Posts Tagged With: West Highland Way

Why I Trek

As we begin the countdown to our fifth European trekking adventure, I felt it was time to share my story of just why I’ve become so obsessed with walking. I feel extremely fortunate to have recognized the proper trail that would lead me through troubled times.

You never know who you’ll meet walking along the trail!

The door opened and he extended his hand, introducing himself. “Hello, I’m Dr. J. I can’t believe you are still walking!” I shook his hand and glanced over at Reg in stunned silence.

As Reg shook the hand of the neurosurgeon who would ultimately save my life, I tried to prepare myself for what was to come. Six months earlier, I had noticed numbness in the ends of two fingers on my left hand, and I soon found myself shuffled between a series of appointments and doctors. Days earlier I’d had an MRI of my cervical spine and had been told it revealed a tumor. I was about to learn just exactly what that meant. I suspected the news would not be good.

It was November of 2011. Reg and I studied my MRI on Dr. J.’s computer while he explained that my tumor, a fairly rare intramedullary ependymoma we would eventually learn, was located within my spinal cord and had grown large enough to begin restricting the flow of spinal fluid. That was causing the numbness and tingling, along with a host of other symptoms that I would eventually piece together.

“You will need surgery, he said. “It is not without risk. We will take every precaution, but there is a chance you will be left quadriplegic. It is also possible that you will not survive the surgery…but if we do nothing, the tumor will kill you.”

Three and a half weeks later, two weeks before Christmas, I was prepped for surgery. There was really no other choice. Ratcheting up my powers of positive thinking, I put my life in Dr. J.’s hands. I did tell him, in all honesty, that if I couldn’t walk out of the hospital, not to bother waking me up. The next thing I remember, I was in a hospital room bed with Reg by my side.

As I slowly became aware of my surroundings, Dr. J. hurried in and began touching my fingers. “Move this one, now this one.” When I wiggled each finger, as ordered, he turned to Reg and announced, “She will be fine.” And off he went.

While the diagnosis was devastating, the recovery was absolutely traumatizing. Surgery had been pretty much a complete success, but I hurt every time I moved. Two days later, I was sent home. I could walk but I couldn’t feel my feet. Sheets and pants felt like sandpaper dragged across my bare legs. My rib cage felt as though it had been wrapped with an elastic band, and both hands were numb and tingling. I felt as though a spike had been pounded down alongside my neck, a neck that sported an angry, red six-inch scar. All part of the recovery process I was told. My nerves had been traumatized and needed time to recover…and so did I!

A year and a half later, in 2013, Reg and I trekked Spain’s Camino de Santiago together. It was a walk of discovery and gratitude for us both. We had our individual reasons for tackling such a challenging feat. For me, walking is something I will never again take for granted. Reg and I have continued to trek the trails of Europe where we find both a sense of adventure and contentment.

While I’m left with a few lingering side effects from the surgery, I’ve learned not to complain. Some (most) days are better than others. When so much could have gone wrong, I will forever be in debt to, and in awe of Dr. J.’s skills. To keep trekking is the best way I know of acknowledging how incredibly thankful I am that he was able to save my life.

And that is why I trek.

Categories: Inspiration, South West Coast Path | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Walk Scotland’s Highlands With Us

The year after we walked the Camino de Santiago, we journeyed to our former home, Scotland, to walk the West Highland Way. It was magnificent! Sue has a slide show for you.

Categories: Scottish Highlands and beyond | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Ashland is officially home, sweet home!

The bamboo floors were the last piece of the renovation project. West Highland Way fans may note the photograph of Buachaille Etive Mor above the couch.


Time to celebrate with a barbecue on the front deck!

Four months after moving to Ashland, Oregon, our home here is complete, thanks to excellent work by kitchen and flooring experts. It was challenging to live in the mess and without a kitchen, but we got lots of exercise going down and up the stairs whenever we needed food from the fridge.

There are two bedrooms, a garage and a bathroom downstairs. The master, a bathroom and a half bath are on the same floor as the living area.

The best part: Downtown Ashland is just a 10-minute walk.

We miss (not really) going downstairs to the old fridge in the garage and doing dishes in the laundry room during the kitchen project.

 

 

 

Categories: Ashland life | Tags: , , , , , | 23 Comments

Appalachian Trail record setter has world at her feet

Jennifer Pharr Davis and her daughter pause for a photo with Reg.

After walking 12,000 miles on six continents, Jennifer Pharr Davis has her heart with Brew, her husband of six years, and their toddler daughter.

During her talk at the Ashland Library Wednesday, though, it was clear that part of her longed to be back on the trail.

In 2011, Jennifer hiked the 2,181-mile Appalachian Trail in a record 46 days. National Geographic named her Adventurer of the Year.

Her first trek was at the age of 21 and it was one of three times she has walked the entire Appalachian. It took her five months. She learned “it all starts with a single step.”

After the first walk, she said she longed to be back on the trail. “I missed how beautiful I felt on the trail…you can do so much more than you once thought was possible.”

Her message in Ashland: “Go outside! You grow so much through things that are not in your control.”

She is quick to credit her husband and many others for their support during her record-setting walk. They met her at the crossroads with food, clean clothes and other necessities. Her journey started in Maine and ended in Georgia. She endured shin splints, saw 36 bears and logged two 60-mile days.

She remembered one particularly painful day when she told Brew she was quitting. He told her to “suck it up” and give it at least one more day. It was an example, she says, of how you have to go backwards before you can go forward.

In ten years, her walks have included the Pacific Crest Trail, the 600-mile Bibblemun Track in Australia, the Inca Trail in Peru, Mount Kilimanjaro and the West Highland Way in Scotland. Only one continent, Antarctica, has escaped her feet and it is unlikely to change anytime soon. She says she cannot take the cold.

Her stop in Ashland came near the end of a 50-state speaking and book-signing tour that ends later this month in Las Vegas. She is the owner and founder of the Blue Ridge Hiking Company and lives in Asheville, N.C.

In Sue's and my copy of Called Again: A Story of Love and Triumph, her story about her record-setting walk, Jennifer wrote, “Keep going and travel light!”

Precisely.

 

 

 

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23 beds in 35 days

After sleeping in 23 beds in 35 days, we are ready to go home.

There is just one problem: We sold our home and the bed with it.

We will have to make do, for now, with a rented condo in Ashland, Oregon. It will be home for the next three months and we are looking forward to staying in one place for awhile.

The trekking part of the journey took us to magical lands in the Highlands of Scotland. By car, we visited great friends in Scotland and England. By plane, we dropped in on our Camino buddies who showed us Denmark from the city to the country to the beachside resort.

We hope we get a chance to return our friends’ hospitality.

For now, we fly “home” with treasured memories.

 

We enjoyed a great breakfast at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel and cream tea (note the glob of clotted cream) at Glamis Castle in Scotland. The locals were welcoming and some, like these Danish guys, wanted a spot in the photo album.

Sometimes the trail led to seemingly endless Scottish wilderness. We traveled 1,400 miles in our Vauxhall rental, a GM car.

 

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Ah, what a journey is the West Highland Way!

Scotland, 2014: Thirteen days afoot, more than 150 miles. It is time to write the journalist's “30” on this journey. We are jumping on a bus tomorrow and heading to Inverness for a couple days before driving to Fife to see our dear friends there. A week in a Crail seaside cottage sounds amazing just now.

The West Highland Way lives beyond expectations, both in beauty and degree of difficulty. What a trek, indeed!

Here are some notes from our tour:

The West Highland Way

Day 1: Glasgow to Milngavie. 11 miles. This is not part of the official trail, but it is a beautiful, flat walk along the River Kelvin. A good warmup.

 

An old man at an even older pub, the Clachan Inn.

Day 2: Milngavie to Drymen, 12 miles. The official start of the walk and an easy trek. The Landers Bed and Breakfast in Drymen was a good choice; the hosts were so welcoming. Drymen's Clachan Inn is supposedly Scotland's oldest bar. We had drinks in the tiny, charming pub and dinner next door in the restaurant.

A rock was a perfect picnic spot on Conic Hill.

 

Day 3: Drymen to Balmaha, 8 miles. The climb up and down Conic Hill was a highlight. Fabulous views of Loch Lomond and our first glimpse of the Highlands. The Balmaha House bunkhouse worked out well. We had drinks and dinner in the pub at Balmaha's Oak Tree Inn, a place filled with character and Scottish charm.

We had a wet picnic on Loch Lomond on Day 4.

 

Day 4: Balmaha to Inversnaid, 14 miles. A walk along Loch Lomond with views of Ben Lomond. We stayed at the bunkhouse up the hill from Inversnaid (they picked us up and returned us to town the next morning). Tiny bunkrooms, but a bar/restaurant in the old church is filled with personality, good fun, and superb food. This place was a highlight of the trip for us!

A stile was one of many ways to get over a rancher's fence.

 

Day 5: Inversnaid to Crianlarich, 13 miles. The five miles out of Inversnaid was quite difficult, taking us along the banks of Loch Lomond over large rocks, massive tree roots and mud. One minute, up the hill, next minute, down. This was by far the hardest day of the entire trek. We stayed at the Youth Hostel in Crianlarich, a nice facility.

Remote, but refined, the Bridge of Orchy Hotel.

 

Day 6: Crianlarich to Bridge of Orchy, 13 miles. You are in the Highlands now and the scenery gets better with each step. For the rest of the West Highland Way, you are mostly traveling where cars can't go. There are so many times we stopped in awe of the landscape. The Bridge of Orchy Hotel is in a remote area and is pricey, but wonderful.

The King's House Hotel was our favorite spot on the way.

 

Day 7: Bridge of Orchy to King's House, 13 miles. Just when you think the scenery can't get more stunning, it does, and in a big way. The approach to Glen Coe at the end of the day redefines magical. The King's House Hotel, like the Bridge of Orchy Hotel, is about 300 years old, expensive, but worth it, considering the location.

So many pubs, so many beers, and some whiskey.

 

Day 8: King's House to Kinlochleven, 9 miles. You walk up a place called Devil's Staircase, but the scenery is heavenly. The ascent is not as difficult as the name implies, but the descent into Kinlochleven is quite a test for the knees.

Lunch was usually a picnic along the trail.

 

Day 9: Kinlochleven to Fort William, 16 miles. A steep climb out of town into more incredible Highlands views toward Ben Nevis, Britain's highest peak. Unfortunately, we finally got a day of real Scottish weather, which hid the mountaintops. We stayed at the Bank Street Lodge, a Fort Williams hostel with lots of private, en suite rooms. Nice place, very friendly.

 

The Great Glen Way

Day 10: Fort William to Gairlochy, 11 miles. A flat walk, with a look at some locks on the Caledonian Canal. A second day of rain.

 

A ruined castle and boat marked the Great Glen Way.

Day 11: Gairlochy to South Laggan, 13.5 miles. Another mostly flat trek, with spectacular views back toward Ben Nevis. We stayed at the very nice Great Glen Hostel. No restaurants there, but the hostel has a small store and a great kitchen.

 

Our Loch Ness view at dinner In Fort Augustus.

Day 12: South Laggan to Fort Augustus, 9 miles. This was the best day of four we walked on the Great Glen Way. Warm, sunny day, with nice views of Loch Oich, the mountains, and the Caledonian Canal. Had a very good dinner at the Boathouse, next to the shores of Loch Ness.

 

Our outstanding B&B in Invermoriston.

Day 13: Fort Augustus to Invermoriston, 8 miles. A few views of Loch Ness, mostly a forest walk. Kirkfield B&B in Invermoriston is a superb choice. If you watch Mad Men, the proprietor here is Betty Draper.

 

Sue sets out from King's House at Glen Coe. This is Scotland!

 

Categories: Scottish Highlands and beyond | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Wee bits we’ll remember

 

Tulips signal spring has arrived; Scottish pride on the flag pole and in a bottle; sheep are everywhere; a wet and slippery tunnel under the railroad.

An old cemetery on a family sheep farm; the clouds above are as beautiful as the landscape below; this cottage is dwarfed by the Munro behind; a simple Scottish breakfast; A piper greets us at Fort Augustus.

 

 

 

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A wild store chase on the Great Glen Way

This Scottish holiday maker was waiting with his wife for the Caledonian Canal lock to let them through. The lock master was on lunch break. His wife was inside, mixing gin and tonics to make the delay more palatable.

 

Our walking in Scotland has taken us through some quite remote areas. We have had to plan carefully to make sure we have food to fuel our weary bodies.

The Great Glen Way has had even fewer shops or eating places than the West Highland Way. It is not unusual to walk 12 miles or more without passing a commercial establishment. When we checked into our hostel Monday afternoon, we were pleasantly surprised that there was a mini store behind the counter. We bought a can of soup and some biscuits to compliment the sandwiches we had brought for dinner. Plus some Wheatabix and milk for breakfast.

Now, let's see, we will need lunch Tuesday. Ah, we were told several times, there is a store just a mile up the trail.

“Where is the store?”

“Near the water park.”

So, we set out in the morning and soon came to the water park. No sign of a store, so I found some folks and asked them where the store was. They pointed and said “just over there!”

They were pointing across the loch. I suppose it was “near” the water park, but …

“You'll have to go back to the end of the loch, cross the swinging bridge and just up the road a bit.”

Sue volunteered to watch my pack while I set out for lunch. We knew there was no other food source between us and Fort Augustus, our final destination for the day.

On my way, I twice had the pleasure of watching the swinging bridge close to allow a boat through. Delayed my journey a bit, but ah, well. And, the store was more than “up the road a bit” away. If it had been closer, though, I would have missed the Maserati parade.

About an hour later, I returned with lunch.

I should have learned by now to ask more questions about directions.

 

 

Categories: Scottish Highlands and beyond | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Coast-to-coast on the Great Glen Way

We are in South Laggan tonight (Monday).

The Eagle Barge Inn, where we stopped for a drink this afternoon.

The Great Glen Hostel, our home tonight.

After our second day on the 73-mile Great Glen Way, we are staying in a great hostel in South Laggan. We scored a private en suite room. It helps to be one of the first to arrive!

We have trekked about 130 miles from Glasgow and we are sore and tired. When we planned the trip in January, we did not know the West Highland Way would be as tough as it turned out to be. The middle day along Loch Lomond was quite a test. Last winter, we had debated a rest day in Fort William and decided we wouldn't need it. It turned out we would have welcomed it.

Nonetheless, we loved the West Highland Way. We have never seen more stunning scenery.

As we began the Great Glen Way, we thought about taking a bus out of Fort William when it was raining, but our pride won. (And we would have had to endure our friend Malcolm's ribbing!) Honestly, the busses weren't running because it was Sunday.

A highlight of these treks is the people we meet along the way.

  • Two college guys from Niagara Falls are walking the Great Glen Way, then plan to stay at a monastery in Elgin, Scotland for four days. Why? To experience it, they told us. One said his dad had considered the priesthood and the other said his grandfather had done the same. They are probably glad neither followed through.
  • We stopped today to have drinks and scones on a barge that doubled as a pub on the Caledonian Canal. There, we chatted with a Swiss man who had walked the Camino de Santiago, but he started in Switzerland! About 1,200 miles. He has also walked from Switzerland to Rome.
  • In the Highlands, we talked to a 30-something Englishman who was walking to the north coast of Scotland to work for the summer. Everything he owned was on his back.
  • Another Englishman was walking from the southern tip of England to the northern tip of Scotland.
  • Most walkers on the West Highland Way had their packs/luggage picked up and transported to their next accommodation each day. So far, it seems most on the Great Glen Way are carrying their belongings.

 

Categories: Scottish Highlands and beyond | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Scottish weather at the finish line

We exchanged greetings with several fellow trekkers at the finish.

The skies over the Highlands opened for our ninth day of walking from Glasgow. The rain also kept crowds at home as we walked into the end of the West Highland Way in Fort William largely unnoticed.

Days of rain: Just one!

Miles: about 108

We are due to start the Great Glen Way to Inverness Sunday, but if it is still raining, we may opt for a bus to our first bed and breakfast.

For now, it is time to find a pub to celebrate!

 

Categories: Scottish Highlands and beyond | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

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