I am a prat, and if it weren't for the shooting pains in my shin, I'd be kicking myself. You'd think that I'd have learned some lessons from the last few days, but it seems that yet again I've pushed myself too far and too fast and yet again I'm paying the price. Today should have been an easy stroll through the remains of the heatwave; instead it's been another awful day of pain and misery and I'm left here tonight worrying myself sick about whether my body is going to let me get to John o'Groats.
Yesterday I got too cocky. The lack of a heavy pack and the beautiful weather lulled me into a false sense of security, and in retrospect I pushed myself too fast. Peta was there, waiting for me at the end of the walk, and despite the amazing scenery of north Loch Lomond, I didn't really want to be walking. I've been walking most days for over two months, but spending time with my girlfriend is something I haven't been able to do, and if walking fast means more time with her, then I'm going to walk fast.
So it was entirely my decision to push myself on the latter stages of yesterday's walk, and towards the end I felt a slight tug in my left shin. I didn't think anything of it, though by the end of the walk it had graduated into a stiff pain that made it uncomfortable to walk. 'Never mind,' I thought, 'a nice hot bath will soon sort that out,' and after a couple of pints of Piper's Gold, a large meal and a relaxing midge-feeding session on the hotel veranda, it felt fine.
It most certainly didn't feel fine after a few miles today. This morning Peta dropped me back at the Drovers Inn, and after another painful goodbye – I won't see her again until I go back home – I sobbed my way back into today's walk. But my body didn't let me feel miserable for long; soon enough the shooting pains returned to my left shin, and with every step melting into pain, that was all I could think about.
I seem to remember this happening the other day, too. What is going on? Doesn't 850 miles of training make your body fit enough to handle the odd brisk walk along the shoreline of a loch? Evidently it doesn't and I think I've finally learned this the hard way; today was agony and tonight the pain most definitely hasn't gone away.
Step by Step
Luckily the West Highland Way has just moved into motorway mode and from here to Fort William the path is reportedly excellent. Gone are the tree roots and slippery boulders of yesterday and instead the path is wide, sprinkled with light gravel and easy to follow. Today's 12 miles would normally have been excellent, with easy walking, good weather and some pleasant views, and there was even a light breeze that cooled the effect of the sun and blew away the midges. Today should have been perfect.
But as with the limp into Drymen, I couldn't concentrate on the walk because every time I put my left foot down, my shin exploded with pain. I took some painkillers but they didn't make much difference; I rested every few hundred metres and this helped for the next few steps before the pain kicked in again; I slowed right down, forcing myself to take it easy, and this improved things slightly while making the walk last for a very long time; but mainly my shin just hurt and I wondered if I'd ever get through the distance.
I don't remember much about the walk. I do remember thinking that the walkers round here are different to those on the Pennine Way; some are chatty and most are friendly, but there are quite a few walkers on the West Highland Way who are downright bizarre. As I've already mentioned, the Pennine Way is so utterly unforgiving that there's an instant camaraderie between those who have survived the first few days; sure, there are plenty of weirdoes doing it for the umpteenth time who actually seem to enjoy the bloody thing, but at least everyone is friendly. Basically, people say hello on the Pennine Way; on the West Highland Way, though, that's not always the case.
A perfect example happened earlier today. I decided to sit down for lunch in a small grassy clearing overlooking Crianlarich; it was a pleasant place, and being a brief respite from the pain I remember it as the highlight of the day. But some highlights are short-lived, for ten minutes into my sandwich along came a man with two boys in tow, all of them carrying packs and no doubt tackling the West Highland Way as part of a family bonding exercise. I'd said hello to them as I'd passed them earlier, something I insist on doing to everyone; it's only polite to be polite, after all, even if it falls on deaf ears, which is precisely what happened. This time the three of them sat down right next to me without even acknowledging my existence, spilling their packs onto the ground and arguing about who got which rolls and how much food there was for lunch. I didn't mind too much – walks this busy are there to be shared – but despite trying to catch the man's eye to nod a greeting, I was soundly ignored. None of them took any notice of me at all; it was as if I wasn't there, and I couldn't believe it. My peaceful lunch break in splendid isolation had just been invaded by the rudest family on the planet.
I kept looking over, hoping for some recognition. When you've just said goodbye to your girlfriend and your leg is burning with pain, a friendly hello or a swapped anecdote is like manna from heaven, and I was stunned to be so completely overlooked. They just rolled around in their own juices, arguing over food in their gentle Scottish accents; I'd have understood if they'd been from overseas, as language can be a terrifying barrier, but these were locals and here they were, blatantly ignoring someone just ten feet away from them. Even when I got up, packed my bag and shuffled off past them, they continued to avoid the fact that I was there. It deflated me completely; I felt thoroughly unloved.
Despite the continuing agony in my shin I eventually reached Tyndrum and fell into a shared hut that provided a basic but acceptable home to six bunk beds, a shower and a kitchen. My timing couldn't have been better, for as soon as I'd dumped my bag, popped into the village for my customary ice-cold Irn-Bru and returned to write up the day, the heavens opened in the most almighty downpour. Thunder shook my wooden hut, the power went dead and the rain fell in rods, soaking the poor man outside who'd only managed to erect the inside of his tent before the freak shower hit.
It lasted for ten minutes and then the skies cleared, the power flicked back on and the sun came out. So today could have been worse; I could have been totally drenched too, though if tomorrow is as painful as today, that will be scant comfort.
I also noticed that the man with the drenched tent was the same man who had steadfastly refused to acknowledge my existence back in Crianlarich. Perhaps that was the highlight of my day after all...