The Great Glencoe Trekathon – we did it!

(First posted at outlandercast July  2017)
Remember a couple months ago when I shared that my new Outlander pals and I were planning on doing the Great Glencoe Challenge? That verra long walk—as in, a 26.2 mile one-day hike through some of Scotland’s most beautiful and challenging countryside—to pass the days of Droughtlander and raise money for a good cause? Spoiler alert: we actually did it and survived to tell the tale! Here’s how the months of preparation led to one triumphant day for the New Glasgow Girls, a group who met in Scotland, bonded over Outlanderand have remained friends ever since. The good news is you will stay dry and warm as you trek virtually along with us!

I arrived in Scotland in late May with sights set on my first task—to continue getting ready for the longest walk of my life. In the background, I also had to do a few minor things like find a job, a place to live, and to contend with the overwhelming bureaucracy associated with moving to a new country. You know, little things. But step one in my trek preparation was to follow my ‘peaker’ instincts and get connected with the Every Day Athlete Gym in Glasgow, and one Mr. John Valbonesi.

I had previously emailed John about my circumstances and my challenge. By the time I made my way to the gym, I had already fallen over and fractured my wrist, climbing (or more correctly, falling down) Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh (what a galoot!). I ended up having to wear a splint for a month, seriously impeding my gym participation and enduring quite a bit of pain to boot. Anyhow, undaunted I walked the half hour there and half hour back a few times a week (good walking prep I reasoned. When I joined the gym, I had no idea where I would be living, or that it would be impossible for me to own a car—but that is another long story!). I joined in High Intensity Interval Training classes and yoga classes for a good exercise balance. John and his colleague, Patrick, were accommodating and patient with me, which was much appreciated. The yoga teacher, Phillipa, was also an inspiration in strength and balance.

You have to be quick to spot me in the video, but I am in that class with Valbo. Hint: My Peak Challenge T-Shirt.

As well as the gym, I needed to walk, walk, and walk some more. Our very supportive ‘ground crew,’ Morag and her husband Sandy, took me on walks around their beautiful locality. I also joined the Glasgow Ramblers for a day of torrential rain, where I learned that my Aussie hiking gear was NOT up to Scottish weather conditions. Needed a rethink… and yep, I had to buy more stuff! I also did solo walks in the Trossachs National Park, and all very different to walks I had done in Australia! I got a wee bit of sympathy from one of our Peaker coaches (wink). 

All weather walking prep with my Scottish pals Morag and Sandy
A solo walk on a beautiful day in the Trossachs – looking down on Balmaha.
In the last couple of weeks, we received some bad news. One of our team members, Naomi, was unable to participate because of work commitments. At the last minute, she couldn’t get that weekend off work to travel to Scotland, so she reluctantly had to pull out of the event and cheer us on from the sidelines in England. She scrawled a message on her white board at work that day and kept in touch via WhatsApp.

Naomi connects with us and cheers us on while at work (sob!)

Meanwhile, our New Glasgow Girls Glencoe team captain, Ren, went with her sister to Disneyland in Paris the weekend before the event. Ren says it was good practice in staying on your feet for 12 hours (!) and they had a wonderful time there in the warmth and sunshine. Half their luck.

New Glasgow Girl Dora now lives in China, having recently moved back there after living for several years in Edinburgh. So, unfortunately, she had no choice but to be a ‘sidelines cheerleader.’ In the lead-up, she got her Scottish/Glencoe fix by going to an exhibition called ‘Romantic Scotland’ with works by Scottish artist Peter Graham.

Sabrina arrived to Scotland from Germany two weeks ahead of Glencoe. She started in Edinburgh and, fan girl that she is, went straight to the red carpet of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Look who she met there—Niall Fulton aka the redoubtable M. Forez, the king’s executioner! Remember the ‘dead man’s grease’? Ewwwwww. Sabrina also tracked down the location for the print shop in Season 3, that scene we are all waiting to see.

Of course, we managed to squeeze in a couple of Outlandish activities. A road trip seeking the new Season 4 Frasers Ridge location was not very successful, but we did manage a little hike up to the ‘Black Kirk’ in Culross, and couldn’t resist a couple of snaps. 

Also, the night before we set off north, Outlander premiered on free-to-air UK TV for the first time, so we thought we’d gather for an NGG girls night in…. even though we know the story, ye’ ken. It turned out that only Sabrina and I were there, but we had all the right props and were ready to join in the Twitter party.

All the trimmings for an Outlander fest  – yes, they have haggis-flavoured crisps in Scotland and Sabrina loves the local soft drink Irn Bru (remember how much Romann Berrux
 loved the stuff?). I’m more of a whisky gal myself.

On the eve of the Glencoe event, we set off for Fort William by car and train, about a three-to-four hour trip from Glasgow. Along the way, Sandy regaled us with horror stories of ‘the Devils Staircase,’ a notorious section of the West Highland Way that would be part of our Glencoe trek. It’s always best to hear the worst of it to prepare yourself, right? As it transpired, we were so much more fortunate than Sandy, because when he walked the West Highland Way it was raining and foggy and he saw none of the spectacular scenery that we saw.

It was fun at our accommodation and we were all buzzing like kids at a holiday camp. We registered for the event and got a feel for our starting point in the morning, and went for a high-carb dinner. Now I have to stop using ‘carb-loading’ as an excuse for just eating too much! We came to grips with our multiple identities and tried on our various T-shirts for ‘before’ photos—as Peakers, fundraisers for World Child Cancer/CaitsCaraids, and as Glencoe Trekkers.

We went to bed reasonably early, but who could sleep? I was tossing and turning, quite anxious I think, and at 4 a.m. found myself wide-awake staring at the ceiling. I must’ve gone back to sleep because I was awakened by the alarm at 5:30 a.m. for a bright and early start. We were in the ‘second wave’ of the 500 or so trek participants. Sandy was up and ready to transport us to the start.

It was brekky in the tent at 6 a.m.—hot coffee and vegetarian haggis in a bun for me… yes, that really was a thing. Then we were loaded on to buses for a half hour ride to the start of the walk. A piper played as we alighted the bus and we were pumped … tense … hyped … or as the director put it in his pep talk, you’ve probably all got twitchy bums and can’t decide whether you want to go to the toilet or not. He told us to eat before we were hungry, drink before we were thirsty and that there is no such thing as a bog in Scotland. We found that last thing to be a big fat lie!

Next we were led to the start and off we went to the sound of a claxon horn. That was the exact starting point for people who were really taking the time thing seriously, as we found that many people have done the event for the last few years and compare their time. And, horror upon horrors, some people RUN all the way! We were monitored for time at all the check points by electronic tags attached to our shoes.
Pep talk from the Glencoe Challenge Director – he said there was no such thing as a bog in Scotland, yeah, right!

As we passed through the starting gate a piper sent us on our way…

We were off! All in a single line on a narrow pathway walking at a brisk pace and I remember thinking, I don’t think I can keep this pace up all day! It wasn’t until we hit ‘the bog’ that we started to fan out and disperse into smaller groups and individuals. No kidding, we had to walk for well over an hour through country that looked like clumpy grass, but you could sink up to your ankles in water or mud at any moment. It soon became evident that trying to avoid the water and mud was impossible. Luckily, my fellow blog writer Anne Gavinhad given me the heads-up on which boots to get, based on her recent Scottish adventures, and after that hour or so, my feet were still reasonably dry–ish!

By this stage, my lovely, young (being the operative word) teammates, Sabrina and Ren, were well in front of me. I could see their distinctive orange World Child Cancer t-shirts fading ahead of me into the distance. But, no matter, I had primed them up to just let me go at my own pace, I didn’t want to have to worry about keeping up with anyone, let alone have other people worrying about me. It was important for everyone to enjoy the experience as much as possible and, at that point, I still didn’t know if I was fit enough to go the distance.

When I made it to the top of the Devils Staircase I had a little mini-celebration, went into ‘Peaker’ mode and got my photo taken. Perhaps it was a little early for celebrations, since I was less than a third done. Runners from the ‘wave’ behind me started to catch me up, and they had started an hour and a half behind me!

Based on the stories we’d been told we felt a great sense of achievement at the top of the Devils Staircase
I always find that walking a long distance is helped by audio books. If I’m really enjoying a story, I can still be looking around, enjoying the scenery and the body just does its work. So I switched on my trusty iPhone in the middle of An Echo in the Bone and the first thing I heard was Claire’s voice as she trudged along to to Simon Fraser’s funeral, saying  “the only alternative to continuing to slog through the rain and mud was to lie down and die, and I hadn’t quite reached that extremity. Yet.” I laughed at that… spooky!

The half way point was the little village of Kinlochleven, nestled in a beautiful valley next to the eastern end of Loch Leven, so the descent into the town on a pretty rough path was murder on the knees. And the ascent up out of the town was a cardio challenge—an hour or so, straight up. I’m getting ahead of myself here, though. At Kinlochleven, Morag and Sandy had walked to the edge of the town to greet me and to tell me the news of our teammates, Sabrina and Ren. They were over an hour ahead of me at this stage and doing fine, so that was good to hear. I took a few minutes to chat, eat and change into dry socks. Morag and Sandy had brought food and words of encouragement, after talking to them and quizzing one of the organisers about the terrain to expect in the second half, I knew for sure that I was going to be able to do it.



Looking back down at Kinlochleven as we climb up for the second half of the trek
All morning the weather had been dry and warm, mostly overcast but occasionally sunny. However, that was about to change. It wouldn’t be Scotland if the weather didn’t crack up at some point, now would it? After about two more hours of walking, the going was good, undulating but not steep, but the rain started to come down.  Everyone whipped out their wet weather gear, and I kept that gear on for the rest of the course as it rained on and off.

For the whole second half, I was tag-teaming with a group of three Scottish women, who had started in the same ‘wave’ as me. We were all at the last check point together, chatting and feeling tired but positive. For the final couple of hours, we would catch up, overtake, stop for a chat until finally the big tent was visible in the distance. 

After seeing that, it did seem an eternity to actually make the descent to the finish line, but when I got there my fabulous teammates cheered me across the line. They had waited three hours in their wet, cold clothes so I think they really deserved an extra medal for team spirit!

Ren and Sabrina did the challenge in 9 hours, which is up there with the best of them. And there was even talk of trying to do better next year! For me, I was glad to get over the line in 12 hours and I think I will just have a wee rest before even thinking about next year.   

Ren and Sabrina finishing their 9 hour trek
The landscape of Glen Coe is so stunning, beautiful, rugged, wild and amazing. Pictures can give some idea, but if you ever get a chance to experience it firsthand I’d suggest taking that chance. It’s also important to note that as well as being renowned for its magnificent landscape, Glencoe is also a place of tragic historical significance. In 1692, the massacre of Glencoe took place. About 40 men from Clan MacDonald of Glencoe were murdered by the Camerons, who had accepted their hospitality because the MacDonalds had not sworn allegiance to King William III. Another 40 women and children died of exposure later after their homes were burned.
I am so glad I overcame my fear, took on My Peak Challenge, and entered the event. The fact that I was able to finish is the icing on the cake. And the fact that we had a great team and were able (with your support) to raise over £2,000 for World Child Cancer is the big pile of cherries on top!

Thank you to everyone who helped us to raise all that money. Doing a team challenge like this was all new to me, so I would love to hear some of your stories of team challenges in the comments below. Or, your experiences walking in Glencoe. Who knows, maybe we will do it again next year… let us know if you’re interested!

Who’s ready to take on the Great Glencoe Trek? 

Andrée Poppleton

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