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Walk This Way: 7 Days on Scotland's West Highland Way

I did a presentation for Nerd Nite last night, about that time I walked the West Highland Way back in 2008. It's a 96-mile walk from just north of Glasgow to Fort William. It was my first experience with long-distance walking, and I very much enjoyed it. At the time I was seeking a spiritual experience, sort of half-joking that I was doing it for some kind of epiphany I didn't write out the whole thing, but I did script the introduction as I wanted it to be pretty tight, so I'm going to post it here. Then, if I get a yen to, I might write out each of the other days, based on my notes and the PowerPoint. I've been thinking about working on a memoir about the experience, so this was an excellent way to get started. Here's the first part of the Nerd Nite speech:

"I thought that in this long journey that is the West Highland Way that I would have some sort of spiritual awakening.

On August 31st, 2008, around 12:30, I stood on the top of the Devil’s Staircase in Scotland, as miserable as I had ever been. The ascent up the Staircase was a morning-long affair, back and forth in a constantly ascending zig zag. It had been raining since the morning. A hard, steady, cold rain. In addition to navigating the path, I had spent the ascent dodging mountain bikers speeding down it, avoiding, and often landing in puddles. The Staircase gets its name from the workers on the nearby Blackwater Dam, completed in the early 1900’s. Rather than make the long descent into Kinlochleven in the north, they’d head down to Kingshouse Pub on the south side of the pass, and after a few pints on a cold night, some wouldn’t make it back up. The Devil would take his due. I made it, but barely, and everything in the world was sopping wet. Starving, I sat on drenched rocks, and pulled out a sack lunch from earlier. The paper sack had not held up. The turkey sandwich inside, also wrapped in brown paper, was a soggy mess. The only survivors of this lunch were a juice box and a piece of Battenberg cake.

Battenberg Cake – supposedly originated in 1884 to celebrate the marriage of Prince Louis of Battenberg to Princess Victoria (Queen Victoria’s granddaughter and Prince Phillip’s grandmother) though this is disputed that the cake is much older, previously known as a “Church window” cake or “Neopolitan Roll”. It is a sponge cake held together by apricot jam and covered with marzipan. It tastes of apricots and almonds and is super sweet.

It was the most delicious thing I have ever eaten. I sat on that cold rock in the rain and devoured it. That Battenberg cake restored my hope. The rain let up a little, my jellied legs stopped complaining, and there, alone on that crest, I started singing “We may just make it after all” loudly, to the air. Singing to yourself loudly is one of the joys of being in the middle of nowhere. It felt like the closest I got to a spiritual awakening

or a nervous breakdown. Maybe both. But this twinned moment of suffering and triumph was one of the many moments I still cherish from the West Highland Way.

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