‘The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another’
Three weeks on and with great gratitude to Bindu, who I met on the trail, I now have a record of the Great Crossing through the southern highlands of Iceland (my camera became waterlogged on day two). In awe of the goodness of the planet, I revisit the splendour of those four days. I write it down with the music of David Gray in a fishing shed of artists with the mist down, the paint wet and a flask of hot water.
I left Reykjavik alone having stored the remaining bits of my life there. I seem to have made a practice of decanting life where I stop for a while. A sign perhaps that I am coming back. It began at Laugarvegur or ‘Hot Spring Route’. Shipped with a bunch of folk in a monstrous moon bus on a bright day in July. We arrived to a flat plain with a sea of hikers and tents dotting the eye. Facilities had been erected for the summer season. A wooden slatted path indicated the way and hikers from far flung corners of the world began a 400m steady ascent. A few of us hauled our life on our backs further, leaving day packers behind. I struck a chord with breath to embrace an elevated step. My stick, my trusted friend.
Voluminous patterns of snow filled my head contrasting with the black arctic deserts. Rising sulphur vapours, ice meadows and glistening colour rich rhyolite mountains; gulleys and gorges, surging streams and caves of ice – I was off grid and off planet. Walking on the moon, I had no words. The iciness of the coming night brought the comfort of Hrafntinnusker, a hut on the top that held fifty two people in two rooms and a loft space. I was one of these and trailing behind I was allotted a corner under the eaves. Snug. That night I shared with happy young people on a US holiday camp. We let the howling windy night bring rest cradled in our bunks.
By morning conditions had detioriated and visibility was nil. With GPS, four of us set out together following our feet. A surgeon from Montreal and his girl, and a Polish biologist. Handy. We moved through a mysterious white blanket to lower altitudes. It rained that day a lot, but I had the gear – waterproof trousers and balaclava. Rough fields of solid lava stretched for kilometres covered with green moss and snow patches. A slow descent gave way to green and grey tufts. Steam rose and distant snow peaks sparkled. Wonderland and heightened camadarie was the go. My fellow hikers were booked into the first hut we came across, Alvatan, mine was another hour on – Emstrur. I found a bed in a quiet room with 8 others for a good kip. Stories were recounted with Dutch and Americans on ways, challenges and the path ahead. I could look forward to a deep river crossing. A tall Dutch girl described thigh height rapids. I braced myself. That day we loosened our packs for several crossings. I performed the ritual of unbuckling packs, tying boots on, walking with water socks and linking arms with others.
In silent respect I skirted Katla, the most dangerous volcano located in the Mýrdalsjökull glacier. Rough volcanic ranges, every step a mystery of what was to come in a geothermal oasis. I walked twenty eight kilometres that day with a refreshing hut stop. I used all my wits to cross the deep rapid with my stick for a companion. If it were only that simple. Processing on and off fifty years of living as I walked the Icelandic wilderness alone. Trees started to appear as we walked below the line. To Þórsmörk, a green and fertile valley. I slept in my tent that night, lit the gas stove and ate rice. I waited to see if the weather would allow the last stretch, Fimmvörðuháls, to Skogar across the Eyjafjallajökull volcano. The overwhelming advice was not to do the somewhat treacherous climb alone. I listened. A few went on. I will be back.
The moon bus came in like a boat across a precarious river crossing to collect hikers sprinkled at various locations through the highlands. We were transported to reality and technology conundrums. I found those ubiquitous hot and cold tubs and bumped into fellow hikers with whom a quiet knowing was exchanged. Being alone in the wild went deep.
I walked through fire and ice and I haven’t stopped. I stepped out of my comfortable discomforts. I rose and am being rewarded with a changing perspective, improving my strength and resilience. I came to Iceland because I wanted to feel safe and courageous and I have got what I was looking for. Mine is a blue rucksack cover with a story to tell.