Saturday 15 June 2024

Reflections TGO 24

This Challenge was important.

I needed to complete my 9th Challenge, I needed to successfully cross Scotland so I can try to get my 10th next year. It's just taken me too long, failed too many times and it's become a monster. This monster has eaten away at my confidence and my anxiety has grown and become almost unmanageable.

I needed a plan.

Friend and fellow Challenger Laura was also having confidence issues, although probably not so much the anxiety thing going on, but I decided we needed a plan together, to get us both to the east coast and restore confidence in ourselves.

The plan was simple, but I think quite clever. I had already plotted a route for myself from Oban to Kinnaber Links, the first day would see me walk a coffin route from Achnaba to Barcaldine. I'd chatted to Laura about this as I had a few queries about it and after a while, she asked if she could walk that first day with me. This was a great idea, but the second day would be tough, through Glen Creran to Glencoe, and quite long, probably too long for me let alone Laura, so I had a think and worked out a way to take out a day from towards the end of my route and squeeze it in to the beginning, giving us three days to get to Glencoe. The basic plan was for us to meet up each night for the first week or so, plotting our own routes in between. This would then give us choice most days, we could choose to walk separately or together. Camping together every night would give us the chance to discuss our day, whether we'd enjoyed it or not and offer each other support and encouragement to carry on. After the first week our routes diverged and we planned to go our own ways to the coast.

We were very organised and had our routes vetted quite early on, this gave me lots of time to look more closely at possible pitches in case my intended spots didn't work out, what shops were available where for resupply, book accommodation and transport and generally iron out all the finer details. I love the planning and always enjoy this part. But as the Challenge drew closer, I got more and more anxious. Had I bitten off more than I could chew? Had I set myself up for failure? We are both solo Challengers for a reason, it's what we enjoy and works best for us. We walk together as friends outwith the Challenge, could we tolerate each other for a week? Two weeks before the off and I was so anxious I could barely eat, I lost weight, it was ridiculous. The day before we were due to travel to Oban, we had a slight hiccup with arrangements, but David came to the rescue and Laura arrived with her gear to stay the night before Ciara took us to get the train to Oban in the morning...

In the end, we reached the east coast, together!

It wasn't easy, Laura showed real determination and tenacity to carry on with blisters from very early on, due to the heat and a combination of the wrong socks and possibly the Gore-Tex lining of her boots. We looked after each, made decisions together, gave each other space at times, but we ended up deciding to stay together to the bitter end and we did it! We had a brilliant Challenge.

Of course, the Challenge wasn't just about us, there was the gear I decided to take with me and how that all performed.

The Good

Last year I'd had blisters for the first time in over a decade which ended my Challenge prematurely. I still don't know why, as I had worn socks and boots that usually suit me and that I have crossed Scotland wearing before. I decided to try different socks, Injinji liner and hiker socks, but also stick with my favourite, tried and tested style, Bridgedale Hike Midweight Merino socks. I also carried a pair of Bridgedale liners, just in case the Injinji pair didn't suit.

I found the Injinji socks very comfortable and they worked brilliantly with both pairs of hiking socks.

I had a new pair of boots, Hoka Sky Kaha II, but when I started to wear them in the lead up to the Challenge, realised that they were a tad short and I could feel the end of my boots with my toes. I was a bit surprised, they were the same size as the previous pair, but obviously, they were no use for the Challenge, so I'd bought another pair a half size up and they were just dandy.

No blisters this year. No sore spots at all. In fact, I usually have slightly swollen feet by the end of the Challenge, just because walking every day for two weeks, 20-25km most days, is hard on the feet. Once my feet settle down the skin usually peels off, a very odd experience.

I didn't even have swollen feet this year! So no skin shedding either. Brilliant!

I was very aware I was going to have limited laundry opportunities, so I had reverted to carrying long sleeve merino tops, one to wear walking, a clean one to walk in when the first could walk by itself, and one to sleep in. Long sleeve because I don't like bare arms and they give protection from insects and the sun.

Worked perfectly, kept me comfortable at all times, walking and in bed, no pong, this will be my go to for future Challenges.

I also returned to taking my Tilley hat. It is my trademark hat and gives the best sun protection.

I have been cold on the last couple of Challenges. In 2022 I had forgotten the silver mat I put under my Synmat and thought that was why I was cold, but last year I had taken the mat and still felt the cold. I'd also omitted my thermal tights in a bid to shed a few grams from my pack weight, about 100g, to be precise. So this year, I had a rethink. Instead of my primino hoodie, obviously I had a merino LS top. I also swapped my primino zip top for my Montane Allez Micro Fleece. I decided to take my Montane Prism jacket and RAB Xenair gilet, despite them being a few grams more than just taking my Montane Fluxmatic jacket, because I felt the combination was more flexible. And I took my thermal tights.

This was also a good decision, being able to wear thin layers under the Prism jacket, tights under my 'social' leggings and have the gilet loose in my bag over my hips really helped keep me warm and comfortable this year.


I've started to carry a GoPro to video my adventures. I'm not very good at it, but quite enjoy doing it. The problem has been carrying it, along with my phone, my maps and my compass.

This year, my compass was in a hip pocket of my belt. Last year, I had taken my OMM Chest Pouch, but I found it very faffy and annoying with the way it attaches to the chest strap of my pack but the bottom attachments or elastics and hooks and I haven't found a way to attach them that isn't a pain, so this year, I took my Montane Gecko waist pack.

It worked an absolute treat, proved to be very useful when we were in civilisation as a handbag (we do like gear to have two uses) and I only nearly lost it once...

I also took mesh Tesco fruit and veg bags as a food come shopping bag. They are super lightweight, you can see the contents easily and they are stronger than say a plastic carrier bag.

The Bad

I did consider carrying my Osprey Exos pack to save weight, but on closer inspection one of the webbing shoulder straps is worn and damaged and I was worried it might fail during the crossing, so I took my Ariel AG 55L. I do like the way it carries and I have a routine for where everything is packed, nothing dangling on the outside, but yet again I had very sore hips, grazed and bleeding, especially my left one. As one is worse than the other, it's clearly not just the hip belt that is the problem. I have realised that not only do my knickers have a seam in an awkward place, there is a label on the left side.

So, I need to solve the hip belt issue and the seam/label issue. I may get my Exos fixed, so long as I can keep my base weight low, currently 7.209kg without pack or food, the Exos should be fine. Or I could carry my Ariel without the top pocket, which would reduce its weight by about 200g, but I would still get sore hips.

I need to source different knickers...

I have an Exped Hand Pump for my Synmat and air pillow. It's great, but it does have a drawback. It's fine when the weather is good and I can pump up my mat with it inside my tent and me standing just outside, pumping with my foot, I just look a bit of a plank. If the weather is pants, I have to lie in my tent, with the Synmat lying on top of me and pumping the pump on my head to inflate the mat. Laura could hear all this going on and found it hilarious. Me, not so much... But I have solved this issue! For my birthday I asked for a Flextail Zero Pump. Weight wise, it is only one gram lighter, but it takes up so little space. It will also be useful for pumping up our Exped mat in Ellie. Perfect.

The Ugly

I love my Tarptent Notch. Or at least, I did. I like having two porches, the space inside the inner suits me, it is quick and easy to pitch once I got the hang of it, but I do think the half mesh inner is colder than my Terra Nova Laser.

I also discovered a leak.

Or more precisely, five leaks.

There are four ties to tie back the outer doors. Loops on the outside and a hook on a loop on the inside. It would appear that, despite having paid for seam sealing when I bought the tent, the ends of the loops caught into the seams have not been, or not done properly, and after a couple of periods of rain the loops wet out and moisture then tracks along the loops inside the tent and drips off the hooks onto the inner. The moisture makes the inner damp and anything that touches it then gets wet, including my sleeping bag, if I'm not careful or don't notice in time. The centre seam also appeared to spring a leak and again, looked like it had not been sealed properly.

I need to have a look at these areas and see if I can seal them effectively myself, but I have lost a little confidence in the Notch now and I might just go back to using my Laser again, because I do love it.

So just a couple of projects to get sorted.


AlanR said...

So pleased you got through all the anxiety issues and very nice to hear Laura is still walking. I can’t wait to read about the actual walk and see your photos. Get the 10th under your belt next year. As you know I suffer badly with anxiety too and you will read (hopefully) my blog over the next few postings and see that you are not alone.

Louise said...

Thanks Alan. Anxiety is the bane of my life, I'm sure you know how that feels, it was a real struggle to even get to the start again this year. I really hope I can remember how the success feels next May to get me to the start again. I look forward to seeing how you are coping too.