Roaming in Scotland – heading out in March

Photo by One Man’s Mountains AKA One Pillock’s Hillocks trip report on hiking The Lost Valley of Glencoe.

In 37 days I’ll be leaving for Scotland. There are other destinations, and plenty of unknowns in between, on this 21-day trip. But the first stop is 5 or 6 days in Scotland. Even though it will be early March, I’m focusing on going to the Highlands to hike (or walk, as they refer to it). So when I saw the Backpacker magazine story titled “Right to Roam: In Scotland Hikers Can Go Anywhere”,  as you might imagine, I got really excited.

I grew up on the family cattle ranch, which at it’s smallest point in my childhood was still more than a thousand acres. I grew up roaming – on horseback with my mom, flushing ducks for my cousins when they hunted, climbing the hillsides with my sister. We knew the terrain, we had our favorite spots, and many of my childhood memories are set in green pastures or rugged hills with a blazing blue sky stretching overhead. Roaming has been my right since I was big enough to sit a horse.

My family is also Scottish. Our ancestors, who were possibly from the town of Ayr, got on the boat in Greenock in 1753 to come to America. The combination of visiting the family homeland and visiting the Highlands has Scotland ringing in my veins.

Then there’s the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, with its key principles that describe how folks should behave when they’re out wandering the countryside. The Code speaks to all kinds of users – hikers walkers, cyclists, campers, hunters, horseback riders- on all kinds of landscapes, from beaches to “fields with crops”. It’s pretty simple. Here are the three key principles:

  • Respect the interests of other people
  • Care for the environment
  • Take responsibility for your own actions

I’m looking forward to getting out into the wild country side where the government has provided legal access to nearly all land and inland water. It’s like the reverse of our National Park system. Instead of designating areas where people can get out to explore the landscape, in Scotland, they only designate the places you can’t go. Hopefully we’ll meet people who are also out walking and get a chance to hear how this difference informs their attitude and relationship with the land.

As the plan begins to come together (although the plan will be minimal), we’ll focus on the Glen Coe and Fort William area of Highlands. Ben Nevis, Great Britain’s tallest peak, is nearby. With hikes like The Lost Valley of Glencoe in the area, it’s easy to get fired up about walking (from the comfort of my living room). Hopefully we’ll get incredible spring weather that amounts to some breaks in the weather and no snow/ice on the ground.

At the end of March we’ll be back with our own photos and tales of roaming in Scotland.

On going solo. And not going solo.

Traveling together – making dinner in a backcountry campsite at Mt. Rainier National Park.

What’s harder: going alone or going together?

I’ve been thinking about how I want to travel on my trip that’s coming up in March. Plan 1.0 looked like this: I spend 10 day traveling alone in Ireland and Scotland, then meet my husband (who may still be working on the continent) in Czech Republic to spend the next 10 days in Prague, Vienna and Budapest. Now that we know he’ll be done working next week, and therefore will have to travel to Europe, it’s time to envision plan 2.0.

The big question on my mind is this: do I want to go alone or do I want to travel with my husband in Ireland and Scotland? Originally, we thought he’d still be working, so I’d been planning for (and excited about) a solo trip.

I’m comfortable with the idea of traveling Ireland and Scotland alone – taking the train, staying in hostels, hiking no matter what the weather. But the long three months that he’s been gone to Europe this winter have eroded my craving for the trip I could have alone. Now thoughts of traveling together sound appealing.

Here’s what I know about myself, though: when we travel, adventure or even recreate together, I shift into planner mode, making it my priority for him to have everything he desires and for his trip to be perfect. It ties my stomach into greasy knots and instead morphs me into a super control freak with high anxiety and a hair trigger for fixing things. Beverages cold, sunglasses wiped free of finger prints, snacks at hand, the right music on the stereo, lodging to his preference, meals that meet his standards. If his ass sweats while driving – well, I haven’t gone that far – but I do fret over it.

The urge to make sure things are just how he wants them is all-powerful and incredibly unhelpful. It makes neither of us happy. I’m sure he’d rather deal with a hangry wife than trip-planner me, but for the life of me I can’t turn her off. Not without getting distant and silent. Which then makes him worry.

It’s a situation primed for me to become completely dysfunctional. So, 21 days in Europe together – sounds like fun.

After I sat down and made a list of everything I was afraid he would do, think or feel on a 21-day trip together, I realized that he doesn’t generally do, think or feel any of those things. It’s a monster of my own making.

They say the first step in any recovery is noticing and admitting that you have a problem. How ’bout that?

Despite naming and owning my neurosis – I’m calling her Patty Perfect Planner – I still want to go to Europe with him for the whole 21 days. Why? Why run the risk of Patty piping up?

If we go together, we’ll have all those memories – shared memories, instead of stories I told him about my adventures alone. We’ll have the chance to make stories together and to build our growing lexicon of travel-specific terms (like Bob Smith. Ask one of us someday). We’ll get to have fun together, complain about the food together, squeeze into tight seats next to each other, wonder what the meat on the dinner plate is, and toss and turn in unfamiliar beds side by side. We’ll see places we’ve dreamed about visiting, find sights we never imagined, talk with locals, pet dogs, and get lost (and then found) together.

And hopefully, we’ll want to do it again.

It’s an odd thing that coming to terms with the idea of traveling with my husband has taken so much thought, but I’m feeling comfortable with it. Excited even. I’ve given Patty a name (I’ve got a hair style, uniform and name badge in my mind’s eye too) and now I can thank her for her concerns and ask her to sit quietly in the back seat. With Patty staring out the window, I can relax into an adventure with my husband – after all, he’s the one I want to travel with (not Patty).

This all sounds good now, but I know it’s like learning anything new – it’s a muscle, baby, and you’ve got to flex it if you want it to be strong and supple. Twenty-one days ought to provide plenty of practice.

Jumping the tracks

Winter walk on the Gateway Trail.

My reading preferences have taken me down some interesting paths lately, much like my afternoon hike in the snow today. The trail was familiar, but since I’d been there last a new loop had been added, and that’s where I ended up. So while the terrain and the view matched my memories, the trail itself did not. I was not covering the ground that I have covered before.

Much the same can be said of my recent reading. I’ve been choosing topics that I’ve read about before, following my lines of curiosity and pure nerdiness that have been with me for my adult whole life. But today I picked up a new book that jumped the track – suddenly I was on a trail sort of like the one I know so well, but decidedly not the same.

Which is great, because jumping the track is exactly what I want to do. The surprising shift came as I started reading Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself. I love self-help books – I’ve loved them for years. With writers like Brene Brown and Liz Gilbert authoring material about how to live, love and create in remarkable ways, it keeps me coming back time after time, book after book. So I was expecting a similar spark when I picked this up. I was not expecting a discussion of quantum physics, but I was thrilled by it. Here’s why – also on my reading table right now: The Particle at the End of the Universe, Seven Brief Lessons of Physics, and The Meaning of Relativity. I thought this book would be an outlier. Not so.

The author starts off with the concept of matter = energy, then moves into Newtonian physics (and its implicit duality) and quantum physics (with its energy fields). He hasn’t mentioned the Higgs field yet, which is what the Particle at the End of the Universe is about, but it’s implied (I love it when my reading provides cross references). I’m just getting started reading about quantum physics, but here’s my take on it so far: it calls everything into question. Matter. Time. Space. The nature of reality. Then it introduces new concepts. The Observer Effect (our ability to change reality by the act of witnessing it).  The capabilities of our minds. Potential outcomes and Collapsing the Wave Function. It’s juicy, mind bending stuff. Reading about quantum physics asks me to open my mind in ways that are difficult, seemingly-impossible and totally exhilarating.

Which brings me back to jumping the track. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, what with it being the new year and all. It’s that time of year for goal setting, so I’ve been mulling over what I want in my life. And here’s the big idea I’m chewing on: I can set goals (even big ones) that are within the known terrain of my life. Or not.

The known terrain – the context of job, house, marriage, family, two crazy dogs, my writing hobby, my current X files revival addiction and all of my not-so-healthy eating habits. The paths I travel daily: in my mind, with my feet, through my habits. They say that you know you’ve set a great goal when it’s something that fires your passion, excites the hell out of you, and scares you just enough that you’re worried you might pee your pants. And it’s certainly possible to set that kind of goal within my life right now, as I know it.

But then there is the whisper of the land outside the life I know, the landscape that lies off the edge of map. What lurks out there? What possibilities might lie outside what I can imagine inside my comfortable box (even when I’ve pushed on the sides of the box and they’re bowed out a little)? My shorthand phrase for this idea is: what would it be like to jump the track? I’m excited by the idea of imagining a big goal – a really big, previously unimaginable, big goal. One that makes me pee my pants.

Jumping the tracks isn’t for everyone. It hasn’t been for me, either. Up until the point that suddenly it is. I know I won’t feel this way forever. I have no business believing that what I decide today or next month or next year will be the way I live my life for the next ten or twenty years. That’s a very freeing notion. And one of the great things about choosing: we can all do it at any time.

So I’m taking a look at my well-traveled tracks and reading quantum physics to fuel the act of jumping off them.

Ask for what you want: words to live by

Looking up into the branches of a huge madrone on the Rogue River Trail.

I like maps and compasses and plans – all meant to guide and give direction. I like having a sense for the terrain of my life, the rolling hills, open meadows, winding river valleys and steep cliffs that I’ve traversed over my years. So this New Year’s Eve, while I was doing calisthenics in my sleeping bag to try to keep warm on my overnight backpacking trip, I thought about what guides me.

Over the last handful of years, friends have gifted me with a few key pieces of wisdom that I’m cobbling together into my own personal navigation system.

This is the central guide:

1. Ask for what you want
2. Expect to get it
3. Recognize it when you do (even if it looks different than you imagined)
4. Express gratitude
5. Demonstrate generosity

This is the piece I’ve been working with the longest, having heard it first in a workshop given by a good friend and mentor over seven years ago. It’s remarkable the impact that the first step has had on my life – in order to ask for what I want, I’ve got to know what it is. That alone has been a journey for me. Some things on my mind: How do I want to live in this world? What do I have to share? What is my idea of community?

A big leaf maple littering the trail and (I swear) giving off the scent of maple syrup poured over pancakes and bacon.

Last summer, after telling the story of a simple backpacking trip that when sideways and turned into a big adventure, a friend and role model gave me this one:

Everything we do is fun.

There are three types of fun:
#1 fun: This is the kind of fun that when you’re having it, you know you’re having fun. You know you’ll have a good story about it, that when you tell it people will say, wow, that sounds like fun.
#2 fun: This isn’t fun while you’re doing it, but you can appreciate that when it’s over and you look back, you’ll say, hey, that was fun. When you tell your friends stories about it, they might think it sounds like fun too.
#3 fun: This isn’t fun when you’re living through it and you know that it won’t sound like fun when it’s over. When you tell the stories, no one will think it sounds remotely like fun. But since the rule we live by is that everything we do is fun, it must be.

Then a few months ago, I saw this quote on the wall in the office of another good friend. “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

It’s so easy to not even look up, to not wonder what it would be like to shoot for the moon. My theme for 2018 is that I’m open to adventure. Part of what that means is that I am raising my gaze to look up at opportunities and adventures that rise above the regular, day in, day out version of life that I’ve come to know. For the first time in my life, I’m making a list – of big adventures, of places, experiences and outrageous ways of living that excite me. I’m reaching beyond the familiar terrain of life to aim for the moon.

A crowd of oaks along the trail.

And then yesterday, one more item to add:

Is it possible to do? Yes. Is it necessary to do? Some times, some things that you want to fix might not need your help at all.

Keeping all of these in mind as I move through my days helps me shift my orientation just a bit. These guidelines help me bring a good attitude to my work and tasks, even the ones that don’t seem like fun – because I’ve decide that I’m going to look at everything I do as some kind of fun. Fortunately, I’m surrounded by people who know how to have fun and laugh at life. I’m grateful that I get to learn from them.

And I’m working on getting clear on just what it is that I want: how I want to show up in my life, what I want to focus on, how I want to give to my community, how I want to share my gifts, how I want to connect with people. I want is to live an unconventional life, so I’m also trying to get clear on what that means right now.

As I ask for what I want and expect for it to happen, I’m also holding on to the idea that I don’t have to fix it all just so, I don’t have to control it. Because what lies beneath these guidelines are grace and faith and hope: there is so much mystery and magic in the world. All I can really do is ask, live the life the comes, express gratitude for it all and live a life of generosity and love.

2017 Big Adventure Top 10 List

This was exactly the kind of year I want to have every year.  This is a celebration, not only of being out in nature, but also of sharing those experience with my husband and friends.

Here’s my 2017 Big Adventure top 10 list:

1. Jan 1st: Ski Sand Flat with Vinnie. Great start to the year!
2. March 10 &11th: First backpack of the season. Solo overnight at Riverbend
3. March 26th-30th. Joshua Tree NP. Our first trip there, sharing it with friends. Loved the Lost Palms Oasis hike.
4. March 30-April 2nd.. Yosemite NP. Spring water in the Valley – standing at the base of Bridal Veil Falls was like being in a rain storm.
5. April: Took a good friend on her first ever backpacking trip, overnight at Riverbend.
6. July 3-5th. The Taylor Lake adventure with Vinnie. Things didn’t go as expected, a pack got well away from us. We had a great time.
7. Aug 13-17th. Mt. Rainer NP. Summerland, you hold my heart. Skyline hike. The views.
8. Aug 21st. The Eclipse! Standing in a field with Vinnie for the morning darkness.
9. Oct26-28th. Solo hike of the Rogue River Trail. My longest hike to date: 40 miles, 3 days.
10. Dec 31st. New Year’s Eve solo backpack to Riverbend. . 35 degree morning. This was my 28th night sleeping outside in 2017. The goal for 2018 is at least 31 nights outside.

I’m so grateful to have enjoyed a year like this. I’m looking forward to even more adventure and even more time outside in 2018!