Since Heidi failed in the middle of the Scottish wilderness, it took AA a good long while to respond. Eventually, they dispatched someone from a local garage about 20 minutes down the road. His flatbed truck zoomed in around 9:30pm and out stepped a loud, gruff chain smoker who looked like a wild-haired mountain man. He got right to work. The noise puzzled him a bit, but he verified that we were only running on three cylinders and that poor Heidi needed professional care. I called Ian, Heidi’s owner, to give him the bad news and we talked for a while about possible options. (The mechanic wasn’t shy about telling Ian what he thought should be done to salvage our vacation either.) There weren’t many good options.
The good news was that there was a substitute available: Ian had recently acquired a 1990 T25 camper van dubbed “Mr. T” that hadn’t been officially added to their rental lineup yet but that was ready to go. Somehow we’d have to get Heidi back to Hawick and transfer Mr. T to Bridge of Orchy. Initially it didn’t seem worth it — we only had a few nights left on Heidi’s rental, and between the lost time and the hassle of the exchange it seemed like perhaps we should just take some compensation for the remaining rental and part ways. But the mountain man said it was only about three hours’ driving time between us and Heidi’s home, and Ian’s AA coverage allowed for Heidi to be towed all the way back. By now it was a bit after 10:00pm, but I could ride shotgun through the night, grab Mr. T, and be back in time for breakfast. Plus we’d get to see what a more modern VW camper was like. The clincher was when we learned that if I didn’t go back with Heidi, the AA would consider it a low-priority towing job and it could be days before she got home. There was no way Ian could get her back on the road in time for the next renters in that case. We decided to make the swap.
Holly was a trouper. Not only was I proposing to strand her in the wilderness with the kids for an unknown period of time (albeit in a cushy hotel), she had to help me transfer all of our gear out of Heidi and up to the room in a hurry. Much of our luggage had already been moved, but we had odds and ends tucked into various storage nooks, the fridge was full, all of our bedding was still in Heidi, etc. We got most of it out in record time, and figured I could transfer the remaining gear from Heidi to Mr T. once they were side-by-side in Hawick. Time to go!
From here on out, things went downhill. It started with the towing guy telling me that he wasn’t able to tow Heidi — we’d have to wait for the right truck. This, as it turned out, was an administrative trick. The AA had only authorized him to bring a “service vehicle” on his run to check on Heidi. That’s cheaper than sending out a flatbed. But when he heard it was a classic VW in distress he played the odds and brought his tow truck. He could only tell the AA that he had his service vehicle though, and offer to go “back” for his tow truck if they authorized the tow. Pretty soon the authorization came through, and after an appropriate delay the flatbed became a flatbed again and Heidi was loaded aboard. I climbed into the cab, and off we went.
After a bit, I asked again how long he thought it would take to make the trip to Hawick with the truck. “Oh, I’m not driving you to Hawick”, he says. Um. Ok. Where are you taking me? Turns out he was meeting another driver back at their garage, and he’d make the trip. Ok. No cause for alarm. After the second driver had been driving for an hour and a half, he tells me we’re about 20 minutes away. This was puzzling, since we were seeing signs for Glasgow coming up. Not only was that not Hawick, it was evidence that we weren’t on a direct route to Hawick. 20 minutes away from what, I asked. He was going to unload Heidi at a service plaza outside of Glasgow, where another AA-comissioned driver would load her up and finish the trip. It was around this point where Ian called to point out yet another problem: Mr. T didn’t have the appropriate insurance coverage yet, and he’d have to contact the office when they opened at 8:30 to get it sorted out. I was still hoping to be back at the hotel by then!
Shortly after midnight, driver #2 pulled into the service plaza and started trying to find the final driver’s truck. He’d told the AA scheduler he’d be there by 12:30, but said drivers were pretty prompt and he expected the other guy would be there a bit ahead of schedule. No such luck. After a bit, driver #2 checked in with AA and discovered that the final driver wouldn’t be there until 2:00am! His part in the relay complete, driver #2 unloaded Heidi and left me there in the parking lot to wait for driver #3. To his credit, driver #3 was right on time. He was a lovely gentleman who’d spent a lifetime in the trucking business, and was doing towing jobs now so he could stay closer to home. (He had such a thick Glaswegian accent that I had trouble understanding him at times, but we managed to communicate.)
Driver #3 punched up our destination on his GPS and off we went. The first half of the route was fairly fast highway (though he was awfully conservative about his speed). The second half consisted of single-track roads winding through villages, glens, and fields full of sheep. (I now know that sheep like to sleep on the road at night, and that when they are awakened they dash off unpredictably in all directions.) The trip was painfully slow, but incredibly beautiful — some of the most spectacular scenery I’d seen during our time in Scotland. It was sort of a scaled-down version of the highlands, but completely still and quiet in the pre-dawn hours. The sun started coming up around 3:00am, putting a glow behind the hills while the valleys were full of fog (and the roads were full of sheep).
Finally, around 5:00am, we arrived at Heidi’s home base. It took the driver a while to figure out how to deposit Heidi, but Ian came out and they spoke Glaswegian to each other and sorted it out. (I literally have no idea what they said.) After a bit of a chat, Ian helped me transfer the remaining gear from Heidi to Mr. T, and we went in for a cup of tea. It was 6-ish by now, so there didn’t seem to be much point in trying to push for an early resolution to the insurance issue. I napped on their couch until 8:00, made final arrangements, and was on the road as soon as they’d finished the call with their insurance agent.
First observation: Mr. T handles like a race car compared to old Heidi. Much more power, better brakes and steering, and a fifth gear make a huge difference. You can take Mr. T on a motorway without fear or dread. Three-point turns are possible without breaking a sweat (or cursing a blue streak). I headed back north as quickly as I could, but didn’t arrive back at the hotel until just past 12:30 — well after Holly and the kids had to check out of the room. Still, we were back on the road and ready to continue the adventure!