Going wild on the West Highland Way: Day Three

20151005_080508Day Three – Monday – 14 miles
8am – Buy lunch in Balmaha and walk 4 miles to Cashel
12 – Lunch and walk 5 miles to Rowardennan
3pm – Walk 5 miles to Rowchoish Bothy

Breakfast: Porridge
Lunch: Wrap and Chorizo, and Babybel
Camping dinner: Cous cous and roasted chilli and lime chickpeas

I finally made it to Loch Lomond. But not much went to plan. The first five miles were not the best, it started badly and got worse. The Way was not as flat as I thought it might be and it was quieter now being a Monday and most day-walkers were no longer traipsing parts of the route. It began to drizzle around lunch, and I found a bit of shelter under a tree – sort of. But the rain got worse, and the wind threw it around with the trees like it didn’t care much for the ancient oak forests. The Way went up and up and up and then down and down and down. I dropped my map at the bottom of one hill and didn’t realize until the top – what a pain it was to go back down for it.

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I didn’t feel hungry much, and when I did, it wasn’t with an appetite. I didn’t enjoy the thought of eating anything – there were no dreams of burgers or pastries or anything decadent. The pain or the excursion gave me a queasy stomach. By the afternoon I felt sick and miserable, my mood fell into the puddles I stomped through. And oh how I felt so lonely. Each mile felt like a punishment, as if I was in an eternal hell where the end would never come or even the next mile. I pleaded around every corner to find the bothy and was worried I might miss the path that would lead to it.

I saw the same group of men twice, who stopped for a chat and to say ‘how brave’ I was. I didn’t feel brave, I felt like a fake because I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to stop. I wanted to give in. I wanted to say ‘no more’. One of them asked if I found it lonely doing it on my own. I lied and said no, more out of habit than anything. ‘I don’t get lonely – I’m an introvert.’ And it’s taken a while for it to sink in, but being alone was one of the hardest parts.

One of the biggest problems with rain is that it doesn’t allow you to stop and rest. Everything is wet. No tea to boil. Toilet breaks are twice as tricky. The condescending wind ripped my rain covers off my rucksack (aka now named The Burden), and pulled apart my umbrella. The feet hurt more than I can compare to and I’ve no idea why.

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I finally found the path to the bothy, and I ran (in the weird hobbling-running-with-14KG kind of way) down through the pines and saw it nestled next to a ruin. I heard what I thought was a bark and saw smoke coming from the chimney. Shit. Someone was in there, and with a dog? Shit shit shit. If it wasn’t for the rain and the impossible feet, I may have turned away at that moment. The unknown, and the thought of having to make conversation when I felt so sick and exhausted, I didn’t think I could do it.

But I remembered what my boss said before I left – ‘anyone you meet will be like you,’ and so I pushed through the door, forgetting to knock and saw Bothy-Pete who was trying to split a log from a tree he’d felled that afternoon (as you do!). He was the same age as me, and I knew right away everything would be OK. There are some people who you meet and you instantly know you’re safe. Pete was one of them. And actually, I was glad he was there.

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I dropped my wet bag onto the floor, without considering how muddy that would make it, collapsed on a chair, admired the fire and proceeded to babble. I thought I was too tired to talk to new people, but being off my feet, out of the dribble and in company, unleashed a Freya who spoke far too quickly for her own liking. Pete was the opposite – relaxed, calm, easy going. He cooked bread on the fire, and told me about his other Bothy experiences (making me glad again that it was Pete here and not someone else).

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I tried to help with cutting up wood, but I was no Bothy-Pete. I pondered the rusty bucket of God-only-knows-what-that-is and avoided it as much as I could. At some points, the rain rattled so loudly on the corrugated roof that it drowned out our voices. The fire began to dry me out, and smoke blurred the iron rafters as we drank hot chocolate. It started to get dark, and despite the two candles we found, we still tripped over the odd random brick on the dirt floor.

Poor Pete struggled with his broken sleeping bag and had to use his belt to keep it together. There were strange noises all through the night. Some sounded like they were IN the bothy. They would have kept me awake if Bothy-Pete wasn’t there. Safety in numbers. Plus, he’d felled a tree that day, so he could probably take on anything the night might bring, right?

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