The Vault Regulars

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Anxiety and a clear vision moving forward.

 27th June 2024

Anyone who has read my blog posts recently about our trip to Scotland will have probably made the assumption we had a wonderful time. In one respect there is some truth to that but there is much much more to it and it isn't all good.

In 2019 as I posted then, I suffered a massive system shutdown, as though my brain went "TILT". I was a mess, such a mess that anyone who has no experience of anxiety would be in total shock. I couldn't move much, I wasn't able to eat or even speak at times. As I wrote then if it wasn't for Sheila there is a high probability I wouldn't be here now.

The NHS didn't help and I went for private CBT treatment at a clinic in Manchester. It took a while but eventually I improved to a point where I could go out. When I say a while I mean the best part of a year.

Then we had the covid lockdowns which didn't help because at that time I was retraining myself to make trips away from home. You have to retrain your brain as though you are starting life again. 

By the end of 2022 I would say I was doing well, although there is no cure for anxiety i was handling most things well because of my CBT training, that is apart from having to plan trips and execute the plan. Like going to Greece for example, I would have to make the train journey to the airport the day before we were supposed to travel so that I could reduce the fear factor the next day. I slept most of the flights but once I had got to our destination I would settle down, that is until a few days before we had to come home when the dread would return.

Then in early 2023 I was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer. The devastating news, especially not having any symptoms at all turns your world upside down. It takes over your life. I was very lucky to have fantastic people at McMillans and Oldham Christie’s where I went through a course of radiotherapy. This knocks you for six and makes you very tired. One minute I felt great and the next I was completely zapped of energy and had to sleep. My confidence also took a hit. 

In the early months of 2024 Sheila said she wanted to do the West Highland Way. I pulled my face and said why? There's thousands of people and it's not hard. But I said ok as long as we do it early before the holiday season and the midge season.

I started packing the rucksacks, trying to find all the gear which hadn't been used for a while. Then once I had packed mine I started packing Sheila's with the same gear list. After a few days I would change the gear as all the negative thoughts started to take over. That sleeping bag will not do, those boots are too old, that waterproof is past it, we haven't got enough food etc etc etc.

I was waking up in the night in a mess worrying endlessly. Night after night.

Eventually, I said to Sheila "I cannot do this trip". Even though I knew I could do it physically and that 99% of what we worry about never happens. Sheila knew it was a hard decision for me to make but it was the right one.

So we went to Glasgow for a short break, without the stress of driving, Sheila did all the bookings, the hotel and the train. I still had a dread cloud hanging over me and the start of the train journey was not easy. But I did it and we enjoyed Glasgow a lot.

So I rekindled the WHW walk which again after a few weeks I said "its no good I can't do it".

Why don't we do another walk where we don't have to be at a place by a certain time. Where there is no pressure, we can stop or change tack at any point, Sheila suggested.

I had a think about it and decided that a 4-5 day backpack which I had planned ages ago would be a possibility. It was walk from Inveroran to Glen Etive, Walk from Glen Etive over Laraig Gartain to Glencoe, Walk the WHW back to Inveroran.  

I planned it, packed for it, bought food for it, downloaded maps, bought new paper maps, checked bus times along the A82, then bang........ it all started again, the same negative thoughts the same sleepless nights, the same old anxiety telling me that I can't do it. 

I fought it, day in and day out. Trying to beat the anxiety, telling myself over and over again that it was nothing but a nice walk where we can stop at any time, where there are lots of bail out points and nothing to be overly worried about.

Sheila thoughtfully decided that booking a hotel in Tyndrum on the day we travel would be a good stress reliever and if I couldn't do the walk we could just go home. That night I felt ok to a point, with just the usual butterflies everyone gets.

Come the morning I woke early and I realised I couldn't set off. Anxiety had beaten me.

A decision was made to book another night in a hotel and to go for a day walk which would clear my head of negativity and hopefully positivity would result. We did the WHW south from Tyndrum, walked the Sheep Trail then walked back. It was a nice day walk, I had no problems. I felt ok.

That evening though, I regressed and I said I know now that I cannot do this anymore, I cannot keep putting both of us through this pressure. We went over and over different scenario's, different ideas, different places and hotels. Just do day walks, don't backpack. It was getting all too much.

We stayed in Tyndrum another night and Sheila tentatively booked a hotel in Fort William because I said if we set off and anxiety beats me we can return and go and check in a hotel. It was agreed.

The next day we walked from Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy and back. I really enjoyed it. I was positive and had the feeling that if we just set off backpacking everything will fall into place and get back to normal.

We drove to Inveroran, parked the car and set off. I felt ok but towards the end of the day I was saying to myself "why are you doing this". It just wasn't right. I was lacking patience, a bit snappy and I wasn't in my usual happy place when I'm camping in a most beautiful place. 

In the morning, even though it was such a wonderful day I wasn't interested in going on. I didn't want the weight on my back, didn't want the wet gear, didn't want to be always kneeling down or lying on one elbow and loosing everything in a small tent. I decided there and then that this trip has proven to me that it is my last backpacking trip. It is time to call it a day. The anxiety is far to hard to beat and totally unfair on Sheila and I have to change the way I live so that I reduce the pressure on both of us.

The way forward for us right now is to do day walks, with a day sack and a comfortable retreat at the end. That's the plan anyway. 

I know other people suffer from anxiety, some not as bad but some are worse and I hope they read this to know that they are not alone and making life changing decisions can be really really painful process. But all I can say is talk about it, be brave and make the decision which suits your situation......

Backpacking Loch Dochard. Day.2

 Friday June 14th.

I was having a poor sleep due to the deflated mat problems. My back was aching.

I was woken up by Sheila, she was already up and trying to get me to get up and see the sunrise. It was 4.02am. I said no chance or something like that but the constant chatter eventually wore me down, so I looked out of the tent door and said "oh yes, very nice"'. It wasn't a good sunrise but it was a lovely morning.

Mist was drifting across the Loch, sometimes it was a thick fog bank then a ghostly mist. It was lovely to see and it certainly made up for the walk in yesterday in the rain.

We watched the ever changing scene and heard the strange call of Loons somewhere in the mist. It really was a magical time and I was glad I did get up in the end.  

Eventually the mist started to clear as the sun rose, we were treated to amazing cloud inversions. We must have said Wow fifty times. If you don't backpack then it would be difficult to see views like this.

I went to fill the water bottles from our little beach, there was a patch of flattened grass about 2 metres in diameter that wasn't there when we went to sleep. Then I noticed deer tracks in the sand that also were not there last night. A deer must have slept about 40ft away from us and we heard nothing except a dog fox barking.

I made porridge for breakfast which had been prepared at home containing Psyllium husk, chia seeds a little salt and a little sugar and after a welcome coffee we started packing up.. The tent was quite wet so it was sponged down to remove as much water as possible. I find the Spunj brand ideal for this job. They are fantastically absorbent.

After checking our pitch that we had left no trace but flattened grass we started off back to Inveroran.

My first sight of the sunrise from the tent door.

The morning was quickly turning into a stunner with blue skies and no need for waterproofs. Such a contrast from yesterday and what a beautiful place.

When we gained the height at the watershed we stopped for a while to take in the beauty. The air was still and warm. We could hear the birds in the forestry to our right and the sound of a waterfall to our left. How good does it get. We were filled with nostalgia, so happy to be here but so sad to be walking out.

Looking East
Looking West.

We arrived at the wobbly bridge and this time took it to follow a good path although very boggy in places to a high stile into the forestry. Once in the forest the path becomes much better and it is a better route than we took on the inward walk.

At the end of the forestry another stile is climbed leading back to the river. We found a very shallow spot just slightly up stream so we didn't need to use the stepping stones this time.

The beauty of this return journey was just so fantastic. No words are necessary.
Just as we approached the Clashgour hut we passed the first person we had seen. Another backpacker, he wasn't the chatty type. Hardly said hello. On a day like this we wasn't bothered. We did pass another person, a lady with her dog who did have a little chat with us. She was going to bag Stob Ghabhar and possibly Sron a Ghearrain, both over 900 metres.

View from the bridge near Forest Lodge.

Our camp spot for the night would be beside the river next to the bridge at Inveroran. This is now a popular spot with West Highland Way campers and the glampers from what we saw.
The amount of rubbish here was a disgrace. We picked up a whole bin bag full of "crap" including tent poles, tent bags, beer bottles and tops, compeed cases and litter of many descriptions. People who had open fires had just left the rest of half burned wood and even fence posts.

We tided up the site completely which took us half an hour and then put the rubbish in the large bin at the Inveroran hotel. Only then did we pitch our tent and fortunately we were neighbour free all night.

The site at Inveroran after the clean up.

The meal we had in the hotel was absolutely superb. One of the nicest meals I have had anywhere. 

We really enjoyed our couple of hours here chatting to bikers and hikers from abroad. One couple had made the mistake of booking the wrong Kingshouse for their next section of the way. To get a taxi to the wrong place and back was going to cost them £180 and a room at the right Kingshouse was going to cost £360.  How does a room cost £360! for one night excluding breakfast? What do you get there that you don't get at the Premier Inn for less than £100? (Apart from the view). It's crazy. I suppose it is supply and demand and of course to keep out Riff and Raff.

Anyway, post rant, while we were enjoying the hotel the heavens opened. The rain was absolutely torrential, the gutters were flowing like waterfalls and you couldn't see far out of the windows. I thought the tent might get washed away but it coped like it was designed to do.

What a fantastic day we had.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Backpacking Loch Dochard. Day.1

 June 15th 2024.

This has been a bucket list walk for quite some time but I never got round to doing it.

The plan was made a couple of months ago but it was originally a lot longer than we actually did on this occasion. The plan was changed a number of times because of reasons I will explain in the post after the next one.

We had the car with us so had to find a good safe place to leave it. I used to leave it in the large car park across the road from the Green Wellie Stop but this land has a new owner and they have put signs out saying no overnight parking. 

So we drove to the little car park at Victoria Bridge near Inveroran. There was plenty of space. There was rain in the air and we could see showers moving across Loch Tulla as we made our way to Forest Lodge.

High Humidity meant that it wasn't good having to wear waterproofs but they were necessary.

A good track, but hard on the feet leads all the way to the Old School House (Clashgour Hut), which now is owned by Glasgow Uni I believe. For this to have been a school house is incredible and shows that there was a community here in this almost empty area.

Looking East, back towards Forest Lodge.
A sign makes it clear that there is no route through to Clashgour Farm as they are Calving but we were leaving the track anyway and taking the grassy path with the through route arrow. The path follows the bank of the Abhainn Shira. Butterflies were plentiful along the path but difficult to photograph with my camera which didn't have a view finder.

The rain made numerous appearances and closed off the views of the surrounding peaks. Such a shame.
In a short time we crossed a small bridge which then led to our first river crossing. Stepping stones were in place across the ford and luckily the tops of the stones were clear.

Sheila found the stones a bit unnerving as her balance is not great, but she made it with dry-ish feet.
At this point and looking at the map, I saw but dismissed a tall stile entering the woods. I thought the obvious ATV track would be easier. This was a mistake as it led to two more river crossings whereas if we had taken the stile route we would have had a bridge crossing. 

Once across the two rivers which were thankfully not in spate, we were back on track at the bridge. The weather was brightening up and the views of the mountains ahead lifted our spirits.

The wobbly bridge.

True to form, we spoke too soon, the clouds rolled in and before long we were walking in the rain. The views disappeared and appeared at random. Fortunately it is a good track all the way to Dochard and beyond.

When rain allowed we stopped to admire the glen with it's feeling of emptiness. It was hard to believe that we were not that far from civilisation. Long may it remain this way.

The track rises towards the watershed and it was harder than it actually looks. Our packs seemed to weigh double what we started with but soon we had a glimpse of the Loch with its surrounding peaks. The rain was sweeping across the glen and was really atmospheric. So quiet apart from a few birds.

We started to look for a suitable place to pitch the tent but it was all so soggy and overgrown with high clumps of vegetation. We passed a hut which I think is used when bringing sheep down off the hills. The poster on the wall of a missing person bringing a reality that you have to be careful out here. We never realised at the time but we camped in the same spot as the missing person. The next morning we saw a small named plaque in the ground. I have read since coming home that the guy was never found.

Splashing through ankle deep water we found a slight higher spot on a peninsula with a small beach either side. It would have to do as the options were limited.
The tent went up, water was filtered and a brew of hot chocolate was had.

We had a short wander around but it really was wet under foot. We had taken with us a pair of dry boots which you put on over the top of your "footwear" what ever it might be. I found they worked really well even though I found a flaw which once known was easily overcome.

Waterproof overboots. 
Superb for walking through pools of water or soaking grass.

I would take them again.

The sun goes down obviously, but at this time of year it hardly goes dark. It soon got to 9.30pm yet it was still very light, we were tired so we called it a day. 

About an hour later I realised my mat was deflating. I thought it was the temperature drop which had changed the air pressure in the mat. It wasn't to be however and I spent the night on my 3mm under mat, combined with the hard clumps of undergrowth I had a fitful half sleep. Until.............tomorrow.

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