It’s just after midday, late summer 2022, but the sun isn’t shining and I’m wet to my bones. It has rained constantly in the few hours since I set off from a tiny cottage isolated on a barren peat bog—a saturating drizzle that has smudged the landscape into a beige, horizonless pall. A succession of muddy slips and treacherous river crossings punctuate the tedium before dissolving again into the rain.
I’m nearing the end of my second attempt on the Cape Wrath Trail, a grueling 280-mile (450-kilometer) route through Scotland’s spectacular west Highlands. My journey started 20 days ago, and ends minutes from now at Cape Wrath, Great Britain’s storm-blown north-westernmost tip. My map tells me I should be able to see the lighthouse that marks the journey’s end, but everything is lost in the murk.
The wind picks up, snapping at my loose rucksack straps and stinging my face with a final blast of rain before parting the mist and revealing the lighthouse. At once, I’m overcome by a surge of intense emotions: Sadness, joy, frustration, anger—and feelings I can’t even name.
I stagger across Cape Wrath Trail’s closing yards, drop my rucksack, rest my head on the lighthouse’s cold stone wall, and weep. Over decades of long-distance hiking, I’ve had my share of emotional finishes, but this feels new and disturbing. Deep in my soul, I know something huge has happened to me, but in the moment, I can’t say what—or why.