Singing in the rain

Molly staggered for a few steps, laughing, before eventually catching her footing. By the time I reached her, the same thing happened to me.
The wind, which was gusting at more than 100 miles per hour, was blowing us over.

Just 30 minutes into our three-day slog through the backcountry of Cairngorms National Park in the Scottish Highlands, we were beginning to think we had bitten off more than we could chew. It didn’t help that our trip coincided with Hurricane Bertha’s visit to the United Kingdom …
The rest of the first day didn’t get any better, but our spirits did.
As the rain continued to fall, we clambered over man-size boulders and scurried around swollen lakes, trying not to let the wind or our 40-pound rucksacks topple us.
The only benefit of the wind was that when the rain finally stopped, we were dry in no time.
After about seven hours, we stopped for the first night in a “bothy,” one of a handful of rudimentary concrete huts where travelers can grab a break from the elements.
A pair of hikers, a younger Lithuanian and a middle-age Czech man, both of whom worked in a casino in Aberdeen, joined us. The rains had washed away a bridge – the only crossing for one of the rivers – forcing them to double back.
At 9 p.m. the fading daylight still lit a third of the hut through the only window. We sat sipping tea, discussing U.S. foreign policy while our wet clothes hung on makeshift lines above us.
When we awoke the next day, the winds had died down, but the rain persisted.
“It’s a bit midgy out here,” said Tim, our guide, as he stepped out of the bothy. The midges – these swarming, biting gnats – were out in force today after taking yesterday off.
Tim was a former IT specialist for almost three decades who started his own hiking business in the last five years. Though he’d been hiking near Cairngorms for more than 20 years, he said he’d never seen the rivers so high.
The area had received so much water that the hiking paths were now mini streams and the streams were rushing rivers. So even when it wasn’t raining our feet were usually submerged in 60 degree water.
Throughout the wet trek we learned that rocks and clumps of grass are your friends, as they both indicate somewhat solid ground.
We wound our way up the valley and made several river crossings where I was sure someone was going to end up in the drink. Perhaps we were too scared to fall. 
The next morning we packed up and resigned ourselves again to the futility of fresh, dry socks. We hiked up the backside of Ben McDui, the UK’s second tallest peak, crossing our fingers that the winds would die down.
An hour later, Tim huddled us up and yelled over the wind, “I don’t think this plan is going to work!” We were already on Plan D, so we skipped to Plan E and kept moving. 
The alternate route added several hours of boggy trekking but ended up being the most scenic of the trip. The last hour we skipped down blocky, rocky stairs, our packs feeling lighter with every step.
Later that night as we unpacked at the hostel, I took out my sunglasses and smiled. They never had a chance.
In addition to the hike, we caught up with old friends: two who were boondoggling at a science conference, another who was balancing adorable twins in Dublin, and a handful of ladies we met four years ago on a yoga retreat in Turkey. The people are still the best part about the UK.

Looking back on our hike from the relative calm of Glasgow, I realized why Scottish people are so friendly and upbeat despite enduring the worst weather in Europe: After you accept your wet, windy fate – it really can only get better after that.