WanderingDan’s Weblog

Can’t have sunshine without the rain
July 14, 2013, 12:48 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

It’s the start of day four…like many of the other mornings spent in this coffin-tent, rain is pattering on the shell. I don’t want to get up, it’s nice and warm in the sleeping bag. Thankful I took a river bath last night when the weather was clear, now I don’t feel any hurry to meet the day. Initially I thought the water would be much colder, but surprisingly not. Grateful I had found a secluded spot on the river Spey, at least secluded to my knowledge, I had a proper bath…a wee bit chilly at first, but once my body adjusted it was incredibly refreshing, especially my poor abused feet, which endured a good fifteen miles by the time I finally found this campsite tucked away in what is probably a private fishing property…I’m not really sure,and frankly don’t really care. My tentative plan for today is to swing by the Cardhu distillery, see some Pictish stone ruins, and then put a few easy miles on the trail. I don’t want another fifteen mile day! The grass is much more comfortable than the hard surfaces I’d slept on the past few nights, which equates to horrible sleep. The only way I am getting sufficiently rested to continue the journey are the ‘morning dozes’, a series of short sleeps, usually accompanied by bizarre dreams. The situation isn’t helped by the fact dawn hits at 3:30 and dusk at 11:30. Finally I will myself to start getting ready; the only way I can do this is one task at a time, otherwise I’m liable to just curl right back up and start again in another half-hour…that’s been my routine for the past two hours. Only this time I have to pee, so that works against my procrastination, and overpowers the warmth of the sleeping bag. The worst part of getting ready is putting on my hiking boots. The don’t fit quite right…a little too narrow in the toe box…a fact I didn’t really figure out until my first day walking around London. Before I started day one of this seventy-five mile distance hike I already had hot spots and blisters on my toes…this was about thirty-seven miles ago. Now…my feet are wrecked. The first half hour to hour is the worst, wincing pain with every step…eventually my body throws out enough endorphins (god I love those things!) to ease it to a more bearable soreness, but every time I stop to break, I dread starting again…which means sometimes I dread stopping to break at all. Oddly enough, on the rare occasion I lose the trail and have to focus on navigation, which usually means ‘off-trail’ time…I don’t feel any of the mincing pain. Also, towards the end of the day when my feet ache so bad it forces me to stop, I don’t feel the raw spots either. Curious.


I don’t mind walking in the mist and drizzle today. Normally I would. I sure as hell didn’t enjoy riding a bike in it…part of the reason I left Daisy with Mike and Vanessa back in France. There didn’t seem to be much sense in torturing myself fighting the wind and rain…I’m starting to develop the same quandary regarding my feet. That being said, these boots have stopped the excruciating tendonitis I was developing from walking in my other shoes. That pain was worse than the soreness of blisters and raw spots over thirty-seven miles. After the tire blow-out fifteen miles north of Calais, I had to push Daisy about nine or ten miles before finding a place to buy a spare tube. A day also pouring down rain. It was such a low point I almost through in a towel on my whole trip…I didn’t know if my leg would let me go anymore. Hence the new hiking boots, which, knock on wood, have given my leg enough support so it could heal from the injury. More than a fair trade off for the blisters, in all fairness.


This hiking map is worth it’s weight in gold. Having learned my lesson from not buying a biking map in Holland, I happily succumbed to this thirteen pound, ninety five pence waterproof guide . At least ten times over I have praised the geniuses who put it together, whether for planning, or finding the path through the maps detailed topography…amazing. It has only let me down a couple times, once putting the campsite in the wrong place, which sent me on a two mile wild goose chase, and the second time…today. After touring Cardhu (one of the premier malts used by Johnnie Walker), and on my way back to the trail from the coffee shop at the wool mill, the map tells me to take a path which dead ends into a barbed wire fence….??? I wind up going along the river until I can’t anymore, then traverse through field grass taller than me, interspersed with endless stinging nettle, up and down marginally stable old rock slides, across an overgrown tree trunk bridge, and down the side of a barley field before finally meeting the trail again. Definitely an adventure.


I’ve noticed a couple of interesting attitude shifts on these long solo walks. First, my growing distaste for the conventional is increasing…the gap gets bigger day by day. I first noticed this on my third day of bike riding. It was a gorgeous day, and I just finished a two day recovery with Bart and his family. Anxious to ride again (despite having developed a ligament strain in my left knee) I headed for Brugge, Belgium. The countryside through Zeeland that day was an undeniable eye-feast; peace and solitude riding alone through trails and back country highways. I felt like a true traveller. Immediately upon arriving to Brugge, the tourist scene accosted every sense of peace I had grown accustomed to enjoying. I don’t know if it’s the frenetic tourist energy…or just the hordes of swarming people, but my stay in that beautiful city was unfortunately short-lived. Such a shame. This gap seems to grow wider the more time I spend alone in nature. The landscapes here in the Scottish highlands take my breath away, again and again. The medieval and victorian buildings, simple, sturdy and aesthetic, livened up with fresh flowers add to the ambiance. I had the same feelings with the countryside of northern France, but didn’t have a chance to really hike the wilderness like I have here. Brilliant purple flowers everywhere, juxtaposed against granite outcroppings and evergreen forests…winding rivers, partitioned family farms, endless malt distilleries, wild camping, river bathing, simple eating, stone walls and deer prancing (always away from me). Immersion in this environment inevitably causes shock when scenery changes from a natural balance to the vanities of human excess, unnecessary over-marketed shit clever advertisers make us believe we want, or even need. I recognize it in myself first, as I dialogue with myself out loud…which is another effect of spending so much time alone…why did I crave a BMW 5 series for so long? Do I really need another pair of Rayban’s? What’s the point of spending ridiculous money to stay at a ritzy hotel? The gap is growing…I’m done with city life.


The Ballindalloch castle is a couple miles off the path, but it’s an old castle, so….what the hell? Across a footbridge, there is a porter’s lodge at the entrance, with an arch over the road, apparently to regulate traffic. There are two signs, one on either side of the arch: ‘no access’, and ‘not an entrance’. These communicate to me that cars aren’t allowed in here…they must have an access on the north side of the castle, or at least that’s what it looks like on my map. With this justification, I press on. The long drive in is shadowed by old trees, some seemingly over four-hundred years old. The castle looks more like a cross between castle and mansion…striking…but…I think people might actually live here. Within minutes I start feeling a distaste for the ostentatious nature of the property, and sit in the back ‘park’ area to have some food…and to get my feet out of these boots and into some fresh air. It’s my usual simple fare: apple, oat cakes, cheese, figs, dates and cookies. I threw the Marmite out last night…I was disappointed to find out it did not stop the mosquitos from targeting me for their bloodbath…and since it tastes like shite, couldn’t justify the space and weight. As I pass the castle on my way out a snazzy Range Rover pulls onto the pea-sized, immaculate gravel driveway. Not an ordinary Rover, but one of those extremely limited edition ones, and sparkles more like a jewel than a car. An older woman is driving, with a poodle in the back who looks as if it would turn its nose up to gourmet food I would drool over. She pulls up…asking if she can help me, then politely chides me for disobeying the entrance signs. Apparently noone is allowed on the property when they are closed…myself included. Oops. I feigned stupidity, which is easy to pull off when you put on a valley accent, but I knew instantly she was the owner. After a meager apology, I left…wondering what that dog actually does eat?


I head back to where the trail split off to see the castle. It’s 5:30. My feet hurt. You can camp here, and there is a proper toilet. But it’s so early. Looking at my map, I decide to try and close the gap to Grantown on Spey as much as possible tonight. Although I’ve realistically packed a good seven or eight miles in today, on the actual trail I’ve only done about four. Off I go, and feeling pretty good, hitting about every terrain possible: mountains, valleys, farmland, rough paths, smooth paths, uphill, downhill…on and on. Hour after hour passes. I reminisce the experiences I’ve had on this journey: the road trip through the Alps, my birthday night in Heidelberg, drunk highland games practice in Austria, Amsterdam and from there biking to Calais, meeting Gerdy and his friends at the bar in Belgium, being spoiled rotten by Mike and Vanessa for almost a full week: stuffed full of gourmet cheeses, wines, beers, ciders, spirits, fresh breads, coffees, that amazing salted butter, the trips to town and the beach, and ofcourse their unprecedented friendship and generosity. I think about spending fourth of July in London…and the irony of Brits wishing me happy Independence day. The first time it was said was when ordering a stuffed baguette at the market. As soon as I place my order, the gent gave his sentiments. I was certainly taken back, and didn’t know to say except “thank-you”. My mind takes me back to Holland, when I did some acupuncture on Bart’s (my couch-surfing host) brother, who hurt his back lifting lumber. As a token of gratitude, he gave me a bag of weed and a bong with the colors of the Jamaican flag. How about that?! Occasionally my thoughts are broken by the reality of the moment: checking the map, or realizing there is a cow right in my path. Poor bastard, I don’t know how she got in the walking lane, and I feel bad when fleeing from me, like I’m some arch demon, she snags the barbed wire. Doesn’t seem to hurt though, and note to self, these fences don’t stop seventeen hundred pound bovines when they want through. The hours and miles keep passing. I adjust and readjust the waist, chest and shoulder straps to give various muscles a break…a trick I wished I’d known the first couple days when my right trapezius swelled up and felt like a tenderized pulp of meat. I pass a couple spots that would be good for camping, but something has gotten into me…I will keep going as long as there is light. I keep going…memories keep coming: hanging out with Katie and Sally touring the Cotswolds, eating haggis for the first time…and liking it…touring the Loch Ness, half-heartedly looking for Nessie, and all the passing faces I’ve met on the way: friendly partial conversations with other travelers…the Korean kid biking north to Belgium…he took a picture of me after I gave him my Belgium biker’s guide, the Dutch doctor at the hostel in London second-guessing her career ambitions, Sumesh, the guy I met on the Lochness tour, who took an interest in my bike trip, and upcoming distance hike. People I will never see again, but who at the moment, made an impact on my day. When I pass a sheep farm I am reminded of helping Vanessa feed her neighbor’s animals, and that horribly ugly and mean pig who clamped down on the baby pig and took his food. I will never forget that son-of-a-bitch, or the cruelty of the natural world…and every time I eat bacon, I won’t feel guilty, but will think of that mean bastard.


As the sun starts its descent, I start quick walking…and then for some reason, start running. I must have hiked at least thirteen or fourteen miles by this point, and have absolutely no idea where this energy is coming from, but with damn near forty pounds of gear on my back, feet blistered to hell and fatigued, I run…run…walk…run…walk…run. For two or three miles at least. Eventually dusk makes running impossible. It gets to the point I can’t differentiate a clumping weed from a cow-pie. My feet are toast now…and I have my sights set for the river, which is only a mile or so away. All I can think about is soaking them in the cool waters of the River Spey. With that single-minded thought, I press on, walking like the octogenarian guests on board the cruise ship…I must look pathetic. I changed my shirt a while back since it was completely drenched in sweat and the evening breeze was giving me the chills. I finally see the bridge, it’s 11:30pm. Plan: soak the feet, and then pass out under a tree for a few hours, never mind the tent for the night, and wake up early to close the last two miles to Grantown. Boots off…socks off…the coolness of the river greet my feet like long-lost friends…aaaaaahhhhhhh!!!!!!


Follow-up: hit the trail at 5:30am. Running last night was probably not a good idea…feet are shredded and I may have strained a right hamstring. After limping the two miles into Grantown I decided to spoil myself at a Bed-and-Breakfast for the day/night…real bed, bath tub…hopefully enough to recover for the last leg to Aviemore. I’m sixty miles in…even with wrecked feet and a leg injury, I’m not stopping with only seventeen more miles to go.


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