"Is he dead?"
We had been cycling along a single-track road in a remote area of Scotland as part of a self-directed alternative on the North Coast 500. I had been struggling with a pulled muscle and we had barely seen another soul since leaving our train at Kinlochewe. In fact the only other vehicles to pass were huge logging trucks that rumbled by and we were only joined by herds of deer that ran along in parallel to us and launched themselves across the road with abandon.
Eventually, we saw a car approaching from the opposite direction and it pulled into a passing place about 100M ahead. When we got there and signalled thanks on our way past, we were worried by what we saw. An elderly man sat slumped back in the drivers seat, engine running, radio on. We both stopped immediately and after the briefest of exchanges decided I should go back and check. He could just be having a power nap, but we couldn't leave without making sure.
I reversed, found my balance and leaned in towards the window and asked "Excuse me, are you OK?", no response. I leant in closer and asked again but with more vigour this time. I almost toppled over as the man shot bolt upright and looked at me in surprise. "I should be asking you the same thing, all the way up here on your bikes!" the man exclaimed, "What's the matter?" he continued. "Oh erm, we saw you pull in and then as we were cycling past we got a little worried about you and I just wanted to check you were OK?" I replied. After establishing that we were both indeed fine, the man said abruptly, "Anyway, I must be off, my mother is expecting me for lunch." and with that he drove away. Slightly bewildered by the exchange, I returned to Zlatko and we also continued on our way.
The Agricultural Mafia
A few days earlier we were cycling around Loch Eriboll on one of our longest days. We drifted in and out of drafting and on such a long stretch of straight road my mind began to drift too. I noticed two men in overalls, knee deep in the heather, emptying something from a bucket. Nothing strange there, probably just farmers putting out feed for the lambs. Next to the road there was a black Mercedes, all the doors open - including the boot - with a third man standing idly by in a suit. This was slightly more intriguing, and given my enjoyment for storytelling my mind started to make sinister connections. I told myself off, don't be ridiculous!
Five minutes later I hear a car approaching slowly behind me. Battling against a headwind and feeling a little frustrated with the exertion I signalled for it to pass. In a flurry of beeping the Mercedes rushes by, except now the two men in overalls are also in the car; wearing suits.
That does it, I thought, they have to be the mafia, it is the only logical explanation. Zlatko and I began theorising as we cycled. What was in the bucket? "Were they stashing money from a recent heist, or jewels maybe?" Zlatko offered, "No, no it is probably weapons or maybe a body!" I declared. The wind drowned out Zlatko's response - as it so often did - and I peddled hard to catch him, "Probably not a body, it was only a small bucket." he repeated. "Yes, probably not a body." I agreed. We also considered the possibility that they were indeed farmers, who were on their way to a funeral or another black tie event but still had to tend to their flock on the way. It could be logical, but by that point our imaginations were running riot, after weeks of walking and cycling in the wild Scottish Highlands, only the most audacious stories could be true.