I got off from work Friday afternoon, June 3rd. Had a lot of work to try to get done by the time I left that Friday and I wasn’t able to get it all done. Thankfully, our technical writer could handle what was left to do after I’d gone.
Spent the weekend preparing for my trip. I went for a short 8.9 mile hike with my pack. It was such a beautiful day that my thought to take a rest day before the big hike started just went out the window. Besides, I’d have all of Sunday and Monday to mostly rest. And why let the sunshine shine and not get out and enjoy it?
Sunday, 5 June – travel day is here! I woke up pretty nervous; asking myself “why do I get myself into these challenging, intimidating travel/vacation plans?? Why not just book a nice resort somewhere super tropical and beautiful and relax for a week or so? Oh thats right… I sit all week. Don’t get me wrong – I love my job; I love what I do. But I sit 5 days a week and so when I vacation, I want to be active. I want to exercise my whole body and see some beautiful scenery and enjoy nature, the great outdoors, while I’m at it! That’s why!
I got everything packed into my day pack and my big pack. I packed them such that my day pack had what I needed in case the big pack got lost in the airport luggage and I had to hike without having everything. Had some time to spare once all packed. Took out the trash, made sure the apartment was in order, closed the shades for the most part, and forgot to unplug the TV and internet…oh well. Headed out – stopped at the gas station and the bank and then hit the road to my aunt’s in Falls Church. She agreed to watch my car while I was gone and bring me to the Dulles airport.
Because of the issues finding a pair of hiking boots that worked, I looked into either a full or partial baggage transfer for the hike. I could do a transfer for the first three stops covering the three longest days right at the start of the hike. I pondered it on my way to Scotland. I really wanted to be able to say that I carried all my gear the whole way; the whole 95 miles. I wasn’t particularly worried about the first day with 12 miles. It was the second day that I worried about the most. About 15 miles to cover and I knew I’d be whipped and sore from carrying the big pack on the first day. What to do…..
It was a pretty smooth flight to Dublin where I connected with a regional flight to Glasgow. Landed in Dublin; that airport is like a maze! And the UK customs was one of the easiest I’ve ever gone through. Caught the flight to Glasgow and landed there at about 8:30am local time. It was a quick hop off the plane and on to baggage claim. Thank goodness my pack made it to Glasgow with me; no issues there. Once I collected my big pack, on through the doors to catch the FirstBus express bus to Glasgow city center. I walk around for a few seconds wondering where to catch the bus and I hear “Anna”…. Esther and Jorgo came to meet me at the airport! Yay! So excited!
We had to head back to the hostel because Esther and Jorgo hadn’t eaten breakfast. I wanted to go there because it was chilly and I wanted to put pants on (I wore shorts on the plan and I was warm the whole way). We stayed at Euro Hostel in Glasgow. Not the nicest hostel I’ve ever stayed at but it got the job done. We got to the room and then began talking about baggage transfer and how to lighten our packs…. It was here that I decided to take mom’s advice and book the partial baggage transfer for the first three longest days so I didn’t have to stress too much. Baggage transfer booked. Since I booked the transfer, Esther had a couple things she didn’t need to carry the whole way and so we stuffed them into my big pack. Now to go to the grocery store and pick up some fruit, carrots, trail mix, etc., to carry with us on the trail.
The West Highland Way is nicely situated where you hike from town to town so we didn’t have to carry too much food or water with us. With the baggage transfer booked, I had to reconfigure how my two packs were packed; didn’t take too long. Once the food and packing situation was arranged and ready, we went to get dinner and then went to see a movie. At dinner, we got oatmilk milkshakes with spiced popcorn on top; SO YUMMMM.
The night before we were to set out, I had some intense anxiety.
– Why am I here?
– Why did I think I was up to this challenge?
– Do I have everything I need?
– Did I pack it right?
– I’m not ready
– I just want to go back home and go back to work – I know how to do my work; I know what I’m doing there.
– Why am I in Glasgow?
What do these questions sound like to you? They sound like I’m out of my comfort zone. It’s so hard to get out of our comfort zones. I texted mom about it as this was happening around midnight and thankfully she was awake.
Our hostel was right next to the Glasgow central train station which had an elevated track and the window was open. This equals a LOT of noise; I did not sleep well! The portion of Glasgow where we were was not particularly beautiful so I wasn’t enjoying it very much upon initially arriving. I told myself I just needed to get through this first 24 hours in the city and then we could get out into the hills, the countryside. I fell asleep for a while.
Finally morning; it’s GO TIME! We needed to be to the Milngavie (pronounced like Milnguy) between I think 8:00 and 9:30 to meet the AMS van so they could take my big pack. We wanted to catch a train to Milngavie around 8am… All packed, all ready… off we go.
In the train station, we find the ticket machines, Esther runs to the pharmacy to pick up some earplugs. Tickets purchased; now we have to find which track the train will be leaving from. We weren’t seeing it on the departures display so I went to ask someone who worked at the station. When I asked which track the train to “Milngavie” left from (pronouncing Milngavie as an American might), the guy looked at me like “huh?”. Then he realized and said Milngavie in its proper Scottish pronunciation (sounding like “Milnguy”). Ok..track 17. Off to track 17. We stand waiting for the train for a couple minutes. We had to transfer trains in Partick… and you should have seen all the hikers waiting on the platform! Oh now I’m getting excited! We’re really doing this! It was about this time that we met other hikers – a couple from Israel.
We arrived in Milgavie and found the AMS van. I yielded, or rather thankfully handed, my big pack to the guy checking in bags into the van. Then on our way to the trail start. After getting a couple West Highland Way passports (not a requirement – just a tourist thing you can get), we set off down the trail… excited for what the trail will bring. I’ll add a picture of my completed passport in my last post.
The West Highland Way passport is a little folded pamphlet type thing that has the route map on it and in each of the main stops there is a shop or hotel or somewhere where they have stamps that you can collect as you go along the route. I thought about getting one before I actually left for Scotland but I was thinking “Esther and Jorgo will think that’s such a silly tourist thing to do; we’re hiking it, and we know we hiked it so why collect stamps along the way?” When I got to Glasgow, Esther had one and so I got one and Jorgo did as well.
The miles tick by as we walk. It turned out to be quite a nice day and ended being sunny and warm. Here’s some pictures from the first day on the trail.
As we approached the first stop in the town of Drymen (pronounced more like “Drimen” – as if you were going to say “drip”… but Drimen”), there’s a long section walking on narrow country roads…not fun for the feet. I hate walking on asphalt for a long distance in hiking boots. We arrived at Buchanan Arms hotel, our first accommodation – a very nice place! Mine and Esther’s room was beautiful. I rested my feet for at least 30 minutes before doing anything else.
Over the course of the afternoon/evening, we rested our feet more, found dinner at the local pub that “had the best food in the village”, used the pool and the hot tub. It was a good first day on the trail!
We survived day one = 12.6 miles (per my Garmin Vivoactive watch).
Yesterday we were very fortunate with the weather. Today, not so much. It was going to rain most of the day… but what the heck. That’s why we brought rain gear!! After packing up and applying any tape to our feet to prevent any wearing or blistering, we set out to a cafe (“Skoosh”) nearby to get breakfast. This is where we met “Lise” (pronounced like “lease”) from France. She was going to sit by herself for breakfast but Esther and I thought why not invite her to sit with us? Lise ended up hiking with us for the whole day which was nice.
Breakfast done…time to put on the rain gear and hit the trail. Today is the LONG day… the West Highland Way site says 15 miles. A long day in the rain; it didn’t rain all day but definitely for most of the day.
Once we got out from the protection of the trees and as we approached and ascended Conic Hill, it was very windy. It was at this time that I thought about the scarf and gloves in my big pack. What good were they doing there? I should have had them with me! Why did I not think about that? Ugh… I wasn’t nearly panicking about not having them; more of a “it would be good to have these additional layers with me” thought. But not to worry. We just had to keep moving.
There are two routes that hikers can take between Drymen and Balmaha; the route splits and you can either take a slightly shorter route and avoid Conic Hill or you can go the Conic Hill route and have some elevation gain to overcome and a descent into Balmaha. We decided to go the Conic Hill route because why not? As we approached Conic Hill and got towards the top of the hill that we got our first glimpses of Loch Lomond… a long lake that we’d spend half of this day and all of the next day hiking by. Before descending into Balmaha, there’s a short bit of trail that you can hike up closer to the top of Conic Hill. If you don’t know this about me yet, I LOVE elevation; I love the mountains; I love being able to see for miles! So yes please, let’s go higher! Esther and Lise joined me. It only took maybe 10 minutes more up and down. It was really windy up there and we would get cold pretty fast.
We got down into Balmaha and found a nice warm restaurant to break for lunch. I wanted to eat and dry off a little bit but didn’t want to take a long break because I knew we were only halfway for the day (actually a bit less than half way) and needed to/should keep moving. Resting for a while and eating a big meal didn’t sit very well with me but oh well; it’s all good. After we had eaten lunch and hit the trail again, the example I thought of was a wind-up toy. During the long lunch (~1.5hours), the longer we sat, the more my wind-up toy was wound… so when we finally set off on the trail again, I was hiking so fast! I didn’t expect to because of the big meal now sitting in my stomach, but I was flying… for at least a mile or two.
After the initial rush of energy, I slowed down a bit. This portion of the trail was pretty. As we hike, the pace at which the miles tick by goes slower and slower; feet hurt more and more. I have to pee but not too bad. Esther wants to stop for a foot-rest break. We stop for less than minute before the “midges” (tiny bugs smaller than blackflies) find us and start crowding our hands, face, eyes… we have to keep moving to lose the midges. Thankfully, they’re not bothersome if you just keep moving. Nearing the next accommodation, the trail has another hill, another corner to go around, and then another hill and another corner. After each I’m thinking we must be almost there… getting closer. We’re all getting very tired. Jorgo goes ahead, I hike slower with Esther so we’re not alone. After a while, we catch up to Jorgo who hikes with Esther and then I set off on a faster pace because now I seriously have to pee and there’s no good tree to pee behind. I taught my body to hold it for pretty much a whole day while I was in India and my body hasn’t really lost that. But ya still reach a point where ya GOTTA GO! We must be close!
The trail finally comes to a small road. I’ve been here before… in 2018. Jorgo and Esther catch up to me. Esther says she doesn’t think she can do it anymore. She’s exhausted. I now insist – I’ll carry her big pack for the last few hundred meters and she’ll take my small day pack. I was going to hold it till we got to the hostel, but thankfully I didn’t have to. There was public restroom near the Ben Nevis car park. Then, we finish the day’s hike.
The day tested me. I have hiked further today than I’ve ever hiked before in a single day. I don’t even think I hiked this far in one day while I was in New Zealand. Finally, we reach the Rowardennen Youth Hostel, right on Loch Lomond. We’re wet, chilly, and so tired.
After checking into our room and resting our feet, we get our wet clothes and boots set to dry out. The heater in our room is covered with wet clothing. We put our wet boots in the drying room. Pretty much all accommodation on the West Highland Way have “drying” rooms – extra warm rooms to dry wet boots, rain gear, some allow tents…
We met Anita and Patrick, a couple from Germany. They’re social workers. We ate dinner with them and Lise. Lise has to walk 32 kilometers tomorrow because she couldn’t get any accommodation in Inverarnan. She has to walk from Rowardennan to Crianlarich… about 20 miles (yeesh). She’s going to get an early start.
After dinner, I get ready for bed. Esther and I are bordering on deliriousness… we laugh about the smallest, silliest things. We talk about future hikes together. Tomorrow we have a rest day; we’re not moving to the next accommodation. We’re staying here at Rowardennan for two nights which gives me a chance to hike Ben Lomond. Time for bed.
We survived day two = 7.4 miles (Drymen to Balmaha) + 8.7 miles (Balmaha to Rowardennan Youth Hostel) = 16.1 miles.