NC 500 First Half: Inverness to Ullapool

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!

And I step back in time

Today began our Ireland trip. Our jet lag is finally waining and we are getting down to a new circadian rhythm. Overall we are getting into the groove of travel again after quite a long 6 month hiatus.

We grabbed a taxi into the little town of Blarney, on the southern coast just a few miles north of Cork. The history of Ireland is steeped in powerful lords and many wars. The landscape is dotted with castles and villages surrounding these monolithic towers of rock, most all older than the first settlements in the US. Even the woolen mill was older than my first “historic registry” home in Utah.

I will be the first to admit that I am an ignorant American. Hells sake, I don’t even know how to physically dial a non-US phone number. At least I am not ashamed to ask and our campground host, Rebecca, was a pleasant young woman who was more than eager to educate me. Better to ask than pretend you know something you don’t.

Our visit to the lovely little town of Blarney, was like stepping back in time. The town is based around a castle built in the 1400’s. It remained in the family for centuries. In the 1800’s the Blarney Home was built. The castle is the home of the “blarney stone” given by the witch of the lake to one of the sons who rescued her from the lake. He was afflicted with a stutter and following the witches directions implicitly, he found the stone and kissed it as instructed. His life then changed as he became a fluent speaker and was given “the gift of gab” as it is said to do. Even until this day, the lines to ascend the castle stairs to the top floor where the Blarney Stone is at rest, just to give it a kiss, is at least an hour long.

The gardens surrounding the Blarney Mansion and castle, were in full display. The variety of flora and fauna planted was in full bloom. The magnificent colors were amazing. I didn’t know so many colors existed in nature. Anything from brilliant reds to flesh peach and salmon orange. Purple flowers, buttercup, and wild garlic filled the air with fragrance.

The most harrowing part of the day was the 2.5km walk back to the Caravan Park (campground). The road started out with a sidewalk, but quickly became a narrow road full of blind turns and no way to get off the road if two cars should pass by at once. The sides of the road was 3-4’ high thick growth which included its fair share of stinging nettle, which is normally found in riverbanks at home. By the time I realized what it was, Chris and I had both inadvertently come in contact with its viscous little hairs.

We finally made it back in one piece and toasted our 7 miles of walking in one day. The day ended with showers, laundry and a recap of our day.

Day Two Ireland: Blarney

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.

Ireland!

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!

A Small Tear on my Heart

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.

Playing in the water was a favorite past time

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.

Ocean Breath

This vessel has brought me to this place

A place untouched for hundreds of thousands of years

Magic

Miracles

This vessel has brought me to this place

I stare off into the endless horizon

Breathe deep the salt air

Breathe with the ocean

Breathe into the endless sky

The horizon bent ever so slightly

Breathe into the endless sky

The rhythmic crashing of the waves

The white froth running across an unseen force

The slow rocking of the boat

Breathe deep the salt air

Breathe with the ocean

Breathe into the endless sky

JA Galapagos 2021

Integration: Melding of dark and light

I want to step in front of a runaway train

just to feel alive again.

Something dead has taken refuge in my soul

Something dark and old fearful of the light

I long to see the light again

To feel the release

The warmth

To see clearly again

I reach inside

Bend to touch the ground

My fingers meet the warm earth

Like a tree my fingers become roots

The darkness falters

The thawing of my heart begins

I stretch to the sky

Fingers splayed open

Reaching

Reaching for whatever will channel into me

The suns warmth tickle my fingers, then my hands

A low cry finds my throat

Release

Releasing its darkness

Surrendering

Like little sparks of energy

Eventually kindle a flame

I release

I surrender

My body becomes charged

Warmed by the sun

One with the universe

Rooted in the Mother

Accepting

Acceptance of the whole

My will

My life force begins to course

Life seeps into every dark crack and crevice

A glow

The glow of life once again

It kindles and grows

I am alive

This too will pass

Let the healing begin

JA

The Child and the Mountain Sheep

It was an enchanting day and the child woke up feeling quite energized. The nights chill still hung around in the trees and bushes. The child stretched to the sky and sighed. What new things will I encounter today, the child thought.

She picked a few flowers and a ripe apple from her favorite tree, and set off on her walk through the woods. She had made a special request to sit with the wise old owl. She had so many questions, but one, in particular, was of dire importance. She bit into the crisp, tart apple and added a bit of a hurry to her stride.

The sun had peeked above the mountains and the clouds hung tight to the tops. The mountains were ablaze with a patchwork of colors. Bright yellows, crimson reds, intense oranges, all scattered throughout the green of the forever trees. Forever trees never loose their color or shed their coat of leaves. The birds and insects began to buzz about with the warming of the day.

The child passed the otter’s den and saw she was busily collecting moss and twigs to insulate her home for the winter. She waved and they exchanged a smile, then set off towards the wise old owl’s treehouse.

The day wore on, the sun climbed high in the sky, creating shafts of brilliant light that filtered through the canopy of trees. The child was beginning to tire when suddenly a black and white burro appeared.

“You look like you’ve been walking forever”, noted the burro.

“Yes, since the sun came up”, answered the child.

“Where might those little legs be taking you” asked the burro?

“I have an audience with the wise old owl. I have many questions I want to ask him. He is the oldest and wisest of all the forest creatures”, the child told the burro with delight in her eyes as she spoke.

“I don’t have anything too pressing to do today. Would you like a ride to his treehouse”, offered the burro?

“That would be so kind of you”, and the child slipped onto the burro’s back and off they went.

The child began to tell the burro all the wonderful things she’s learned from her animal friends. She told him of her sorrows and delights and all the things she’s discovered since she came to live at the edge of the forest. How she was special and deeply loved. The burro plodded along slow and quiet, listening with great interest.

After some time, walking quietly, the forest opened up and a huge tree stood in the middle. The most magnificent tree you could imagine. The shafts of light illuminated the tree as if on display. Half way up the tree was a wooden door that led into the enormous trunk. This was the home of the wise old owl.

The child graciously thanked the burro and hugged him tightly. She then began to climb the enormous tree. This posed no problem to the child, she had always climbed trees to get away from her worries, and she was good at it. She climbed and climbed until she stood at the old wooden door. She gently knocked on the door and it slowly opened and the owl flew out without a sound and landed on the branch where the child sat.

“Good day child”, spoke the owl in a gentle but powerful voice.

“Good day Mr Owl”, the child said politely. “I have come to ask you so many questions”, stated the child. “Otter told me that you would be able to answer them all”, squealed the child.

The owl moved closer and put his huge feathered wing around the child and told her to ask away. The child began to speak, each question more involved than the last. The owl was taken back by the curiosity of the child. “And now, for the most important question”, stated the child.

“Well my my young one, where do all these queries come from”, asked the owl?

“I dream the most wonderful dreams”, answered the child.

The child went on to explain that she had noticed that when the days grow shorter, and the trees come into their best colorful show, the tall mountains are always covered in clouds. Why?

The owl summoned the hawk and told him to take the child to the tall mountains so she could see for herself. Needing to know, the child climbed onto the hawks back and he began to ride the thermal currents, round and round, until they reached the clouds on the mountain. The hawk found one of the big ram sheep that live on the mountain and deposited the child at his feet.

The ram stood taller than the child but had a kind demeanor and soft brown eyes. His white coat was thick and curly and his horns were curled tight around the sides of his head. He looked frightening and yet so cuddly, the child jumped up and gave him a huge hug.

“What brings you so high into the mountains my child?” asked the ram.

The child began to tell the ram all about the owl and her questions. She told him that she was told to go to the top of the mountains with the hawk to find the answer to the one question she needed the answer to. She explained how she noticed the clouds were always draped around the peaks when the trees turned colors and the days grew short. The ram sat back and listened intently as the child told him of all the things she had learned, telling him story after story.

When she finally finished, the ram told her to climb onto his back and he would take her to see. She climbed on and held tight to his giant horns and he began to climb, and climb, and climb. The child showed no fear, even though she was terrified, she wanted to be brave. As they came closer to the clouds she could see hundreds of mountain sheep huddled together around a huge lake.

The ram helped her down and took her over to the herd. She noticed that several of the sheep would grab the clouds as they drifted past. Then the rest of the herd would hold it until the cloud relented and dropped all the water they held. The water was collected in the lake at the top of the mountain. The child couldn’t believe her eyes as she watched this carefully orchestrated task.

The ram looked at the child and said, “now you see with your own eyes.”

“But why?” asked the child.

The ram began to tell the child about hunters and cars and dangers that lurked for the herd if they descended from the safety of the mountain tops. They needed to figure a way to get water so they asked the great spirit for help. He told her that one night the great spirit appeared to the herd and told them of the plan. From that day forward, mother’s never mourned the loss of their ewes and ewes were no longer left without the love of their mother. The child felt the sadness that the ram explained.

“This was a great plan,” exclaimed the child in a joyous voice. “Mothers are important,” said the child, “and being without one is hard and lonely.”

She tried to hide her tears but the old ram felt the sorrow and curled around the child and she fell into a deep sleep. When she awoke, she was lying back in her hammock at the edge of the forest. She threw her legs off the edge and sat still, gazing at the clouds clinging to the mountain tops and smiled.

From Hand to Mouth: One Mans Dream

The coolest thing about being on the road, often times, is the people that you meet. Our van draws a lot of attention and inquiries. If we wanted to be stealth…we’ve failed.

Most often the people asking are in the process of, or have already built out their own van. Some are dreamers, some envy our life, some think it’s cool. Some come around the corner in a parking lot, beaming smile, and ask for a tour. This story is about a happenstance meeting, as described above. A prearranged, karmic meeting, of a gal with a beaming smile, in a parking lot, took the tour and asked for our help. She offered us refuge on a 365 acre plot of timbered terrain, bought 30+ years ago by her husband.

It was early July 2021, COVID was mostly under control, although still a threat. We agreed to take her up on her offer and set out for Bandon and Coquille, Oregon. We talked about what we thought we might find and how much time we would dedicate. Someone shared their knowledge with us, it’s time to give some of that back.

When we pulled up to the house, written in purple paint was ‘Welcome C&J’. We have decided that if a local asks us to have dinner or stay on their property, we would take them up on the offer, if for no other reason than to see how the locals live. Be open to the hospitality offered. This was a little above what we had anticipated.

Jennifer was home and greeted us like long lost family. We sat down and chatted until her husband came back from The Homestead. The Mountain Homestead, this was what they called the 365 acres of a permaculture, unadulterated timberland that they own. It’s now protected by a conservation easement. Chip arrived and here stood an old hippie-type that showed his joy in his laugh and smile. We all sat down for dinner and talked for hours then retired.

The next morning was van day! We all went over what it was they wanted our help with. Chip and I ran all over the small town to try to find a few parts we needed. Small towns don’t offer much for van building or 12 volt conversions. We managed to pick up some of the items we needed but had to turn to Amazon for the rest. We managed to run the wires out of the circuit board and up to where the main power control would be (for lights and fans, etc.) and ground the electrical system. As usual, it took almost all the day to accomplish just those simple tasks.

We had two days till the parts would arrive so we opted to move up to the Homestead to wait out the weekend. We all made plans and headed out for the Homestead in Coquille, a 30 minute drive.Chip proudly drove us up to the property and we parked the van at our weekend retreat.

My imagination was running wild as we drove on towards this little piece of heaven. I couldn’t begin to wonder how Chip felt thirty years ago when he chose to purchase this land for conservation sake, never to be clear cut. A small piece of nature he could call home and share with like minded people. His plan of a permaculture society was real, his dream, his passion. Not many people can have a dream and see it to fruition.

Upon arriving to the turn off, the thick forest quickly closed in, a small creek flowed beside the road, birds sang, and the air was fresh and heavy with the sent of earth. The road was a single lane dirt road that in the beginning was just a deer trail into the property. Chip told us of how the realtor, he and his wife, all trudged threw the forest, crossing the creek and emerged into this wonderful clearing, now the main hub of the Homestead. How he worked hard to pay it off and create a community, build buildings, create a garden and bring fresh spring water to the main compound clearing. How his idea came to light and for a long while lived happily off his hard work and the land. You could feel the passion and see the joy this all brought him as his eyes sparkled and he became animated.

The first thing that we saw as we rounded the bend into the opening, was a terraced opening surrounded by 75’ pine, spruce and fir trees. Several rustic structures hugging the hillside, surrounded by fruit trees, herbs and a huge garden area, including a hoop house type greenhouse. The sound of silence. The birds chirping wildly. I felt a resounding sense of the Mother.

All the wood and materials sourced from the land. There is a full saw mill on the property where they made the wood planks. Tin and plywood made up most of the roofs. They have a root cellar, garden room, tool room and workshop under the main structure. Wood stoves provide heat in the rooms. They have composting toilets, and pump spring water to the property for drinking. There’s a full array of solar panels providing enough electricity to run a washer and dryer. An amazing feat of ingenuity, and a lot of planning. They lived on the land for 27 years until an allergy and illness, caused by a sensitivity to mold spores, caused them to relocate.

We walked around the property with Chip as he tenderly told the story of each building, the memories, the triumphs and heart aches. We picked and ate fresh blueberries, cherries, and huckleberries. We parked the van in a field of camomile and made this lovely piece of heaven our home.

Tall Trees, Deserts and Quiet rivers

We’ve made it to Oregon (June 2021). We’ve been back on the road full time for two weeks. We’ve meandered across Idaho’s western side, checking out the sights we never had the time to experience. We had just come back to Salt Lake City to do some business, get our COVID shots and see some friends and family.

I am really torn between wanting to go back to Salt Lake. I really miss the physical presence of my friends and family. During COVID, it was hard to be distant, but the thought that, what if I caused a friends death or illness, always lurked in the back of my mind. Leaving Salt Lake a year ago, that first month or two, ripped my heart out, not being able to have a party, to give everyone a hug and even go to a communal campfire. Let’s just face it I love to be held and to hold, to share stories of the road and a beer.

Sorry for the ramble…

I don’t know if there is a right way or a wrong way to “become a vagabond” a “wanderer”, part of the allure is living off the clock. I know I’ve said it before, but not having a set schedule is more conducive to my mental state. The lack of deadline stresses, fear of letting someone down, rush, rush, rush… now we pick a direction and head that way.

We have maps and Apps, books and sometimes cell phone service, these all act as guides, but we now have the time to explore that dirt road to “somewhere?”… stop and take a nap when we are tired. If we see a hot spring or lake on the map, we may make that our destination for the day, which may turn into two, three or even a week…or it may be a bust.

What drives us to pick a place and stay? I was asked this question by more than one of our followers. Trash, weather, bugs, sound, people, cost, and access to water are all deciding factors. Of course we have to be able to access it with our van and trailer as well. We are 11’ tall, 8’ wide and 35’ long (but we bend in the middle). At times we seek out the most remote area we can find and have to get out our mountain bikes to check out the road and clearances, as well as someplace to turn around. It sucks backing up a 1/4 mile with a trailer. Good news though, Chris is learning how to back up a trailer!

We look for silence that is deafening, bird song, the sound of water, open space, tall, LIVE, trees in the mountains, shade in the desert, access to water, and a sense of safety and security.

What drives us out of a spot…even after picking the perfect spot…bugs, gun shots, people, noise, weather and other factors beyond our control. These things often come up after a night or are noticeable within hours.

We both crave silence. Normal nature sounds are welcome. You can hear yourself think. We perform our daily duties like a well oiled machine and most things are done without the need to speak. On the other hand, we have meaningful dialogue when off grid.

I will often get immersed into the nature that surrounds us. It is a means of creativity, an inspiration to dream. The life of a wanderer is never lost… perhaps temporarily delayed or caught trying to find the next shiny object.

It’s raining and we are confined to the van for a bit. The thunder and raindrops make us feel like we are playing tent. It makes us feel alive! The rain on the roof of the van, the smell of wet earth, the crackle of a campfire…the birds all vying for the loudest call, and being able to identify the bird by its call. The desert and spring time flowers. The landscape so beautiful I wrestle with the words to describe its grandeur. The sound of the winds. Each of these seeps into your soul until a city becomes a strange land of traffic and sounds, rushing people, such that you wish to do your business and move along.

Our world has changed in so many ways. Our lives are slower and more meaningful. Our demons hide from the joy of living! Living like pioneers on the way to the next new land or adventure.

6/15/21