Somewhere between rubbing sleep out of our eyes and discussing existentialism, we miss our stop. Me, Nela and Dirk are the only passengers onboard this bus – masked up like robbers, geared up like Bear Grylls. Adventure – and potentially corona – is in the air. We get dropped off by the side of the road. It’s a crisp November morning. The sun has yet to warm the air and a thin layer of frost coats the fields around us. No one’s looked up the route: we’re ‘winging-it’ – and so far, that feels amazing. Dirk glances down onto his Google Maps, and in an unsuccessful attempt to mask his delight, states: “So, we’re starting from even further back now guys. We better hurry.”
The master plan is simple in theory: Hop on bus X53 toward Kinross. Hop off at Dollar. Hike up to the peak of the nearest Ochil. Trekk across the hills, until we reach Dumyat. Stumble down and high five each other for making the 32-kilometer-walk feel like it’s counterpart in a park. However, the reality of it may come to prove more challenging. Things can change quickly, and things can change drastically; something we’ve all learned over the past year. So far, so good though. We make our way through the forest, passing the outlines of a castle, engulfed by the intensifying fog.
At the brink of our first hill, we snap some photos. The sun is beaming down with more determination now. “Que día tan fabuloso!” exclaims Nela, whilst in a storm of childlike ecstasy jumping down the path leading us into what looks like a scene from Lord of the Rings, but in actuality is the gateway to the Scottish Highlands: “What a wonderful day!” And she is right. It is a wonderful day. Despite the pandemic. Despite our not-water-proof-shoed feet being utterly soaked from the minute we set foot on the hills. Because the sun is shining. And we are outside. Breathing, walking, eating, talking. The dramatic Ochils dressed in light-green grass and windmills, provide sights so stunning that we constantly have to stop and stare. It’s impossible not to. I jot these lines down in my note book: “Sadle Hill: Ontop of the clouds: Air is still: Sun is kissing our skin: Mist is slowly caressing the mountains: Sheep approaching: Life is good.”
We get lost a few times. But it’s the sky that’s blue, not us. The fresh mountain air; the crunchy sound of hiking-boots stepping on dried-out Heather; our hearts pumping – is like chocolate to our hungry souls. Once the sun sets, the dropping temperature make our tired bodies tremble. It gets harder to see. But we carry on, there is no other way forward, but forward. With Dirk at the lead, we eventually make it across in three whole pieces – albeit three wholly frozen pieces. And the cold, the company, the views and the burning muscles remind us once more of what lockdown has made us forget: what it feels like to be alive. Que día tan fabuloso!