Dec 29

It’s Scotland, not Ireland, that needs a tourism campaign (or not)

Ireland has launched a new publicity campaign focusing on U.S. television, newspapers and the Internet. Ireland needs a new tourism campaign about as much as that drunk at the end of the bar needs another pint of Guinness. It’s Ireland’s Scottish sibling that is in need of publicity (or not).
December 29 - cuillin-mountains-scotland-backside

I’ve traveled throughout England, Ireland and Scotland, and the latter is far and away the most beautiful. In fact, there’s really no comparison whatsoever. Ireland’s Ring of Kerry is to Cleveland what Scotland’s Isle of Skye is to San Francisco. And, even that analogy doesn’t do the latter justice.

Scotland is an amazingly well-kept tourism secret. Aside from golfing and fly fishing, few Americans, if any, give the nation a second thought. And, according to my most excellent Scottish friend and guide, Peter Khambatta, that may be just as well. The last thing Scotland’s pristine lochs, mountains and landscapes needs is a horde or American tourists mucking up its finery. So, perhaps, it’s just as well that Ireland spends the money to attract Americans to an otherwise mediocre vacation experience while (whilst?) Scotland remains a decidedly under-the-radar and absolutely world-class destination.

Dec 01

Beasting it in the bothy

My trusty sidekick Chris 'Repman Jr.' and I have been hiking and climbing Scotland's breathtakingly beautiful Isle of Skye this week.

December 1 - motoring in isle of skye
The chamber of commerce weather has been picture perfect (bright sunshine and daytime temperatures right around freezing). But, come nighttime, which at this latitude begins at about 3:30 p.m., duck and cover. The winds begin howling and the temperatures drop faster than the NY Jets winning percentage.

Our resolute guide, Peter Khambatta suggested we stay several nights in a bothy in order to fully experience a Scottish highlands trek. My goodness. Talk about a trip back in time. The bothy in which we slept is a small, compact stone hut with four tiny sleeping rooms and one fireplace. There is no running water, heat or electricity. One sleeps on the floor in one's sleeping bag, collects firewood along the beach and cooks a spare dinner around 6 p.m. (which feels like midnight since its been dark for so long). And, when nature calls at about 2 a.m., one braves the sub-zero wind chills to accomplish the task at hand.

December 1 - 192493074_a8dac6e02c
After dinner and conversation, we did what people did for centuries prior to the invention of all our modern conveniences: we piled on layers of clothes, snuggled inside sleeping bags and hunkered down to snooze (which, after six hours of arduous climbing came rather easily).

I cannot tell you how much the bothy enhanced the overall experience. It was so austere, so remote and so unforgiving that I half expected to see a Viking war ship turn the corner near the Isle of Rum across the Irish Sea and begin heading our way. But, the bothy was also way cool in a manner that defies this blogger's best attempts to describe it.

Trips that test endurance and everyday niceties accomplish two things for me: they totally refresh my mind (i.e. does losing an account really matter in the grand scheme of things?) and, second, it further increases my admiration and respect for the hardiness of those who came before us.

That said, I'm looking forward to returning to all the creature comforts and mindless entertainment that America can provide.

Apr 06

The wee Ben

It’s taken awhile, but I’ve finally figured out why I love mountain climbing so much. It isn’t 
the challenge, although that’s part of it. And, it isn’t the sense of accomplishment, althoughIMG_0374
that’s huge. For me, it’s the profound 
physical, mental and spiritual experience of the event itself.

This past week, Chris RepMan, Jr., and this blogger climbed Scotland’s Ben Nevis, the highest point in the U.K. While it isn’t much when stacked up against Kilimanjaro, Mt. Shasta or some of the Rockies we’ve attacked, the ‘wee Ben’ is one tough slog.

We hired a local guide, Peter Khambatta, to take us to the top. I asked Peter at the base what we could expect. He replied by saying the wee Ben was “…a good workout in the summer, but a right beast in the winter.” He was IMG_0361
spot on.

The climb began in gorgeous, rolling hills that quickly escalated to steep, hilly inclines. These, in turn, gave way to even steeper, icy sections. Near the top, we were slowed down by two to three-foot deep snowdrifts, brutally high winds and total whiteout conditions. Without Peter, we would have been totally lost. I told Chris I felt more like a member of the Ernest Shackleton expedition than a mountain climber in Scotland. The conditions were so bleak that Peter stopped every 50 feet or so to get his bearings on a compass. Afterwards, he told us the wee Ben claims a few lives every winter when unsuspecting, snow blind climbers walk right off the edge.

Happily, that didn’t happen to us. We reached the summit in four hours and spent a few minutes in the howling wind enjoying the conquest. The climb down was no picnic either, but it provided a sensory overload of amazing panoramic views in every direction. We saw ice blue lochs, green and purple valleys and, in the distance, the fabled Isle of Skye.

Through it all, the sense of peace, silence and serenity was truly overwhelming.

The beautiful thing about climbing is the single-minded focus it demands. I was laser-focused on each and every step for seven-plus hours, knowing that a misstep could cause a broken ankle or worse. When we finally reached the base, the relief was palpable. And, the endorphin rush was more intense than after any half-marathon I’ve ever finished.

My body ached, but my mind felt totally refreshed. In fact, even though I’d probably just expended some 2,500 calories or more, I felt like I’d taken a long, restful nap. It was that profound.

I don’t recommend climbing for everyone. But, I do recommend some hobby or avocation that takes one’s mind off the credit  crunch, the credit crunch, finding a job or dealing with the client who’s put your account up for review, but says not to worry because the incumbent always has the advantage.

We can’t control a runaway recession or a disloyal client, but we can dictate how we live our lives. For me, climbing mountains is living life to the max.