Why 50 miles?

Like all good stories, this one starts out: On a dark and dreary night, late last March, my friend Christine and I were looking for a summer adventure together. We had texted back and forth with various events that looked somewhat interesting, and then I spied the “JFK 50”. Christine had mentioned it years earlier, but I said “no way to 50 miles”. Christine is normally slow to make a decision, and I saw no real threat in throwing out one more text, “If we’re going to go big, lets just do JFK”. Instantly my phone beeped a reply text, “I agree, I’m in… but we have to hit the submit button together. The entry is $200, if we sign up, we HAVE to do it”. So like two sneaky little kids, we logged onto our separate computers, got on the phone, counted to 3 and hit the magic button. “We’re IN!”. We were both a little giddy, and talked about all the great long runs we could take together in the next 7.5 months.

The next day, however, reality set in and Christine texted, “Uh oh, now I’m a little nervous”. But we went back and forth with how fun it would be to have a “girls weekend away”, the different trails we wanted to explore together, and the challenges we would face due to both our busy schedules and the fact that we live 45 minutes apart. We scheduled our own training plans, and hoped that we could get together once a week or so for a long run.

Who said, “if you want to make God laugh, make a plan?” Well that pretty much sums up our experience. I think we were able to manage 3 runs together over the next 7 months, Christine’s husband decided to join us as chauffeur, I struggled with 8 weeks of Lyme carditis, Christine’s work load doubled, and we both questioned whether we really wanted to do this thing. While down with Lyme, I even wrote to the race director to see about deferring my entry. The terse reply of “no exceptions allowed” annoyed me enough that I decided then and there, “I’m doing this thing, even if I have to walk 50 miles”. We worked out the travel with our now party of 3, got an extra hotel room, and planned for using a “helper” at the 3 designated spots along the course. We trained independently, and as the day loomed closer, our excitement began to build again.

Rewind a couple of months: in June, Ken and I traveled to Scotland for 2.5 weeks of hiking and a little easy running. We covered over 20 miles per day, and upon our return, running felt easy. I have studied the “Maffetone” method of easy training, and this period really proved the value of long slow consistent work at a low heart rate. My easy run pace dropped over a minute, and I felt great. I had also altered my diet in the past few months to include more fat and protein, and less carbohydrate. Although this may seem counter intuitive to many endurance athletes, after a period of time the body adapts to using fat as it’s primary fuel source, and I really did begin to feel much better. No longer did I need GU or sugary bars and drinks to get through long workouts. I ran almost all of my runs on an empty stomach, and fueled up afterwards with an omelette or protein shake. I snacked on nuts and peanut butter, and tried to limit my eating to an 8-10 hour period of time…. meaning that I would fast on no food between approximately 6pm (after dinner) and 10am (before breakfast) period. The combination of the changed foods and the long rest period each night, completely took care of the many digestive issues that I’m sure you really don’t want to hear more about! For long runs, and for the race itself, I used UCAN as my primary source of fuel. In the JFK, I had a serving before the race, and 3 servings during the race, spaced about 2 hours apart.

By mid-July, I was feeling as fit as I had in years. Ken and I did a 40 mile weekend in VT, hiking 17 miles one day, and running 23 the next. I felt awesome, and when Christine called the next day to see if perhaps we could run together on Friday, I said “sure”. It was a hot day, and I knew I was a little tired, so I stashed my bike 18 miles into the run, figuring that she could finish her planned 25 miles and I would ride with her the last 7. I should have stashed my bike 5 miles into the run, as that day I completely melted down. I was staggering, cramping, and couldn’t believe that just 6 days earlier I had felt so good. Christine was awesome, talked me through a walk/jog to my bike’s hiding place, and encouraged me to take a few days to rest, rehydrate, and chill. But things just kept going down hill. Soon, I was having chest pains and walking with a heart rate of 160. I couldn’t sleep, and on one particularly scary night, woke up with chest pains and panic. Panic? Is that all it was? Maybe a panic attack? Ken was away on business, my track coaching season was looming ahead, and maybe I was just over tired? This continued for another couple weeks, I went for some walks, and I rested. Nothing got better, so I scheduled an appointment my primary care doctor who also told me to go to the ER for a cardiac workup. 6 hours later, I left with an abnormal EKG and an appointment with a cardiologist. That led to stress tests and an ECHO. Along the way, I tried acupuncture, massage, and physical therapy to aid in relaxation, and my PC ordered some blood work. Maybe my running career was really over? 40 years as an athlete, and now what? Then Dr. Lillard texted…. “Kathy you have Lyme disease, come in tomorrow and we’ll talk, but this explains a lot”. So, finally, a month after what I now call my “melt down” run, I had a diagnosis, and a 30 day prescription for doxycycline. Also some stern words from Dr. L. To start acting my age, and tone down the exercise…. “you’re not planning any more ironmans are you”. “Nope… ” I could honestly say I wasn’t, and she didn’t ask about a 50 mile run……, but anyway, I didn’t even know if I could do it.

The cardiology tests were somewhat o.k.– a small blockage between the upper and lower ventricals was noted during the stress test, and perhaps this was causing the elevated heart rate. However, the doctor felt that as long as I was not showing symptoms of chest pain, there was no reason not to continue exercising at an easy rate. I bought a new heart rate monitor and I set out on a few runs, gradually building back up to a 22, a 24 and a 28 miler. I was happy to be able to manage the distance, but still felt undertrained. A friend mentioned “Bimblers Bluff”, a local 50K put on by my good friend Jerry. I contacted Jerry, and he immediately sent an entry code “OLDCOACH” and I was “in”. Bimblers was tough! About 12 miles of feeling good, and 20 miles of absolute shit. It was hot, I struggled with hydration, and I cramped badly. But after nearly 7.5 hours, I got through it. How much harder could another 17 miles be? Particularly on a cooler day, and with 27 miles of the JFK on a flat canal trail? I was back “in the game”.

Meanwhile, Christine, not knowing if I’d be able to go, had made plans with her husband. Fortunately, they were willing to include me. We organized additional hotel rooms, and planned that Dave would drive us down and support both of us along the route. My XC and Track season had been filling all my time, Christine’s family and work as a naturopathic doctor took every minute. We both felt that the 50 miles would be hard, but that it was also luxurious to have an ENTIRE day just to ourselves and to do something we loved. Now our only worry was the weather. The forecast seemed to change daily from sunny and 50 degrees (perfect!) to rainy, windy, and 30 degrees (COLD). Right up until the morning of, the weather forecast changed, and although ultimately it was more rain and cold, I personally never noticed. Once in the moment, it was all about having the best run possible.

The AT section was much easier than I anticipated. The hills weren’t as bad, and there were several very runnable sections. When it was too rocky or too hilly, I simply walked. The only hard part were the lines of people, and not being able to pass in certain sections. The last mile into Weaverton was particularly frustrating as I felt great, had my Black Diamond trekking poles and was moving well, but there were people in front of me literally crab walking on their hands and butts, trying to get through the switchbacks. One woman in particular, should have pulled over…. she had a line of 20-30 people waiting for her to make each descent. That one mile was my slowest, at 16 minutes. I ran through the crowd of “helpers” looking wildly for Dave who had my dry shoes and food for the next 2 hours. Not finding him, I kept going, pulled out my phone and called to let him know that I had gone through and I’d see him at 27 miles. I couldn’t reach Dave so I called Ken, who told me that I was having a great run and was 6th in my AG. Also that my track team was doing an amazing job at their community service project and that I would be proud! Those comments did a lot for my spirits, and I clicked along at 9:45-10:15 mile pace. I knew it was a little fast, my HR was 166, but I felt good and wasn’t breathing heavily so I kept going. No headphones are allowed at the JFK, so I entertained myself with thoughts of friends…. both current friends, past friends, and in particular friends no longer in this world. I wore a buff from Glicker, and I thought about how much he would have loved another opportunity to race, I thought about Jim, aka, “the big fat slug” and the 1000s of miles we’d run and biked together, I thought about Jenn and Chrissy, my former canoe racing buddies, and I thought about my Dad. Time passed, I chatted to a few people now and then, and before long I came upon the next check point and Dave. My feet were really hurting by then, and I was very glad to change into my Hokas which are roomier than the trail shoes I had chosen to start with. I drank some warm broth, and grabbed another one of my bottles of UCAN. I still felt pretty good, and I’m always happy to know that I’m more than halfway. I told Dave I’d see him in a couple hours at mile 38. Somewhere around 35 miles, I realized that I was in totally new territory, having never run more than 33 miles in a day. My feet still hurt, and I was starting to tire, but I remembered a trick that Dr. Mark Cuccazzella had told me…. walk for a minute every mile. I started walking the first 1/10th of every mile and was surprised to realize that my pace didn’t drop. I was still in the 10 min range, and I knew that if I kept it under or around 11s, I would reach my sub 10 hour goal, EVEN if I had to walk a lot of the last 8 miles on the road.

I didn’t need much of anything from Dave at mile 38, although in retrospect maybe I should have put dry socks on. I didn’t want to take the time, and never even took out my jacket or hat. It was chilly and I was wet, but not so much that it bothered me. I was having a good race, and I wanted to keep pushing. Shortly after leaving Dave, I came to the end of the canal. I was pretty releived as I now entered the last 8 mile segment of road. I was NOT happy to realize that my watch was off by almost a mile, and instead of the 7 miles I thought I had left, I really did have a full 8 to go. (I guess that was my OMMFG… One more mile for Glicker) Funny how that 9/10s of a mile can mentally feel like another marathon itself. I continued to alternate walking and running- I walked up the hills, ran down. My quads were toasted, and running was more like hobbling, but my pace was still well under the 12 min miles I had mentally planned for this section. Most were under 11, and I was thrilled. Knowing things are going well is motivation in itself. I continued to pass runners, and occasionally to be passed, but often it was a leap frog effect as we all took turns walking and running at different places.

My low point came around 44 miles, so at the next aid station, I walked for a full 5 minutes. I had been using UCAN for fuel, but I drank some coke, ate an entire honey stinger bar, and enjoyed the sugar boost which propelled me through the final bit. Just before the last big turn, a runner came towards me in the opposite direction and said “you have exactly 1.6 miles to go…. you’ve got this”. For some reason, that clicked, and I realized I DID in fact have this. I ran the last 1.6 with a little more spring to my step and finished with a smile. 9 hours and 42 minutes!! My goal in June was 9:30, but with the lyme and time off, plus the busy fall of coaching, I had resolved to be happy with 11 hours. Sub 10 was terrific.

I hobbled into the school– now I was cold, and I realized how wet I was. I was chaffed absolutely everywhere. How could I not notice the deep cuts from my heart rate monitor or under my arm from ???? I don’t even know how I got chaffed in all those places. The shower stung like crazy, but I was done, and I had finished what had once seemed impossible. 50.9 miles, at an 11.17 overall pace. Really it was probably about 12’s on the AT and 10s on the canal, finishing with 11s on the road. I found Dave and Christine, who had finished 14 minutes ahead of me. She was happy as well, but struggling with stomach upheaval. We went straight back to the hotel, I took a long bath and collapsed on the bed. The one thing I really missed at this race was camaraderie. I didn’t know anyone but Christine, and I missed having friends to sit around and talk with. HOWEVER, when I opened up facebook, I found that my friends WERE there. They’d been following the live feed and posting encouraging remarks throughout the day. Of course, I couldn’t see them while I was running, but knowing they were there for me made me smile. The running community is my social group, and silly as it sounds, chatting online while I sat on my nice comfy bed in clean warm clothes, was the next best thing to having everyone there with me. I loved reliving the ups and downs, telling my stories, and thinking about “next time”. I’m not sure if it will be JFK- it’s a great race, but a long drive and I did hate to miss the Little Manchester Road Race. But I would do it again, and I would certainly love to do another race in that beautiful area, and MAYBE another 50 someday. After all, I’ll be 60 soon and in a whole new age group!!

#GenerationUCAN #BlackDiamond #JanjiCorps #EasternCTStateUniversity #EasternCrossCountry

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Glasgow in a day!

From the train we Uber’d over to the Glasgow Marriott where we’d used our points to book our last 2 nights.  On Wednesday morning, we enjoyed the familiar white surroundings of all Marriotts, Ken had a free breakfast in the elite lounge, and eventually we headed out for a run along River Clyde.  A nice, flat path and we had a comfortable 8 mile jog.  Next was a “wander”.  We decided to act like “normal” tourists and take our time wandering the streets.  We walked from the hotel through Kelvingrove Park, along the River Kelvin and into the Botanical Gardens.  AMAZING… just when we thought we’d seen all the amazing things Scotland could offer, we were blown away by the magnitude of the gardens which were created in 1817.  From herb gardens, medicinal gardens, rose gardens, Victorian time period gardens, and an indoor greenhouse that is one of the largest in the world.  
We had a terrific lunch at Bread Meat Bread, which surprisingly had lots of vegetarian and GF options.  Then continued our wander until our feet hurt so much that we stopped at a big bookstore to sit and read for awhile.  Fun to see different books that we’d see in the US.  

The hotel offered appetizers and drinks in the lounge and neither of us was up for more walking, so we made do for dinner.  

Thursday was raining, we worked out in the nice hotel gym for an hour, had breakfast and went for a run that hit several tourist sites including the Cathedral and George Square.  An Uber ride to the bus station, an hour bus ride to the airport and here we are again…. right where we stepped off 16 days ago!  What an amazing trip.  It is so hard to imagine all we’ve seen, but also that we’ll likely never return.  We’ve been making lists of the other places we want to see…. Norway, Sweden, Switzerland (again), Mont Blanc, Wales…..   Let the adventures continue!  

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Isle of Skye

“Island in the Mist”, the translation for Isle of Skye, was our final destination.  We planned 3 nights at what turned out to be a stunning, and perfectly appointed AirBnB.  Not sure how tired we would be after our adventures, we thought that a relaxing few days on Skye would be a nice end to our vacation.  However, we were so captivated by the magnificent and varied scenery, that we packed many more miles of hiking and exploring into our 2.5 days.  Knowing that I don’t do well stuck in the car for several hours, we went for a 10 mile run before leaving Inverness.  The run was beautiful, along the Caledonian Canal, alongside 5 girls training in their 1 and 2 person shells with their coach cycling alongside and barking orders.  They were actually rowing at close to my running pace, so it was fun to run alongside and catch a few “coaching tips”.  I felt great, running steadily for the first time since our arrival in Scotland.  

Along the drive, we stopped to tour the Urquhart Castle, built in the 13th century.  The castle had a very tumultuous history,  and ultimately was destroyed by the MacDonald clan in their struggle for control of the Loch. It’s a beautiful site along side Loch Ness and we enjoyed the tour, although not the crowds.  Having been on our own in very peaceful settings for a few days, the mobs of tourists seemed to be deliberately in our way.  


After 3 hours, we crossed the bridge into Skye.  It was rainy, cloudy, misty, foggy…. whatever word describes WET.  The roads are narrow, and a little intimidating.  We found our AirBnB after another half hour of driving on Skye.  I dropped the owner, Pam, a quick email and then we went out for a walk up the hill from her house to a wind farm.  

We thought it was a trail or driveway, but soon learned that “no, that is a major road on Skye… get used to single track driving”.  What an experience THAT turned out to be- cars flying in both directions on a road barely wide enough for one.  There are “passing areas” or small deposits of asphalt on every turn which could be 1/4 mile to 2 miles apart.  If you didn’t know the road, it was that much more challenging.  When two cars approach, one car (whichever is nearest a passing area) is expected to pull over and allow the other to pass.  Usually it worked well, but sometimes involved backing up for several hundred yards, or pulling right to the edge and hoping to God you don’t fall off the cliff or into a ditch.  Add to this the sheep… no fences, so sheep everywhere, taking their time, as obviously this is THEIR home and not yours.  After each trip of 20-30 (45-70 minutes), Ken would head straight to the frig and take out not one, but two beers.  

Upon returning to our cottage, which by the way was located on a working Sheep Croft, our landlady Pam came up to visit.  She is delightful, and explained much of the area to us.  She brought us Scottish treats made on the island, had a large sampling of tourist brochures, invited us to walk the land behind her home, and in general made us feel entirely welcome.  


Monday was also cloudy, misty, foggy…. and part way through our second hike it became a downright downpour.  But we managed to drive around the northern finger of the island, stopping at the “Old Man” a rock formation that we were able to hike up to…. again with way too many other camera baring tourists. 


Using our little “walks of Skye” book we located a 2nd hike that we thought would be fun.  We were WRONG–  we ended up in a very messy, ankle bending, sheep shit bog.  The description did say “slightly boggy”, but we were not expecting to sink up to our knees and sometimes hips.  We did not find the culminating path up the ridge, and fortunately one of us was smart enough to say “lets turn around”.  That in itself proved challenging as we had been following what seemed like an obvious sheep path…. now there were about 20 obvious sheep paths going in all different directions.  We picked one and soldiered on, eventually connecting with the trail and making our way back to the car.  For the 20 or 30th time I gave thanks to my new Leki poles or I would have never made it!  There were some very cool, odd little green hills.  It kind of looked like an eruption of mushrooms- and I had some fun running up and down them, powering my way up with the poles and sliding back down.  The sheep apparently enjoyed them also and it likely was not mud that I was slipping and sliding down on.

We changed into dry clothes, put on our Xero shoe sandals, and went for our 3rd walk of the day– an easy trip to the Coral Beach.  Here is where we saw seals, climbed a grassy ridge, and enjoyed some time on the North Sea/Atlantic Ocean.  


Now that we had run out of dry clothes, we returned to our BnB.  We had brought the makings of a delicious dinner.  The weather seemed to clear up, and it is daylight until 11pm so we went out for one last short walk of the evening.  5 miles from our cottage was a walk that led through another sheep pasture, and to the Island of Olmsted.  The walk along the “land bridge” was rocky but we watched a pretty sunset before returning home and going to bed.  Long day, but we only have two full ones and want to see as much as possible.


Monday we woke up to spectacular sunshine and blue sky.  This actually happens about 2am- there is literally 3 hours of semi-dark this time of year.  Our first walk today was possibly our favorite- to the 3 maidens, rock formation rising out of the ocean off a steep and sheer cliff.  The walk there was not hard to find, a little boggy, with lots of gates to go go through, but trying to go beyond the maidens which should have connected us to a looop trail proved to be impossible.  Again, the sheep did not make a clear enough trail and we got stuck in heather, bogs, and ankle bending mud.  We retraced our steps and went to the island’s main city, Portree, for lunch. 

After lunch we tried a couple more short walks.  The first (above) was on a paved circuit overlooking porter harbour and with fuschia bushes as tall as us!

That second one was a challenge to find- we got stuck on, guess what ??, sheep tracks and in ferns that were over our head.  Once we determined the right path, it was really quite beautiful and fun to run along the green sloping hillside overlooking the sea.  


Tuesday- our last real day of vacation!  We cleaned up Pam’s home, and headed for a walk along the Cullin Ridge.  The track was a bit rocky, but easy to follow.  Little did we realize how spectacular it would be once we traveled the 5 miles to the ridge line.  We knew we needed to head back as we had a train to catch, but we scrambled up the cliff as quickly as possible and got a few gorgeous views of both the mountain range to the north and the loch/sea to the south.  The trail appeared to continue endlessly, and we wished we’d planned more time, but were glad we got to see as much as we did.  


We ran/walked back to our car and made the drive back to Fort William while eating every last bit of food that we had stocked up on along our 2 week journey.  In Fort William, we returned our car, bought a couple small bottles of wine, crackers and cheese, and prepared to enjoy the journey to Glasgow. 

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Love Inverness!! 

Rainy Day so we didn’t mind the drive from Fort William to Inverness.  We took a detour to Nairn so that we could stick our toes in the North Sea.  The water was cold, but not nearly as cold as the air around us.  We got totally soaked for the 2nd time today!


The first soaking was when we pulled over in the Cairngorms national forest and hiked up a hillside to an old fort.  So random, finding things just because you feel like getting out of the car for a few minutes!  It turned out to be quite spectacular with 360 degree view (probably the purpose of a fort!). 

When we got to our destination in Inverness, I accidentally walked right into some poor woman’s house.  Our apt was #11 View Place, and that’s where I went.  SURPRISE!  #11 View Place lower level is entirely different than street level!  

https://www.vrbo.com/6978566

The  apt is awesome though- delightfully decorated, instructions everywhere, treats (small bottles of wine, chocolates, granola bars, clean toothbrushes, etc) everywhere, an entire basket of towels (quite the luxury after the stingy “1 towel for 2 nights and 2 people” guy we had last night.  There’s a view of River Ness, and it’s a 3 minute walk to the Inverness Castle, 5 minutes to town.  We walked through town, did our grocery shopping, and then just relaxed in our beautiful space for the evening.


Friday’s forecast was for rain in the morning, clearing somewhat after noon.  We put off cycling, did some shopping in town, took a walk, and at noon headed to “Ticket to Ride”.  We were outfitted with 2 nice Specialized Cross Bikes.  Assuming we were like most tourists (NOT), the bike guy gave us a map and the usual instructions for an 8 mile ride down the Loch, with a stop for lunch and a brew at the pub.  When we explained that we were looking for a wee bit more, he came up with an idea that turned left at the pub and took us up a 3 mile steep climb.  The view from the top was beautiful- actually we stopped 3 times on the way up, just to take pictures (do not judge the strava segment…. pictures!!!). At the top of a very narrow road, we turned onto an even narrower road and had a 10 mile downhill stretch back to Inverness.  Riding on the left side of the road threw me off, and I rode right off the road twice.  Between that and brake levers that were a half inch longer than my fingers, the wind, and the rain, it was a “chilling” ride down the hill!!   On the way back into town, we found a sign that they must have put up specifically for Ken… see picture below.  

This guy has been watching for Nessie since 2001!


Grave sites from the Commonwealth War


Roads are very narrow, and riding on the left is disconcerting

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Ben Nevis!  Highest Peak in Britain

At 4,406 feet, hiking up Ben Nevis is similar to undertaking a hike up Mount Washington, (New Hampshire).  They are both roughly 4-5 miles up, and 4-5 miles down, depending on your route.  Ben Nevis starts at near sea level, so you climb almost all of that 4400 feet.  Mount Washington, is 6,288 feet at the summit, but you start the at 2,050 feet so the actual climb is very similar in both distance and elevation.  They are also similar in that it is rare to get a clear day at the summit.  We thought we might get lucky, and in a way we did.  The clouds were expected to clear mid-afternoon so we waited until noon to begin our hike.  Part way up we did SEE the summit, but by the time we were at the summit, there was a thick foggy cloud cover again.  We had some spectacular views both on the way up and the way down so it was worth the effort.  


The walk is easy for the first mile, easier than any of the trails we’ve been on this week.  However, it gets steeper and more challenging as you climb and the last mile is a very loose pile of slippery scree.  Luckily, the shopping trip Ken promised me yesterday, resulted in a pair of super light, super nice hiking/running poles.  I’ve been thinking ever since my hip surgery that good poles would be really useful.  We researched on line and found what we wanted, and we knew we could order them at a cheaper price.  However, when we went into Ellis Brigham, a mountaineering/outdoor store in Fort William, the employee who helped us was very gracious and extremely knowledgeable.  I always feel that if you get top rate service somewhere, it is worth the few extra dollars to buy directly from the person who helped educate you.  Plus, I’d always prefer support an actual store than some online multi-millionaire if I can.   The poles were worth every gram on this hike, both up and down!  


Ken’s big challenge to himself for this trip has been to try the famous Scottish dish, “Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties”.   Haggis is a sausage type dish made from sheep internals, Neeps are mashed turnips, and Tatties are mashed potatoes.  Tonight was the night and he actually liked it so much, he intends to do a nationwide comparison.  I’m still on a search for the best Cullen Skink.  

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Last Day of WHW– Kinlochleven to Fort William, 16 miles

Great breakfast- one of the top 2 B and Bs of the trip.  Comfy bed, good sleep.  

POURING down rain.  We expected this, but seeing it did not make us too excited to get out and walk.  Today was the shortest day, but it turned into the hardest day for me mentally.  The route was on an old military road.  When I read that from home, I thought about dirt roads in the Natchaug Forest, or maybe some gravel.  No, this was big softball sized rocks, lots of them, and loose/rolling/ankle twisty/slippery/shitty…  I said a lot worse things than that after awhile too.  My back started to hurt from the slipping, I was cold, and the uphill seemed relentless…. as did the rain.  It was impossible to maintain the pace we’d hoped for, and for the 100th time I reprimanded myself (and Ken) for taking my hiking poles out of our luggage at the last minute.  

Suck it up Buttercup!  Time to put our heads down and get this thing done.  Ken promised me lunch and shopping if I’d just shut up.  

Somewhere around 2 hours in, Ken told me to eat something and offered to take my pack.  I told him both of those ideas sucked and he was stupid.  But around 2 hours and 15 minutes, the terrain changed a little, I DID eat a UCAN bar, and I started to feel better.  We got to a nice gradual downhill, the sun poked out a little (or at least it stopped pouring) and we were able to jog along which also improved my mood.  By 3 hours in, we were laughing and having fun again.  The last 3 miles of the WHW are on a road, most of it a nice dirt road, and all of it downhill.  We jogged down, then made our last turn onto a paved “highway” for the last mile into town.  The mileage on our itinerary was off by 2 miles, which also pissed me off, but I got over it as we walked the final bit through town and sat down next to the statue of the hiker with the tired feet.  I loved that guy, and was so happy to see him that I gave him a big hug.  

The rest of our afternoon was spent finding some lunch, getting our rental car (that was a bit of an ordeal), grocery shopping and checking into our airBnB.  We will stay here for 2 nights and then head on to Inverness for 2 nights, before going to the Isle of Skye.  The view from our apartment is spectacular, although the apartment itself is really weird– it’s empty.  Virtually no furniture, 1 towel for the two of us for 2 nights, and a pretty skimpy bed.  But, it’s home for now- it’s warm, the shower works, and we are happy to be here.

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Day 4– Bridge of Orchy to Kinlochlevin (22 miles)

Our night in the remodeled sheep stance was not too comfortable, so despite it being a fairly easy day yesterday we didn’t feel super rested.   But we had a nice breakfast, were pleasantly surprised by a sunny weather forecast, and headed on our way.  The walking was not particularly challenging but the terrain was very rocky on what was called an old military road.  We climbed up and over 3 mountain passes, including Glenroe and what is known as the Devil’s Staircase.  It really wasn’t that bad, but the higher peaks did provide some amazing views.  

Between Orchy and Kinlochlevin, there is only one other place to stop for a night (a small bunkhouse attached to a bar) so nearly everyone makes the entire 21 mile journey.  Up until today, there were a few different ways to plan our your overnights, particularly if you wanted to walk for more than the 5 days that we chose.  A lot of people do 6,7, 8, or 9 day walks.  We’ve had some fun conversations with other hikers, many of whom are carrying a lot heavier packs and consequently moving more slowly.  We are feeling lucky to just have our running shoes and hydration packs.  Even thought many parts of the trail aren’t very runnable, we’re able to walk quickly and make good time.  The one thing we REALLY wish we’d brought are our hiking poles.  They were all packed, but as we had to keep each of our bags to 10kg, we took them out at the last minute.  I was ready to buy a pair, but there have not been ANY shops.  Just finding a meal is fortunate.  It is so gorgeous here, but totally isolated.

Today was sunny with no rain!  Another very unusual stroke of luck for Scotland.  There are little bugs called midges, we call them “no see ums”.  They are nasty and bite.  We have also been lucky there, although today was such a gorgeous day that there were a few chasing after us.  As long as we kept moving, we were fine.  

Bridge of Orchy


Very friendly deer at King’s House

Our lunch companions at King’s House


Resourceful kids selling water and candy at the top of Devil’s Staircase


Walking off the top of the world!


We actually saw the sign on our way down, AFTER we climbed the staircase


The river Levin provides water and power to the town



Cool sculpture at the end of our day, village of Kinlochlevin.  Which, BTW, our excitement about being in a “bigger” village was somewhat true– there are TWO pubs that serve food, a convenience store, AND a barbers shop.  Our B and B is much more comfy though.  

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