There is no center dividing line and no signs. Just a road the width of your car, and well, these protrusions. Here and there, the white line bubbles out, as if one of the islandís rarely seen wild cats sunned right there the day they painted the lines, and out of respect, the Scottish road crew drew around her.
Now, what do we do?
The first local vehicle whipped toward us. We weren’t near a lay-by there was nowhere to put our car. And the left-side-of-the-road driving we’d been getting the hang of was of no use since there were no sides. Out of ideas, we began backing up. For God’s sake, what are the rules here?! But at that moment, our challenger blinked his headlights and backed up to the nearest lay-by. We were startled — we were, after all, from Los Angeles.
Island Road Driver’s Training
Curious, we proceeded, waving our thanks as we passed our challenger-turned-benefactor. Driver and passenger, we notice, don’t seem put out. In fact, they looked pretty unperturbed, easily carrying on their conversation. They waved and smiled as we pass.
After an hour of stopping, passing and waving, we were changed. Moments ago, we wanted to know the “rules.” Now, we conversed while scanning for the next lay-by. Now we blinked our headlights to make way for the driver we spotted in the distance. Now we watched for and received waves of thanks, and we completed these transactions with “you’re welcome” smiles.
We’re in this together
I felt a happiness that I do not associate with driving. That instinctive, competitive driving inspired at home had been replaced by a sense of community. On this little island with one-lane roads, everyone must teach, and everyone must learn because there is no way to do it alone.
There’s no private road for those who can afford it on Mull. No color-coded windshield stickers allowing preferred access for the locals. No matter who you are, there’s only one way to get there from here. About 600,000 tourists descend upon Mull’s 2500 residents annually. So, if you live here, you’re always teaching the Single Lane Road lesson. People on Mull are so used to it, they can’t even tell you how it works — just that it does. Otherwise, how would anyone get anywhere?
An exception to every rule
Yes, we did encounter the exception to all this happy-getting-along-and-working-things out. He not only didn’t slow down when we saw one another from afar, he sped up. We hurried to get safely into the lay-by. Barely had we made it when he passed us in a blur. Wearing reflector shades and a smug expression, he looked highly inconvenienced. I didn’t see a cell phone, but I felt one.
When I think of Mull now, I’m still inspired by how we were brought into the “community,” educated and collaborated with on the roads. I feel a fierce fondness for the tiny corner of the world. We did more than visit the island, we became part of its fabric for a wee while.
Like life, the rules were confusing
Had we been the only ones on the road, we could’ve driven as fast and loose as we wanted.
Had we treated the road as if we owned it, we’d have terrified many humans and some animals. Maybe worse. Being patient and observing how things got done here was more useful.
Others were also trying to advance. They were affected (for good or bad) by the decisions we made. Things went best when we showed up ready to learn and collaborate with everyone.
Things got worked out effectively by those on the ground vs. someone “in charge.”
My Mull experience makes me wonder how often we go the “solo” route when it comes to breaking through our “stuck” places. I seem to become the most desperately stuck whenever I decide to solve “X” (fill-in-the-blank) alone and not burden others. Once in a while, that works. But mostly, I find that airing an issue to someone I trust before I’ve lived alone with it for too long, produces creative breakthroughs and helps me regain positive momentum.
Where are you going it alone when someone else’s involvement might make things clearer and easier?
More about single track roads in Scotland