The 238-Mile Day: Coincidence & the Kindness of Strangers

Waking up at Jökulsárlón was magical.

First off, I opened my eyes to golden sun gleaming through the fabric of the tent, warming the little space where Greg and I lay sleeping in piles of down and clothes and camera gear. All was quiet save for the distant roar of ocean surf. I unzipped the tent and stepped out into the sun, onto that patch of roadside grass we had decided to call home for the night. A few other tents, pitched under the cloak of darkness, had appeared since the night before. We broke camp; a Google Maps car drove by. To this day, I wonder if the street view of Jökulsárlón features us, bewildered and sleepy, with our belongings strewn out across that field. I haven’t checked, yet.

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Make the most of what you have, they always say. We climbed a hill to the most picturesque view we could find, broke out the stove, and cooked up a delicious pot of peanut butter oatmeal with dried figs, apricots, and walnuts. It was so good, I still remember every detail. The morning sun was warm on our skin, despite the chill of the glacial wind, and we sat in the stillness for a while, sipping coffee, as the morning’s first busloads of tourists arrived on the scene. They flooded the landscape and surrounded us with their cameras – for the older, wealthier, luxury-type traveler, we had become a tourist attraction. We laughed and headed to the road, searching for a ride.

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We had big ambitions that day: make it all the way back to Reykjavik, 238 miles away, before nighttime. It seemed unlikely, but worth a shot – at any rate, there would be a bus that afternoon that we could take if absolutely necessary. To our astonishment, we had waited less than 20 minutes when a gigantic motorhome veered off the road, pulling to a stop in front of us. We climbed aboard, warmly greeted by Carol and Lorentz, a young German couple, and their adorable young children, Vicky and Ian. The interior was spacious and comfortable, and we settled in onto the couch. Vicky and Ian were angel children, sleeping away peacefully in their car seats, clutching stuffed animals. We barreled through the landscape, chatting away and taking pictures out the window. Greg practiced his German skills; I had enough space to break out my film changing bag and reload all my film holders. The light was diffuse and beautiful outside, the landscape the most intense green.

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We took a lunch break at a tiny, abandoned settlement of wooden houses growing right into the ground, featuring one of the smallest churches in the world. A waterfall gurgled nearby; pictures of the last people who had lived there adorned the windows. Greg and I analyzed the written information in Icelandic, using our Norwegian skills to piece together bits of meaning.

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Before leaving, I couldn’t resist taking a portrait of what may just be the most adorable family of all time.

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We drove for hours, stopping just once so I could photograph the crazy green moss that grew thick over lumpy lava fields into the distant horizon. Finally, we parted ways at the gas station in Vík, as the family would be leaving the main road and staying nearby for the night. Getting a ride back to Reykjavik, however, seemed a daunting task. We waited for over an hour; the sun sank lower and lower into the sky. Taking the bus began to seem inevitable. We grew tired.

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Suddenly, an oddly familiar-looking van pulled to the side of the road. Could it be….? I pondered. No, no. That would be crazy. And yet, to our astonishment, it was true. Einar leapt out of the passenger’s door, joyous disbelief across his face. Returning from their hiking trip, the guys’ path had crossed with ours once again. The coincidence was so overwhelming, they drove us not only all the way to Reykjavik, but dropped us off right at Adrienne’s door. Her street, it turned out, was a block away from where Einar had gone to elementary school.

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And that was it. Our reunion trip was over. We celebrated by going to dinner at an amazing vegetarian restaurant in the city, where – after days upon days of freeze-dried meals and oatmeal – we feasted upon heaps of fresh vegetables and homemade juice. We took long, hot showers and slept deeply on real beds and couches and wore city clothes. The few days we had been gone seemed like forever, long enough for return to civilization to hold a renewed sense of luxury. The next morning, Greg took me out to brunch in the city, where we wrote postcards and relished our last moments of flowing Norwenglish conversation. Then he was gone, on a bus to the airport, and I was walking through Reykjavik in the rain, getting psyched for the trip ahead. The next day, I would embark into the mountains.

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