Moonscapes, Freedom, and Back Across the Atlantic

The days that followed my Laugavegur adventure were quiet days of rest, recovery, and exploration. I spent the entire first day resting at Adrienne’s apartment in Reykjavik, going grocery shopping, and repacking. Slowly my body started to recover; the soreness began to dissipate, save for my lower left leg, which worried me.

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In the evening, I walked across town to a local, thermally heated swimming pool with outdoor hot tubs of every range of temperature. I slipped into the steaming water, sulphur steam rising into the dusky sky, and realized I was the only one who was not speaking Icelandic. Families and groups of friends came and went, chatting away in that beautiful language I tried so hard to follow – due to its very distant links to Norwegian – but to no avail. Nevertheless, it was probably the most immersive local experience I had in Iceland, in terms of culture.

The next day, for the first time in my life, I rented a car, taking off into the landscape along the same road that Greg and I had hitchhiked. Driving in Iceland was a lot like driving in Alaska or Norway: pretty straightforward when there’s only one road.

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At my first stop, Seljalandsfoss, I realized that I could no longer walk without significant pain. I couldn’t believe it. All those days feeling like my body was breaking, had it actually been breaking? I tried not to panic, and made my best efforts to make the most of the day, hobbling around halfheartedly and using my trekking pole for support.

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Beyond Seljalandsfoss, a bit of a tourist trap, were a series of smaller waterfalls with absolutely no spectators abound. One of them had a small canyon you could walk down to the waterfall’s base.

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Despite my increasing concern about my injury, I savored the freedom of having a vehicle.  Within the two tanks of gas I could afford, the world felt mine to explore. The sun shone; I stopped at every beautiful place that caught my eye, cooking up food now and then on the side of the road. Driving reminded me of growing up in Alaska and having the car made me feel somehow less alone – wherever I went, there would be warm, safe shelter, and pain-free mobility.

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Dinner break at Vik. 

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Selfie! 

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The real reason I had the car, though, was so that I could reach these otherworldly mossy landscapes by sunset, at which point they took on a surreal, silvery quality of light that utterly captivated me. I found the perfect place to set up my 4×5 camera as the sun went down.

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Darkness settled in, and I was alone in a landscape that felt like the moon, another world speeding past the windows. I drove until I reached a suitable roadside stop, and set up my sleeping bag in the back of the car. Brilliant stars studded the indigo sky. I fell asleep.

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At four o’clock the next morning, I awoke at the faintest light of dawn, my leg in increasingly worrisome pain. I drove to more moss fields that glowed with vivid greens and blues, photographing as the sky grew increasingly pink throughout the morning.

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I spent the day resting, elevating my leg, and calling my family for health advice. I would depart Iceland the next morning; I bought frozen fruit to use as an ice pack and wrapped my leg with an ace bandage. Though I needed to rest, there was one place left of the list of places that Ragnar Axelsson had given me: Dyrholaey, a group of astounding rock formations out in the sea. After initially exploring, I waited until the blue light of evening swept the land, and ventured back out with my 4×5.

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And that was it – that was Iceland, this time. The next morning would find me at the airport in a wheelchair, being shuttled across the Atlantic and into the arms of my friend Rachel, who took me straight to the emergency room in Boston. The fall semester of school began shortly afterwards, nearly half of which I would have to spend miserably on crutches. I had learned a huge life lesson about pushing my limits, but fortunately, had gotten some excellent pictures. The final project, ‘Polaris,’ is now visible here. Despite my rough learning experience, Iceland had totally blown me away with its otherworldly beauty and mystery. The more time that passes, the more I dream of one day returning.

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