Trail Run in Scotland: Great Glen Way, Part 1

I have returned from my first running themed vacation! It was in the Scottish Highlands, on the Great Glen Way, a 77 mile trail that runs along the Caledonian Canal and its lochs, including Loch Ness. It was an incredibly fun and gratifying experience…

 

I have returned from my first running themed vacation! It was in the Scottish Highlands, on the Great Glen Way, a 77 mile trail that runs along the Caledonian Canal and its lochs, including Loch Ness. It was an incredibly fun and gratifying experience…

 

Prelude: Edinburgh to Fort William

I landed in Edinburgh a few mornings before I was to begin the run. I wanted to give myself a cushion for both late flights and jet-lag adjustment. My right leg was threatening tendonitis, but I was trying not to be apprehensive about the run ahead. The day after I landed in Edinburgh, I walked by a hotel offering a special on massages, and I signed up on the spot. It was one of the best massages of my life, because it saved the running trip, but I wouldn’t find that out for a few more days. I did some sightseeing in Edinburgh, including a very gentle 2-mile jog around the University of Edinburgh campus the day after the massage.

My absolute favorite thing that I did while in Edinburgh was luck into a tour of Greyfriars Kirkyard. At breakfast with a few young women from my hostel, I mentioned that I had heard it was where J.K. Rowling drew inspiration for many familiar names in the Harry Potter series. Their interest confirmed, we all set off for the kirkyard (cemetery), and were there about 15 minutes before we were approached by an older gentleman who offered us a tour, donation only. It was one of THE BEST tours I’ve ever been on. It included and pointed out information from the books, but interwove the history and current events of the cemetery, Edinburgh, and Scotland. I learned so much from our guide and am glad we didn’t just poke around on our own.

Mind and body ready to soak up more of Scotland, I took a train from Edinburgh to Fort William, where the Great Glen Way begins. My itinerary from Macs Adventures had all the details of getting around down for me. I was staying in B & B’s each night during the run. In my latest travels preceding this trip, I’d either used Air B & B or stayed in a hotel. I’d opted to stay in a hostel in Edinburgh to revisit my youth- but I will probably not stay in a hostel again if I can avoid it. Little things pop up now and then to remind me I’m no longer in my 20’s, and sleeping in a top bunk and showering in a communal bathroom are just a few aspects I find barely tolerable. At my first B & B, Myrtle Bank Guest House, I had space to spread out, relax, and prep for my run. I went back into town to grab dinner, a few short sleeve shirts because the weather was warmer than I expected, and some sustenance for the drop bags the company was going to stage for me on the longer runs.

I liked Fort William. People were finishing their walks from either the West Highland Way (another trail) or the Great Glen Way, while others were preparing or coming back from climbing Ben Nevis- the UK’s highest mountain. I would love to go back both to spend more time in the town and go up that mountain. I met some older dudes at dinner that were climbing Nevis the next day, and drinking heavily. I deduced I could handle the hike.

Before I went to bed that night, I looked out the skylight, and I was dazzled by the nightscape. I always get stunned when I see how many more stars there are than are visible from my backyard in Los Angeles.

 

Day One: Fort William to Laggan, 23 miles

The next morning I woke up and had breakfast, left my larger luggage and drop bags at reception for transport, and set off through town for the trailhead. I decided to walk the first two miles, of the total of 23, to be done that day. I had to digest my breakfast, and also wanted to give my legs a chance to warm up. I was praying and praying that once I started to run, I would find that the tendonitis in my knee had let up. I don’t know if it was the praying, the massage, or both, but something gave and after walking for a couple of miles, I tentatively started to jog and found that everything was feeling fine!

The trail leaving Fort William winds though a couple different settings. I was in the woods for a bit, I walked though neighborhoods, along the road, and saw sheep. The neatest part about it is the view of Ben Nevis. The rest was honestly a little dull. After a few miles the trail starts following the Caledonian Canal, which runs from northern to southern Scotland. I saw my first set of locks, which carry the boats between the northern lower  bodies of water and the higher ones in the south. There are several along the canal, between each of the lakes (Got that? It goes loch-lock-loch) There weren’t any boats going through, but it was a quiet and pretty setting nonetheless. I passed local exercisers, and a few gentlemen that were walking the trail with packs. The next twelve miles took me along the canal, on a paved path, to Gairlochy, where the adventure really started.

In the small town of Gairlochy I was supposed to pick up my first drop bag from a B & B, but either I had the wrong place or someone hadn’t timed things right, because no one was there. I called Macs Adventures to locate it, and they lead me over the phone right to the place, but no one answered the door when I rang. It wasn’t a big deal though. My Osprey pack holds 1.5 liters of water, and I wasn’t even halfway through. I can drain that thing in two hours running around Southern California, but here the weather was moist and cool, and I was feeling great, so I decided I could make it to my next stop just fine. In fact, I lucked into pretty good weather for most of the run. It was cold at times, and there was some rain, but I had prepared myself for much less temperate conditions.

Upon leaving Gairlochy, I turned off the road and found myself on this beautiful, winding single-track through the woods. The next ten miles were enchanting. As the trail came upon the water of Loch Lochy, I thought of fairy tale kingdoms. I hope “Loch Lochy” translates roughly to “Lake Lakey”, but I haven’t concluded my research on this subject yet. I found myself on a road, passing by country houses, before turning onto a path that lead me through the woods and along the lake. I found a sign describing forest fauna and flora, and “holly” was featured! I continued on, passing by a group of five middle-aged men and a younger couple, before reaching farms and seeing my stopping point, The Eagle Inn, a bar/restaurant built into a boat on the water.

Less than a mile from the Eagle Inn, my progress was interrupted by farm animals. A lamb was fenced in, and there was a sheep right on the path, trying to encourage the lamb to come through. It was pitiful- the lamb kept sticking its head through the wire of the fence, but that was all that could fit. They were baa-ing at each other. The sheep stared at me as I approached. I know more about outer space than I know about sheep, and I didn’t want to entice an attack, so I patiently waited, then decided to edge forward, hoping the sheep would back off. It did, at least enough to where I could bolt through. I had read not to bother any of the farm animals along the trail, and in addition, thirty-two years on planet Earth has taught me not to mess with mothers and their young.

The Eagle Inn was a perfectly lovely way to end my twenty three mile run. Despite hitting my head on the top of the low doorway each time I entered and exited, I enjoyed myself. The two groups of people (5 men & couple) that I passed caught up with me there, and we talked about our journeys. One of the men put my blog in his phone for a family member, which I really appreciated. They were surprised I had started in Fort William that morning, as walkers tend to do Fort William to Gairlochy in one day and Gairlochy to Laggan the next. I called the proprietors of my next B & B, Glen Albyn Lodge in Invergarry, to let them know I had arrived, and waited for my pickup. I could have done another three miles from the Eagle Inn straight to the lodge, but I was beat.

That night I ate at the Invergarry Hotel. It was half a mile away from the B & B and walking there felt like a death march. Dennis, one of the owners of the B & B, recommended the haggis, but I couldn’t stomach that. I think I had a burger. After dinner, I went straight to bed; I was asleep before 9:30pm, which lead to me being awake at 4:45 the next morning…

I don’t want this post to be too long, so I’ll put the next two days of running up later!

 

Recap/Details of Run- I recommend all of these things!                           

Trail Run in California: Joshua Tree National Park

I’m happy I made it out somewhere new to run this week. I needed an energizer after logging some quite boring miles around my home.

I just got back from a short trip to Joshua Tree National Park. I had a few days off of work and saw it as an opportunity to go run somewhere new. I’m not a camper (yet!) but I found an inexpensive place to stay on the east side of the park on AirBnb. I enlisted my runner friend Annie to come with me. Unfortunately she wasn’t able to make it out till later the second day I was there, but we still got some good runs and an awesome sunset in.

The first night I was there I stopped in at a backpacker/camping outfitter store- Nomad. The official visitors’ centers for the park were closed and I figured an area retailer would have the information I was looking for. The staff there was super friendly and recommended we check out the Boy Scout Trail. It is an out and back (or point to point if you use two cars). They also recommended Stubbe Springs Trail for running, which we didn’t get to, but I thought I’d mention it here in case someone wants to give it a try.

The winds were intense on our first running day, so waiting for Annie to arrive was fine and gave me a chance to catch up on reading and work on some writing. I also stopped by the Visitor’s Center to see if there was any further information to gather. The staff there recommended Pine City Trail as a nice run. Once Annie arrived we booked it out to the trail to get a run in before the sun went down. It’s a relatively short trail for a run, maybe 3 miles round trip, but we made it longer by parking at the lot on Geology Tour road and running north on the road to where the trail begins, which added on about a mile (each direction). We ran a total of five miles, out to where the namesake trees began, and where there were also some large boulder formations. The trail itself is pretty flat, climbing maybe 200 feet and not technical. We snapped some pictures and ran back to the car to catch the sunset.

 

I had overheard one of the park Rangers at the visitor’s center telling a couple about a lookout called Keys View, so we headed there, making it just in time to watch the sunset. It was windy and cold but so beautiful. After a pit stop at the pharmacy for some toiletries and barbeque from The Rib Co., we retired pretty early. I turned the light out by 11, but I probably didn’t fall asleep till 3 in the morning. Ever since I was burglarized last month, I’ve had a difficult time falling asleep, and adding to the fun was Daylight Savings Time fallout, and the fun discovery that Annie is a hardcore kicker in her sleep (we were sharing a bed).

 

The plan was to do 15-16 miles on the Boy Scout Trail the next day. The trail is about 7.5 miles out, with the option of leaving a car at the other side, but we planned on doing the out and back from the trailhead on Indian Cove. I had done some more reading on the trail in a book I have, 50 Trail Runs in Southern California, and found out that part of the trail was composed of loose sand. It was more than part- at least 75% of the ground we traveled resembled a beach.

The trail stars out in open desert then climbs through hills of rock formations. I found every part of the run visually and physically engaging. As we were we were running on sand most of the time, our pace was slower than we anticipated and we didn’t make it to the other side before needing to turn back for the day. Despite the fact that we kept up as good a pace as we could and didn’t stop for long, it still took us over an hour to run 4 miles. I would look down at my watch, expecting to see 12-13 minutes per mile, but find we were running closer to 15 minute miles. We re-evaluated our plan at the four mile mark, decided to run one more mile, to where we could see over the other side the rock formations we had climbed up. I will add that there was also about a mile and a half (3/4 mile each way) on the trail that required more hiking and scrambling than running. According to my Garmin, the trail climbs steadily from about 2,900 ft at the head  to 4,100 ft at the five mile mark, with most of it runnable. After the run we grabbed lunch at Natural Sisters Cafe, where I had a very tasty black bean burger. I’m not usually a fan of vegetarian fare, to the point where I sometimes get suspicious of it, but seriously, that sandwich was delicious.

I’m happy I made it out somewhere new to run this week. I needed an energizer after logging some quite boring miles around my home. It was a bit astonishing for me to realize how much I’ve strengthened my legs since last year. Running on sand felt natural and I enjoyed it. I have been hitting trails and hills often on my runs, and now I see how it serves me to keep at them regularly, so I don’t have a mental block about running off road when a good opportunity to run somewhere new and exciting presents itself.

I haven’t mentioned any routes on here that you will have difficulty finding on even a basic map of Joshua Tree. Everything was easily accessible from the road & parking lots. Natural Sisters Cafe and The Rib Co. are both on Twentynine Palms Hwy.

New Zealand & Solo Travel Beginnings

In its not always easy to be true to yourself. The search to be “you” is hard. It doesn’t always reveal something easily managed, but I also found that the nicer you are to yourself, the more kindness you store up for the rest of the world. Say you are standing in the middle of a room with ten new objects surrounding you. No one is looking and you have time to consider- Which doodad do you walk to? Which one would you want to examine more closely?

“So Travel has helped me to have direct experiences, and to know more about myself”

                                                                                                -Michael Crichton, Travels

 

            The fall semester after I graduated college, My friend Monica and I did a three-city tour of Europe. We started in Dublin, then flew to Amsterdam, and took a train to Paris. In Amsterdam we met a young man who was traveling alone, and had been for quite awhile. I imagined him to be a prodigal son, someone who was expected to do great things at home but sought the world instead. Monica and I would often find him in the array of pillows and rugs provided in the common area of the hostel we holed up in, The Flying Pigand at some point we got into a deep conversation about traveling solo. I asked,

“Why can’t I travel by myself?” He assured me I could, that he knew plenty of young women that did.

            Previously, I had traveled to London to visit a high school friend studying abroad, and also gone on a one month group trip to Costa Rica with International Student Volunteers, but my desire of truly traveling about foreign places seemed out of reach. I had been enamored with the adventures of “Alexander Supertramp” after reading Into the Wild in high school. I had no designs on dying alone in the Alaskan wilderness, but the idea of throwing up my thumb and seeing the country and meeting new people thrilled me. As I talked to this lost boy in the hostel, a spark flew in my heart and I knew I would go on a trip by myself, soon.

            I had always wanted to go to New Zealand, had even read Lonely Planet travel guides on it in high school, so I decided to travel there, first. I researched and planned, and by the next spring I was on a plane to a place brand-new to me. I had no idea why I wanted to go out to the world so badly, but there I was, ready to dive into that unexplained phenomenon known as wanderlust.

            I landed in Auckland and spent my first night alone in a hostel that blew the ones in Europe out of the water. All of the hostels I stayed at in New Zealand were amazing- I don’t know if I planned well or if that is just how they do it there. My foreign running exploration began in that city. On the second day I was there I went on a long run with minimal planning. I had a street map and information for the bus, so that if I ran too far I could ride back. On that run I was able to see Holly’s Auckland, the things that stood out to me, rather than being reported by a tour guide or a book. I ran to the harbor and examined yachts. I changed direction and ran through the city to a calm park with great, drooping trees. I finished at a coffee shop (like many runners, I’m a coffee addict), then took a bus back to the hostel.

            I completed more sight-seeing runs on the trip. It wasn’t my focus, but I’m a runner so I ran. The most memorable jogs were along the coast in Napier and a bit of trail running in Queenstown. On these runs, I took my time, and I would slow down when I found the little nuances that made a place a place for me. I found on that trip that it wasn’t about what New Zealand was, it was about how I related to it. I found a small part of my wanderlust explained- I was after the experience of discovering what I was truly drawn to.

            In its not always easy to be true to yourself. The search to be “you” is hard. It doesn’t always reveal something easily managed, but I also found that the nicer you are to yourself, the more kindness you store up for the rest of the world. Say you are standing in the middle of a room with ten new objects surrounding you. No one is looking and you have time to consider- Which doodad do you walk to? Which one would you want to examine more closely?

That is how traveling alone is to me. Given no constraints, and with no one really looking, what do I want to pick up? Heck, I went fly-fishing in New Zealand. No idea why I was drawn to that. I’m terrified of heights and falling, but I flung myself down 134 meters at a bungy jump. I also found that I wanted a boat. I get seasick, and I know they are money pits, but when I got back to the States and people started in on me, my stance was solidified and no one could talk me out of it. I still don’t have the boat, but its there on some horizon, waiting for me and my skeptical friends.