Trekking across Iceland for mental health
Maria writes about taking on the Icelandic Lava Trek with her best friend of 21 years, Katie.
Our friendship is sealed with a strawberry lace. Katie is my best friend and its 1996. We’ve not long started secondary school. As an 11 year old, I’m blown away that someone would offer me not a just a taste, a bite or a little bit off-the-end, but a whole foot long strawberry lace. She’s kind and caring like that.
"She accepts my reality with unconditional love, support and the utmost patience."
Fast forward 10 years and I’m in crisis with debilitating OCD. Instead of a strawberry lace, she accepts my reality with unconditional love, support and the utmost patience. I have been stripped bare, yet with her my dignity remains.
Then life took her on a difficult path a few years ago and she began to struggle with her mental health. I only hope that I was there for her in the way that she was for me.
Now we’re 21 years into our friendship, and we’ve marked it by completing Mind’s Iceland Lava Trek. We knew that the challenge was going to be difficult. 58km covering volcanic rock, miles upon miles of thick snow, ice cold river crossings with steep ascents and descents that pack a punch on the knees. But we’ve supported each other through mental health problems; we can support each other through anything.
"Not only did we have each other, we had a team of 25 fellow trekkers who were there to support one another."
We soon discovered that not only did we have each other, we had a team of 25 fellow trekkers who were there to support one another through the highs and lows of Mind’s Iceland Lava Trek. After a long day of travelling we sat in our mess tent eating barbecued salmon and learning that every single person on the trek was there for a reason, and at the centre of each reason was Mind.
The more we got to know each other we learnt the individual challenges that each person would be facing on this challenge, and how for some, just getting to Iceland was a challenge in itself.
That evening spirits were high and bonds were further cemented as we bathed in natural hot springs in the light of the midnight sun.
6.30am wake up call. Hot porridge all ready for us in the tent. And we’d finally set off on our three day trek. That first day was the hardest. On our ascent we past hot springs, geysers, and rocks in colours you have never seen before. Then we reached the highest point in our trek and we were met with miles and miles of white pure snow.
"The group began to pull together, keep spirits high with jokes or in depth conversations about our experiences in life."
It was cold, and soon it began to rain, and later sleet. That’s when the magic began. When the group began to pull together, keep spirits high with jokes or in depth conversations about our experiences in life. It’s when the person at the front would turn around to make sure their companion was okay or offer a hand over a difficult piece of land. That spirit stayed with us the rest of the trek.
Leaving the snow it felt like we’d walked straight into Spring: a luscious landscape of vivid green with streams tricking down from mountains creating marshy water gardens. Violins could have been playing when the next campsite could be seen in the distance. But first a river crossing – we all stripped off our heavy boots and headed into the water; cold, yet refreshing and something many of us had never done before.
When we arrived at the campsite we were greeted with hot homemade soup and later another delicious meal to restore energy for the next day.
"Life can throw storms at us and may force us to change our intended path, but that path can lead to a beautiful place."
Iceland is famous for its changeable weather, but we were given an extreme demonstration of this on the second night. A storm and very powerful winds came out of nowhere and it presented us with challenges that we may have not first anticipated. We had to cope with even more challenging conditions (as if trekking 58km wasn’t enough) and change our route for the following days. Looking back, in a way, we all loved that storm. Yes, it was hard at the time, but it made our achievement even greater, and it spoke to us and the many reasons why we were all there on the trek.
Life can throw storms at us and may force us to change our intended path, but with the strength you can gain from the support of other people, that path can lead to a beautiful place. It was what we’d been doing for each other for three days, it was what Katie and I had been doing for 21 years, and it’s what Mind does every day for anyone with a mental health problem who needs somewhere to turn. There was a few teary eyes when we thought about that.
What I haven’t mentioned until this point, is that I work in the Community and Events fundraising team at Mind and I could not have been prouder or more privileged to give a hug and put a medal around the neck of each person that took part on the Iceland Lava Challenge. To see the smile and the tears of happiness in my fellow trekkers as they realised the enormity of what they achieved as they passed the rock that I christened our finished line, was incredible. And it goes without saying that to embrace my best friend Katie as she crossed that finish line is something I’ll never forget.
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