TGO challenge: Excitement to Despair in 24 Hours

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This afternoon my TGO Challenge comrades will begin to mass in the small East Coast Town of Montrose. They will be celebrating the end of their coast to coast walk across the Scottish Highlands, catching up with old friends and searching out the new ones that they met along the way. Sadly, this year I won’t be with them.

This year’s Challenge started from Strathcarron, one of my past, favourite starting points. I knew it was going to be an odd year when we got off the train, strolled into the hotel, only to be told that the hotel had not food. Why? Because the hotel had no chef. I’ll deal with this in a different post. Needless to say, the spirit of the Challenge took over and two Challengers hitch hiked to Plockton and co-ordinated fish and chip orders with the rest of us before they took the train back to the hotel. We didn’t starve that night.

The next day we were off with our usual enthusiasm. What I like about this start is that you are very quickly climbing into high hills, the road and train-line left behind, with only a mountain skyline for company. Apart from the other Challengers. We set off with William from Barbados, Thom from Minneapolis, from Somerset and Herman from Breugel in the Netherlands (I like the diversity of the challenge).

Up we climbed to reach the old fence line and then it was a sharp downhill towards Bendronaig Lodge, the estate track built up as are so many these days to facilitate a new mini hydro electric scheme. The Lodge was as welcoming as ever. The weather was stunning gorgeous and the flush toilet a continuing novelty.

After out break which struck out onto the track to Pait Lodge. As we began a gentle climb past  Loch Calvie I slipped coming out of a stream and bashed my knee pretty hard. We carried on walking for the best part of another hour before Kate, William and I decided to make camp in the shelter of some tuffet/hags. During the night the knee was painful. Next morning the knee was very inflamed, painful and more or less useless. We had a long day ahead of us, starting with some comping over open ground. I knew I couldn’t do that. The alternative was a longer walk on tracks. I tried to walk it off but just knew if wasn’t going to work.

What is it like abandoning the Challenge? Its there a great sense of despair? Well, not really. It was pretty clear to me that to carry on would have been pretty foolhardy and may well have caused more problems.  There was nothing to do but walk out, back the way we came.

Her’s something I hadn’t considered. There was not phone signal. I pretty quickly realised that nothing (serious) was broken. I could walk — uphill and on the flat were not too bad but the slightest downward slope sheer agony. But I could work and it seemed wrong to make an emergency rescue call. We aimed for Bendronaig Lodge which we rejoined at lunch time.

The weather was simply gorgeous. We put the tent up at the back and took shade from the sun in the bothy. We had a few passing visitors during the day but even on a Saturday had the place to ourselves in the evening. An afternoon of rest was what the knee required. I’m not sure how I slipped but I think I sprained the knee as well as banging my knee cap.

On Sunday we began the second part of the walk our, straight along the estate path to Attadale. And then I slipped again, banging my ribs this time. I was not a happy bunny. But we walked on enjoying the stunning weather as best we could.

There was no phone signal until we reached Attadale and it was only then — towards the end of the afternoon of Day 3 — that we could phone control and tell them we were pulling out, although the injury occurred on Day 1. I suspect I was the first drop out though maybe not the first reported.  All of this made me think a bit more than usual about safety and no doubt Bob and I will talk a bit about this in the podcast series.

There is nothing at Attadale other than the house gardens which are closed on Sundays. There is a train station and it seemed the right idea to get there and start searching for places to stay. At the other side of the Loch was Lochcarron with a campsite and a hotel.

Just as I was mussing on options a ,local walker spotted I was struggling. He asked where we were going. Perhaps, Loch Carron. As luck would have it he lived in the village and gave us a lift to the hotel who had a room free for the night.

It was time to regroup. We decided to spend the week up in Scotland, perhaps, visiting those places we only rush through on the Challenge (more about this later).

We had glorious weather the whole time we were in the Highlands, both in the West and in the Cairngorms. This must have been the best Challenge on record and I missed it!

All of this is very frustrating but — as they say — the mountains will still be there next year. Sometimes it is important to know when not to cause more damage. As I write, the knee now has all of its movement back, some ligaments are still a bit rocky and the knee gets tired. But things are getting better quickly.

So, to all my fellow Challengers in Montrose, have a great evening. I will miss you all. I’ll be back next year — but then, of course, it will rain every day!

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