Scotland Hiking Blog Stephanie Hero

June 20, 2024

Stories from Scotland: Handstands in the Highlands with Stephanie

- By Jules Torti with Stephanie Krohto

Continue reading Stories from Scotland: Handstands in the Highlands with Stephanie

Stephanie is like a tall glass of sparkling lemonade. She’s bright, refreshing and a welcome addition to any day. She’s that spontaneous friend, the reliable plus one, your guaranteed wingwoman—ready to go anywhere, regardless of the elements and the longer the walk, the better. On the Scotland Hiking Adventure in May, I was lucky to cross paths (and follow the same paths) up and down the verdant Highlands hills with Stephanie. She’s the exact company you want to be in. She’s endlessly energetic, determined, curious and  flexible (in all senses of the word considering she’s a former competitive gymnast and record-breaking  long jumper who can still pull off a handstand on request). Stephanie was a four time Pennsylvania State High School Champion (twice in long jump and twice in triple jump) AND state record holder in the triple jump at 39 ft 9 3/4 inches (12.13 metres). She attended Penn State University on a track & field scholarship and her best distances at uni were 19’ 10” (6.05 metres) in long jump and 40’ 10” (12.45 metres) in triple jump.

Last September, from her home in Lincoln, Rhode Island, a random Google search for group travel options in Scotland serendipitously led her to Wild Women Expeditions. Stephanie has traveled extensively, most often with her two sons, but wasn’t ready to go “all in” on an independent hiking trip. “I am nervous to hike alone, mostly because of wild animals. And in Scotland, I didn’t want to drive on the opposite side. I have a lot of vacation time but my sons aren’t always able to travel with me. I knew I didn’t want to do a self-guided trip and I definitely wanted an itinerary that visited the Isle of Skye and included Ben Nevis.”

Midges and Cheese-Rolling

Stephanie made note of Wild Women’s 2023 USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice Award and added, “I made sure to vote for you this year!” She also noticed that Wild Women had the earliest departure date compared to other companies and she was optimistic about beating the midges in mid-May. (*Her optimism was great but midges don’t abide by reliable timelines! However, there’s a go-to repellant available all over Scotland called Smidge.)

Scotland Hike Quiraing hike Steph Krohto

As this was her first women-only travel experience, Stephanie was totally impressed by the “nicer dynamic” of being with all women. She’s naturally comfortable in the company of men, obviously, as she has raised two boys, is competitive, athletic and heavily involved in sports. She was ready to represent her country immediately when our group realized we had an even Team Canada and Team USA split. It proved to be a fun, patriotic challenge throughout the trip though we didn’t get around to the tie-breaker cheese-rolling competition (in a nod to the annual Cooper’s Hill event in England).

“After just a day together in Scotland, there were all these inside jokes. Four of us were married with kids and could all relate. Everyone was so easy to talk to and it was a perfect-sized group of eight. Whenever we got in the van or went for dinner, we switched around and sat wherever. I think it was unique because we were all hikers and had a common goal. Bottom line was that we all wanted to be outside.”

A Harry Potter Geek Moment

Scotland Hike Beckie talk Steph Krohto

Stephanie laughed when reflecting on the antics of our group’s guide, Beckie. “She was so wonderful, we called her Mother Hen but meanwhile, we were all old enough to be her mom! On the one night where we had an independent dinner in Fort William, Beckie told me the next morning that she had called her mother while she had her ‘dinner’ of bananas and peanut butter in her room! She told her mom, ‘I hope they’re all okay and find their way.’ Her mom reassured her that of course we would, we were all grown women! But Beckie was always thinking of us first.

Scotland Hike Kayaking 3 Steph Krohto

I get when itineraries have to change because of the weather. I’ve been to Iceland and the weather always plays havoc there. On the Isle of Skye, we were supposed to go sea kayaking but didn’t because of the wind. Instead, Beckie arranged for us to kayak down the Caledonian Canal and that was awesome. Though the midges ate me alive!

In the afternoon, Beckie said it didn’t make sense to drive two hours roundtrip to do the short beach hike that was originally planned near the sea kayaking site. She said, ‘we can go to Glenfinnan, there’s a good hike there.’ I don’t think anyone else in the group knew what this meant but I did! I’m a huge Harry Potter geek and this is where the Glenfinnan Viaduct is with the steam train. There were hundreds of people there just waiting for this train and were so excited about it. The midges got me there too!”

Scotland Steam Train Glenfinnan Viaduct Stephanie Krohto

When asked what she misses about Scotland Stephanie is quick to reply. “It was soooo nice not having to plan where to eat. I was just saying this to Susan, one of the women on our trip from Charlotte. I loved that we were told ‘this is where we are going and this is what we’re doing.” Susan felt the same way. “As mothers were always planning what’s for dinner and what’s next, so, this was a real treat. Susan and I were actually talking about planning a hiking trip in the southwest (USA) next year. You know, if anyone from our group was going on a trip somewhere, I’d consider going.”

In September, Stephanie and her son booked a 10-day self-guided hut-to-hut hike in the Dolomites (Italy). “All our huts are reserved and we’ll get a digital map and instructions to follow. In Scotland, we didn’t really need to carry a lot of weight in our daypacks but I found myself loading up to prepare for the Dolomites. I did this before hiking the Laugavegur in Iceland too. I’ll have to start doing the Stairmaster for altitude training too.”

Stephanie admits that she was nervous before the trip. “I mean, somebody has to be the slowest one in the group but it wasn’t me. Aside from Jules, it was kinda funny that the three oldest women in our group, Kim and Janice (both 60) and me at 57, were the lead group on Ben Nevis. I live across from the state park and walk five to seven miles (8–11km) a day, five times a week. Rhode Island is so flat though, nothing like the hills of Ben Nevis.”

Ben Nevis: Sun, Sweat + Snow

Ben Nevis would prove to be her best memory. “The whole Ben Nevis hike. Yeah. That day. It was supposed to rain and there were five of us who were going regardless. Views or not. We started off in the sun and had amazing views two thirds of the way up and then, no view. And I was just dying, I was so hot! Kim and I both had quick-dry convertible pants on but 30 minutes in, we were overheating. Kim had hers zipped off three-quarters of the way so they were just hanging on and we finally stopped to strip, even though we knew it was 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) at the summit. By the time we got to the summit, I had five layers on top—my puffa, shell, Buff—Kim too. We had the quickest lunch break with Beckie giving us a time countdown and then we crossed the snowfield again. I didn’t realize it but Jules nearly took me out from behind when she slid down the snow patch. When we finally got to the bottom, and it rained the whole way down, we toasted capfuls of Malibu rum. It was such an accomplishment.”

Stephanie lights up, reflecting on the Highlands trip. “Every single day was just so good. Even when there was a reservation mix-up at this fancy restaurant we were supposed to eat at. Beckie had said that we could wear our hiking clothes but if we wanted to look nice, that was the night and place to do it. They couldn’t take our group so Beckie made a quick plan B and said we could have a fun picnic back at our guesthouse or maybe order Indian take-out, which I’d never had. Everyone was ordering stuff I’d never heard of but I was willing to try. Then we went to the grocery store for snacks and filled the cart with all these crazy chips, cheese and grapes and what not. Beckie dropped us back at the guesthouse to shower and went back into Portree to pick up the Indian order. It was this huge smorgasbord and we ate and hung out for hours sharing these crazy stories. It was so relaxed—it was the best night.”

When asked about her overall experience traveling with Wild Women Stephanie says that the private Facebook group that’s created for each Wild Women trip was a game changer. “I ended up going to Edinburgh five days early—it was my first international solo. I purposely booked a hotel with two twin beds near the airport on my last night thinking maybe a woman from the group would want to share and split the cost. I’m so glad I did because that hotel room cost more than the four nights at my airbnb! Jennifer from Yellowknife responded to my post in the private group page about sharing so that was great!”

Please note, handstands are not a required skill set on any Wild Women trip but it’s awesome when someone can jump in and do one for a photo opp! Note to Stephanie: You still owe us a round-off!

A Quick Five with Stephanie

1. What are your top three go-to brands?

I go to REI every three weeks, it’s my happy place. My rain pants are from there and they have this section where they sell returned items and gently used gear. I ended up finding my exact same La Sportiva hiking boots that I had to repair on my 3-day hike in Big Bend (Texas). The back split on them so I had to duct tape them for those 30 miles (48km). I love everything by Patagonia too. I have the Torrent shell and wear it all the time, whether it’s raining or not.

2. What can’t you travel without?

My hiking poles, my iPad. And my Patagonia Torrent!

3. Where do you dream of going?

I have a bucket list of over 25 places, all 9 to 18 days long. My priority is Norway and the Fjordlands and the Lofoten Islands, but that would be a separate trip. The Faroe Islands, Madeira (Portugal). Patagonia. I don’t like the heat if you can tell! I was also looking at the Wild Women trip in Croatia and maybe Ireland but it’s a co-ed hiking company. Oh, and Namibia. Tour de Mont Blanc. I gave my oldest son a list of six places to choose from and then I’ll figure out how to see them on my own.

4. Do you collect anything when you travel?

Yes, but I wasn’t the record breaker on the trip! I think Jennifer’s bag weighed 58 pounds (26 kilos). Kim and Jules bought a sticker but they are crazy minimalists with what they pack. I always buy a Christmas ornament and couldn’t resist the ‘hairy coos’ so I bought some tote bags and t-shirts too. I also belong to Postcrossing which is a neat project where you can send and receive postcards from 207 countries in the world. You get an ID number and track them.  In Scotland, I bought three postcards and had women in the group send them to me from somewhere along our trip.

5. Do you have any post-trip traditions?

Yes! I love to relive a trip. I make a movie, mostly for myself. It’s quite easy and I do an iMovie trailer for fun. And I always put together a coffee table book of my trip. Before I go anywhere I do so much research and preparation and then I like to put my photos on SmugMug and just keep reliving it all.

If you missed Stephanie’s cool iMovie clip on the Scotland Hiking Adventure, you can check it out HERE!

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