The following content is comprised of personal opinions, and in no way reflects the opinions of the Peace Corps or the U.S. Government.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The last of the challenge (for now)

Having just made it back to the states, I send out this final preview of the trip. Many things have gone unmentioned, but will all be covered by the full write up in due time!

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

Longer by the entry...

Monday, the 18th of May - Gelder Shiel to Shielen of Mark.

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 ( 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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More TGO Challenge

Saturday the 16th of May - Bothy in Glen Feshie to Mar Lodge Estate.

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

Another day remembered

Friday the 15th of May - Newtonmore campsite to Ruighaiteachain (think ru-ah-atee-chan) Bothy.

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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Blog plan and four more days of recall

When I make it back to the states on the 1st of June, there will be a full write-up about the Challenge. This will include:

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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With the TGO Challenge a smashing success, I now find myself in Glasgow with no plans. For the next week I will take in the culture and atmosphere of the lower part of Scotland. Now that I am able to keep my phone charged I should be able to keep making routine updates.

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

TGO Challenge complete

Walk across Scotland.


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

One step closer

Well, today is the day I leave Glasgow for my start-point, the town of Oban.

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

Greetings from Glasgow!


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

Scotland 2009: Final Farewell

Well guys, this is it. In a matter of hours I will be arriving at the airport, getting ready to travel halfway around the world. Check this out:

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!


High Track, Low Track: Experience Either Way

Google Maps

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!!!

Food List: Light and Fast (delicious, too!)

Traditionally, you think of backpackers with these gaudy freeze-dried meals of things like lasagna and beef stew. However, these meal are not only expensive, but heavy and inefficient. The taste is all right, but still more on the side of cardboard...

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.