Tag Archives: hiking

203/365 – A braw Scottish break

After five glorious days in my beautiful homeland, I’m now on a plane back to London feeling tired but super relaxed. As I recounted in my 202nd and 200th blog, we’ve travelled on four ferries, visited three islands, clocked up around 900 miles in our hire car, seen numerous Scottish wonders and climbed Arran’s highest mountain. Not bad considering we only had four days.

This morning I tried to go on a run, but only had 10 minutes before breakfast so it was more of a short, fast sprint. It’s just as well really because my legs were less than subtlety reminding me of all the climbing they did the day before. I’ve continued to feel heavy limbed today after scaling Goatfell. After convincing Elaine that we should visit the Machrie Moor stone circle (pictured above) on the west of the island, the 4-5km walk felt like a real challenge with my tired wee legs. They made it, but needed some gentle encouragement at times.

The positives

While I’m physically tired, thankfully the fatigue I’ve been feeling in London recently has faded in Scotland. Four out of the five nights we’ve been away I’ve managed to get eight or more hours sleep and I think this has had a significant impact to my energy levels.

 Also, getting out in the fresh air for extended periods has definitely helped. It has made me feel strong but also tired me out in a wholesome way. Give me a wrapped up stroll home over running to catch the tube anyday. 

The negatives

While it might be one of the most beautiful countries in the world, it’s cuisine has got to be one of the most fattening. If I see a cooked breakfast, giant homebake or battered anything in the next while, I’ll be running in the other direction. Also, why does tablet have to be so moreish?! I’m planning a week of nothing but salad to unclog my arteries and delay my imminent diabetes.

Also, Scottish people like a drink for many reasons, a key one being they need warmed up on a chilly July day (I’m coming back in the summer). My liver needs a detox after the last few months and this holiday has been a glorious send off to the joyless land of sobriety.

While I can’t say I’m looking forward to being back in London, I feel in a much better state than when I left. Thank you Scotland for a memorable, fun and healing few days. 

202/365 – Taking on the Isle of Arran’s highest summit

Elaine and I had an epic adventure today – we climbed Isle of Arran’s highest mountain, Goatfell. This Corbett (a Scottish mountain over 2,500ft) towers over Arran’s main settlement Brodick and is rather intimidating from sea level. There arw two main routes up the 2,854ft peak – the tourist route from the Arran brewery car park or the hard route from Corrie. We took the gradual tourist route up the mountain and accidentally took the challenging route on the way back.  

  
 After days of driving around Skye littered with short walks, we were both ready for a proper stretch of the legs. As it was close to our guest house, it seemed rude to tackle Goatfell….even if it was drizzling and cloudy. What else can you do in that kind of weather?!
The website said the climb would take  four to six hours walking but having seen it I thought we’d be able to cut that down to about three hours. Sure enough we arrived back at the car drenched at around 5pm having set out at 1pm. 

Anyway, the first part of the ascent was easy with a gentle incline. We meandered through woods and fields of heather until we came to a gate which signalled the start of the scrambling over rocks. Thankfully we met a few other idiots who decided to climb on such a dreik day and who encouraged us. As the path got trickier, my legs began to shake a little and I realised that I had left my mestinon in the car. Not smart. 

The top kept evading us as we wound our way up and up skipping boulders now. Just as we reached the last 20metres, thick cloud poured around us and we scrambled to the top as quickly as possible without taking a moment’s pause before heading back down. I don’t know what I thought I needed sunglasses for in the photo below.

 
Anyway, in our rush to get out of the cloud, we took the wrong path and ended up climbing down the other side of the mountain (on the path for experienced hill walkers…whoops). 

This path was tough and left us scrambling for around an hour. The steps between stones were made for giants and we had to climb through no less than two waterfalls. However, it may have been more difficult but it was also quicker which my shaky legs were very grateful for. When we arrived in Corrie, we found a hire taxi just over the road from the bus stop. The lovely driver took us to Brodick for cash before dropping us at our car all the time regaling tales of other silly people who got lost on the mountain. He picked up one guy at 6am who had been on a stag doo the night before and woke up on the mountainside. Scarier still, he had no idea how he got up there.

After a bath with a glass of red wine, I’m feeling warmed up and my legs are no longer shaking. Today we missed the views of Jura and Ireland from the top sadly, but I had the feel good factor of climbing my first Scottish mountain since being diagnosed with myasthenia. 

Read more about walking with myasthenia here. 

149/365 – Things people with myasthenia gravis need for the Camino de Santiago

Having now done two stages of the Camino de Santiago, I thought it would be useful to compile a list of things anyone with myasthenia gravis who is considering doing the walk, or indeed any hiking, should consider taking. This compliments all the standard things you should take like good quality hiking boots and socks, a comfortable backpack and a pack of cards.

Medication 

Bit of a no brainer really. As with everything you do in life, the first priority has to be medication (unless you are one of those very lucky people in remission). Make sure you take enough with you for the whole journey as it is likely there will be many places you stay where there is not a doctor nearby. 

Walking stick
If your vision is affected, one or two walking sticks will help with your balance as some of the paths on the Camino are quite tricky to navigate. Also, if your muscles are weak, they will give you an added boost. 

Factor 50 sun cream and a hat

If you are on aziathioprine your skin will be thinner and more prone to skin cancer so protecting yourself is essential. As most of the Camino is in Spain, it can get very hot and there are many stretches that are very exposed. 

Good quality sunglasses

The sun is strong in Spain and you will be spending a lot of time in it so invest in good quality sunglasses that will protect your eyes.

Light long sleeve tops and trousers 
For the same reasons as above, long sleeve tops and trousers are useful for keeping your skin covered. As it gets very hot, it’s a good idea to get the walking trousers which can be unzipped as shorts. For the same reason, light weight long sleeve tops are important. There is also the option of UV protecting tops which a doctor friend of mine recommended.

MG card and/or a label for your bag
If you plan to do the Camino on your own, or with people who don’t know about your condition, it is important to carry your MG card in case of emergencies. Also, another idea is have a tag on your bag that alerts people to your MG so that they know right away if something goes wrong.

Quick breakfast snacks

Sometimes you may have to walk for a while before breakfast so it is worth taking something you can eat right away if you take your medication first thing in the morning. 

Ear plugs

I would recommend not sleeping in dorms as sleep is so important for strength and from what I have heard it is a struggle to get much in the large dorm rooms. However, if you feel this is an essential part of your Camino, it is probably worthwhile investing in some earplugs. 

Tennis ball

Like a compact foam roller, tennis balls are brilliant for massaging aching and tired muscles. They can be used when you are on your own against a surface or someone else can use them for you but they definitely help your tight muscles relax and recuperate.

31/365 – Breaking myself in gently

Last week I made a big decision about my pilgrimage in May. I decided that something was more important than doing lots of training, resting well and understanding the challenges of the route in advance. More crucial to having an enjoyable trip than these three things combined this year is the investment in a good quality pair of shoes.

As I wrote about here in Girls Gone Wild, last year I had too many blisters to count during my five days of hiking the final stage of the Camino.

Excluding a day of 31km where I struggled, my muscles felt comfortable with the daily distances of 20+kms. My feet, however, did not and I was reduced to tears on several occasions bursting blood blisters. I’ve decided to try to do all I can to stop a repeat performance this May and thought the obvious start would be investing in a decent pair of walking boots. Whereas last year I spent £30ish, this year I’ve broken the bank with a North Face pair and had the pleasure of trying them out this weekend with a 10 mile jaunt around Lea Valley park from Cheshunt with my friend Keith.

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Out of the city we went and spent several hours exploring a beautiful part of Hertfordshire in the rain and the snow. I’ve included a selection of my favourite images from the walk and also a snap of a much appreciated real fire we parked ourselves in front of halfway through out trek to dry out.

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Although breaking my boots in was one of the reasons for clocking the miles up, another was to see how my muscles would cope with the longer distances. While the course was very flat, and I did have the odd tingle in my calves from the cold, my body felt tired in a strong way afterwards. I even managed to walk the additional 2km home from the station without too many complaints.

And my feet….well there wasn’t even a hint of a blister. I know that the added stress of the backpack and heat will up the likelihood of them appearing but I get the feeling, this year, there are going to be less tears shed and curse words shared when it comes to taking my boots off at the end of the day.

22/365 – Girls gone wild

During this period of rest between jobs, I’ve been keeping myself busy with bits of work, volunteering with Childline and Myaware and trying to get myself as strong and healthy as possible. A key reason for this drive to get fit is because I’m going to be doing the Camino De Santiago with Elaine, and hopefully some of our friends, this May.

Today, I spent time doing another thing that’s been keeping me sane during my break from work – I went to the cinema to see Wild. If you’ve not heard of it, Wild is Cheryl Strayed’s true story. She walked 1,000 miles on her own, from the Mexican border to Canada, to deal with the grief of losing her mother, her subsequent drug addiction and the guilt over the breakdown of her relationship with her husband. As you can imagine, aside from Reese Witherspoon’s raw and powerful portrayal, the film’s concept has got me rather excited about our trek this spring.

Let me first tell you about why we decided to do the Camino for the first time last year. Last Christmas, Elaine and I bought each other flights to Santiago de Compostella without giving the logistics of what we were doing much thought. We had both wanted to do at least a part of the Camino for years – me since watching the film about it, The Way, and Elaine since hearing about it at church.

When I got my diagnosis of MG, I felt the desire to go become even stronger. I had something to prove to myself – I needed to know I could still live fully and challenge myself physically and psychologically.

If you haven’t heard of the Camino de Santiago, it’s a pilgrimage to Northern Spain that started in the Middle Ages. The idea back in those days was that you started your journey to Santiago de Compostella (where it is believed St James is buried in the cathedral) from your front door, however now there are many established hiking routes including the Portugese way and the French way.

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Last year we walked the last 120km
of the French way – from Sarria to Santiago. Along with many other glory hunters, we joined the groups who had been walking for months for the final stretch of the journey and it is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. We met people from all over the world with fascinating stories to share, got the buzz from achieving a really tough physical challenge, had too many blisters to count and saw a beautiful part of Spain that we probably would never have visited otherwise. I also used it as the first stage in my staggered triathlon to raise funds for Myaware, which felt fitting as the reason I had finally pushed myself to do it was myasthenia.

In preparation, I went out hiking from January onwards with my friend Keith, tried to walk as much as possible in my day-to-day life and even dragged my brother out on a mammoth trek one weekend in Edinburgh. The one bit of prep I didn’t do was training with a full backpack on – big mistake. Still, my back has nearly recovered. I also bought cheap shoes – even bigger mistake. My feet still hate me and can’t believe I’ve signed up to do it again this year.

Physically, the hike was challenging but I believe that was due to my poor shoe choice. While my muscles felt equipped to deal with the 20ish km stumble, my blistered feet did not. By the end we were being over taken by elderly ladies, chihuahuas and snails.

Psychologically, the trek was incredible for me. I never allowed doubt to creep in, I gave my mind space to wander anywhere it liked, I handled the challenge of being around all kinds of dogs (I have a dog phobia) and I felt mentally cleansed at the end of it.

When your daily routine is eat, walk, eat, read and sleep in the quiet wild, with the sound of frogs and birds singing as your constant companion, it’s hard to imagine that you’ll ever be stressed again.

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This year we are doing a shorter walk – the first stage of the French route from St Jean Pied de Port to Pamplona. It’s 60ish kms, about half the length, however it is in the Pyrenees so the terrain is more intense. Whether I do the pass over the mountains will probably be down to how fit I’m feeling at the time and how the weather is. But, at this point, I want to give myself the best chance of being able to conquer the Napoleon pass (the French general and his soldiers used the route).

The satisfaction of completing physical challenges like the Camino is something I’ve always enjoyed and I was delighted to find out last year that I was still capable of achieving such a feat.

Today’s photo is from my night walk around London. Stay tuned for more news about the Camino and about other physical challenges I have for this year.

I leave you with this quote from Cheryl Strayed from her book, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.

‘I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.’