I suppose it’s time to officially announce that I will not be participating in this year’s TGO Challenge here in Scotland. It’s nobody’s fault but my own. I planned poorly and the UK government now insists that I return to the States unless I get married or figure out how to shear sheep. Since neither appears on my calendar before the event kick-off in May, I suppose I will just have to submit to the reality of a different plan.
Every year ‘The Great Outdoors Magazine’, published in the UK, sponsors in partnership with RAB, an outdoor equipment company, the ‘The TGO Challenge‘, the world’s only organized backpacking event, actually being the Burning Man of the hillwalker world. Hillwalkers, peak baggers, backpackers, hikers, outdoor enthusiasts, general lovers of Scotland, and indescribable others from all over the world apply to be picked in a lottery for 300 spots in this event. The lucky 300 then have the map-nerd manna of constructing their OWN ROUTE across this incredibly beautiful country, with a few guidelines to keep them in a cohesive whole. Along the way there are plenty of optional pub stops and gathering points with one scheduled don’t-miss hoo-ha happening right in the middle that spawns countless TGO Challenge legendary stories. I cannot plug, promote, or even pretend to adequately describe to you what the TGO Challenge actually is and how it is experienced. I strongly urge you to visit the website if you feel the stirrings of an attraction in you towards it. I can only communicate my own romanticized understanding of it as a noncompetitive trek across one of the most beautiful countries in the world and a rare opportunity for people bent on this particular form of outdoor adoration to say howdy to their “kin” and celebrate the passion that binds them. I wanted to go. I got a spot in the lottery. But I’m an American who’s been here already for 6 months. So hi-ho to New York I go.
To soothe my jealous soul, I am planning a thru-hike of Vermont’s ‘The Long Trail‘, the United States’ oldest long distance hiking trail, during the month when my UK friends will be walking the TGO Challenge. It’ll take about the same amount of time. It will be in a similar environment. I’ll try to gather other hikers into some kind of social communion. I will name that hike, to myself and to all who will listen, “The Great Vermont Challenge”.