Vacation: a 95 mile hike (high potential for rain)

I started writing this post back in mid-May.

Well, hello readers. I’m still here; I know it’s been a while since my last post. I’ve been rather busy with work for the last nearly two years. I’m a senior project coordination manager and I love my job! Loving my job makes it pretty easy to work a LOT.

I still have very few obligations; no significant figure, no pets (I don’t have time for them), no plants… I decided just this weekend that I had put my two plants through enough. They were wilting, one of the orchid’s leaves had dried up and fallen off, and the other one wasn’t looking so well. Why keep them hanging on in a dark apartment when I forget to water them once a week? Enough is enough they say.

Having been so busy since I started the job in Maryland, I haven’t taken a vacation in nearly two years, I figured it was time to figure out some adventure to enliven my soul and mind. I wanted to go overseas somewhere since COVID restrictions have lightened up a bit. A roadtrip in the US wouldn’t be far enough away for me. My phone would constantly have service, I could bring my work computers with me; traveling in the US would leave room for remote work which defeats the purpose of vacation. No; I had to go further away….I had to cross some water.

A hiking friend threw out the fact that he was thinking to hike the West Highland Way (WHW) in Scotland. This is a 95-mile trail between Milngavie (outskirts of Glasgow) to Fort William. I got pretty excited at the sound of this so I asked if I could join the trek!

Late last year, I reconnected with an old church friend, Esther, who came to the US to spend time with another friend, Tirza. I went to visit Esther in Ohio and it was so nice to see her and share our experiences between youth and young adulthood (where we are now). I figured that at the end of the hike, I would have a few days left over to do something extra somewhere in Europe; so I messaged Esther and asked where she would be in the later half of June, that I was planning to hike the WHW with Jorgo, and if she’d be able to meet up somewhere. She sounded pretty excited about this idea and asked if she could join the trek as well.

And that makes a hiking trio!

We’ve been preparing for the hike since early April. Automatically, I created a spreadsheet because good planning usually requires a spreadsheet. I created a Signal group chat with us three in it. And since then we probably had four planning “meetings” to discuss:

  • When do we start the hike?
    • Esther and I had to request time off from work so pinning down the dates was important
  • How are we all getting to Glasgow?
    • travel arrangements
    • Esther got a camper van! (I can’t wait to see it)
  • Where are we meeting up and staying for the first two nights?
  • Accommodation on the trail:
    • Camping or hostels/hotel/B&B?
    • If we set accommodation reservations, then our distances we have to cover each day are set
    • Book in advance or on the fly?
  • Gear
    • Staying in hostels/trekker huts cuts down on the gear needed significantly.
    • My thinking; if it’s a long rainy day and I’ve been hiking ALL day, I really will not feel like setting up a tent. Experience from the Tongariro Circuit in NZ; setting up and breaking down a tent in the rain is absolutely NO FUN! A warm dry bed after a long day in the rain sounds so much better.
  • Food
    • We’ll be hiking between villages in the Scottish Highlands. After doing a little research and scanning the villages closely on Google Maps, most of the villages have either a grocery store, cafe/restaurant, or both. This also cuts down significantly on the amount of food we have to carry.

Jorgo wanted to just book accommodation on the fly; walk into a village and see what was available. I’m slightly more planned and figured I should take a sampling of the accommodation and contact them asking if we should book in advance or if they usually have availability outside. Responses were a resounding “BOOK IN ADVANCE!”.

Hiking start date was set… 7th of June to begin the hike. From there, we plotted out our accommodations and started making reservations. But we hit a little speedbump. One accommodation did not have availability the night we were going to be passing through…what to do? Oh look! If we build in a rest day at the previous location, then all accommodations subsequent to that have the necessary availability! SOLD! Unfortunately I had already made some reservations which then needed adjustment, but no big deal. Accommodation settled. We’ll be hiking from the 7th to the 17th of June.

It was good to all write out our gear lists to review and talk about things that we may or may not need. For example, each of us had a first aid kit in our list. We don’t all need to carry a first aid kit. You’ll see “Boots” on the list. I wish I didn’t have to strike them off the list. Two weeks ago (I started writing this post on May 30th), I hiked 11 miles and at about 10 miles, my approximately 1.5month old, pretty-broken-in Salomon hiking boots started really pressing on this one spot above my ankle bone. It was painful by the time I got back to the car. I didn’t think much of it; I thought it would be gone by the next weekend. It wasn’t. I’m pretty sure that because I didn’t listen to that pain and switch to the sneakers I was carrying, that those high-top hiking boots gave me a bone bruise and they don’t resolve quickly. Hmmm… finding mid-ankle hiking boots less than two weeks away from the start of the hike: NOT OPTIMAL. Doesn’t allow much time to break in a pair of boots. Most mid-ankle boots don’t have a hefty sole so you can feel a lot of rock beneath your feet. I’ve made so many trips to REI in the last two weeks than I have in the last year. Their return policy is the best! I’ve tried at least four different pairs of boots. I’ve returned two pairs and will return another pair in the next couple days. The fourth pair are pretty light and weren’t terrible so I might end of packing those and bringing them with me as an option in case my other shoes start to bother my feet.

Since I wasn’t having any luck with mid-ankle boots at REI, I figured I would go to DSW to see what options they had. A good pair of Merrills or Columbia boots could be acceptable. A friend recommended I try a pair of Keens. So yesterday, Sunday – 29MAY – I went to DSW. I tried on Timberlands, Columbia, Keen, and Merrills. This next part I’m pretty thankful for. There was ONE pair of Keen hiking shoes there, I didn’t see another pair, in the right size, with a pretty stiff sole which means you likely won’t feel every single rock press up into your foot. I really was starting to wonder if I was meant to go on this trip or not. I don’t usually wait till last minute! Not having a lot of time to break in and test gear before a long trip is not smart! But here I was, scrambling to find something that could work. If I couldn’t find an acceptable pair of boots/shoes, I was going to go ahead and book a baggage transfer service for my big back and just carry a day pack; would be much lighter, less stress on the feet and then I could probably get away with a less aggressive boot sole. Prayers that my feet can endure the first three days.

Here’s my gear list if you’re curious.

I’ve been doing training hikes; I was already hiking 8-ish miles a weekend (+/- one or two) but I needed to up my game; build my endurance. The first three days are long. If I can make it through those three days, I’ll be fine. They are 12-13miles, 15miles, and 13miles. The distance is going to be brutal. Thankfully, those first three days are also not too heavy on elevation changes. The last portion (Kinlochleven to Fort William) looks dauntingly long; however, we’re not staying in Fort William. We found accommodation at the Glen Nevis Hostel, about 3 miles away from the Fort William train station; three miles less we absolutely have to walk that day – yup; I’m good with it.

The route (from

A couple days ago I had to unpack and re-pack my big pack; had to trim the fat and reduce the weight. It was really heavy. I decided to take my down jacket instead of wool pullover since it can be sinched down pretty small and it’s a bit lighter. I also decided that (after looking at the temperatures in the region we’ll be) I didn’t need a thick and a thin pair of thermals (longjohns) so I removed the thick pair. My tablet (my “travel computer”) also did not make the cut. I’m hoping to not spend too much time in front of the screen. What little communication I need to do can be done on my phone. Logistics can be managed on a phone. And especially – I take photos with my phone. I don’t need a tablet – it’s a nice-to-have on this trip and so I decided it wouldn’t be making the journey. Just that little adjustment made my pack feel so much lighter on my 7.8mile training hike today (30MAY); even with 3liters of water in my Camelback. My new Keens performed quite well on today’s hike. I’m still pondering taking my Keens, La Sportiva trail runners, and the Salomon mid-ankle boots that are pretty light and would be an options should my feet start to disagree with the other two. I’ll continue my short after-work walks in the Keens to try to get my feet as used to them as much as possible in the short 7 days till go-time.

I ended up settling on a pair of Merrill Daverta II hiking boots, size 6.5.

What have I been up to outside of and before this trip planning?
I worked from my parents for five weeks while they went to Hawaii to help my cousin do some renovation/remodeling. Long story short, you can call me a coal boiler mechanic now. Hahaha. The oil furnace acted up (as it did once before while mom and dad were away) and so I had to get the coal boiler going. I’ve done that part before so it wasn’t too hard. But a bolt was hitting something it shouldn’t on the gear that turns the auger… so I had to (with Dad’s assistance virtually/video chat) grind down the bolt where the threading was all whacked, find a new nut of the right size, and put it back together. Pretty simple thinking back on it; I know I could do it again. But in the moment, when you’re woken up at 3:30 by the furnace “coughing” because it isn’t getting fuel, my brain and muscles tightening up and my mind gone into high-speed which doesn’t usually mean it’s very clear. But Dad and I worked through it really well together and got the coal boiler up and running.

Looks like a pot of gold! We also got dumped on by a snow storm but the snow melted away in about 3 days so it was fine.

Other than that, when I got back from house sitting, my managers were feeling a little neglected so I had to get baking and bring in some yummies. I ended up baking apple, strawberry-vanilla, and chocolate-vanilla pies. I didn’t expect the chocolate-vanilla pie to go over so well… but it was gone in less than a day and only a few poeple come to the office regularly. It was a smash hit.

I’ve also gotten some good pictures that may make their way into the 2023 Broadening Perspectives calendar. Here’s a sneak peek:

Found this funny hiking meme thing on facebook and sent it to our WHW group chat:

Another section of the AT.
Mom and Dad’s grape arbor.
Weaverton Cliffs overlooking the Potomac.
Me…hiking this past winter. Overlooking the Potomac river.
Nifty ice crystals on a lake in CNY.
An apple pie I baked with Esther in February.

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