But Sarah, why didn't you just buy yourself a nice pair of Louboutin's or a new Marc Jacob's bag? Well, dear reader, because that would have been easy. I needed to have my very own "Self Reliance" moment, to channel my inner Ralph Waldo Emerson. I needed to be face-to-face with Mother Nature - to make myself uncomfortable - and proverbially hit my own reset button. It was time to get in touch with myself again, that beautiful human being who is far from perfect, but whom I love more than anyone else.
My family thought I was crazy. I am pretty sure that my mother thought I was going to die during one of the river crossings, and my friend Liz thought I would just cop out and end up drinking cocktails at a bar in Reykjavik the whole time instead. It was a tempting alternative, but I knew that I would be so disappointed in myself if I didn't do this. I had to. It was no longer an option.
That morning boarding the bus to the trail head was possibly one of the most anxiety riddled moments of my life. This was it. There was no turning back now.
For the next four hours between Reykjavik and Landmannalauger, my heart gradually slowed. I became entranced by the Icelandic countryside - the steam that seeps from the ground like a fire breathing dragon trapped just below the surface, the vast, seemingly endless expanse of valleys only interrupted by dramatic cliffs, glaciers, and ancient volcanoes.
Iceland is just as alive as you and I - a breathing, changing creature that seemed to take on a new emotion every time the landscape changed. My fear gave way to admiration and awe. I was lucky enough to get to spend the next four days falling in love with this wild, untamed, and unpredictable wilderness.
I was so grateful to be from Colorado the first day. Training at altitude had certainly made a difference on the steep inclines. Every time you reached what you thought was the top of the climb, there was another face stretched out in front of you ascending even higher.
Once you clear the rhyolite streaked mountains of Landmannalauger, you are greeted by the largest snowfield you will ever have to cross - and did I mention this is July? I climbed for what felt like forever, my 40 lb backpack digging into my shoulder. My pack probably could have been 7 lbs lighter, but I love food and subconsciously decided to pack enough for two people.
Towards the top of the final ridge, you pass a memorial to a young Isreali man who died a few years ago on the trail after being caught in a sudden blizzard (also in July). A sobering reminder that the Laugavegur is not something to be trifled with. Wardens have been known to keep people from hiking if they see you wearing jeans or cotton clothing. The weather can change without warning, slashing temperatures well into freezing territory along with strong wind and moisture.
The hut was the smallest during the entire trek, and sleeping arrangements were less than ideal. I was given a three inch thick mat and set up my pallet on the floor in a room with close to 30 people. Tired people means lots of snoring and Iceland never really gets dark in July so if you decide to do the Laugavegur, an eye mask and ear plugs are absolute necessities.
There is another steep climb that leads you out of the valley and along another ridgeline that runs parallel to a stream fed by hot springs and runoff. Again, the colors are just unreal - the orange of the sulfer springs and the neon green moss seem like something from another planet.
If you can see that lake below, the next hut is situated right along its shore. The distance seemed so much closer than it actually was, and after we said our goodbyes, I began the steep descent downwards.
I have never had my knees ache, but this was close to a mile of nothing but straight down, and they were killing me. The hikers passing me going the other direction looked miserable and often asked how much further they had to the top. A couple of German hikers - in better spirits than some of the others - even jokingly asked me if the escalator was working today.
After my lunch of summer sausage, Laughing Cow cheese, crackers, and fruit leather, I decided to take a stroll around the lake.
Stay tuned for the second half of the hike later this week!