For more than 35 years, I’d been looking longingly at a picture of a lighthouse on a spectacular headland jutting into the Atlantic near the westernmost tip of the British mainland. Someday, I vowed, I would go there.
The opportunity to do so came in September, when Alex, a friend who at age 51 is a generation younger, and I embarked on a weeklong cycling expedition in Scotland that included a trip to the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, where the lighthouse is located. Biking there proved to be a journey of self-discovery that was by turns painful and pleasurable.
Soon after reaching the peninsula by ferry, we spotted a sign alerting us that the lighthouse was six miles away. That ride — which would total 12 miles with the return trip — seemed manageable enough for a geezer like me who often cycles that distance and more on the North Fork or Shelter Island.
Within less than 10 minutes after starting our ride to the lighthouse, I was huffing and puffing so much after ascending a quick succession of hills that I was ready to call it quits. Nothing on Long Island’s East End had prepared me for this.
“I’m not enjoying this,” I whined to Alex. “You go ahead to the lighthouse. Spend as much time as you want.”
I told him I would return to the village near the ferry landing and wait for his return at a teahouse where I would read a book I had brought along. “Don’t worry,” I assured him. “I’ll be fine.”
Alex would have none of it.
“You’ve wanted to see the lighthouse for years,” he reminded me. “You can’t turn back now.” He said the road might get easier as we progressed — which I considered to be wishful thinking — and that, anyway, I could walk my bike up the steepest hills.
So I relented. Grudgingly. The hills didn’t get much easier and I had to dismount two or three times when my heart was pounding up a storm. Was it worth it?
A thousand times, yes!
What greeted us at the end of the ride was one of the most exquisite settings imaginable for a lighthouse. From its perch atop a rocky promontory, we could see no fewer than six of Scotland’s beautiful Inner Hebridean islands, including the magnificent Skye, whose peaks on this clear and brilliant day were visible more than 20 miles away.
On the Ardnamurchan Peninsula itself were small coves rimmed with white sand beaches. Adding to our delight was a small café near the lighthouse, with picnic tables outside, where we ate our lunch while surveying this lovely scene.
For me, visiting this place was the single best experience of our seven-day trip, yet I had come within a hair’s breadth of not cycling there. It made me wonder how many other rewards I’ve missed in life because, when the going got tough, I wanted to give up.
Besides gaining a new (and discomforting) insight into myself from this experience, it underscored the value of doing things with others. By instinct and habit, I am a loner, no doubt partly attributable to being an only child.
In fact, I had intended to spend the entire Scottish getaway alone (with the blessing of my very supportive wife). Only after friends looked askance when I told them about my plan to travel solo did it occur to me to invite Alex, a friend of many years and a much-traveled cyclist, along for the ride.
Good move. Not only did he prod me to go the extra mile(s) and reap the rewards, but he also helped me master the initially intimidating shifters on my 24-speed two-wheeler and wrestle my saddlebags into their proper place when, as someone deeply challenged in the motor skills department, I repeatedly had trouble fastening them to the bike.
But the overarching benefit of being with Alex, a fellow journalist, was having his excellent company on the road and over meals, when together we settled the problems of the world. Many times.
Thanks, Alex, for teaching me so much about myself.
The author is a former copy editor for Times Review Media Group. He cycles early and often from his home in Orient.