Glen Tromie

Glen Tromie ain’t no country and western singer, nor is it anywhere near Galveston.

I have a love/hate relationship with Glen Tromie that goes back fifteen years to the very first Caley Thistle Highland March, although to be fair, if we’d just bitten off Tromie alone that day, instead of tagging the Minigaig Trail on the back end of it, things might have turned out differently. However since then I’ve been back four or five times, sometimes walking north to south, and sometimes the other way round: and always on a Highland March. I’d never tackled Tromie on two wheels: until this week.

Thinking back, I’ve walked either the whole of Tromie (or the Gaick Pass to give it its other name), or bits of it en route to the Minigaig, on Highland Marches 1, 2, 3, 6, 8 and 10. It’s 21 miles from Drumguish, three miles east of Kingussie, to Dalnacardoch Lodge at the bottom end of the Drumochter dual carriageway on the A9. Tromie’s an old drovers’ track that cuts about six miles off the dogleg A9 route which is why it’s always held an appeal for long distance walkers: and it’s totally away from civilisation so it’s not a place to get lost or injured.

When I say that my relationship is one of love/hate, that’s because I’ve learned to respect everything about that route. If you’re not mentally strong, Tromie will find you out. If you’re not physically capable, Tromie will find you out. And if, by some chance you are found both mentally and physically wanting on the day, Tromie will torture you. The top end, about eight miles of it, is a tarmac single track road. But you won’t see a soul in those eight miles because the road doesn’t really go anywhere. Then the tarmac changes to a high quality land rover track that would give any proper road around LCFN a good run for its money. And after that it’s rubbish: the track has holes cut by 4×4 vehicles, mud, bog, and at least three decent water crossings. When you know the route, you can condition yourself for what’s to come, but as a first timer, you just have to adapt and get on with it.

Tromie on wheels came about because of a dude from Kent, Steve Nash, who’s walking from John O’Groats to Lands End to raise money and awareness for Stacey’s Smiles, a Kent based charity that grants (and funds) wishes for kids seriously ill with stage four neuroblastoma. I met Steve through Lisa, who is Kian’s mum. Steve and I met up in Glasgow for a beer a couple of months ago and when he told me of his plan to walk down the A9, I had an alternative idea, albeit just for a day.

But first, let’s turn the clock back. This time last week I was still looking down the barrel at some big miles to try and keep the thousand mile dream alive for April, and with it every month so far this year. But on Sunday I was booked to go to Aberdeen for the day so with 15 hours already set aside, something had to give, and it was the miles. No worries mind, because I forward loaded Sunday’s miles on Saturday, so even with the day off, 320 miles in the last week of the month sealed the deal. It would be nice if May could make those thousand miles Forever Five, especially as the month contains the day of wee Oscar’s passing and Eileidh’s diagnosis. But the week after next I will be in Liverpool for most of the week so unless I can bag a ton on the Monday before I head down the road, and another big windfall when I get back, I fear the worst: but if you’ve followed LCFN this far, you know that I’ll definitely be pulling some stunt or other to keep the record breaking part of the show on the road. And the good news is that I’ve got time to plan for it: if I manage to keep the daily average above 35, I’l be fine.

So, back to Wednesday…

When you’re playing support to a serious challenger, you set up your life to make it possible for them to achieve their goals. Once Stevie boy gets down to the Central belt, he’ll have no end of people offering to take his big heavy bag and ship it off to the next overnighter: that’s why I chose Glen Tromie: I wanted to be able to make a difference where I knew there would be no help: in the middle of nowhere. So on Tuesday afternoon, I loaded the Gold neuroblastoma awareness bike (complete with its solid tyres and internal Rohloff Speedhub) into the back of the motor – seats down – made a complete loaf of cheese sandwiches and set the alarm for 3:30am. I needed to be in Kingussie, 150 miles away, by 7am. I wanted Steve to be on the road by half seven because I know that Tromie’s a seven hour gig, and you can tag an extra hour onto that because he’d still to walk the three miles to get to the start of the trail.

My job was simple: swap his big heavy bag for a light one, make sure he had the OS maps that covered his route (I even gave him my Hammerhead Karoo with the route downloaded so he could work out at a glance where he was until I got to him): then leg it down to the bottom end of the trail before cycling back from the boggy end to meet him. It was fundamentally important (in my mind) to get to Steve before he got off the tarmac road. My default position was that he needed a guide before the going got tough.

I left the car at 8:10am to set off up the trail…

  • Wind against
  • 3C
  • Sleet
  • Uphill

It was the toughest of tough shifts. With three knee deep water crossings to contend with, a couple of hundred metres of peat bog and a slippery narrow track before I got to the safety of the higher level water filled potholed track where it was snowing, I was struggling to maintain anything close to 6mph. But I knew the route, I knew the terrain and I knew the distances. More than anything, I knew that if I could reach tarmac before he reached gravel, then the gig was in the bag: and I spotted him about a mile away, the other side of the lodge house in the middle of nowhere, before either of us needed to start panicking.

Steve said to me soon after we met “I did wonder what would have happened if you’d had an accident”. That was why I furnished him with the maps and the downloaded route: you are the blue dot… just make sure the dot stays on the red line. Technology eh?

But we made it. And the descent was surreal: there we were, two blokes from opposite ends of the country nattering away about a common cause of supporting families devastated by neuroblastoma. Yes, we come at this from different angles: Steve supports terminally ill kids whereas I support research into new treatments. But at the end of the day it all counts: blokes doing action stuff that hopefully makes a difference.

I guess the other big news this week is that we’ve finalised the shirt design for the Ride 2 Cure tour. It’s been an epic team effort across the globe with ideas and logos flying back and forth on instant messages and emails for the past couple of months. But now we’re all agreed on something that we think will work and it’s all very exciting: Aussie gold is the base colour, which just happens to match Go Gold for kids cancer awareness when R2C will be in Sydney on September 1st plus there’s plenty of pink to blend the Neuroblastoma Australia logo with the memory of Princess Puddles.

But that’s not all…

I’ve seen a beta version of the Ride 2 Cure website: it’s stunning, simply stunning. The website makes me realise what a big deal this gig is. It gives me goose pimples when I stop to think that getting a folding bike for my 60th birthday is going to lead to me kickstarting the inaugural Ride 2 Cure that’s ultimately going to fund laboratory research on the other side of the world. R2C is 2222km long and every one of those two thousand odd kilometres is up for auction. It’s going to be fantastic. People have asked me “who’s doing it” and when I say “just me and my mate Gabby, who’s driving support” they’re kinda gobsmacked. But I hope that the media coverage that R2C generates, and the funds that flow from it, will make this the start of something bigger. When I walked the very first Highland March to celebrate my 50th birthday, I really didn’t expect it to take off the way it did. But now I’m older and wiser, and I’ve come to realise that these things have a habit of taking on a life of their own. I bet you didn’t know, for example, that The Kilt Walk is the grandchild of The Highland March, conceived by one of our legendary walkers, Chumba, who walked from Oslo to Glasgow to raise money for the Tartan Army Children’s Charity. When the Tartan Marchers did their lap of Hampden, someone nicked the idea and lo and behold, the Kilt Walk started the very next year.

But there’s never been a Kilt Walk through Tromie.

Not yet anyway… 😉

%d bloggers like this: