I’m doing it—finally. I’m hiking the West Highland Way in September, and as of now, I’m doing it alone.
Am I scared? Yes. I spent one night in the wilderness alone once and shit myself. But it was worth it. The self-confidence I gained from taking the plunge and wild camping alone continues to radiate from me to this day. So, I can only imagine what 8 days will do for me.
What’s the West Highland Way?
That’s right. I’ll be hiking and wild camping for 8 days straight through the west Highlands of Scotland. The West Highland Way is a trail that begins near Glasgow and extends for 154 km up to Fort William (aka the most beautiful place on Earth). It attracts around 80,000 people every year, of whom more than 30,000 walk the full route.
Although I’ve never actually walked any of the trails that are part of the WHW, I have been to a few of the destinations I’ll be seeing throughout the hike and let me tell you, I am far beyond excited to be back. Scottish scenery is some of my favourite. The green is lusher than any other green I have ever seen, and the endless supply of grassy hills and forest could steal the breath of even the most cynical urbanite.
Why am I putting myself through this?
As terrified as I am to stay overnight alone in the wilderness, nothing in this life has brought me more joy than a good hike. That said, I’ll see if I still feel that way after 8 days of hiking (or 7, depending on how much work I do on my cardio before then). No movie, book, TV show, job, game or any other distraction has fulfilled my soul and balanced my mental health the way nature can. So, needless to say, trekking into the wild for a wee while is a no-brainer.
Also, it’s a goal of mine to complete a proper through-hike by the time I’m 35—that’s one of those massive months long expeditions you hear crazy nature buffs and hippies attempt (examples include the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail which take six and three months to conquer respectively). I feel like my upcoming Scottish spirit quest is a good stepping-stone to that eventual adventure. The hiking isn’t too difficult on the WHW, and the wild camping is pretty straightforward. There aren’t any real predators in Scotland (minus badgers and angry sheep) and I think they only have one type of poisonous snake, maybe. In comparison to the other massive trails in the US—the PCT goes from the Mexican border all the way up the west coast to the Canadian border—the WHW is no big deal.
What do I have to do to prepare?
In short, A LOT. But what would I have to write about for the next seven months if I gave it all away right now? Some blog posts to come: fitness prep, buying a new backpack, figuring out how to filter water, hesitations with shitting in the ground, and more. Be sure to check back soon!
Lately I’ve been afraid of being honest on my blog about how hard it’s been for me in the big city. I’ve tried to maintain an air of positivity about my personal purgatory but sadly, the happiness I feel here appears in small waves stifled by the overwhelming loneliness that comes from living in a place where people are often so disconnected from each other.
I don’t want to be on this plane. I never wanted to be on this plane.
No, not just because the assholes in front of me have reclined all the way back to the point where I’ve spilled my rum and coke (I went for it). But mainly because I feel like I’m being ripped away from a home I could have easily spent many more years in. I feel like I’m being dragged away from a new family kicking and screaming, but without the dramatics.
It’s easy for everyone to tell me this isn’t the end but a new beginning and it’s tempting to think of it that way. But to me, to negate this ending is to erase the whole experience I’m leaving behind me. It IS an ending. It’s an ending to my time in a city that helped me become a much better person. It’s an ending to many friendships that I fought hard to cultivate and an ending to walking past architecture, green-space, and spots that hold hundreds of significant and not-so memories. It’s an ending, no matter how you package it.
Although leaving Edinburgh is an ending, I know that moving to Canada isn’t necessarily moving back, but moving forward. But I don’t want to. If I’m being honest, I feel like living in Edinburgh brought out the best in me. It helped me heal from an intense depression I didn’t even recognise I had until moving away. It helped me rekindle a love of reading and writing I thought was snuffed out for good. It built my confidence up higher than I ever thought it could have and it introduced me to some of the most inspiring people I have ever met.
I had a conversation with an incredibly wise friend while sharing our worries about the future in the Highlands last year. I expressed to him how I thought it was silly that I was nervous to move back to a place I associate with my worst self, when I’m sure it’s not so much Scotland that changed me but more so the lessons I learned while living there.
As he is one of the most honest people I know, he said something like this:
“Think of yourself how you might think of a flower that’s wilting in a corner of your living room. Generally you wouldn’t blame the flower for not flourishing, but blame its environment. Move the flower to a sunnier spot and perhaps it’ll grow stronger and more beautiful.”
That’s how I feel about my move–well not moving to a sunnier spot, obviously, but one more equipped to bring me joy. Edinburgh and the people I surrounded myself with there encouraged me to blossom from a sad and wilted orchid (I like orchids) into one everyone would opt to purchase from their local florist.
I suppose what I take from this is that not everywhere in this world can help you to grow an amazing amount, but I guess that doesn’t mean you can’t grow a little from these places. Sure, I’m going back to a city I have negative feelings towards, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t regard it as an opportunity to learn and move forward. Currently I’m considering Toronto a positive purgatory where I can build up the mental stability and resources necessary to continue my exploring. I have an idea of the type of city or town that helps me to be the most positive version of myself, and being around family and old friends I love and enduring the busyness of a big city will more than likely help me get to my next home faster.
I will miss you, Edinburgh. After taking all I could take from your people, I’ve decided the most important lessons I’ve learned from living in you are self-love, acceptance, and patience. I hope that this time around in Canada I’ll grow in ways I didn’t expect. Maybe Toronto will envelope me in positivity the same way Edinburgh took me in and nurtured me for two beautiful years.
Scotland, I will never forget you: the challenging and dark beginning of loneliness and internal struggles, the educational middle full of healing, smiles, and new friends, and the end when I finally learned how to feel stable and balanced while living in the present.
I’m only 26, I’m not kidding myself. I know years or even just months from now I’ll probably reread this and think how foolish I was to be so nervous of moving to Canada. Tracking my progress through my writing has made me proud of my growth every step of the way, and I’m excited to face what’s next head on with the grace, confidence, tenacity, and love Scotland has instilled in me.
I’m sitting at Gate 23 in Edinburgh Airport. It smells like French fries and ketchup and around me I can hear the buzzing of foreign languages (Polish for one) and the howling of the bathroom hand dryer. My flight to Krakow has been delayed by an hour. Classic. I’ve not experienced one single trip in the past two years that didn’t contain at least one delay or missed connection.
That’s alright though. Generally speaking it’s these delays that have forced my usual impatient and neurotic self to become a relatively zen and chilled out chick. It’s also often these wee bumps in the travel road that force my hand in some kind of creative or productive way, be that writing, drawing, or reading—I always make the most of my time in airports and bus stations.
This is it, I keep telling myself. I’m considering this adventure one more challenge on the long, never-ending road of Dudys self-discovery. I’ve lived on a different continent than home for two years now and still have yet to do any extensive solo travel. So this is it, my time to nut up or shut up.
Two years ago, three weeks of backpacking would have been a pipe dream, or really a pipe nightmare. The idea of going anywhere outside of my local spots on my own was not just unsettling, but out of the picture entirely. I think I’ve always pretended to be some tough, independent, bad ass bitch on the outside, but on the inside I couldn’t sit for longer than an hour on my own without feeling pathetic, lonely, and incredibly depressed.
I thought when I moved into a one bedroom apartment that I was proving I was independent and could take care of myself. Although looking back now I always had people over: a best friend, a boyfriend, an acquaintance, or anyone else who could keep me from noticing how disgustingly and pathetically lonely I constantly felt. I was in no way happy with what I was doing, where I was, and ultimately who I was. If I hated who I was so bad, how could I ever like being alone with not but me as company?
Not anymore. My two years away have instilled in me a desire to live and a love for myself I’ve never before experienced. I’ve pushed myself to and right fuckin’ past almost all my previously perceived limits and now thinking about it, I’ve only got a thirst for more: more sights, more colours, more culture, more lessons (hard ones and easy ones), and more love.
Sitting here, waiting for Ryanair flight FR6624 to Krakow, I’m reminded why pushing myself past my comfort levels is so important. It keeps me inspired. This is the first time in about three months that I’ve written anything. And my fingers are itching to write more.
Throughout the next three weeks, maybe good shit will happen, maybe bad shit will happen, but hopefully I’ll continue to be this excited to write it all down, share my story, and blog the way only an incredibly lucky and privileged, travelling, naïve, twenty-something can.
The short, sassy, and stupid tale of a city girl taking on a night in the Scottish wilderness
Through and through, I was a true city girl. I adored shopping, shoes, the hustle and bustle of a city centre, business folk storming subway stations in suits, and taking Ubers in exchange for 20-minute walks (this remains true today as well). I was a sucker for busy cocktail bars and huge cinemas, hectic streets and expensive eats. That is, until I decided to sell all my belongings and move to Scotland.
Once I arrived in Edinburgh, the peacefulness of the nearby ocean and excellent hiking spots right in the middle of the city forced me out of my usual comfort zones. I started to understand what all the fuss was about when it comes to beautiful natural surroundings. And since the sun is a rarity in this part of the world, one’s desire to spend time outdoors skyrockets, everyone sharing the mindset that if we don’t soak in some vitamin D at every opportunity we’re sure to die of rickets.
One rainy day I found myself in bed watching the film Wild—you know, the one where Reese Witherspoon takes on a three month hiking journey from Mexico to Canada and battles inner demons and coyotes and rapists and such. It’s based on a true story and sure enough started making me wonder whether, with my new-found love of nature and desire to roam, I could fare on my own solo, Scottish spirit-quest.
The next day I ventured out to the Mountain Warehouse closest to my flat and spent far too much money on shit I really didn’t need. After buying two pairs of “hiking socks,” a spork, water purification pills, and a well-stocked and bulky first aid kit, I felt as prepared as I ever would be. I booked a return ticket to an unmanned train station in Loch Lomond National Park and was given a map of the area to navigate myself up the top of Beinn Narnain (a Munro or small mountain) and find a smooth, sheltered, grassy spot to pitch my tent and toast marshmallows.
When I arrived, I managed to make it to the nearest town and find what I deemed to be a woodland path up to the peak of the Munro. Alas, t’was not a path. I ended up wading and fumbling across a very large beaver dam and sliding through mud and what looked like deer shit for about two hours before finally making it to a clearing. My obvious inability to properly read a map led me to believe this clearing would be near the top, when in fact the summit was still about an hour walk away.
A woman defeated is not a woman tae fuck with, so when a bunch of fellow hikers yelled at me from across a cliff and took the piss for walking slowly, I waved a giant middle finger in their direction and sat my tired ass down on a boulder, ready to call it quits.
But I decided to continue on to the top of Beinn Narnairn, tent, sleeping bag, and other gear on my back, floor mat in hand. It was tough but I was proud of myself for doing it.
On my descent I was searching for the perfect camping space, which I found. A great little flat patch of grass next to a river where someone had already built a fire pit.
As a bonafide city-girl, camping doesn’t come second nature to me. So of course I took the proper precautions and practiced setting up my tent in my living room the night before. It seemed excessive at the time, but I’m glad I brought that bulky kit full of useless shit. You see, somewhere on my hike I managed to drop my bag of tent pegs.
Nae tent pegs? I thought as tears welled in my eyes. I decided I could either turn back before it got dark OR I could suck it up, MacGyver something together, and be the strong, independent woman I’d wanted to be since three days prior while watching Witherspoon win at womanhood.
Nae tent pegs? NAE PROBLEM!
I pulled out two pens, a Swiss Army knife, rope clips, and of course, my trusty plastic spork, and started fidgeting around with the tent and tarp.
I did it! I thought, completely in awe of my genius. I’ve got this now.
After the tent debacle, I lit a campfire, toasted marshmallows, boiled some water for tea, washed a bit of myself in the river, and settled in with some crossword puzzles, snuggled tightly in my sleeping bag.
But at approximately 3:30 am, shit got real.
I woke up to the sound of hooves muddling around and short, loud, breathy, grunts echoing outside my tent.
It’s just sheep. It’s just sheep. They’re harmless, go back to bed and when you wake up you can get the Hell outta here and enjoy the majesty of nature on YouTube, like you shoulda done to start with.
Though it was definitely just sheep—there are no large predators in Scotland—my mind kept creeping back to a certain headstrong ram that, hours earlier, was staring me down as I stood above it on a hill. It looked about ready to charge so I made a speedy U-turn to the next path over.
It must be the ram, I thought, Swiss army knife in hand whilst sitting up straight and petrified under my sleeping bag. He’s come back for revenge. I’ll be the first person in history to be murdered and eaten by sheep. What have I done? WHAT HAVE I DONE?! Goodbye cruel, cruel, world. I’ve lived a full life.
Waiting for the sun to rise with no cell service and sheep brushing against my tent felt like years. When I checked the time and saw it was nearly 5:00 in the morning and that a bit of sun was starting to creep through the tent fabric, I made the daring decision to unzip the tarp flap and loudly flail my way out of the tent in hopes of frightening away those fluffy, white, terrors.
To my surprise, when I emerged frazzled and in a cold sweat, there were absolutely no sheep around. No animals, no people, no birds, no nothing in sight. In my panicky state I managed to spend an hour and a half making up noises and confusing the wind rustling the tarp with sheep trying to break in and kill me.
Even after all my stupid mistakes and unrealistic fears, I made it through. And though I’m proud of myself for doing it alone, I will never look at a sheep and think “wow, what an adorable, beautiful, harmless, little mammal,” ever again. And rams? Rams, you can go f*** yourself! From now on my adventures will go back to consisting entirely of hikes through shopping malls and pushing my physical limits with late nights of dancing and short walks to the fridge.
Here’s a quick poem about my boots that have been to so many places over the past couple of years. If I’m being honest, the ones I wrote the poem about have now gone to shoe heaven (may they rest in peace) BUT all the things I said they’d seen they really had.
“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”
When I left Ottawa, three amazing friends accompanied me to the airport. After many hugs and kisses, I went through security and got to my gate. I sat down with my bags and when I looked up, I saw my buds waving and jumping trying to get my attention.
At that point, flurries of emotions ran through me like Usain Bolt and waterfalls of tears streamed out of my eyeballs. For the first time it hit me that I was leaving behind a comfort blanket of epic proportions.
After turning 18 I moved to a city five hours from my family. Ottawa became my new home and so many incredible people helped me transform from a delicate, bratty teenager into the woman I was when I left for Edinburgh. They understood who I was and accepted me inside and out, flaws and all. Would I find that in Scotland? Would I ever meet people who understand me the way they do?
For my first five or six months in Edinburgh, I really didn’t make many friends. Looking back, it wasn’t because I didn’t fit in or because I’m socially incapable—although for a while these were the reasons I continued telling myself—it was because I didn’t give myself the opportunity to meet like-minded individuals.
I worked mostly alone and didn’t pursue any hobbies outside of guitar and writing, both of which I like to do alone. By five months in I was the most insecure and lonely I’ve ever been.
A good friend from home came up for a visit and urged me to find different work where I’d immediately get to meet a bunch of people and give myself a real shot at settling in here.
Thank God she did because as soon as I met my new work mates, everything I found difficult about living in Edinburgh became easier. I didn’t feel as lonely anymore and always had invites to interesting events that inspired me creatively. I started writing poetry and music and going on adventures I never imagined would be had.
Now, again, I’m surrounded by people who make me feel at ease and at home. I owe so much to my move to Edinburgh. Inconceivable amounts of self-discovery and healing have occurred since moving here, and the majority of all this happened thanks to the people I’ve met. They’ve taught me more than I’ve taught myself, and helped me grow into a much stronger and tenacious version of me.
My visa expires this September, so I’ll have to make my way back to Canada. I went out with a couple of good friends the other day and realised I have no idea what I’ll do without these people who have become closer to me than I ever imagined possible. Once again I’ll have to walk away from family knowing it will be ages before we reunite.
The bottom line is, with every decision, even the most positive ones, comes sacrifices. If you decide you want your life to be full of movement, self-discovery, cultural experiences, and spiritual and emotional growth beyond your wildest dreams, you’ll have to come to terms with the fact that you can only be in one place at a time. The same way the magic of two or three places can’t exist in one city, none of the people you love most will ever be all in the same spot, and it could be years and years before you get to see them again.
I’m trying to keep in mind that, apart from constant social media interaction, post cards and phone calls, one way to really keep your friends alive in your life is by living the lessons they’ve helped to teach you. I’m a much stronger and understanding person because of the friends I’ve met, and the memories we’ve made will always keep me moving forward and growing.
So I propose a toast from all of us out there who have decided to explore: To the new friends we’ve made around the world, thank you for sticking by our sides, teaching us valuable lessons, and keeping us afloat when we had nothing else but your friendship. We salute you.
To all my friends new and old, in North America, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, and anywhere else your travels have taken you, I will love you forever, and am so grateful to have met you. I can’t wait until we meet again, and create even more memories and stories worthy of sharing with our grandchildren.
Writing by Tori Dudys, photos by Tori Dudys and Dave Kingan
A few days ago, on a long, rainy walk (as they usually are in Edinburgh), I spent a bunch of time hopping into puddles and contemplating memories. I have 25 years full of memories and quite frankly I can’t figure out why. Not why we have memories, but why each memory we have sticks.
From what I’ve learned we don’t get to choose what we remember. For example, right now I’m in the west of Scotland with a dear friend. The scenery is incredible. There are geese, chickens, a rooster, guinea fowls, sheep, cats, and a dog. The house we’re staying in is a beautiful wee cottage with cedar wood floors. When I walk out of the front door I see mountains peeking through cloud cover and more trees than I can even fathom. As Scotland always is, it’s lush green as far as the eye can see.
It smells of dirt, grass, and humidity. It’s one of the most peaceful places I have ever been to. Needless to say, I want to remember every single detail of this trip (besides the overwhelming amount of cocktails we made and drank last night). But how do I? I know I can’t. I know I’ll maintain memories of drinking and laughing with my friend and I’ll remember there were cats and mountains but sooner or later the smell in the air will dissipate from my mind and what the cats look like will leave me as well.
I think back to my first few days in Edinburgh, and although I remember a lot of it, I’ve also forgotten a lot of it. I remember feeling at home and meeting a few new people and starting my first job. But I can’t remember the order things happened in really and everything is a big mess of bits and pieces.
Our memories will never be able to make a full story. Putting memories together from your earliest to most recent can’t make up your life completely. There will always be missing scenes. As much as we can take photographs and write things down to fill in some of the gaps, there will always be gaps.
Travelling has taught me so many lessons. I’ve been writing them all down to remember them. But there are already so many things I’ve forgotten simply because there’s not enough space up in my brain to remember all of them.
My grandmother has dementia and has lost nearly all her memories, even simple ones like the faces of family members. It terrifies me to think that basically the only thing we can be sure of in life—our experiences—can slip away so quickly. And although losing memories and forgetting certain instances is a part of life and we need to accept it, it really does make me sad.
One day it could become true that each memory from this life-changing trip will be gone and I’ll have nothing but my body and the moment. Until then I’m trying my best to live life to the fullest, to create memories for myself, and—most difficult of all—to just be. To just be right now and soak in the scenery while I’m here. To live day to day and write as much down as I possibly can not only to share with my family and friends, but to remind myself of the experience and lessons I need to be reminded of when they start to slip away from me.
The birthplace of the first chief of the Cameron Clan in Erracht.
Puppy Bruno, boots, and backpacks at the doorstep of the Shepherd’s Cottage.
Where I stayed near Fort William, Scotland. Clouds over mountains get me every time.
There are those cities that suck you in to them. They grab your heart and squeeze, tugging on heart strings you didn’t know you had. Those places that look and feel magical in even the dodgiest corners. The ones that seem to hold a piece of your very essence. It’s almost like this place knows you better than you ever knew yourself and what you wanted in life.
The minute I stepped into Edinburgh, it felt like I was transported to one of those incredible nights where you meet a new person who you know is going to become a great friend. It’s like the city and I talked for hours and clicked in every way possible. Everything feels like home here. I even had a perspective-altering experience in a church, of all places. No, I didn’t see angels, or speak to Jesus. I just wrote.
I’ve never been much for God. There’s something about the act of worship that doesn’t sit well with me. But being in a church always puts me at ease. It’s this inner peace I don’t manage to find in many other places.
So there I was, sitting in St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, feeling more peaceful than I’d ever felt. It was the first time I’d sat and written in a church. And surprisingly to me, after months and months (I think 5 in total) of not wanting to write anything at all, it was in the presence of God that I came back to myself.
I’m not trying to imply that I had a religious epiphany or that it was God that bestowed upon me the desire to write, but I did begin to realize the importance of being open to believing in something. Or at least not rejecting the spiritual because it’s impossible, but rather appreciating it for its possibilities of inspiring. Whether inspiring people to be better people, inspiring people to find closure when their loved ones pass away, or inspiring dried up writers to finally put a bloody pen to a piece of paper and scribble down a string of words that wouldn’t mean much to readers, but that mean everything to the sanity of that writer.
Bottom line, from the first day we landed in Edinburgh, I felt a sense of tranquility I hadn’t felt in a long time. And after a 13-day tour through Scotland and Ireland, and a short blip in London, I’m happy to be back here in Edinburgh, sleeping on the couch of a kind, used-to-be stranger, feeling more excited about just being alive than ever before in my life.