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While walking the West Highland Way, I made a wrong turn and got us lost. Isn’t that just about the worst-case scenario on a hiking trip? Horror movies are made of such.

I’d like to tell you that instead of freaking out, I reviewed the map, appreciated what the wrong turn had given us, and continued on our trek, better for the experience. Instead, I pouted, sulked, cried, and lashed out. After none of those things helped, I stood up, wiped my eyes, and just kept moving.

The morning seemed pleasant enough

Before I get to the lessons I learned the hard way on the trail, let me tell you a bit about how we got there.

Before our trip, Jay ordered a travel book aptly titled “West Highland Way: British Walking Guide: planning, places to stay, places to eat; includes 53 large-scale walking maps.

My research assured me that the trail is well marked. Still, I appreciated having his maps on hand just in case. Jay carried the book in his day pack. For easier reference, however, I took pictures of the daily maps to have them at hand. Better battery life on my phone, less sweaty thighs*, and Jay wouldn’t turn off his business notifications lead the reasons why my phone remained out and readily available, while his was stuffed into the dry bag in the recesses of his backpack.

*My dear, sweet, darling love looked like he’d endured a monsoon each day, about 30 minutes into our walk. Even on days, we didn’t see a drop of rain. Anything that went into the pocket of his hiking pants came out soaked and gross. You’re welcome for that mental image.

Laid back: with my mind on my maps and my maps on my mind.

Having the photos on my phone meant I became the defacto navigator. This happened despite my inability to grasp certain fundamentals – like which way is east and which is west. I’m neither Lewis nor Clark, but I can read. Surely reading the guide book would be enough to keep us on the right track.

(It was not.)

The book also included narrative about sites along the trail and suggestions for where to stop for food. Each night, Jay read about the portion of the trail we would tackle the following day. This helped inform us how early of a start we needed, in addition to other trail factoids.

Leaving Rowardennan

On Day 4 we trekked from Rowardennan to Inverarnan. Jay learned the night before we had a choice ahead of us. We could take the upper path of less scenic but easier terrain. Or we could choose the lower path, which traveled alongside Loch Lomond. This option offered more difficult footing and the promise of an additional hour of trail time. We both agreed before heading out that we would take the higher path.

We’ve established my navigation issues, right?

When we come upon a fork in the road – one leading up to the right and the other traveling down and to the left – I swore this was not the “either way” junction. The sign read “West Highland Way” and pointed to the left.

Only the left.

Not both directions.

So we traveled to the left and bickered about it the whole time. Less surprising than us snipping at one another was the 3 prior days we hiked without any argument. Here’s what the swarms of midges on the trail overheard that day.

Jay: That was it, we should have gone right.
Brooke: It wasn’t. The arrow would have pointed either direction.
Jay: Blah blah blah blah blah
Brooke: You’re wrong.
Jay: Blah blah blah
Brooke: Seriously, I’m right.
Jay: Blah blah
Brooke: I’m confused, according to this map, the waterfall should be below…

Two things I’m worse at than directions?
Admitting that I’m wrong.
Coping with failure.

As soon as I realized my mistake (which, I maintain, was only logical given how misleading the sign was), I started beating myself up internally. I grew weary of the rocks and roots littering the path. I even got sick of Loch Lomond flanking us on the left.

Loch Lomond

My breaking point came at a series of steep rock stairs. Each step required my legs to dig deep and find non-existent strength. My quads screamed their judgment upon me, as I had to lift my leg almost knee-high to propel my body up. Only a couple steps in, I threw in the towel.

I sat down on the trail and began to cry. Sob really.

Jay: Um.
Jay: Petunia*?
Jay: Is this a petunia?
Jay: Is this a petunia?
Brooke: It’s gonna be if you don’t BEEEEEEEEEP

*During one of our training hikes, Jay and I decided to come up with less hostile ways of expressing our frustrations. If he followed too closely on the trail (or some other such offense) I could merely say the chosen word and he would back off.

I chose “petunia” although I never actually had to use the word on the trail. I suppose in hindsight, I can understand his confusion as to why my eyes randomly sprung a leak. At the moment, however, he seemed like a kid who wouldn’t stop saying “Am I annoying you? How about now? Am I annoying you now? Am I? Am I?”

My outburst causes him to back up and shut up, giving me space to process my emotions and consider my options.

  • We had hiked for several miles already that day. Turning around was an option, just not a good one.
  • The portion of the trail I was sitting on wasn’t near a road, to call for a ride to take me to our destination for the evening.
  • Despite the temptation to remain on the ground sobbing, our food and water supplies limited the time frame of that option.

Sometimes standing up, dusting yourself off, and putting one foot in front of the other is the only option that makes sense.

Was I happy about it?

Did I contemplate giving up and letting the midges eat me alive?
Yep, even miles down the trail, hours away from my outburst, with less than a mile to go for the day.

My reward for not giving up

But I did it. And by doing so I positioned myself to get up the next day and hit the trail once again. The best was yet to come, I just had to keep pressing. Funny how that works. You actually have to climb the mountain to enjoy the beauty from the top.

As seen on the trail to Tyndrum, the following day

Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23 (NIV)

Despite what that critical voice said to me, that day I was not a failure. Sometimes success means just not giving up. Not abandoning your work (or yourself) in the process.

For more of our Scotland adventures, click here.