Over the last ten days I took a hiking and camping trip in Iceland. It's a fascinating country, and earns well its nickname of "The Land of Fire and Ice."
It's my second visit; the first time I went there was in 2000, when I had only dated my (then) girlfriend, (now) wife, for a few months. I'd signed up to go that August with a group of friends for a trip mostly focused on birdwatching, and one day over dinner a few months prior I said to Carol, half jokingly, "Hey, I'm taking a trip to Iceland, you wanna come?" My expectation was that her response to being asked to go on a trip to a remote island in the North Atlantic by a guy she hadn't known long was going to be, "Um, no thanks... you have fun. Why the hell do you want to go to Iceland, of all places?"
What she said was, "When do we leave?"
That was one of many moments that convinced me this was a match made in heaven.
The trip took us along the Ring Road around the entire perimeter of the island, and we saw some great birds and generally had a wonderful time. This time, I went with a group of men associated with Mannsvolk, a German-based men's mentorship and workshop group that I first became associated with through a weekend retreat I attended in 2019. So two weeks ago I packed everything into a new trekking backpack (my old one having seen its best days about thirty years ago), and off I went to Reykjavik.
I had been lulled into a false sense of security by my first trip, during which the weather was amazingly sunny and warm. The locals we spoke to said that such a stretch of beautiful weather was pretty well unheard-of, even in midsummer, but of course it was the weather itself and not their warnings about how bad it could be that stuck in my memory. This time, though, was more typical, and we only had a couple of days of sunshine and anything like real warmth.
Most of the weather was cloudy, cold, and intermittently spitting rain. The wind varied from "breezy" to "stiff gale" to "holy fuck grab on to something heavy or you'll blow away." But there's no doubt the scenery was well worth the discomfort. You may have heard about the recent volcanic eruption of Fagradalsfjall, one of the dozens of active volcanoes in Iceland -- specifically the cinder cone eruption at Meradalir. Well, we hiked in and saw it. It's one of the most grueling hikes I've ever done, over loose, basketball-sized chunks of lava rock, but when we got there... wow.
You hear it before you see it; a low, powerful thrumming noise, like a giant heartbeat. It makes your innards vibrate. Then you can see the steam plumes over a low rise, and smell the sulfur. Then you get to the top of a the hill, and...