I’m sitting at Gate 23 in Edinburgh Airport. It smells like French fries and ketchup and around me I can hear the buzzing of foreign languages (Polish for one) and the howling of the bathroom hand dryer. My flight to Krakow has been delayed by an hour. Classic. I’ve not experienced one single trip in the past two years that didn’t contain at least one delay or missed connection.
That’s alright though. Generally speaking it’s these delays that have forced my usual impatient and neurotic self to become a relatively zen and chilled out chick. It’s also often these wee bumps in the travel road that force my hand in some kind of creative or productive way, be that writing, drawing, or reading—I always make the most of my time in airports and bus stations.
This is it, I keep telling myself. I’m considering this adventure one more challenge on the long, never-ending road of Dudys self-discovery. I’ve lived on a different continent than home for two years now and still have yet to do any extensive solo travel. So this is it, my time to nut up or shut up.
Two years ago, three weeks of backpacking would have been a pipe dream, or really a pipe nightmare. The idea of going anywhere outside of my local spots on my own was not just unsettling, but out of the picture entirely. I think I’ve always pretended to be some tough, independent, bad ass bitch on the outside, but on the inside I couldn’t sit for longer than an hour on my own without feeling pathetic, lonely, and incredibly depressed.
I thought when I moved into a one bedroom apartment that I was proving I was independent and could take care of myself. Although looking back now I always had people over: a best friend, a boyfriend, an acquaintance, or anyone else who could keep me from noticing how disgustingly and pathetically lonely I constantly felt. I was in no way happy with what I was doing, where I was, and ultimately who I was. If I hated who I was so bad, how could I ever like being alone with not but me as company?
Not anymore. My two years away have instilled in me a desire to live and a love for myself I’ve never before experienced. I’ve pushed myself to and right fuckin’ past almost all my previously perceived limits and now thinking about it, I’ve only got a thirst for more: more sights, more colours, more culture, more lessons (hard ones and easy ones), and more love.
Sitting here, waiting for Ryanair flight FR6624 to Krakow, I’m reminded why pushing myself past my comfort levels is so important. It keeps me inspired. This is the first time in about three months that I’ve written anything. And my fingers are itching to write more.
Throughout the next three weeks, maybe good shit will happen, maybe bad shit will happen, but hopefully I’ll continue to be this excited to write it all down, share my story, and blog the way only an incredibly lucky and privileged, travelling, naïve, twenty-something can.
The short, sassy, and stupid tale of a city girl taking on a night in the Scottish wilderness
Through and through, I was a true city girl. I adored shopping, shoes, the hustle and bustle of a city centre, business folk storming subway stations in suits, and taking Ubers in exchange for 20-minute walks (this remains true today as well). I was a sucker for busy cocktail bars and huge cinemas, hectic streets and expensive eats. That is, until I decided to sell all my belongings and move to Scotland.
Once I arrived in Edinburgh, the peacefulness of the nearby ocean and excellent hiking spots right in the middle of the city forced me out of my usual comfort zones. I started to understand what all the fuss was about when it comes to beautiful natural surroundings. And since the sun is a rarity in this part of the world, one’s desire to spend time outdoors skyrockets, everyone sharing the mindset that if we don’t soak in some vitamin D at every opportunity we’re sure to die of rickets.
One rainy day I found myself in bed watching the film Wild—you know, the one where Reese Witherspoon takes on a three month hiking journey from Mexico to Canada and battles inner demons and coyotes and rapists and such. It’s based on a true story and sure enough started making me wonder whether, with my new-found love of nature and desire to roam, I could fare on my own solo, Scottish spirit-quest.
The next day I ventured out to the Mountain Warehouse closest to my flat and spent far too much money on shit I really didn’t need. After buying two pairs of “hiking socks,” a spork, water purification pills, and a well-stocked and bulky first aid kit, I felt as prepared as I ever would be. I booked a return ticket to an unmanned train station in Loch Lomond National Park and was given a map of the area to navigate myself up the top of Beinn Narnain (a Munro or small mountain) and find a smooth, sheltered, grassy spot to pitch my tent and toast marshmallows.
When I arrived, I managed to make it to the nearest town and find what I deemed to be a woodland path up to the peak of the Munro. Alas, t’was not a path. I ended up wading and fumbling across a very large beaver dam and sliding through mud and what looked like deer shit for about two hours before finally making it to a clearing. My obvious inability to properly read a map led me to believe this clearing would be near the top, when in fact the summit was still about an hour walk away.
A woman defeated is not a woman tae fuck with, so when a bunch of fellow hikers yelled at me from across a cliff and took the piss for walking slowly, I waved a giant middle finger in their direction and sat my tired ass down on a boulder, ready to call it quits.
But I decided to continue on to the top of Beinn Narnairn, tent, sleeping bag, and other gear on my back, floor mat in hand. It was tough but I was proud of myself for doing it.
On my descent I was searching for the perfect camping space, which I found. A great little flat patch of grass next to a river where someone had already built a fire pit.
As a bonafide city-girl, camping doesn’t come second nature to me. So of course I took the proper precautions and practiced setting up my tent in my living room the night before. It seemed excessive at the time, but I’m glad I brought that bulky kit full of useless shit. You see, somewhere on my hike I managed to drop my bag of tent pegs.
Nae tent pegs? I thought as tears welled in my eyes. I decided I could either turn back before it got dark OR I could suck it up, MacGyver something together, and be the strong, independent woman I’d wanted to be since three days prior while watching Witherspoon win at womanhood.
Nae tent pegs? NAE PROBLEM!
I pulled out two pens, a Swiss Army knife, rope clips, and of course, my trusty plastic spork, and started fidgeting around with the tent and tarp.
I did it! I thought, completely in awe of my genius. I’ve got this now.
After the tent debacle, I lit a campfire, toasted marshmallows, boiled some water for tea, washed a bit of myself in the river, and settled in with some crossword puzzles, snuggled tightly in my sleeping bag.
But at approximately 3:30 am, shit got real.
I woke up to the sound of hooves muddling around and short, loud, breathy, grunts echoing outside my tent.
It’s just sheep. It’s just sheep. They’re harmless, go back to bed and when you wake up you can get the Hell outta here and enjoy the majesty of nature on YouTube, like you shoulda done to start with.
Though it was definitely just sheep—there are no large predators in Scotland—my mind kept creeping back to a certain headstrong ram that, hours earlier, was staring me down as I stood above it on a hill. It looked about ready to charge so I made a speedy U-turn to the next path over.
It must be the ram, I thought, Swiss army knife in hand whilst sitting up straight and petrified under my sleeping bag. He’s come back for revenge. I’ll be the first person in history to be murdered and eaten by sheep. What have I done? WHAT HAVE I DONE?! Goodbye cruel, cruel, world. I’ve lived a full life.
Waiting for the sun to rise with no cell service and sheep brushing against my tent felt like years. When I checked the time and saw it was nearly 5:00 in the morning and that a bit of sun was starting to creep through the tent fabric, I made the daring decision to unzip the tarp flap and loudly flail my way out of the tent in hopes of frightening away those fluffy, white, terrors.
To my surprise, when I emerged frazzled and in a cold sweat, there were absolutely no sheep around. No animals, no people, no birds, no nothing in sight. In my panicky state I managed to spend an hour and a half making up noises and confusing the wind rustling the tarp with sheep trying to break in and kill me.
Even after all my stupid mistakes and unrealistic fears, I made it through. And though I’m proud of myself for doing it alone, I will never look at a sheep and think “wow, what an adorable, beautiful, harmless, little mammal,” ever again. And rams? Rams, you can go f*** yourself! From now on my adventures will go back to consisting entirely of hikes through shopping malls and pushing my physical limits with late nights of dancing and short walks to the fridge.
There are those cities that suck you in to them. They grab your heart and squeeze, tugging on heart strings you didn’t know you had. Those places that look and feel magical in even the dodgiest corners. The ones that seem to hold a piece of your very essence. It’s almost like this place knows you better than you ever knew yourself and what you wanted in life.
The minute I stepped into Edinburgh, it felt like I was transported to one of those incredible nights where you meet a new person who you know is going to become a great friend. It’s like the city and I talked for hours and clicked in every way possible. Everything feels like home here. I even had a perspective-altering experience in a church, of all places. No, I didn’t see angels, or speak to Jesus. I just wrote.
I’ve never been much for God. There’s something about the act of worship that doesn’t sit well with me. But being in a church always puts me at ease. It’s this inner peace I don’t manage to find in many other places.
So there I was, sitting in St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, feeling more peaceful than I’d ever felt. It was the first time I’d sat and written in a church. And surprisingly to me, after months and months (I think 5 in total) of not wanting to write anything at all, it was in the presence of God that I came back to myself.
I’m not trying to imply that I had a religious epiphany or that it was God that bestowed upon me the desire to write, but I did begin to realize the importance of being open to believing in something. Or at least not rejecting the spiritual because it’s impossible, but rather appreciating it for its possibilities of inspiring. Whether inspiring people to be better people, inspiring people to find closure when their loved ones pass away, or inspiring dried up writers to finally put a bloody pen to a piece of paper and scribble down a string of words that wouldn’t mean much to readers, but that mean everything to the sanity of that writer.
Bottom line, from the first day we landed in Edinburgh, I felt a sense of tranquility I hadn’t felt in a long time. And after a 13-day tour through Scotland and Ireland, and a short blip in London, I’m happy to be back here in Edinburgh, sleeping on the couch of a kind, used-to-be stranger, feeling more excited about just being alive than ever before in my life.