Taylor Davidson · Obstacles

Crianlarich, Scotland
by Taylor Davidson · 30 May 2007

Routines start to settle in by day 3 of the West Highland Way. Wake up, slowly pull your stiff legs, knees, back, feet out of bed, each tendon gently reminding you that they are there. Slowly eat an enormous breakfast, put on the various layers of hiking clothes and organize the pack for the day. Prepare feet for the hike and squeeze on the boots, and hike.

And hike.

So simple. Not easy, but simple. Follow the Way. Eat when needed. Rest when needed. Think if you want to. Revel in the views around you. Just take a step, then another, then another.

Of course, obstacles are everywhere. Each step is a bit different: looping over flat ground, grinding up switchbacks up a hill, bounding down a hill in a half-run, tip-toeing gently over rocks ready to fall away under your boots, picking your way through stumps and roots along the river, navigating boulders and trees across the trail, criss-crossing ruts in the trail worn by water, crossing streams and rivers, pounding onto stiff wooden bridges, softly stepping through sand and loose dirt.

The obstacles are not limited to the land, of course. Sheep scatter far before you reach them, but cows are a bit more obstinate- despite attempts to shoo them from the Way you are met with a blank, vacant look that shows no recognition, nonetheless any intent to move. While I tried to shoo, Fran demonstrated his greater experience at dealing with cows by just plunging past them, with as much insouciance befitting avoiding a cow.

The most numerous obstacles, though, are man-made. The Way cuts across a checkerboard of private and public plots of land scattered over the Highlands, each surrounded by a fence to keep animals in and out.

Crossing each fence, via a stile or a gate, is a little different, a puzzle. The simple ones, mere steps over the fence- high stile or low stile, are the easiest. Frankly, even the variety of levers and swings on the gates are not terribly mentally taxing, even at the end of a tiring hike. But the variety is the fun, and for most of the Way, they are the only thing that really gets in the way of the hike.

The biggest obstacle, after all, is yourself.