Friday the 13th, 2016, a very good day.

(First of all, just a note, I am alive and well, this is actually being posted on Sunday, from Fort Augustus, the first wifi I’ve had in a couple days).

I have no idea why Friday the 13th gets such a bad wrap, besides a tie to 1307 when the Tmplars were brutally sabotaged. I’m staying at the Altbeneithe Youth Hostel. no wifi , no heat but in the kitchen, carry out all your own waste (no worries, not that waste., at least I thought when it was pointed out that oh we’re expected to carry out any paper used, as well), and it is wonderful. All thanks to Tony, a Brit who’s hiking chum couldn’t make it. 

That’s Tony who is doing his ninth TGO and has finished seven. But I get ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning. As you remember I am an idiot and had left my boots in Oxfordshire because I was so concerned about my non-waterproof kit. That took my mind off the boots only confirming how distracted I can get. Oh, look at the lovely sunset. But I degrese. Thanks to NIck, he shipped them via TNT (not the explosive) to my hotel in Shiel Bridge. 

Now the boots were coming from a tiny village in Oxfordshire to a Hamlet in the west of Scotland, remember a Hamlet is more than a To Be Or Not TO Be A viable community, they are charming places to live.

By now to the other TGO’rs, I was the American who forgot his boots and when I showed them the slip ons I was considering walking in, the young ones laughed and the older ones wept. Which means most everyone, save five or six, were weaping. As I’ve mentioned, it is an older crowd.

As my new best friends were leaving, I met Herman, Dutch, who had left his walking poles on the bus to Shiel Bridge. We looked at each other, me without boots and him without poles and I wondered, which is better, to be deaf or blind?

Having talked with TNT in Inverness, I learned my package would arrive there around 11 and possibly be here by 1PM. So I decided to wait for good news. And I got it, the boots arrived, were delivered by 12:45 and I was one the trail at 1pM.

I hit the trail and marched on for a mile or two and came to a fork in the road. There were two routes towards Glen Affric (not to be confused with Ben Affleck) and the Altbeithe Hostel, the oldest hostel in Scotland. Mine was the northern route, through bogs and a steady ascent, the other was the southern route, with a 1200 meter ascent, sort of straight up. No let me get this correct, straight up.

A couple of French hikers came down the path and I asked them, but their English was limited. I showed them where I wanted to go and mentioned another late hiker from the hotel had left and was wearing a red hat. Did they see anyone in a red hat? I used my meager French on a young woman, saying something like rouge, touque, chappel, and rouge a levres. She suddenly looked very frightened point up the path on the right and hurried away with her friends. It was about 20 minutes later I realized she thought I was asking to use her red lipstick. Sad, haven’t worn it in years.

So I trekked on, made the climb and and it was stupendous. 

The trail up was much like this:

And when you are thirsty, dip in.

Finally arrived at Atlbethiene 5.5 hours later. Hot soup, a hot shower and a cold bunk. But all-in-all a very good Friday the 13th. 

Rewaxing pants and jacket? 20 quid

Shipping boots to Shiel Bridge? 60 quid.

Doing the Great Oudoor Challenge? Priceless


Sleepless in Seattle? No, Shoeless in Scotland.

The great thing about The Great Outdoor Challenge (and please Go to the Why On Earth page to learn refresh yourself) is that while everyone is walking independently, there is a very social aspect to the hike. 

Shiel Bridge is one of the 13 sanctioned departure points and the most popular. Of the 300 TGOC participants, 55 are leaving from here. All have good advice. 

And all have looked at my shoes askance. But what can a guy do? TGOC waits for no man. Or no parcel delivery. Hopefully they show up tomorrow. If not I will have them forwarded to Fort Augustus, a three day hike away. Ironic if you think about it, my shoes are are lounging across Scotland while I’m doing all the work. Go figure.

Above, some of my traveling mates.  

Now just to prove I am indeed in Scotland, this is Maitlan, a Scotsman, traveling 13-15 days from the south of Scotland to the north. Camping out the whole way.

Shoes tomorrow. Hopefully.

I have arrived at my departure

Yesterday was a very long one. The big concern had been getting my clothes dried overnight, and because they are made out of space fabrics, a dryer (or tumbler as the Brits call it) was out of the question. 

But dry they were and it was off to Oxford to see the Andy Warhol exhibit at the Ashmolean Museum. What better memory to carry across the Scotish Highlands, then the silkscreens of his urine. 
Belinda was off to have lunch with visiting relatives so we said our goodbyes and Nick and I went off on our own for lunch.

We had lunch at a great Thai place called Bamboo Tree. Highly recommended the next time you are in Oxford, no doubt supplementing your education.

We had parked near the train station to make it convenient for me to leave and having finished lunch, walked there in pouring rain. Walking across the parking lot I realized I had left my hiking boots at Nick and Belinda’s, a 30 minute drive away.

Yes, Mr. Sandberg, world traveler, holder of five patents, husband to a brilliant woman, father to the greatest girl on earth, had fucked up big time.

I was set to drive the car back to pick them up but Boydy insisted that I was not insured, so that was a no go. And Nick, being the Brit he is, does not drive. Never has. Never will. He thinks a clutch is some sort of purse a woman carries. And we couldn’t roust Belinda, I believe seeing that it was Nick and I calling her repeatedly, decided to enjoy her lunch rather than help a couple of old geezers.

We finally agreed that Nick would ship them overnight to Shiel Bridge, where I will be leaving for my trek. If they don’t show up, my hiking boots will probably be these very smart camp side shoes.

I took the Oxford train to Paddington and then walked to a camping store, The Brokedown Palace, East London, near the Liverpool Street Station to have my jacket and pants waxed. That’s a sentence with words I never thought I would have to write. But there it is. East London! 

While shoeless, I am at least waterproof. 

Task finished, I took the underground to Euston station, a brief wait in the Caledonian Sleeper Lounge and then onboard.

As a traveler who has been in his share of sleeper cars, this rates at the top. After a brief repack it was down to the club car where I met the first TGOC travelers of the trip, Victor and Nicole Slawski, a couple of Brits on their 10th crossing, with an enormous amount of years between the first and this one.

We talked and I gathered Intel for the trip. I mentioned a couple of British characters, with great blogs, who have made the crossing more times than most, Alan Sloman and Lord Elgin (real name Phillip Something or something, and not actually a real Lord, like our dear friend Bullet Head, Lord Raglan). 

Victor says, “Why that’s them right over there.” Behind me in the club car are the two of them, enjoying in no modest measure the free Scotch tasting.

That is Alan holding the shoe it seems I will be hiking in. By now he and Lord Elgin are drinking whiskey out of goblets. And more is passed around.

Conversation was great, the food mediocre, and the night was delightful. We arrived at Inverness in the morning, from where I took a bus to Shiel Bridge, hiked a mile to the hotel and here I am, staring out my hotel window, on the western shore of Scotland.

 Waiting for tomorrow. Waiting for my trek. Waiting for my boots. 

One wee walk before the big one.

I thought I would stretch my legs on the Ridgeway Trail in western England. It’s close to where I am staying and it has been around for a millennium. Or there about. 

My dear friend Belinda (now remember, pronounced Belinder over here) dropped me off near the town of Ashbury, left me and bid me a nice walk. It was drizzling and overcast. But since it was drizzling, naturally, it was overcast. 

The hike, which should have given me splendid views of the valleys, only gave me rain and dicey footing. But it was still a great trail. And while in the states my hiking has been through trees, this is wide open.

I walked a few miles and aimed for Sparsholt, which Belinda assured me had a great pub. She wasn’t wrong. While I was soaked to the skin, they served me a wonderful Caprisse Salad and then white fish and salmon cakes in a cilantro green sauce. It was superb. And served with a couple pints of the local bitter.

Now the good news is, I look great in my Fjallraven jacket and pants. The bad news is, they are not waterproof as promised. I am soaking wet. 

After lunch, I plotted a course back to Nick and Belinda’s in the village of Longcot and needless to say got a bit twisted around, and what was supposed to be a three hour tour (thank you Gillligan for the reference) took a bit longer. 

But the scenery was beautiful even though it rained the whole time. But if it didn’t bother these two, I wasn’t going to let it bother me.

Finally 14 miles later, made it home and into a hot tub.

Dinner was with Nick, Belinda and two of their neghbors I had met several times before, Simon and Andie. We ate at the local pub (The King and Queen). The food was outstanding, the conversation interesting (apparently the UK is thinking of leaving some sort of club they are in) and all and all, a damn fine day. 

Tomorrow Oxford and then into London to catch the overnight train, The Caledonian Sleeper to Inverness. And here’s hoping the Fjallraven store in Coventry Garden, London, can apply their special wax, hot seal it and waterproof my jacket and pants. 

Crikey, I’m in my second home.

As mentioned earlier, I had the good fortune to be upgraded to business class. Not all the way to first class. But that’s to be expected. I might be taking baby steps with British Air but I am tracking giant steps with British hiking. And God forbid a Scot reads I referred to Gael as part of the UK.

Accommodations were frankly a bit tight, but still welcome.

My flight from Chicago to Heathrow left at 8:30PM and arrived at 10:30AM (watched The Deadpool, what better way to see a movie you kinda wanted to watch but didn’t want to pay for than on an airplane!). 

Having flown priority, I was allowed in the priority customs line at Heathrow. Unfortunately there were many of us priority passengers and it took forever. The unwashed, in their line, were fileling through while we stood trying to look elite. What is the point of being priority if everyone is priority? And since we are talking about it, is there anything better than first class? Purple class?

Finally through, it was the fast train to Paddington, and the faster train to Swindon, where my dear old friends Nick and Belinda Boyd picked me up to stay at their estate in Longcot, for a few nights. And as Nick likes to constantly tell me, bits of his fence are older than my country. 

After a brief respite we went to dinner with Belinda’s cousin and husband, visiting from D.C., and old family friend, Richard and Belinda’s father, Lord Raglan, Geoffrey Somerset, 6th Baron of Monmouthshire.

That’s Geoffrey up front (or as I like to call him, bullet head) with Nick across from me and Belinda (pronounced Belinder for some strange British reason in front of me). 

The best thing about dinner with a Lord is they have to pay for it. Again, a strange British rule. Or maybe just his extreme kindness.

Tomorrow, I plan to do a 15 mile on the Ridgeway Trail. A trail that is definitely older then Amercia. Or for that matter, Europe.

Like the cheese, the Swiss lounge is full of holes.

Now don’t get me wrong, if you are sitting at O’Hare with hours to kill before a flight, you could do much worse. 

It is quite. It is clean. It is berifft of personality. Welcome to the Swiss Lounge. 

No worries bout finding an Italian sandwich here. Or a Chinese sandwich. Or a any kind of sandwich. There aren’t any. While that might not be so bad, there is no Chardonnay. Only tiny little plastic bottles of Pinot Grigio.

Everything is hermetically sealed as only the Swiss can do.

For me it’s back to the British Airways lounge, where things are loose, the food is substantial and there is always the opportunity for a fight.