Summit Hike & Þor’s Revenge

Back in Reykjavik and the month of traveling, despite all my precautions, has caught up with me. I am battling a no-holds-barred cold. The kind that first grips your throat with that teasing, mocking sour taste and slightly annonying, but not unbearable roughness. You know beyond a doubt something unavoidable is about to happen and all you can do is slam on the brakes, praying to avoid the inevitable.

It all started with one of the more amazing days of my life. At the Bölti Guesthouse inside Skaftafell National Park, while exclaiming in utter joy and amazement over an unbelievable sunset, I formed the infancy of a new friendship with Kai, an intellectual with a deft sense of humor and inate ability to spur even the most reclusive of individuals into soul-bearing conversation. Native of Germany, currently transplanted in London, and planning to tackle the same hike I was the next day. So we hatched a plan to tackle the summit of Kristínartindar together.

The next day, a leisurely hike up into the highlands overlooking glaciers, mountains upon mountains, glacial lagoons engorged with rather dirty icebergs (I cannot believe how soiled the glaciers of Vatnajökull are with silt and debris, so soiled in fact, they look like black lava fields at first glance). All of this framed by the ever-shifting clouds of the mountains. Never trust the weather in Skaftafell – it changes on a dime.

We took a gazillion photos in exuberance at the physical activity and being out, talked almost the entire way up in the way one does when meeting a possibly kindred soul with the same wanderlust for travel. Bantered wit over Kai’s unfortunate demise of his hiking boots. May I just take a moment to salute the endurance and bravery of his athletic shoes that held up for a summit hike that the boots – taped in multiple bands of blue electrician’s tape, Adidas style – witnessed with deepest despair and shame. Savored the sweet clean air and pondered the multiple ribbons of color in the mountains.

The summit itself was a steep, rocky endeavor. My knees of course protested with frequent gasps of pain. I occassionally stopped to take account of their true pain and assess whether to continue. Let’s just say I cut it close and an icepack was definately needed later, but I would not have missed this hike for anything less than a level 10 pain (on my doctor’s scale – 10 is unbearable, I-can’t-help-my-screams pain.) And it was truly steep and at times slippery. I assure my mother and mother-in-law that I came down in one piece, as at least 15 other hikers did that day, with no more equipment than their packs and hiking boots (in Kai’s case, humble sneakers). One wrong step and you really could fall down the mountain. But the effort and pain was so worth it.

The moment. Standing (okay, sitting) on the summit. It still seems a dream, especially when I gaze back at my life only three years ago, when I was struggling to get out of bed and move my muscles, slowly easing back into work and rediscovering how to do the most basic chores of life all over again. In a way, this summit hike was a celebration of my human spirit. I know full well how lucky I am that I stood there, glaciers on all sides, above the clouds, feeling on top of the world. This is my own personal Everest. My way of saying, fibromyalgia, you may be a part of my life, but you DO NOT DEFINE ME!

(Of course, fibromyalgia got me back later with the sore leg muscles I am currently nursing and the aforementioned knee pain. No one ever said this defiance would be free.)

Coming back down the mountain, we spotted a dark line of clouds approaching in the distance, heavy with rain, and so began the hiking sprint back to the Bölti Guesthouse and our warm bunks. We hiked as fast as we could, aware suddenly of just how fast weather switches on the mountain. Somehow luck was with us – a soft misty rain was all we endured, but by this point we were tired. Spent. And Þor (Thor), Norse god, would demand a heavy price for our victory over his mountain. By the time we reached Bölti, I had the beginnings of the sore throat. Yesterday a running nose that flared into a serious cold by evening. The persistent rain didn’t help.

And so today, while slightly better but well aware that I am flying to the Faroe Islands tomorrow and an ugly cold is the last thing I want, I popped into the apótek (pharmacy) for a remedy. Stocked up on Kleenex and discovered an entire shelf of cough drops made with Icelandic moss. May I just say, this moss is pure magic. I have used two in 5 hours and my sore throat is gone, the head fuzziness fast retreating and my nose breathing again, if drippy. Outside, still wet. But I am well on the road to recovery.

On a happier note, my latest culinary obsession is hverabrauð, a type of dark rye bread made in the Mývatn region in underground ovens. I first discovered this bread in the grocery store when stocking up for my stay at the lake and have savored a piece literally every day now for a week. This is a sweet rye bread that the locals bake literally in the ground. The geothermal area around Mývatn is still super hot from the last of Krafla’s activity back in the 1980s, with steam still pouring out of the ground and off the rocks. Locals have dug ovens into the earth and will place their bread underground to bake for about 24 hours. The result is a super moist and sweet bread that is both healthy and fantastic with jam. I am in love.

Tomorrow I fly to the Faroe Islands for a week. Time to turn in to bed early and take another Icelandic moss throat lozenge. Góda nótt.

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About chronictraveler

Chronic Traveler starts as a dream, one that I thought I had lost, but that has slowly changed into a mission to realize and live that dream every day. In December 2007 I became seriously ill and the doctors did not know what was causing my illness. I had to stop teaching as my life tumbled into a never-ending nightmare of doctors, hospitals and tests. Finally, in May 2008 I was diagnosed with a chronic condition - fibromyalgia. I was only 26 years old at the time. I have had to give up teaching, and now work part-time at a performing arts center as I learn how to manage my condition and improve my quality of life. What helped me through the months of uncertainty and sickness, and continues to inspire me, was a new focus on what truly mattered to me: family, friends, gardening, the arts, and especially travel. I have always fed my soul by traveling, ever since I first stepped off the plane at age 16 in Kathmandu, Nepal to help with an orphanage's building project. Meeting new people and experiencing how they live and how they view the world infuses my life with a richness I was so afraid I would lose when the doctor first said, "You have fibromyalgia". This blog is my story, as I begin to forge a new path. I am embracing my life as it is, with the fibromyalgia pain and fatigue, and learning to do what I love regardless. It may mean I have to go slower and take more naps or breaks! But I am determined to learn how to travel and experience the world, and hopefully what I learn will help others like me who believe their medical condition stands in the way of their travel dreams.
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