Journey through the Scottish Highlands.

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I hear the faint splash of water approaching. As the sound draws closer, the warmth of the mid morning sun awakens me from a deep sleep. I lift up to see five groomed stallions trekking across the shallows past me. Their riders, staring in a combination of curiosity and wonder. After all, it’s not everyday that you see a man sleeping on top of a dock situated right in the middle of the great Loch Ness.

How did I slept until 10 am? Nights in Scotland get a bit cold, and this fleece barely cuts it! It’s probably time I invest in a tent, but finding a cheap one is proving difficult. I’ve spent a lot of money in this country already!

It all started two weeks ago in Edinburgh. I arrived via Vueling airlines out of Barcelona. I would have been here two days prior, except that I missed my flight. Luckily, two plane tickets on Vueling equals one plane ticket with anyone else. Upon arriving at immigration with no plan or place to stay, as usual, I met an American named Patrick, A weathered, bearded, army veteran who’d been on the road awhile. I decided to list Patrick’s hostel as my Scottish address in Edinburgh. I thought it seemed like a good plan to breeze through immigration, I was wrong. I was asked my purpose for this visit to Scotland, which I regretfully gave a response of “just hanging out”. After a mild interrogation, by a rather intimidating Scottish lassie, I was permitted in to “hang out”.

After a few nights in Edinburgh, I ended up at a rowdy, rather dingy hostel on Cowgate due to a complete lack of accommodation elsewhere. It was here that I met up with an Israeli girl named Dana whom I had been in contact with via Couchsurfing. Dana and I decided to head north out of the city towards the highlands. After a short time, we were picked up by a very nice gentleman named Colin headed home from work. He dropped us at a Co-op supermarket where we grabbed a bus to Perth for the night.

Upon wandering into town for food, I stumbled upon a small pub with a handful of locals inside. They welcomed me in very invitingly, bought me a few pints, and wanted to hear about my travels. They were a lovely bunch, and as the pub closed up, we exchanged Facebook accounts, and I said farewell.

From Perth, Dana and I made our way to the small town of Pitlochry. I found it an enchanting place, resting beside the river. We strolled up to the Moulin Brewery to try local ales, before retiring to the local park for the night. We slept behind an old ship container being used for tools resting at the north east corner of the park. After sleeping in, Dana and I rolled up our sleeping bags, and made our way into town for food. After a short time, we were on a bus headed for Blair Atholl to visit the famous Blair Castle. Blair Athol is a small place, very small. The castle and it’s royal garden is quiet impressive. There was a nice campground only meters from it as well. Unfortunately, the price was much to our disliking, so we opted to push forward towards Inverness.

We were attempting to hitch hike from Blair Atholl to the Braur junction where the Blair road meets Highway A9. From there, it is a straight shot to Inverness. Unfortunately, the ride never came and we instead ended up walking the entire 3 miles to the junction. It wasn’t ideal, but I found the walk to be beautiful, despite the dangerously narrow road, with frequent traffic. Upon arriving at the junction, we pulled out a cardboard sign that we had scribbled “A9 North” on with a marker. It wasn’t anything fancy, but It could get the job done.

After finding a good spot situated on a median where the two roadways meet, we started to smile, wave, and dance our sign around in enthusiasm. As a car approach the stop sign, waiting to pull onto the very busy A9, we performed our usual routine. The driver, seemingly oblivious to our attempts to attract, proceeded to pull out onto the A9 while her daughter engaged her in conversation.

What happened next must have only taken milliseconds, but for me seemed to occur in slow motion. The way a Hollywood action star leaps from an exploding building. From my right, I heard the screeching of the tires. I turned just in time to witness a pickup truck and horse trailer combo whiz by my face at a proximity that could almost shave a man’s beard. Suddenly, the pickup truck collides with the driver’s side door of the car a mere 10 meters to our left. The sheer speed and force of the impact creates a storm of flying debri in every direction. As we attempt to shield ourselves, the car spins uncontrollably before coming to rest in a field on the opposite side of the road. The horse trailer detached and situated in the middle of the highway, the pickup truck resting in the ditch just down from us.

Suddenly, everything is silent. I watch as a small trickle of white smoke makes its way from the cars engine. The passenger emerges from the car almost instantaneously, running around to the driver side to help her mom. In an attempt to open the door, the handle breaks, and she goes falling to the ground. I found myself watching this unfold in a completely frozen state. It was not an act of fear, mind you. In fact, the entire experience had my adrenaline racing!

Finally, I snapped out of my trance and ran over to assist the girl. Opening the driver side door was futile. It was crushed and without a handle. The police arrived in just a few minutes. Since Dana and I were the prime witnesses to the crash, we had to be placed into the police car and interviewed. He started off with the basics, asking us our names, ages, nationalities, then drifted toward our business here. He began with “So you two were here trying to get a lift, right?” Which led me to reply with “yeah…Is that illeeeegal???” In a fashion you’d much expect to hear from Steve Eurkel. A weight of relief lifted when the officer informed me that I wasn’t breaking any laws.

After a bit more information from us, a Middle Aged Dutch woman approached the police car to ask if she could get through, as she was just heading to Blair Athol. Dana turned on her girlish charm and we landed a ride back to Blair Atholl with The woman and her husband. The couple dropped us off at the bus stop. No more that 1 minute of standing at the bus stop, a man pulled up and asked us “Do you need a ride to Pitlochry?”. What luck!

Getting back to Pitlochry where we started was a bit discouraging, but neither Dana nor I felt up for night travel this evening. We decided to get a dorm bed at the local backpacker hostel and relaxed. The next day, we gave in and bought bus tickets all the way to Inverness. Although much less adventurous, it proved to be much less exhausting.

Inverness was a nice enough city, we spent our first day walking across the Kessock bridge, and exploring the river. Dana had a rather amusing dispute with the young hostel worker over dorm room fees, as well as a street hoodlum who would not stop incessant blowing on a horn. After, a few days lounging around Inverness, we made our way up to Loch Ness, or a town close enough rather. We bought some food in town and hiked through the woods, and farmland until we found a small dock situated on a small patch of land. Dana secured her make shift tent in the trees, and I rolled my sleeping bag out onto the dock. After a few Strongbow ciders and a nice sunset, I drifted off to sleep.

Which brings me back to the present. As, I sit here eating my last can of sardines, an unintimidated duck family picks up the fallen pieces from beneath my feet. I reflect on what has led me here, to this moment. Living on the road is not always as peaceful as you might imagine. It can be a lot of work, and just as much stress. Occasionally however, time seems to freeze, and there is one perfect moment where nothing else matters. A now that is utterly perfect, and captures the whole of me.

In the blink of an eye it is over, but it is unforgettable. Like a drug, I long for that moment. A permanent state of now, where I am forever conscious.

-Jesse Hunter

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