Saturday, 25 May 2013

TGOC 2013 Minus 2 Days: Apprehension

This is a blog post that I did not want to write and publish before the Challenge.  My apologies for any pretentious twaddle.

A canal towpath is not necessarily the best training ground for a walk across Scotland...
Two days before the 2013 Challenge and I was getting myself in a right state.
My mood had perceptibly shifted in the weeks leading up to the Challenge. After the brown envelope from Mr Manning had arrived telling me I had one of the coveted 300 places there had been months of excitement – planning, sorting routes and general anticipation.  Despite this, I had always thought that mine was not the ideal personality for the spirit or reality of the Challenge.  In part, I was conscious of the social side of the Challenge, which appeared to be an essential element.  Indeed, without this, what would be the point of the event, given that we could all just go off and do such a walk on our own, couldn’t we?  I am not naturally outgoing.  I tend to do my walking alone, more by circumstance than choice, but I knew from reputation that an essential element of the Challenge was the social side.  More importantly, I am one of life’s worriers.  A big time worrier.  I get anxious about many things.  And as the Challenge came closer, I became more and more apprehensive, not helped by my naïve, long held expectation that the weather must be better this year than it had been for recent Challenges, an expectation that was rapidly disappearing in the final two weeks of the lead up.
I knew I wasn’t superbly fit and that my training could have been more intensive.  I had never backpacked for more than 4 days before.  I had very little experience of Scotland, despite extensive hill walking and mountain experience elsewhere.  I reckoned that decent weather would significantly enhance my chances of a successful crossing.  Yet the weather had been dire, and the forecasts were poor.  Tweets were flying around about the possible need for winter gear, heavier sleeping bags and the like. I was agonising about what to take, what could go wrong and generally working myself up into a state.  I was worried about river crossings if it was to be very wet and with all the snow melt.  I wondered if I could take the general discomfort of being wet for days on end and also how a very tall, middle aged bloke like me could cope with crawling in and out of a tiny, sodden tent.  I wondered about whether I had the right kit, about whether I was physically able to take the long days, about whether my calf would be ok, knackered since two back operations had left me with nerve damage down my left leg.  And I was concerned about my nemesis, my phobia of cattle.  But I had wanted to do this Challenge for so long.  So many people knew I was attempting it.  I was most scared of dropping out.  Especially early on in the event.  Thus, my apprehension can be summarised as the fear of the unknown and the fear of failure, my two biggest concerns.
So the day before I set out to Mallaig I calmed my nerves with a trip down to my favourite town in the whole wide world, Keswick, just half an hour away from my cottage, and looked to my well loved hills and, despite knowing that their familiarity would contrast with what was to come, I did what real athletes and sportsmen do.  I tried to “visualise victory”.  I imagined the feeling that I would experience on a beach on the east coast of Scotland in just over two weeks.  I also told myself that thousands of others had successfully made the crossing, that I was far younger than many of them, that they had faced successfully all the things I was getting worked up about and had just got on with it.  I told myself that I was generally being ridiculous.  I’m not certain it worked, but the tea and cake in Booths were good, so I set off back home, finished loading my rucksack and had a pretty sleepless night as a prelude to the coming journey.
To be continued......


  1. Please don't imagine for one moment that you were alone in having those doubts!

  2. You should have said! I can empathise. I get very excited with all the planning and sorting gear, I have lists and spreadsheets and there's a lot of thought that goes into my preparation. But as the event gets closer, I get more and more anxious. I worry about being out of my depth and not having the skills. I actually ike being around people, but I'm painfully shy and like to sit quietly in a corner and listen to the tales of daring do. I was worried this time I'd picked a start that would leave me with little company (I was right!). The days leading up to the start I might even experience the odd panic attack and feel increasingly anxious. I am becoming notorious for not being able to eat the night before or breakfast at the start, which is not helpful! Once I get walking, it's all fine, this year better than ever before and I was loving it.

    There are Challengers that deliberately pick quiet routes and meet few people, I believe Martin Banfield met a total of five Challengers on his crossing this year, and that is absolutely fine, you would not be singled out or derided for this. The whole point of the Challenge is that it is Your Challenge, you make it what you want it to be.

    I'm sorry you kept your twisted knickers to yourself, we would all have had something to say to help and support you, but I am looking forward to the next part.

  3. I bet that the grumpy old sod that you met on the train up really did not help David!

    I really don't think that you are alone in your worries before setting off. At the end of the day you completed it and hopefully had a cracking time. It was good to meet you.

  4. Apprehension before any trip is quite understandable - if a person wasn't showing some concern I'd wonder how seriously they were taking their trip.

    Well done with your Challenge....and on with your report!


  5. Thanks for the comments folks.

    Norma and John, I am sure you are right but I think I did go over the top with apprehension and doubts, and this was a learning experience for me.

    Louise you are right that I would have masses of support from others but I felt completely pathetic, which is one reason for writing about this now - possibly to show others who may be nervous about trying new and/or difficult things. It was not easy to write, even after the event, partly because of the natural reluctance I suspect others might share of publicly admitting this sort of stuff.

    James - again spot on - await my next post for comments about that particular gentleman!

  6. Nice thoughtful post, David.

    Don't for one minute think that those thoughts disappear. I still get nagging doubts each and every year. Mind you, it's never helped when I realise I'm walking with Andy & Phil. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?


  7. Well at least you always have Andy to carry your gear in an emergency, Alan. Having picked up his pack in Braemar it is clear that he is well 'ard.

    What I have to learn to do is allow myself to have doubts that merely nag rather than become all consuming which they did this time. I think the long build up to the Challenge may have had something to do with it. Knowing more what to expect I am sure I will manage it better in future.