Hoy, Scotland - The ferry leaves me alone in a dissipating diesel cloud. I grip the handlebars of my rented bike, surveying the mountainous moorland of Hoy, the second largest of the Orkney Islands.
I'm here overnight to see the infamous Old Man, or as the backpacker on the mainland put it, the big rock sticking out of the water.
"You can't get lost," he assured me. "There's only one road. The walking path is too rough to bike."
But the two roads diverge and I take the one I've been warned about. Despite guidebook cautions and first-hand stories, I believe that I will be the one traveller able to ride my bike along a rugged walking trail, having been specifically warned against bike travel. How hard can it be?
The flat, dirt path is easy enough at first. I ride through the centre of a glacial valley, heather-covered hills on either side of me. Forty minutes pass and I progress from bunny-hopping small rocks to dismounting and pushing my bike over larger stones. Then stones change to boulders and tumbling slopes to ditches.
The sun slips under dark clouds and suddenly the quaint valley becomes a haunting scene in a movie. I imagine packs of wolves descending like highland warriors.
As I haul my bike onto my back, the pestering voice of doubt begins to rattle off its questions. What if you twist your ankle? Does anyone know you're here? Who was that guy anyway? And why all this effort for an old man?
I'm soaked with sweat by the time I reach the place I started from, throat sore from heaving breath. Without missing a beat, I swing my leg over the bike and peddle hard up the paved road in a race with dusk.
An hour later, I'm still soloing along the road, cursing the gorgeous but endless vista unveiled around each bend. My senses are a dizzy whirl of awe and apprehension.
Finally, I arrive at the hostel in Rackwick Glen, an old fishing village. It's a storybook view - small stone crofts, lush green hills, distant sandy beach framed by impressive sandstone cliffs. But right now I think even paradise would fail to impress me.
I throw my bike to the ground as I stumble toward the simple stone building. I push open the door and find inside a vacant but clean and well-provisioned cottage. The beds are musty and damp, but this grumpy, groggy Goldilocks doesn't care where she sleeps tonight.
In the morning I set out to see the Old Man, following a vague trail ascending through farmers' fields. When I get my first glimpse of the coast, my pace quickens, excited to put a face to the name.
The Old Man truly is spectacular, all 137 metres of him. He stands perched on old lava flow like some determined soldier guarding the cliffs from the hostile sea. I take a seat on the edge of the precipice and watch the orange-beaked puffins swoop around him. I feel strangely fulfilled. The arduous journey leading to this prize makes it that much sweeter.
I am joined by two other travellers, an older couple in matching wind suits. I ask them to take a photo of me and pose a few feet away from the edge. The woman looks through the lens, frowns and waves me over to the left, motioning that the Old Man isn't in the photo. I decline, gesturing that I'm happy with my chosen backdrop of greying sky, crashing waves and wind madly whipping hair against my face.
It's not difficult to find metaphor in places of such marvel. It's the magnificent hands of wind and salt and water that carved this stone into existence that I want to remember.
No offence, Old Man, but what's amazing about you is not your rocky core. It's the space that surrounds you that deserves the wonder.