A year ago this month, I told the story of A Road Trip to the Outer Hebrides, about a farewell surf trip for one of my best mates, Neil MacKenzie, more affectionately Bell. Bell left Scotland for Canada to pursue his career with his newly obtained “Dr.” title, and as explained in that story, we decided to give him a send off. Sadly, I didn’t know exactly how much of a farewell this would be.
Very recently, I learned that Bell fell victim to an ice-climbing accident scaling Mount Joffre. Tragically, he did not survive. Words cannot begin to entirely describe the feeling you get when you hear news like this about such a close friend. There is disbelief, and shock, and anger, and heartache.
Bell was a very experienced mountaineer and an incredible rock climber. He was the first and last person I climbed with. He was also my most dependable and enthusiastic surf buddy. No matter what the conditions — and I really mean no matter — Bell was always up for it.
My fondest memories are of us going down the Scottish Coast in the middle of winter, even though it always snowed a blizzard and the charts (correctly) predicted they would be no waves. Sitting together in the icy water, looking back at the snow-covered beach with only our footsteps on it, will stick in my mind forever.
Or camping over at the beach in his beloved van, spending the night listening to his horrendous snoring, and waking up at the crack of dawn for an early morning surf before the long drive to work that day. Again, with barely a wave in sight.
Or him thinking his 3mm wetsuit with no boots or gloves would do him good for a December surf in the baltic Scottish sea, resulting in him running lengths of the beach to try and warm up, while I sat in the water watching him in hysterics.
Everything was amazingly fun with Bell, whether we surfed microscopic waves, climbed a sea cliff, or simply walked down the street together. I think back to the decade I have known him and cannot think of a single moment I spent with him which was even remotely dull or didn’t end up in hilarity. He jam-packed more into his 31 years than most of us will in a lifetime. Bell was a true one-off, a man with an incredible lust for life and he’ll be dearly missed by an unbelievable amount of people.
I would give anything for one more wave with him. Next time I think of going for a surf and see that it’s going to be flat, or freezing cold, or too windy… I’ll go anyway. Bell would.
And I want to be more like Bell.