While our flight out of Newark left an hour late, that actually worked in our favor - it gave the sleeping meds time to kick in and allowed us to crash quickly as soon as we took off. I was awoken mid flight to a good omen - a vegan option for dinner. (And I was looking for good omens, because just before we left I had checked the forecast for our trek and it called for 7 days of rain!). Actually there were 3 meal options for everyone: omnivore, vegetarian, and vegan! Two thumbs up to United for being so forward thinking! The Chana Masala, salad, and vegan chocolate chip cookie hit the spot!
We arrived in Glasgow at 7:30 am local time and spent some time rearranging our bags and filling water bottles, and collecting my checked bag - the other 3 packs were carry-ons. (Hiking poles are not allowed to be carried on planes, so we always have to check one bag for these trips.)
After leaving the airport, we grabbed a taxi for the 20 minute ride to the Queen Street train station in Glasgow. It was a bit overcast, but no rain yet, so I was feeling hopeful. We were right on time for our 8:54 am train to Helensburgh Central station. Another good omen! But one thing that we have learned from all of our travel, is that nothing goes completely smoothly. There will always be some bumps in the road. Who wants a boring smooth road anyway; those don't make for good stories! About 2/3rd through our 45 minute train ride, an announcement came over the loudspeaker that the train would be terminating at the next station - several stops shy of our destination. There was a casualty on the tracks ahead. We never got the specifics, nor did we want the kids to hear them. A sad way to start and definitely put things into perspective for us - any bumps and pain that we would be feeling along the way would be minor comparatively and we were thankful that we had each other. The announcement also made me grateful for being in an English speaking country. I remember when I traveled through Europe 25 years ago and was at a German train station in a small town waiting for hours for a train. An announcement kept coming over the loudspeaker, but I didn't understand it. I eventually learned that the announcement was saying that no trains were running that day because it was a holiday! At least this time, we knew what was happening and could figure out alternate plans. The conductor had no idea how long the track would be closed - and there were no taxis to be found - so we just waited and hoped as we watched our train pull away, heading back in the direction from which we had come. Within 20 minutes, another train pulled in and we got on and waited in our seats for the situation farther down the tracks to be cleared. It didn't take long for this train to continue on its way. It wasn't going to Helensburgh Central, which is a block from the start of the hike, but at least was getting us to Helensburgh Upper, which only added 3/4 of a mile hike to get to the starting point - not bad.
We got to the starting point and took part in the traditional Coast to Coast hike rituals: dipping heels in the water, taking the requisite photos, and grabbing some stones to bring across to the other side of our journey.And then at about 10:30 am, we began, walking up and out of Helensburgh on an overcast, but rain-free morning. Today's hike to Balloch was the shortest of the trek, but coupled with a red-eye flight and bodies that were just getting back in to the swing of things with pack hiking, it was more than enough!
About half a mile up the road, we were approached by a local who asked if we were doing the John Muir Way (JMW). She told us that there was logging/forest work up ahead on the route and that we might prefer the more scenic route along the coast that cuts in and meets up with the JMW part way through the day's hike. We would just have to walk back down through town to catch the Three Lochs Way. I looked at the kids, who had already hiked an extra 3/4 miles for the day b/c of the different train station, and realized that adding more mileage for a more scenic route would not be in the cards for the Heimann family on this day, so we thanked her and marched on. We also wanted to stay on the path, because the JMW is so clearly marked with little purple signs on posts along the way - so you don't really need much as far as navigating skills.
This being a cycling and hiking trail, we knew there would definitely be more mileage on pavement than what we had experienced in England. The cycling and hiking parts do separate quite regularly though, allowing hikers to divert away from roads often. And the roads that we hiked today were quite pretty - not like the main roads that we are used to in New Jersey.
After a few miles and one missed turn, which added about 1/4 mile, we found the turn off that split the hiking and cycling routes. We started our ascent up the small mountain. While the logging that had been done made the landscape less pristine, it did offer better views of Loch Lomond in the distance. Also, we were happy to see that the logging was being done sustainably with new-growth pine. And since it is Sunday, no work was being done, so we had the dirt path to ourselves.
And then one of our children, who will be left unnamed, had to go to the bathroom. As we waited, I was filled with pride as only a parent can be. I was happy to have raised children who would have no qualms about using nature when nature calls - my kind of kids! ;-) And I promise that this will be the only bathroom reference on this trip's blog! It was also wonderful for Lara and me to watch Olivia and Jonah, as we continued to hike up the mountain, go off ahead of us as our playful children, making up songs and stories. This time is precious, and these memories are cherished. As we continued up, the jet lag and sore bodies with new aching parts started to catch up to the kids. And just like with what happened 2 years ago, when one of them would be going through a rough stretch the other came along and gave a boost that allowed us to keep the party moving. They can raise each other's spirits in a way that we never would be able to.
We reached the top with a great view point of the water below and, of course, we had to indulge in at least one handstand shot - I am married to the handstand legend Lara Heimann, after all!
On the way down the mountain toward Balloch we passed through some beautiful wooded areas that had been left untouched. And since we didn't see any other people once we had left the main road, we really felt as though we were in a new land, on an adventure by ourselves. The clouds started to roll in and we did get some drizzle, but nothing that required us to add covers to our packs or rain gear to our bodies. We just were cognizant of the potential for rain and made sure to pick up the pace a bit. Eventually we came to a grass path known as an 'old coffin road' on which people used to carry their dead to a consecrated spot. We could see the town of Balloch in the distance. Seeing our destination lifted the kids spirits once again. Shortly after our path brought us to the paved road, we joined back up with the cycling route and continued into Loch Lomond Shores, a picturesque lake community with nice shops and friendly locals. And as though we were being officially welcomed to Scotland, a bagpiper was by the water playing a tune as young children danced near him. Definitely not in Jersey any more!
One mile down the road, we reached our destination for the night, the Balloch House, at about 3 pm.
We were all tired and a bit sore from our first day's hike, so we checked in, took rewarding hot showers, and relaxed. Aaaah! One double bed for the old folks and one pull-out sofa for the kids are more than enough for us after our long trip. After we were refreshed, we made our way to Loch Lomond shores, where we had seen an Outdoor Clothing shop, to purchase a few items that we needed as well as some snacks for the next day. Back in Balloch, we went to the Golden Star Indian restaurant, which provided us with a wonderful vegan dinner and much needed wifi! The wifi is down at our lodging, so we needed a dinner spot that also allowed us to go online. I tried to write this blog at the restaurant, but soon gave up because I was too tired and too interested in just enjoying my dinner and family.
By the time we returned to our lodging it was shortly after 7 pm. I wish I could tell you what happened next, but I can't. I just remember lying down on our bed to relax. And then I opened my eyes to darkness. Everyone was asleep. My watch read 11:30 pm. Feeling a bit refreshed, I got up and wrote my daily blog. Since there is no internet, I'll likely have to post today's blog when we get to our destination tomorrow. Time to go back to bed - good night!
Distance: 10.6 miles
Time: 4 hrs. 41 min.
Avg. Speed: 2.3 mph
Total Ascent: 1,374 ft.
Total Descent: 1,535 ft.