Working hard to get my fill,
everybody wants a thrill.
Payin’ anything to roll the dice,
just one more time…
“For I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment.”
– John Steinbeck
I was ready.
I had trained hard and planned carefully. I needed this. The last few months had been claustrophobic back home.I was straining at the leash, more eager than ever to get out ‘there’, out into the wild places. To be free for a while; to simplify; to test myself. I was ready.
But, like men down the generations, the siren song of the three age-old distractions snared us first: wine, women and… whale meat.
A family had kindly invited Chris (friend and expedition partner) and me to stay before we began our journey. After a barbecue of whale meat (ethically questionable, unquestionably delicious) we then experienced Iceland’s extraordinary stamina for all-night partying. We drank and danced right through the sunlit northern night into the morning and consequently felt far too rough to begin the trek.
So we delayed for a day, delayed the shock of heaving 40kg packs onto our backs, delayed pointing our noses south and hiking away from the cold, empty, wind-whipped beach that marked our start point.
When we did begin we hiked just a few hard miles and then we stopped. We were tired, our heads hurt, and our packs were alarmingly heavy and painful. We pitched the tent in the rain, and we slept.
Then in the morning we began in earnest. The plan was simple: we were trekking inland from Iceland’s north coast up into the central highlands. We would cross the Hofsjokull ice cap to gain access to the headwaters of Iceland’s longest river. There we would inflate the packrafts we were carrying and attempt to paddle down two separate rivers, eventually reaching the southern coast of Iceland, the ocean, and the the end of our expedition.
We were carrying everything we needed. There would be no villages or resupplies on our route. We carried food for 25 days. We had camping equipment, and ropes and crampons for the glacier crossing. There was a fair weight of camera equipment, batteries and solar panel chargers. And we also were carrying all the gear you need for paddling glacial whitewater rivers. The weight of the packs crushed our knees and spine and gouged our shoulders and hips. We feared that we had bitten off more than we could chew.
Despite that we began anyway, hiking up a fjord through a narrow fertile river valley, whistling 80’s riffs half-remembered from the other night.
In misguided high spirits I leapt into a river for an evening swim, and then spent the rest of the night shivering cold in our wet tent. We were rained on every day for the first two weeks as we left behind the green fields, Icelandic ponies and noisy streams of the low lands.
We climbed steeply to the head of the river valley. Up there were the highlands. Icelanders speak with trepidation, even today, about “the highlands”. Notorious in days gone by as a refuge for outlaws and highwaymen, there is no sign of human life in the highlands, and little sign of any life at all. There are no streams or birds or trees.
Today there may no longer be the brigands of days gone by, but the magnificent desolation of the highlands still holds an unmistakable aura. The endless rain seeped through our clothes. Our laden packs sapped strength and spirit. And the highlands felt a foreboding obstacle, as they have for hundreds of unchanging years.
Were we ready? We were about to find out.
Iceland Express flies daily from London Gatwick to Reykjavik and prices start from £89.00 one way including taxes. The airline also operates a twice weekly service between Stansted and Reykjavik.
In June 2010, Iceland Express introduced two international routes to its schedule. The airline now flies from London Gatwick to New York and Winninpeg, Canada, via Reykjavik.
For reservations go to www.icelandexpress.com or call 0118 321 8384