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Remembering a Great Journey

The Trees of Glen Feshie

I am an emotional dishrag.

I gave a talk this week, at the Appalachian Mountain Club in Boston, about my hike across Scotland last year in the TGO Challenge. The talk went great. I had an audience of 60 people and they had to kick us out of the auditorium afterward because so many people wanted to stay and talk to me.

But writing the talk and picking through my trip photos brought back an incredible surge of memories and emotions. I’d spent over a year planning and preparing for that trip: I completely changed my gear list which involved a huge amount of gear trials and testing, I learned all about the local vegetation, geology and climate(s) of Scotland, taught myself the OS grid coordinate and mapping system used in the UK, and all kinds of other skills.

That preparation was essential but it paled when compared to the actual experience. I met so many interesting people, many who I still am in contact with, and I experienced such joy and contentment during the hike itself. It was an amazing experience and became a turning point in my life.

I know I felt this way last year too, but I am still surprised at how powerful my emotions have been this week. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this strongly about a past hike before, and it makes me wonder why that journey had such an impact on me.

Have you ever experienced anything like this?


  1. Wow! What a lovely post to read this morning (in the UK).

    I'm not sure I can name a specific walk, but I do remember the feeling when I first started backpacking, where, when I got my kit together and put my (heavy) pack on, I had such a feeling of freedom, the feeling that I could go almost anywhere I wanted and could support myself with what I was actually carrying on my back.

    That feeling is often a spur nowadays, or even the remembrance of that first feeling, but now it's amplified by a greater understanding of the nature around me, which seems to be my drive now.

    Lovely post!

  2. The Tour du Mont Blanc was emotional for me on the basis it sparked in me a desire to learn alpinism. I suspect, when I am in the Alps again in August, I'll feel much the same as you did – it being a year on from the TMB. It's a nice feeling though – to have done something that ignites feelings a year on. Would like to have heard the talk and to meet you at some point but the pond makes that a tough proposition…!

  3. I'd love to give that talk again. I hadn't realized when I wrote it how riveting it would be for an audience, although I'm sure the beauty of the Scottish landscape helped. Anyway, it's written now and can be easily presented again.

    People here in the US are just amazed by the Scottish Rights of Way law (which lets you camp or walk on any private land.) Here you walk on a trail, really a reserved property corridor, and many people have no idea of how to even read a map.

  4. I love it. When I finished the AT way back when, I cried like a baby. I almost expected the same thing with the PCT, but instead I just felt tired and ready to go home. I think there were a lot of factors in that, but the AT really was that turning point in my life. The PCT had less of an impact on me, I guess.

    Another thing that really gets me going is leading long youth trips. A two-month trail youth conservation corps trail crew I led a few years back still ranks as one of the most powerful experiences I've had related to hiking (although there was very little hiking involved). Again, it was a kind of transformative experience, and that keeps it fresh in my mind.

  5. Guthook – I was hoping you'd leave a comment. It sounds like having a hike, or an outdoor experience, be a turning point, is key.

    If you don't mind me asking, what did you turn away from after the AT? and what path are you on now? Or is this a conversation for the Moat?

  6. I have been experiencing the same thing- I guess in my case it is "Springer Fever". I think I have been missing the simplicity of the trail, and the joy of living life without the need to pay attention to 1,000 daily details. I also miss the excitement and singlemindedness of preparing for the adventure. I haven't found anything to replace that drive- and I miss it.

    I have been reading several on-line trail journals lately and you can just feel the anticipation and excitement dripping from the words of the folks getting ready to head out- it brings back a lot of memories and emotions.

  7. Heh. I couldn't help but join the discussion :) I could get into the nuances in great detail, I think, but I'll see if I can make some sense of it here. What is this Moat you speak of? The brewery?

    The AT was my "I'm done with college and here I go into the world" trip. Sort of my coming of age thing. And it was a big eye-opener for what direction my life would go from then on. After that I basically couldn't stay put in one place for more than a few months without succumbing to the wanderlust some more. It's like I'm allergic to settling with a job and a home.

    The PCT… It just seemed like a continuation of what I'd been doing for the past few years, rather than a change. Like it was an affirmation that this is my thing. I could go on about this a lot longer, but… hmm. Interesting questions!

  8. That Moat. If it means anything, I have that wanderlust too. I always attributed it to my parents, who've lived all over the world, but I think it's a more universal personality trait that some people have and that manifests itself in our lives in different ways, like hiking, the kinds of jobs or frequency of job changes, and so on. I don't think I would have come to that conclusion without you telling me about your experience too, so thanks. Kindred spirits unite!

  9. Ken – funny you mention the anticipation of a long hike. I'm about to get out for a long one in a few weeks, Perhaps I'm also being energized by it and was just channeling that energy into my TGO talk. With 2 weeks to go, I really have to get my sheet together. You guys are much cheaper than a shrink. :-)

  10. Awesome stuff. You knocked one more thing off your bucket list and get a chance to relive it and inspire others while motivating yourself. Nothin' wrong with that.

  11. I'm glad I could help. I can't help but ramble sometimes. :)

    One of many good things about long hikes is that there's so much time to think. Every time I'm out for more than a few days I feel like I have such a perfect understanding of my life, so much motivation to start and finish projects after the hike is done. I always have to keep a list in my journal so I remember all these things I have to do when I get home. Then when I get out of the woods I'm lucky if I do half of them.

    Come to think of it, on the PCT I spent a good bit of time thinking about how my life would function after the trail. I'm still working on that, but one of the key differences I had while thinking of the future on the AT and PCT was that on the AT I didn't think I'd do any more long distance hikes. During the PCT I was already thinking to the next two or three hikes.

  12. Interesting question Philip. Is it the landscape that moves us or our experience as we walk through it? I don't know. For me the walk that moves me the most was a crossing of Dartmoor a few years back. It was not the magical sunsets and wild camping. My Father had died a few weeks before. I needed to find my thoughts on all that had happened. I needed to be alone with myself and memories. Crossing Dartmoor that time was amazing. I was moved and I came out of the moor with peace and good memories. I found something I needed on that walk. So if answering your question I would say that walk is the one.

  13. Guthook- I couldn't have said it better. I came back from my "half hike" on the AT determined to make some changes, and have struggled to do that. I think what I enjoyed most about my hiking time was the time to think- my problem now is how to turn it into action.

    Philip- enjoy your hike! I am jealous, but life will confine me to week-long trips for a while. Honestly, I think the preparation is half the fun of a long trip. And I can understand your emotions on your TGO talk- I have done a few presentations on my trip and each time I look at the pictures and feel like I have my boots on the trail!

  14. DripDry and I gave an AT presentation to our scout troop a few weeks ago and I felt the same things. To prepare we went back through journal entries and photos, but the hardest part was when I packed my bag with all my trail gear to take if needed for a demonstration. I picked it up and thought "all I need is food and I could hit the trail." I was melancholy the rest of the night.

  15. Martin – I remember your Dartmoor walk and that time after your father passed. BTW, you were briefly featured in my Challenge talk this week as someone who helped me plan my Challenge, as well as Bruno and Mike. I showed some nice pictures of you guys.

    Rev & Drip: That was some adventure you guys took last year and I'm glad you were able to describe it to the scouts. You're right about the melancholy though. I am missing Scotland terribly this year but I'm sure I will have a blast on the AT in a few weeks, and maybe I'll get a few bear photos in NJ.

  16. I am currently preparing for my seventeenth TGO crossing but the one I will always remember is my first.

    Walking into the surf at St Cyrus at the end of that walk, I knew I had found a better place to be; sweeping views, the thrilling call of curlews and the almighty storms to fight against when putting up my tent and the immediate burn of happiness once out of the elements with a mug of hot chocolate laced with whisky.

    This was *real* life, to be enjoyed to the full.

  17. Alan – always the poet. I am so glad to hear from you again. Have another great challenge and give my regards to all. Hopefully I will be able to come back again next year, and stay much longer.

  18. Good post. Yes, I had a similar experience when I finished a thru-hike of the AT. I couldn't really talk to others in depth about it for several momnths. I still get emotional when I think of one heart-warming experience I had on the AT.

  19. Thanks for sharing that Ray – I know what you mean. Sometimes our emotions are so powerful we can't talk about something and so we don't to keep it from boiling over.

  20. That's awesome! I still get that way about my thru-hike of the AT and that was back in 1996. I recently watched Southbounders (I southbounded) and I got emotional about it. So many amazing memories came back to me. The other journey that still gets me in a failed trip. I spent over a year planning for and about five years dreaming about the trip. I got injured (still hasn't healed completely and it's two years later) 20 days into the trip.

  21. I spent 4 days up in Franconia over the summer. I hiked Mt. Washington with my dad and a friend and then did some smaller hikes by myself the other days. The day I was leaving I got up early to go part way up Kinsman to Bald Peak. The whole way up I was wracking my brain to figure out how I could stay, run my law practice from New Hampshire, something.

    I cried when I left. Which had never happened in all my years of going up there. I think that time out in the woods by myself flicked some sort of switch in my brain and changed me.

    Even a small trip can be transformative.

  22. A year ago hiking for 3 days through Grayson Highlands/Mt Rogers was pretty special. There is something special about the hills of Scotland though. I used to love roaming the hills near our home in Dunoon, Argyllshire as a boy and looking down on the Firth of Clyde, As to your spiritual experience there is a story about a man traveling the world to visit churches to talk to God, each church had a golden phone and a sign to deposit $20 (or currency equivalent) to talk to God. When he got to Scotland the sign on the phone said to deposit 20p, he was confused and asked the local Vicar why only 20p while the rest were $20, “aach son, yer in Scotland now, it’s a local call.”

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