Tuesday, November 20, 2007


I’ve often told people that the coldest I’ve ever been was in Scotland in August. Obviously, for someone who lives in southern New England and spends as much time as possible in northern New England, this is technically untrue. But it’s accurate all the same.

Nonetheless, I’m excited about the thick envelope that arrived in my mailbox late last week confirming that I’ve been accepted to participate next May in the 2008 TGO Challenge, “the World’s premier backpacking event.” For American readers others not tuned in to outdoor recreation in the UK, the TGOC is “an annual self-supported walking event across the Highlands of Scotland, west coast to east coast.” Starting from any one of 12 points in the west, you can finish anywhere between two well-spaced spots in the east. You plan your own route and decide yourself if you want to camp or stay in hostels, hotels, or B&Bs. It’s very much NOT a race, and I’m very much looking forward to partaking of its fabled sociability. Its name comes from The Great Outdoors, roughly the British equivalent of Backpacker magazine here in the US. (Outdoor gear manufacturer Rab and tour company Himalayan Kingdoms are the event’s other sponsors.) Over 400 walkers applied for the 300 available spots. And for British walkers and those in the know, yes, I’m aware my acceptance was pro forma because the Challenge very kindly (and sociably) encourages foreign participants. Pro forma or not, getting the confirmation was a thrill.

But why do I want to walk across a country who’s very name can make me shiver on a hot beach? Well, there’s the Challenge part, of course. But mostly it’s that I’ve always been drawn to the British, and especially the Scottish, culture of hill walking and mountaineering. I loved what I knew about the late Tom Patey, and his doggerel and songs. One of my all-time favorite books, primarily for its generous spirit and joyful embrace of the out-of-doors, is Alastair Borthwick’s 1939 classic, Always a Little Further, which I bought while we were living in England in the early ’70s. I’ve walked a bit in the Lakes and elsewhere (including Scotland), and I’ve run into this attractive attitude a lot. I know there are jerks in the British hills. I’ve run into some of them (and let me say that in my opinion as a connoisseur of the breeds, there is no jerk like an English jerk, though Americans do bastards better). But mostly I’ve experienced good-natured acceptance and—amazingly, given the inbred reticence on both sides—even friendliness. (There’s probably a certain self-fulfilling prophesy aspect to this: I expect to like the people I meet, so I do.) The same is true here in the States, of course, though the mountain culture is a bit different—outdoor people everywhere, I think, tend to be decent types.

So, while I’ll be prepared for the chill of Scotland, I’m looking forward to its warmth, too.


Paul said...

Looks good, but who is that young
guy pictured at the beginning.
p. hadzima

Mark said...

Hey! That was just last year!


Holly said...

How exciting - both the blog and the challenge! Can't wait for the next installment.

Theo said...

Welcome aboard Mark ! I'm looking forward to reading your blog.


Anonymous said...

welcome to the challenge Mark, hope to see you along the way

Phil said...

Look forward to following the blog.
See you in Montrose, if not before!


Alan Sloman said...

Hi Mark

Welcome to the blogosphere and the TGO Challenge. You shouldn't find too many 'jerks' on it, as they soon get whittled down.

It will be nice for Wanda to meet another Warmlite - She gets lonely, you know.

All the best for your preparations,


WD said...

Great read, as Sloman said welcome to the bloggersphere. Be warned it's addictive ;)

FellBound said...

Just discovered your blog thanks to a link from Alan Sloman. Brilliant stuff. I did the TGOC this year (2013) and loved it. Entered again for 2014 and await the draw.

Loved your quote "there's no jerk like an English jerk but the Americans do bastards better".

David (an English jerk???)