If this blog was a Phoenix, its feathers would be charred and crumbling into dust.

Have you ever received a text message, and you’ve meant to reply, but you kept putting it off for no discernible reason other than ‘it was not top of your priority list at that particular moment’… And then every time you remembered to reply, the passing of time made it harder and harder to think of a way to casually segue into a reply after a painfully noticeable hiatus in communication, and there was no way of not making it kind of awkward? I’m glad we’re on the same page here.

If you thought I’d be the type of person who would take advantage of all the ‘free time’ a global pandemic and numerous local and national lockdowns has afforded me to be productive – learning how to play the harp to a level that would have the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra bigwigs knocking down my door, writing a bestselling trilogy, nailing Yusheng Du’s sub 4 minute solving of a Rubix cube into the archives of crushed records – well, you’d’ve been woefully misled. This is for several reasons, but the most pertinent ones can be summarised thusly:

  1. Being a secondary school teacher and having to adapt to the impossible task of online learning with no warning/preparation time/viable resources/actual support has been a relentless ball ache, eaten into unpaid leave, and sucked any and all joy out of my job – but I don’t have the time, nor the mental energy to go into detail about this because nobody needs to be faced with a spirited rant that would rival the word count of ‘War and Peace’. YOU’RE WELCOME.
  2. Pre-pandemic, I’d spent roughly 8 hours of my day inside my apartment. And about 6 of those hours were spent sleeping. Some people thrive on social interaction, and the challenge of fitting as many activities into their day as possible, and deadlines, and planning in order to eke every single ounce of possible life experience out of the week, and traveling to unfamiliar places, and deciding that sleep is something that can be shelved if there is a more exciting thing on offer. Some people is me. I am this person. And so, with everything that makes me feel alive taken away from me, bar one thing, it was easier to put my brain into sleep mode and channel all of my energy into the one place it could go…
  3. Outside. Being outdoors was the only thing I wanted to do. It could be grunting up and down hills through mud on the mtb, grunting up and down hills into punishing headwinds on the road bikes, hiking up and down hills in the Highlands, and, for the first time since I hurt my knee back in 2014, running with increasing regularity, and for distances I didn’t think I’d be able to consider again.
  4. Also, I just didn’t wanna steal Yusheng’s glory. It would be heartless of me to take away a dude’s sense of accomplishment in such trying times.

So I guess a few things have changed, as inevitably they do with the passing of time. I still make questionable life choices, I still approach things with reckless abandon, and I am still undefeated in gravy wrestling (which is easy if you refuse any and all challengers upon being crowned world champion). I also still have MS, however I decided (after a couple of years of being convinced I didn’t need it) to start Disease Modifying Treatment (hitherto referred to as DMT) back in February 2020. Spoiler: the fortnightly injections left me ruined for 48 hours afterwards, and while some people build up a tolerance to that, I did not, so I started Ocrevus biannual infusions back in December. Second spoiler: Ocrevus is phenomenally convenient, and because they give you steroids at the same time I feel great the following day. 10/10, would repeat. In fact, scheduled to repeat in June.

Other ways that things have changed for me include passing my driving test at the tender age of 36. What I don’t need right now? Your judgement.

I picked up a Fiat 500 in December, a couple of weeks after passing my test, and named him Sergio, after my late grandfather. Then on New Year’s Day 2021, cruising along at 60mph singing along to Tracy Bonham, and celebrating the dawn of a calendar clean slate and the joy of finally accomplishing an adult goal, a motherfuckin’ kamikaze deer launched itself at Sergio’s bumper and cracked it, knocking out the daytime running lamp as well. Because of course it did.

The remainder of January also saw my first time driving through snow. On ice. Through freezing fog. Using full beam headlights on country roads. A real baptism of fire right there. But, since I’m basically a pro driver now, and since international travel is not exactly a guarantee this year either, WHY NOT BUY A VAN?

Meet Rina, Sergio’s sister.

What I still don’t need? Your judgement.

The plan is to build out the van into a compact mobile stealth sleeper for trips into the hills as the weather improves, and I have so far managed to: remove the bulkhead, remove the old ply panelling, give her a good clean, apply sound deadening sheets, and begin installing insulation. Next steps involve setting up the leisure battery, getting new ply for the inside, carpeting said ply/headliner, and building a slider bed for the back half. I’ve also sourced some magnificently extravagant bamboo flooring, but that may be sitting in my hallway for a while yet.. Thankfully, having spent last summer in my friend’s van as she converted it, I have a reasonable idea of what my ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ are.

It is definitely a project, and researching van conversions has been consuming a lot of my free time, but I’m finding I can actually focus on it because it is a means to an end: it will afford me the freedom to head into the Highlands and gallivant to my heart’s content without having to worry about accommodation, but also without relying on sleeping in a tent (for a change). And since my knee is actually cooperating (guys, can we just note that today I ran my first half marathon since 2014, and despite riding 70 miles to the top of Cairn o Mount yesterday, casually shaved a healthy 5 minutes of my PR), Rina (the van) will also hopefully let me spend some well deserved unpaid leave this summer doing things like this:

Aaaaaanyway, hope you’re all well, and text back soon! xoxox

The West Highland Way

March 30 – April 4, 2019

Spanning 96 miles from Milngavie (just North of Glasgow) to Fort William, the first time I encountered this long distance walking route was when I ran (jogged, let’s be real) the Highland Fling in 2014.  Instantly, completing the entire route become something that had to be ticked off the list, but little did I know my endurance running hobby was soon to end (thanks, knee), and endurance cycling and swimming would temporarily take over my life (and expendable money supply).  However with the resurgence of my passion for covering long distances by foot, albeit a lot slower and carrying a lot more, the West Highland Way was, once again, the itch that hadn’t been scratched.img_1010

Fast forward (or rewind, because I’m a busy lady and there are things other than this blog that I have been prioritizing in life) to March 2019, and the beginning of my two week long Spring Break.  I found myself cheerfully boarding a train and alighting at Glasgow Queen Street station less than 3 hours later, with roughly 37 minutes of daylight remaining on a Saturday evening. I had originally set up a Hinge date in Glasgow, which negated the need to find accommodation because I am a presumptuous asshole, but that fell through because he derided my (pretty tame) date idea, and clearly wasn’t as open to recklessness as he made out in his profile.  As a result, I decided to just go ahead and get a head start on Day 1; I had a tent, and I was willing to ham up the American accent and plead ignorance to the ‘no-camping-along-the-shores-of-Loch-Lomond’ rules that I am fairly sure are in place to deter drunk Glaswegians from de-gentrifying the place.


The start of the West Highland Way, and an indication of how little daylight I had to work with when I arrived.

Much like the start of the Great Glen Way, the signposting is nestled rather unceremoniously within some chain shops, and in the dying light I was glad that my muscle memory from that zero-o’clock-in-the-morning race start 5 years prior kicked in and I was able to start walking on autopilot, because I always find the first half mile on a trail that starts in civilization to be the biggest navigational ball-ache.

My original plan had been to complete the walk in 4 days, but anyone who knows me will appreciate how infrequently things go to plan when I am in charge.  As an aside, whilst plans go awry regularly, this should not be interpreted negatively – serendipity is a wonderful thing.  Though I had not intended to start my journey at about 19:00 on a Saturday night, it did mean that technically I was ahead of schedule, albeit walking alone into the looming darkness, and whatever ground I could cover that evening would chip away at the planned 26 mile day I had mapped out for Sunday.

I will say that the West Highland Way further mirrors the Great Glen Way when it comes to the underwhelming opening miles of the trail.  High volumes of litter, regular dog-walking traffic, and the sound of distance roads are not the heady mix of nature sounds people go long-distance hiking for.  Over the next hour, with the light escaping, I realized that I’d likely be going to sleep in a tent with the soothing sounds of people racing motorcycles a mile or so away.  A cursory glance at Google Maps indicated there was a campsite just after Carbeth Loch, about half a mile off the Way.  A quick phone call confirmed, with a reasonable level of certainty, that I could camp there for a nominal fee, as they were still gearing up for the start of the walking season.  Target acquired.

Upon arrival, I was offered instead a ‘bed’ in a shared room of a static caravan, and the idea of not having to pack up my tent the following morning and getting an early start was appealing, so I graciously accepted, despite being shown the room and realizing I’d be able to poke out my tongue and lick the face of whoever I was sharing with.  My roommate turned out to be an American college student named Meredith who, as it turned out, went to high school in Houston close to where my parents live.  She was travelling solo and, I think, glad to hear a familiar accent in a country that was alien to her. We were also sharing the caravan with a father and his two young kids, and we huddled by the electric heater and shared stories over a beer before turning in, wrapped up warm as the heating set up in the caravan was obviously an oversight, and the walls provided nominal protection from the bitter cold of night.

Day 1: ‘Milngavie’-ish to Rowardennan (26 miles, less what I had covered the previous evening)

The following morning, bright and early, I got some coffee going to thaw out, and over a very basic breakfast established that my destination for the day was the same as Meredith’s.  It made sense to start off together and, pace dependent, keep each other company.  I think she was also more than happy to relegate herself from navigator to accomplice.

The return to the path was entirely uphill, and her 30L daypack was clearly lighter work than my 65L thru-hiking pack, ready to stop and make shelter at any point.  I decided not to book anywhere along the walk to grant myself the freedom to walk until I had had enough (and because it was cheaper), which meant I had to carry more, but Meredith had pre-booked all necessary accommodation in advance, so while her plan was not particularly malleable, her pack was a source of great envy.

We walked and chatted away the morning miles in very unseasonable sunshine, and I was, in Scotland, at the beginning on April, quite comfortable in shorts and a single layer on top, even busting out a hat with a visor and – wait for it – sunglasses!  I enjoyed assaulting my companion’s ears with tales of the Highland Fling and what I could remember, and as we made our approach to Conic Hill, it became very apparent that on this warm, sunny Sunday, it was going to be swarming with people.  Still, the view of Loch Lomond near the summit was outstanding, and it was nice to appreciate it without the crushing realization that you still had a solid 33 miles or so to run (again, jog, calm down Rachel) before your day was over.

After the knee-crushing descent, we stopped to reward ourselves with some ice-cream and coffee (and ginger beer) in Balmaha, and, against all societal expectations, remove our hiking boots to allow our feet to air out before the final stretch.  I had decided, after sweating much more than I thought I would, I would inquire about a bunk at the hostel to allow myself the opportunity to shower and cook something substantial.  If they had room: perfect.  If not?  I had the tent.


I guess hiking slightly outwith peak season has its benefits.

Day 2: Rowardennan to Crianlarich (20 miles)

The original Day 2 plan had been to get to Tyndrum, but Meredith and I had snowballed and picked up another couple of walkers who had lost one of their party after a day due to catastrophic blisters.  These ladies had also pre-booked all of their accommodation, and now I had a dilemma: lone wolf as per the plan and sleep rough, or re-calibrate and take advantage of a spare bed along the way at a slightly more relaxed pace with good company.  I decided to leave my options open and decide later in the day, as if I were to go with the crowd, I’d have a punishing 15 mile solo walk on my final morning, likely beginning before sunrise (when I had planned to be relaxing in Fort William with a coffee and my book) before my midday bus to Inverness, and successive train to Aberdeen, where I had dinner plans that I was told would warrant murder upon cancellation.

Sometimes it’s great to spend a few days in the wilderness by yourself, but as you may have guessed from the Day 2 subheading, I was feeling like a social butterfly and the camaraderie our little group had built up was more than enough to convince me that relaxing in the evening with new friends trumped shivering alone in a tent with rationed reading light.

We set off as a merry band of hikers, and at times Meredith and I pulled ahead, and were caught up when we stopped for food breaks.  It seems like the sun had made it’s big appearance for our trip, and we were back to the kind of weather Scotland does best: bleak, atmospheric, and overcast.

All three girls had booked to stay at the Crianlarich Youth Hostel, slightly short of my daily goal, but it did mean we had plenty of time to enjoy a well earned lunch along the way.  It also meant another warm night, warm meal (probably not Michelin standard), and – rather importantly – a cold beer in clean pyjamas.  It did not take much to convince me to leave the tent in the pack.

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Day 3: Crianlarich to Inveroran Hotel (15 miles)

As I had planned to make up the miles the following day and part company with my crew, it become highly imperative that I convince them to wake up at dawn and arrive in Tyndrum for the opening of  The Green Welly, and essentially a hot, filling breakfast treat.  The idea was that I would have the benefit of some company, and they would have the luxury of a warm restaurant for as long as they wanted to hang around, as nothing seemed to open early enough in Crianlarich.  They agreed, so the next morning we set off in the crisp morning air, opting to take a cheeky shortcut along the A82 to shave off a mile or so, despite the warnings of the man working at the hostel that it was a dangerous road.

Spoiler: none of us died.  However, about half an hour into the trek, one of our party realized she had left behind her waterproof jacket, and as the forecast for the next couple of days included definite precipitation, likely of a frozen nature, it was only sensible for her to return for it.  We realized that she could catch a train from Crianlarich to Tyndrum that would allow her to arrive roughly an hour after we expected to reach breakfast, and so we assured her there would be people waiting for her.

With the forecast looking increasingly hostile, and my plan to camp in Rannoch Moor scuppered by a local at The Green Welly assuring me everything but the trail is essentially a bog (kind of true – however I noticed a few usable campsites the following day so for future reference, it would be manageable), I resigned myself [edit: this sounds like they were terrible company – they absolutely were not, I was just wanting to avoid my morning death march on the final day before my bus and train home!] to rejoining the leisurely plan of the other girls with the promise of a bed (and very nice, but cripplingly expensive dinner) in a hotel at Inveroran.

It is claimed that Tyndrum is the last opportunity to hit up a shop before Kinlochleven, and though there are a couple of remote hotels, the trail became noticeably more barren, assisted in no small part by the worsening weather.  I was very glad for a hot shower and warm bed!

Day 4: Inveroran Hotel to Kinlochleven (19 miles)

Day 4 was another early start, and the staff at the Inveroran kindly made us each a small pack lunch as a substitute for breakfast, as we were leaving before they started serving food.  We had a 10 mile walk through Rannoch Moor to the Kingshouse Hotel, where we planned to stop for coffee.  The wind picked up to around 50mph at times, and we were experiencing horizontal snow and low lying cloud, so were afforded no magnificent views initially.  We ended up just ploughing on at our own pace with the communal goal of reaching the Kingshouse for a hot drink and shelter to eat our lunch.

The hotel was disappointingly undergoing some renovations, and (likely due to still being so early in the year) not seemingly running at full capacity, but we did treat img_1148ourselves to some coffees, and admired the view of Buachaille Etive Mor.  For reference, this is the mountain that adorns the front page of the West Highland Way guide book, and is hailed as being a real showstopper.  I’m sure you can all agree that we were afforded breathtaking views as we prepared to leave the warmth and serenity of the hotel to start our second leg of the day: 9 miles to Kinlochleven over the Devil’s Staircase.

There is a fairly main road (the A82) with parking that enables people to conquer the Devil’s Staircase as a short day hike, and going from seeing no other soul on Rannoch Moor, it was a bit of a shock to be surrounded by dots of rainbow waterproof shells dancing around us on the trail.  And when, upon overtaking a group of college boys in daypacks while I carried the equivalent of a refrigerator on my back, they turned to me, smiled, and grunted, “this is tough!” –  was there any other way to interpret that other than as the universal code for: this is now a competition?  There really was no valid reason for me to self-induce a stroke by not only reaching the summit first, but intentionally smoking them so badly that I expected them to feel shame for years, but if you thought I was a better person than that, you’re wrong.


The ‘view’ from the top of the Devil’s Staircase

The descent from the Devil’s Staircase into Kinlochleven is a seemingly never-ending slog, and I think the mixture of having no real views to admire and the weather being so disgusting that you had to stay too wrapped up to have a conversation made it seem even more interminable. With hours of constant exposure, I could feel my socks getting damp, and I have never been more glad to hear that there was an available bed in the hostel, despite knowing that accepting this bed meant that I hauled completely redundant camping equipment for 96 miles when I could have taken a daypack.

Day 5: Kinlochleven to Fort William (15 miles)

After a hearty pub dinner and a hostel treat of cookie dough ice-cream, Day 5 saw me awake, packed, and lacing up my not-quite-dry hiking boots before sunrise.  I said goodbye to Meredith, hauled my pack on, and began the final 15 miles of the West Highland Way by myself.  I was greeted by a small stag as I set off to rejoin the trail, and the initial climb out of Kinlochleven.

Although it remained overcast, the wind wasn’t treacherous, and any precipitation came in the form of a short burst of misty rain that was possible to ignore without any major repercussions.  I took this opportunity to enjoy silence for a couple of hours, before relenting and plugging into my music.  This last stretch, once you’re up, is a meandering walk through increasingly impressive hills, until eventually Ben Nevis looms ahead.

img_1185After coming off the Devil’s Staircase, the descent into Fort William was similarly arduous, with the added bonus of a clear view over to the trail leading to the summit of Ben Nevis that I had climbed a few months before.  But no matter how long I walked, I seemed no closer to the valley floor, eventually joining a logging road and navigating muddy undulations caused by heavy machinery.

It was once I started encountering dog walkers I knew I was nearing the end of the Way, but one particularly dick move was leaving signpost for the original endpoint in situ, and clearly visible as you make your way to the updated endpoint having to add on a final mile through Fort William’s high street.

I had just enough time in Fort William to have a quick bowl of soup and a coffee before jumping on the bus to Inverness (I napped), and then the train to Aberdeen (I napped), and finally a walk home for a shower before my dinner plans (I ate ravenously).

Texas Kingwood Marathon 2019

Time: 5:21:12

Medal: Obviously…


Lacking fitness?  Haven’t been running properly in years? Still carrying a fair amount of that grief bulk?  Why not enter a marathon 3 days before it’s held? I mean, there isn’t anything I’d rather be doing on New Year’s morning than lining up in that distantly familiar cloud of Deep Heat and nervous sweat; under-trained, over-fed, but at peace with the fact that I’d likely be embarking on a very repetitive, and very long, and very repetitive speed walk on my quest to bring my Texas marathon medal haul to a respectable total of three.

Although in previous years I had entered this race the day entries were available, something compelled me to look up the event while I was visiting my family for Christmas, and I realized, elbow deep in tacos, that the marathon was not at capacity, and entry was still open.  I casually inquired about my parents’ plans on January 1st which immediately raised suspicion, and I was met with a very direct, “Is this your way of asking for a lift out to Kingwood at some ungodly hour again?” from my mother, who is no stranger to my impulsive decisions.


Fun and safe activity 1: hanging out on railway tracks

With just over 72 hours until the starting horn, I decided to really begin my training in earnest.  I thrashed out a ‘marathon pace’ (translation = slow, causal, balls not even close to the wall) 5k on the familiar Rice University loop, but was most aggrieved when my mother refused to accept that my babysitting duties should be suspended temporarily to allow for a restful, successful taper.  Duties, I should add, that I take extremely seriously, and require my full commitment to allow for educational, enjoyable, and – most importantly – safe activities that allow my niece to flourish.

The evening before the race (traditionally referred to as New Year’s Eve, but whatever) I attended a little soiree with my parents, and indulged in two light beers and some Venezuelan food, before tucking myself into bed just after the bells.  Rock and roll, bitches, this girl is wild.


Roughly 27 minutes later, my alarm sounded, and I prepared myself (sans the garmin I had originally brought on holiday for swimming laps, but had then charged specifically for THIS MOMENT), and hopped into the car with my dad, who had been elected as the parental driver for the day.  Wading through the crowds, I eventually found myself at the start of the 20th annual Texas Marathon, and after the  usual pleasantries we were off, and I became, obviously, the embodiment of athleticism.

OK, so that may be a slight untruth, but. upon deciding I’d jog 5k, then operate on a run a mile, walk a mile basis, was surprised to find that I ran (jogged… potato, po-tah-to) over half the course, finishing in a not-too-crappy time of under 5 and a half hours.

What I had neglected to fully consider, in my overwhelming excitement, was the effect that the morning would have on my unsuspecting body – chiefly my hip flexors – and I was taken down memory lane to the aftermath of my very first marathon, and the cripple shuffle that ensued in the 48 hours succeeding. Thankfully, my bathroom at my parents’ house is furnished with a bathtub, and Houston has an abundance of fast food eateries able to quench my lust for salty food post exertion, so I managed to survive (I mean, clearly).

With the benefit of nearly 10 months hindsight (considering how fashionably late I am in writing about this), I can safely say that my relative success in Texas did not spur me on to a spate of recklessly throwing myself into ill-advised, lengthy running adventures, which I am quite sure my bum knee would aggressively object to.  I have, however, taken to mixing up my workout routine with a few outdoor runs, of slowly increasing length, and it has reignited the joy experienced by the freedom of running without purpose.  So for that, I am grateful.

So. How’s everyone been?

I lied to you.

I mean, if it’s any consolation, I was lying to myself as well, I just didn’t know it.  I was not ok, and I remained not ok for about 18 months.  I did head to California and hike a little bit of the PCT, along which I met some incredible people and continued to believe I was harnessing my grief in a positive way, but after I left the trail and hit Portland and New York City for a while, I was mostly into full-blown self-destruct mode.  I was drinking for breakfast and fuelling my body with donuts and nicotine.

Healthy grieving:

Not healthy grieving:

Upon my return to the UK, and to work, I became increasingly aware of how little I cared about myself and everything I did.  I put on weight (near enough 25lbs), I neglected household chores (not quite on par with an episode of ‘Hoarders’, but not the usual standard you’d expect of a grown ass woman).  I stopped socialising and arranging to do things, opting instead to read books about death and loss and everything miserable so I could wallow in it.  I basically became a fat, melancholy hermit.


But in October, 2018, I went to Switzerland with my friend Lisa with the intention to hike.  Hiking we did, but what shocked me was how unfit I had become.  I was out of breath, my hiking clothes hugged me a little too tightly, and – worst of all – the photos Lisa took were a real kick in the nuts.  It was the wake-up call I needed, and as soon as I got home I took some ‘before’ photos and began my journey of self-improvement in earnest.  After all, on top of starting to come to terms with the loss of my brother, I had to consider the impact my health would have on my MS diagnosis (something I’d given very little zero thought to).


Day Drankin’ in 2018  v. Pulling my shit together in 2019

I reignited my love of exercise and the outdoors and started to cut out self-destructive, reckless activities (mostly, let’s be honest here).  I started to take an interest in things again.

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Although I have accepted that life is transient and, ultimately, everything has to end, I also started to actually believe, as Miguel de Unamuno wrote, that “if it is nothingness that awaits us, let us make an injustice of it.”




The first word you ever uttered foreshadowed your entire life: more.  I wish you could have felt like you had enough; that you didn’t have to chase something perpetually just out of reach.

I wrote you a letter the day before you died.  I told you how proud I was of you, and how much I was looking forward to April when we could hike off into the wilderness and let nature be our medicine.  I called mom but told her not to tell you because I wanted it to be a surprise.  I even wrote out a playlist of some of the songs we listened to this summer on our trip to Enchanted Rock – the ones you said were ‘dope’ – but I haven’t been able to listen to them since.

When I went to the post office later that day to send it, it took every ounce of willpower not to send you a dorky message with an inside joke that nobody else would understand.  But I didn’t want to ruin the treat of getting unexpected mail.


It turns out I arrived before the letter.  It came through the door when the photographer who took your portraits was round, handing over the prints he never got to deliver to you in person.  They looked great, but I couldn’t look at them for long.  You have my face.

It’s only just starting to sink in that you’re gone, and I’ll have to go through the rest of my life with a piece of myself missing; and the feelings come from nowhere and grab hold and turn me into lead.  Nothing was ever enough for you, but now I’m the one left wanting more.

All good things are wild, and free.


Your sister.




The Great Glen Way (Part One)

The original plan for the September long weekend had been to walk the entire length of the Great Glen Way from Fort William to Inverness.  After confirmation of what is wrong with my asshole body, I wanted to spend some time in the wilderness, alone, with enough energy at the end of each day to pitch a tent, eat some food, write a little, and maybe read a few pages of my book.

I took the train to Glasgow after work on Thursday and had dinner with my friend Grant, who had also offered up his spare room to me for the night.  The next morning he dropped me off at the train station on his way to work, and I began the somewhat-longer-than-anticipated journey north, to Fort William.  The forecast wasn’t great, and I watched the sun disappear behind clouds and mist as we became surrounded by landscape increasingly barren, bleak, and beautiful.  By the time I found myself in Fort William, the rain had arrived.

I grabbed a tuna sandwich from the Morrison’s near the trailhead, as well as a packet of tortilla wraps.  Having gracefully manoeuvred my waterproof trousers on over my hiking boots in the car park, I began my journey.

The start of the Great Glen Way is tacked on rather unceremoniously next to a McDonald’s parking lot on a busy roundabout.  The trailhead was underwhelming and uninspiring, and I had to slink (hard to do with a 30lb pack on your back) around a white van that was parked on the verge.  You begin by winding behind people’s houses on a mixture of gravel track, dirt path, and B roads, and during the first few miles it was populated by dog walkers, lunchtime joggers, and teenagers smoking pot.  It took a concerted effort to take in some of the beautiful surroundings beyond the way, particularly when my every step was accompanied by the distracting rustle of my waterproof gear. This is just the start I told myself.  Soon you’ll be elbow deep in natural beauty, free from distraction, far from another living soul.


Except that didn’t really happen.  Within a couple of miles I found myself on a road entering a small village called Caol.  Most of the way was on road here until you take in a completely unnecessary path out on a small peninsula, before doing an about turn and essentially retracing your steps on a parallel path back towards Caol.  Although I got to see an abandoned boat, I was increasingly aware of time.  The train had arrived late and I had set out about 1.5 hours later from Fort William than I had anticipated.  Wanting to cover about 22 miles and reach Laggan Locks by nightfall, this detour has essentially robbed me of any opportunity to take a break.  I trudged on.

Crossing the A road that joins Fort William and Mallaig, the wide gravel path winds past Neptune’s Staircase and follows a canal parallel to River Lochy until a smattering of houses that make up Gairlochy, at the mouth of the least creatively named lake in Scotland: Loch Lochy.


By this point I still had 11 miles to cover along the loch, and I was a little surprised to feel a few hotspots on my feet.  I wasn’t wearing new hiking boots or socks, and I’ve never had issues with them for anything under about 20 miles.  I ignored the nagging pain, and pressed on.

It was along the first mile or so of the lochside path that I finally felt like I’d found what I had come for.  Snaking along the path softened by golden pine needles, listening to the waves lap against the shoreline, my only companion the dull thud of my footsteps.

And the buzz of my phone.  I pulled it out of my jacket pocket and realised I hadn’t switched on airplane mode, and, to my surprise/disdain I had full signal and 4G.  Not long after, the route takes you back onto a tarmac road where you need to navigate the occasional traffic for a couple of miles, before you veer back into the pines onto a land rover track until Laggan Locks.  Although the only people I encountered on this stretch were a couple on mountain bikes and a dog walker (as I approached some holiday cabins), I could still hear the distant hum of steady traffic from the busy road on the opposite side of the loch.

Less than 3 miles from Laggan Locks I passed a wild camping site and was sorely tempted to set up for the night.  Light was fading, my feet had progressed from a minor inconvenience to near crippling pain, and I wasn’t sure there would be anywhere decent to pitch a tent when I reached my planned destination.  I had, however, read about a bar there, and I was jonesin’ for a beer.  I decided to keep going, and to hell with worrying about particulars.

Upon reaching Laggan Locks, I was approached by a man who clearly lived there.

“It’s getting a bit dark to keep going.”

“Yeah, I think I’m pretty much done for the day.  Know of anywhere I can pitch a tent?”

“See those trees?  Who are you hiking with?”

“I’m alone.”

“Oh, well, there’s a boathouse about 100 feet along the way.  You can stay there for £10 a night.”

“I’ll stick with the tent, thanks.  Is there somewhere I can get a drink or some food?”

“Same boathouse.  It’s a floating pub.”


I hobbled to the floating bar, climbed aboard, and descended the stairs into what was apparently a pretty happening place!  There was room for me at the bar and I ordered chilli and rice and a couple of beers, chatting briefly to the other patrons before turning feral once my food arrived.  It was while I was shovelling warm food into I realised that, apart from the tuna sandwich, I had only had a cup of coffee in the morning.  Satiated and floating in a slight beer haze, I hobbled back to the patch of trees, and erected my tent in the dark with my bike light in my mouth to guide me.  I climbed in and gingerly removed my hiking boots before slowly peeling my socks away from my aching feet to inspect them.

It was at this point I remembered a recent pedicure, booked to cheer myself up (and because it was one of the cheapest treatments on offer).  I had marveled at how soft my feet were after that, telling the woman who had hacked away chunks of hard, calloused skin how amazed I was at her handiwork.  If you take anything away from reading this, let it be this: Pedicures are for people who do not hike.  I had blisters upon blisters, and I decided, instead of dealing with the situation, to put on fresh socks and go to sleep.

Friday morning arrived, and I enjoyed a plain tortilla wrap for breakfast, along with some water.  A quick foot inspection and some rough first aid attempted, I was booted and packed up, ready to set off at 8am.  I tentatively took a few steps.  To my delight, my feet didn’t feel too bad.  My disaster plan of death marching to Fort Augustus and catching the bus became less of a certainty, and I began toying with the idea of continuing beyond there to Invermoristan as planned, and setting up camp.

A couple of miles into my walk another hiker, Nick, caught me up.  He was walking from Land’s End to John O’Groats both as a personal challenge, but also to raise money for the MS Society, as his dad was diagnosed with MS in 2005.  This was, as you can imagine, a springboard into a few hours of good conversation as we kept each other company on the predominantly traffic-free path.  His planned walk essentially mirrored my original plans, and I thought I’d maybe have made a walking buddy for a few days, but every mile we covered brought back the familiar, searing pain in my feet, and I knew that I’d be tapping out at Fort Augustus.  As soon as we arrived and I spotted a coffee shop, we wished each other well and he kept going.


After a coffee and a sandwich, I limped to the bus stop and began the journey up the west side of the loch, a journey I’ve done twice before – in reverse – before running the Loch Ness marathon.  It was a beautiful day, and I know there are some beautiful views from the bus, but I fell asleep the minute we set off, and woke up ten minutes from Inverness, where I bought a train ticket back to Aberdeen and went to the pharmacy for some first aid reinforcements.

With 45 minutes until the train, I searched out a disabled stall in the shopping centre bathrooms and set up a mobile surgery.  I took off my left boot, peeled away the sock, and saw a blister on my heel the size of my palm.  The skin was taut and I poked it out of curiosity before cleaning it up, laying some toilet paper underneath it, and unleashing my scissors.

The release caused me about a second of intense, near-blackout pain before I realised that the sweet relief normally associated with popping blisters was nowhere to be found.  Chiefly because there was another, deeper blister underneath that one.  This was also when I felt something dripping from my face… Not only had the eruption covered me, but the walls and floor of the stall required some going over with my antibacterial wipes.  Sitting on the toilet lid in a disabled bathroom stall having not seen a shower for nearly three days and with pus drying on my face and a fistful of dirty wipes, I contemplated just how pleasant the train journey was going to be for anyone sitting near me.  I pulled my dirty socks back on, packed up, washed my face, and decided to wait until the comfort of my own home before attempting to look at the other foot.  (Spoiler: it was just as gross)

The following day the blisters had had time to mature, and walking was an acrobatic effort on the sides on my feet or on tiptoe.  Realising I wasn’t going far from home on foot, I decided to join a group that was going cycling, as the pressure points from my cleats didn’t coincide with the mangled sections of my feet.  It was a pleasant cycle in very autumnal weather with a coffee stop near Banchory and a brief trip to the Falls of Feugh to watch the salmon jumping (or attempting to jump) upstream over the rocks.


Although I didn’t complete the entire walk, you might have noticed this post is referred to as ‘Part One’.  Once my feet have had a chance to heal up (and avoiding any further pedicures in future), I intend to get the train to Inverness and then the bus to Fort Augustus in order to complete the second half of the Great Glen Way before the weather has a chance to turn, and while the days are still long enough to put in 20 mile shifts.  Until then, I’m wearing sneakers to work and spending as little time as possible on the meaty lumps that once resembled feet.

Can’t live for tomorrow, tomorrow’s much too long

“The busy bee has no time for sorrow.”

-William Blake (Proverbs of Hell)


William Blake seemed to be a firm advocate of embracing our desires and our freedom, which is absolutely an ideology I’m willing to adopt.  I’d like to imagine that the proverb above goes deeper than the idea of being so consumed with a task that you have no time to worry about things.  Instead of a task – with its connotations of being something burdensome or unpleasant or necessary – I’d like to think the bee is consumed by something beautiful, exhilarating, fulfilling.  The bee hovers over a flower until it has taken its fill, then moves onto the next.  For me, each flower is a unique experience and, like the physical beauty of flowers, their existence is ephemeral, but memorable.

My takeaway from this particular proverb is that Blake encourages us to fully immerse ourselves in the moment – to live in the present.  We should open ourselves to experiencing every moment without distraction or fear that we aren’t doing what we think we’re meant to be doing.

I find I’m at my happiest in nature, and I imagine that’s the truth for most people.  This summer I had booked a flight to Seattle with my friend Lauren, initially with the plan of hiking the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier.  After her debut camping experience about 6 weeks before we flew over, however, she decided that she hated camping, and upon discovering there were no hotels along the trails in the Washington wilderness, started dropping hints that she would bail on the hike.  Considering the hike was my main motivation for visiting Washington, I wasn’t about to let the prospect of being a lone wolf deter me, though in a strange place – where bears roam free – my friend basically forbade me from hiking without a chaperone.

I’m good at finding loopholes.  Against all my friends’ advice, I met someone from Portland on tinder, and arranged to go on a multi-day camping trip along some of the trails in Mount Rainier National Park.  We met in a bar in Seattle the night before, armed with a map, and tentatively planned our journey (which we had to reconsider the next day due to campsite availability).  We left the next morning and spent the following days walking the trails, and generally existing in some of the most beautiful alpine meadows with the snowy peak of Mount Rainier as our backdrop, and wildflowers, animals (including bears), and the low hanging haze from BC wildfires surrounding us.  Although it wasn’t the original endurance death-march I had mentally planned, I couldn’t have asked for a better hike (or hiking partner) for the limited time I had, and I relished being disconnected from the outside world completely, being around so much beauty, and getting to know someone new in an intensely concentrated way.  The whole thing could have been a complete bust.  I could have been pushed off a cliff or eaten by a bear or strangled in my sleep.  But I choose to believe that people are inherently good, and so far that has served me well.

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After Mount Rainier, and some time in Portland and the surrounding area, including a day hike to some of the waterfalls along Eagle Creek (with my now-established hiking companion), I flew south to Houston to visit my family.  For the first time in several years, my brother was clean, and it was so comforting having the one person who has had the same life experience as I have had be present and lucid and calm.  I told him about hiking in Washington, and he mentioned that he wanted to do more stuff like that, so we decided to get up early one day and drive out to Enchanted Rock.  Apart from his piece-of-shit car breaking down 10 miles outside of Austin, having to hire a tow truck, and being forced to hire a fancy SUV because there were no smaller cars available – it was a fun day trip that I wouldn’t change.

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When I initially began having issues with my sight last October, I began a string of tests to try and determine the cause.  It was mentioned that there was a (small) chance that it could be the first presenting symptom of multiple sclerosis, but ‘that was getting ahead of ourselves’.  However, further tests revealed lesions on the white matter of my brain, which meant even more testing.  Last month, upon returning from my holiday, I had follow up MRI scans on my brain, as well as a spinal tap, which I thoroughly do not recommend.  Yesterday, September 11th, 2017, 11 months after this whole ordeal began, I was given my results: my body is an asshole.

Although I was fairly convinced multiple sclerosis would be the eventual outcome, it still came as a shock to hear it confirmed from the specialist, and I’m not entirely sure I took in everything she said after that.  I do remember mentioning my plans to leave my job in April and thru hike the Pacific Crest Trail, terrified that she would in some way try to dissuade me from doing it.  Thankfully my conversation with her only reinforced my gut feeling to go for it, and she fully endorsed my view that the disease is unpredictable, and manifests itself differently in everyone, and that it would be nothing short of tragic to sit around and wait for something to happen at the expense of experience.  She did drop into conversation that I’d probably have to pay a little more for health insurance, but what is the value of money?

So what’s the plan now?  I’ve bought a one way ticket to San Diego at the beginning of April next year.  I’ve upgraded my tent to something roomier and more lightweight.  I’m off to hike the Great Glen Way in just over a week.  And I’m seriously looking into dropping bank on a personal satellite messenger and locator beacon, mostly to stop my parents and friends from worrying, but my secondary reason would be for safety.  If my legs decide to stop working when I’m days away from civilization, it might be useful to be able to contact people to let them know.  Overall though?  I’m pumped about my upcoming adventure.  It may turn out to be a catastrophic bust, but that’s a future-me problem.  Besides, as Blake says, “Exuberance is beauty.”  And it looks like I’m using his proverbs as mantras right now.

Prudential Ride London 100 2017

Ain’t found a way to kill me yet.

-Alice in Chains, ‘Rooster’

Time: 6:08:36

Medal: Yes.  Feat. the Dorking Cockerel! 


Following my LeJoG disaster, I was keen to reestablish myself as a competent rider of bikes, and even more  keen to conquer the event Roz had encouraged me to sign up to in the waning days of blindness, and the waxing days of getting-the-fuck-on-with-it.  Once the medal design had been shared on facebook, and Roz drew my attention to the chicken on it, no sprained wrist or split helmet was going to prevent me from facing my spiritual nemesis.  I was gonna own that chicken.  Physically.  Metaphorically.  Completely.

Taunted by the ghost of crashes past, and rarely one to believe in ‘signs’, I temporarily became a believer.  This ride was my Magnum Opus.  I could feel it.  Once I crossed that finish, I’d be drawing a line over the past 8 months and getting on a flight towards the rest of my summer adventures, lighting a match destined to blow my life onto a whole new (weather beaten) path.

Breaking up the journey south with a stop at Roz’s brother’s, we breakfasted with chicken adorned glasses before setting off for registration.  Back at our city apartment, we decided to remedy the start wave situation (I was due to start about 45 minutes later than Roz) by plastering her luggage sticker over my race number, and neglecting to put any other identifying paraphernalia on my bike.  We’re stealthy bitches like that.


The plan provided us both with a seamless entry into the black wave pen the following morning, and we managed to pass the time before we were released by trying not to freeze to death, and eye-rolling at boastful conversations occurring in the vicinity.  The guy with the microphone was asking someone at the front of each start wave to suggest a song to set off to, and some asshole in our wave picked PJ and Duncan’s ‘Let’s Get Ready to Rumble’, a grievous aural assault considering he had a choice of basically any song in recent history.  Things could only improve.

And they did!  We stuck in behind snakes of lycra-clad men and kept up a very respectable average speed with relatively little effort on our part.  In fact, I was so busy going fast that I failed to notice cycling by famous landmarks and my old place of residence.  Yes, I missed my own home, but I paid extra close attention to anyone’s wheel in front of me, because as much as I trust my own ability to ride a bike, I don’t trust an amorphous clot of cyclists varying in experience in the winding veins of London.

In typical Roz/Rachel riding fashion, I found the first 60 miles or so a bit of a slog, and let Roz do a lot of the work, but when she started to tire my legs decided they were sufficiently warmed up.  We hit a couple of ‘hills’ (laughable when you consider Scottish terrain) and took in a couple of the water stops.  At one point we became separated, but a quick location stalk on our phones solved that problem pretty quickly.  And then we were into the final, fast, downhill 20 miles where I always seem to find a turbo boost.

Just over 6 hours after we set off, we were finished.  And I hadn’t crashed!  Until approximately 7 minutes into our gentle cycle back to the apartment when I was momentarily distracted and ended up going over my handlebars into London traffic, staving my left pinky and adding to my collection of bruises, cuts, and grazes…


Before the crash

I refuse to believe it was the hefty weight of the chicken medal that pulled me to the ground, because if I know anything, it is that the chicken has no power over me anymore.  2017 may be the Chinese year of the Rooster, but that curse has been lifted, and I am free.  Good riddance, motherclucker.

Day 4: Bristol -> A&E

The day started so well.

A sunny brunch (avocado toast and coffee). A gentle walk around Bristol. A short trip over the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Today was gonna be a great day.

Lisa and I cruised along the road out of Bristol chatting in the sun. I had opened her eyes to the joy of cycling! Though we had some miles to put in through an industrial estate (with a few brief stints on a cycle path), it would all be worth it once we hit the quiet country roads of Wales. We even got to see the bridge we’d be crossing in the distance! 

And then, one minute I was freewheeling downhill, the next I was lying face down at the side of the road, my bike a few feet away, in quite some discomfort. 

As I lay there, coming to my senses and trying to mentally register the damage, a white van did a U-turn and stopped to help, phoning an ambulance. Well, fuck. 

I had come down pretty hard on my left side, particularly on my wrist and shoulder, and I guess I was in shock as I couldn’t stop shaking. I surveyed my belongings and realised I’d cracked my helmet. Lisa, who was behind me, arrived and tried to calm me down as I answered questions over the phone. When I asked her if there were any deformities to my face, she replied with, ‘None, apart from the obvious.’ At this stage the white van driver and his colleague laughed uncomfortably as they didn’t realise we knew each other. When they found out that we were in fact friends, and I was off the phone, they left us to wait for the paramedics.

“Lisa. I can’t feel my face. Or my left arm. What if I’m having a heart attack?”

“You do know you landed in a pile of stinging nettles, you dumbass.”

I did not. Just super. 

We waited for nearly 2 hours before I ended up phoning again, only to find out they had no record of the previous call, and an ambulance was eventually dispatched. I assumed they’d just clean me up and check me over, but when they arrived they wanted to take me in for an X-ray on my wrist, as I couldn’t move it without sharp pains running the length of my arm. When we told them we were about to cycle into Wales they toyed with the idea of taking me to a hospital there, but couldn’t really justify it. So back to Bristol we went, with bikes safely strapped in.

Instead of a pleasant afternoon in the Welsh countryside, we spent about 4 hours in A&E to confirm there were no breaks, just a bad sprain, amongst some of Bristol’s finest drugged criminals and law enforcement officers. As it was Pride weekend, we had to shell out an extortionate amount for likely one of the last available hotel rooms (a disabled room)  which we got to around 11pm. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and the only thing nearby was a KFC, so we filled up on boneless chicken pieces, I had a bitch of a shower, and we went to bed.

“I’m so glad I hired a bike and hauled it miles away from the comfort of my home to enjoy this experience with you, Rachel. Best holiday ever.”

The following morning, it was apparent that I was not going to be riding any significant distance on my wrist, and I decided to return to London with Lisa. We left the hotel before 09:00 and arrived at her flat roughly 12 hours later having dragged our bikes several miles around two cities. Thankfully, we decided to treat ourselves to a refreshment in Regent’s Park on the way to enjoy the summer sun, and we ordered sushi, watched shit TV, and re-organised her bedroom to continue the theme of ‘crappiest holiday weekend’ (but secretly I enjoyed that). 

Bristol – before everything went wrong

As I write, I am on the sleeper train back to Scotland. As a glass half full kinda girl, I’m hoping a couple of days might be enough to allow me to ride my bike again, in which case I’ll aim to complete some of the Scottish leg. However, I might take my road bike, and I’ll definitely pack light. I should probably get a new helmet too…