Left On The Road in Iceland
I’d never hitchhiked before. I emptied my bank account so I could leave Manhattan and find raw nature–a place where the land was more alive than the people. My aunt’s 10-page letter from Iceland, with tiny sentences squashed in and around printed photographs of Icelandic horses, turf houses, and glaciers, became my beacon for adventure at 23. My landing point was the Reykjavík city hostel, where I worked for my stay. That idea disintegrated after a week, the moment I became ill. It wasn’t only New York, I was becoming sick in every city. A young hut warden from the highlands saw me in our shared 6-bunk room and strongly urged me to hitchhike. I didn’t want to. All I thought of were horror stories of murder… I just couldn’t do it, and there was nothing I wanted to return to in America either. Certainly to venture into the complete mercy of a land and its people had to be more fulfilling than shriveling up in a lifestyle I was already miserable with. Some form of death was eminent in the decision to stay or hitch around the countryside. I could feel the pressure of the pioneering heartbeat of Iceland at my back, and beating through the words of my hostel bunkmate. “Oh, Icelanders are very curious people,” she said. “They’ll want to pick you up just to talk to someone new. Don’t be surprised if they want to give you phone numbers of friends.” She laughed and thought my fear was part of an American upbringing. “Trust some people you’ve never met before!”
I lay awake the night before I hitched out of Reykjavík, picturing the events of the next day and practicing putting my thumb up and out.
Three-fourths of the way around Iceland I’d discovered that over half of the main road, The Ring Road, was made of rubble, and a car would only pass every hour or so. On one particular day in the east of Iceland, a mail woman drove me two hours to her last stop. She dropped me past a mailbox, far from any farmhouse, and next to a running river. I was one-and-a-half hours from the nearest town…in both directions. The afternoon fog had started rolling in, so I couldn’t tell if I was near the ocean or the mountains. As the fog grew thicker, it became a cloud of silence, drowning out any noise in the distance. I jogged in place to keep warm for the first two hours, and in that time I’d heard three cars pass.
The weather was unlike the late spring snowstorm, which had blanketed the expanse of lava fields straight to the horizon on the morning I landed in Keflavík. The sheer white light of Iceland’s sun had then stunned the rapid pace of my New York City brain, when my mind had seen itself as hazy and dirty. The land was pure. However, in the fog, the reverse conditions were becoming true. I stood waiting on the side of the road with bags at my feet, straining to see the rubble of a path out in front.
The billowing clouds of fog started to look like giants emerging from dusty shadows. I stood still. Would a giant or elf instantly appear, as they did to the many Icelanders I’d met? My senses still didn’t seem to be in communication with nature and the invisible world, like the country dwellers of Iceland. I kicked at the hard, cold dirt under my feet, as if I could make it feel my frustration. I should be able to wield a magnetic psychic power too, I thought. I should be able to make a car pick me up! Tears started melting my cheeks. I was more scared than ever and what was it worth? I’d hitchhiked solo around Iceland with a strong sense of faith I’d be fine, even embracing the chance that something bad could happen. Faith was the only guidance I’d had to hold onto. And it was supported by the overpowering beauty of a trusting, independent people–my drivers and friendly acquaintances. My eyes dried as my thoughts came to a halt. But oh, the landscape! Purple, black, orange, gray, tremendous, and bewitching, through which something inside me remembered that there was so much more power in the forces which cannot be seen. My senses widened as my doubt was left on the road. And there I stood, emptying doubt to the bottom of my gut. I started to see my inner landscape, that I was full, vast, and a possibility for greater creation. It was genuine bravery. Whether a car came or not, I knew I had everything I needed. I looked out as a car slowed to a stop.
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