The University of Iowa

Way up I feel blessed

March 21st, 2016

Scenic view from halfway up the mountain

Scenic view from halfway up the mountain.

By Marcus Smith*

If you would’ve asked me six months ago if I was going to spend a weekend scaling one of the highest mountains in Scotland, I would have looked at you like you were crazy. If you would ask me to do it today, I would jump at the opportunity to go again.

\"Candid\" post

A "candid" post-climb picture featuring our stylish red wetsuits.

This past weekend, my program took a trip to the picturesque Argyll Forest in the southern highlands. I had never heard of Argyll before, so I had no idea what to expect. I have lived in the Midwest for my whole life, and while I have loved living there, there is not much elevation or greenery. I knew that Scotland was known for its beautiful hiking trails and scenery, and I was excited and curious to see what it would be like to live in such an outdoorsy country. I signed up for hiking in Argyll which I, being a novice outdoorsman, thought would merely be strolling around a paved trail with a slight incline every now and then.

It couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

Our hike started off right away with a steep slope on an undesignated path in slippery terrain, and I immediately thought to myself, “What did I just get myself into!?” I was not mentally prepared for this, and was unsure if I would be able to endure this 6 hour, 11 kilometre trek up the mountains.

It was a group of about 13 of us, and while going up the mountain, everyone was at different paces. I, being an incredibly novice hiker, held up the rear for most of the climb, which was nice because I got to chat with our group leader who was from Wales. Once we got deeper into the climb though, everyone was more spread out across the trail, and for long periods of time it was just me and the absolutely wondrous views around me.

There’s something unexplainably refreshing about being surrounded only by nature, completely disconnected from world below. Once we made it to the top, we were high up above the clouds, and though the view was a bit foggy on that day, I could still see and feel the energy of the breath-taking place I was in. It was by no means an easy climb, and I think everyone in our group wiped out at least a dozen times, but by the end we were just being silly and sliding down the mountain in our wetsuits! It was truly an experience that I have never had before, and I have now been exposed to and am a freshly converted lover of hiking.

Crossing a stream and trying not to fall in

Crossing a stream... and trying not to fall in.

It’s the halfway point in the semester, and recently I have caught myself wondering, “what the heck am I doing here in Scotland when the whole life that I have built and worked hard for is on the other side of the world?” After two months here, I have established more of a routine, and at times didn’t feel the same spontaneity and excitement that I did when I first arrived. A pang of homesickness hit me. The weekend hiking in Argyll came at a perfect time, and reignited that liveliness and euphoria that I had the first initial weeks. As cheesy as it sounds, being on top of that mountain really put my life in perspective; I realized how big and adventurous this world is, and I am marvelling in this opportunity that I have to get to see part of it. 

*Marcus Smith is a sophomore studying political science as well as ethics and public policy at the University of Iowa.. The Bolingbrook, Illinois, native is spending his semester on the Institute for Study Abroad at Butler University program in Edinburgh, Scotland.