Saturday, September 08, 2007

Logbook: ExodUKs

Exoduks1By the time the ferry from the Hebrides docked in Ullapool on Monday, my Mom and I had both gone through a mental change of gears. For her, the "trip was over" and she was ready to get back to Edinburgh and continue on her way home. For me, it felt like my time of exploration in the UK was drawing to a close and I was ready to move on. So, after a brief stop at my favorite internet cafe -- where, of course, I was unable to get online! -- we got back in the car and drove to the petrol station. I handed my Mom the map and said, "We've got three days to get you back to Edinburgh. While I fill the tank, pick a route that looks good to you." When I got back in the car a few minutes later, Mom had selected a coastal route and we hit the road. The weather turned absolutely fabulous and we were treated to some of the most beautiful views either of us have ever seen anywhere. Truly, Scotland is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and the northwest coast of Scotland is the best of the best. At one point we made a terrific climb up a mountainside and stopped at the top to take one last look across the water to the Hebrides. The picture doesn't really do it justice, but I think you get the point.

Exoduks2On our way down the mountain, we were treated to a steep, tricky descent. Again, the picture doesn't suffice to show the true perspective. A little while later we were cruising along the shores of Loch Carron and I declared I'd had enough for the day. It had been an early morning followed by a long, challenging drive and I was pretty worn out. In the completely adorable little town of Locharron we found a tidy little hotel with a decent restaurant and internet! We spent a quiet evening and made it an early night as usual. Tuesday morning we got an early start on a route that started taking us substantially inland. The weather turned bad again, reinforcing our feeling that we were done with our exploration and simply making our exodus. We stopped for the night in Fort William -- known as "the gateway to highland adventure" -- but neither of us had a particularly good feeling about it. We had hoped to catch a glimpse of Ben Nevis -- the highest mountain in the UK -- but the weather was socked in, so we just got a room at a rather worn down old hotel that seemed "good enough." The only interesting -- funny? -- thing to report is that the world mountain biking championship was taking place in Fort William and we happened to pick the hotel that was home to the Russian biking team. So, in this dumpy hotel with run down ambiance we had dinner to the sound of boisterous Russians. Somehow, it all seemed to fit together and we were happy to eat our meal and call it a night.

Wednesday morning we hit the road early once again and made our way into Edinburgh. We couldn't get a room at the airport motel and ended up at the Holiday Inn halfway back into the city. It was the usual sterile environment without any real charm or personality, but it was a good place for us to come to a full stop and Mom spent some time packing her gear for her flight home. I was in an unsettled state of mind, and found myself bouncing around between going online to try to catch up with myself a little bit and making trips to the car to start sorting my own gear for what I knew would be my own imminent UK exodus. We also were both pretty worn out, the usual combination of being on the move for a couple of weeks straight and the decompression of winding down an adventure. So, it was yet another quiet, early night.

Although we took a fairly leisurely pace on Thursday morning, we were still checked out with over an hour to kill before my Mom needed to be at the airport. I suggested we take the time to handle a chore by driving over to Falkirk and dropping off my laundry. After a fast sprint down the motorway I turned off into Falkirk and navigated my way through town, weaving my way through traffic, around several roundabouts and finally turning up an easy to miss side street. Mom wondered how I found the place the first time and how I knew how to find it again. All I could do was smile, say "Welcome to The Voyage" and be happy to have given her yet another memorable Voyage experience. I introduced her to my "laundry friend" Rachael -- who told me she is moving back to Australia and invited me to visit if/when I wander that way! -- then we drove to the airport. We checked her in with no problems and had a cup of coffee then she went on her way through security to head back across the pond "until next time." (Thanks for another great time, Mom!)

Walking out of the airport I had another "The Voyage Begins Now" moment, realizing that with Mom's departure I had "no plans" again. I knew I had three days to get the car back to Newcastle, so I drove back out to Falkirk, picked up my clean clothes and headed south. I got as far as Peebles, Scotland before fatigue set in and spent the night at a charming little inn whose excellent chef prepared me a fine dinner. Yesterday morning I got an early start and continued south through yet another beautiful Scottish landscape. Mid-afternoon I stopped in Dumfries but found that the entire town was booked up due to a golf tournament, so I drove on. Just a little further south I crossed the Scotland/England border and had a moment of fond reflection about my fine time in Scotland. I was a little sad to be leaving, honestly, and consoled myself that I will very likely be back. A few minutes after that I arrived in Carlisle, England where I got a room at a generic motel and locked myself in my room to spend some time online and chilling out. I have only just realized that I haven't taken any pictures over the past couple of days, a pretty clear indication that I have simply been "moving" and not "exploring."

This morning I hit the road early once again and headed east, more or less on the route that Mom and I walked last month along Hadrian's Wall. At high speed it only took a little over an hour to make the trip, but it was enough to reinforce how far we walked! I arrived here in Newcastle, returned the car and got a ride to the official "home" of The Voyage, a Holiday Inn Express. I have spent the afternoon completely sorting my gear, catching up with myself online and starting to work on logistics going forward. Although I expect to be here for a few days, I don't expect to do much exploring. I'm ready for some "down time" and the chance to recharge before going back into "go mode." I'll let you know what I come up with as soon as I know what it is, so stay tuned!

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