It is a long time since the brown envelope arrived last autumn with the news that so excited me - a coveted place on The Great Outdoors Challenge. At the time it felt like I had ages to prepare. Lots of time to train and to sort the logistics. As it happens, there was plenty of time for both. But for various reasons eg rotten weather (which I could and should have ignored!), domestic commitments, a house move, and new work commitments, I did far less of the former than anticipated. I guess that will be the story for many of the 300 challengers. Ironically, on my last training walk, only carrying a light pack, just over a week ago in the Berwyn Hills of mid-Wales, I "tweaked" a calf muscle and that gave me quite a bit of pain for a few days. A scan yesterday at an emergency physio session showed a tear in the muscle. However, it is not hurting at the moment so I have bought some extra strapping in case it needs support and stuck this in my pack, and I will hope for the best.
Now I am all packed and a taxi is booked to take me to Penrith Station tomorrow morning for the journey to Mallaig.
Kit packed and carried: I managed to lighten my load somewhat from the earlier post on this blog which set out my intended kit list. Although I will still be one of the heavier challengers (both me and my pack!) I have now had to stop agonising about what to keep in and what to ditch. Decisions are made. With 3 days food, fuel and base clothing and equipment I will be carrying 13.6kg + clothes worn. I have gone with the Akto rather than the Trail Star, as the latter is just no good for my height. I dithered over sleeping bag choice, given the poor weather forecast, but have settled on the Rab Neutrino Endurance 400 which is 900 grams with 800+ fill power which should, I hope, keep me tolerably warm. I have ditched the Montane Prism Primaloft trousers and silk liner that I would have used if I was taking a lighter bag. I have a spare Berghaus polyester base layer to sleep in. And I have thrown in a pair of Ron Hill Tracksters (fashion disaster) also to sleep in, so I should always have spare, dry clothes for night only. My Montane Terra walking trousers are not that warm so I have some very light Rab Meco long johns if needed. I also have decided to risk just taking my trail shoes, with no other footwear to change into. I will ford streams in these - but I have thrown in some Seal Skinz socks and some Ultralight Rohan liner socks in case I want to keep my feet dry in the evenings. Not carrying crocs or similar saves over 400 grams.
My maps weigh far more than they should, partly due to over caution and partly due to my own stupidity. I decided to trim down, very moderately, my paper OS maps and to carry them all with me in case any resupply parcel goes missing. They will generally be stowed in the pack; I printed out A4 map extracts on waterproof paper and have posted these on in resupply parcels, other than for those needed for the first 3 days, and I will only get out the larger area maps if needed. Overkill to most other Challengers I suspect. Like an idiot, it never occurred to me to print out the map extracts double sided, but I can at least trim these down so they only show the line of my route as I have the larger back ups in my pack.
So now I am as ready as I will ever be, and I am facing the next two weeks with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. I think the former will grow and the latter will recede as I actually get started on the walk. I am sure some of the apprehension will linger, though, until I am on Stonehaven beach two weeks tomorrow. In the meantime I am looking forward to meeting lots of other challengers, so many of whom have been so supportive and helpful and free with advice over the last 6 months.