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07 September 2012

Scotland Road Trip 1: The Long Drive to Edinburgh

It was the last weekend of May when my flatmates and I made a weekend road trip from London to Scotland. It was a busy weekend full of things to do, but because of everyone's schedules, we couldn't leave until after work on Friday. Nevertheless, just the drive from London to Edinburgh on Friday night was a memorable adventure!

It should have been a relatively simple drive (by my American standards), only 7 hours by Google Maps. But the journey turned out to be more complicated: Figuring out how to get the rental car (all the way at Heathrow); dealing with rush-hour traffic; eating far more fried chicken than we should have; picking up a travelmate in Sheffield; and learning that I simply cannot drive a stick shift!

And so here goes the story of how an afternoon/evening drive turned into an all-night journey.

Since we couldn't leave until my flatmates were finished with work for the day, we booked the rental car to be picked up at 6:00pm from Heathrow airport. We left our flat at 4:30, and the tube was already jammed.

We met our other travelmate at a tube station along the way, and soon we were at Heathrow. Picking up the car should have been easy and simple, but we didn't realize it. At the rental agency, we were looking for someone to help us, since we had reserved the car using their "preferred customer" program. But there was no one at the preferred customer booth. After poking around further, I soon found the car that we had reserved, just sitting there in the lot. And the keys were in the car! Turns out, you just pick up the car and drive off! Wow, much easier than anticipated.

We then hit the road. And the road was jammed with evening traffic. No surprise, I guess, it being London and all. So it took about an hour for us to get out of the London area. Along the way, I discovered that the car had an amazing function: a touch-screen satnav/GPS unit, and a smart radio that automatically told you when you were approaching a traffic jam or a speed-check camera! I was incredibly impressed, having never seen such advanced technology in a car. But my flatmates insisted that such features are common in cars throughout Europe. I added it to my mental list of "Why don't we have this in the US?"

We continued north along the M1 for an hour or two, playing a few road trip games (20 questions and "I'm going to a picnic/Scotland and I'm bringing with me...") before we stopped for toilets and food. Our food? KFC.

We ordered too much food. Halfway through our meal, we somehow decided to try to finish the food instead of taking it with us. But even my stomach was full; we ended up with a couple pieces of fried chicken left over, which we kept with us.

North we continued, stopping by Sheffield, where we picked up our final travelmate, Dikshita. It wasn't much of a detour, but heading into and out of the city itself added about an hour to our journey. We continued further, through a desolate mountain pass that led us into Manchester. We had finally made it to northern England. But the last glimpses of daylight had gone.

We drove and drove, Swag pushing above the speed limit to make up as much time as we could. He did a good job. By the time we stopped for petrol in the Lake District, Swag had become very tired and was starting to doze off. So he asked me to try driving.

"Try" is the important word here, because (1) I had never driven on the left-hand-side country and (2) I had basically no experience driving a stick shift (manual transmission). But, it couldn't be that hard, right?

Wrong. I got in, started the car and began to drive. But the engine suddenly stopped. Again, and the engine just died. Does this happen often? Apparently I had to hold the clutch down AT THE SAME TIME as I was pressing on the gas pedal. Ok, so I did that, and as I let go, the car lurched forward suddenly! Then the engine stopped again.

Ok, one more try. Didn't work.

One more try. Got it to go forward, but trying to shift into 2nd gear just didn't work.

All this time, everyone in the car was yelling at me, trying to give me instructions on how to drive a car with two feet at the same time!

Another try, I made it to 2nd gear! But I didn't know how to slow down and stop; do you shift down from 2nd to 1st, or just step on the brakes? I chose the brakes. But having to step on the brakes while my mind was thinking of what to do with my left foot distracted me. I couldn't even think about where to steer, so I just stopped the car awkwardly in the middle of the petrol station.

Didn't work. At least my driving didn't work. But it was effective in waking Swag up, probably from all the excitement, and he was awake enough to take us all the way into Scotland.

It was some time past midnight by the time we crossed the border. The roads were empty, and we just wanted to arrive in Edinburgh as soon as possible. The route took us off the motorway and down a small highway, passing through many small towns. Swag drove quickly, cutting corners and speeding, and I encouraged him the whole way.

Finally, we crossed over some hills, and there in the distance was our destination: Edinburgh!

It was close to 3am, and the first glimpses of dawn were already visible. As we stopped for one last petrol top-up, I contacted our host, Arnaud, and let him know that we were close. We had made it, finally.

But too exhausted to celebrate, Swag and Kristina went straight to sleep. I, instead, shared a couple drinks with Arnaud, since he was a great guy and had some good conversation. It was nearly 5 by the time I finally slept. Although I was sleeping on the floor, I slept very well. After the journey we had just had, who wouldn't sleep well?

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