August, 2004

Aug 04

Skye hacky-sack tour

Eileen Donnan Castle

As I had a week off and The Big Man was back from Afghanistan for a couple of weeks, we headed up to Skye for a few days of biking and hacky-sack, with the promise of meeting ScottishClimbs legend Si O’Conor. It was wicked to see my great mate again, and it was a welcome break from the head-stress of Afghanistan for him. On our first night we sneaked in a short, but classy, mountain bike ride near Broadford. The route is pretty obvious on the map – go south from the road at Suardal (GR620208) to Boreaig, head west along the bottom of the cliffs, up the obvious path towards Suisnish, then back along the double track and road to the car (9/10 for quality). Thanks to Stuart Nicolson for pointing that one out. Unfortunately, Brendan’s knee developed a fondness for a big sharp rock and the attraction was so great that it even beat his head in the race for impact. In true stoic style, he completed the ride, but it prevented him doing any more biking on Skye.

Brendan cranking up a steep climb on Skye

After some Celtic music in the pub, we bivvied in the Portree A+E doorway, which was a good spot but suffered from a dragon lady throwing us out in the morning. Propspective bivviers: you need to get away before 8am. We spent the day cruising round the north of the island, going walking, playing hacky-sack and trying to meet up with the elusive Si O’Conor. He missed the boat from Lewis and was to arrive the next day… We decided to hang on to try to meet The Man, so after another night in The Isles bar, we headed to our next bivvy – the doorway of the Office of Deaths, Births and Marriages – where we had a much more relaxing night and morning.

We woke and headed straight to the cafe for coffee and loads of sausages and rolls. We were meant to meet Si at 14:00, so went for a walk along Glen Sligachan to fill the morning. This is the other bike ride we had planned to do so it was good to scope it out for future missions. It looks really nice – 15km or so of rocky singletrack (admittedly we only walked along 1/4 of it), but it doesn’t seem to gain or lose much height at all. It is in some lovely scenery and the only complaint might be that it is a wee bit ‘samey’, although it definitely looks worth doing.

Whitty on a great wee Skye loop

Back in Portree, we waited for Si. We couldn’t get through to him on the phone and my mobile had mysteriously stopped working and we were beginning to wonder if Mr O’Conor had hacked the phone networks just to avoid detection. 14:00 came and went so we kept waiting, and waiting. One of the best games of hacky-sack ever killed the time well (it seems like everytime we hook up for a few days we improve loads!) until I punted the hack on top of a bus. With a dookie from Brendan I managed to scramble up for it, but after that we slinked off into the crowd having made enough of a spectacle of ourselves already.

We headed to the Tourist Information Centre to use their internet connection to try to contact The Man. We booked a slot for 15:40, waited a bit and returned at 15:39 to be told by the clown behind the desk, quite matter-of-factly, that the person in front of us had “extended”. Cue bemused looks from Mark and Brendan.

Tourist arse:
“He’s extended.”
M and B:
bemused, baffled and now slightly annoyed looks.
“He’s extended,”
yes, yes you twat – get on with it.
“that means he’s using another 20 minute slot.”
“So that means everyone else gets knocked back 20mins?”
“And anyone can do this if they want?”
“Yes.” (big smile)

A pair of clowns

Riiiight. What sort of system is this? Has any thought gone into this at all? No, seriously – HAS ANY THOUGHT GONE INTO THIS AT ALL? Pish. We walk out before we get too irate.

Finally, we get to the computer and send Si a message – we’ll be in the Isles Bar, and Portree, until 18:00 then we’re off down south. A couple of drinks later and with 18:00 getting ever nearer it seemed like we might not meet The Man at all. I try his number one more time and get a fright when it starts ringing – he’ll be with us in ten minutes! We spend the night drinking, talking rubbish, eating chips, drinking and finally crashing out on Si’s living room floor. I’m no wiser about any of his problems, but he seemed genuinely gutted that we couldn’t stay long enough to show us some of his lines at Kilta and Corie Lagan. At the end of the day, Si is just a decent guy who’s totally into his climbing and would love some folk to get up there and on his problems. Plus, he’s got a cool dog. Thanks for everything Si, it’s appreciated.

When we got back I headed up to the Lammies for a a 25km ride. I had forgotten what the biking up there is like – much harder going than Skye! On Friday both the Petes, Brendan, Colin and I went to the Pure 14th birthday party, which was excellent and is why I spent most of the weekend in bed and why I am only just writing this post now and with a sore head!

Aug 04

One year ago today…

… I broke my back. It was definitely the worst event in my life so far, saved only by the fact that it could have been much, much worse.

First there was pure terror, which I’ve never experience before or since, of thinking I might not be able to walk, the pain of the accident – it was much, much more painful than you can imagine, then the pain of waking up from the operation (not as bad, but not a million miles off – I woke up after six hours on the sugery table with 13 nurses/anaesthetists and two surgeons standing over me. Four large, strong male nurses were pinning me down while I screamedOH YA FUCKING CUUUUNTTHIS FUCKING HURTS!”. The immediately put me as at ease as they could have, I think and gave me loads of morphine. It did help the pain, but me me feel dreadfully sick. For the next four or five hours, every time I threw up I involuntarily sat up a bit, which was intensely painful and made me scream “CUUUUNT!” again.

After three and a half weeks of constipation I was walking about reasonably, with my new back brace and my catheters had been removed. I wasn’t allowed to leave the Spiral Unit until they could confirm that I could piss, wank and shit – I didn’t do it that order and the shit was last (it took an enema and was the first time I laughed properly since the accident – I spent 2 and a half hours pooing and giggling the whole time). The nurses called in after a while because they were worried about the noise I was making: “Are you OK there (sounding worried)?”. “Yeah man – this is totally brilliant!”

Then I got out of hospital and I started on a long recovery period, which is far from finished yet. It was a grim situation, there’s no denying that. However, for a reason I cannot figure out, I sometimes look back at my time in hospital and the early recovery period afterwards with fond memories. Perhaps it just reminds me of how lucky I really was and of how much worse it all could have turned out. I don’t ever want to forget my thoughts and emotions at the time, part of the reason I’m trying to write some of them down here. I really don’t want to forget just how painful and scary it was. My thoughts still go out to some of the people I met at the Spinal Unit, especially Joey, the lad from Arbroath who was involved in another kiting accident just a few weeks before me – he was the first person to break his back kiting in Scotland. He was not as fortunate as me.

A few months ago my flatmate asked me if I thought any good had come from me breaking my back. I was quick to answer “no”, but on reflection I’ve been trying to draw as many positives from the experience as possible. The whole thing was very grounding as my life was quickly shoved into perspective. Kiting and all the little things that I had focused so much energy on suddenly didn’t matter. I realised how trivial it all was and how I had taken so many important things in my life for granted. In hospital and the months afterwards I had plenty time to think about family, friends and myself. Over the winter I stayed at home in Haddington with my parents while I started to recover and I now feel even closer to them than before. I appreciate how how great they really are and how much they’ve helped me, not just in the last year. They really are brilliant people.

Cheesy as it sounds, I also found out a lot about myself. In hospital, it dawned on me how selfish it can be to just do sport to the exclusion of a lot of other things. After I had started to recover a reasonable amount, I started to live a relatively normal (read: not into sport) life. It was really interesting to suddenly have lots of time, with nothing to be overly passionate about, much like many other people appear to me to live. Things are changing back again now, but it was good to have a completely different perspective on things for a while. Does this mean I’m going to take a different approach to things like sport? On the outside I doubt it will appear like I have, but I feel it has matured me a little.

I’ve also found out a lot more about how I deal with injuries, both physically and mentally. I’m certain that I can cope better with them now than in the past, but is this because I’m more mature or just because I’m more experienced at getting injured? The recovery has been a much slower and harder process that I imagined. Although I have broken a few bones before, I wasn’t really prepared for how much the injury was to take out of me. It’s not just back pain that you need to content with – your entire body gets pounded and your general strength and fitness take a real beating. I’ve been finding it particularly hard not to do too much too soon (I’ve been having some troubles with my knee from over-cycling). However, my fitness is starting to come together again, albeit pretty slowly. I’m looking forward to getting out biking more and more over the winter, starting kitesurfing again and improving at surfing once the autumn swells start to kick in.

Kiting, in particular, will be interesting – will I remember what to do? Will I get scared? Will I have calmed down at all? In answer to the last question – almost certainly. After all, with hindsight it was obvious one of us was going to get hurt sooner or later! Of course, the flip-side of this is that it’s the perfect opportunity to think up something new and take a different approach to the whole thing and I’m really excited about that.

Last week I had my final appointment with the hospital and was discharged from the Spinal Unit out-patients. My bones have more or less healed fully now (although they will still get stronger over the next year), and I’m feeling better than I have for a long, long time. Now, if someone can just arrange some sunshine, wind and waves for every day that I’m off work, everything will be all good!

Aug 04

Mountain biking at Kinlochleven

There are loadsa rocks above Kinlochleven

It was a scorcher of a day yesterday when Stuart and I headed up to Kinlochleven to do a mountain bike loop. We’d never been biking there but the loop looked good on the map. We headed up the track on the north side of the Leven up to the dam – big mistake. It didn’t take all that long for it to become steep (up) and rocky. It was technical, over technical in some places, and seemed to take ages as we had to keep getting off our bikes. Would be a good one to go down, but it looked pretty hard. Eventually, after stopping to get some wicked photos, we left the trees and the valley opened out giving way to a lovely singletrack climb to the dam where we could have a bite to eat and a rest.

Technical singletrack near the Blackwater Reservoior

Our plan had been to go along the side of the Blackwater resevoir for a few hundred metres than take the path north that would meet up Loch Eilde Mor. Well, if there is a path in that area we certainly couldn’t see it – not even after more than an hour and a half trudging about in that bloody bog. When we got back to the dam we found a track(!) that seemed to go in the right direction. For reference: we couldn’t find the anything looking like the path marked at 257608, but did find something, a little late, at the dam, 249608. We were using the yellow Outdoor Leisure OS Map 38.

By now we were pretty hacked off and running out of enthusiasm to battle bog, so we rode along the dam and found we could ride along the smooth top of the pipeline for a few kms. We re-joined the track when we met the West Highland Way just as it turned into a brilliant, fast and long firetrack descent into Kinlochleven. Often firetrack feels like a second rate way to lose altitude, but not on this track. On the way home we had a play in the River Etive, jumping and diving off the rocks, before going for some scran at the Kingshouse. A great way to end a roasting day where the mileage in no way represents the actual effort we ended up putting in.

Stuart has a lovely view to Kinlochleven

We’re keen to head back up there sometime soon. I think we’ll start at the Mamore Lodge next time and explore some of the trails around there, then try to link up the trail round the back to the Blackwater resevoir. I’m sure there’s a good loop there.

Coming down from the Blackwater reservior

Conclusions drawn or confirmed this weekend

take a camera.
wear midge and horsefly repellant.
go swimming in the pools in the River Etive afterwards (thanks Craig).
go up the technical trail to the dam.
use a Panaracer Fire XC as a front tyre – shite on gravelly/loose-ish ground.
assume the person who made the OS map was sober.
eat 2/3 of a big bag of dried apricots – they won’t show any mercy, no matter where you are.