The Italian connection

TGO Challenge 2021 preparations part 2 / click here for part one

If an Italian man dresses up to make an impression, he will never let on whether he’s going to a bar or to his mother. I’m sympathetic to this principle. Walking friends have described me as extremely opportunistic, route wise. So, when walking across the Highlands I’d be ready for the high ridges, but when the weather forces me to walk the landrover track down in the glen, I will do so and happily pretend it’s my choice. My TGO route for the coming west to east crossing of the Highlands must accommodate this behaviour. Designing such a route is fun. The only problem is that my imagination runs wild and before I know it I the maps are filled with scribbles and options. I love it, except… 

TGO Challenge 2021 Route design
Marked route on printed sheets and calculations

TGO Challenge Control forces you step up with only one main route, and one Foul Weather Alternative. There’s a route sheet you download and fill in, box by box, in great detail. This makes playing the tourist and following every whim a lot harder. Challenge Control would make an Italian write down which bar he would enter, what lady he would walk up to and what would happen next. Would the Italian ever confess to walking a dull route, on paper? 

TGO Challenge Route Sheet
The freedom to roam the hills is preceded by some bureaucracy

Once described, one sends the route off to Ali & Sue, the gatekeepers at Challenge Control. They are Challenge veterans themselves. They assign you to a vetter, a person that checks your route against rules and safety regulations, Julia in my case. This week, she sent my route back with a list of formal issues. Simply put: I’m not allowed to leave so many options open, and I should write the main route and foul weather alternative sections in the box of the day they are to be walked. This feels like filling in forms for tax return. Thou shalt jump through hoops. On the positive side: the formalities made me cut out bland stuff, and made me commit to my route.

All this goes against my habit to sneak off into a fold in the landscape. My predisposition is to hide, to escape and turn up in unlikely places. But Challenge Control’s responsibility is to find me, so I will have to suppress my urges and be traceable. Let’s find out how much escapism I can fit in there. Supervised escapism, does that count?

Glen Etive lunch stop
Smug opportunist having lunch, Glen Etive, 1999

Update: the minute I published this post, I got a message from Ali & Sue: “Thanks for this which looks good to us.  We will pass it on to Julia for a closer look at the detail”. More on this in a week or two…

Update 26 January: Julia Hume vetted the route, I made two corrections and then it was signed off, ready to be walked!

“Dyneema Hybrid Composite Fabric (Cuben Fiber) Fusion Bonded Tent Peg Bag”

TGO Challenge 2021, preparations part one

Madness. We are locked down and I got a place on the 2021 TGO Challenge, a walk across the Highlands of Scotland (Read more about it here). This is the first post, in English, about my TGO preparations and walk. The walk is in May, preparations are just what I do every winter, absorbing maps.

The good old romantic babble claims the Highlands separate the men from the boys (the women from the girls), build character, reveal the real you to you. Repeating this, supporting it with gear, building communities around it in a wave of instagram-posts and books … doesn’t make it true. 
One might as well claim that walking the Highlands is easy, easier than working life, easier than raising children, easier than the culturally complex task of visiting an art gallery on opening night (how to dress, what to say, who to avoid, how little to drink, how late to arrive? Whoa!).
‘By what route shall I descend Ben MacDui if the weather comes down?’ is dead easy by comparison. Still, the outdoors is made out to be difficult, and scares people into buying gear that has eleven word names, like said cuben fiber tent peg bag. I clicked on it, it was that close! Madness.

Seriously, did I think the crutch would aid hitchhiking?

This will be my 20th wander in the Highlands. My career started with hitchhiking in jeans, followed by a long period of semi-heroism, doing more or less dangerous/daft things, in recent years growing into the subtle art of mobile waiting, mixing roughing it and touristy stuff into a pleasant blend. I try to counter the nature-adoring pose of the romantics or the heavy handed gear talk of the control freak type of walker. For me, walking is doing nothing. Turning it into a sport, by pole-flaying along at great speed, or turning it into a religion, by striking a pose every turn, just shows how bad people are at doing nothing.  

Found a page three, early February 2003, between Geldie and Feshie (later I found out I crossed a popular west to east route here, hence the tabloid)
Sympathetic & Very Obscure Hill on South Uist

Yet, I might be counted as a member of the Church of Hillwalkers. I keep a log of classified hills and aim for them, I own a too expensive handmade tent, I sleep under a quilt with custom colours, I donated to Walkhighlands and won its prize for report of the month.

But I will go great lengths to deny my membership. Call me a snob or spineless, I like my identity to be layered. I’ll be my own subcategory of hillwalker-designer, neither mountaineer nor artist. I’m in-between but hey, I can handle a pub full of hillwalkers. And I might even dare going into an art gallery during opening night.

So what has all this to do with the TGO Challenge? For one, this challenge will be a nice and purposeless saunter, mixed with daft high stuff. That’s what I’m aiming for.

Soon: since it serves no purpose, my route had better be baroque.

Click here for TGO Challenge 2021 preparations part two

Creating my TGO21 route book. Baroque? It’s office work, really.