Monday, 21 May 2018

Five lessons from The Great Outdoors Challenge

Camp in Glen Affric on Day 1

Backpacking is a process. On most trips, I learn something about my gear, my lack thereof or how my body responds to varying demands. A winner is a loser who learns the right lessons. Below I've listed a few of the things I learned on my walk across Scotland in this year's T.G.O. Challenge.

I will provide a day-by-day summary in the ensuing posts, but as an overview, I planned a route from Shiel Bridge to Johnshaven. After the relative isolation of last year's trip, I wanted a more social route. Work demands also meant that I had a very short window - ultimately just 10 days - for this walk. So here's what I learned:

1. What makes the Challenge special is the people you meet. It was such a pleasure to meet so many friendly, like-minded people from all over the world. This, I think, is what keeps people coming back year after year.

2. You can walk across Scotland in 10 days... I did it, just.

3. .... but it means long days of walking... All told, I did at least 160 miles, and likely at least 10 or so more with all the walking in towns and around camp. So, broadly, I averaged 16 miles per day.

4. .... and no rest days... I could have used one of these. My legs started to lose their zip. Whereas in previous Challenges I started to feel stronger as the trip progressed, peaking towards the finish, in this trip I dragged to the finish.

5. .... and an increased risk of injury My leg extensor tendonititis started on a long day from Glen Affric to Braemar. My ankle and leg were hurting that night walking in town, and it grew worse the next day. By the final day the pain was significant. I took ibuprofen, and bought a wrap for my leg, and was able to finish. Now, at home, my lower left leg is swollen and sore. Running is out of the question, and walking hurts.


So, the take home advice from all of this is that I would not recommend a short crossing. My hobbies are hill running and marathoning, and my body still could not handle these kind of miles on this time frame.* I was able to enjoy the company of my fellow Challengers, even up to the last morning, though I was not in the full bubble of walkers.

* Admittedly, I have a 52-year-old body.

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