Rough few days, but then: Uig, Skye

So, when you’re on vacation you are NOT supposed to complain. You’re supposed to recognize that You. Are. On. Vacation. And that is sacred stuff. And the people back home aren’t on vacation. So when you talk about your vacation, and you complain, you sound like a ninny. Like an ungrateful ninny that should be sent home from her vacation because someone else could obviously do it better and with being less of a ninny.

So when I say I’ve had a rough few days, I know I half deserve a punch in the face. But nevertheless, whether at home or on vacation, and especially when traveling alone, there are good days and bad days, and my last two days in Glencoe were a bit iffy.

Saturday, nothing particularly bad happened. I took the bus to Kinlochleven, a little town that is a stop along the west highland way, and that is currently known for its indoor ice climbing gym (unfortunately closed because of a fire). I had picked out a trail that started off of the west highland way that I thought would be a nice to hike and a chance to see some new sights. The hike was going fine, but I realized half way through that I hadn’t rechecked the weather before i left and that the sunny forecast of the day before seemed to instead be more of a cloudy with possible rain situation. On feeling some drops half way up the hike, I bailed because of the slipperiness/steepness of the trail.

Hiking alone, as I noted in the previous post, has been a lesson in humility and patience and solitude. Ive had to turn around on things I very much had the ability to continue on because I didn’t want to risk slipping while on my own. Aside from one or two very popular hiking trails, the trails here are rather unpopulated so if you get hurt, it’s not like someone’s going to happen upon you within the hour. So even though I have an emergency beacon and the ability to call for a rescue, there’s the additional consideration that if I get hurt, I might not be in state where I could press the SOS button. Anyway, I digress. I headed down the hike, a bit grumbly because my hike the day before hadn’t been spectacular either — I’d bailed on a hike because the trail turned to slippery scrambling and I didn’t feel comfortable on it.

When I arrived back at the hostel, I was greeted with instructions to move to a new room, as a massive group of 40 smelly, loud teenagers were spending the night. I loved their enthusiasm, I did, but the group was so loud that they basically took over the hostel and all of its bowls and burners and tables.

That night, however, was a super bright spot, and totally reinvigorated me! I went to the chalaig inn, where the live Irish/Scottish folk band was playing and it was just awesome. I met a wonderful couple that was on vacation (married 46 years!) and they bought me beers and we chatted while everyone in the bar – young and old – sang folk songs at the top of their lungs. It was awesome. I think Scottish folk music may be my favorite music.

The next day id planned to stay in — it was supposed to rain! But I woke to sun and a forecast of more sun so I planned to catch a 1:40pm bus (id missed the earlier one) to head back to Kinlochleven and hike south on the west highland way. I headed down early to the bus, and ended up an hour early to the bus station (oops!). I read in my phone and listened to podcasts and chilled out but was a little antsy to get going as it was my last day in Glencoe and the hike was long and I wanted to make me day “count.” It was not to be though. The bus never showed, and I realized I’d been looking at an incorrect bus schedule. Sunday is the day all buses in Scotland go to really sparse schedules so I couldn’t get another one out of town. I tried looking at my map and picking a different hike I could walk to on foot, that looked relatively interesting, and that I could get to and get done before night fell.

The walk there was short enough and the hike was on a dirt road before hitting a real trail. Now, maybe I took a wrong turn, but the real trail portion was only a few hundred yards long. And there wasn’t anything to see. So the hike just kinda sucked.

Discouraged and out of time to start a new hike, I figured I’d head back to the inn, have a beer and do some writing or reading. There was a shortcut on the map through a trail and over a river, which I thought would give me a little more hiking time. Turns out it gave me a little more ankle-deep-in-bog time. The trail was impossible to follow and there didn’t seem to be a way across the river. So instead, I had to walk along the road, on the teeny little margin next to the very thin roads. That cranked my anxiety up, for sure. Once I got to the inn, my nerves and patience were frayed.

The thing about mishaps and days when plans fail, when you’re traveling alone, is that they don’t feel as okay as if you’re with someone. Because if I was with joe or amy or a person I met, the at least we’re in it together. It’s would be a story. We could play 20 questions or cards or laugh about how poorly the day was going. Together, we could face it and laugh. But on your own, days where things go wrong feel not just wasted, but lonely. They make you question, what the hell am I doing here? Why did I plan my trip this way? Why wasn’t I smarter?

If I did my time in Glencoe over, I would have planned out the hikes I wanted to do – near and far – and hiked there. I would have spent less time in one place and instead moved to a new little town where there was more hiking areas I could walk to.

Live and learn, right? Right!

So, now I’ve left Glencoe and the last two days behind and have been in Uig for a full day. The hostel I’m staying at, The Cowshed, opened only two months ago and the premises show it. The rooms are new and shiny, the bathrooms are clean clean clean, the furniture is spotless, the kitchen awesome. I highly recommend it, though we’ll see if time is kind to it.

Today, a new friend — bridie — and I headed to do a hike in the northmost section of the isle of Skye, and boy, was it beautiful. Together, we got “lost” (aka missed a turn) and eventually found our way and during the whole walk we were treated with incredibly enchanting views. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, but the main idea is that the start of my time in Skye has so far been awesome. Here’s to some more great days ahead.

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unreal blue and clear ocean

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a few birds waiting for food while looking across at the place we were supposed to end up at

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stiles you have to hike over here and there

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rocks:) lots and lots of rocks.

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the correct destination.

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arches!

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one of many freestanding and colorful pillars

first time for everything. a herd of sheep trundled down the hiking path just as we planned to go up, blocking our way put for a bit.

first time for everything. a herd of sheep trundled down the hiking path just as we planned to go up, blocking our way put for a bit.

“I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts…” and other things I sing to myself

“I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts, deedle–ee–dee…”

“Kate, this is so dumb. You know not to follow random trails. You know that. You’re ridiculous.”

“(Spanish accent) mañana. (Attempted French accent) mañana. (Back to Spanish) manzana! (Chuckling)”

Those are three examples of conversations that I’ve had with myself, and that’s just conversations I’ve had today.

Traveling alone, it seems, inspires me to talk to myself. Sometimes about the scenery I’m seeing (“oh my gosh, is that for real?”), sometimes I just break into Pocahantas songs (“you think I’m an ignorant savage…”), other times I’m chastising myself, or making up my own songs, or playing word games…and then sometimes I realize I’ve been talking to myself for the last ten minutes about who knows what.

and who knows why? I’m not sure if other people talk to themselves while they hike or walk alone, but for me it seems to put me in a better mood. I feel less alone, like I can express my moods and excitement even though I am by myself. It’s gets me through the solitary days spent with me myself and I. (That’s not to say I don’t get lonely. I do, I so do. I miss my Joseph and my bed and all the comforts of home like my kitchen!)

Most of my time in Scotland has been spent solo, but yesterday I met several people I really enjoyed sending time with. They were all from France –Pierre, Alex and clotilde — and all mathematicians. Together, we hiked the Pap of Glencoe, laughing and talking about the French education system, midges (the bastards), the sun (which had made us actually concerned about a sunburn. In Scotland) and loads of other things. It was great and easy and I so appreciated their willingness to spend time with me and basically spend their entire day speaking in a language that wasn’t their own. We laughed and saw some beautiful sites together during the day…

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lunch break after they reached top of pap (i opted out of the final scramble

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clo and alex at the perfect moment

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glencoe and loch leven in all it’s glory

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yeah. thats the actual color of the sky. whhaaaaa

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happy hike. happy kate

…and at night we giggled while playing dominos and laughed out loud while we attempted balderdash in English — and aside from a few language issues, it went awesome and they loved the game enough they said they planned to purchase it.

By the end of the day, we were laughing like old friends, at Alex’s love of dominos and excitement at getting to play, at pierre’s love of cakes and all things pastry, and of the pronounciatiob mistakes and mishaps that they were making.

In the morning before they headed out, they all said that anytime I was in France I should look them up — that me or me and joe would be welcome to stay with them.

I love meeting people traveling who “fit” me. It’s a very life affirming experience.

Today I was on my own again And since it was another day of no rain (kinda –teeny drizzling here and there), I decided to hike alone. I left my hiking plans with the front desk…

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…and walked the four miles to the start of the hike. Through land that made me realize why Scotland is so green. Because it’s just a big bog. And if you aren’t careful — which for a millisecond I wasn’t– you totally get off track from the main trail and end up ankle deep in sucking mud and wondering what you did to deserve this.

But anyway, EVENTUALLY I found what I thought was the trail I was looking for (the people on it gave me a clue) and headed in. The hike was short but sweet, which was the intention on this cloudy/possibly-going-to-turn-rainy day. It was full of water and waterfalls, a little exposure, lots of nice stone trails and a zillion million views.

two of the three sisters

two of the three sisters

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the hidden valley, where many of the macdonald clan escaped to after the murder of about 30-40 of their clansmen

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I’m constantly amazed by the clear water

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this is a midge net. i totally underestimated midges. they are. the worst.

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After the hike, I had my first hitchhiking experience. There’s a parking lot at the top of the trail where a lot of people pull off just to take pictures and get on their way. I awkwardly hung out while pretending to read my map, and waited to seeif I could spot a safe ride option. I was thinking either a couple, or a group of older folks, and avoiding people with children(cause I figured they’d feel weird about a stranger with their kid) and dudes, old or young (just cause.). So anyway, I was lurking and I saw them. The perfect group. A middle-aged couple and their slightly older than middle aged friends speaking English (bonus) and smiling and talking about hiking munros. I took the plunge.

“You guys headed toward Glencoe?”

“Yep!”

“Would you be at all willing to drop me a few miles up the road?”

“Oh” (Pause.) “…ah, why not?”

Ha! Success! They let me shove in with them in the backseat and we made very friendly, nice, only slightly awkward conversation and when I hopped out of the car a little later with a huge thank you and smile, they said it was a pleasant and nice surprise to have met me.

So, yeah. Now I’m headed back to the hostel to check in (so they don’t call mountain rescue on me) and then I’ll read and write and plan and perhaps meet some more people who “fit” me.

Glencoe: my intro to the highlands 

I made it to glencoe.

It’s incredibly gorgeous here.

I continually find it amazing that there are so many versions of gorgeous in the world. There’s New England waterfall gorgeous, Colorado mountain summit gorgeous, Africa safari gorgeous, Kilimanjaro flora gorgeous, Hawaii black sand beach gorgeous, California coast gorgeous…and an infinite other kinds of gorgeous. How lucky are we for all the gorgeous?

I wasn’t sure at first, though, that Scotland’s scenery could live up to what I’d imagined in my mind, what people told me to expect.

Especially because the change in landscape was gradual. A friend had mentioned that the opening to the highlands was kind of like a grand unveiling — you turn a corner and there they are: the highlands! But instead, for me, the beauty slowly unveiled itself.

Here’s what I wrote in my journal as the scenes around me turned from sheep and hills and the occasional shop to…well…the highlands.

“There wasn’t really a moment when the mountains began. It was more like the land unfurled, slowly revealing it’s sharpness and steepness in rock, it’s softness in its grasses. Rocks litter everything, looking like they were dropped randomly from the sky, like they don’t belong. Everything is green. Perfect and bumpy moguls. And the thing is, there’s no longer people or civilization. For miles and miles and miles, the landscape is all you see, untouched, undeveloped. The lack of people and houses and villages, of stores and gas stations, it’s like if people once occupied this area, they gave it up long ago, like it was too sacred to take for themselves, like they are protecting it.

And the green, the emerald in the golden sun that shines from every hill side, every mountain side. And the mountains! I’ve never seen anything like it. There are almost no trees at the bottom and so they give themselves up to inspection. You can see every crevice, every undulation, even the smallest ones. Green fuzzy grass turns to jagged rocks and the whole thing just shoots straight up into the air, defying you with its sharp, steep angles.”

On the bus here, I could hardly contain myself, close my drooling mouth, form thoughts of any kind except “whaaaa?” It’s just beyond majestic, beyond pretty. I plan to read up on how Scotland’s highlands came to be. (I’ll let you know.)

But eventually, I had to disembark from this magic bus.  I was pointed down the road to walk by a friendly man on the bus and off I went to walk the 1.5 miles to the hostel with my enormous pack.

Which was fine — I like exercise — but which also strained my back a little bit because of the boneheaded way I’d attached one bag to another.

After a friendly conversation with a fellow traveler, and lots of sweat, and more lots of sweat, and a pretty horse…

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…I arrived at my hostel at last!

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Except, of course, it was totally not my hostel. Ha! My hostel was just a little more down the road.

So once I finally found my actual hostel…

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…I bought a beer from the front desk and got on my way walking to dinner (because this is Scotland and that’s totally allowed?).

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Dinner was the the chalaig inn, which in addition to having bonkers views…

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…had delicious vegetarian (not vegan) food.  After a long day of hardly eating “real” food, it was great to have an awesome meal.

And then, because I’m sick, I walked home as the setting sun painted the mountain rocks pink, and went to sleep. Hard.

More later!

“You have to find your own way”

The good thing about getting sick on this trip is that there are still a lot of days left, so sitting one out doesn’t feel quite so bad. Today has been a bit of a rough day because of feeling under the weather but I did some chores (grocery and map and midge-fighting potion shopping) earlier and now I’m taking a needed rest at my bed at the hostel.

The last few days have been quite awesome.

Two nights ago, I spent time traipsing around the area with Ellen (22 year old who is abroad in France for a year and traveling around this summer) and it was super. We giggled and skipped our way from burgers and beer at The Tron to a folk/acoustic/awesome performance by my new favorite artist Matthew Dames at a place called the espionage. Which was all awesome except for the beer prices at Espionage. Horrifying prices. They should be ashamed! Ellen was a hoot. She’d had like two ciders and was feeling tipsy and hungry for dessert and we were waiting (creepily?) for Matthew dames to play on the street after his show and she saw a (random) guy walk by with a fried piece of something in his hand and she basically jumps him asking “excuse me, what’s that? What’s that? What’s that?” She really really wanted it to be fried cake or donut. It was fish. And she was so disappointed and the (random) guy was just all big eyes and confused and Ellen was totally unfazed. I loved it. We laughed for quite some time. :)

The next day, the 15th (Joe’s birthday! Happy birthday joe!!!!!), my goal was to make it to the Edinburgh Book Festival to 1) see what it was all about 2) feel inspired and 3) see the Pygmy goats (don’t ask me why they were at a book festival. I was just thrilled they’d be there) and 4) see if jk Rowling made a surprise didn’t (spoiler:she didn’t). The walk to the book festival was supposed to be a ten minute one. But, after making a left instead of a right, it turned into a two-hour epic journey through Edinburgh trying to figure out where I was without the benefit of Internet. At first I was annoyed at myself, because I’d wanted to make to make it to the festival by their opening event. But once that time had come and passed and I wasn’t missing anything, I settled in to my walk and enjoyed my little unplanned excursion.

And lo and behold, I actually happened across a place I’d wanted to visit anyway – the water of leith. With a landmark now known, I figured out where I was in reference to the festival (whoopsies, about two miles off, NBD) and headed that way along the waterside path.

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The festival was smaller than I thought it would be — all contained in a little square versus the Fringe, which is EVERYWHERE — but it was really nice to be surrounded by people who had shown up because of their love of an author or a book.

While there, I found out there was a talk happening with David Levithan (co-author of “nick and Norah’s infinite playlist” and author of “every day” and a ton of other books) and I signed myself up. I’d read “every day” a new months ago — it’s a story about a person A who spends their entire life waking up as a new person everyday. It was awesome. And here was a chance to meet an author I liked in person! Or at least hear what they had to say. And I loved what he had to say.

Levithan’s books are filled with LGBTQ characters and his talk was filled by people — mostly teenagers — who loved those character and were touched by them. A few highlight from his talk:

Boy Meets Boy“: His first book “boy meets boy” was, he said, his attempt to “fill a spot on the shelf that was empty.” As an editor, he kept looking for a YA book that, instead of focusing on the scariness or the intensity of being gay, of coming out as gay, focused on the joy of falling in love In a romantic comedy kind of way. But he didn’t find the book, so he decided to write it instead. There’s “power in being represented in a bookshelf,” he added.

On what two questions he was trying to answer in writing “every day”:  given that the main character A was a different person every day, with a different body, race, religion, gender, everything, levithan wanted to explore

1) What would you be like if you genuinely were not defined by your body?

2) What would it be like to be in love with somebody whose body changed everyday?

You have to find your own way.”: “Levithan was asked by someone in the audience how his experience in writing affected his work in publishing and vice versa and his answer was really poignant for me.

His experience as an editor, he said, gave him the understanding that all writers were different. Everyone had a specific process that worked for them and them alone. He talked about how when he writes, he just sits down and ideas and characters and plot come out him – he doesn’t plan the story or know where it’s going or what’s going to happen. (Which is what I do as well.) meanwhile, he said, a writer he knows might create a 70-page outline for a 300-page book and that’s the only way that works for them. The point was that lots of writers are all tied up when they start out about writing the “right way.” We think there’s a secret sauce. A special combination that will unlock our incredible writing abilities and lead to success.

Levithan said that because he was an editor first and was able to see all the processes and voices that worked, that he knew when he started that he just needed to do what felt right to him. And that others need to find their own way that works, uniquely, for them. “You have to find your own way,” he said.

I liked that. Which is what I told him an hour later when he signed the book of his I bought.

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What a treat!

After the book festival I walked to The Meadows, a (HUGE) park where I’d heard people sometimes Slackline. No luck tho. After a quick dinner made at the hostel, I walked around town looking for a cheap(er) drink before going to a comedy show. Major fails all around.

1) Saturday nights is not a night you can find a low key beer to drink. Why I didn’t recognize this before I started out? Who knows. 2) when a comedian starts his show off talking about wiping your butt, you shouldn’t be surprised when ten minutes later he implodes, calling a girl anorexic and a boy “retarded” because they weren’t paying his bad jokes enough attention. What a trainwreck it was — I felt bad for him until he started name calling and then I was outta there and off to bed.

And speaking of, my sick self needs a bit of a nap if I want to recover for tomorrow, which I travel north to Glencoe! The highlands, here I come!
P.S. I did end up seeing the Pygmy goats after all. Basically my dream come true.

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