle of nowhere but Red Tripe, mon.

Rounding the corner to Cougie, I had a sense it was like Ravindale in Lord of the Rings, and that was only reafirmed when standing in the kitchen was the guy below, with his son, Ben, who cooked dinner and his daughter, Melanie, who was in charge of the front of the house. When I walked in I said to the older guy, “This is like Ravindale and you look like a teenage Gandalf.”

He replied, only humans called it Ravindale, the elves called it:

And he showed me the plaque. 

A few of us stayed for dinner, with Ben doing a splendid job and when dinner was done, the family sat with us an passed out sample of 3-4 single malt whiskies. 

Sum total for dinner, breakfast and a room was 20 pounds. It ended up being one of those magical evenings hard to capture in words. But they were gracious hosts with great stories.

More later, too tired to think.