(July 15-24 2016)
THe military likes to use a “BLUF”, a “bottom line up front”. And my BLUF when asked by military cohorts “How awesome was your trip to Scotland?” I tell them it was “LIke SERE school, minus being smacked around”. Because I was cold, wet, hungry and exhausted the entire time.
Day 1: Spent almost entirely in an airport or plane. No drama, no hurrying so I settled down at the bar to kick off my vacatio with a glass of wine, smiling, chatting with strangers, feeling mildly excited at the prospects of my adventure. Fast forward 11 hours, I land in 50 degree (freezing for a Florida girl) Scotland and am informed “You missed the sunshine by about a week”. I’m at the rental car counter in Glasgow. I reserved the smallest vehicle they had for a reasonable $260. When they asked if I could drive a standard, I said “Yes”. Wait. Shit. What side is the stick on? Um, make that a “no”. So I was “upgraded” to an automatic that cost as much as my f*cking plane ticket. Thanks Budget/Avis, for the ass-rape there. Not like I needed the steering wheel on the other side of the car…
Trying to maneuver in downtown Glasgow, I immediately regretted not brushing up on traffic signals before I came. THere are no stopsigns, only round-abouts and traffic lights on the side of the road which are split into lanes. Meaning, I see a red light and cars behind me honk because one of the lights in that signal is green, the light for MY respective lane. Oops. I breathed easier outside the city but I still hit the curb periodically while trying to guage how much distance I had to work with from oncoming traffic on roads that felt half the size of those in the US.
One thing I DID do prior to my trip, thank G-d, was pre-plot all the points of places I intended to visit (and stay) on my google maps before I left. You can also download areas of google maps for offline use but this takes up a lot of phone storage. But as loong as you pre-plot your points and dont have to go searching for them, once your gps is set, you can put your phone in “airplane mode” and still use your turn-by-turn gps via google maps. This helps to not drain your international data plan (although I still busted mine). And it helps if you are hiking out in the boonies with no signal: yes, in airplane mode, the gps still works.
I had only one stop in Glasgow and that was Saint Andrews and it’s co-located Necropolis. I love cathedrals and old graves. I opted to travel light with only my phone for pictures but then, my phone has just as many megapixels as my full camera set up and I even invested for snap-on lenses from Moment. They were rather pricey at $100/lens and after the trip, I cant say I saw a big diference between using them and not. I also bought a gorilla tripod and remote shutter, which are necessary if you are traveling solo without ANYONE around and want proof to say “I was there”. The Tripod may have been more beneficial for wrapping around trees with low branches but I lost it in the woods around halfway through the trip and didnt miss it. The tiny bluetooth remote shutter though is a MUST. It allows you to back up and get into position and take multiple shots without haveing to run back to the phone and reset the timer after every shot.
Also, a note for anyone staying in the major cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh with a car, download the “PayGo” app to your phone. This linked to my paypal account and I could pay for parking (and renew without walking back) anywhere without having to feed coins into the meter. Just delete it when you leave.
After Glasgow, I drove through and stopped for short hikes in Loch Lomond and stopped by (and peed in the woods behind) Rob Roy’s grave. Doune castle smells like cow patties mixed chicken poop. There were areas along the trails where I had to cover my nose with my shirt. I realized crossing a field that it was neither cows nor chicken but sheep that caused that stink. Again, I skipped going into the Castle because another blogger had posted pictures of the interior and jokingly refered to it as the Disney Castle. I only stopped here because it felt mandatory for not only Outlander but Game of Thrones fans.
Here I picked up my first hitchhiker, a Belgian named Jolene (pronounced “Yolene”), two women bravely hiking (with sporadic drives in between) across Scotland solo. Moving on to Stirling (where I was staying in a private spare bedroom thanks to the AirBnB app), neither the Castle nor Wallace Monument impressed me so again, I walked around the surrounding gravesites, followed trails around the Castle (there are some good views of the city from up there), and eventually popped into a coffee bar for a shot of caffiene and free wifi. Because of the time change, this was still Day 1 but I had been awake for over 24 hours and buzzing off 5 Hour Energy shots packed for the trip (because I wanted to ensure my chronic fatigue didnt prevent me from accomplishing what I had set out to do). I had also packed a lot of Kind bars thank g-d, because instead of snacks in the woods, those ended up sustaining me through my entire trip because ALL the food sucked. I mean, “Just send it back to the kitchen and just bring me a double shot of whiskey”, sucked. In fact, the headlines for my Tripadvisor reviews of a handful of restaurants was “Starving in Scotland”. Yes, I tried the haggis the first night; had to, right? I got one bite down. The server figured “Well, that counts”.
My host that evening was an early 60’s divorcee named Malcom. We hit it off fantastically and stayed up most of the night drinking and talking, despite my tight plans to spend the following day hiking in GlenCoe. During our chats about life, dancing, recreational nudity and lost love, I complained (knowing full well that he was turning 62 the same day was turning 40) that men MY age were only intersted in women in women 20 years younger whereas my only prospects were men 20 years my senior. Malcom laughed “Then I’m one of them because I find you attractive”. To be fair, the only reason I rule out men significantly older than me at this point is because I’m pretty sure none want to become fathers (again) at that age. And I’m still clinging to this distant possibility that I might still have children. But for 62, he wasnt bad looking at all…
Day 2: the sun is up at 4am (17 hour “days” this time of year) and I was up at 8, still tired, having only slept a few hours. But Malcom hugged me goodbye and good luck and I set off. A few hours drive to Glencoe from Stirling, the drive was beautifully scenic but behind the wheel on perilously thin roads, I really couldnt “look up” and out to enjoy it. By this time, it was raining non-stop and coming through the mountains, I glimpsed only silouettes of ridges of green through the misty haze. But I was here. And I was doing this. I parked at the visitor’s center and grabbed my gear. After staring at the trail map for a bit, I asked for advice. They first sent me down a path away from the mountains. Boring. So I traveled back up higher and higher until I disappeared into the trees and couldnt see anything at all. Eventually, I circled back around to the visitors center and said “What else have you got?” In this weather, they eyed me critically, “Try Signal Rock”. It took me a minute but realize as a hiker in Scotland, a closed gate doesnt equate to “no trespassing”. It’s simply to hold in the rabid sheep and feral goats. SPeaking of, there are signs along the road in some areas. Apparently, Scotland has a feral goat infestation. Closing the gate behind me, I head back into the woods and up, up, up…I only had a thin plastic poncho over me and my pack but it worked well enough. But rocks were slippery, dry or wet, and I found myself hugging trees and asking them “Dont drop me”. Signal Rock was so anti-climactic that I doubted for a few minutes that I had reached it. A 5×5 slab of rock on the mountainside promised “spectacular views” but was overgrown. Not that I would have seen much through the mist anyway but disappointed, I returned the way I came, trying to capture a sense of awe that I was certain would stem from being in this land where “the veil is thin”. I looked around and breathed deep and told myself “This is Scotland” while my inner voice answered back “And it looks like Washington State”.
How could I be so uninspired amidst such landscape? Is it the depression? Or is it the foul weather, fences around everything, subdivisions encroaching on history, inescapable traffic and power lines marring every photo?
Day 3: After feeling like I had all but entirely missed out on something special in GlenCoe, I drove on to Dornie just outside of the Isle of Skye where I was again staying in a spare bedroom I found on AirBnB. The room was lovely but the bed uncomfortable. Still, I could see Eilene Donan Castle through my window. The rain continued while my new host cursed the weather for me and offered me a rain jacket. Rain or no, I was hiking. I drove into Skye, past Portree and came upon The Storr. The rain was hammering down and visibility was such that I couldnt see “The Old Man” which was supposedly visible from 5 miles away. And I was just beneath him. So I drove on along the coast where the Atlantic stretched out like hazy black glass, hoping the rain might clear a bit by the time I reached the Quirang. Today, I was 40. The rain abated briefly en-route and I pulled over at a point which looked like a trail to the Atlantic. Was I supposed to be there? A man pulling out of the cottage that I was approaching only waved so I took it for permission. Closing the gate behind me, I was surrounded by hundreds of acres of green cliffs, dotted by sheep and overlooking the ocean.The rain came down in spurts but I pressed on. A few sheep followed me curiously as I picked my way down the slope to the water. Here, standing on shiny black rocks on the edge of Atlantic did not feel like Washington State. It didnt even feel like standing on the edge of the Atlantic on the Eastern coast of the United States. Here, the ocean was vast, a gaping mouth and I, standing on the tongue. If there was ever a brief moment that the veil felt thin, it was here.
I took my time despite the rain and chill, working my way back up the hillside. I filled my water bottles from falls (I had a “lifewater” straw but the water was so clear and cold, I didnt use it) and continued North toward the Quirang.
The rain thickened once again and although my GPS told me I had reached my destination, I saw no trails, no hikers, no room to even pull over and park. I crawled slowly up and up into the Quirang on a single lane road meant for a donkey, the rental car growling on the incline. I dont know how long or how far I drove but eventually I found a small culvert to pull off. I stood there looking up, down, around. I’m here. This is it. But where could I hike? Im not a professional or even an enthusiast in the greatest shape and I hesitated to launch myself off the side of a mountian. I raised my camera but the view was so obscured by fog that the moutains were invisible through the lens. Looking at the photo, I might not even know a mountain was there if I didn’t know better. Through the thick mist, I couldnt make out any of the views that I had been pinning to my “vacay” board on Pinterest for the last 8 months. Defeated, I got back into the car, executed a 20-point turn, and backtracked. I stopped for coffee and wifi again in Portree, consulting the weather forecast and debating options. What to do now? Drink would be the “obvious” answer but I don’t enjoy it, frankly, especially not alone. Mood considered, I was almost afraid that any booze at the moment would tip the scale in the wrong direction, leaving me in a sad puddle of self pity and loneliness. So I should not drink, I decided.
Of all days and sites on this trip, I planned for my birthday the most carefully. I wanted to be imersed in breathtaking, ancient natural beauty. I wanted the pain of exertion to mark satisfaction of personal accomplishment. Eventually, I gave up, left the cafe and headed back to the room at Dornie. Stopped along the way to slog through a few short woodland trails to put a few more miles on my legs but my birthday bucketlist was a bust. I had a lackluster dinner at a pub, no cake, more whiskey. A few bikers came in and I considered chatting them up until a group of ladies also walked in. I wandered to take photos of Eilene Donan, and wandered back to bed.
Day 4: ONE day of sunshine according to the forecast. ONE day before nonstop rain all day and night. So I decided to veer off schedule in order to take advantage. Instead of heading directly across country, I drove back into Skye with a French hitchhiker named “Hillin”. I decided I had only enough time to hike the Storr because I was staying the night in Inverness. Hillin was on no such timeline and decided to take advantage of the break in the weather and carry on to the Quirang. I wish I could have.
Now, in the sun, I could see the Old Man of Storr clearly. The initial path was crowded with tourists and well hewn so I didn’t think twice about leaving the hiking poles in the car. However, halfway up was a clearing where most of the sightseers stopped because from there, the path leading up to the Old Man became quite steep and rocky. Now I kicked myself for leaving the poles behind it . I went at a snails pace and eventually made it without sliding off a rock and dying but I didn’t feel any great sense of accomplishment nor awe taking in my surroundings, which now I could see. Oh yes, the view was stunning and by definition awe-inspiring but I still felt like I had flat-lined.
I was driving like a native now. No more hitting the curb although I continued to climb into the passenger seat initially.
As I drove cross-country to Inverness, I wondered what it would be like to live in Scotland. What would I do? Return to radio? The radio, like the food I determined, sucked. Too much unentertaining prattle interuppted by techo-pop garbage. I like techo-pop, when it’s good. And I always thought BBC was held to such a high standard. Although it was amusing listening to Scotsman debate American politics, as if our next President affected them. One caller insisted that anyone “..with a conscience cannot trust Clinton, and if you are afraid of Trump, you must appreciate the transparency and remember that the government is not one person…Besides, it doesnt really doesn’t matter who is president because nothing happens without congressional approval. Nothing changes. It’s the same thing with a different face.” All of this debated with a thick Scottish drawl.
I learned a bit more about “Brexit” too. I had read that Scotland was in favor of remaining in the European Union but to be on the ground amongst them, they are quite upset about it. They voted just last year to remain part of the UK largely in part because they wanted to remain part of the EU so they feel mis-led. “We are our own country, we have our own economy, are own government, and yet we are still represented by a Tory!” they lamented.
In the valleys where the radio signal faded out, I felt most alone. So much for solo travel being a time for introspection because I found that I hate my own company. As kind as I am to everyone, I am not kind to myself. Courses on meditation, self-love, positive thinking to manifest your dreams… but here I was, negative self-talk non-stop in my head. I wasnt just hard on myself, I hated myself. I rehashed recent and past rejection. Disgusted by every photo of me in the last year. My body disproportionate. “You’re ugly now”. The crazy thing is, I know that’s not true. I’m not ugly, not even naked! But I couldnt stop telling myself that I was. Walking past other hikers, I thought “Here goes the fat asthmatic American heaving her way up and down the mountains…” In the absence of any company other than my own, I turned inward and devoured myself.
Periodically, I would find a place to pull over, enjoy the sunny views for a few minutes and stretch. Folding myself in half, palms to the ground, I enjoyed the soft pops of my vertebrae. Until my inner voice said “Yeah, fat girl is still flexible”. My body is holding up alright I suppose. The weight slows me down though. My footing is unsure, as I am going up and down slippery, rocky mountains lugging a near 200 pound ruck sack, aka, my body.
By the way, Falls of Foyers, skip it.
Day 5: As promised the rain returns. I’m really starting to feel lonely now as my new host is an elderly woman who runs a bed and breakfast in the country. Why couldnt they all be “Malcoms”? I park in along the River Ness and pick up the bicycle I had already paid rental fees for. Admiring my perserverence to ride in this weather, the shop lent me a rain jacket and the best route out of the city to Culloden battlefield and Clava Cairns. It wasnt terribly far, maybe 20 miles roundtrip but much of it was uphill and in the rain, being additionally hosed down by muddy water with every passing car, this was no longer a vacation but a personal challenge. Mine was the solo bike in the rack at Culloden but I was visiting at the same time of year that the Jacobite loss at Culloden took place nearly 300 years earlier so the rain and mist so thick on the field that one might not have seen but only heard their enemy a few hundred yards away, I could imagine it. I opted for the audio tour which was so cheesey that I turned it off and walked the field in silence. I was walking on a mass grave and silence seemed most appropriate.
After Culloden, I peddled on to Clava Cairns. It looks nothing like the standing stones in the Outlander series. Interesting to consider the age of these piles of mossy rock but still, I felt nothing here.
Peddling back into town by 7p, I dropped the bike off and stopped for food at a Turkish restaurant. Maybe the only food I enjoyed in Scotland. An aquaintance had recommended the live local music at a small pub called Hootananny but bloggers recommended getting there early. Like, by 7p although the music didnt start unti 9:30. Sit there for more than 2 hours and drink before the music even starts? THere’s no uber in Scotland so pace yourself. But as I dried out over the first real meal in days, I noticed a smell. It was me. Not body odor but the exterior of my clothes which were stiff with drying mud smelled like a gutter. Probably from all the passing traffic that day. I know many more self-assured folks would have said “Who cares?” and gone to the pub smelling like a hobo but I grew too self-conscious and as I was staying outside the city, I didnt have the time to get back to the room, shower, change and get back to the pub in time to get in.
I was in bed by 9 with a shirt over my eyes because it was still light out. But by now, my loneliness had gotten the best of me and I sent him, my former roommate-for-a-minute, an email with a few pictures from my trip so far. He replied almost immediately and I felt a giddy sense of relief and happiness.
And by now, I was convinced that UK taste in music was as bland as their cuisine. But then, what could I expect from the country that gave us Spice Girls? What will it be today kids? Robbie Williams or Ariana Grande? Or Robbie Williams? Or Ariana Grande?
As far as Wildlife I only see goats, sheep, birds and bunnies.
It seems everyone here has a dog and they take them everywhere they go. Restaurants allow the dogs to come inside instead of relegating them and their owners to outside patio tables and inclement weather. Dogs in all sizes and breeds however I note the absence of pitbulls. UK’s banned breed list dates back 200 years. Floors me that these seemingly educated dog loving people still hold prejudice against certain breeds. Do they really believe there is some flaw in the genetic make-up a certain breeds of dogs? An inborn trigger that makes them uncontrollably aggressive?
With exception of those who I board with in evenings, I haven’t met any locals, which is a bit disappointing. I suppose it’s partly my fault for being an introvert and not striking up a conversation as often as I could although my excuse is I’m quite tired and foggy headed at this point. But I had hoped the locals would be more engaging. The trails I take are usually empty in this weather and I find myself too exhausted to go hang it a pub after 8 hours of hiking or biking. Plus I smell offensive.
Again, hikers: Presence of a gate does not mean ‘stop go back’, you can go through just shut the gate behind you. And don’t worry about trespassing; if its private it will be marked. The ground was really quite mushy. Waterproof hiking boots are useless if the water gets in through your ankles. Additionally, it holds the moisture in so eventually I opted for open toed hiking sandals because it’s inevitable that you’re feet will get wet but at least in this case they might also eventually dry out. Galoshes would probably be the most appropriate footwear for this bog but who has room for that in their luggage?
Day 6: Can you believe it’s been 6 days and Scotland and I’m just now hearing bagpipes? Its coming from the town of KingGUSSIE but I’m hearing it all the way up in the glen. I would have clapped for him if I thought he might hear me. I recall my friend Patrick playing his pipes out by the generators in Saudi Arabia. He was the Clan Bard so he had to stay on top of his game.
How do I know that my health is not as it should be? Because anyone else would have dropped 10 pounds on a trip like this. Covering so many miles, on two feet or two wheels and sustained on 2 kind bars and 5 Hour energy shots, both which I have been forced to ration at this point.
One of my acquaintances remarked on a picture I posted on social media saying “You look like you were having a blast!” Do I?
Walking or driving through Scotland require the same precautions: You have to stop before you look up. I tripped and slipped a lot for someone who fancies herself a dancer. Speaking of, there is a brief swing dance this evening on the outskirts of Edinburg. I’m hoping I can muster up enough energy to go. I might finally meet some locals.
I occasionally see locals out walking their dogs through the woods while wearing headphones and I am tempted to ask them if they are listening to Robbie Williams.
The violent crime rate here it is quite low. Why do you suppose that is? Did they get it out of their blood centuries ago and have nothing left to fight about?
Day 7 of my personal challenge. I was no longer calling it a vacation or a holiday and nearing the end of it, it meant nothing more to me than a series of checks in the boxes. I wanted this to be over. I felt trapped in Edinburgh which was the NYC equivalent for Scotland. I was staying in the hood in a shared slummy flat with an uncomfortable young french couple. The only good thing about slumming it was being surrounded by thrift shops and Middle Eastern food. But then, I was too fat to shop or eat, or so says hateful company. The swing dance the night before was pleasant but not unlike a swing dance back home: Still more women and men and older men preoccupied on picking up young women. I liked that they all danced Lindy and they even thought I was ‘pretty good’, although I was quite exhausted and knew I wouldn’t last more than 2 hours. One of my partners remarked “You sound a bit American”.
“I am a bit American.”
“Oh that’s alright,” he replied as if to console me of my unfortunate circumstances, “We welcome everyone here except the English.”
But after the dance, it was all downhill. If you dislike the city, get in the car and go somewhere else, I told myself. You can go anywhere. Except home. If I were in a proper hotel room I might go back and have a bath and a nap to see if that improved my mood but that wasn’t an option. So what to do with myself on the staircase in the shadow of Edinburgh castle with a dying phone?
I took 2 bites of my food and tossed it. Ate my pills. I was choking up at the sight of every passing family. Malcolm, the youthful 60 – something invited me back to Stirling for wine and nudity if Edinburg was not to my liking. Meanwhile, I asked my beautiful server if drinking and entire carafe of wine by myself made me a lush, he responded quickly, “No, it makes you a hero”.
I was now busting my data plan in order to text him, my former roommate-for-a-minute? Why him? He volunteered “You feel sorry for me?” No, I was feeling sorry for myself. No doubt we were both lonely, strangers in new cities but still, I have other friends, better friends that I could be sharing this experience with. “Im not alone cuz my cell phones on yeah…” I think as Jimmy Eat World plays in my head.
In another attempt to meet locals, I log into couchsurfer where a single dad from Edinburgh invites me to meet his group later for drinks. But I’m already drinking and people watching. I pick out a man in a group of suits at a nearby table. I take measure of his hands before I ever reach his face. Manicured, resting on his thigh…Large but large enough to cover my breast? I rip my gaze away. Self conscious, but I drink more than one person should, because the beautiful server who leaned too close said I was a “hero”, not a lush. It’s been 17 months now since anyone touched me. I fiddle with my wine glass, fiddle with my phone, as if I was just killing time til I had somewhere to be, someone to meet. As if I had someone.
Eventually I start walking again. The bar with the single dad is 2 miles away. I pass the Hard Rock Edinburgh where tuxedo’ed bouncers guarded the front and ushered in ladies struggling to stay upright in stillettos. Thank goodness he didn’t want to meet there. But turned out the bar he did want to meet in was nearby and equally “bougie”. The bouncers still let me in despite me looking like I had just crawled out of a loch, which wasn’t far from the truth. I had showered and put on lipstick but I was still in an Old Navy jacket and hiking sandals. After several failed attempts to locate the single dad and his group amidst this crowd (but more importantly, failed attempts on my part to get close enough to the bar to order), I wandered back outside and started walking again. I found myself in Greyfriars Cemetery at a quarter til midnight. The sun had finally set in it’s entiretly and I could see nothing but it was a refuge from the growing clamor of the nightlife beyond so I sat. A passing ghost tour was spooked by me but soon I was alone with the dead again. I think I may have even nodded off for a minute before my phone buzzed. Somehow I made it back to the slummy flat although I may have been sleepwalking.
Day 8. I slept in and woke up bleeding. Not that I was truly expecting or even looking to get laid by some burly Scotsman on this trip but this just ensured I wouldn’t. My fun-meter is pegged. I went for coffee then got my nails done. Still feeling dissatisfied, I set out for the last check in the box: Arthurs Arse. Thats what I call “Arthurs Seat”, if I had anyone to talk to. Barely beyond the road, the trail steepened and became quite slippery. I trudged a short bit then sat on a rock, feeling lightheaded as other climbers slipped around and past me. All I could think about was returning to the slummy flat, inform the uncomfortable french couple that I was leaving early, throw my bag into the car and head straight for the Holiday Inn at Glasgow airport. I turned and gave Arthur’s Arse my middle finger “Fuck you, I’m done.”
By 5p, Edinburgh was in my rear view. Glasgow traffic was no longer daunting after 8 days on the road. I even found Kimchi Cult in a last ditch attempt to find flavor in Scotland. Fermented food is not shy on flavor so I may not leave Scotland starving after all.
There was a wedding reception underway as I checked in at the hotel. Does it sound catty of me to note that the men were all hot kilted Scots while their ladies looked like an episode of my Big Fat Gypsy Wedding? If the boys liked em that size, maybe I’d have a shot here after all. Well, too late for that. Besides, I’m bleeding. I grabbed a big glass of red from the bar and headed straight to the room to run a hot bath.
Day 9. Going home. I admitted to him that I was ready to come home because I was lonely but the truth is, I’m lonely at home too; not coming home TO anyone. The only difference is being home provides distractions like work and dance. And my dog. I miss my dog. He said he was lonely too, and scared. My initial thought was that he didn’t understand having only been single off and on for a few months tops but on second thought, he was with someone for so long, it must be alien for him to be alone in bed, to come home to no one. So to each his/her own brand of lonely.
I was still puzzled why I spent nearly the entire trip staying in touch with him? We have no history. We never were nor ever will be anything to each other but I cling to him like I clung to “C”, a man who tried to shake my grip from the arm of his coat. Let go, girl!
Reality check time, I returned to The List: Among all the ways he doesn’t measure up is his apparent lack of passion. Do I know for a fact he lacks passion and is not up to par in the sack? No, but it’s the impression I get.. Oh I could make him feel better than he’s ever felt before, but that would be gratifying for only so long. Eventually I would want it to be my turn, someone to push me to my knees and tell me I’m a good girl while playing with my hair as I serve him with my mouth… I can’t even imagine that being something he would even think to do. Missionary Man, this one. Maybe sleeping with him would cure me of wanting him, I wondered. But I’m home. It’s raining here too except it’s warm and smells like salt so I don’t mind. The fact that it took me more than two weeks to even finish this ‘entry’ is further evidence that this “bucketlist trip” was a chore. Maybe I’ll have fonder memories of it later. But to anyone who criticises me for my seeming ungratefulness at this “opportunity”, it was an opportunity because I created it. I tapped into my savings to pay for it, worked overtime to get enough time off. It was a milestone birthday and I had expectations that were not realized. No one “gave” me anything. I worked hard to make this happen. My trip. My birthday. My let-down.