Well, the application for the TGO Challenge came out on September 15. If you are not familiar with the Challenge see this post.
I was on the trail last weekend but immediately filled out the online application Sunday night when I got back. I didn’t think I could get more obsessed with this idea than I already was…but I was mistaken. Since I got a (very prompt) response from the organizers letting me know I passed the qualifications screening, I can’t seem to get the idea out of my head for more than a few hours.
The last time I spent more than a week in Scotland was when I was growing up there…I am on the left on the shore of Loch Lomond. Now I am hoping to spend two weeks walking across the country of my birth!
Now that my hat is in the ring, so to speak, for the potential lottery in November, I am spending a lot of free time poring over maps in more detail. I already had a couple of potential routes picked out but as it gets more real, I am revisiting my initial thoughts. So far I know that I want to approach this as three consecutive approximate 4-5 day trips, which is my typical routine now. These are my tentative sections and each location includes a hotel stay to dry off and rest (one each at the start and end, and two in the middle).
- Dornie to Drumnadrochit
- Drumnadrochit to Braemar
- Braemar to Stonehaven (stay in Montrose)
There may be an optional added campground or hotel at Newtonmore or Aviemore if I need it or want a longer break for equipment issues, resupply etc. Otherwise, my current plan is to wild camp the rest of the days. Each of the four locations also has a castle I would like to see (Eilean Donan, Urquhart, Braemar, and Dunnottar) and be major landmarks on which I can focus – something that always helps my progress. There are many other landmarks on the way but there is something about seeing these spots that really inspires me.
I won’t know until early November if I get in, but there is a silver lining…those qualified folks that don’t get picked are guaranteed a place the next year. So it’s just a matter of time before I attempt to walk across my homeland! In the meantime, I’ll be training by seeking out the boggiest areas, steep rocky trails, and windiest, wettest weekends I can find!
I thought I would pass on/distribute a few useful sites for folks like me who are planning on applying for the TGO Challenge for the first time. Several excellent information sources I have found include:
- TGO Challenge (http://www.tgochallenge.co.uk/) – The official website chock full of excellent information from the general guidelines to specific information. The Message Board has a wealth of info from the old timers to excellent questions and worries of those starting out. Also, since the 2017 event concluded a month ago there are some fantastic links to blogs, videos, and photo galleries sharing many of the experiences.
- Section Hiker (https://sectionhiker.com/category/trip-report/scotland/) – Philip Werner has consolidated an excellent page of information for those planning to hike in Scotland (TGO Challenge or otherwise). From trip reports to advice on planning and equipment, his experience and perspective coming from the US is invaluable for someone like me planning hopefully for the first time next year. Plus he spells his name right with one L!
- On Historic Routes (http://on-historic-routes.com/2015/08/11/planning-the-tgo-challenge-from-abroad/) – Another great site with experience planning the TGO Challenge from outside the UK. Excellent suggestions to make things easier.
I hope these help fellow first time international hopefuls for the TGO Challenge – maybe I’ll see you in the Highlands!
In the last few months, I have become infatuated, maybe even obsessed, with the idea of walking across Scotland – either on my own or hopefully, if accepted, in the TGO (The Great Outdoors) Challenge. This annual event in May organizes a two-week crossing of the Scottish Highlands for around 300 folks. They keep the entrants to a mixture of about half new and half returning walkers.
I can’t pin down one reason this event has captured my interest, but realistically it is a combination of multiple factors:
- Interest in going back and hiking some of the areas I walked with my grandfather in distant memories growing up in Scotland.
- The passing of my Scottish mother last year, leaving me as the last Scottish-born member of the immediate family.
- My love for high, open country and walking in all sorts of weather.
- The descriptions of the hiking including bog and stream crossings, that I have “trained” for all my professional career slogging through all types of wetlands.
- Vague memories of towns and vacations in the highlands coming back stronger when I look at maps of Scotland.
- My enjoyment of single malt Scotch whisky and good Scottish food (especially breakfasts and pies!).
- Turning 50 in 2018 and hoping to celebrate with the walk through my birthplace in the highlands.
I’ll try to document my progress in researching, planning, applying, and (hopefully) going on the TGO Challenge from the start. There are many excellent blogs associated with the Challenge, including some from newcomers. I’ll add those to the links page as well over time as I read through more of them. I am looking forward to this journey in a way I have never felt about any other backpacking trip!
And so it begins again…every few years I end up looking around for a new tent. Two basic reasons….one, I enjoy tent shopping from scouring detailed reviews and videos on line to putting together a list of my key features and rating each potential tent’s pros and cons (yes I geek out and use Excel spreadsheets for that). Secondly, there is no such thing as a perfect tent!
I still really like my Lightheart Gear Solong 6. It’s relatively light at 36 ounces (seam sealed but not including stakes), uses trekking poles for support, and is gigantic inside – large enough that my 6 foot frame has ample room and all my gear can go inside as well. The two doors are a must for me – one entry/exit and one for rainy day operations and cooking. This is still my go-to tent for most trips in the southeastern US and many other areas. It’s not the lightest option but really fits my “comfortably light” style of backpacking.
However, this is not the tent I will need for a future trip to Scotland. Whether I get lucky and am accepted into the TGO Challenge to walk across Scotland in 2018 or if I instead go on a solo trip to the highlands of my birth, I am planning to do a lot of training in the high country treeless areas during wind and rain – the only real way to prep for a Scottish walk! The Solong 6 is not the tent for this environment although it has held up well to some significant storms. The awning is great, but it is not enough room for me personally to operate during multiple days of rain.
So here are my thoughts on the new tent for 2017:
- Mountain Laurel Designs (MLD) Trailstar – this seems like the bomb proof option for Scotland based on many reviews, but it’s only in the top 3 for me right now but hanging in strong due to its unique nature and great reviews. I will probably go visit Ron at MLD sometime to see a Trailstar in person. The livable space is unbeatable, but I have concerns that the low pitch and crawling in and out won’t be great for my lower back issues.
- Pyramid Tent – either the MLD Duomid or another similar tent from other manufacturers. I have looked through several of these but none seem quite to fit my tastes. Lots of really interesting options, but several top contenders were dropped due to issues like no really good shelter area for rainy day cooking or (like the Duomid) a requirement for a pole extension to reach the right height for me.
- Tarptent Scarp 1 – after an initial infatuation with Trailstars, I moved over to the Scarp as my number one choice (it is now second or maybe tied for second with the beautiful Trailstar). This is another bomb-proof option that can be seen in many blogs, videos, and photos of Scottish hiking. I really liked this one and it seemed to fill the gap of Hilleberg without the price tag of those fantastic tents. It weighs 52 ounces though, and that is tough to swallow for a longer trip. On top of that it is a lot smaller than the Trailstar or the Scarp’s cousin the…
- Tarptent Stratospire 1 – this is my current favorite option, but the real details have yet to be analyzed. It seems to bridge the gap of relatively light weight (36 ounces) compared to the Scarp and close to that tents windproof ability. The key to my interest is the vast amount of room – 48 inches height inside, ample inner netted living space, and two large sheltered vestibules with two doors.
So right now as we round the third turn, the Stratospire 1 is in the lead. I can see myself living out of it through multiple wet and dreary days, and on the sunny day(s) I can have both doors wide open for the views that I really enjoy. I’ll update once a final decision has been made but there is still work to be done on all the details, and a couple of tent manufacturers to talk to….always fun and educational as these guys know what they are talking about (and have my dream job)!