Disclaimer: While I completely understand that comparing my time in Iceland to a hellacious war is both in poor taste and inaccurate…I continue with my comparison anyways. If it offends you, you can refer to this post by the runner up title: What Not to Wear – Iceland Edition
Kim carried a red paisley backpack full of dates and confiscated rye crackers. She would crouch behind a lava rock the size of a small cow to stay out of the wind, place her wool gloves in her pocket and nibble on the crackers, counting how many she had left before we made it to our next mountain hut for the night. Sometimes others wanted to eat her rye crackers, not knowing this was the only food she had. She watched them like lions on a kill, devouring cookie after cookie, chocolate bar after chocolate bar, while still coming after her one and only snack, the rye crackers.
Elizabeth carried her designer backpack loaded with an iPad, a ceramic coffee mug, a water bottle, a journal, a bagged lunch, a borrowed scarf, gloves (bought in the gas station before the hike started), sunglasses and a slew of other things no one should ever plan to carry on a trekking trip. Her Canon camera dangled from her neck covered by an unwieldy plastic bag to save it from the intermittent rain/snow. Depending on the strenuousness of the climb, her thin layers were peeled off and hung from the straps of her backpack so that she looked like a pack mule that had never left the paddock before. She dreamed of when she would no longer be wearing her brand new hiking boots, comfortable on the first day but by the third, they had produced a blister on the inside of her left heel the size of a nickel. Each step a reminder that the body was a fragile thing, wishing that humans produced pearls when irritated and not skin bags full of pus and blood.
To carry something was to hump it.
Dr. Alaska carried bandages, moleskins, duct tape on her long metal hiking poles. She carried with her a knowledge of healing that would come in handy when Elizabeth’s blister popped and Kim’s feet were frozen from the snow melting in her hiking shoes.
The things they carried were largely determined by necessity.
Ann and Dan carried wine. It came in a box and didn’t need to be chilled, already cold from the wind and snow that still clung to the hill. By the third day, wine was needed. By the fifth there was no question. The hikers were willing to pay 40 dollars a bottle, or 5000 Icelandic krona, for red wine worth 5 dollars at best. But they were in the middle of nowhere, what were they suppose to do? Hot chocolate could only sustain them for so long.
Francois and Gerrymander (not his real name) carried the recipe to lamb stew, the path we followed on the trail, patience, an ear to listen, plodding steps, a truck that held the group’s luggage and a knowledge of Iceland and which ways to divert the trail. They also carried beer.
They weren’t prepared for the shifts in weather. Among the clothing they had brought were yoga pants, thin hiking trousers, a raincoat made for humid weather, a scarf – lost, a sweater bought in Cambridge, a spring coat, sport bras, wool socks and a beanie. Their river shoes were plastic flip flops and canvas tennis shoes.
The Laugavegur Trail was 55 kilometers of terrain that moved from spongy dirt hills precariously hovering over hot springs that smelled of rotten egg to snow-peaked lava fields peppered with obsidian the size of soccer balls.
After 5-7 hours of walking a day, each mountain hut was welcomed with the flourish of a seven year old to a cupcake table. The shared bunk beds were a respite, two campers sleeping head to toe, barely moving, for once their body met the mat, sleep soon followed. The huts were heated. The trekkers felt secure inside their warm wood room. They watched the snow flurry outside the window, tent campers digging into the snow banks reaching for the dirt ground below to place their tent for the night. Those in the mountain hut did not grumble. They were overjoyed. They watched the scene of the summer snow storm unfold before them like reality television, each tent camper with their own story, their own troubles. There were the men trying to get their bunsen burner to light to make their evening porridge. The couple that couldn’t get their tent to assemble in the middle of the night and secretly slept in the entrance way where the trekkers shoes were stored. Some tent campers carried whiskey, clutching it to their bosom to stay warm through the night. Others begged for a bed in the warm room.
In the morning, small white and black birds darted in and out of the giant holes left behind from the tents like astronauts visiting craters on the moon. The landscape was blanketed in white for miles, fresh, unmarred by footprints or visitors. They would carry themselves across this landscape, following wooden markers in the snow and trusting in Francois and Gilgamesh (not his real name). How had they come to be here? The white blinding and all around. Their truck of belongings barely able to make it over the hill, tires whirring and sinking back down into the snow. They were trekkers. They carried day packs and water bottles. They carried pink sandwiches and peanut butter. They would carry on.
(I know I promised more information about the trail…but I had too much fun with The Things They Carried literary homage. If you haven’t read Tim O’Brien’s masterpiece, you’re missing out. Pick it up immediately and carry it on your next adventure.)