Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Oban, Scotland: Paying it Forward

I’d met Alex in Fort Augustus after ascending the Suidhe Viewpoint on the south side of Loch Ness. He looked terrible. I was no masterpiece either. I’d spent the night in a field behind a pub near Whitebridge as I had no more energy to tackle another climb. At one point I was tempted to throw my bike on the ground and give up. I was defeated by rain, wind, and relentless steep climbs. I learned Alex had gone ahead and tackled the climb and spent the night stealth camping in a clump of trees beside the road. No wonder he looked a wreck. We hooked up and rode together to Fort Williams.

Together we followed the Caledonian Canal or the Great Glen Way, essentially a forest track for 30 miles. Alex had promised himself this trip after passing his bar exam in Montreal. (He seemed so young!) He’d rented the bike in Inverness and was planning a bike tour of the Outer Hebrides. I of course was hoping to complete a JOGLE. We decided to ride together at least to Oban. At Fort Williams we stopped at a bike shop where they tried to replace some broken spokes. It was only his second day on the bike. As we pulled out in the RAIN from the shop another spoke popped, indicative of a way bigger problem. But at that moment we were looking for a place to camp. We rode through thick milky rain to a campground at the base of Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest mountain.

We sent up in torrents and made a dash to the campground restaurant where we charged our phones and ordered a hot meal. I recall a feeling of deep warmth washing over me—until I had to go back out into the rain. That night the wind howled and my little tent shook.

In the morning Alex was on a mission to get his bike fixed and so we parted—hopefully to meet later. Indeed, later on that day I came out of a café and met Alex on the trail! Just like that we went on serendipitously. In Oban we discovered a great hostel in a former church and after settling and showering went out to secure food. We bought ingredients to make a huge pasta dinner. On our way to Tesco we passed a small shop where he bought a soda. On a candy rack I spied a Lion bar.

Once while in Prague we were on holiday with another family, one more familiar with the place than us. The couple had actually lived there for a few years before coming back to the States. Anyway, she spied a Lion bar at a shop. “You have to try this,” she said. She went in and bought one for me and her.

Wow. She was right; it was a GREAT chocolate bar and one unlike anything I’d ever had.

So I said to Alex, “You have to try this.” And I told him the story of being in Prague and my friend introducing me to the Lion bar, the world’s greatest chocolate bar. We continued onto Tesco and afterwards we passed the same convenient store where he asked me to wait. He went in and bought another bar since he loved it so much, and one for me. With a smile, he said, “You have to try this.”

So the cycle continues, each of us paying it forward.

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