The accepted list of most stressful things which you can do is usually topped by moving house and divorce. To these has now to be added, applying for a 6 month tourist Visa for the USA. Everything is there on the web site but not necessarily where you expect it or need it to be. You get the hang of it after the fourth or fifth attempt and yes you do get quicker at it. This is a good thing, as the site times out after 20 minutes taking with it anything that you have not just saved. There are unfriendly warnings all the way through the process that if they don’t like your answers then you will have to plan another two day trip to London. Helpfully however, it does say that you should expect the interview to take no more than two hours and so the return train I booked allowed a nice 4 hour gap for a little window shopping to round off the day. Great news, were you not still sitting there after 3 hours waiting for interview part two and pondering the astronomic cost of two singles to Edinburgh.
Luckily interview part 1 had been with a guy whose brother is a bike courier in New York (something that requires a firm belief in some sort of after life in my opinion) and our supporting evidence had been the map printouts from the Adventure Cycling Association showing the routes we want to do. He was hooked and quickly on the team and would have chucked his job to join us given a few more minutes chat. We got the Visa and caught the train but it had taken a year off our lives.
All this was a million miles away from our weekend Bongo camp at Tyndrum in the southern Highlands. We decided to embrace the severe weather warning by packing a kite rather than be put off. A lucky charm we may use in future if the mirror still waters of Lochs stretching to horizons in every direction beneath clear blue skies can be guaranteed.
The plan for the trip was to try out the pot cosy and do a bit of walking along the West Highland Way where a little alfresco food was to be produced accompanied as usual by a Kelly Kettle tea or two. Oatmeal Hotcakes which you can think of as a Bannock made with partially food processed oats was the dish of the day, to be prepared with a view of Loch Tulla on the WHW path above Bridge of Orchy.
We were walking with Jez Hastings and his family. Scotland’s only 5 star wildlife guide and a person used to wildlife viewing requests. “I want Stags roaring Jez and Otters” . So there, as Jez taught Esther how to make fire without our usual cheating and using cotton wool smeared with vaseline (you will never use this on your skin again if you see how flammable it is. Think of it as Napalm rebranded), we cooked, ate and drank surrounded by stags roaring for all they were worth. These are the moments where you feel like the luckiest people alive and cheating on an apocalyptic weather forecast makes it even more special. My lifetime Otter count remains dismally low at 1.
The pot cosy produced pasta that evening. I underestimated it’s thermal performance (is that Tog?) and over did the spaghetti. No one complained after such a perfect day on the hill with the first snow of the winter on the peaks all around. The minus 6 or more overnight was of course way under the forecast +2 and without the covering of snow promised. We were on our own the next day and so a walk in the direction of Ben Lui for more Kelly Kettle action was planned for the morning.
Ben Lui is a very beautiful photogenic mountain from any direction and the covering of snow only made this more so. Another perfect day where I do not feel the urge or need to go and run up or climb up a mountain the way that I once did. We are giving ourselves a rest at the moment to recover from a hard summer on the bikes and a big journey ahead. If truth be told we may even be enjoying this slow pace a little too much but we think we have earned it. Looking up at the mountain along the River Cononish we know that we will need to find a sustainable pace for our multi-year trip and avoid the race pace that we usually fall into chasing flights, ferries or the Bike Bus at some end point a thousand miles away. A little like this weekend but with the mearest hint of urgency about it would be about right.