I’ve sat around my share of campfires telling stories — stories of disaster or averted disaster, episodes with difficult climbing partners, and frightful tales of risk and pain. I’m guilty of trying to one-up stories of rigor, suffering, hunger, thirst, and near-death experiences. And I’ve both won and lost that game of narrative drama.

I have toured all over the world collecting these stories, but none are quite like my trip to the Scottish Highlands.

Connie and I had planned our excursion a few weeks before we found ourselves sipping celebratory drinks at the Labor Day weekend cycling cruise through Puget Sound. We were joined by my old college acquaintance, Matt, and it didn’t take long for us to invite him on our Scottish adventure. The trip was only two months away, so we may have been half-joking, and we certainly didn’t expect him to say yes.

A month later, he asked for a more detailed itinerary: “So … I’m actually considering this a little more seriously.” A couple of weeks after that, he committed to the trip, and we frantically reconfigured our hotel reservations to make room for one more. Just two weeks later, Connie and I left Edinburgh on a pair of loaded bikes and rode the single track to Glasgow where we met Matt at the hotel.

For the next week, we cycled. We drank whisky. We took pictures of castles. We rushed to distilleries. We watched rugby. We ate breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, second lunch, and dinner (and sometimes second dinner). The trip will never make an entry into the annals of great adventure. No part of the journey will win a storytelling competition around a campfire. The trail to Inverness (National Cycle Route 7) was well marked, if not well paved. No one almost died. We got hungry, once, after a distillery tour and had to stop for a fruit leather. Matt rode through some knee pain. We rode hard and carried our own stuff. It was cold so we put on gloves. It got dark so we shared lights. We laughed. We ate great food and drank (“A distillery and a castle a day keep the doctor away”).

We told stories to get to know each other better, not to one-up each other. There was no drama, narrative or otherwise.

And I’d do it again in a minute.

I’d hop back on NCR 7 with Connie and Matt well before I’d embark on one of the epic trips that please the campfire and Instagram crowd. If harrowing experiences and soul-destroying (or, admittedly, sometimes affirming) sufferings are the rewards of adventure, then perhaps we’re missing a bit of the point. If the only stories worth telling descend into drama and pain, or rise to the bait of ego and glory, perhaps we’re dodging the real question and the most important story of all.

Adventure without drama isn’t adventure without stories. But these stories are quieter, more friendly, and, frankly, more suited for the campfire.

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Brent Olson
Brent Olson lives and works in Salt Lake City, Utah as an Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at Westminster College. His background in geography and environmental history informs his travel, photography, and adventure. He has traveled on bicycles through Iceland, the Pyrenees, Colombia, and the Western United States, and by canoe (or kayak) through the Pacific Northwest and the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota. His goal as a professor and photographer is to encourage people to find and tell complicated stories, and to see those stories reflected in the landscape.