Weathering the Storms, Ticks and Rocks with a Bit of Magic

Weathering the Storms, Ticks and Rocks with a Bit of Magic
Camped with wild beauty (and ticks) in the Highlands of Scotland.

"I may be vegan but I'm allowed to defend myself," Steven asserted as he carefully detached the tick from himself.

We'd just come to realize how many ticks were crawling in our midst, finding out the hard way when mysterious dots appeared on our bodies.

"What's that on your ear?" I asked Steven one evening while we cooked outside our tent.

"Maybe a mole?" he asked, uncertain if he even had a mole on his ear.

I stepped closer and squinted, "No, it's not a new mole, it's a tick!"

The Scottish site of our first tick sighting.

I felt surprised by my naivity. Who knew there were ticks in the Highlands? Apparently most people. It was early May and over the next several weeks we met backpacker upon bikepacker who gave us tips on avoiding ticks.

Talking all things trail life with many backpackers we met. Warren, Beckie & Dunken.

One fellow praised Smidge, a "pest" repellent that actually doesn't smell too bad.

"It works great and serves a double purpose by smelling good. I even spray it in my armpits as deodorant."

That's certainly one way to solve the bathing dilemma.

We met this particular backpacker and his friend on the same day of my wild scream, just a few hours later. I inwardly wondered if they'd heard me, but we met them coming from opposite directions, so, unlikely.

They came up to the same bothy we were inspecting along the trail. Unlike the previous schoolhouse bothy, this one seemed from an entirely different era. Steven remarked that it looked like something straight out of Harry Potter. My own mind romanticized a Highland love story in which a traveling duo running for their lives finds shelter on a cold winter's night, and then, you know... things happen.

As romantic as it sounded, staying in the bothy was not on our list of top priorities. Mold was growing on the walls and layers of grime and cobwebs covered everything. While we aren't sticklers, we also love our tent and felt happier sleeping out in the fresh air.

The backpackers decided to stay in the bothy and soon got to work searching out fallen wood to make a fire in the fireplace. I wondered how they would find some in the treeless landscape, but soon enough smoke billowed from the chimney as we set up our tent nearby.

We would later come to question our decision, just a little bit.

It was a fine evening - cold and windy - but we felt sheltered in a valley with a small stream. The sun was falling quietly behind the hills, ushering in the night.

But before it got dark we noticed some things.

Actually, they weren't things, but...


"There's a tick on my bag," Steven said, beginning a hasty search for more.

In those days we felt quite paranoid, knowing about the real risks of Lyme disease and other tick related illnesses. With all our love of nature we're also mindful of not romanticizing the potential harm of laying out in fields of ticks.

"I think we've landed on tick capital," I said, seeing one already stuck on my leg.

"They're tiny, microscopic!" Steven exclaimed. Apparently scientists once recorded over 800,000 ticks in a short patch of Scottish grass and there are many varieties of ticks, ranging in size and color. While I was familiar with ticks from years of hiking in the U.S., I hadn't realized they were in Scotland.

We spent the remainder of the evening scanning our bodies and sleeping gear for ticks. Several more made an appearance.

At some point though, you just have to stop. Worrying is like a rocking chair. You can rock all you want, but it gets you no where.

Turning off the metaphoric light, we closed our eyes to the ticks and settled in for a peaceful night.

Except, the night was not peaceful.

Those who traverse the Highlands know how volatile the weather can be, particularly in the shift between seasons.

At some point the wind started to pick up.

Then pick up some more.

Then some more.


By 1 AM we felt caught in a harpy's roaring nightmare. I clung to Steven as our tent walls flapped wildly about, threatening to tear loose from the ground and send us all the way to Oz. Steven got out to adjust the lines and I felt grateful when he reappeared.

My thoughts went to the nearby stream and images of flash floods crashing down on us pumelted any sense of security I had left.


It's during these moments when we shift from armchair spirituality to real life practice. I loosened my mind and felt into the storm. What does it feel like to simply notice? Why was I feeling afraid in my home, the Earth? What was I afraid of?

We felt deep respect for this tumultuous force that is Nature. We felt alive, tiny, vulnerable and yet, grounded. No matter what happens, we are of the Earth and the Earth is of us. These are words written throughout these stories. If we were meant to be swept away on that night, then we'd die living our best life.

Everything is magnified in a tent.

Wind and rain sound more dramatic, probably because our bodies are conditioned to witnessing the world mostly from inside four sturdy walls. We wondered what it sounded like from within the bothy.

The storm eventually passed and our bodies eased into sleep, grateful for the tension released.

The next morning we awoke to a flock of sheep milling about.

"That might explain the ticks," I said.

The sheep who led our way (partially) to Ullapool.

While deer are often blamed for ticks, there's actually a complex story about the increasing number of ticks. This is due to climate change, and what is a major contributor to that? Animal agriculture.

My heart felt only empathy for these sheep who may have been covered in ticks. Although they experience the freedom to roam, at the end of the day they are treated as a commodity. Learn more in our introduction to sheep and the wool industry.

These same sheep charged ahead of us as we cycled back onto the trail. A brilliant blue sky greeted us and the two backpackers stepped out of the bothy to wave goodbye. We called out our farewells and carried on.

Funny how the mind works. I still clearly remember the scene of one of the backpacker's bathed in light, waving and perfectly framed by the eccentric bothy behind him. The colors ring warmly of brass, ochre and sienna brown. I have my painting days to thank for naming these colors.

Everything is a passing moment.

Nothing is fixed, our own emotions, or energy-in-motion included. The previous day's rage had faded away, perhaps carried off by the winds that night. Now I felt free as a Scottish cuckoo bird and delighted in exploring these lands. Steven, as nearly always, was in full squirrel energy mode. We share an inside joke that he's as cute and energetic as a red squirrel. Long, curly ginger hair, of course.

We cycled up and down the rocky trails with tremendous vigor. I felt some wild force let loose and put all my weight into the pedals, rising and falling.

That's when I fell off my bike.

My pedals had clipped a massive stone in the middle of the trail, sending me off balance and flailing sideways in the open air. I hit the ground side-on but didn't feel any pain, even with my bike and gear half on top of me.

Laughter bubbled up, and after checking I was okay, Steven joined in.

These are the moments. The magical ones.

That's when you realize that you hold great magic inside to weather the storms, ticks and rocks of life. What felt so heavy over the last days now lingered lightly in the air and melted away beneath the May sunshine. Keep close to your heart the idea that whatever pain you may feel now, it doesn't have to last forever.

This is the part where some people may say, you come out even stronger on the other end. But what does that really mean, stronger? I don't necessarily agree with this viewpoint, seeing that our experiences in life are not linear. We may feel stronger after a challenge, or we may not. Like all our fellow species we are in a continuous state of evolving, shedding, growing, rising, breathing, falling, birthing and dying.

We are cyclical beings in a circular way of life.

Things often repeat and in different ways. So maybe magic flows in the knowing that change is inevitable and we can look upon the present with the wisdom not to let a single moment overtake or define us. This too shall pass.

And it shall pass without expectation of any particular outcome.

Simply be present in the moment. And what does that mean exactly? My suggestion is that it means feeling into all your senses of the now and practice letting all worries of yesterday and tomorrow go.

Let them go.

This post is part of an ongoing series of stories from a section in Scotland. Here's the order of previous posts, begin with:

A Series of (Un)Fortunate Events
Knowing when to turn around is a fine art. We were making our way to the northern coast of Scotland and at some point decided John O’ Groats no longer felt like a place we needed to see. Steven already had a memory of reaching the popular tourist destination while
Serendipitous Encounters in northern Scotland
We were on our way to Ullapool after retracing our wheels 40+ miles along a long, long single lane road through deforested timberlands. We’d already cycled this road in one direction, but following a series of (un)fortunate events, we’d turned around and decided to go back a ways. Arriving
Footsteps in the Woods, Who Goes There?
What do the Scottish Highlands and Marie Antoinette have in common? Probably more than we know, but in this story we have a hunch there may be a portal linked with her spirit in an unassuming Scottish wood. Our journey continued from Altnahara, peacefully retracing the miles back to a
Screams, Blood and Trails: Periods while Cycle Touring
My scream echoed across the empty lands. Or so it may have, but to my own ears it sounded ragged and flat, an ugly sound full of rage and bitterness. There in the Scottish Highlands I threw down my bike and sat in the rough terrain, tears spilling onto dirty

Written by Karla Sanders @karlasandersart | Photos by Steven Tiller @steventiller