An Interview with The Professional Amateur Hillwalkers
In July 2019, we had the pleasure of reconnecting with Mary-Preston Austin and Thea Boatwright, where they shared more about their adventures on the Scottish National Trail. Our blog readers fell in love with their story, so we decided to dive deeper into their experiences to give our audience more insight into their trip.
If this is your first time hearing about these two wonderful ladies and their incredible journey, take a minute to read PART 1. Co-written by Mary-Preston and Thea, Part 1 details the first leg of their journey into the Scottish countryside.
If you’ve already read their story, here’s a quick recap. So far, the girls have adventured over a hundred miles, seen sheep and cows aplenty, and learned a valuable lesson in the ways of Scottish camping. Their journey also included juicy pub cheeseburgers, hunks of savory Scottish cheese, and countless energy-packed DeLuxe® Fruitcake Petites.
But, that’s enough build-up. Let’s get right into our interview with Ms. Mary-Preston!
Our Interview with Mary-Preston Austin
Collin Street Bakery (CSB): Mary-Preston, thank you for taking the time to give us a little recap on some of the rest of your and Thea’s Scottish adventures!
Mary-Preston Austin (MPA): Of course! We had so much fun writing our post last time. I’m glad we could finally make Part 2 happen.
CSB: Absolutely. The first question we have to ask: Did you both enshrine those hiking pants? - Maybe hanging in a frame somewhere in your home?
MPA: (Laughs) No. By the end of the trail, our pants were pretty wet and gross. I was happy not to be wearing my hiking pants anymore because they were just soaked. But they were at least comfortable throughout the trip – I would definitely recommend hiking pants for any/all hikers out there.
CSB: Totally understandable. So with the trip itself, give us a breakdown of how long you walked each day. Would you start mostly when the sun came up? How many breaks would you take? We know our audience has been looking forward to hearing how you and Thea fared the rest of your Scottish journey.
MPA: Well . . . we made it out alive! The full trip was wonderful from start to finish. Once we got used to some subtle differences between the U.S. and U.K., we were off and runnin’. The sun is out a lot longer in Scotland than it is here. We would wake up when we felt like it, which was usually between 7 am and 9 am and pack up and walk until one of us got hungry enough to take a break. We averaged about a three miles an hour walking pace—carrying all the stuff in our backpacks probably slowed us down a bit. But there were times we’d pick up the pace just due to flat terrains like roads or sidewalks.
CSB: What was the overall terrain like in Scotland? A little different than central Illinois?
MPA: (Laughs) The terrain varied a ton. Sometimes we went up mountain passes, sometimes we hiked on roads, sometimes we hiked on gravel. Other times were just ordinary trails. We walked through a lot of bogs which were slow going due to ankle-deep water. Overall, the terrain wasn’t super intensive. Often, we’d stop to eat dinner and then keep hiking, and maybe have a snack before we went to bed. One evening, early on in our travels, we stopped around 6 pm to make dinner and then set up a tent. We looked at each other like, “Well, what do we do now?” We should have kept hiking. But those are lessons we learned along the way.
CSB: When you guys would stop to eat, would you mostly just eat from your snacks, or would you go into town and eat at restaurants?
MPA: Usually, a food stop just meant out of what we called our “snack bag.”
CSB: And the “snack bag” was enough to sustain you both?
MPA: Yeah. We called it the “snack bag” instead of the “food bag” because it was pretty much a drawstring bag for all our favorite snacks. We had the Collin Street Fruitcake Petites in there – which we called meatballs because we think they kind of look like meatballs, and they were so filling. We also had energy bars and some peanut butter as well as instant mashed potatoes. When we would stop for food, we would stop on the side of the trail and eat an energy bar or some cheese. We had a lot of cheese. Scottish dairy is really good. Those pitstops for us usually lasted 15-30 minutes.
CSB: Oh, nice! We’re so glad the Petites held you guys over for some of your journeys.
MPA: Yeah. I can’t emphasize enough how much we enjoyed those. A lot of energy bars are usually pretty sweet and chocolatey. Although I have a sweet tooth, food that is super sweet isn’t exactly what you're looking for while hiking. Oftentimes we’d want something a little less sugary. We think the nuts helped a ton on our hike—just a super substantial snack for the trail.
CSB: Switching gears a little. We were curious if you encountered many other hikers? Did you make any friends who hiked with you on the trail?
MPA: Definitely. We ran into a lot of other people along the Scottish Trail. Scotland is super hospitable to walkers. The official term is “Hillwalkers” for folks traipsing around. You’d just see a ton of people out walking and a ton of people near the hills, and they just always seemed genuinely happy to see you. And even if you found yourself walking on a road and completely blocking traffic, they would just wave and say “Hello!” or offer you a ride. However, it was pretty much just the two of us when we were walking. We would encounter other people and talk to them and then move on for the most part.
CSB: Totally. And because you and Thea did spend so much time together, tell us a little about that experience? That’s quite the journey to go on with someone . . . even for two best friends.
MPA: Somebody asked us when we got back to the States, “Do you and Thea hate each other now?” And we both immediately replied, “Not at all!” Allow me a special shoutout to Thea because she is the greatest, most encouraging hiking buddy. She's so chill about everything. Honestly, she’s just a great person to have around. She is less of a picky eater than me, but we enjoyed a lot of the same foods, so we didn't have to trouble ourselves trying to find things we could both eat. And we got into a pretty good system of getting the tent set up together. Yeah, we didn't really have any issues at all with each other.
CSB: That’s awesome! Good for you guys. For a 30-day journey with someone else and little technology, you guys probably had a lot of good conversation, yeah?
MPA: When you’re out in nature hiking, you’re really pretty alone with your thoughts. It’s definitely a time for introspection, which can lead to rabbit trails and you'll just say something random out loud because of it and then that'll turn into a conversation. And then you'll stop talking and things will get quiet. Then some more peddling thoughts which lead to other rabbit trails. Those thoughts chase other rabbits, and then somebody says something. It may sound dull on paper, but those moments out in nature are an incredible way to get to know someone.
CSB: Did you experience any dangers from hiking alone over in Scotland? How do you compare your level of safety in Scotland as opposed to traveling or hiking somewhere here in the States?
MPA: We didn't have any issues in Scotland. There wasn’t a time I recall where we felt unsafe. The law makes a big difference. In America, there are laws on people’s property and such, and they can kick you off. But in Scotland, everybody's chill with it, and everyone does it. And so they just expect it. I'm sure that crime exists in Scotland, but up in the Highlands, it's small and spread out communities that have little to no crime at all. So the first time we spent any time in the town was Pitlochry, Scotland, and we went into the info center and asked, “Is there a good place where we can wild camp?” And he said, “Yeah, just turn here to get out of town and then set up your tent along this trail.” And if you're not comfortable with it, it's absolutely fine not to do it, but you can totally leave your tent and all your stuff and go back into town. Everyone does it. We never ever had an issue with theft. Then again, we didn’t have anything worth stealing either. We had things that were valuable to us, but I don’t know who would have wanted our unwashed hiking clothes. You can't really sell those on Amazon; you know what I mean?
CSB: (Laughs) Yeah, or at least they might not get top value for those clothes online.
CSB: We recently caught up with our friend, Tim Hoime, who went on a Rim-to-Rim hike at the Grand Canyon. He gave us a rundown of the essential packing list for his trip. How did you guys feel like you did the packing for the Scottish Trail? Did you find you had covered all the essentials?
MPA: I definitely overpacked a bit – which led to a slightly heavier pack than I needed. I didn't have any trouble carrying my stuff, but I had a couple of extra shirts I didn't need—stuff like that. I did bring a ton of socks, which was kind of my luxury item and that ended up being awesome because when you're hiking through bogs every day and your socks are really wet, you're not trying to put those back on the next day. So having around ten pairs of socks was awesome. If you're hiking through Scotland, I recommend a strong sock game. And then little stuff like ibuprofen and safety pins. A mug for warm drinks is a good idea. And you have to make sure you have a good water bottle. You want to have a flashlight or headlamp. And make sure you have any/all medicine you need because it's really hard to get something like that if you forget.
CSB: Oh, that’s a great point on medicine and safety kit items. What about money when traveling abroad? What did you do if you needed to buy some items you didn’t have?
MPA: I have a Charles Schwab bank account that I use when I'm traveling internationally. That allows me to make withdrawals in various currencies without a fee. And you don't want to mess with currency exchanges because you lose a lot of money on fees.
CSB: That’s a great idea – a separate bank account for international travels. So with Scotland behind you, do you have any idea of where to next?!
MPA: Wow. There are so many places I wish to go to...I'm really hoping to live abroad in Germany or somewhere else in Western Europe to lead cycling tours.
CBS: That’s incredible, Mary-Preston. What a great dream! We can’t wait to follow your journey in the years to come.
MPA: Of course! The good times just keep rolling, yeah? Our best days are ahead of us.
CSB: Without a doubt. And don’t worry, we’ll keep the meatballs coming.
MPA: I’ll be ready when they do.
TAKE FRUITCAKE ON YOUR NEXT ADVENTURE!
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