These Boots are Made for Walking

RoutePlan12015 will see me take on what will certainly my biggest challenge yet, as I aim to complete the The Great Outdoors (TGO) Challenge in mid-May. The TGO Challenge is a self-supported trek through the Highlands of Scotland, crossing from the west coast to the east coast within 15 days. It will be a test of stamina and endurance, not to mention my ability to pack light and the qualities of “suck it up” and “get on with it”.

Unlike many other long-distance treks, the TGO Challenge doesn’t follow a way-marked trail on its route from west to east. Participants start from any one of 13 sign-out points in towns and villages on the west coast, and finish anywhere along the east coast of Aberdeenshire or Angus, between the towns of Fraserburgh in the north and Arbroath in the south. The route between those two points is entirely down the the participant, and can be as demanding* and long as you choose to make it.

The 2015 event will be the 36th TGO Challenge, with around 300 participants taking part. Many not for the first time either; I’ve found a couple of names on the list that will be attempting the challenge for the 23rd or even the 26th time! Participants are travelling from all over the world to take part, including Scandinavia, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, and even New Zealand. We’ll be in good company.

Gourdon Harbour in a winter storm.  If I stand at this point long enough the tide will come in, and I won't have to end my trip scrambling over seaweed covered rocks to reach the water.
Gourdon gutty harbour in a winter storm. Stand here long enough and the tide comes in, so there’s no need to end the trip scrambling over seaweed covered rocks to reach the water.

Since receiving confirmation of my place in the Challenge in November, I’ve been poring over maps and guidebooks to work out the route I want to take. The choice of an end point was an easy one as my parents live on the Aberdeenshire coast, in a little fishing village called Gourdon, right in the middle of the finishing area. Not only does it have a good pub, the Harbour Bar, with a chippy, Hornblower’s, just next door, I’ll also have good access to a bed, hot shower, comfy sofa, and WiFi; exactly what I’ll need after two weeks of trekking and camping in the wilds of the Scotland. (If I’m really lucky, someone might also do my laundry, but I better not push it at this stage of the plan).

To balance out my familiarity with the end of the route, I thought I’d start in a place I’ve never been to before. There’s a few options on the list, mainly the more remote and rural, but as we’ve got to travel up from the south of England to start the challenge we need somewhere fairly easy to get to using public transport. We’ll take the overnight sleeper train to Glasgow to start our journey north, then take the route to Fort William.

MuddyBoots1From there, I’ve opted for a TGO Challenge start in the fishing port of Mallaig, at the far end of the scenic West Highland Line. It’s a place I’ve visited several times before, but one thing I’ve never yet managed to do is take the small ferry to the village of Inverie, on the remote Knoydart peninsula. Although part of the mainland of the UK, the village of Inverie is not connected to the national road network, and getting to and from the nearest towns involves either a ferry trip to Mallaig, or a 25km (16 mile) hike through the “rough bounds” to Kinloch Hourn.  It’s also home to the Old Forge, the most remote pub on the British mainland.

Now I just need to join the dots between the two points**. It’ll only be approximately 290km (180miles) from one to the other.

What am I doing?

 

*Bear in mind, even without side-tracks and summits along the way, participants undertake a demanding hike for several days on end in remote backcountry, and contend with the notoriously fickle Scottish weather.  And most likely, the ferocious Scottish midge. 

** Plus some training hikes to break in my new boots.  And practicing my navigation skills.  Oh, and sorting out all the kit I’ll take.  Then throwing half of that out my rucksack when I find its too heavy to lift.  And testing some dehydrated hiking rations.  I’m sure there’s something else, but I just can’t remember right now…

Advertisements

Help me win a place in the Fjällräven Polar

The best adventures often aren’t the “Bucket List” ideas that you dream about for years and years. Sometimes they are the things that happen just when you’re in the right place at the right time, things that you stumble across as you browse websites, flick through magazines or get chatting to people that you meet.

I think I’ve found my next adventure. The newsletter for my favourite outdoor magazine popped into my inbox on a quiet morning, topped with a picture of a person swaddled in Arctic gear, face hidden by ski goggles and a fur-trimmed hood, standing alongside a team of sled dogs waiting to be hitched up. I managed to read the words “Take part in…” before I’d followed the link to the event. I want this.

 

The Fjällräven Polar is an event that takes place in the Scandinavian Arctic, a 300km dogsled run through the mountains and over the tundra, from Signaldalen in northern Norway, to the forest around Jukkasjärvi in Sweden, finishing on the frozen lake. Participants camp out each night of the expedition, which takes place in April, when temperatures have been known to drop to minus 30°C and even lower, especially with biting wind sweeping across the treeless tundra.

Despite the extreme conditions, the event is for ordinary people, not survival experts or polar explorers, looking for the adventure of a lifetime. It aims to give people the chance to discover the harsh beauty of the Arctic, to test themselves in a challenging environment, and show how the right equipment and knowledge can open up new experiences.

Entry is limited to 20 people, two from each “country”identified by Fjällräven*. One of these will automatically win a place by receiving the most votes on their application on the website. The other person will be selected by Fjällräven to take part in the event.

I’ve got a long way to go to beat some of the other British entries, especially as they’ve had almost 3 weeks longer to garner votes than me (and may even have been planning their campaign since last year). So here is my appeal: please help me win a place in the Fjällräven Polar! Follow this link to my profile, and click on the button to vote. I promise to share my stories with you when I get back.

Thank you for your support.

All images in this post are from Fjällräven.co.uk or Fjällrävenpolar.com

*Participants in the event will come from each of the following countries or groups: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Germany, UK, USA, Hungary, Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg) and other countries (the Rest of the World)!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Habit

I’m cheating a little with this week’s Photo Challenge theme.  Instead of showing something that is a habit, this picture is showing something I’m about to make a habit.

IMG_2068In 20 weeks time, I’m going to be lining up at the start of the 2014 London Marathon.  I received notification at the end of last week that I have a charity place running for Whizz-Kids, an organisation that provides wheelchairs and mobility vehicles for children, and campaigns on their behalf to provide access to facilities.

I’ve been going to a military-style bootcamp fitness session twice a week for a month or so, and have just started running three times a week.  I’ll build up my distances over the next few months, and try out other types of training too.  Now to make sure it becomes a habit that sticks.