Þórsmörk: Into Light and Shelter

I rolled over in my bunk at Emstrur. Every inch of my body ached. I brushed against my rain jacket, hanging from the ceiling to dry; a shower of volcanic ash rained down onto the floor.

One last day of pushing myself.

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Such indescribable fatigue had hit by day five, I operated automatically and with significant emotional detachment. I ate breakfast, packed my bags, and slowly and arduously donned my backpack for one final stretch of hiking. It was still raining when I left the Emstrur hut, but the wind had miraculously lessened.

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The majority of the day was either flat or downhill, with beautifully rich, black hills seeped in vibrant green, nearly neon. My pace, perhaps due to the aforementioned robot-like mentality, was heightened, and I made significant progress, lumbering downwards and across the vastness.

And then, something amazing happened: the sun came out, and stayed.

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So it was that my last day of the Laugavegur trail was miraculously bathed in calm autumn air and warm sunlight. Another solo hiker, Sebastian from France, tagged along throughout the day despite my taciturn mood, chatting away nonstop and increasing the lighthearted feel of the day.

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The one and only photo of me from the trail!

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As we neared Þórsmörk, the trail descended into a warm, lush forest. Trees seemed foreign and strange again; the air was suddenly humid and nearly hot. And then, suddenly, it was over. I put down my pack, for real. I took a hot, free shower. Even the simplest movements felt slow and painful, like my limbs were made of lead. My hands shook as I set water to boil and cooked up a giant bowl of pasta. Something was wrong, but I had nowhere to go; I repeatedly called Adrienne in Reykjavik until she picked up. Don’t worry, she said. I’ll find someone you can couchsurf with. I thanked the heavens for the wonders of friends and kind people, and boarded the bus.

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Þórsmörk was astoundingly beautiful as we drove out in the afternoon light. Hanging glaciers dripped down into the valley from misty green mountains; rainbows danced above the glacial rivers. I was overcome with the most intense relief knowing that a bed awaited me that evening. The fact that I felt desperate to escape the mountains worried me; the complete reverse of that situation was generally the norm. Despite this, I marveled at the immense, otherworldly, and astoundingly diverse beauty of the landscape I had traversed. One day, I thought, I would return – with a group of friends, more time, and less gear. Paradise.

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Halfway through my journey back to Reykjavik, I received a text from Adrienne. Despite having her mom visiting, they had decided – based on the concern in my voice on the phone – to invite me to stay with them. In fact, they insisted. When I arrived, feeling half-dead, at Adrienne’s door, I was warmly welcomed into a safe, wonderful space that I already knew; my home base in Reykjavik. It was, perhaps, the best feeling I know of. What’s more, they surprised me by taking me out to dinner at one of the best seafood restaurants in town, and giving me unlimited time and space to rest and recharge. I could not have asked for a warmer, more healing return from the mountains.

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