This August Kris was lucky enough to accompany a group of Mind fundraisers to Iceland, on an unforgettable trek that will stay with them forever.
It’s Sunday, 7am, and I am on my way to Heathrow airport to meet over 20 strangers travelling to Iceland to raise money for Mind. At the airport we can spot each other easily - a sea of blue Mind t-shirts greets me and we all say hello and introduce ourselves. We are all a bit nervous and shy, but over the next few hours we start to get to know each other.
Eventually we arrive in Reykjavik, where the unusual sight of a 4x4 bus awaits us to take us on to our challenge. One hour into our four hour drive to camp we turn off the road and onto a tiny track and quickly learn why we needed a special bus. Roads turn into lanes which turn into tracks that turn into lines on the gravel.
We’ve not walked a mile yet but our adventure has already begun.
We arrive at our first camp site late but this being Iceland, it is still light and we don’t really realise that it’s gone 10pm. We learn to pitch our tents and a delicious warm meal waits for us. The night is rounded off by having a dip in a natural spring at midnight. We’ve not walked a mile yet but our adventure has already begun.
On the second day we wake up to bright skies and with nerves churning. We pack away our tents, have breakfast, make our lunch packs and check for the millionth time if we have everything in our day bag. After a security briefing and pep talk from the mountain leaders we set off on our trek.
There were times I thought I wouldn’t make it but the group gave me the strength I needed.
The next 12 hours are a rollercoaster of emotions, as we test our limits trekking up the mountains. The first half of the day is mainly uphill, as we wander through stark, black landscape, past steamy springs, up towards the cabin where we’ll have lunch. I am proud, relieved, exhausted and flabbergasted when we reach the highest point and all I can see are mountains, glaciers and volcanoes in the distance – no trace of civilisation apart from a few other trekkers dotted around the landscape. I must admit, there were times I thought I wouldn’t make it but the group gave me the strength I needed. My team mates stopped and waited for me, checked in with a friendly ‘How's it going?’, kept me going with conversations, two lovely gents even carried my bag for a little while. I couldn’t have done it without them!
Later in the day we get to our camp, right next to a beautiful lake, at the foot of mountains and volcanoes, Eyjafjallajökull towers in the distance. It's breezy but we put up our tents. We made good speed today, so we’re promised a later start tomorrow. A lie in! Hurrah! Everything hurts, but we fall into our sleeping bags and nothing else matters, and we dream of tomorrow’s adventures. River crossings await!
But Iceland has different plans for us, and overnight a storm rolls in. Our adventure is about to take an unexpected turn and plans are changed to make sure we stay safe, (mostly) dry and can continue our challenge. It is here that the wisdom and knowledge of the trek leaders and ground crew springs into action. We do little walking on this day but sometimes our challenges don’t present themselves in walking miles but overcoming an unexpected situation. We safely make it to a new camp site in the evening, called Thor’s Forest, where a BBQ awaits us and we are sheltered from the weather by the trees.
Our adventure was short on paper, but it felt like a lifetime. We made lifelong friends and learned some unexpected lessons.
On our last day the sun shines bright once again and we climb high and master step descends, small ledges and wild woods. The landscape is completely different again and Iceland still takes our breath away with every turn and every step we take (and not just from trekking). At the end of the day we get a special treat, a meal to celebrate our accomplishments and a soak in the Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon. The team is ecstatic, we are so proud, exhausted, exhilarated and have gone from strangers to the best of friends. We celebrate with drinks and smoothies, before heading back to Reykjavik for the last morning, where we explore some more and start to process all we’ve learned and done.
Our adventure was short on paper, but it felt like a lifetime. We made lifelong friends and learned some unexpected lessons. As they say in Iceland: Expect the unexpected. And ‘þetta reddast’ – it will all work out.