How rare is that? How rare is it to walk across Scotland? Not very. How rare is it to walk from Stranraer to Aberdeen? Please, tell me. I suspect few have done the same, and why would they? Adventures are now available as packaged deals. Fewer folk continue the tradition of adventurers, traveling without itinerary into uncharted spaces. In Scotland, I walked between the two: without itinerary but along mapped routes. Even that is uncommon, but there are good stories there.
My most memorable packaged adventure was not the safest thing to try. With the aid of a guide service I climbed Mt. Rainier. The true summit is 14,411ft (4392 m), though the rubble I used for a lunch spot was probably a hundred feet below that extreme on the opposite side of the crater. Plainly put, people die climbing the mountain. I dropped into a crevasse on the climb and felt my heart beat faster and harder than ever before. Despite that, my climb was under some of the most favorable conditions. It was early in the season, the first week of July, so there was plenty of snow to cover the ice. I’m glad I did it. I couldn’t have done it without the guides. And, the humbling nature of standing on the rim of a steaming stratovolcano changed my life. Many attempts fail, yet thousands of climbers succeed every year. It can be a busy place.
A few years later, I returned for a different iconic Mt. Rainier journey. The Wonderland Trail circles the mountain. It takes about 93 miles, has more cumulative elevation gain than the summit climb, and is much more benign. Fewer people perish, that’s for sure. Fewer people try, too. I was lucky again. My trip was moderately quick, 6.5 days instead of the suggested 10, but much slower than the record which I believe is just under 30 hours – and I didn’t get rained on. Any way, the yearly total of complete circumnavigations is only a few hundred – less than one-tenth the summit attempt traffic. That accomplishment was met with less fanfare, simply me walking up to my car in the parking lot and heaving a sigh as I heaved the pack into the car. (It turns out I did have a welcoming committee. While I was hiking, a family of mice claimed my car as their home. Their next stop was my house, about a hundred miles away.)
I kept the exclusivity of the unobvious in mind as I planned my bicycle trip across America. Even along the established routes, it sounded like less than a thousand people bicycled across the United States in any year. It was probably a few hundred. Along the un-established routes, there were probably fewer. My ride would be my ride, an exploration. And so it was. (I wrote a book about that one. Just Keep Pedaling. If you buy it, I suggest reading the emails first or last. You’ll probably see why.) In about 3,800 miles I only rode with two other cyclists and that was only for part of a day.
Walking across Scotland was similar, especially my route from Stranraer to Aberdeen. There were only three walkers along my route, none of whom were traveling far. Two were out for lunchtime walks. One was picking litter in a park. I suspect that walking the Highland Trails or the Upland Way would be a bit more crowded. The irony is that I had a quieter walk by walking along paved streets through the urban world.
Seeking adventure, finding something unique to add to a life, was one reason adventurers went to far lands filling in the blanks in the maps. Less of that remains for those of us who can’t travel to space or the ocean depths. But, there are plenty of journeys out there that are effectively in wilderness, or at least in the social wilderness that is solitude in today’s crowded existence. It might even be something as simple as picking two points on a map, and deciding to get from one to the other by trusting your own skills and resourcefulness. Making up your own journey may not be as dramatic as climbing a mountain (something I enjoy doing), but it may be more personally rewarding. Stranraer to Aberdeen? Why? Why not?