Sunday, May 30

Despatches From the Front Line (II) - The Non TGO Challenge

OK I’d better explain this one I guess.

There's a number of front line reports from Bloggers on this year's TGO Challenge - as they cross Scotland from West to East coasts.

Most of which, I am a little abashed to reveal, I've largely skipped over.

Not because the postings are uninteresting. Or irrelevant. Quite the opposite.

Perversely it’s exactly the quality of this year's diverse coverage that disinterests me. And for exactly the reasons that likely attract other followers.

Its all become so very personal and specific to individual experiences during the crossing.

Without reading the reports I just know they'll include:
  • The Start - Old friends re-met\1st Timer gets a friendly welcome
  • Route finding difficulties
  • Exclamations of wonder at the Scottish landscape
  • The great TGO social scene
  • The End of Event knees-up & sad farewells
And all of which I seem to have read or listened to many times before.

OK for those considering entering in future years, or perhaps unlucky this year. That's fine.

But for me (and after all this is a personal piece offered for your consumption here) I've found myself moving away from the TGO, as esteemed and successful an event on the Outdoor Calendar that it has become over many years.


It's an organised event.
The number of people, low as that may be, all out on the trail at the same time, & bumping into each as they go.
An increasing 'Badge of status' in Outdoor circles - the "I Did The TGO crossing" T Shirt achievement.

Before I leave myself open to possible accusation of sour grapes let me be clear. I truly respect the TGO Challenge, its inherent nature, and the personal endeavours of all those taking part.

After all it works for them. Why else would so many repeat the experience each year

But over the last few years I've been feeling more strongly that its not for me.


Part of what I do as one part of my Wildcamping trips includes an individual and personal challenge that I set myself.

Where to go? Which routes? What sort of timescale? And then there are the highs and lows of solitary travel. This floats my particular boat - and of course it is not necessarily the same for many others.

In fact when I try to explain my own approach to wildcamp trips I find the usual response from those unused to extended outdoor trips, or camping in general, is real concern as to how dangerous it must be, and what on earth I get out of it all.

If they could only find out for themselves.

Which is probably why me and the TGO are slowly diverging.

Its all just seems so organised & popular these days

So how about a Non TGO Challenge for 2011?

Entrants travel in the opposite direction to the TGO Event; At diverse times throughout the year; Entry limited to those who only wildcamp solo; And no end of event do.

Ok, its probably just one of my obtuser ideas. Something I suspect that I would come to avoid after a few years.

Guess I'd better stick to my own personal approach and leave the TGO to those who undoubtedly enjoy its position & the acclaimed sociability.

But for those disappointed to have missed the TGO, or unable to fit their free time around the event.

Remember its only an example of what you as an individual are capable of after all.

Now isn't it?


Much the same sentiments here John, mind, I am a cranky old bugger who prefers to do her own thing.
Having 'done' the challenge; I am in two minds as wether I would do it again.

I am even in two minds wether to write up any blog posts about it.

My feeling to it are quite different now I have completed it; I'm finding it hard to describe things without sounding unpleasance about it.

One thing to come out of it; is that I now know I can make a crossing of the country pretty much on my own and not feel intimidated by it.
This is one of the most intriguing posts on TGOC I've read.

I didn't do the Challenge, but certainly wanted to, following with some envy as people headed up on trains to the glorious West coast of Scotland and then ventured out from there.

How could you not want to be involved with such an event: meeting like-minded people and travelling through wonderful mountain terrain.

However, I think you're right; from what I have observed, the reason many in the backpacking community walk and blog, is for the sense of 'man and mountain' (or woman), leaving behind everything etc.

I guess you can do that on TGO, but, as you say, there is something different about doing it yourself, going unsupported, having only yourself for company with no hint of help.

Perhaps this is a more austere form of backpacking, but it is no less worthy. The same goes for TGO - there is much to embrace about it.

I think the essence of what you mean is adventure: what better way to do so than to plan your route, go somewhere less travelled, overcome obstacles, return and inspire others to do the same.

Again, there's nothing wrong with TGO, but what your suggestion smacks of that added element of adventure, which can't be a bad thing. Let's encourage both!
Thanks for the positive & intelligent comments rather than the more critical responses I'd anticipated.

My point is not that the TGO per se is "wrong". Just that with its increasing prestige as a global event comes a price, deterring those (such as myself) who enjoy the Challenge aspect, and even sharing experiences along the way it with like minded people, but are wary of anything that involves the level of organised, scheduled & structured format which is inevitable for any public event.

My appeal in the post is for individuals to get out and do it for themselves.

Where the Challenge succeeds admirably (as you've found for yourself LPB) is in building confidence for those who hadn't realised (or were unsure) that the limitation of any wildcamp outing is all down to one's personal perspective of what is possible & within one's own interest.

My concern is that for many the Challenge may become the only goal in itself, rather than the start of bigger things.

[And once again I must repeat my admiration of the Event, the organisers & all entrants, whatever their motivation]

But in some ways it may become a victim of its own existance.
From my own personal view there were more negatives than positives, thats why I'm finding it hard to write up without being hyper-negative about the whole thing.

I meet many good people on the walk but also a few who were I found rather condescending; one comment I received in Montrose was that 'when I was first seen in shiel bridge; they didn't think I would make it to the finish'.

This despite me having a much smaller and lighter pack than them and also they not knowing my walking ability.

Another was 2nd and 3rd timers already planning what their 10th crossing would be.

See I'm negative :-(
Hi John,

I u/stand that the Challenge isn't everybody's cup of tea, particularly now that it's become more popular, but I'm not sure what you're referring to when you speak of scheduling and organisation.

What d'you mean? As far as I can see, the only requirements imposed by the event are those that have always been present i.e. it takes place within a specified 15 day (I think) period, it's necessary to submit a route in advance for vetting and it's necessary to ring in 4 times to confirm safety. Once those things have been done people can go wherever they like, and don't need to see or speak to a single other person if they prefer to take one of the more remote routes. And in fact, as those of us who've done it have realised (and rather to my surprise), it's not even necessary to keep in any way to one's submitted route. All people actually have to do is to ring in.

I don't u/stand what you mean by the lack of challenge or adventure either. How is walking alone across Scotland less challenging or adventurous than it would otherwise be, simply because others are doing it on other routes but within the same time frame?

This isn't in any way a criticism, btw! I simply don't u/stand what you're getting at.

I'm sorry to hear that your experiences were more negative than positive, George :( I hope you will post about them, though. Sadly, I wasn't entirely surprised to read what you said about having received some condescending comments. I've found over the years that there's a very judgemental and rather unpleasant vocal minority within the walking community. They seem to cling desperately to the idea that 'their' way is the only appropriate way, and derive some sort of boost to their sense of self esteem by criticising others who do things differently.
Hi John

I agree whole-heartedly with Shirl - the walk is only what you make of it. You can plan a route across some of the loneliest, wildest bits of Britain, and not see another single soul for the whole journey. This can easily be achieved even on the more 'popular' route choices, by leaving a couple of days later than most.

There is an element of organisation to it - the four times you need to check in by phone, but this is a very small price to pay for the security of walking in wild places knowing that should you slip and injure yourself, help would probably be at hand in a short while.

As you know - I have walked alone and in very wild places a lot, and the Challenge can still give me that "away from it all" buzz, should I wish it.

Try it John - You will love it! It doesn't have to be a coast to coast trekking party - see Martin Banfield's blog of this year's trip to see a wild and lonely trip!
Its the whole "tailored package" style of the TGO, which I readily accept has to be in place for such an event to exist.
(That got all paradoxical didn't it!)

The point I was trying to make was that excellent as the Challenge is, the very nature of it detracts (for me) from both the reason I go on Outdoor sorties, and where the initiative comes from.

Its probably little old (anti-social?) me.

My trips are part an attempt to escape Structure & Organization, as far as one can with personal safety in mind.

I don't really enjoy fitting someone else's agenda, as loose as it may be for the TGO.

Annually there's strong feedback tat part of the enjoyment for many is the start & end meet-ups.

And thats great for the majority of the TGOers.
Yes I could probably avoid them. But I almost certainly wouldn't because thats the sort of person I am. If I was on the event I'd likely join into the experience.

I've a feeling this hasn't helped really clear up anything, so lets go for the other point I was making.

The Challenge is a great idea.

But if drawn to it don't forget to think for yourself and create your own outings to meet your own personal interests
(I know you both do this as well - don't shout at me - lol)

In some ways I can see myself harkening back to the sentiment of an earlier post encouraging individualism.
Oh, I see what you mean now :)

I reckon the Challenge has probably always been that way i.e. the organised side of things (ringing in etc), and old friends meeting up and being happy to see each other etc. We hear more about it now, though, because people write about it.
Oops... pressed 'send' too quickly there!

I was going to say that my own view of the Challenge, and why I'd want to go on it, actually changed dramatically after I'd done one.

Prior to my first Challenge all my longer walks had been done solo, and so when I applied for my first Challenge I was expecting the experience of planning a route, and walking it, to be the main thrill. I did almost the whole walk on my own, seeing very few other Challengers after the first few days, but I had such an absolute blast with other Challengers on the penultimate evening in Edzell, and walking with a group of 6 others on the final day, that it really was the prospect of that sort of camaraderie that drew me back.

These days it's prolly fair to say that, on balance, I see the walking side of the Challenge as secondary to the social experience. I can go for a long walk alone any time (subject to time off etc, of course), but there's nowhere else that I've ever experienced being part of a large group of people who can have such great fun carrying rucksacks for a fortnight. I think Andy Howell has said that he found his own thinking similarly transformed. He thought he'd only want to do one, but the social thing drew him back.

People who prefer them can have solitary crossings, of course, but even so you're certainly right when you say that the backup involved in being part of an organised walk makes it a fundamentally different experience from something planned and executed alone.

I only mention this because I would never have guessed, in advance, that I'd come to see the Challenge the way I see it now :)
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