We leave for the Isle of Skye hours before the sun is awake. Hell, I’m barely awake. I almost immediately curl up in the backseat, nestled among the boys’ coats, a loaf of warm sourdough clutched to my body. Thomas and Quentin rouse me from my slumber often, forcing me into the cold to see the majesty of the Highlands. Thomas has detailed itinerary for our long drive up north and the Highlands have many more surprises in store for us. No time for sleep.
We stop at loch after spectacular loch as the sun rises, the first illuminated with soft predawn pink, the next gilded with the first golden rays, then the bright blue of midmorning. The boys skip rocks on the frozen surfaces and I'm laughing and shivering.
There’s a bridge where a scene from Harry Potter was filmed and we stand underneath the great arches yelling at our echoes. Quentin clambers up the bare limbs of a tree. Snowy mountains mirrored in a perfectly still lake. Eilean Donan castle floating, as if by magic, on murky water.
Finally, we arrive in the Isle of Skye, Glen Brittle rising up majestically in the distance.
We stop for lunch in an empty restaurant. It's February and not quite tourist season yet, so restaurants are mostly empty or just closed until the season starts.
"Ca va, toi? T'as l'air rêveuse," Quentin asks me. You okay? You look distracted. We had just finished lunch and were sipping on coffee. Thomas was in the bathroom, leaving Quentin and I in the comfortable silence fills much of our time together.
"Yeah, I'm fine. It's just—sometimes I realize how surreal everything seems," I start to explain in French. "Do you ever stop to think about what your current life would look like to your childhood self? Like if you were to tell five-year-old Victoria, or even high school Victoria, growing up in suburban New Jersey, that at 22, she would be in Scotland, taking a road trip to the Isle of Skye with these two random Frenchmen from Strasbourg, I would've never believed you." A dread-locked, pigeon-obsessed bread baker and Berlin-obsessed graphic designer that goes by Sonic sometimes, I think to myself wryly.
Both men are so familiar to me now. I remember when I first met them two years ago in Gentilly and the uncertainty that I felt during that entire experience. I can't imagine my life without either of them now.
"Yeah, even if you had told me six months ago that this is where I would be, I don’t think I would’ve believed you," he agrees. Six months ago, before the wedding, the letters, my visit to Strasbourg, everything.
Before I could ponder any more about the impossibility of it all, Thomas returns from the bathroom and we set off again further into Skye.
At my request, we drive to the Fairy Pools, magical pockets of crystal clear glacial run-off flowing into each other, tucked into the Cuilen mountain range. We pick our way carefully across rivers and climb on top of huge rocks. Quentin effortlessly jumps across a small waterfall and convinces me to follow. So I leap across to join him. Or, at least, I try to.
All of a sudden, gravity pulls me forward and I'm falling and enveloped in a fast moving chute of glacial wet and everything is water and cold. I’m only aware of my body being forced under by the force of the falling water and water water water. I push towards the surface, uncontrollable giggles bubbling forth between gasps for air. I’m screaming in laughter as Quentin yells in panic, trying to pull me back up as I slip and fall back into the water again. Thomas is completely unfazed by it all and takes pictures of the chaos unfolding. He knows me too well by this point to not expect this to happen.
I strip in the cold air and slip on Quentin's warm jacket as we make our way back to the car for me to change into dry clothes. And to continue onwards to our next stop. There was no way we were going to let some tumble into the water cut our day short.
We go further into the Quiraing, in the northern fringes of Skye, where the landscape becomes increasingly dramatic with every kilometer. We pull up at beach covered in dark pebbles and we hike up up and away to see the bay glistening from up high. Further on, jagged spires rise sharply up out of rolling green hills, piercing through the bottoms of clouds. In the fading light, we climb down the most astonishing cliffs that drop down to a black beach.
We have an incredible dinner in Portree before settling into our Airbnb in Staffin, tucked away at the end of a road in the Quiraing, grassy hills rising up on either side. Thomas lights the fireplace and we share beers and shortbread in front of the crackling fire until late. Shaun of the Dead is on but we’re all exhausted and no one is really watching. Quentin and I dissolve into each other’s sleep filled limbs.
We wake up late the following morning and hurry to the Old Man of Storr before the rain hit. It’s lightly misting when we get there and the iconic craggy peaks are completely hidden in the fog, but we climb anyway. It’s unending mist and green moss and rugged rockscapes and snow and freezing winds. The adjectives that I have to describe the rocky landscapes feel lazy and insubstantial: beautiful, surreal, ethereal, unbelievable.
I struggle to keep up with the boys as we climb higher and higher into the clouds, a damp cold chilling me to the bone. I can’t tell if it ever ends. There are more rocks and ice everywhere. Finally, we reach the top where there’s just the faintest shadow of the peaks looming above us, barely perceptible through the thick cloud cover.
We climb back down through the dreamlike mist, reluctantly getting back into the car for the long journey back to Woodlea. I silently promise the Old Man of Storr that I would return one day to Skye see him properly, perhaps with these men, perhaps with another set of unexpected traveling companions. But for now, dinner at a pub and a full night of sleep. Next stop, Edinburgh.