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......