So if you’ve been following my journey, you may have picked up I’m pretty obsessed with my tent. And maybe somewhere along the way, enticed by glamour shots of my little green Hubba Hubba perched atop magic mountains and ocean cliffs, you somehow found yourself feeling a little something for my tent, too.
If so, I feel the need to tell you about our pride squashing accident a week ago. Everyone is okay, a few bent poles, a couple of scratches, some missing stakes; but we both made it through the night.
Like many places, the weather in Scotland is quite unpredictable. It can be blue skies and sunshine one moment, inviting you to come in and explore, and be spitting in your face, shoving you out the door via gale-forced winds the next. Up until last Wednesday, I was having incredible weather luck. I made my home next to the sea on cliffs with just enough breeze to keep the midges away, found the one dryish, flattish spot in an endless boggy field of flowers, stopped on sides of mountains with the clouds parting just enough for the sun to wave hello as I finished setting up.
And I didn’t even know I was being wooed. But last Wednesday night, Scotland decided it was through with pleasantries, through with courting me. It knew it had me hooked, that my love was so deep, so blind, it could do anything and not change the way I see it, not change the way I feel. Wednesday night, Scotland and I had our first fight.
The day started out normal enough. It was getting late, the sun had been on and off all day, I had sand in places I didn’t know sand could reach from my intense windy walk on the beach in Durness (looking back, the way the wind attacked me that day on the beach, so forceful, direct, intentional sand shots to the eyes…I should’ve seen the signs) and I was tired of the search. I was making my way down to Glasgow from John O’Groats, with nice seaside options all the way, really anywhere would work, I needed to quit being so picky. So I stopped at the next pullover and hiked out through a knee-deep bed of bright yellow and purple flowers that carefully hid the nasty tear-your-skin-apart pricker bushes (sign #2, but I had come too far to turn back) which eventually turned into a 180° view of the ocean. Sun was shining, wind was calm, prickers were behind me. Perfect.
After struggling to stake my tent down (bogs trick you, looking all soft and flat from afar, but they are actually uncomfortable humps of ground surrounded by deep, mushy holes) I considered it good enough (sign #3, but I couldn’t make my painful pricker hike pointless) and settled in for a quiet night of reading, writing and thinking. At some point I ventured out to water the lawn and briefly noticed the wind had picked up, but was too distracted by the pretty pink clouds to think anything past that.
Ten minutes later, cozied up in my sleeping bag, all hell broke loose. I could hear the wind ripping at my tent, punching it in the sides, the head, the back, kicking it while it was down, stomping on top of it, sucking all the life from inside. But I wasn’t worried. I believed in my tent, and we had been through some rough times before, some great adventures, always coming out on top. This would just be one more.
And then I made the fatal mistake of assuming the lawn needed more water. It was as if The Wind was waiting for this moment, making all that ruckus trying to coax me out of my tent, just so it could knock me on my ass immediately. I knew this was the beginning of the end, but what could I do? I really had to go, and peeing in the tent was not an option. I awkwardly pushed myself up, readjusting my weight trying to figure out how not to pee on myself or the green machine. Laughing at my vulnerability (partial squat, full stream), The Wind jumped at the chance to screw with me more, and I watched helplessly as my tent (with my pack, my computer, my bed, my bread and cheese, everything) ungracefully tumbled by.
I had flashbacks of my friend Adam telling me about the time the Nevada Desert Wind stole his tent from him and he had to spend the night in the kind of place you pay for by the hour. Equipped with knowledge that tents being abducted by The Wind is an actual thing, without unassuming the position, I Go-Go Gadgeted my arm out to grab it, saving this Hubba Hubba from the windy breath of death. I wish the rest had been videotaped, as I can only assume the awkwardness Nature witnessed that night as I squatted there, holding my home, which had basically become one of those annoying wind flags outside of car dealerships, still peeing, still trying to figure out what had just happened and what to do next.
I guess this is where I should tell you I had already enjoyed a few glasses of wine by then. Actually, as I had no real glass and was just sipping from the bottle, it’s hard to say how much I had consumed at this point, but I know my balance had long since deserted me. In hindsight, my negotiable inebriated state made this experience more enjoyable, mostly because of the external dialogue I engaged in with the tent, The Wind, and nothing in particular.
Bladder freshly emptied, I did the only thing I could think of: zip open the tent and climb inside to weigh it down. At this point, the tent was upside down and it immediately clung to me, suffocating me, begging me to save it, to do something. I caught a glimpse of shiny red; somehow a stake had made it inside. I had no idea where the rest were, or if the poles were still in tact, as my tent no longer had a tent shape. I felt like I was inside a washing machine going backwards, everything getting more dirty, more messed up. I spotted the bottle of wine, thankful I had been lucid enough to cap it, contemplated uncapping it to make the next part more enjoyable, but I remembered the hidden black holes in the peat bog that could break my ankle in a second on my long walk back, and decided against it. I stuffed everything I could grab hastily into my pack, except for some peanuts and that night’s shower, aka a wet wipe, which I tossed outside angrily, with unnecessary force as if to say, TAKE THAT Nature: I’m littering. I clumsily put my pack on, the tent still clinging to me hungrily, and tumbled outside, greeted by a prompt bitch-slap from The Wind. I have no clue how I managed to simultaneously disassemble my home while keeping hold of all of its body parts.
I stuffed it in the pack and went back to hunt for the stakes with wine-induced determination. Of course, the one time I needed my headlamp, I hadn’t packed it. I used my phone flashlight, battery 6%, to search for the shiny red spears. My tent had flipped a few times so I went back to the place I thought I had originally planted it, and began calling to my stakes as if I were trying to coax a scared little kitten out from under the couch. Here stakey stakes. Come on little guys, I need you. Don’t be scared of The Wind. I already had one…now two..three…FOUR! LEAVE NO MAN BEHIND. Five minutes later, I left two men behind and stumbled to my car. Looking back, I have no idea how I made it without falling more than twice. Okay, three times. I threw my pack in front and climbed in the back of the tinier-than-I-remembered VW Golf.
The next morning I unzipped my pack to log the casualties and found my headlamp right where I always put it. And where the hell were YOU last night, jerk? The wind was quiet now, but the night came crashing back. Feeling guilty about littering and leaving a part of my tent behind, I sighed and hiked back to the scene of the crime, which I found more easily than I imagined in the sea of sameness. I picked up the trash I had so angrily tossed, wondering how the hell the wet wipe hadn’t blown off to heaven, and found my answer in a handful of prickers, but no sign of the missing stakes.
After my first fight with Scotland, I wanted the next night to be easy. No, I needed it to be easy. So I drove until I came to a familiar symbol indicating a campground, familiar because I actively avoid them, followed the trail into one of those places that people just line up their caravans, set out plastic lawn ornaments and build living rooms under plastic tents, extending from the caravan, average age at least 60. A woman winked at me as she rocked by in her motorized wheelchair. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping. Old men walked little dogs around the impersonal loop of giant motorized homes. I wanted to simultaneously vomit and jump for joy. Yep. This is the place. I dumped out my tent on my little grassy plot, complete with a picnic table, and surveyed the damage again. Some odd looking poles, but no obvious holes, no tears, and clean as a whistle inside. As I slowly assembled it, the rainfly flapped gently in the wind. But I know it was a shudder, remembering the horror of last night.
I sat at the picnic table and soaked in my surroundings, hating myself for being so weak, but also kind of hoping some family would adopt me and feed me dinner, as my stale bread and moldy cheese did not look as appealing as their Hamburger Helper smelled. I stared back at the woman staring at me as I tipped back the last of the wine from the bottle (What? Still no cup). Unable to sleep, I had a long textual conversation with a friend and slept for an hour until the sun hot-boxed me out.
In the morning, I carefully packed up my tent, rolled my trusty Thermarest into a tight little log and squished my sleeping back into it’s tiny sack. I didn’t even realize what I was doing before it was done. Every other night, I had just tossed my stuff in the back of the car, letting it air out — no sense in packing it all each night. And I technically still had a few nights on the road. But I was done. I knew it the moment I rolled into the retirement campsite. My road trip through Scotland was over. And not because of my Wind Fight, but because I knew I had seen the best of this magical country, and that nothing would surpass the nights I spent in Glen Coe, Ben Nevis or the lighthouse cliffs with my sheep on the Isle of Skye and the west coast of northern Scotland. The honeymoon was over.
So, Scotland, I fold. But you should know I’m just saving myself for round two.