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On holiday by mistake. The travails of travels, profiting from failure

The most memorable occasions are often the ones that go wrong. Yet in retrospect these can be an endless source of amusement, despite the perils faced or hardships endured. Just choose your travelling companion wisely - or at least one with whom you can laugh like a drain at the misfortunes encountered.

In my blogs I put forward ideas from Adventure Psychology to help people figure a way to thrive in uncertain times, and make sense of the crazy world. By adopting an Adventure Mindset (I'll gradually reveal how) you can approach the challenges of life with an adaptable resolve, and embrace the chaos knowing full well that it's a wild ride so you might as well enjoy it!

“Sometimes one has to go on holiday by mistake to gather experiences that make one chuckle about later on, and as food for blogs and amusing anecdotes down the pub. I’ve been on holidays that were not mistaken, yet weren’t particularly memorable, or worthy of learning life lessons."

It's not all about the finest wines

Like a pair of hapless drunks in the Penrith tea rooms demanding cake and “the finest wines known to humanity”, we staggered across the soggy moors being battered by incessant wind and rain. Looking at each other, we acknowledged yet another disastrous attempt at having a memorable (for good reasons) adventure: “we’ve come on holiday by mistake”.

We found a spot high up on the hillside and pitched the tent, to provide some haven from the elements.

This seemed to facilitate some luck as the rain ceased, the wind died somewhat and whilst blue sky didn’t suddenly reveal itself accompanied by heavenly music, at least it had become slightly more pleasant.

“I’ll get a brew on” said Rob with optimistic enthusiasm. We’d made it over several miles (too far to turn back for the evening), we were in spectacular surroundings here in remotest Knoydart on the west coast of Scotland. We had shelter, and the prospect of a hearty meal to while away the hours into darkness. We even had some gin.

It was at this point that Rob discovered his stove needed fiddling with as there was an issue with some valve or o-ring or what not.

I heard a grunt of dissatisfaction. Evidently, the key component of his fiddling, the lynchpin for operating the stove, had tumbled into the long grass. Fruitless searching and swearing didn’t reveal the item.

Well, that’s that, was the conclusion.

We won’t be having any hot food.

Not quite the gourmet meal replete with finest wines, we had intended to have some kind of exotic sausage filled pasta and sauce. Instead we contemplated marinating some super noodles in cold water. Let’s just say they were ‘a bit crunchy’.

I think I took a bite out of the uncooked sausage filled pasta, and rapidly decided against it.

Never mind, I thought, and announced “at least we have the emergency packet of cheese thins”. My special luxury treat that can raise any spirits dampened by Scottish driech weather.

We had earlier divvied up our rations, and equipment to ensure we had a fair spread of the load of tent, cooking stuff and food.

It was determined that Rob would carry the cheese thins. Contrary to any allusion given the importance of this item, they weren’t of significant volume. Just a small tubular packet.

“Err…I left them behind to save on weight”.

There was more swearing and a serious re-evaluation of friendship status.

No cheese thins.

And so we took to the gin with wild abandon, flavoured with a few nuts and a sat-upon flapjack.

The evening passed sort of memorably, for perhaps the wrong reasons.

There have been other occasions, travelling with Rob on misguided so-called ‘holidays’.

On one occasion we camped by a renowned pub in the middle of Rannoch Moor around New Year. It was mild and dry when we went in for drinks, yet when we came back out there were six inches of snow covering the ground (and our tent). Aside from a near brawl in this normally convivial tiny pub (precipitated by a very annoying English postman mouthing off about ‘Weegies’), and drinking with a strange couple ordering shots of sherry, and whom then wandered off into the night who knows where without paying their bar tab, it was a fun evening by all accounts. The night was less restful as we constantly had to kick snow off the tent lest it bury us alive.

I later awoke grumpily after the broken sleep to hear Rob cheerily announcing that there was some good news and some bad news. He had popped out to get something from the car.

“The bad news is that I must have rolled over on my keys in the night and all the windows opened up. The good news is that there’s only snow on the passenger seat.”

Some six inches thereof.

From thence onwards, every time we drove somewhere (for hundreds of miles) I had to put my waterproofs on in the car. And with the heating on full blast to try and dry the interior I felt like a boxer cutting weight in his sweat suit.

We even managed to get stuck in a funeral cortege heading for the westernmost point of the mainland at Ardnamurchan point. For 25 miles. Poor timing/luck.

One final mistaken vacation with my erstwhile companion involved a wild camp on the side of an avalanche prone Scottish mountain in the dead of winter.

We looked askance at each other on leaving the carpark laden to the brim with ridiculous sized packs, and set off on the two hour walk in.

Eventually we found an ‘ideal’ site for the tent, being on a slope above the mountain lake, below towering crags, and as noted, in something of a debris field of ice, littered with fair sized blocks that had tumbled from the gorge above.

Not to worry, there was a nicely sized boulder to pitch in front of, which should afford some protection from falling chunks.

I set to work digging a platform for the tent in the snow, featured with steps and some nice bucket seats in which to sit and sip G&Ts later on.

It was hard and thirsty work, but satisfactory to see our handiwork in this super atmospheric place, snowed in, lake covered in ice and huge mountain crags all around.

I poured the gins, chipped some ice from the debris littered around, and set to work cooking some bolognese for myself.

It tasted a bit funny.

Later on I remarked to Rob that the bolognese was singularly one of the worst meals I had ever tasted (he had something else thankfully). I drank my gin but soon felt the need to retire inside as it was sub zero out here and my stomach wasn’t feeling too chipper.

There are times in life when you have a sinking feeling in your stomach, and you start to think bad thoughts. What’s the worst that could happen? Then you push these thoughts to the back of your mind, hoping that denial will improve your luck.

The worst did indeed happen. About 9 times.

My bowels were having none of it. To hell with sub zero temperatures. To hell with discomfort and the need to get dressed every time one needs to leave the tent, to strap crampons on and ascend the slope away from the tent, and be careful not to slip or you are on a slide all the way into the ice covered lake (or beyond perish the thought). When you’ve got to go…

I won’t elaborate. But I never want to go through that again. On analysis of the events leading up to this I realised that I had erroneously augmented the meal with the small packet of ‘flavouring’ that accompanies the dried meal recipe. It turns out that this not flavouring, but chemical preservative definitely not for human consumption.

I’ve never had to call mountain rescue for myself (only for others), but I came close the next morning. I was in a bad state as can be imagined. My guts were in turmoil, my energy depleted, and my previously cold-injured toes not at all happy.

Somehow I hefted my massive pack back on my shoulders and off we set to return to the car.

We decided to try a different route up a slope and then to trend downwards to the car park, instead of the more level and winding route we had come in. At the shoulder of the hill before it turned back downslope I decided I couldn’t press on in this direction, it was all too much. We decided then to turn back and return whence we came.

The next day I read on the mountain weather information service daily blog that a category 5 avalanche had triggered that very afternoon, on that very slope we were due to head down. That would have been a very bad day out all things considered. Perhaps terminally so.

Sometimes one has to go on holiday by mistake to gather experiences that make one chuckle about later on, and as food for blogs and amusing anecdotes down the pub. I’ve been on holidays that were not mistaken, yet weren’t particularly memorable, or worthy of learning life lessons.

Next time you are traipsing across a hillside and the heavens open, your boots leak, you step up to your waist in a bog and it’s all too much, just sit down in the puddle, reach into your pack, and retrieve some of the finest wines at your disposal.

Just make sure, under no circumstances, you have not left behind the cheese thins. Or there is no hope indeed.

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