Monday, June 16, 2008

Montrose—All Done: Dunnottar Castle

The hike out is a bit anti-climatic. At least my hike up until the very end felt that way. The first few kilometers were on the forest road that quickly left the forest for farm country. I left the forest road for tarmac and rolling fields full of sheep and sometimes cattle (bulls I learned later)  the Gorse plants were in brilliant yellow bloom but their were also other flowering plants. Still it is really just a walk through countryside  that is nothing special. The hike features one truly awful bit: crossing the A90.

This is a highway. Two lanes, median, and two more lanes of high speed traffic including many trucks. Very unpleasant and scary. I dithered about hoping for others to show up so I could cross in amongst a group. Murray and David came along and we scurried across into Stonehaven together. We strolled through town past the main square and then we were at the beach: the eastern coast, the Atlantic ocean, an unofficial endpoint. I could be happy ending here. I had not tried to step into the coastal waters at Dornie but I made a point of doing so here at Stonehaven. The swirling cold waves bathed my feet and calves and I felt a sense of achievement even though my official ending point was a couple kilometers down the coastline at Dunnottar Castle.  Other Challenger bikers showed up and we all shared the moment together. I think even for those of us not truly at the end this was the real high point.

We dispersed going our separate ways. I joined John and Steph and we had what surely must rank as one of the slowest lunches I've had in recent memory. It wasn't bad food just slow leisurely service. Fortunately the conversation more than made up for the stunningly substantial amount of time we burned there. We had to hurry to reach the castle and then catch the bus to Montrose with enough time to settle in before the big dinner. The walk along the boardwalk then up on to the cliffs along the curving coastal walk to the castle ruins was far more enjoyable than the walk into Stonehaven.  The castle looms out of the cliffs seeming to grow out of the living rock. We didn't have time to explore the castle itself. I'm sure it would be worth some extra time but even just being outside the castle at the top and then at the water's edge did feel special.

For me the Challenge really ended with the dipping of my feet in the ocean. I was happy to trek the last couple kilometers to Dunnottar Castle but in my mind seeing and then feeling the coastal sands under my bare feet was my climatic finishing moment. Completing the Challenge represents my longest through hike. It is not my longest hike or even close to the longest trek between resupply points but their is a sense of accomplishment that goes with finishing a well defined task in one go and that is a key element to the TGO Challenge.

While the big dinner at the Park Hotel consists of food that would likely make a campaign dinner event proud - bland  food - the event was worth attending. Speeches thanking people and noting special accomplishments were given and made the moment worth sharing. I'm not enough of a social butterfly to really get deep into the spirit of such events but I did get something out of it. Part of the overall enjoyment of the Challenge, as so many Challenger hikers told me, is the social aspects of the event. This dinner represents an important high point in that regard and though I'd hardly be shattered if I missed the dinner after future Challenge attempts I would try to still attend because even I manage to share stories with other people and enjoy the good vibe.


Signs of progress. I am almost to the eastern shore. You would think that I would reach the shore pretty quickly but I got stuck at the A90 for quite some time. If a driver had pulled up and seen me dithering about getting across this busy highway and offered to ferry me to the other side I would have accepted the offer and called it a ferry ride. May 22, 2008. 10:30.

Hurray! I am standing in the waves of the Atlantic Ocean on the eastern coast of Scotland in the town of Stonehaven. Getting here is very satisfying. May 22, 2008. 12:02.

John Manning and Stephenie Hughes (hope I have the spelling right) arrived at the beach not that long after Murray, David, and I. By this point other Challengers had also shown up. May 22, 2008. 12:22.

The walk along the curving path along the coastal cliffs to Dunnottar Castle is really quite nice. It would have been nice to spend a bit more time at the castle but that did not happen this time around. May 22, 2008. 15:10.

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