Usually, I don’t do a lot of walking – in my spare time, I mean, I don’t usually set out with the intention to go for a walk or plan to go for a walk. This weekend was a little bit different – firstly, I was introducing my brother to the magnificent Cairngorms, and secondly, I was getting myself re-accustomed with what was my initial exposure to the mountains, and to remind myself just what walking in the mountains is all about. Sounds rather spiritual! So, to be clear, not because I need to find myself or anything like that, but because, I’ve been invited to join my running partner, Laraine Wyn-Jones, on a 200-mile, multi-day hike from the west to east coast of Scotland in the form of the TGO Challenge!
The TGO Challenge has been running for more than 30 years, and is considered the world’s premier backpacking event – every May, experienced hill walkers, trail runners and mountaineers gather to begin a self-supported hiking journey that starts somewhere on the west coast of Scotland, and ends somewhere on the east coast. The maximum time permitted is 15 days to complete your route by walking – no running allowed on this one! Places on the challenge are seriously limited, and participants are usually selected by means of an application and draw procedure – not us though, Laraine, being the most fabulous, adventuring, outdoors gal around, was actually selected to participate by the organisers and sponsors! And, even better, asked me to come along for the ride. Of course, I was more than delighted to accept – rewind a few years, when I first moved to Scotland and began to explore the mountains, this exact event was on my wish list.
The weekend in the Cairngorms, didn’t disappoint – weather was wet and wild – like facial abrasion by snow type of wild weather, and I lost count of the times I was lifted off my feet and blown to the ground by 80mph gusts of wind. But most importantly, I remembered how much fun it was to map out routes, check the weather and mountain conditions, put everything in a huge backpack and just head out into the hills for the long-haul – all just be there and enjoy the landscape and scenery and being with friends. It was great, and for the first time on a hill walking weekend, I didn’t miss running or climbing or skiing, well, I did a little bit, but not as much as I normally do!
In terms of planning for our 200-mile hike, Laraine and I have around six weeks from now to map our route and have it approved by the organisers, get all the appropriate kit together – including super-light camping kit, all weather gear and all our food, and, of course, to make sure we are fit enough to walk around 20 miles per day while carrying heavy backpacks. For me, I’ll be in the Alps until close to the start date – I’ll have to be very disciplined not to spend the next six weeks downhill skiing! For Laraine, she’s based herself on the Isle of Eigg, which is just off the west coast of Scotland and measures 9 foot by 5 foot – I’m pretty sure she’ll have walked every trail on the island a number of times over by the time May comes!
Although the TGO Challenge has come completely out of the blue for me, it’s a real treat because I have lusted after a place on the starting line-up for some time, and of course, oh, how happy I’ll be to have my map and compass in hand once again navigating my way through the Scottish wilderness!