The ice cream began to drip down the side of my hand as I made my way to the small Fort Augustus bus stop with another long and drawn out travel day lying before me. Both my packs were strapped on and with 20 more minutes to kill before the bus arrived I made my way over the area where Spud the Piper was piping away to the tourists.
He spotted me immediately, finished out the tune and then came over to chat. Since it was instantly obvious that I was leaving town he asked me where I was headed next.
I sputtered out a vaguely incomprehensible answer, “Umm…a really small town…Grey something…with an “s” in there too…”
He gives me an inquisitive look and I continued to flounder…I sort of randomly chose this next town because there was a cheap and well-reviewed hostel and it sat at the entrance to the Cairngorms National Park.
“Near Aviemore!” I exclaimed as I remembered just a bit more and fumbled to take out my notebook.
“Grantown-on-Spey” he proposes.
“Yes, precisely!” And then in the way of weird coincidences Spud tells me that not only does he actually live in Aviemore, an hour and a half away, but he’s from Grantown-on-Spey and plays the pipes there nightly.
“Do you want a lift there?” he enquires.
Oh the quandary I now faced. If I was willing to wait two hours then he would drive me to Grantown-on-Spey and actually drop me off at my hostel. But I don’t believe in hitchhiking. Not even a little.
As a solo female traveler I think hitching is unnecessarily dangerous and not worth the money saved. Buuuuut, circumstance also plays a role in any situation. And here were the thoughts racing through my head:
- Hitching is fairly common in Scotland.
- I’ve known Spud for several days now so it’s not exactly hitching.
- He’s wearing a wedding ring…that has to count for something.
- I really do not want to take a bus to a bus to a bus to get to Grantown-on-Spey in five hours when it could take just two.
- I have the time and the money to take the bus and I am a smart woman and should just politely decline, walk over to the bus stop, and take myself safely to the next town.
“Umm…sure, that sounds great actually.”
Did I just say that? Crap. We arranged to meet up in a couple of hours by the grocery store-cum-café-cum-restaurant and as I walked away I tossed my empty ice cream stick into the trash, walked back pass the bus stop, and pondered my options.
I still had time to take the bus and I was beginning to convince myself that this change in the plan was a terrible idea – warnings from my dad were echoing in my head.
Well, crap. When it came down to it, I was going to go with my gut instinct.
Two hours later I dropped my big bag into the trunk and kept my laptop bag with my passport at my feet…I mean I still had to be cautious, after all. We peel out of the parking lot and cruise out of town when Spud makes an announcement that has my heart thudding in panic.
As the town recedes in the distance, he glances over at me with a mischievous look, “Now, I’m going to tell you something right now, and I don’t want you to get scared.”
All I can think as my heart starts pounding in my chest is holy shit, holy shit, holy shit!
My hand starts creeping toward the door handle.
A split second later:
“This road is small, curvy, and I like to speed.”
Oh my god! I let out a laughing sigh of relief and then told him to please never say that initial sentence to another person ever again.
He did speed; we whipped around the curves as he candidly told me about his life and informed me that he was a bit famous in the area (and internationally) because he played the pipes for Madonna at her Highland wedding several years earlier. We chattered the whole time and compared notes and thoughts on America – all foreigners have an opinion – and it was one of my most positive experiences in Scotland.
Spud is a genuinely nice guy and I’m so glad that I went with my gut instinct and accepted his ride. The experience was really positive for me because I’m still dead-set against hitchhiking alone, but I guess I proved to myself that all rules need to be broken at some point and under the right circumstances.
If experiencing new countries is about meeting the locals and having one-on-one personal encounters (which I think they are!) then I couldn’t have made a better choice. So, thank you Spud if you read this, for the ride, and for taking me out of my comfort zone and helping me trust my instincts :-) and for being a really neat guy.