I didn’t realize I was in Iceland until I was nearly face down in the dirt.
It had been close to 72 hours since my plane landed. I battled music festivals, hiked waterfalls, and could navigate downtown Reykjavik without flinching. Yet, in comparison, it seemed all of that was done in a haze.
I was alarmingly unprepared for the upcoming journey.
I stared down at my feet, pushing through the black sand as if steps no longer seemed countable. Raindrops hit my left side like pellets dragged through the single-pointed wind. It was cold, very cold. The type of cold you would imagine Iceland to be had you not seen photographs of green waterfalls and steaming blue pools.
This, I thought, this is Iceland…. Damn it.
I flickered my face forward through the side-hammering rain pellets as I pushed my body against the wind. Looking forward, there was nothing more than black sand leading into a gray cloud. It was a different planet, a dream; it could not possibly be reality. A feeling of emptiness pulsed through me as I watched the same sight blast through every 360* angle I turned my body.
With the exception of my two trekking companions, there was no other sign of life. Flowers died as we walked. They wilted, slowly disappearing as though a spell had been cast on this barren, black mass of rock and dust.
Wind carried the rain in a single direction. The movement was so hard that it hammered into our shoulders. The left sides of our bodies were drenched in clear rain while the right sides picked up dust and sand from our dragging feet.
One of my equally miserable travel companions, Lisa, joked and smiled at me
“Well… you’re not in Newport Beach anymore.”
The previous 3 days in Iceland, I had somehow managed to spend no more than 30 minutes alone. The backpacking saying had proven to be true: “When you travel solo, you are never really alone.”
It began when I started binge-watching Anthony Bourdain with my seat partner on the flight from Los Angeles to Reykjavik. Then I shared an Icelandic breakfast with a new friend who happened to walk into the same café as I did after our flight from LA. It kept going when I checked into my boutique hostel and became fast friends with my bunk buddy. We then met a French and Icelandic couple at a bar by agreeing on the tragedy of American politics… followed by a dinner all together.
And it continued with my first shift as Artist Liaison at Secret Solstice music festival.
This was where I met Lisa. A tattooed aspiring stage manager with a nose ring and contrasting platinum hair pulled high in a bun. She was from Brooklyn, but looked Icelandic.
We were paired together to manage the main stage artists and became fast friends.
Somewhere along her solo travels Lisa had met Ken (our third adventure buddy through the barren, endless land). Ken was traveling through the Nordic countries filming an indie documentary about traditional recording studios along northern Europe.
Ken had invited Lisa to go search for a deserted airplane on Iceland’s south coast.
Lisa had invited me.
I was in.
So, there I was. Drenched in rain in under 40° weather, 45 minutes into a 5K walk with no land in sight. My face was numb, my legs were shaking, and I felt as if every element on the Earth was fighting my body from moving forward. The wind was pushing us backwards.
“Purgatory” Lisa yelled into the wind, “this is truly what I imagine purgatory is.”
“I feel like I am actually atoning for all of my sins.” I murmured.
“I watched a film like this once” Ken said, “this woman was walking like this forever and as she finally made it to heaven, the cameras zoomed out and all you could see was endless, deserted land.”
That sounded right.
We knew the movie Ken saw was unrelated to our situation. We knew we would soon hit a black sand beach. But when you look forward and back, to each side- seeing black rocks and clouds with no end in sight… for a second… the idea of walking forever becomes imminent reality.
Our voices were replaced by the sound of rain hitting the hoods of our jackets.
Begrudgingly, we marched on.
An hour into the mass of rocks and gray skies, my footsteps numbingly pushed forward. As the miserable conditions persisted, my mind wandered.
I traveled alone to Iceland. I created this trip all by myself. I alone dressed myself in poor rain clothing that morning. I was walking through a storm with my body as one of the only wind barriers for miles by choice. Everything I did was my decision alone, I realized. There were no obligations, no group tours, and no attachments.
I didn’t have to do anything in Iceland that I did not want to do.
If I did not want to see the plane wreckage, I didn’t have to go. If I was sick of walking in misery, I could turn around. The decision to keep pushing forward through the pounding rain and wind was entirely my choice.
I took a step forward.
And then another.
My head tilted down and I continued to walk in silence. The sound of rain pounded on my ears.
I would not turn around, I stubbornly thought. And I was proud of myself.
My feet kept moving and as I looked down I saw only my shoes and rocks. The same sight I had seen the past hour. My mind drifted and feet marched until my eyes landed on something tremendously out of place. It was neon yellow, the first and only sign of life in hundreds of steps. I looked up.
A single yellow flower
and a shattered airplane.