In January of 2014, I decided that I needed a vacation. I had not taken a real one in years. I yearned for something more than a relaxing week on a warm beach. What I needed was a journey, not a destination. I was looking for a story worth telling, and an adventure that I would never forget.
What I found was everything I needed, and yet so much more than I could have ever hoped for. Iceland pushed me to my physical limits and tested my inner strength and resolve. This amazing place taught me the true meaning of being alone, and showed me that I was capable of more than I ever could have imagined. Iceland is a place I will never forget, and I have no choice but to return there as soon as I can.
Here you will find a glimpse into my Icelandic experience, and how I fell in love in the most unexpected ways. So grab some popcorn and get comfortable. Let’s relive an adventure. Together.
Disclaimer: I have learned from Icelandic locals, and other tourists, that my experience was truly unique.
I had forgotten how much I love to travel. Not for the sights, the tourist "traps" or the plane rides. I love to travel for the culture, the life lessons, and the stories.
I suppose I had better start at the beginning: why Iceland? At first, all that I knew was that I needed a vacation, and to be honest, I really didn't care where. I think that we all, at some point in our lives, fantasize about throwing a dart at a map, or spinning a globe and stopping it with our finger, and then just packing our bags and going. More or less, that is exactly what I did. Iceland. “Well, that could be fun,” I thought to myself, as my dart struck the southern part of the island. I know nothing about this country, other than the photos that I have seen (which are always incredible). A few weeks passed, and I slipped back into the normal routine.
It wasn't until a month later, when I was visiting some friends in Portland, OR, and the idea of backpacking around Europe came up. My Dart! My Adventure! The very next night I booked tickets and turned in my vacation request at work. Knowing nothing about Iceland, other than I was about to spend a couple of weeks there, I did what every traveler does… I turned to Google.
For the next few months, I planned, dwelled, second guessed myself, and then planned some more. I reached out to photographers, travel writers, authors, and locals. Basically, I contacted anyone that I could find an email address for. Wouldn’t you know it… they responded. My e-mail was chock full of lists, tips, and ideas. Before I knew it, I had more to do and see than I knew what to do with. I was officially overwhelmed. Nevertheless, I tracked all of this information and practically filled an entire notebook. The last person I contacted before my departure was Michael Levy, the author of A Photographers Guide to Iceland. He graciously mailed me a copy of his book, as well as his map, all the way from France. I finally felt like I had everything planned out just the way I wanted. Or so I thought.
From the moment I stepped off the plane, until the moment I arrived back in the US, I was treated as a guest. I wasn't herded around or talked down to in anyway. Locals were not afraid to take me by the hand and show me what made their country so magnificent. In fact, I felt like they genuinely wanted to show off their country. I never had to resort to pictionary, grunting and pointing or piecing together a 3rd language to find a common ground. Everyone I met was just as excited to show me something as I was to see it. This is what set the tone for my entire trip, and why this adventure was one that I will never forget.
What caught me off guard was the sense of being truly alone. I have never been the most outdoorsy person, which is why I think some of my co-workers, friends, and family members laughed and looked very concerned when I first told them I was going to backpack through Iceland. I had never pitched a tent, cooked anything on a camping set, or been in the position where I couldn't turn to someone else and ask for help. In Iceland, I had a crash course in wilderness survival. If I got hurt, no one would find me for days, weeks, or possibly months. The only training I had was what I saw on the Discovery Channel, or in movies. I was forced to face a few of my fears head on, including my fear of heights. I quickly realized how completely disconnected and alone I was. It was an eerie feeling, to say the least. However, it was also a feeling that I quickly began to love.
Spoiler alert: I survived Iceland.
As Linnea, a woman from Sweden, told me, "when you leave, you may no longer be physically here, but a piece of your heart will always stay..." This is proving to be a very true statement. A part of my heart, mind, and a little blood remained buried deep in that violent, ever changing, and magnificent landscape.
Check back for Part-Two next Thursday...