Pain and Moor Pain: Day 7 on the West Highland Way

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Ha! Look how fresh and hopeful I was at the start of the day!

I have never in my life pushed my body as hard as I did on this day. Before the hike, I had no concept of what walking 10 miles felt like, let alone 20 miles. The way I looked at it, it had to be done and I would just get up and do it. I would see beautiful sights as I hiked farther into the highlands. I would ignore the extreme pain in my feet.

This mindset worked for about 4 miles. The first part of the trail was near the road and rather boring. The landscape didn’t change at all and the going underfoot was painful because, though flat, it was rocky. I listened to the song “Loch Lomond” five thousand times and tried to focus my mind on fantasies of a happy future. Then I tried an audiobook. I have always loved “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and the audiobooks read by Martin Freeman. So I tried to distract myself with “Life, the Universe, and Everything”. As hilarious as it was, it couldn’t take away the throbbing pain in my feet.

I came across some massive cows sitting on the trail. Some of them had giant horns and were watching me warily. I had heard enough stories about people dying in cow attacks in the UK to know that this wasn’t a situation to take lightly. I couldn’t just saunter through the group. I crept slowly around them, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. They just turned their heads and watched me walk. When I made it past them with my life intact, I was genuinely surprised.

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More tape than foot.

After limping for 7 miles, I came to Bridge of Orchy and decided I had better grab lunch in the hotel there before even considering continuing. At this point, I had re-taped my feet until they didn’t look like feet anymore, but masses of surgical tape, and I had popped a couple of pills. I was completely frantic. I contacted my mom. I didn’t think I could continue.

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Put an egg on anything and its deliciousness goes up by 70%.

And then I just did. I finished lunch and got up and dragged myself out of the hotel, quite literally feeling like I was walking to my grave. I don’t know what was pushing me or where the willpower came from. I think I just had to prove to myself that I could finish something. I’ve never felt like I’m good at anything. I’ve always seen myself as inadequate, lazy, a quitter. I was not going to let this trail defeat me. I was going to be strong.

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I pressed on to the next section, which was quite a bit of uphill. The mere fact that I had been able to drag myself out of Bridge of Orchy gave me a sort of crazed confidence and I probably looked like a lunatic as I scrambled up a hill, singing and talking to myself. The view from the top was absolutely stunning and I became quite choked up. I was in complete disbelief that any landscape could look like this.

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It was almost imposing. I was scared by it. It was so beautiful it actually frightened me. I was there, just a tiny little human in this phenomenally vast land of mountains and mist. I felt very small, very insignificant, and very happy about this. I was humbled. The highlands didn’t care that I was there. They went about their business of being stunning, and I went about my business of walking through them.

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As I came down from the height of the hill, I lost my adrenaline high with the lower elevation. I came to Inveroran and tried to take a picture of some deer, the first I’d seen on the trail. The rain was picking up and suddenly my camera stopped working. I bought a Samsung NX500 mirrorless camera before I came to Europe. It wasn’t cheap, and here I was standing in the middle of nowhere in the rain, and my camera decided to break. I had already lost my lens cap on Day 4 and had been using a sock to cover the lens. Now the lens wouldn’t retract and the camera shut off after telling me on the screen “Error 00”. I tried for miles to make it turn on correctly. I took the battery out. I whimpered. I really did all I could.

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I was absolutely gutted because I was finally coming to the part of the trail that I had really looked forward to since Day 1: Rannoch Moor. I had seen pictures and was practically drooling over the idea of actually walking over the moor. I had hoped to take spectacular photos of my own, and being reduced to taking crappy iPhone pictures frustrated me to no end. In addition to the fear and anxiety about the potential demise of my expensive camera, I had to face constant rain and swarms of midges who seemed to enjoy licking my bug repellant off my face. I wore my midge net and my poncho for the whole walk on the moor, which I believe was 9 miles.

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I was upset that I had looked forward to Rannoch Moor so much, and now here I was and I could hardly see it through the rain and mist, and couldn’t enjoy it because of the extreme pain I was in. Every step was agony, and I fought for every single one. I felt each and every stone beneath my boots. They all felt like daggers in the soles of my feet. But a miracle occurred: my camera came back to life in the middle of the moor.

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This was taken by a German man who was walking behind me on the moor. That little black speck is me. He caught up to me and sent me the picture in an email. I was touched. It lifted my spirits a bit that someone thought I might like a souvenir picture. This image puts it into perspective how very small I was compared to this sweeping landscape.

Just when I had decided to simply go mad, I saw the road in the distance. I saw what I believed to be Kingshouse Hotel, my destination where I would get a taxi to my hostel, which was farther off the trail. As I got closer, the hotel seemed to get farther away. Then I couldn’t see it at all. The desolation of the moor surrounded me and I was convinced the hotel had been a mirage. I hadn’t gone to the bathroom since Bridge of Orchy almost 13 miles ago, so I knew I must be dehydrated. My feet felt like tenderized meat that a butcher had been pounding relentlessly for the past month.

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Midge nets are very in style at the moment.

When the hotel came back into sight and I knew I couldn’t be more than a mile off, I called my mom and nearly cried when I heard her voice. “Mommy, I can’t do this! I can’t walk another step.” She reassured me and distracted me for the last half hour of the walk. I could not have done it without her. I would have made it, but I would have been even more of a disaster than I already was.

I dragged myself into the hotel, limping worse than ever, and frantically made my way to the bar, a wild look about me. I could feel a shift when I entered the room. There were people here, warm and laughing, with full bellies and happy faces. I felt like an alien. I wasn’t a person anymore. I was a desperate, exhausted lump of aching muscles. I felt so out of place and I could feel people staring and probably thinking, Jesus, what the hell happened to her? I was so grateful to the bartender for her kindness when recommending a taxi service to take me to Glencoe Youth Hostel. I called the taxi driver and he said he’d be there in an hour. Enough time for dinner.

When I ordered at the bar, a man next to me asked about my walk that day. He was hiking the WHW as well and he was very sympathetic and encouraging. It was nice to have my existence and my pain acknowledged by a fellow hiker.

My taxi driver (shoutout to Alistair’s Taxis) was amazing. His Scottish accent was music to my ears. Despite having been in Scotland for a week, I didn’t actually hear the accent very often because most of the hikers were tourists and the hostel employees were immigrants. He talked to me very candidly about the taxi business in Ballachulish and how difficult it was to find work as soon as summer ended. I was fascinated to hear about this business I knew nothing about. It reminded me that each person I meet is living a life with struggles and hardships, no matter how different the struggles are from my own. I think people that don’t practice kindness simply don’t understand that they are not unique in feeling pain. We have to remember that our fellow humans are fighting a battle all their own and we must respect each other.

I had great respect for this man and I appreciated his kindness more than I could find words to say. He offered to drive me back to the trail in the morning if I could get up in time to make it outside at 8:20 when he’d be driving past with another customer who had booked ahead. I said I’d call him in the morning.

That night was the first time I had to sleep in a top bunk. Every other day I had reached my accommodations first and claimed a bottom bunk. But it had taken me a solid 12 hours to hike that day, and I was the last person in the bunkroom. I knew once I managed to climb up to my bed, there would be no coming down. So I got everything done beforehand. I took a shower and then sat on the bathroom counter and soaked my feet in the sink in freezing cold water. They were absolutely destroyed. I could hardly walk. How was I going to do two more days? I packed everything away for the morning and got out what I would need for my hike, if I decided I was fit to do it.

I went to bed completely defeated and utterly convinced that this was it, the West Highland Way had beaten me. I could hardly rest my feet on the bed, they were aching and pounding so badly. What had I done to myself? Was I willing to do more damage? I tried to think, I can still do this. But it felt like a lie this time.

To be continued in my final post about Days 8 and 9.

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