Sunday, August 8, 2010

Landmannalaugar --> Mývatn via Sprengisandur

Photos: (1) Aldeyjarfoss; (2-3) Goðafoss; (3) Mývatn – campsite Bjarg

It’s still raining hard when my alarm goes off at 5am. Time to get out of here. After a good breakfast, I pack up everything in the rain, and pack a small backpack to take inside the bus with me. I’m going to Mývatn and the ride is roughly 9 hours. I’ve been on this bus route before, and it’s hellish. The bus is full and I’m honored to have David sit next to me, a pleasant guy from Sweden, a biologist who’s just travelling around by bus, camping and day hiking. The weather is still horrible when we leave Landmannalaugar but will improve the further north we travel; finally when we stop at Aldeyjarfoss, I see the sun again for the first time in over a week. Even my shoes begin to dry out. In fact the weather is beautiful, which is convenient since the bus has a flat tire and we have to wait until it’s fixed. I heard it pop a while back on the road, but the driver didn’t stop right away. Now he’s crawling under the bus, and some of the passengers give him a hand. That leaves plenty of time to look at the waterfall though. Only David the biologist has his nose to the ground and is looking at plants. When we get in the bus again, he presents me with a handful of blueberries. Just a little gesture of thanks for all the snacks I’ve been feeding him the entire trip. I’m really tired of hiking food – nuts and granola bars, so I’ve been feeding him like a chipmunk all the way, and he didn’t seem to mind.

Anyway, the bus ride is long and uncomfortable, but it gives me a chance to think and reflect on everything I’ve experienced the last few days. Even though the weather was bad for the most part, it was an unforgettable hike. Not just the amazing scenery, but the solitude. I really enjoy being alone out there in the mountains, and hiking clears the cobwebs from my brain. At first I have a lot of thoughts running through my head, and then they subside and there is nothing at left at all – just the pureness of the current moment. It’s a feeling of such clarity and a source of strength. When I come out of the mountains, I always have a clear image of what I want in life for the future, and the strength to put my plans into action. Back in the big city and the routine of everyday life, this clarity slowly becomes clouded again and I gradually lose strength. I need this time alone hiking to get in touch with myself again. I admit it’s a bit lonely out there sometimes, and I would love to share the good times and bad with a willing listener. But I really need to do this alone, at least for a few days – it’s my journey, a sort of pilgrimage. I like the feeling of being completely responsible for myself, my decisions, my actions, and being in a situation with conditions (weather, health, etc.) that are unpredictable. My modern life is safe and secure, and I like the feeling of taking all that security away for a while. I also enjoy focussing on life’s basic needs – eating, sleeping, transportation. It makes me realize how little I really need to be happy and how much excess there is in my life. When I return home from a long trek, I usually have the need to get rid of things and eliminate excess baggage.

On the other hand, I often ask myself why I do it. I pay lots of money for good equipment, use up my valuable vacation time, spend days in a tent in the rain and cold and subject myself to physical exhaustion and bad food day after day. Isn’t that crazy? ...

We finally arrive in Mývatn over an hour late. I set up my tent at campsite Bjarg as usual. I’ve camped here before, and I like it here. Besides being in a real pretty spot on the lake, the staff here is so kind and helpful, regardless of what a person might need. I take advantage of that friendliness and deposit a bag of things for them to keep while I’m out hiking in the Askja region. But I’ll stay here for a few days first and relax. I’m pretty worn out, and I’m getting a cold.

The evening sunset is beautiful, and my gear is finally getting dry. It’s 15°C and it feels so good to finally be warm and not soggy.