Overwhelmed with relief to see the sign ‘Welcome to Madrid’, I knew my turn onto Back Road was close at hand.
No longer any need for the low tire pressure warning since now there was no doubt that the tire was entirely flat.
After turning on Back Road it was only one half mile left to the AirBnB.
The night was even darker, but it did not take me long to realize this was yet another unpaved road, laden with huge gaping potholes.
Here we are, actually in Madrid and subsequently what I thought would be the end of our ordeal. But now I was driving on a pitch black, unmarked dirt road, riddled with fissures and huge holes.
I started chanting again. “Come on baby, you can do it”.
The shaking of the SUV caused Roadie to sit up and try to peer out the window.
“Lie down dammit!” I yelled, worried she’d get hurt flying across her bed, even within the doggie hammock.
A nice comfy bed was ahead of us. I just needed to make it. Only one fourth of a mile to go.
I envisioned sleeping in a bed as I traveled down the mild grade of the unlevel and poorly maintained, muddy road.
Before me the rent in the road was wide, deep and on the same side as the flat back tire.
There was little room between the cars parked on either side but nothing was going to stop me at this point.
Slowly I pulled forward, the front right tire fell into the unavoidable hole causing the SUV to lean dangerously to the right.
Unpaved Roads & Anxious Dogs
The dog fell backward (I had told her to lay her ass down) and clunked her head on the door.
Thankfully, once we made it out of the hole she sat up, after a bit of struggle to get her ground and started panting like the happy dog she is.
How could .3 miles take so long. I swore the GPS was stuck.
As soon as I got close to what looked like the turn for Waldo Mesa Road, the map would expand showing it to be further ahead.
One more gaping hole in the road, of course it was also on the right. We made it through and were once more on level ground. Now making our way up a mild hill covered with huge sharp, rocks for gravel. (don’t they know what gravel is in New Mexico?)
We completed the last turn in the road and the roadway mellowed.
Flat dirt, no holes and I was pretty sure the light shining up ahead was the light for our AirBnB.
As we got closer though I groaned. The house was just as pictured, but subsequently on another fissure ridden hill.
“For fucks sake!”
I turned onto Waldo Mesa Road and stopped in front of the gate. I got out and took a deep breath. It may have been quite a challenge getting here, but I was in the New Mexico desert and it was beautiful.
Grateful in Madrid
I was so grateful to have made it I could have kissed the sand below my feet.
I took a few moments to appreciate my surroundings and remind myself how lucky I was to be here at all.
The AirBnB was adorable and it was surrounded by the scrubby, rolling hills of New Mexico.
Even in the dark it glowed with a tinge of pink. If I had to have 2 flat tires, then better in this place. I was infinitely glad to be there.
Roadie whimpered. She had to pee.
Leaving the SUV on the road I helped her out of the back seat and escorted her to our new digs.
The key was on the table as promised, so I let her in and went back down the hill.
Pulling the SUV in was not easy. The Aviator sat at a precarious angle but I really wanted to get into bed and sleep.
After hauling everything we needed for the night, I loaded the cold stuff into the fridge, washed up, changed and fell fast asleep.
Was the level of desolation on this road a good or a bad thing?
Regardless, I was determined to get to my Madrid AirBnB and lie down in a bed that night. Even if the damned sun was rising by the time I got there.
The Aviator crawled up a steep and curvy incline, as I murmured my mantra… slightly amending it each torturous mile.
Just 10 more miles, just 8 more miles.
Come on baby… you can make it.
A Dogs Life
I checked the rear view.
Roadie was quiet as usual. Asleep in her backseat and nestled in her hammock. Completely accustomed to long hauling at this point.
Even at her age the dog has the bladder of a champ and only asks to stop 2 or 3 times in a 16 hour stint. 16 hours being generally my limit for long distance driving.
She’d slept through the flat tire. Through the most of the tow truck guy changing the tire with my equally flat spare. (Thanks a lot you asshole)
She sat up and watched a bit as said “help” did not check if the spare tire was good. Even after I repeatedly shared my concern and told him that I was completely ignorant to the condition of the spare.
Roadie wasn’t worried, after all she’s a dog. For a moment I wished she was the driver and I was the dog in the hammock.
The Turquoise Trail
Tow truck dude reassured me that the tire was good.
Then drove off in his tow truck. Leaving me on a gravel road, that not one, not even two roadside assistance services could find without a great deal of direction and description from me.
Me, my ancient dog and my Lincoln Aviator with an equally flat tire as the first.
Alone on this unpaved road, in the middle of the desert, on a seemingly clear but oddly starless night.
Me and my sweet dog.
Left as fodder for the coyotes, only a few miles from our destination.
It seemed hours ago that I’d turned onto the Turquoise Trail and started on the last 12 miles to Madrid.
Driving Scotland; 2000 miles of Scotland at that, was one month of my life I shall cherish for an eternity and I learned some things I hope will help you on your journey driving Scotland.
First off, you do not need an SUV or 4WD truck in order to drive the Scottish Highlands, unless you’re hauling sheep shit, or maybe a gaggle of screaming kids. But I got talked into a plug in hybrid Mitsubishi Outlander… ironically making me an Outlander in an Outlander.
I flew into Gatwick and stayed in London for the first 5 days of my month long journey of mostly driving Scotland. Quite frankly, driving in London just outright sucks. Last thing you need is something long, heavy and wide with 500 controls you don’t understand and I’ve driven in Rome, Berlin, NYC, Boston without even batting an eyelid. I say avoid driving London at all costs. If you must, avoid the rush hour and definitely get a small and easily maneuverable vehicle.
If you are comfortable with a manual stick shift, I still suggest you pay the extra money for an automatic. I have no issue driving a stick, I rent stick shifts in countries all over the world… but driving in traffic on city streets or navigating one track roads with unexpected wildlife crossing your path, on a different side of the road than you are accustomed is asking for trouble and I do NOT recommend it. The start and go style of traffic in both of the above mentioned scenarios, will making shifting gears a huge and potentially dangerous pain in the ass.
Parking (as in any major city) even more than outright sucks and seriously, anyone that tells you driving on the other side is easy, is an asshole.
You do get the hang of it. Once you’ve hit a few curbs, and lopped off a couple of side mirrors. By then, if no one has been decapitated or mutilated you’ll likely be right as rain. But it isn’t easy. Yes you’ll get the hang of it, but still it isn’t easy. The second you’re a wee bit tired, or have taken even a short break, it’s a little daunting again, and you’ll find yourself chanting “left side, left side, left side” for a bit. Remember, driver is always closest to the center line, wherever you may go.
When driving Scotland, the motorways are ok. You’ll get the hang of them pretty quick. But only pass on the far right lane, don’t dawdle there. It really pisses people off if your not hauling ass in the fast lane. They will tail you within inches. Flustered in the fast lane, on an uncomfortable side of the road, is not where you really want to be when driving Scotland.
When driving Scotland after England, expect traffic to drive 10 miles per hour faster than what you got accustomed to in England. If you are not confident enough to drive at least 10 miles over the speed limit, then stay out of the far right (the fast lane) once you’ve hit Scotland.
If you’re driving in London or Birmingham (God help you) or into the countryside… last thing you need are distractions. Rent a car similar to the one at home. If you drive an SUV or truck at home, rent a similar make car. Then gag the kids, put the damned phone away (or have it set only for GPSing), stick some reminder in front of your face on the windshield to stay left, and you’re on your way!
Make sure you know if you’re running on diesel or not. Petrol nozzles are interchangeable unlike in the US where diesel nozzles won’t fit into non diesel tanks (and still people manage to make the error here). There are a ton more diesel cars there. The noxious scent of diesel permeates every truck stop with glee. If you make the error, DO NOT START THE CAR. For an exorbitant fee most garages are ready and willing to drain your tank. That’s far less expensive than ruining the rental car with the wrong gas. You’re not covered for it either.
Most onboard navigation systems created for automobiles outright suck. Where do bad UI designers go once the game industry has snuffed them out? They go on to make onboard automobile navigation systems, or so say my UI industry friends. So if you have a decent data plan (and are NOT relying on ATT) then WAZE is by far the best navigation option, google maps is second. Both are free, easy to use and extremely reliable, as long as your service provider is NOT ATT.
You need a local provider, especially when driving Scotland. Anywhere North of Inverness with ATT (and likely other non UK providers), there are times when you are shit out of luck. If you put a map of Scotland in front of you, take a ruler and line it up with Inverclyde and Inverness then draw a line across from ocean to ocean. When driving Scotland, north of that line, is pretty much where your connections will get dodgy, and even non existent the further North or East driving Scotland that you go. You need a solid local provider, direct, not through your provider if you plan to rely on your cell service anywhere North of that line. In places like Durness, the Orkneys, deep in Glenelg to Arnisdale or way up in Skye you’re still going to struggle with signal at times.
When off of the highway, even the main roads in the U.K. are skinny, windy, at times surprisingly congested. Many roads are expected to manage two way traffic, when only one vehicle barely fits. Many roads (London) are built for horse buggies (London), and now carry anxious and impatient motorists (London), from sunup to sundown. Did I mention London? Oh and Birmingham (holy shit, Birmingham) what a cluster fuck. Next to the word Clusterfuck in the dictionary, should be traffic in city center Birmingham.
London is a driving nightmare. Logistically speaking not only are there far more motorists than it can handle, London drivers, especially in the business districts, are relentless and impatient. They know you’re a tourist driving the wrong side of the road, and they don’t care! In fact I think they hope you die. I now know why they have such strong gun control in the U.K., otherwise there’d be hourly gun battles in the streets of London and Birmingham.
Driving Scotland’s more remote roads are skinny, often one track for two way traffic and many are open range. If you see a sign that says “Sheep Road” or “Feral Goats” expect to soon come upon said creatures in the middle of the road, usually after a blind turn.
Surprisingly (especially for an American where the entire US road system and infrastructure is crumbling beneath us) the roads in the U.K even many of the remotest roads in Scotland are very well maintained. Here’s the fun part though, the speed limit on most of these roads is 60. Yeah, you read that right. And I mean 60 mph, not those silly kphs the rest of Europe so much enjoys screwing up Americans with.
On the above picture yo can see a “Passing Place” sign, these are here for you to let people pass on one track roads. Be courteous, pull to the left and let them go, especially if you are not willing to go the speed limit. Visit Scotland has a great guide to utilizing passing places and driving safely on the other side of the road.
I found Edinburgh, Inverness and Glasgow fairly easy to navigate. Driving was not stressful and signage was clear and abundant. At the time I was driving Scotland, there was no excessive traffic. I was able to find parking in all three cities with ease. Although I was there off season and I assume it is more difficult during season especially when it is festival time.
You’ll find that a great deal of the remotest areas when driving Scotland, the Borderlands, the country roads of Aberdeenshire and along the NC500, roads are freshly and recently paved, I simply don’t recommend that beyond the obvious reasons, such as a larger group of people, that anyone needs an SUV when driving Scotland.
Seems to me the entire country, especially the “wilds of Scotland” and the North Coast 500 aka NC 500 have been trampled on well enough from tourist driving Scotland, tour buses and the like. Just take it easy. Treat the areas you visit with respect. Park in designated parking areas as much as possible and be aware of where and on what you are parking when you choose to pull over in areas with no parking. Be alert so as not to block anyone’s way, and move over to the left at passing places if someone wishes to pass, and you’ll be good to go.
Also, Lallybroch doesn’t REALLY exist. Jamie isn’t hanging out at the other side of Clava Cairns. Midhope Castle aka Lallybroch (which isn’t castle at all) is often overrun by overzealous tourists, causing havoc with the locals and the busy farming community. So let them be. How’d you like people parking all over your neighborhood, running over the local livestock, flora a fauna and blocking your way in and out all day and night. Sure you can visit these places, but just be considerate… please.
Outlander in an Outlander Driving Scotland
I’m not sure that the Mitsubishi Outlander was named after the series or the book, or if it’s just a coincidence. I cannot imagine it’s named after the movie Outlander, which really kinda sucked and had nothing to do with Scotland. I’m not sure if the Hertz guy had a sick sense of humor or just needed to move out extra inventory, but there I was… an Outlander in an Outlander. Hogging the road in an unnecessary SUV.
I semi enjoyed the vehicle in some ways, but not that I allowed the Hertz guy to talk me into it last minute. It was after midnight, I’d just flown 8 hours and I just wanted to get into London, connect with my Airbnb contact, have a big glass of wine and sleep.
“Only $75 extra” he said. It sounded great until I realized he meant $75 a day (that’s a standard Hertz upgrade trick, so beware)
“But I’m driving Scotland for a month, that’s a lot of money.” I replied.
“I’ll give you a great deal!”
… now I know this trick well. I’ve rented cars a lot. They will give you a deal on a sports car or SUV when they have an abundance of them and are light on or actually out of the car you had reserved. Always haggle at this point! ALWAYS (especially if you’re footing the bill). I knew this trick. I don’t know what happened. I was tired. It was after 1am now. I just wanted the fucking car and to be on my way. So nearly $700 later, (far more than I could spare) off I went into the dead of a moonless, starless night driving from Gatwick into the heart of London, in a plug in hybrid (not even knowing what that was) with all sorts of buttons and levers, driving the other side of the road for the first time in almost 30 years.
I met Josephine in San Francisco while selling pearls from the oyster on Pier 39. She was visiting from the U.K., traveling around the US, and needed a place to stay. The 7 x 5 closet in my Geary & Polk flat, became her home away from home for a short time.
I moved to San Francisco from Philadelphia, drawn by the vivid music scene and dragged my then boyfriend Vince along for the ride. We lived 2 blocks away from Mitchell Brothers. (Photo from Wikipedia) in the Polk district.
I quit my job selling pearls from the oyster for Pearl Factory shortly after Jo started, and began running a little seed and gardening shop also located on Pier 39.
By day Jo sold pearls and I sold seeds and by night we partied until dawn with the vibrant characters and sounds of the SF punk scene.
Josephine was but a short side note in my life full of music, madness and mayhem. California’s music scene of the 80s, was a debauch and wild ride one full of fantasy and heartbreak. Yet, my time with Jo, remains one of the more precious notes on the scale of my life and I have long cherished it.
Together we experienced the Butthole Surfers at the Ibeam, PIL in Berkeley, the Psychedelic Furs, Siouxsie & the Banshees, The Cramps and really more bands than either of us can recall. (Keep in mind the debauch part and you’ll understand)
In less than a year after she’d returned home to the U.K., I was at her door at 49 Daisybank Rd in Longsight Manchester requesting a return of the favour… I haven’t stopped traveling since.
30+ years later, here we are heading to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in Manchester.
Time, distance and circumstance of life can never break the true bonds of friendship. Neither an ocean, nor the burdensome withering caused by age can cut the ties created in our youth.
After waiting for ten minutes the annoyed Indian lady looks at me as if my standing at her counter is a huge inconvenience. Or maybe more like I’m something she just scraped off of her shoe.
“I’d like a double cappuccino please!”
She looks at me with malice in her eyes.
“A what?” Her Indian accent is tinged with New Yawkerease. I know I’ve had this same sort of showdown with this ladies twin sister in the past.
I’m hesitant in my reply. “You know, uhm, a double, 2 shots of espresso!”
“We don’t got that. Only small, medium or large.” She sweeps her hand at the sign behind her head without looking at it, like she’s swiping at an annoying gnat and I’m the annoying gnat.
I hesitate once more. I saw the sign, but I don’t want a large or medium, I just want 2 shots.
“Hmmm, well what does that…” she rolls her eyes and cuts me off, turning to the sign.
“Small! Meeedium! Laaarge!
I stand there in silence. An easy minute passes with her just staring at me. It felt like an eternity.
“Small has one shot, Medium has 2, Large has 3”
Now I’m annoyed, she knew, she was just being a bitch. “Medium… please… a double!” She sighs audibly as she grabs the medium sized cup and I scoot down to the cashier to pay.
There are no other customers, just me and I pay, grateful that it’s less than $6.00 for this angry little cup of coffee.
The cashier is friendly. She smiles at me in a knowingly manner and I joke with her that this is almost the last of my American money! She sincerely wishes me a good flight and nice day and I stand there in wait for the frothy warm cup of ire.
Angry Indian Lady attempts to place the cup away from me, near the (previously unnoticed by me) sugar station. The cashier grabs it from her hand mid air. “She’s over here!” she says sweetly but with an edge. Looking at me in understanding “The sugar and milk is over there” she nods in the direction and smiles in obvious apology.
“See! I know!” spits out the Indian woman, as I scoot over to the sugar station. “I know where to put the coffee”
I walk away thinking I know where she can put that coffee too!