Zach and I wake up about a kilometer from Beinglas Farm next to the River Falloch. We are not early risers, even when we go to bed with the sun. I look up the hill to the path as we pack up and I see more people hiking past than we have seen previously on this popular trail. I urge Zach to hurry up and get moving.
Our original plans weren’t to stop in Crainlarich but the sad, embarrassing truth of the matter was that despite our great experience with hiking long distances, our packs were too heavy and our feet were sore. If we didn’t stop to do something about it, the entire hike to Fort William would be miserable. Now, I see all these people hiking the same direction we are and all I can think is that we had better hustle or the tiny village with one youth hostel will be sold out and we will end the day still overburdened and tired.
We blast the 6.5 miles (10.5 km) to the sign that directs you off trail to Crainlarich. We must have been loping over the gently rolling drover road at over 3 miles per hour. I look at the still-morning sun and congratulate us. We may be facing the fact that we made some packing errors, but these legs can still move, by God.
We are sitting down for the real reason why our legs flew for us this morning: FOOD. The Rod and Reel is one of maybe a dozen buildings in this village and is one of the most authentically Scottish experiences we had on our trip, right down to the cranky bar maid. We devour our steak pie and creamy pasta while attempting to eaves drop on a group of older gentleman in the corner speaking what clearly isn’t English and might be Gaelic.
We feel as if our welcome has run out at the pub and so we wait for check in at the youth hostel in the common room. As we attempt to find something to read to pass the time we have left, the only other person in the room calls across it to us: “Are you hiking the West Highland Way?”
This is Faye. She and her friend Karle had been hiking the Way for the past three days, setting an incredible (if not slightly stupid in my opinion) pace for themselves, when her toes began to turn black and she found she couldn’t walk anymore. Today they were supposed to have done the 29 kilometers from Inversnaid to Crainlarich together. He decided to go for it; she decided to take a bus and wait for him here.
We sympathize with her, telling her of the time I blew out my knees on a long hike and had to rest for almost a week. Then it is 3 o’clock and we all get down to the business of zero mile days: showers, laundry, and resting.
Zach and I are in the dining room playing Scrabble, waiting for our dinner to cook. There is a small general store in town where we found a few fresh ingredients to spice up our dehydrated dinner. Faye comes in and we ask her to join us. We are talking about the normal things. Faye is from Cornwall and tells us about her life as a female construction worker there. We tell her why we are in the UK and about our wedding and how we are hiking for our honeymoon.
It is starting to get dark. Faye is sitting with us again because she is starting to get nervous that her friend has not shown up yet and wants someone to talk to. She tells us that he has had knee problems in the past and he isn’t picking up his phone. She’s too distracted for Scrabble.
It is full dark now and Faye goes to the police. Zach and I had meant to go to bed in order to get an early start (yeah, right), but now we can’t leave Faye alone to wait for the phone to ring by herself.
Finally, a call comes through to her phone. In a mix of anger and relief, she tells us that Karle can’t believe she’s called the police for him, and despite being 3 ½ hours late and roaming the pitch dark of the remote Scottish Highlands, insists he is perfectly fine and will be arriving in 30 minutes or so.
An hour later, Zach and I are politely trying to suggest to Faye that they should take smaller increments of hiking to avoid situations like her toes and his alarming lateness, when a chubby guy comes through the door. Karle looks tired and a little roughed up, but triumphant.
This little drama was a reminder for me to remember the importance of outdoor safety. It was very cold and windy that night. If the already finicky Scottish weather had decided to change, this story might not have had such a happy ending. Proper planning is important for hikers, especially in remote and unfamiliar areas.
The other take away I get from this is to remember to be grateful for my health. I also know what it’s like to go on a journey and then feel like your body has failed you. That is why it is important to know your limits and respect your body when it tells you to stop being foolish.
It’s about the smiles, not the miles after all 🙂