ADVENTURESICELANDChapter 2 – Iceland by foot with a bitter taste

Two years had passed since my adventure in Canada and the sense of fulfillment had sadly vanished. At the time I had a steady job, a decent salary and everything was alright, but this was obviously not enough. Money were spent in useless things and time passed quickly without anything of value happening, except for an interesting week spent with friends walking on the 3V path around Brescia’s valleys. My story had been stalled for...
Stefano5 months ago114714 min

Two years had passed since my adventure in Canada and the sense of fulfillment had sadly vanished. At the time I had a steady job, a decent salary and everything was alright, but this was obviously not enough. Money were spent in useless things and time passed quickly without anything of value happening, except for an interesting week spent with friends walking on the 3V path around Brescia’s valleys.

My story had been stalled for too long, the trip of two years ago was my only chapter and it was time to write a new one. After negotiating four weeks of vacation with the company I worked for, I could finally plan an adventure in one of the places I’ve always wanted to visit: Iceland!
I immediately looked for information about the weather, the terrain, the paths and the people who, before me, crossed the country on foot. Among these I found the account of Alastair Humphrey, who crossed it half walking and half on board of a packraft, as well as the stories of others who made it completely on foot. The plan was doable, I just had to find the most fascinating route to follow.

 

So I decided to start from the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland’s northwestern tip: an extraordinary place of fjords, rivers and incredibly green meadows. I planned to continue southwards without following any paths until the southern coast, all in self-sufficiency. I would have managed to procure myself the water along the way, the only unknown factor was my pacing. I had to cover a distance of about 1000 km in 25 days, therefore I had to keep walking approximately 40 km a day on average.

I left at the beginning of August and reached the peninsula in a couple of days. Everything was ready and I had no choice but to get into gear. When I arrived, about twenty people came down from the ferry: the most part of them were taking a one-day trip and just some others were staying for one or more nights in the park.
I started feeling excited, the place was spectacular and my adventure had finally begun. The backpack weighed 25kg, rather heavy to carry but not impossible. I went up north along a flat rocky area; as I advanced the view in front of me opened and in the distance I saw the fjords of the opposite bank appear, a breathtaking landscape. My mood was high, the location was amazing as in my expectations and I sang while walking on this rocky plain, not caring about the weight of the backpack…

iceland crossing by foot

The following day things changed: the lowland became slope. I visited some fjords in the area and went on. There were traces marked with stacks of pebbles, legacy of the shepherds who used to live in the area, and I followed them. The ground was still rocky and the path was a succession of fjords, slopes uphill and downhill, rivers, then slopes and rivers again. The differences in height ranged from 400 to 700 meters, some very steep, others snowy.

My shoulders were starting to hurt in correspondence of the straps of the backpack. The track basically didn’t exist anymore and it was very easy to get lost. Furthermore, the clear sky had been replaced by drizzle. At that point the rocky surface gave way to a kind of moss that in some places was 30cm high and gave the impression of walking on a mattress. Although it may seem enjoyable, doing it with a backpack of 25 kg on my shoulders was rather annoying.

The grim climate and the continuous rain were not helping my mood. Every morning I had to get out of the sleeping bag and wear my wet clothes. The landscape was always spectacular but melancholic and I wasn’t able to follow the roadmap even though I walked more than 10 hours a day. The uneven ground, the rivers that I needed to cross and the backpack slowed me beyond belief. In addition to that the days became more and more foggy.
One day I got completely lost in the fog. While I was having a rest, an Arctic fox came to visit me; I spoke with that fox and tried to convince it to take me to the pass that I had to reach. The fox instead stayed there and watched me as I continued walking around and getting lost again until I reached exactly the same point of the first slope. Destroyed and soaked, I placed my tent, went back into my sleeping bag and drank a whiskey…

 

The following day, after studying the map for good, I surpassed the pass immersed in the fog and, feeling particularly euphoric, I descended the valley on an awfully mossy ground, suffering some strains. When I got to the valley I began to feel pain over my ankle. After walking all day long my leg was aching quite strong, so I had to stop, set up a camp and hope for a healing night of painkillers.
The next morning I woke up with a swelling on the left side of my leg that looked like a tennis ball and the pain didn’t want to fade away. I took more painkillers and went on walking again, but both the pain and my mood were getting worse and worse. There wasn’t anybody nearby who could help me, I had no other chance than walk and hope to get better.

I started to panic: the pain was growing, the backpack was cutting my shoulders and the fact that I was falling behind my journey’s plans were the only thoughts in my mind. I wasn’t able to change frequency, I tried to distract myself but every time the pain brought me back to those negative sensations. I was dreaming of being home with my family, my nephews, my friends… I was letting go.

solo iceland crossing
Nine days had passed and that last one marked my psychological submission to that adventure. The following day I would have come to a road, to a possible escape route. It was decided, the pain had won and I would have come to a road to find a way back to Italy. I had given up, I had lost.
For a long time I blamed my leg, that played undoubtedly an important role in my decision to stop, but deep inside of my heart I knew I had not given 100%. I knew I had not tried all my best before giving up. Maybe I could have taken more painkillers and a rest for a few days before trying to go on, but I didn’t decide that way…
When I came back to Italy, after a first period of relax a dark phase began. The fact of having given up had become a boulder for my self-esteem. I began to drink more and more often, to be in a bad mood, until one night, when I was drunk, I broke my knee ligaments. That time my life changed completely…
Iceland is still an open wound to me, but after some time I can also say that it made me grow. I have learnt a lot about myself and my mind. Now that I am about to face a new adventure, I am more aware of the dangers I can run into and I know how important it is to control your own mind.
But the memory of Iceland isn’t just this pain. My Iceland is also made of the spectacular landscapes I experienced, of the cold rivers crossed wearing only my underwear, of the sauna in the middle of nowhere, of the ranger who wanted to arrest me because of a Dutchman. I keep many memories of that country and maybe one day I will write them down.
Iceland was and is still one of my dreams, one day I will come back to pay off my debt with that wonderful land…

Iceland crossing fjord

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When you spend hours paddling against the wind, or a storm surprises you in the middle of a crossing in the open sea, you do not have anyone to help you.  But when you finally find a safe haven and maybe you connect to the internet and find messages from people who are following you, I assure you that it is the best of the aid you can receive, the affection and the encouragement, are the gas that helps you to go on even when you think you can not do it anymore …

Vi sono due razze di stupidi: quelli che credono a tutto e quelli che non credono a niente.
Purtroppo io appartengo a entrambe.

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