Sunday, 7 May 2017

It's the wrong trousers, Gromit!

"They're techno-trousers, ex-NASA, fantastic for walkies!" said Wallace to his trusty canine companion Gromit about the contraption operated by the conniving chicken-imitating penguin culprit Feathers McGraw.

I can only wish I had a pair right now, remotely operated by a penguin for criminal purposes or not. I'm not sure which of the ones that I actually have here would be fantastic for walkies - and I've only got 27 hours before I need to leave home!

Option One:

Fjällräven Keb gaiter trousers

  • stretchy, with enough of G1000 to be durable and water-repellent
  • nice leg pockets
  • detachable legs and ventilation on thighs, in case of sudden summer weather 
  • waxed and ready to go
  • just a little bit tight if I need to wear long johns underneath > might feel too cold
  • mid waist, which means I need a belt so that the rucksack won't push them down > might feel uncomfortable under the hip belt 
  • old, worn and permanently dirty
  • the colour clashes with my T-shirt ;)
I also have another pair of the same trousers in sand/tarmac colour, but they are not waxed and I doubt I'll have time to do that (at least not if I'm sitting here blogging). They're a little less worn so they're a bit cleaner but therefore a bit tighter still. Also, in some photographs people tend to look like they're wearing no pants at all because of the colour. Can't have that now can we?

Option Two:

Tierra Light Track

  • stretchy and really, really comfortable
  • ventilation on the thighs
  • windproof and water repellent, rear and leg ends waterproof
  • soft shell can feel really cold in chilly weather (at least if you're a person who always freezes her butt, like me. Can be helped by wearing longjohns though, and they will fit underneath these easily)
  • only one (smallish) leg pocket - having a map and a compass there might not work
  • mid waist, which means I need a belt so that the rucksack won't push them down > might feel uncomfortable under the hip belt 
  • can be really hot if the weather is hot, especially due to the waterproof membrane in the rear - then again I've worn them at work (inside) every other week for seven months now and survived.
Option Three:

Fjällräven Barents Pro Curved

  • brand new, waxed and ready to go
  • high waist so I don't necessarily need the belt with the rucksack, and if I happen to loose weight and will need the belt, it will a bit higher up and not directly underneath the pack's hip belt
  • ample leg pockets
  • nice colour
  • windproof, water repellent and breathable
  • loose enough to fit longjohns underneath easily
  • high waist - comfortable with the rucksack, a bit uncomfortable without 
  • raw lenght, so no fixed leg ending to tighten around the hiking boot
  • no stretch
Just a few weeks ago I was sure I wanted to have the Barents Pros since the Kebs were a bit too tight and the Tierras a bit too hot for warmer weather perhaps, but now I have no idea what to do. Maybe I'll toss a coin... Maybe I'll bring them all to Edinburgh for some last minute testing and send the extra pairs home...

What would Wallace do?
"It's the wrong trousers, Gromit, and they've gone wrong!"

Monday, 1 May 2017

It's the final countdown

Not long ago I was excited having been able to say "this year I will be walking across Scotland". Then I blinked once or twice and now it's "This month I will be walking across Scotland".

How did this happen? Where did all the time go?

It was probably not a time warp, though. I believe it's just my knack for procrastination that creates this last minute chaos every time I plan a trip, whether it be a week, a month or half a year in advance.

So far I have some things beautifully covered (travel, accommodation, maps, rucksack, boots, tent, a new phone and a power bank), some things well under way of being beautifully covered (food, meds, stove) and then there are the other things. Well. You can't always win, not even every time.

Yesterday I took my dog to her "summer camp" at my friend's, where she will stay until I return, and so today, a day off from work, has been all work and no play. So many things to do and so little time to do it! I have only had 5.5 months! Not nearly enough! Somebody stop all the clocks!

Boots waxed and updated with new laces.
Waterproof map prints acquired.
Hygiene kit assembly started.
Food dehydration 2/4 done.
I have decided to walk in my trusty old Hanwag Tatra leather boots although I know a lot of people prefer trailrunners for the Challenge. It's just that I've had my Hanwags for five years, and on all the different kind of walks, from Swedish fells to Cornish coastal paths, they have never ever given me blisters. I think that for me it's more a question of the pack weight than the terrain when it comes to choosing the right kind of footwear. I wore lighter shoes last summer to Denmark for a 75 km walk mostly on pavement, and got horrendous blisters. I do realise that the Hanwags will feel really heavy and stiff with all the road walking and that I will need to take them off for all the fording, but honestly, I don't give a damn as long as I know I'll probably be free from blisters. And it's not like I'm not used to taking my boots off for fording.

Boots and other items of clothing, that is.

When it comes to the perfect combination of socks and insoles, the jury is still out. As should I be, out, testing them. I'll walk to and/or from work these coming days to see if I reach any conclusions. 

I saved my route from OS online maps to PDF and got it printed on waterproof paper, double-sided. The whole route is now covered on two A3 sized prints (my route sheet on the other side of the first) and eleven A4s. Most of them are 1:50 000, but there are three 1:25 000 maps for the trickiest parts. The overall weight of these is just 150 grams! I will be carrying the six OS Landranger paper maps as well, divided into three batches (to go from the start and supply parcels 1 and 2), just in case I need to re-route dramatically. I like to carry the map in my trouser leg pocket, and now with the waterproof paper I don't need a map case at all. I've pierced each print's corner and will be running the compass lanyard through to be able to clip the whole lot to my trousers, just in case. Having once looked on helplessly when a gust of wind flew my map to Norway, I've learned to clip everything and anything smaller than a squirrel to myself or my pack.

is coming along. There's this really handy tip I learned from an ex-girlfriend (I suppose they all were good for something...) . The GoreTex tube at the bottom row is not GoreTex Paclite but a mini deodorant! Substance from a stick deo stuffed into an empty lip balm case and vóila! It weighs all of 12 grams and will suffice for a week. I'll have another in the second supply parcel. The only thing to remember with this item is to choose a lip balm tube as distinctively different from the actual lip balm as possible, to avoid any unfortunate mishaps. Not that I've done it. Not often at least.

The other genius item in my hygiene kit is the Kavat shoe wax. It's always nice to have an item serve at least two purposes when you're desperately counting grams. This shoe wax, made of solely natural substances, can be used as hand / foot cream as well. 

I'm dehydrating lactose free feta cheese right now. It's a delicious way of spicing up any bland food I may encounter. I've already dehydrated some pea soup and flavoured tuna for my tuna and mashed potatoes dinners. The rest of my food has been or will be store bought, some here in Finland and some on the way.

I'm waiting for my new trousers to arrive, and as they are Fjällräven Barents pro curved trousers with raw length - meaning that I will need to adjust them to my liking - I really hope they will arrive sooner rather than later. I work in a Fjällräven Brand store, though, so I can do it at my workplace before work. As long as they will get here in time... If not, I will have to squeeze myself into my Fjällräven Keb Gaiter trousers, that would me nice if the weather gets too warm (!), but I'd have to loose a kilo or two. That or not bend wearing the trousers, or breath too heavily. Or eat.

Everything else is also pretty much were it was months ago. I have a spreadsheet with all the gear options, but it doesn't come with an "automatic decision" -button! I need to make up my mind all by myself. Sometimes I wonder how I ever got to deciding to participate in the Challenge in the first place.

I'm also not sure if I should get myself a prepaid SIM card from a Scottish mobile operator to reduce the costs of phoning in the Challenge Control at least four times and possibly other places such as hostels. My mobile is a dual SIM phone so that would be easy and probably cost less than using my Finnish operator. 

Ten days and fifteen hours to go. Better get to it, then.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Leap of faith

The Challenge is almost there. Or here. Or I'm almost there where the Challenge will be. In exactly one week I'll start my journey from home to Mallaig, Scotland. It will take me three days to get there and I'm not even walking! Since it is my first trip to Scotland I wanted to make the most of it, so I'll be stopping in Edinburgh first for a few days, to walk around without a rucksack, post my supply parcels for the Challenge and make any necessary last minute panic purchases. Like a plane ticket back to Finland.

It's not like I'm nervous. Because I'm not. Frankly, I'm terrified. I'm also super excited! What a lovely twofold feeling! Half of me can't wait to be in Scotland and start walking across it, while the oher half is screaming in agony. Why the bugger did I have to sign up for this? Why on earth did I think I can do it?

I have been walking and hiking a lot in the past 17 years, so I'm not new to this, per se. But I am new to the Challenge and the specific demands of it. So far, my longest hike duration-wise has been 8 days and distance-wise 110 kilometres. The Challenge will be 14 days and approximately 311 kilometres. Well, I suppose that's why they call it a challenge. Were it easy, they would be calling it The Great Outdoor Sunday Stroll in the Park.

Also, I'm physically not as fit as I'd like to be, and I'm not talking about dreaming of athlete fitness, but a regular "every limb works and there is no overall ache or pain until I actually start walking" -type of fitness would be nice. I don't have the luxury of that with my rheumatoid arthritis having decided this would be a good time to have a temper tantrum. A doctor's appointment on Friday will probably solve some of that with all the cortisone injections no doubt waiting for me there.

And then there's the actual training, as in "put your boots on and take your rucksack and go walking on the hills". Or the lack of it. The spring has been nonexistent in Finland so far. The last day of April, which is traditionally spent in light spring clothing sitting outside and sipping sparkling drinks, was not like that this year. It's like the installation of spring was accidentally forgotten in the headquarters of Season Control. So there hasn't been much of actual hiking. Fortunately, I do have a dog and my work is very dynamic, so I've been walking a lot, just not with a rucksack and not that much with the boots on. Also, there are no hills where I live.

So yes, it WILL be a challenge. But like someone, who has done it a lot of times, recently told me: the Challenge is for all. I suppose it includes me. So, I'm going to take a leap of faith and see where it goes. Hopefully all the way across Scotland to the east coast.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

What's cooking?

Meal "cooking" in a 473 ml mug (up left), nice note outside the package,
and my selection for the Challenge.

Really, nothing is. It's just my try-outs for the Challenge, to avoid any disappointment, or downright crisis in the food department. As in I never want to experience what I did in Fjällräven Classic in Sweden two years ago. That is, walk 110 km eating basically potato crisps, Peanut Crunchy ClifBars, bilberry soup and coffee (and two cans of Coke, because yes, the Swedes know how to install a kiosk in the middle of the wilderness). I just couldn't stomach the freeze-dried meals they handed out at the start. Or the bread. Yikes. Finnish rye bread is nothing like that squishy sponge-like thing they equipped us with. It had mould on it on day three. So, no. No more surprises for me, thank you very much.

So, now that I ordered some vegan meals (not that I'm a vegan, but a lactose intolerant pesco-vegetarian) from the TentMeals (highly recommended, by the way: excellent customer service!) I took 2-3 packs of everything so I can try them out before I go. Today was Italian inspired main meal day (since I was too lazy to cook anything). Given my natural suspicion towards couscous based meals (due to some not-so-delicious experiments in the early years of my hiking career, back in the day) I was delightfully happy to find out that this meal was entirely edible - and better yet, it tasted quite good. I loved the Brazil nuts in the mix and will probably throw in some more for the actual meal on the trail.

TentMeal food comes neatly packaged, very compact indeed (average weight of a 500 kcal meal is just 124-125 g packaged), and since they are not the "eat from the tin foil bag" -type, they also produce very little waste. To avoid having to rinse my pot and still get my afternoon tea taste like sundried tomatoes and basil, I wanted to know if I could use my SeaToSummit Insulated Delta mug to prepare the meal. Yay! There was plenty of room for the ingredients and the 200+ ml of water. I'm quite sure the mug will be big enough for the Almond Jalfrezi meal too, although it requires 250 - 300 ml of water, and the third meal, Moroccan mango, should be fine since it takes the same amount of water than the Italian version.

I also purchased two Subtly cinnamon breakfasts that will be a nice change for my usual porridge with berry soup. In addition to the TentMeals I'll be eating my way across Scotland with instant mashed potato with dried tuna, nice Finnish thin crispy bread (extra dark), Tartex paté, coffee, tea, trail mix with nuts and berries, Pringles and salty liquorice, some fish & chips for certain, and of course all the possible cakes and biscuits that I can eat (meaning the ones that are lactose free, which might be a bit restrictive). I suppose I can manage. It will definitely better than my Fjällräven Classic diet, at least!

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

My sucksack and other kit issues

No. it's not a typo. My rucksack sucks. Well, that was maybe a bit harsh, since she has been the most wonderful rucksack for several (almost 8) years. Her name is Aura and she is an Osprey by name. We've seen a lot together, me and her.

Stone-stepping across a stream in the Paistunturi wilderness
area, Finland. June 2012.

But now, despite my desperate attempts in patching her up with Tear-Aid for the Challenge, it seems she just can't hold herself together anymore.

It's not like I feel a lot better at the moment, to be honest, since I'm suffering from a very tiresome flu and super achy knees, but I expect to get better before May. My Aura probably gets worse. Maybe it's just time to let her stay at home and swap her for a younger model.

I have tentatively looked at the new Aura AG 50 (sturdier, but heavier, but also comes with adjustable torso length and a zippered lower compartment) and Sirrus 50 (also heavier, but not as much as the Aura AG, also not as sturdy, but with both the aforementioned features that my current Aura lacks). I would love to have the Exos 48, speficially in blue and white to celebrate the 100th year of independent Finland, but even the smallest torso length is too tall for me. Bummer. Also, it might not be a good idea to get an ultralight pack since apparently I manage to trash a heavier one in less than eight years.

Since my hiking trousers (Fjällräven Keb Gaiter) surprised me and came out of the closet the other day well-fitting, as opposed to being too tight like they were two months back, I don't have to buy a new pair and thus could spend the extra money (What extra money? There is no extra money! Best regards, your bank account) on a new pack.

However, I'm already on the verge of a small panic regarding a lot of my current gear. Should I go for  lighter boots (although the last time I tried lighter boots I got really sore feet and a blister the size of Canada)? Should I get a new sleeping mattress (because my trusty old NeoAir is not that trusty anymore, it has the tiniest leak that usually never bothers me, but what if it starts bothering me on 2-week trek)? Do I need a new stove? Will my down jacket be a bit too much? Or a bit too wet if it rains all the time? Should I bring my Merrell barefoot sneakers for wading and camp (although it would mean that they get wet and I'd probably need to buy a pair of Sealskinz socks to go with them) or my Crocs Offroads (although they look hideous and wearing them in public is a fashion crime)? Getting a new rucksack was the ONE thing I thought I don't need to worry about.

Well, at least my back-and-forth with the tent has come to a conclusion. I am getting the Hilleberg Enan (2016 model with the slightly heavier but a lot stronger Kerlon 1000 outer material). In green, obviously. Sleeping in a red tent is a bit too Christmasy.

Now I only need to solve the twenty something issues with my other things and I'm good to go! 50 days left. Better start thinking about food next.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Eastward bound

It goes like this.

For the life of me I can't figure out if it is possible to share a Google Earth link, so here's a screen cap of my route.

I think it is entirely possible that walking across Scotland will be easier than planning the walk. It HAS to be easier than making the OS Maps' digital routes appear in Google Earth.

Two months and 7 days to go.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

In Finland we have this thing called last minute

It is, however, done, finished, and sent off. At the last minute. I am so ashamed, and will accept the  pillory, stocks, the pranger and any other appropriate method of public humiliation.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Nobody knows the troubles I've seen

February the 26th, the deadline for route submissions for the first-time Challengers, is approaching like a teenager driving his father's BMW for the first time. Full speed. Way too quickly for me to get out of the way in time. It's a good thing that I've been on my winter vacation this week or I might have be in serious trouble. Now I'm only in regular trouble, as most of this week I've been ill and also taking care of my canine companion's injured paw. She managed to rip the outer layer of one of her nails off. I'll spare you from the dreadful image and show her sporting her protective husky bootie instead:

11 years and 5 months worth of pure love and happiness. Also some amount of dorkiness.
Her name is Lumo and she is a Lapponian herder (a Finnish breed for herding the reindeer).
Might have been Gillian Anderson's fault, too. Not the paw injury but the fact that my route is still not finished. On my worst sick day I ventured into the world of Netflix (Try one month for free! Binge-watch 'til you drop!) and stumbled upon The Fall.  All three seasons of it. Nuff said.

Anyway, despite all these hardships, I'm nearly there with the route. It looks like this:

Day 1: Mallaig - Inverie - Sourlies bothy
Day 2: Sourlies bothy - Kinbreak bothy
Day 3: Kinbreak bothy - Laddie Wood
Day 4: Laddie Wood - Invergarry- South Laggan
Day 5: South Laggan - Melgarve bothy
Day 6: Melgarve bothy - Laggan - Newtonmore
Day 7: Newtonmore - Glen Feshie - Ruigh Aiteachain bothy
Day 8: Ruigh Aiteachain bothy - Linn of Dee
Day 9: Linn of Dee - Mar Lodge - Braemar
Day 10: Braemar - Balmoral - Ballater
Day 11: Ballater - Mount Keen - Tarfside
Day 12: Tarfside - Mount Battock - Charr bothy
Day 13: Charr bothy - Fetteresso forest
Day 14: Fetteresso forest - Dunnottar castle - bus to Montrose

I'm still contemplating an alternative route  for days ten and eleven to be able to attend the Cheese & Wine party, but that would mean walking the Jock's Road, keeping my original plan as the foul weather alternative - thus forcing me to decide which route to take already in Braemar. Better have that crystal ball clear and at hand.

Changed Day 4 destination from South Laggan to Fort Augustus.
*edit of edit*
Changed Day 4 destination back to South Laggan (thanks for the encouragement, Humphrey!)

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Mallaig. It will be Mallaig.

After tossing and turning for several nights in agony over deciding where to start my big adventure, I have finally come to the conclusion that I will take a train/bus/train combination from Edinburgh  to Mallaig via Fort William. Why is that, you ask (well I doubt that anyone really asks but I'm telling you anyway). Because having already planned that I might do that (or choose from the dozen other plans I had schemed out), I came across a Challenger blog from last year and realised that travelling by train to Mallaig I will actually be crossing the River Finnan. ON TOP OF THE GLENFINNAN VIADUCT. Oh yes, the Harry Potter bridge, that is. Being the overgrown child that I am, I was thrilled to to be able to nail my starting point choice with a little help of Mr. Potter. Thanks Harry, much appreciated!

So far my itinerary is as follows:

Tuesday May 11th: Fly into Edinburgh from Finland with the kind help of British Airways. Spend a day and a half out and about Edinburgh.
Thursday 11th: Travel to Mallaig for a night at the Mission Bunkhouse.
Friday 12th: hop on a ferry to Inverie. Recover from possible seasickness . Start walking towards the East coast. Over the hills and far away. The actual route is still being plotted reverently.
Thursday 25th: arrive somewhere in between Stonehaven and Kinnaber Links. Bus to Montrose, a Challenge party and a night in Montrose. Flight home on Friday 26th. Arriving home in the early hours of Saturday 27th.

There! Wasn't that hard now, was it?

Monday, 9 January 2017


It's a brand new year! From now on I can start saying "this year I am going to walk across Scotland". It really has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?

To able said walking across Scotland I have indeed made some vital preparations. First and foremost I have begged my boss to let me have three weeks of my four week summer vacation in May, despite all the happenings and general hassle at work during that time, and she has, a bit reluctantly, said yes, after I promised to update our company Instagram with awesome Scottish scenery a lot.

Vacation time secured, I could then get to the pesky tasks of bookings. After having spent considerable time browsing the internets for cheap flights, and giving kudos to the profession of travel agents that I have not deployed to the task, I finally managed to book reasonably priced (194 euros including the hold luggage) flights to and from Edinburgh. Local logistics at this end will require me to first take a taxi (30 euros prebooked) to the bus station at an ungodly hour, then a 2-hour bus ride (27 euros) to the airport (train would be quicker and cheaper, but also more unreliable), followed by a flight to Edinburgh via London Heathrow. After finally landing on Scottish terrain for the first time in my life, I will spend one and a half days and two nights in Edinburgh before continuing towards my Challenge starting point somewhere on the west coast. Probably Mallaig, Morar oc Lochailort. A big hand and hallelujah to that allows me to book several accommodation with a free cancellation option up to just a few days before, so I don't exactly have to be 100 % sure where I'm gonna be at which time just yet. I have also booked a bed in a hostel in Dundee for the evening of the finishing party in Montrose. Might swap that to an Airbnb room, though, since there seem to be a few attractive options in Montrose. Staying there would save me a late evening bus/train ride to Dundee.

Update: I did indeed manage to book a lovely room in Montrose via AirBNB, so party all night, party all night it is (quite possibly up to 10 p.m. after which I probably fall asleep).

Up next: route planning.  I have the big lines covered, and a bit more specifically than just "from the west coast to the east coast", now. My plan looks like this: from Mallaig/Morar/Lochailort to Stonehaven/Dunnottar castle/Inverbervie/Johnshaven/St. Cyrus. Not exactly ready to submit the route sheet to my vetter yet, am I. Well, there's still time... I'm sure there is a bunch of experienced challengers who balk at my procrastination skills, but it really isn't that simple and easy to plot a 14-day-walk through a land that might as well be "there be dragons" sort of uncharted territory.

The route shall go somewhere there. Maybe. Possibly somewhere else.