The NC 500 is a ring road around the North east to North west coast of Scotland. We bagan in Inverness and decided to go clock-wise. The roads are quite varied from single track to double lane, some with curbs, some rock walls, some guard rails, all narrow.
The first few days, we ran into a few cars coming anti-clockwise around the road. Having been in Ireland, where the roads are much narrower, Chris was up to the challenge. The views from all directions are, simply put, breath-taking. The further north we go, the more small towns and single homes we pass. Mostly fishing villages. The history dates back hundreds of years.
Our first stop was in Applecross. A small town at the end of the road. There are two ways in; the first is a winding switchback road that shoots straight up into the highlands with accents and descents at 20% grades and hairpin, single track roads. This is not recommended for anything bigger that a Type T2 VW camper. The second takes off out of Shieldaig, also a single track with passing points, but is a more gradual meandering road along the coast. It is a 23 mile trek in and 23 back out. From your final destination, Applecross, you are awarded with the beautiful Isle of Skye vistas and a proper sunset, providing the clouds part. Sunset is currently at 10pm and sunrise at 4:40am and we are still a month away from the longest day.
We set our next destination as Gairloch and ventured about 4 miles outside of town to Big Sands, a camp area situated in the first and secondary dunes. The camp is spread amongst the dunes on grassy pitches, some with electric and others without. It is in this small sea that hundreds of bottle nose dolphins and basking sharks can be seen on a calm clear day…of which we had neither during our stay. We were graced with a few hours of clear skies and sun, but with a constant 10mph wind, the sea was awash with white caps, making it difficult to do any spotting.
Today we headed further north to Ullapool. This is a big port city, okay not very big city, but the port services 2 car ferries out to the Isle of Lewis. From there you can caravan around and take a ferry to Isle of Skye and back to the mainland.
In Ullapool, there isn’t much going on past 6pm. We snuck in just before closing time, to the Seafood Shack, a food truck serving only fresh and sustainable food at very reasonable prices, at least for fish and crab offerings. The ferry had just landed so the place was jammed. We placed our order, Chris got the Halibut wrap and I opted for the dungeness crab, both served with a healthy serving of green salad.
We are starting to settle I to a life of van travel again, this time without Gandaulf. I do get my share of puppy lovin’ for sure. Every dog I give scratches to, seems to know I am missing my boy. He would’ve enjoyed playing here, so much room to run, and water to swim in.
Around every turn is another gasp at the beauty, another picture postcard moment. We still have nine days left in our Scotland itinerary. Can hardly wait to see what the far north and north east has to offer. Cheers!
It’s been a good day except for the 2 hours of driving. The countryside is gorgeous. The famous rock walls are now covered in a thick coat of green.
The roads are narrow and the means to an end if you want to see the small towns and castle/church ruins dotting the landscape.
Our choice of a van, the same size as our old van, was a good one at the time. Our driving skills are good but to combine the small rural roads, driving on the side of the road unfamiliar to us, a right hand drive and a stick shift, and we are like fish out of water.
We made it! It seemed like a long haul. It’s not been a very good one for me so far. I managed to get the stomach bug going around and allowed myself to get dehydrated bad! I guess with the jet lag and brain fog, I didn’t put two and two together. Fever, the runs and three red eye flights don’t work well together.
The van we picked up has been used hard! Coming out of The Turtle, this will take a bit of getting used to. First off, she’s a right hand drive and a stick shift. We drive on the other side of the road than we are used to so everything just seems a bit backwards.
Last night was our first full night sleep in the van. We went to bed, exhausted and exasperated, at 9:30 and didn’t stir until noon. Check out was at noon but no one came around to kick us out. It took a bit to get our bearings and I was trying desperately to convince myself I was well.
The first thing that became apparent was the WiFi we rented doesn’t work. Now we don’t know about the stove or hot water. The WiFi was to be our guidance for point A to point B. There are round-a-bouts everywhere and it’s hard to know ahead of time where to exit out, plus you have to remember to go in to the left, not right as we are used to. We almost pulled out in front of a delivery truck because we naturally look left. Here we turn right, stay left and look both ways.
We ended the day in a pub called Matt the Miller, a quaint little pub on the corner of the block on the waterfront. They have 3 pages dedicated to whiskeys alone. The burger I ordered was delicious and Chris ordered a pizza. A pint of Kilkenny for me and a Guinness for Chris. Live Irish music and the pubs decor just made for a pleasant end to an otherwise stressful day. Leaving the pub, the Kilkenny Castle was lit up and reflecting on the river. Beautiful. Cheers!
It’s been a month since we said farewell to Gandaulf. I still have moments in the day when my eyes fill with tears and the words get stuck in throat. Times when all I want is to feel his thick, soft fur between my fingers, and smell his musky odor. At night I swear sometimes he is still there at the bottom of the bed snoring. Of course I sit with the feelings, let the tears fall and, like the clouds in a blue sky, it passes and I am left in the present moment…to move on.
We continue to sell off all our possessions and donated 4 big boxes of women’s clothing to the women’s shelter and odds and ends to the DI. Our shed is becoming more and more vacant everyday. Getting rid of “stuff” is fun, freeing and terrifying all at the same time. What I want to get rid of, Chris thinks we might need someday and sometime visa versa. No matter we settle and the item stays or goes and we move on to the next.
We have started our trial packs. It takes almost as many clothes to be gone for a week long vacation as it does to pack for a year. Save a nice outfit for the occasional fancy dinner or cafe hopping, a few more necessities for hiking or swimming, and an extra pair of shoes…they make a thing called a washer and dryer, so…just like at home, you still need to stop for a domestic goddess day.
The farewells continue almost daily. I have hooked up with some healers that are concocting some plant medicines for me to continue my journey of good mental health and a balance of mind and body. It’s been almost six months since I went cold turkey on anti-depressants and entered the world of good, wholesome plant based medicines. The journey has had its ups and downs, but I am a whole new person, not better, just changed and more energized and grounded.
Between this change and my spiritual endeavors, I have broken through the ancient fortress built around my heart and mind, and found a strong, safe foundation to build a new life on. Yes I have many small tears left on my heart, but I am free from this old baggage and free to build a new adventure in loving kindness and peace.
It has begun…today we officially sold our Adventure Van, SleepyTurtle. The UTV and trailer got sold to a friend we’ve been selling cars to forever. All of our toys and our “home” have gone to good homes. This we are happy about. The universe has been at play in the last 3 months.
As sad as it was to loose Gandaulf, we were in the right place…not in Baja. His death was the beginning of the avalanche of change in our lives. Our entire lives have been geared around Gandaulf, so when he went over the rainbow bridge, we felt a great loss and confusion.
This entire week has been all about getting back on our feet, liquidating everything and getting on with our new chapter of life. Mornings are getting easier, and we are beginning to accept whatever has happened as our path. It’s bucking against things as they come up, that causes us discomfort. As we listen and pay attention to the signs, being aware of the subtle nuances of our daily life, things fall into place. Things that seemed insurmountable.
Farewells have also begun this week. This is where I struggle. We have touched so many new lives, and made so many new friends over the last 3 years which may not seem like that big of a deal to some but for Chris and I, we never have been able to develop friendships outside of work. Now we’ve connected on a deeply personal maybe even spiritual level, and unknowingly influenced their lives by just being ourselves. This for me is a gift. It is exceedingly difficult to connect with people at a meaningful level these days, perhaps due to mistrust and social media…Or maybe the later makes it easier? These special relationships will never go away, and there is no such thing as “goodbye” in our book.
May 6, 2023 will be our new adventure start date. Until then, the universe has our backs.
On March 21, 2023, at 4pm, we lost an integral part of Two Travelin’ Chicas and a Corgi. Gandaulf had been with us since he was a mere 10 weeks old. He was the cutest little corgi muffin we’d ever seen. It had taken me months to talk Chris back into letting me get a puppy again. I was up for the challenge of house breaking, training and cuddling and with Chris traveling so much, I’d now have a companion to keep me company.
We went and got him on February 22, 2010. He was full of energy and very sharp teeth. I spent the first 2 hours and last 2 hours of everyday, training and playing with him so that he would be able to go to work with me everyday. He graduated his puppy class at 5 months old, the youngest they’d ever allowed into the class, and I dare say, the smartest. He never did like car rides much, and being his moms were car dealers, that became a big joke. Maybe it was his tiny legs? Maybe not being able to see? Maybe because everyday we drive a different car, truck or SUV…he never did warm up to rides in the car until we started to travel in the van.
By the time he reached three years old, he had charmed his way into many hearts. He was a great greeter at Salt Lake Imports, our dealership, and an even better sales dog. He loved to play ball so he would distract the customers while they were buying a car. He would do the cute thing and lay his head on their shoes and look up with his big endearing dark brown eyes. It was at 3 he started training to be a service animal.
We started out with walking through malls, airports and riding the light rail. He knew all the commands but when it came to walking through buildings with multicolor floors, he’d lean back on his hind legs and stop abruptly. Everyone around us in the airport, would pile up behind us and laugh as he made quite a scene. Eventually he overcame whatever he saw that scared him and he’d walk, ears back, head held high and little legs scurrying under him to keep up.
It took about 3 months to get him fully trained enough to get his jacket and register him with the US Service Dog Agency. Gandaulf was now a registered service dog and could travel anywhere, go anywhere and knew how to behave. He was one dog out of his jacket, but once we put his jacket on him, he transformed into another. He was always quiet, never begged in a restaurant, and ignored other dogs like he had on blinders. He was just perfect.
Chris and I loved to travel, and now Gandaulf could go just about anywhere with us. His first plane ride was 4.5 hours from Salt Lake City to Virginia Beach. Then he went to Mexico, Costa Rica, he was even an honorary “corn dog” in Nicaragua on Little Corn Island. He has been on sailboats where more pictures were taken of him than the sunset the tour was about. He had become a traveling partner and just loved every adventure. We always joked that he thought we traveled awfully far just to play ball.
He took to swimming, streams, Alpine Lakes and loved body surfing in the Oceans. He would help land any fish we caught on the banks of a river or in our white water raft. He loved to ride on kayaks, paddle boards and even had his own backpack for coming along on bike rides. He owned a climbing harness, life jacket, vibram sole booties and a snow jacket for messy Utah winter days when the snow was deeper than he was tall.
When we decided to retire early, we had to figure in our boy into our plans. We originally wanted to move out of the USA and settle down but with Gandaulf, that wasn’t gonna work out as well. He was a world traveler but the amount of paperwork and rabies vaccinations and other requirements made it difficult to go to more than one country at a time. Vanlife was just becoming a thing so we decided that sounded like fun! On November 11, 2017, we bought a 2015 Ford Transit Cargo Van and begun researching solar, plumbing and how to build out the perfect travel van, and begun building.
After 3 long years of trying to sell our business, Salt Lake Imports, we finally had a buyer and on March 2020, we wrapped up the paperwork on the sale, finalized the sale of our house, and diligently finished work on the van. She was done in June 2020, just in time to escape the madness of COVID-19. We dubbed her SleepyTurtle and had a wrap put on her of a Turtle made of turtles from the Iroquois legend of Turtle Island. We hit the road and spread our new found wings of freedom.
Gandaulf traveled like a king, after all he was a Corgi. We bought a child’s beanbag and stuffed it between our seats, making a cushy seat even in height to ours and he was able to see out the windows and cuddle up to us if he chose to. He had his own vent for AC or heat. If a window rolled down, he was right there to checkout whatever might be thinking of invading his castle. He greeted everyone with a smile and butt wiggles, no tail…
From June 2020 to February 2023, we traveled all around the western US, Canada and Baja Mexico. We laughed every time we saw a “brown forest service sign” and took off on an unknown road. The beauty of this type of traveling. We had built up the van for going off road. She had the largest off-road tires we could put on her, steel skid plates under her belly and protecting the differential. We had custom “rock rail type” nerf bar running boards made and a custom roof rack to hold her solar panel. We could be off grid for up to 10 days or longer when we are by water.
In July 2021, I noticed a small clump of strange tissue inside of Gandaulf’s eye. We immediately called his vet and within a few days, had flown back to Salt Lake for a vet visit. He needed to be seen by an eye specialist, so we flew back to Idaho and drove home to Salt Lake. Gandaulf’s appointment was thorough and the doctor came back with the news. He had developed and interocular tumor, but the pressure in his eye was good so it wasn’t an emergency to have his eye removed so we kept having the pressure checked and took pictures every week and sent it back to the docs.
It was on a hike in July 2022 that we noticed the first big change. We were hiking down to a river to do some fishing, Gandaulf hiking as usual until he started to sneeze backward. We don’t know if he snuffed up a grass seed or just some dirt but the pressure of the inward sneezes, caused the tumor to rupture inside his eye. He was obviously in pain. The next morning, he was in for a complete work up at a new vet in Colorado. Full X-rays, blood work and pressure check. No issues found other than the ruptured tumor. We got some pain meds and eye drops and in a few days he was right back to normal.
Life went on as normal for us…As normal as it was after loosing both Chris’ dad and little sister in January 2022. Gandaulf was approaching 13 years old and we started noticing his mental state was declining. It was harder for him to get in and out of the van. He had become very reactive to being touched, putting on his life jacket or service jacket became dangerous if you touched him wrong. He had become a vicious dog just out of the blue. He had less energy and was definitely showing signs of slowing down. Ball time got shorter and shorter and bu September he was having a hard time seeing in low light. His hearing was going and he was loosing his mind.
October 2022. We came back to Salt Lake to have a ceremony for Chris’ dad out in the west desert as he requested. I had really become worried and was afraid of my dog, I had been bit twice by him during his little temper tantrums and was beginning to see the end coming. We took him to his vet, Dr Kara, and he didn’t recognize her. She sat on the floor and cried, while explaining that he had dementia and appeared to be in a great deal of pain. She prepared us for maybe needing to help him out of his pain and confusion. We gave him 4 days to respond favorably to a new medication regime, and as usual, Gandaulf responded well and we learned how to live with his dementia and crazy moments of rage.
We were off again on the road, heading for Oregon for a stint of house sits through January. We explored Bend, Maupin and finally Portland in all it’s rainy glory. Gandaulf was sleeping a lot and needing more help to get up and down stairs and in and out of bed. He still loved to go on hikes with us and ball chasing still was his favorite past time.
January 2023 found us planning our winter trip to Baja. We planned on heading down the Oregon and California coast, stopping along the way to visit old friends. The rain was relentless, with atmospheric rivers hitting the coast causing devastating floods and mudslides. By the time we reached Palm Springs, we were able to dry out and stop while awaiting our new tags for the van so we could cross into Baja and start our winter adventure. Three days from us planning to cross the border, the guys that bought the dealership called and told us they weren’t going to be paying rent and we’re vacating the property. Our plans had been dashed once again. We needed to pack up and drive back to a wintery Salt Lake City, frozen by a very snowy, very long cold spell, needless to say we weren’t happy.
We lucked out and found an AIRBNB in a friends basement that served our needs while we sorted out the empty building, repairs and release or sale. Gandaulf slept a lot and was patient while we made repairs, painted and shuttled back and forth from home to the shop for the next 6 weeks, 6 weeks we could’ve been in Baja, toes dug into the sand, playing ball and hiking around. Six weeks that should’ve been all about our last hurrah with Gandaulf.
On the morning of March 20, 2023, Gandaulf woke up as he always did, lying on the bed waiting for his moms to help him down and give him his morning meal, scratches and walk. When I got up to help him down, I noticed his eye was weeping and he seemed to be reacting to bright light. The tumor in his eye looked normal so I didn’t give it a second thought. All that day and the next, his eye continued to weep and he was being more cuddly and needy than was his norm. On March 21, the eye had gotten worse and he wasn’t opening it at all. I knew in my heart that this was not going to end good.
We called his vet, who was in the Caribbean for the week, texted his other vet and a good friend who adopted older ailing Corgis, looking for someone to tell us what we wanted to hear, but all three gave us the same sage advice. It’s always better to go out on a good note, while he still remembers you and before he is so far gone with pain and confusion, that he’s not the dog you’ve known and loved. We took him to the only vet that could see him the same day. The tears started as we left him with a strange vet and waited to hear what could be done. At 10:30 the phone rang, the vet said she needed to remove the eye but needed to do all these tests first to be sure the “cancer”, first time I heard anyone call the tumor cancer, hadn’t spread. Of course we agreed to do whatever it took to get our boy happy again. The phone rang again, Gandaulf needed to be sedated just to do the ultrasound. It was time to stop all treatment, keeping in mind the advice we had been given. We went to the vet and picked him up.
The next few hours we played ball, ate ice cream and ate hamburgers through the tears. Gandaulf seemed to be perfect, enjoying his playtime and extra special treats. I held his paw as he napped one last time on his throne in the van and Chris and I cried asking each other if we were doing the right thing. We just wanted someone else to make the decision and speak the words. At 3:30 we took him back to the vet and we’re escorted into “the room”, the finale to a great life and the most compassionate act in our lives together. At 4pm, as I held him in my arms, Gandaulf went to sleep, never to wake up again in pain in this world.
We truly thought we would die right there along with him. We knew however that he would not want us to stop living our life of adventure and travel. We knew that this little guy was a tremendous part of our lives and he was going to be missed dearly. We knew that the tears would flow, some days would be good, some not so. It’s been almost two weeks, we are still struggling but slowly getting on with our lives. He will always be remembered by all those he touched in his short life. He had a huge impact on ours. Someday the pain will not accompany the tears, the tears will dry up and a smile will replace them when seeing his pictures, his beautiful smile, all our memories that he was part of. Someday…