Sunday, November 29, 2009
After receiving the additional forms Nicole sent me in early November, I mailed them all back to her on the 16th. She call me the next Monday to tell me she had not yet received them and was sending me new copies in case they were lost in the mail. She also gave me my login information for my Toolkit, the handy webpage the Peace Corps uses to update my file. currently it looks like this:
I emailed Nicole back to let her know that my Toolkit shows they did receive my packet. She informed me they indeed have, but are still in processing.
Nicole emailed me yesterday, the 8th, saying that she had attempted to call me, but my number didn't go through. I must have slipped up when I entered it into the application. I quickly called her back, hoping she would still be in the office. Thankfully she was, and after a 20 second hold she located my file and told me she has received both the NAC form and the fingerprint cards I mailed her. I inquired about my toolkit reflecting the absence of my references, which were all submitted electronically with my application. After a little more digging, she confirmed that all that information was present as well.
Then came the statement I was waiting for: "I'd Like to schedule an interview to discuss you application and nomination." This is the first step that has to be taken in order for me to be invited to serve. Because the PC no longer has a Minnesota Office, Nicole and I will do a phone interview tomorrow morning. If all goes well, I'm hoping for a nomination within the week. That will at least ease my worrying a little about what I will do when I graduate in 5 months. Even though a nomination does not guarantee me a spot, it is definitely a step in the right direction.
In the meantime, I am busying myself with prep for my final examinations. Only a week and a half left till the end of the semester!
Sunday, November 15, 2009
However, I would like to announce another adventure I am hoping to undertake: the Peace Corps.
Becoming a Peace Corpse Volunteer means giving 27 months of service to a foreign culture. Upon departure, I will spend three months training for my specific placement and the remaining two years doing my actual job. I will begin to use this blog to document the entire process. Application, Nomination, Placement, Departure, Training, and Service. All of it will be recorded here. Through all this, this blog (now called Pack. It.Up Adventures in order to allow the incorporation of a wider base of activities) will continue to serve its original function.
I submitted my application for the Peace Corps on November 4th, 2009. To put it into perspective, the copy I printed was about 32 pages long and included my two essays, but did not include my lengthy resume. After submitting the actual application, I had to complete a 'brief' medical questionnaire that included a lot of conditions I've never heard of. I do have to say, though, that filling out all the 'no' boxes made me feel a lot better about my personal health!
On November 6th, I received an email from Nicole Redmond with the Chicago Peace Corps office. The email informed me that she was to be my recruiter and included several additional forms and files. The first two files were programs that I MAY qualify for: Secondary Education in Mathematics and Information & Communication Technology. I found it interesting that a file for Community Development wasn't included. When I email the forms back to Nicole I might ask her about that. Also attached we more forms for me to fill out (notice a trend yet?). The forms included skill description sheets for my teaching experience and my computer science experience. I also have to fill out a loan description sheet for my Federal Loans. Since all of my loans are from the government, they should (if I interpreted that right) stay deferred and subsidized while I serve in the Peace Corps.
I had a good laugh when I noticed that Nicole had also sent me a vegetarian sheet. Apparently I marked somewhere on my application that I am a vegetarian. Of course I'm not, but I had a lot of fun answering the questions on it anyway. I'll still submit it but I'll have to make sure to mention to Nicole that I am not actually a vegetarian. I read through my application and didn't find a box for that. Then again, its 32 pages. I probably missed it.
On November 7th, 2009, I received a large envelope in the regular mail from the Chicago Office that Nicole had sent as well. It contained a NAC background form and 2 fingerprint charts I needed to do. The letter opened with what I consider to be a very positive message:
Thank you for your interest in the Peace Corps. Your application has been received and will be reviewed in the coming weeks. After this preliminary review, you will be contacted via email with more instructions."
I have until November 18th to submit both the emailed forms and the mailed forms. I also need to submit an unofficial transcript from UMD.
I went to get my fingerprints taken on Friday. I now know I should not have waited...
I drove to the Courthouse in downtown Duluth and headed into the Sheriff's office. They informed me they only do fingerprints on Mondays and Wednesdays. Seeing as how I need the prints to Chicago by Wednesday, I booked an appointment for Monday. I really didn't want to wait till then, so I poked around the web a bit. I called the Hermantown PD to see if they do them. Also on Mondays and Wednesdays. My next turn was the Proctor PD. When I asked them if it were possible to get them done today, the lady informed me they only do them by appointment, but they had an open slot at 3:15 if I could get there in time. It was 2:45. I drove as fast as I could (the speed limit) to get some cash and get down to Proctor. 20 dollars and half an hour later I had 2 fingerprint cards ready to be mailed.
I only have a few minor forms left to collect and fill out before I can mail them back, which will hopefully happen on Monday. Then I wait for the next email.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
two bits of news.
But first, you'll have to excuse the absences as of late, things have been a little hectic. I'm still working an inflated schedule at the University, and there's no sign of letting up soon. That's good, though, because I'm broke and need money.
First bit of news: I'm happy to report that the Scotland documentary (To The Edge of a Dream) has now moved into the final stages of editing, and should be out for online release by September 8th, 2009. The full length feature will be approx. 35 minutes, with a few shorter versions made for quick digestion.
The big news:
Plans are starting to be solidified for Summer 2010, hence forth to be known as... well, I really haven't come up with a flashy name yet, so it'll be Summer of 2010 for now. I can't divulge the full details and time line yet, but here is what I can tell you.
The summer will start out with another trip up Minnesota's North Shore. I will then head to Colorado. From there I may leave the beaten path (in more ways than one) and head to the Sierra Nevadas. Those, however, are just the small trips for the summer. In mid July I will undertake a new adventure, one unlike anything I'm used to. Preparations have already started, classes are being taken, money raised, equipment checked and rechecked.
I will once again be gone for a month, but this time I will not be alone on my adventure, nor will there be much downtime like in Scotland. Normally, I do all my adventures by myself (hence the Travels of ONE Man). I take a considerable amount of heat for this from my family and friends. SO why do I choose to go solo? While it is potential more dangerous, it is also logistically and physically easier. There is no other person to speed me up or slow me down, to get hurt or be obnoxious. However, given the severity of what this major trip will entail, the relatively long duration, and the added dangers of its style, I have decided that doing this solo would only be more difficult, but downright dangerous and inconsiderate to those that do not wish to see me dead (which is hopefully all of you). Again, I don't want to spoil the surprise, so just hang tight. Its going to be totally awesome!
In addition, two podcast from Bob Cartwright's TGO Challenge 2009 series include interviews with me. They can be found at his website (backpackinglight.co.uk) and under the tab 'podcasts'. There was an article written about my trip that appeared in both the Savage Pacer and the Prior Lake American two weeks ago. Another article will appear this weekend in the Olivia Times-Journal (Renville County Register now I think?) for anyone out that way...that's you grandma and grandpa.
Monday, July 6, 2009
The weather is nice up in Duluth right now, and I'm hoping to be able to take some spare time and hit some quality trails with quality friends. Gotta start getting ready for the big plans next summer!
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Tuesday the 20th of May - Shielen of Mark Bothy to Tarfside.
It seems peculiar to build a stone shelter where the Shielen of Mark is. No matter which way you approach it, you have to cross at least a mile of track less heather bog, not to mention it isn't easy to spot from most of its surroundings.
To get out of the bothy and into Glen Lee towards Tarfside required even more miles of peat hags and bogs, in addition to fording the steam. For this reason our pact of seven set out very earlier. Indeed it was only 630 as we walked towards the water bank. We were somewhat relieved to see the steam was down a good 6 inches, although it still formed a formidable obstacle. With my boots strapped to the pack and my waist belt unclipped, I was in the middle of the group, with Graham last and Barbara sheltered between us. Wading out in front I positioned myself downstream. Graham stayed upstream of Barbara and we safely escorted her across. Not that she would have been unable to without help, it was just generally agreed that this would be much safer.
Once across the water and re-equipped, we began the bog hop and peat hag scramble towards our only landmark, an almost indistinguishable Muckle Cairn. Once atop the low high, we were able to pick up the track and make our way towards Tarfside.
Tarfside itself is no bigger than a small field. It consists of St. Drostains, a hostel that was staffed and open to Challengers, the attached church, some small houses, a camping field, and a Masonic Lodge that also acts as a bar. The hostel itself only held 15 people or so, but there was another 20 tucked in the back meeting room.
The playing field was much more lively, boasting some 67 tents at last count. Coupled with the hostelers, we figured nearly 130 Challengers were present that night. With so many challengers in one place, a pub meeting was inevitable. Ian and Anthony had caught me on the road earlier, and David soon rolled into town as well. A long night, and indeed a longer morning, ensued.
Wednesday the 21st of May - Tarfside to North Water Bridge.
With the smell of the North Sea, there was little variation among routes. Indeed Ian and Anthony headed further north, but I took about the fastest and quickest route possible. Following the road southeast, it has become a Challenge custom to stop in the village of Edzell for some food. And indeed there were a good few challengers there when I arrived, but I chose to pass on the food. Ahead was a 4 mile road walk along a straight and flat bit where no car seemed to notice you.
The caravan site was once again overloaded with challengers. Nightfall saw a 52 tents pitched, and refreshments bought in Edzell were passes about.
Thursday the 22nd of May - North Water Bridge to St. Cyrus.
With only 7 more miles to the coast, all of which were on roads, I took my time breaking camp. Following the random back roads and streets dropped me into the small community of St. Cyrus. Heading towards the beach, a steady stream of Challengers flowed the opposite way. Stopping to congratulate each other and shake hands, it felt like ages before I reached the cliff. Making my way down, I reached the shore in time to catch Steve Smith and Jenny Headscarf. After a short but cold swim, it was a quick lunch t the cafe and a taxi (we managed to miss the bus) into Montrose to report to Finish Control.
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Thursday, May 28, 2009
I couldn't face it much longer. Having purged my route of every munro but one, and with only two opportunities left, I decided I would bag at least one today. The original plan was to summit Lochnagar and then continue on the track westwards and then southwards, adding 3 or 4 more summits as well.
The initial climb was going well. When I reported in to Challenge Control the day before on Braemar, I'd been warned that the weather was going to deteriorate once more, but there was a chance the summits would still lie beneath the clouds. About three quarters of the way up a layer of fog rolled in, but I was above it by the time I reached 1000 meters. Making my way to the cairn marking the smaller summit at 1150 meters, the weather quickly closed in around me. At the first cairn I encountered 4 challengers who were from Italy. Having just came the way they planned to descend, I was in the middle of outlining the path on their map when two local gentlemen appeared from the mist who were headed the same way.
Setting of for the short dash to the actual summit at 1156 meters, the wind and the rain picked up dramatically. Reaching the cairn, I took cover among the rocks and fully outfitted myself for the worst. I decided that more high level routes would be dangerous in these conditions, and ditched on my plans to bag more munros. Talking a compass bearing of southeast (visibility was about 5 feet) I quickly descended down what I hoped to be the path to Loch Muick. By the some I was out of the clouds and in tolerable weather, ice was forming on my shoulders and pack. I made my way down the Glass Allt and took a much deserved break. When I met Anthony and Ian in Braemar yesterday, they both has the plan to come over Lochnagar, only from the west side. It worried me to think they must be up there in that storm.
With rain on the horizon I took off for the Loch Muick visitors center, where three challengers awaited. One was Weird Darren (Whitespider1066.com) and another was Jenny Wheeler, who had come to be called Jenny Headscarf because she always wore a bandanna. The third I cannot remember. The final leg of today's jaunt included a tiny track up a gorge valley which eventually died out.
The bothy, unfortunately, lie on the other side of a large peat bog and was tucked into the hill. Its said that you can follow either stream around the hill and run right into the bothy, but with so much rainfall and extra streams I was worried about losing my way. So I took a compass bearing of 111 degrees and trompt off through the bog. Coming to the edge of the bog and with the bothy's steam in sight, I wad concerned that I had somehow lost the bothy. Taking two steps forward revealed that the bothy was a mere 10 feet away.
The Shielen of Mark Bothy is incredibly tiny. There were 4 of us there that night, myself, Steve Smith, the 80 year old Barbara, and her daughter, with several more outside. I was relieved to see Anthony and Ian both arrive in good time. We were all concerned about the stream, however, as it was in spate and very difficult for even a strong person to cross. All we could do was hope the stream would lower by the morning, and we formed a pact to all cross early and together, it was the four of us in the bothy as well as Jenny Headscarf, Graham, and Barbara's niece.
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With another dismal day coming as far as weather was concerned, I abandoned all thoughts of climbing the Cairngorms and continued on the track through Glen Feshie, which would deposit me at the south end of the Lairig Ghru at White Bridge.
12 of us set out from the bothy that morning on the same track through the Glen, although we were relatively spaced out. A series of small but steep land slips in the Feshie made for an interesting morning, along with more than our fair share of spated rivers. I walked most of the day with Anna (from Poland). After inching my way ahead of her, we met again at white bridge, where we had both originally planned to camp. Ironically, the bridge is not actually white.
However, due to the early hour and wet everything, Anna and I decided to press east towards a Youth hostel marked on the map. Having exerted a fair amount of effort with her large pack, Anna had been able to keep up with me until then. Considering that I was down to a mere 25 pound bag and feeling good, this was some feat. As I trudged along the road and came to the Linn of Dee, I noticed signs from the Mar Lodge Estate welcoming Challengers with free tea and a £15 bed far the night.
Having forgot that Mar Lodge was open to us, I dashed about as fast as my legs would carry me. Now owned by the National Trust for Scotland, Mar Lodge was built as a hunting lodge for some obscure royalty and now sits on some 77,000 acres. Following the signs, I made my way to the Challenge area to find 20 of my fellows already there, including a good portion from the night before. Dinner was served (venison of the estate!) for £5, which was a very hard deal to pass up. But I was still carrying extra GORP and had no plans to carry it any further. Anna pulled in an hour or two later after discovering the Youth Hostel was no longer open. Other challengers included Mike Knipe, Jean Turner, Lilo Lil(Pete), Russ, Bert Hendrikse, and many others.
A fireside chat and two baths later, I curled into the white linens of the finest bed I have ever slept in. 30 seconds later I was asleep.
Sunday the 17th of May - Mar Lodge to Gelder Shiel.
When I'm hiking as late in the day as I was in Scotland, I find it somewhat difficult to get up early. Compound that with a nice bed and the prospect of a short day saw me leaving Mar Lodge at near 9!
From the lodge it was a quick two hour jaunt to Braemar, where a good set of challengers were staying the previous night. On the Challenge, Braemar gets a reputation for being the start of the "pub crawl." for some challengers, they apply the ethos of the event to their consumption of whiskey as well. Even at noon, many of the local eateries were occupied by challengers. The first place several challengers flagged me into was Gordon's, perhaps the first non house I passed. An hour later I made my first of many attempts to depart Braemar, but got pulled in to the classic challenge hotel, the Fife Arms. Several hours later, I made it about another half kilometer to the local chippy where the Four Yorks pulled me in for the remains of their chips. Facing a three hour walk to the bothy, I finally hoofed out of Braemar at near 5.
It was them through the Queen's estate, aka the Balmoral Estate. Such a lovely place to walk through! Heading towards Lochnagar, a munro I hoped to reach tomorrow, I arrived at Gelder Shiel Bothy just in time to claim a spot inside. Several familiar faces were about, which was easy given the 30 of us that were there.
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Monday, May 25, 2009
By the start of week two, my food weight on my kit had dropped from 26 pounds to near 13 pounds, making things a bit easier. That was off set slightly when I discovered that I move much slower with alcohol still pumping through my veins.
And so it was quite a task to keep up with Anthony and David (who clearly were less effected by the alcohol and still able to move at our normal fast pace) but we all rolled into Kingussie in fairly good time. Having just posted 300 grams of maps home, Anthony chose to offset the weight difference with a few cans of beer. Ian caught up with us, but dashed off to the train station to make a phone call. With all four of us moving our separate ways soon anyway, the three of us set off foe Ruthven Barracks and onto Tromie bridge. There, david and Anthony would continue further north on the road and part ways a bit later. At the bridge we once again ran into the four yorks. I walked with them until the edge of the Inshriach forest, where they too continued north while I cut through the southern edge of the forest. That track would bring me into Glen Feshie, but not before I ran into two more challengers, a husband and wife team whose names escape me (this may be a reoccuring trend). I left them as they broke for lunch and continued on towards the Feshie.
Once I reached the river I had to face cutting even more munros from my route. My main route took me up the west side of the Cairngorms and to a high level camp at the Wells of Dee. However I made the decision to NOT move up the summits and instead followed the FWA towards the bothy.
In hindsight, this was perhaps the best decision I made. Winds on top of the plateau where I'd planned to camp would have been too strong even to walk in. In addition, my only safety net wed have been to ditch down into the Lairig Ghru and into Corrour Bothy.
Corrour bothy is in fact so small that i've heard with even just 5 people you have your legs hanging out the door. Those who chose to come ever the Lairig Ghru that day got hit so hard with the weather that almost all of them ditch onto the bothy. By nightfall 14 people were holled up in that bothy, including one of the 80 year old challengers, Barbara. With almost no chance (nor desire) to pitch a tent exposed at 600 meters, the "Corrour 14" as they became known must have been sleeping shoulder to shoulder on the floor.
In contrast, there were perhaps 10 of us in Ruighaiteachain Bothy. at 350 meters and among the trees, there were a good amount of people pitched outside as well. The bothy was well stocked with firewood by the Feshie estate so we had a blazing fire all night long. Famed Challenger Jean Turner was there as well, and Anna from Poland.
I wasn't too bummed about missing out on the summits that day. I knew deep down that I made the correct decision, and that the hills would ways be there. Curdled up by the fire with my shoes and socks finally getting dry (a relative term) I had the best sleep in a week.
If you were on the challenge and are reading this, do not hesitate to correct any errors you see. If you have more accurate information or walked/stayed with me, please let me know so I can include that information.
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An explanation and history of the Challenge
What hiking in Scotland is like
Gear and food lists
The planning process
Day 0 in Oban
A greatly expanded day by day section
Tons of photos
Secondly, there will once again be a 3318 documentary produced from the photo and video of the challenge.
Lastly, there will be a 1-hour presentation on the Challenge and the culture of the Scottish Highlands. This is in coordination with the Alworth Institute at UMD and is currently set for THURSDAY, OCTOBER 8th at 12noon in the library at UMD.
On with the recall:
Monday the 11th of May - Loch Cairian Bothy to Lairig Leacach Bothy.
After the hard long day yesterday and the unplanned bog-hopping near the end, I was reluctant to leave the bothy. After waiting until noon for socks to dry, I made my way further north, passing Loch Treig and on into the Lairig Leacach towards Roybridge. I stopped at the bothy and once again cancelled my plans to summit the two munros to the east.
Tuesday the 12th of May - Lairig Leacach Bothy to Luib-Chonnel Bothy
The original plan out of the bothy that morning was to make for Tulluck station and wild camp at Tom Mor at near 800 meters. The summits would have been clear and an ascent was possible, but my battered and blistered feet had already endured enough. Feeling a little down about canceling more summits from my route, I made my way into Roybridge. The problem here arises that, although called Roybridge, there is no actual bridge over the river Spean. This forced me to add 3k moving towards Speanbridge and quickly (and slightly illegally) dashing across an active railroad bridge. After walking back along the river and reaching the south end of Glen Roy, it was time to phone Challenge Control to report in.
It was then that I learned the scattered showers I had in Oban had translated much heavier further north. The combination of rain, wet ground, and now burning heat had caused some 30 Challengers to drop out. Suddenly I felt much better about myself and pressed on up Glen Roy, reaching Luib-Chonnel Bothy by 8.
Having traveled north for 5 days now, I had seen very few challengers. When I reached the bothy, however, there were several challengers camped outside and a few more inside. After a good discussion and a goodnight I went up to the loft and once again passed out.
Wednesday the 13th of May - Luib-Chonnel Bothy to Gharva Bridge wildcamp.
Having not camped high in the mountains last night and instead moved up Glen Roy, I was rather far ahead of schedule (at a time when the rain had put some people a day behind). Leaving late once again (me and mornings don't do well) I followed the track around towards Melgarve Bothy, finally turning east. When I reached this bothy, a healthy number of challengers were having lunch. Melgarve sits at the intersection of Glen Roy and the Corryarick Pass, so it acts as a natural funnel.
Deciding that 2pm was too early to stop for the day, I moved a bit further east to Gharva bridge, where we ended the day with some 12 tents all told. While pitching my tent I chatted with Anthony, who was pitched next to me. A few moments later, Ian came and joined us. Both had come over the Corryarick that morning and I had met both at Melgarve bothy a few hours before. As the lighted faded, the 4 yorks came strolling on. The 4 were carrying large packs and moved perhaps slower than I, but then again so did most, and the 4 were physically fit enough to be able to easily handle their loads. After munching down some gorp and watching the sunset with Anthony, I bedded down for the night.
Thursday the 14th of May - Gharva bridge wildcamp to Newtonmore campsite
Waking slightly after most of the others along the river, I made my oatmeal and hot cocoa and proceeded to break camp. Anthony left just before I did, heading off towards Laggan Stores with David, who was camped just on the other side of me. Within an hour, Ian and I were trudging down the pavement towards the shop, and nearly caught David and Anthony before we arrived at Laggan.
In addition to having a public flush toilet, laggan makes a very convenient resupply point because the store there stocks nearly everything. However, as we were heading into Newtonmore anyway, that would be a better resupply point and I ready had plenty of food.
The 4 Yorks appeared as we were leaving, and we continued on the road for a bit. Just as we reached the castle, Ian Anthony and I turned north to bypass some of the pavement and get into the hills a little. David continued along the road as it was shorter and his leg had started to hurt a bit. After stopping at a cozy estate bothy, we continued on to Newtonmore, where Ian was booked in at a B&B and the rest of us continued to the campsite.
It was once again time to phone Control, where I was advised that the sunshine of the previous 4 days was about to run out.
As Anthony David and I made our way to the bar, we were met once again by the 4 Yorks, who were also heading for the campsite. Ian met us at the pub, and a good time was had by all.
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For those who cannot wait until I make it back to the states, here is a quick rundown of the 2009 TGO Challenge. Please note that these will be short and quick as i'm typing on a 3 inch screen. It is also in dire need of a spell check.
Friday the 8th of May - Oban to Cadderlie bothy.
It was hard waking up after the celebrations with the hostel staff the night before, but I somehow managed to organize the kit and meander down to the youth hostel to sign out. A good few of the challengers had stayed at the youth hostel itself (presumably to avoid the kilometer walk I had before I actually signed off) and I passed them in a steady stream along the coast. I stopped and chatted with a few, including one who knew I MUST be the young american on a solo crossing. But the scattered rain drew the conversation to a halt as he darted off for the ferry to Lismore and I ducked in to sign out.
As it were there are very few good ways out of Oban. Probably the most common is to catch a ferry to the small island of Lismore and then again later in the day to Appin. Another is to head east and come around the south side of Loch Etive. However, as I was heading as far north as Glen Roy, I opted to head for Connel and the falls of Lora, then along the west side of the loch.
After tromping up the gravel road for a bit and getting passed by quite a few royal mail trucks, I ran into my first set of Challengers. Low and behold, it was Bob and Rose Cartwright, with their daughter Beth in tow. I recognized Bob immediately from his podcasts, which I had used extensively to plan my crossing. The 4 of us walked on to the bridge where the Cartwright were heading further up the coast before turning in land in a few days time. So by myself once again, I followed the road and navigated around the Bonawe Query before coming to the bothy to end the day.
Saturday the 9th of May - Cadderlie both to wild camp at Kinlochetive.
A relatively uneventful day as it rained and I walk on disappearing trails and wet ground. After reaching the head of Loch Etive, I crossed the river in hopes Kinlochetive Both was still open, but to no avail.
My high level route took me up Ben Starav, but the high wind and snowfall on top cancelled those plans. I found a decent flat spot to camp and pitched down early for the night.
Sunday the 10th of May - wild camp at kinlochetive to Loch Chairian Bothy.
Showers persisted through the early morning and I headed back across the river to pick the track back up for the Lairig Groutain. As I was making my way along the road, I spotted three walkers approaching from behind, and quickly recognized them as the Cartwrights. Their coastal path had run out earlier than expected and they had come over the hills through the not so great weather the day before. Happy to beck in company, we trudged up the pass with me in the rear, still trying to get used to the added weight of 14 days of food in my bag. At the top of the pass they continued on towards Kinlochleven and I climbed east to summit Stoab Dearg. After a hairy but fast descent, I bushwhacked a few kilometers north to the Black water Damn. After hurrying across, I attempted to follow the non-exsistant path towards the bothy, which turned into a heather bog. With the last rays of light, I stumbled into the bothy at nearly 1030 and proceeded to peal the soaked socks off my aching feet and pass out on the floor in my sleeping bag.
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Tuesday, May 19, 2009
With a short 8 mile walk and a cold dip in the North Sea at St. Cyrus, I completed the TGO Challenge today, successfully traversing the country in 14 days. Now in Montrose, I will remain here until saturday, when a train will take me to back to Glasgow. More news then!
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Thursday, May 7, 2009
When I awoke this morning I was greeted by a welcome omen: the sun was shining and no rain was falling. After packing up my gear for the Challenge, I rounded up the rest of my belongings and checked them in with the hostel front desk. My train left at 12:20, so I was near an hour and a half early getting to the station. When I arrived, a small band of challengers had already accumulated. The first person to approach me was Dave, another first-timer who recognized me from my rucksack. It so happens that Dave is also using Golite's Pinnacle. After meeting several more challengers, including uncle Roger, our coordinator, and a pint of beer courtesy of Dave (thanks again), we headed for the train : Dave in the back half bound for his start-point, Shiel Bridge, and me on the front half, bound for Oban.
At 9 tomorrow morning i'll head down to the Youth Hostel to sign the official TGO Challenge logbook, and then the challenge will officially be on.
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Wednesday, May 6, 2009
I have arrived in Glasgow and am getting prepared far the hike. So far, not one kilt...
It rained most of the day yesterday as well as today. I hope tomorrow will be a little nicer, but I can handle the rain.
The next leg of my journey starts on thursday morning, when I will travel 100 miles by train up the west coast to Oban. at 9 am friday morning my hike will officially be underway.
All is well so far, and everything seems to be falling into place nicely. I still cannot believe this is actually going to happen!
Farewell for now
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Sunday, May 3, 2009
180 miles my car. 4883 miles by plane. 10 miles by bus. 104 miles by train.
250 miles by foot. Talk about some travel.
It certainly has been an experience so far. I'd me more than satisfied having it just be over now, but I find that would be a waste (and I'm too excited!). We all know something like this isn't easy to pull off, logistical or physically. Shortened semesters, too many work hours, late nights planning routes, gear tests (the rain suit test in the shower was probably the most fun), worry, panic, calm down, panic five minutes later. Its been a long time coming, but now the trip is here. It is finally time to say my goodbye.
And with that I wish to thank everyone whose helped me with the project. I thank everyone whose let me complain about my problems to them. Without you guys, I'd be even more of a nervous wreck.
I do plan on updating this blog during the trip. I may also do some twitter along the way. Should you need me, I hope it can wait till June!
The above link takes you to probably the most time-consuming part of this Challenge. It details, in full, exactly where I plan to walk once in Scotland.
The map here shows the Main Level route. This is the route that I hope to take the most often, as it is the longer of the two, and contains the most challenge. After clicking the above link, you'll find another one for my username (grun0177). Clicking that will take you to the other two maps for this Challenge.
The second map is my Fowl Weather Alternative. Should the weather close in on me and make hiking a little more dangerous, I'll stick to this Route. My FWA is almost always the quickest way between two points, and never exposes myself or goes above 600 meters. It'll function as a backup plan in case the Main Route becomes infeasible.
The third maps is place marks. You'll notice, the usual. Hotels, cities, airports. There are, however, a series of blue and yellow marks. The blue marks represent a Munro I expect to climb, while the yellow marks represent a Corbett. The Munro's are the common name for mountains above 3,000 feet (910 Meters), while the Corbetts are between 2,500 feet and 3,000 feet tall. In total, there are 284 Munros and 220 Corbetts.
You'll also notice that my path is in no way a straight line. In fact, it is rather like a semi-circle. This is partly due to a series of rather wide mountain ranges being in the way, but really because its more fun this way!!!
A method that I adopted from one Andrew Skurka is much more efficient. Referred to as the 'calorie drip' method, it is designed to keep food in your stomach and give you calories throughout the day, instead of just all at once. While food is something personal that all backpackers need to determine for themselves, I feel that this system would work very very well for just about anyone!
From the chart above, you can see the full breakdown. Here's a brief explanation:
I start out in the morning with hot cocoa, two oatmeal packets, and a Snickers bar. The hot cocoa is main just because hot liquids after a cold night feel amazing. The Snickers give me a real quick shot of sugar and fat, just long enough to keep me energized until the more complex energy stored in the oatmeal can kick in.
About every two hours, I take a 5-minute break and have a snack. Every meal, save breakfast, is designed to be eaten on the move, minimizing the time I am forced to stop. First comes an Attain bar fro Melaleuca, which gives me an all-around nutritional input. At the same time is a serving of GORP(peanuts, M&M's, and raisins), which gives me an extra boost of energy for the day. Twice a day I have 3 ounces of Pringles, which equates to a can a day. Some of you may be going "wait, Pringles? Why on Earth?" Pringles have an extremely high calorie-to-ounce ratio, making them extremely efficient. In addition, the contain a good amount of both sodium and fat.
You may notice that I have no dinner. I find dinner time is a pretty poor time to be eating food. When you eat large amounts of food juts before you fall asleep, you body cannot fully metabolize the nutrition. While eating before bed may help keep you warmer, it also produces a great deal more body fat, effectively wasting those nutrients.
While I will be consuming nearly 4,000 calories a day, this food will not be enough to maintain by body weight. In fact, I anticipate that I will lose somewhere between 5 and 10 pounds in these 14 days. However, I've analyzed every piece of this list, and am confident that this layout is exactly what I need to get me across Scotland.
Monday, April 27, 2009
However, I still have so much to do. Two group projects and a 20-page paper are still incomplete, and I have three finals to take on Thursday. In addition, it was recently finalized that I will be presenting a spotlight presentation on Scotland's Highland Culture for the Alworth Institute for International Studies here in Duluth on October 8th. Because of that, I have just another small stack of paper added to the slowly diminishing heap that is my desk.
I mentioned in my last post (nearly a full month ago!!) that I had two new pieces of gear. One was the Contrail Tent, which I already posted about, and the other finally made its way to my door. One of the minor oversights on made on the Superior Trail was not having a pair of gloves. In addition to warmth, gloves would have helped with the chaffing from the trekking poles (not very pleasant). Because of those two main reasons, I've spent the last few months trying on glove after glove, looking for one that is jsut what I need.
For this trip, I have decided to again go with a brand that is very familiar with the outdoors; Outdoor Research. While they make many fine gloves designed to keep your hands warm, they are all pretty bulky. The ones I settled on are the Alibi Gloves.
Pioneered for ice climbers, the Alibi has sticky palms that allow better grip rain or shine. Constructed Mainly out of Neoprene and Nylon, the Alibi hugs your palm and fingers tight enough to keep the water out while still allowing you to perspire and not feel waterlogged. The outside edge, along the pinky, is injected with a gel padding to cushion impacts and resist scraps. The cuff, made out of Neoprene as well, has been thermo-formed to contour tightly to the wrist, stopping water from entering there as well.
The Alibi Gloves also have pull-loops on the wrist to make them easier to get on. The velcro straps have a bite strip on the end, allowing you to still be able to put the glove on when your other hand is full. At 5.4 ounces, they are extremly light when compared to the 1 pound alternatives.
At first, I was concerned about their ability to keep my hands warm. However, I wore them for close to and hour in my apartment and my hands were starting to sweat. I suppose having the Neoprene that tight against your hand is what does it. After all, Neoprene isn't that thick of a meterial.
I'll make two posts before I board the place; one detailing my Route and another with the final farewell before I leave. However, both of these will ahve to wait till after thursday night so I can get my homework done!
Sunday, April 5, 2009
So much for out like a lamb.
None of that bothered me as I opened my mailbox to find the purple package slip was finally there. That's the sucky thing about living on campus; mail takes an extra day to reach me.
Success! I was first in line when the mail room opened at 2:00 and was quickly signing the dotted line. As I headed home, I had to resist the urge to rip apart the box and marvel at its contents. Not wanting to be stared at too awkwardly, I chose to wait for the privacy of my living room.
This was the piece of gear that I had never quite gotten around to getting... ever. In preparation to my Superior Trail hike, I never quite found a tent that fit my needs, plus my funds were extremely limited then. That led me to the tent I've been using since; a five pound bullet-proof Wenzel Ranger. While that tent is nice, it was/is WAAAY more than I will ever need for my style of hiking. I have to admit, I was rather disappointed that The One from Gossamer Gear wouldn't work out for me, but I think I found something just as good.
With no more crazy narratives, I give you Henry Shires' Contrail.
I discovered this tent a few months back, put wasn't planning on buying one because I had The One all lined up. However, after that situations change, this tent seems like my best bet.I know I've said that a lot, so I bet you want to know why...
The first good reason is because it's lightweight, weighing in at about 24 ounces. While a pound and a half isn't too remarkable, it'll be a lot better than the 5+ I was carrying. Another good reason I like it is because its a tent, but it also incorporates some great concepts from the tarp variety. Instead of having the traditional seamless four-wall and floor style, the waterproof shell is basically a staked-out tarp. The break-point in the front is created by pitching a trekking pole while the back is partially supported by two 12" struts. The bathtub-style floor is over 7 feet long and 30-42 inches wide, making it more than spacious. The bathtub floor then connects to the layer of big netting, which extend out to the shell. basically what this does is minimize the possibility of contact with the shell, which could result in water transfer.
The front also extends to act as a vestibule, allowing me to keep my gear there instead of at my side or feet. The picture above shows the foot-end open (did I mention it could do that?) as well as the shell has slightly off the ground. In windy, wet, or stormy condition (like Scotland), the rear struts can be lowered in order to bring the shell all the way to the ground, preventing water and wind from penetrating under the tarp. While the floor is 'waterproof,' I will still use a second layer groundsheet (Tyvek) to stop water and protect the tent itself.
The fabric for both the shell and the floor is a high-tenacity ripstop nylon that has been impregnated with silicon (commonly referred to as Silnylon). While not 100% waterproof, it will be waterproof under anything but high-velocity wind and rain (or if I pitch in a lake or river by mistake).
In addition, it does not need to be rolled, pampered, or babied like a normal tent does. It comes with a stuff sack that allows the tent to shrunk down to about 14" by 4" and dropped inside my pack.
normally, I would include pictures or the tent in action, or tell you how its better then it looks, yada yada yada. However, with the lack of space in my tiny 4-person apartment and a good 6 inches of snow outside, that hasn't quite happened yet. Hopefully within the coming weeks I'll be able to pitch it up and try it out for a night. Nevertheless, I fell very confident in this tent's attributes and abilities.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
The first is my new tent. Originally, I had planned to go with The One from Gossamer Gear. From looking at the specs, this tent is quite literally on the cutting edge of technology. As far as I know, it is the lightest fully enclosed tent to offer both bug and water protection. However, Gossamer just revamped their design for their 2009 models, and Grant (always a good guy) from Gossamer informed me that the run won't be completed until April and, although he did guarantee I would have it one by May, it wouldn't be until the last weeks of April that it actually arrived here in Duluth. A little to small of a time window, I thought. In addition, The One now sells for $295, which, for a broke college student, is a good chuck on change. Without a time constraint and my lack of money, this tent would absolutely be in my kit, and I look forward to including it later in my hiking adventures.
After much thought and searching, I have decided to go with another homegrown, USA manufacturer: Henry Shires' Tarptents. The concepts of the Tarptent are identical (or nearly) to that of Gossamer's The One. The specs on Henry Shires' work are impeccable, and their reputation speaks volumes. Tarptents have been used by all manner of outdoor enthusiasts for all manner of trips in all sorts of countries. Another improvement point is that Tarptent specializes in tents and only tents, while companies like Gossamer Gear, although great, make a wider ranger of products. The ideas that go into a Tarptent are fresh, original, and efficient.
The second piece of gear to arrive soon is my gloves. Traditionally, I don't use gloves unless its extremely cold. However, I've been searching for a decent multipurpose glove that is still lightweight and functionable. My first idea was something like Neoprene. However, neoprene is not something you can get for very cheap, and it's also rather thick, so it looses most of its dexterity when made into a complex pattern like gloves. For this reason, I've decided to go with another of my favorite companies: Outdoor Research. The mini gaitors I wear are made by outdoor research, and I've also used their hats and gloves before. Their construction is solid and their gloves in particular seem to do very well.
Both of these new pieces of gear should arrive this coming week. When they do and after I've looked them over and tested them, I'll share my findings here. Don't want to ruin the surprise (or look like a fool!)
Friday, February 20, 2009
As that old song goes, "these boots were made for walking." Unlike the song states, they're not actually boots.
There has always been this association between hikers and these monstrous boots that are made of all leather, completely bomb-proof, and weigh about 10 pounds. Unless you are climbing Everest, there is almost no practical purpose for these boots. In a nutshell, they are 'over-constructed.' Sadly, anyone whom has ever taken a weekend retreat or visited a popular state park has seen hikers with boots like these, tramping on like they're about to conquer the world, and now they have the boots to do it with!
In reality, the solution to this over-constructed boot is so simple: the shoe. Anyone whom has ever gone for a run in their favorite tennis shoe and ventured onto a trail knows that they still work. With a few modifications to the sole and some added stiffness, the cross-trainer was born.
Cross-trainers, or hybrids, are just that; a combination of the durability and safety of a boot with the comfort and lightness of a running shoe. Usually only ankle-high, the cross-trainer will almost always be marketed as "having the sole of a hiking boot." Yeah...right. While the cross-trainer incorporates so many fantastic things from both side of the spectrum, it is inconceivable to take the sole of a hiking boot and transpose it onto a shoe, partly because the shoe needs to remain flexible, and the sole of the hiker is simply too ridged.
It is important to note that the decisions you make about shoes (or boots) are 10% dependent on what others say, and 90% dependent on how they feel. After all, you will be the one wearing them. If you want to wear 3 pound boots that are more comfortable than their 1 pound counterpart, that is entirely your decision. There will be positives and negatives to every piece of footwear. You simply need to find the one that work the best for you.
For Scotland, I could come up with many good reasons to justify bringing a pair of boots with me. However, I feel that the cross-trainers are more comfortable and more in line with the way I walk. For that reason, I have decided to use of pair of Moabs by Merrell. There is a range of reasons I chose these shoes:
-They're lightweight. At a whole 31 ounces, they may not be the lightest available, but they're awfully close.
-Full Gore-Tex® XCR® protection. While no boot or shoe is 100% waterproof, these do a pretty good job with knowledgeable use, of course). In addition, they also are breathable, allowing water that did make it in, along with sweat and condensation, to escape.
-Vibram® soles. I love Vibram, as you'll see further on in the post. The soles of these shoes are made with TC5+ rubber, allowing for ultimate traction with plenty of flexibility.
-Durability. I was hesitant to by these at first becuase I'd heard many horror stories about them falling apart mid walk. But I have probably close to 500 trail miles on this pair and, after a wash, they look brand new. Trust me, this pair has taken a beating, too. Lets just say there was a small incident involving a bridge-less crossing of the Encampment River in spate. Through thick and thin, these shoes took it all!
While I really like these shoes and the price I paid for them ($50!!!!), there are shoes out there on the market I would like to try. Namely the GoLite line of shoes. GoLite has yet again innovated hiking. Their new shoes incorporate a 'metamorphic suspension' much like the independent suspension in a car. Which mean that instead of the cushioning the foot-bed of a shoe, they made the tred conform to the trail. While these would undoubtedly be some remarkable shoes, they are a bit pricey (think $200+) and are hard to find in stores.
However, there are times when a single pair of shoes will not cut it. There are other times when you just want to get those smelly things off your feet! For those reasons I have chosen to also pack with my pair of Vibram Five Fingers.
These shoes have been called many names by people who see me wearing them around (I think the best yet was 'duck shoes'). However, these are a pair of shoes that will never leave my side. The human foot is said to be one of the most complex parts of our body, with 26 bones and upwards of 100 muscles. In addition, research has shown that while shoes are sometimes necessary to protect us, they weaken our foot and leg muscles and leave them open to injury. Five Fingers help promote a more natural gait and are very ergonomic. Walking in them is virtually identical to walking barefoot, although the TC1 grade rubber on the bottom removes the pain, so much that I can and do routinely walk on graval and trail in them with no pain.
While walking in them is great, backpacking in them would require a little more effort. The main problem here is that they have literally zero arch support, so walking with a loaded pack is more strenuous than if you were in shoes. However, like all activity, ability comes with time. It took me several weeks to be able to comfortably walk for an entire day with these on. Given enough training, I'm sure I could manage with only the Five Fingers. However, I plan to restrict their use to river-fording and around camp/town use.
I am prepared to invest my full confidence in these shoes. I am comfortable saying I have faith these pieces of gear will only aid me in all my endeavors.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
This essential piece of equipment has many different names, including rucksack, backpack, and campbag. Regardless of what you call it, it serves the same function; to protect you gear while making it all easily portable. Many years ago, almost all packs (the term I use most frequently) were built with little thought to not only weight, but also their ability to repel water. The fabric was heavy, although tough, and included many things that would be considered outrageous by almost anyone today.
When the lightweight and ultralight movements started (partly because of one company discussed a little later on here), we started to see the use of special nylons and polyethylene fibers. Soon, companies we 'impregnating' nylon with silicone, making it super strong and still rather light. The problem, however, is that the stronger the fabric, the heavier it is (generally). This is where Dyneema® gridstop nylon come into play. Although Dyneema is not fully waterproof, this allows the fabric to be breathable, allowing the wet air to escape. Dyneema is so light, in fact, that it will actually float on water. The fabric itself is also chemical and UV resistant. We've proven it's light, but how strong is it? Consider this: armed forces around the world use it as a bullet resistant insert, mainly because its twice as strong as Kevlar by weight.
Because of its high strength and low weight, GoLite has started building their packs out of Dyneema-reinforced 210 denier (medium/light-weight) ripstop nylon. In my opinion, Golite's quality is most evident in their Pinnacle pack.
Weighing in at a maximum 0f 26 oz, the Pinnacle (pictured at right packed full) is one of the largest packs by volume to weigh in as an ultra-light. With a maximum fill of 72 liters (4400 cubic inches), I will never have to worry about not having room. In fact, I chose this pack specifically for this trip because of its large capacity. With a no resupply at all I will need to carry 14 days worth of food. With nearly 28 oz per day, that's 24.5 POUNDS OF FOOD, which is far more than the average bag can hold, weight or volume-wise.
Another reason I chose this bag was the front pocket. While not too large, it is large enough to stash all my maps in, allowing for easy access when needed. Although I will still have to take off the pack, I won't have to go digging through everything inside the main compartment to find them. And with 8 different maps, I will be switching almost once a day. In addition to convenience, the pocket also has a light-weight zipper that is fully waterproof. This will allow me to put one more barrier between the rain and my only navigational resources.
You'll also notice in the picture on the left that the Pinnacle has a very bare-bones suspension system. There's a saying that the first place you should be ok with adding weight to is the suspension system on your pack. A good suspension can make a 40 pound weight fell like 20. I spent at least two hours in the store with this pack, trying it on and checking the straps. Here's a rundown of why this system works:
-The flat part you see at left is due to a foam insert that acts as the frame.At only 2 oz, its worth keeping in (I feel), and it's essential in order to keep things from shifting while walking and poking you in the back.
-The shoulder straps are padded from seam to seam. Although this adds a little weight, that's negated by not needing padding in the hip belt. There are also straightener straps that keep the top of the pack from tilting you backwards.
-The hip belt's main (and only) function is to keep the bottom of the pack nice and close, which improves your balance. While some hip belts will distribute a good amount of weight on your hips, I feel this not only hinders my natural stride, but is also unnecessary for weights under 40 pounds. I can, however, lower the pack a little and place a small amount of the weight onto my lumbar region for a short duration of time.
Another main problem I face is that once I near the end of the journey, I will have a lot less in my pack due to the consumption of food. One of the most annoying things a hiker can be forced to endure is the contents of his/her pack sloshing around because of empty space. Not with the Pinnacle, however! GoLite has invented a ComPACKtor system that incorporates two small compression straps on each side of the pack, allowing me to reduce it from 72 liters to only 26 liters. That means no matter how much is in my pack, I will be comfortable knowing nothing is sloshing around!
In short, this pack is both durable and light, the two main features I need. While I have not fully tested it in the field (kind of hard in snow and ice), I am prepared to invest my full confidence in this pack. I am comfortable saying I have faith this piece of gear will only aid me in all my endeavors.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Although, in that month I have been pretty busy. I worked full time for nearly four weeks while back home in the cities, stashing up just enough money to purchase my plane ticket. Which leads me to the next event. Prior to this past week, Challenge 2009 was still tentative. With the purchase of my plane ticket, there is absolutely no backing out now. It's either step up and do it, or take the $1000 hit I've spent on travel and accommodations.
Now that I have cemented my decision to do the TGO Challenge this year, I have tons of work left. The most prevalent of which is getting my route planned and submitted, where an esteemed vetter will look at my route and give me feedback on feasibility, safety, and underfoot. For this Challenge, the decision was made to have two due dates for route submissions. The first, which was the last day in January, was for an returning challengers. Clearly not me! The date I do have to worry about, then, is February 28th, when all other routes are due including my own.
The way the route criteria works is like this. Challengers fill out a Route Sheet, either a paper format or an electronic format, with the information of where they plan to go each day, elevation change, total distance in kilometers, and their stopping point for the night. In addition to my planned route, I need to plan a Foul Weather Alternative, or FWA. The FWA needs to be enacted to bypass any stretch of route that either leaves me exposed to severe weather, ascends above the 600 meter mark, or may become too long or steep. Most challengers take the logical path (no pun intended) and plan out where they want to go indiscriminant of FWA requirements. They would then plan the FWA as a backup to be used in case of severe weather where they are forced off their route.
Contrary to this I have been plotting my FWA from the beginning. My plan is to determine the most robust and clean-cut way across the country, which I call my Main Route. Rather than plan to take my high level route and switch to my FWA in times of need, I will follow the Main Route (my FWA) and switch to my High-Level Route only when/if the conditions warrant the more exposed route. This will lead to a more sure-fire bet that I will make it across, and will put me in fewer positions to have to make the decision to abandon a potentially dangerous stretch.
I encourage everyone to follow along in my planning process. I have been uploading route segments into Google Maps, where you can see the constant evolution of my route, and even leave comments if you think you see something I missed, either good or bad. Here's the link
TGO Challenge Route 2009
This is the part where I would usually try to be reassuring and tell everyone that this is in no way dangerous and that I will have no problem with this event.
That would be a lie.
The truth is this has the potential to be severely dangerous. Not only will I be on my own (for the most part), I will be navigating my way across a land I have never been to before, in possible conditions that trap even the best navigators. At the altitudes I'm reaching, It could still be snowing. Getting trapped atop one of the Munros would spell disaster. Anyone caught unprepared in these conditions would face numerous problems. Luckily, I will not be unprepared. I have plenty of experience in both long-distance hiking and cold-weather hiking. I've studied weather patterns and know how fast storms can come and go. I know my gear inside and out. Everything that goes on my or in my pack will be scrutinized and heavily tested before I put any faith in its abilities. In short, the set of skills I have are sufficient enough to help me make smart decisions and keep me safe no matter what region I decide to hike in.
As I finalize my route, gear, and other arrangements, I will post them here so that everybody can stay updated.