We Completed the Mighty Hike!
What began as a pipe dream for some, turned into a day that will never be forgotten for all five of us. Not only did all five of us manage to complete the full 26.2 miles of the Mighty Hike, but thanks to our supporters and friends we’ve managed to smash our target of £1250, raising over £2330 for Macmillan Cancer Support!
Starting Our Mighty Hike
We assembled on a very dark Saturday morning at Purdie Worldwide HQ for an early 6am getaway. Greggs was the first port of call at Stirling services, for a very welcome bacon roll, or 2 (Neil). The thought of starting a 26 mile walk on an empty stomach was definitely a bad idea. With rolls in our belly and coffee in hand, we made our way to the start line just south of Callander at Claish Farm.
The organisation and set-up was top notch. We knew exactly where to go from the moment we got into the starting village. From collecting our numbers and trackers, to the little pre-made bundles of 4 paperclips for your numbers, the process was very simple and made signing on a breeze for us newbies!
With our Macmillan T-shirts swapped for bigger sizes (we’ll not mention the XXXXXXL top Neil had to get), we safety pinned our numbers on and watched the 7:50 group do a warm-up before heading off.
Our Mighty Hike Kit List
We’d each been given a kit list from Macmillan that detailed the essential items you would need on the day. From the mandatory 2 litres of capacity for water, you were advised to also bring waterproofs, spare socks, a pair of sunglasses and a hat (boy, were we glad we brought those!).
With everyone sporting a new pair of freshly broken-in walking shoes, some brighter than others, we also carried enough food to ensure if we got lost, we’d be ok! Had we known there would be snacks available at the pit-stops we would’ve lightened the load a bit, and not taken nearly as many snacks with us.
We’ll also gloss over Keith taking some essential Liptons Iced Tea! I’m pretty sure that wasn’t on the recommended list! The only extra item we carried that wasn’t on the list was our hip flasks! An essential bit of kit for any Scotsman heading out in the Highlands!
The forecast had originally stated there would be showers throughout the day, so we had our waterproofs packed, but once the sun came out at lunchtime, it didn’t let up, and made for some very sweaty and uncomfortable moments!
Our Mighty Hike Begins
Although our bibs still displayed our old starting time of 9:10am, we joined in our 8:10am batch, enjoyed a quick warm-up, before being given a 10 second count down and heading off!
We stayed at the back of the group, getting the obligatory before the walk team photos, then joining onto the end of the group, that seemed to stretch a good half mile in front of us. We overtook a few people, before finding a group which was on a similar pace to ours, and decided to try and stick at that pace till the first pit-stop if we could.
The initial couple of miles were pretty straight-forward as we marched through Callander and Westward towards Kilmahog. From there we joined a woodland trail that followed the along the side of Ben Ledi, but slowly pushed you further and further up the hill. This offered us a fantastic view of Loch Venacher, but it did result in a mini pit-stop where Neil changed into shorts and Peter and Mark both stripped down to T-shirts.
The problem with these mini-pit-stops, is that you lose a lot of momentum. Not only this, but with the pack still together and not as spread out, you were having to completely come off the trail to stop, allowing everyone else to stride past you.
However, being in the pack had it’s upsides too. It was great for keeping a steady pace, and you could feel people closing up behind you as you slowed down, forcing you to dig deeper and push on up the slope.
That’s what makes a Mighty Hike so special. You’re walking with over 1000 people, all with the same goal and purpose in mind. We’ve all got our own story to tell about Cancer, and each of us is doing this for their own reasons, but we’re all united together in this fight against cancer.
Our Mighty Hike - Pit Stop 1
The first pit-stop came round relatively quickly at 7 miles in. We’d conquered the first big hill and made it down the other side without injury. A solid check on Neil’s insulin levels ensured we kept him stocked up with fuel to get him to the lunch stop.
At this point, we were still walking as a 5, and we enjoyed the variety of snacks on offer at the first pit stop. Skittles, Fredos and lots of fruit were all on offer, as well as bowsers full of water for the day ahead. Robert and Peter took the opportunity to swap socks and reapply some kinaesthetic tape to their feet, whereas the rest of us were literally just catching our breath.
We stayed a total of 15 minutes at the first pit-stop, before saddling up with our freshly filled water botttles, and setting off into Achray Forrest.
Our Mighty Hike - The Split
We skipped past the mobile ice-cream shop on our march to the banks of Loch Achray. The next few miles were relatively flat and a welcome relief to our already tired feet. As we walked alongside the loch, we began to really appreciate our surroundings. A family frolicking in the water and the wildlife wittering away in the background set a particularly serene and peaceful tone.
Not for the first, or the last time that day, the phrase “We live in a such a beautiful country!” was uttered by one of the team. Unfortunately, this would be the last time the 5 of us would be together until the end.
The gentle meandering path took an abrupt right turn and our visions of a nice relaxing walk to our lunch stop were shattered. What stood before us, looked like a stairway to the heavens. A steep gravel path, that would’ve made an interesting decent had we done the route in reverse, was our next challenge.
With the sound of Joy Division blaring from Robert’s backpack, myself, Robert and Peter made short work of the climb, passing several walkers who had stopped for refreshments. Fortunately a water stop was on hand as we cleared the canopy and headed higher still. We stopped to refill our water bottles, which gave Neil a chance to catch us up, but Keith was no where to be seen. A quick call (who knew 4G was available throughout the hike!) to Keith made sure he was ok, and we set off towards our lunch stop!
As we crested the second of the three main peaks, we descended down into Aberfoyle. In my opinion this was one of the most painful parts, and I would’ve rather climbed another hill. I had zero confidence in my footing, scrambling down the steep gravel path, past the GoApe centre, my toes bashing off the front of my boots and could feel the blisters screaming all the way down. So it was a welcome relief when we arrived at the Dounan’s outdoor centre in Aberfoyle for our lunch stop. The first time we’d all been there since our Primary 7 school camp!
Our Mighty Hike - Lunch Stop
The lunch stop was 15 miles in, just over half way, so there was no point in turning back now. We’d made it this far, so we’d need to finish it. Before we tucked into our lunch, we all took off our shoes, applied copious amounts of Ibuleve gel over our feet, before changing into a fresh pair of socks for the last section.
Although pretty busy, there was no queues for food. You had two lines, one for a quick grab and go that had sandwiches, rolls and snacks on offer. Or the other queue for hot food, with plenty of rice, meat and carb loading food available.
I’m not sure if it was the painkillers at this point kerbing my appetite, but I had a single doughnut for lunch, complimented with a full bottle of Lucozade and a gel pouch for more energy. However, Robert’s appetite saw him eating a massive plate full of food, something he said he regretted half way round the last leg!
Our Mighty Hike - The Last Leg
Peter and Robert set off first from the lunch stop, with myself and Neil about 15 minutes behind. As we were leaving the kilted warrior had just made it to the lunch stop. After offering words of encouragement, we set off on what would be the longest and hardest slog of the walk.
The sun had finally broken free from the clouds and had upped the temperature considerably. The heat was almost unbearable and made walking very uncomfortable. We found ourselves darting between shadows to keep out of the direct sun, but times were hard. You would think you’d crested the last hill, only to turn the corner and be faced with another steep incline. It was soul destroying. You had to keep moving, as every time you stopped for a brief break, you could feel the muscles start to tighten and cramp up.
If you were to do this solo, without any support, then it would literally be hell on earth, but what made it easier were the words of encouragement from every person that passed by. This was it, this was the struggle we knew we’d face at some point. All we needed to do was get over the hill and finish the walk.
It was still all smiles for Peter and Robert as they made light work of the final hill of our mighty hike. Easily handling the descent down towards the south banks of Loch Venacher, followed some 20 minutes behind by myself and Neil.
Once we’d made it down the other side and along the side of the loch, things were a bit easier. The terrain was relatively flat, and the sun was being choked out by the large trees hovering over the side of the loch. However, our feet were screaming out no more!
Although we’d done plenty of training runs, we’d never covered this much distance in one go before. As such, I don’t think any of us had felt pain like this in our feet before. Every step hurt, and you longed for the end. The final pit-stop at Mile 21 was timed just right for a quick comfort break and water fill, before the last 5 miles to the finish line!
Our Mighty Hike - The Finish!
That last mile seemed to go on forever. Probably because it was longer than a mile, but from Mile 25 to the finish line took an age! We found ourselves back in Callander after dodging several cars along the way, but the slog on the way up to the finish line seemed a lot longer than it took that morning.
Finally, with the finish line in sight, we went live on Facebook and broadcast the final 100m of our mighty hike to a live audience. We weren’t the first finished, and we weren’t the last to cross the finish line, but it felt like we’d won the marathon. There was still a sizeable crowd to cheer us on and see us over the finish line. The announcer read our names and details over the tannoy as we collapsed yards over the finish line.
Finishing only 20 minutes behind Peter and Robert, we all waited for the kilted warrior to cross the finish line. Massive kudos to Keith, who literally solo’d the second half by himself. I know I would’ve given up had I not had the support of those around me, so to complete our mighty hike almost all by himself, is a credible achievement itself!
I guess that’s what this is all about though. I mean, the clue is in the name, Macmillan Cancer Support. Why should anyone go through cancer alone? With over £2000 raised we can be rest assured that the money will be well spent supporting cancer sufferers for years to come…
Roll on next year!
Did someone say Ben Nevis?