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The Great Race through the North

The young Scot walked up to the wall carrying a black stone. A pair of blue, rubber gloves separated his hands from the layer of moss covering the rock; and as he lifted it into place atop the wall, he said hello. 

“You need a hand with that?” I yelled. “No,” he shouted through the rain. “I’ve got all day.”

I don’t know why Martin Callous was spending a Monday alone on a rainy loch, fortifying a 500 year old castle in the rain. His explanation, that he was building a wall to keep the water out, didn’t make much sense. Then again, maybe something was lost in translation. I don’t get the sense that Americans are extremely common this far north in the Scottish highlands. Sure, nobody is shocked to see me; but the locals don’t seem to speak to a lot of Americans.

One lady at a service station asked if I knew how to pump “petrol”, presumably because a couple from New Jersey or Oregon—where you can’t pump your own gas—came in and made a mess of the place before driving off on the wrong side of the road. “Do you know how to work it laddie?” she asked.

Either way, by the time Mr. Callous saw Conor’s drone fly over his wall and into what was left of Ardvreck Castle, he’d decided that I was a friend, and that we’d both devised an ingenious solution to Conor’s limited mobility. It didn’t hurt, maybe, that while I don’t talk like a Scot, I could probably pass for one. Most of the guys here seem to have the same green eyes, peppered blonde, black, and brown hair that I do, which means blending is easy—until I open my mouth.

We bumped into Ardvreck Castle on the final day of our trip to the highlands. It was the last stone tower on our great race through the north, which saw us fleeing a spitting rain all the way from Skye. In all, we knocked out about 400 miles in a breakneck run from sunrise on the Atlantic to sunset over the North Sea.

Every few miles, the landscape would grow from grim to grand, swapping views like Martin’s for views like this.

The landscape here is dramatic. “Every turn is another picture,” Conor exclaimed. And he’s right.

We’ve spent the last six days driving north through the U.K., and today it seemed as though every rise in latitude was building up to this, to an obscure road dancing through the bones of the Earth, through what’s left of the battle between ice and stone that formed this island. In America, the scars of that war have been covered, but in Scotland, they’re laid bare.

Geologists will tell you that some of the oldest rocks on the planet are still on the surface here. Drivers will tell you that some of the best roads on planet are hidden here.

By the time we reached the pinnacle of our route, Conor and I had formed our own opinion about the highlands—everyone on that planet should visit here.

Editor’s Notes: Tomorrow, we marathon back to London, where the team splits up. Conor heads back home to Southwest England, and I stay in the capital for a rendezvous with a Souled Out Vietnam veteran and an insiders guide to London. From there, it’s off to France where the language barrier goes beyond accents and the team dwindles to one.

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When my home was sold out from under me, I bought a tent and decided to live outside. Now, I'm a freelance writer for Travel Channel, INSIDER, Nat Geo, and Fodor's Travel and I'm on a never-ending quest to get out of my comfort zones and see the world.

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