ENDS AND BEGINNINGS (pt. 1) It happened suddenly. A looming realization that the designs I’ve imagined for my life rest on blurred lines and intoxicated dreams. Disappointment. Heartbreak. On a cold, wet grass, surrounded by hills wrinkled with the cruel Icelandic weather, I put my clunky backpack on. There is no going back now. I forget the pain in my feet, I forget the weight on my shoulders. I forget everything as I put another depleting mile after mile behind me. My eyes set ahead, on the horizon of the desolate, ever-changing landscape. The oblique sunlight flirts with the endless meadow, giving it hopes of warmth, giving me hope of clarity.
I find that clarity, a few days later, somewhere in the valley of Landmannalaugar. The rain hasn’t stopped for hours. We sheltered in the deceptively sturdy confines of my tent. I made it. We both made it. Still fully clothed, a thick sleeping bag wrapped around me, I pour a small cup of thin hot-chocolate. The steam leaps out and curves around my fingers. We sit there in silence, listening to the storm lashing through the plateau. Focused, I slowly trail the tattered map with my index finger. I think of lonely roads and pristine glacial lakes. The smell of fresh air, the touch of the morning sun on my bruised skin. The feeling of dewy grass on my bare, blistered feet.
The rain leaves us as the night creeps in. I can’t tell how long it’s been. Time feels irrelevant in the cozy interiors of the tent. In the early morning, I pack my things swiftly, heedlessly – I’ve become very proficient at this everyday-task by now. My face curves into an honest, untainted smile as I lift my crummy backpack off the ground. A smile that unties a knot and holds a promise of possibilities. I decide as we walk away, to live for such moments – for silent conversations and unbridled smiles. To live for beginnings. To carry the weight of my choices with my head held high and my eyes wide open, focused, keen and curious – to never look back.
A friend who’s getting engaged, a friend who’s getting married, a friend who’s having a baby, a friend who just got a promotion. And me, trying to fit in. Trembling with fear. Always building castles in the sky. Acutely, annihilating my dreams.
You should think about your future, a muffled voice whispers relentlessly in my head. I listen – patient, incredulous. You don’t have to quit now. Wait for another few months and do what you feel like then, it preaches. But I don’t want to wait. I can’t. And I can’t fathom this limbic aversion we have towards quitting. We treat it like a crime. They say it’s an escape from responsibility. My patience begins to evaporate, my pacing becomes urgent. I want to make everyone see beyond big titles, company names and salary figures.
The London night eases into the quiet street outside my small, rented apartment. I feel an absolute disconnect with everything. It’s time – I know it. The dread of going back to work. The inviting ebb-and-flow of life on the road: of cramped dorm beds and extended bus rides, of dirt on my shoes and salt in my hair. I’m taken. Completely. Inescapably.
CATHARSIS (pt. 2)
Maybe I was being naive – naive to think that it’s as easily done as it’s said because that’s usually not the case. Or maybe I was grasping at straws – I needed some kind of revolution in my life that was beginning to feel static. I ached for something to make me feel alive, and I was desperate to find something to live for. So I took some time off from work and booked a flight to Iceland. I went looking.
“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The last time I felt this way was in my 12th grade. I was counting the days till the end of the senior year not because I was dying to go to a university, but because I couldn’t wait to leave this town, this country. I wished for nothing more than I did then but to be as far away as possible from everything I became so familiar with over the years. I wished for nothing more but to get a hold of my life, to make my own choices and face the repercussions on my terms.
And this time too, abruptly, although foreseeably – can’t tell when exactly – I was overcome by exhaustion, by my own failures, by anger at everyone who was living my dreams, by resentment of anyone who told me to suck it up. I fell apart. I fell short. I was humbled by the realization that other people my age had it all figured out while I was still working at the bar pouring pints and making sad lattes – the mystery of my existence?!
We touch down in Reykjavik at 11 pm, under the cover of the night. The next day we get up early to catch the first light. Outside the air is thin, cold and crisp and the sun has only just begun to rise. I walk in and out of the sunlight in between the dull-colored sea of tents. We leave the campsite quietly, unnoticed.
It’s almost like reading a book or watching a film you know nothing about. Sometimes you’d rather jump right into it before you even see the synopsis and, ultimately, decide to put it away. Perhaps that’s how I ended up here in Iceland, a strange destination, an unfamiliar territory I know very little about. I come unarmed but I’m ready to battle. And battle I do: with my backpack, with the tent, with the weather, with hunger, with the pain in my feet and my shoulders. I’m at war and it feels like I’m losing.
It’s fascinating – to mobilize the body in an extreme situation to an effort I’ve never suspected. Where is the limit of my possibilities? When will the moment come when I’m lacking the strength to go up or to go down? I’m convinced that only in an extreme situation can one get to know the truth about oneself, touch something extraordinary – a power dormant in every human being. However, for that to happen, when you’re at the bottom of the rift between you and your dreams, you’ve got to believe in this power.
I’m exhausted. But I’m happy. Maybe happiness is a journey, not a destination.
THE COMFORT OF DISCOMFORT (pt. 3)
The road snakes its way over massive glaciers and patterned fields. We walk for many hours. Hekla volcano reigns beside us. For the first time in about two weeks, we are going to sleep under a solid roof. There is no hot water, no electricity, not a sign of a living soul – just a flock of white, fluffy sheep grazing lazily. But it doesn’t matter – at least there is a huge, comfortable bed! Exhausted, I can’t fathom doing the camping-thing again.
In a small bucket, I finally get to wash my greasy hair and dirty clothes. As the sun descends into the night, candlelight illuminates the rustic interior of the desolate, wooden cabin. I take a long look at my filthy boots covered in mud and bits of green moss; my bulky backpack, tearing at the seams, slumped at the door – I don’t want to put this on-again, I whine even though I know I don’t have a choice. I moan even though, in all honesty, I’d probably get bored if we stayed here another day.
Sometimes I wonder why instead of getting pampered in an elegant spa and participating in conventional social activities, I prefer to ramble, getting cold and dirty, endure discomfort. I think it’s just my highway to happiness. Only extreme fatigue, overcoming my own weaknesses, fear and nature give me joy and satisfaction. Currently, we can go through life without experiencing prostration. If I’m tired at work, I take a coffee break. If I’m tired of walking, I take a bus. If I’m done, I quit. Easy. Out here, you can grind to the limits of endurance; there are no advance-to-go or skip-a-turn cards to play. In the wilderness, your choices are limited; you work with what you have. Ironically, it’s quite liberating.
In those two weeks of rumbling through Iceland, I came to realize how little I needed to be happy and how to appreciate all of the things in life that we – most of us – otherwise take for granted: a hot shower, a warm bed, dry clothes, good food, electricity. I figured I couldn’t move forward until I got rid of my excess baggage: not only my possessions but also my privileges, my ego, and my unrealistic expectations.
How long has it been? How long since I’ve left the comforts of my life? It’s hard to tell.
This deceptively large and insanely beautiful island’s begun a new chapter in my life that’s more about experiences and having stories to tell rather than stuff to show. I’ve become determined to make every minute worthwhile and not waiting for the weekend, for a holiday, for when I am older, for when I retire, for when I finally win a lottery.
When I quit my job, my boss didn’t seem surprised. Maybe he saw it before I did. Maybe he didn’t really care. And to be honest, I didn’t care either.
It wasn’t long before I moved out of my flat and shut the door behind me for the last time. Eight years worth of memories condensed within that small, two-bedroom box. Soon, someone else was going to call it home, as I did once. Maybe someone already does. Maybe there is a place for me too. Maybe I belong nowhere.
DAYS’S ONE TRAUMAS (pt. 4)
With my left cheek pressed against the cold glass, I watch the landscape alongside the narrow but empty road in a blur as we drive by. I’m sleepy but I force myself to stay awake and, not to miss a thing, keep my eyes open. A couple of hours later, we arrive in Skógar, a small Icelandic village with a population of roughly 25 located at the south of the Eyjafjallajökull glacier.
Along with a handful of other passengers, we get off the bus at the foot of a 200-foot high, majestic Skógafoss waterfall. Before the hike, sat on the damp grass, we empty our heavy backpacks we stuffed sloppily in a hurry earlier this morning, and, on a cheap, portable stove, we prepare quick oatmeal for breakfast.
We make our first ascent up to the edge of the cliff where the river ends its course before it bends downwards vertically and turns into the waterfall. It’s when we get a glimpse of the trail ahead of us – an indistinct path lined with short, color-coded poles, every 65 feet or so, sticking out of the ground like wonky nails in a wood board. I sigh of exhaustion, and it’s not even noon yet. I realize, soon enough to turn around and put myself out of this misery, that I’m completely out of shape, and so is my enormous backpack – way too large and heavy. Instead, we push forward, slowly but steadily. I’m not oblivious to the beauty of the landscape, but I’m too worried that if I stop to take pictures, I’ll lose my pace, unable to take another step.
We walk like this, alongside Skógá river, for hours, taking short, seldom breaks – not long enough to give my sore body a break or to re-evaluate our flawed, 100-mile long itinerary.
“This isn’t going to work,” I come to a sudden stop, my face dripping with sweat.
“What do you want to do?” my partner asks though it sounds as if he’s letting me decide, and should I give up here and now, he’d be okay with that.
I make little adjustments to my backpack, pulling and tightening all sorts of straps. I decide, finally, to ditch one of my cooking pots and leave it on the side by one of those pegs marking the trail – maybe someone makes use of it. It doesn’t make my backpack much lighter, but I trick myself into thinking that it does.
“Okay, that’s it. Can’t walk anymore,” I drop everything on the ground and stretch my shoulders in every possible way. “Let’s camp here?” I suggest though I’ve already made up my mind and started to take the tent out. We aren’t far enough from the trail not to be seen, but it’s flat and close to the river from which we can easily fetch the water for cooking.
I’ve no reception on my cell phone and, to be honest, no desire to talk to anyone or browse the web. I toss my boots aside and walk up to the river. I dip my feet in not expecting how cold the water is. Back at our makeshift campsite, I crawl my aching body inside the tent, into the sleeping bag and fall asleep before the sun descends into the night.
I am a nomadic amateur photographer and writer. I was born in 1986 in Katowice, Poland. At the age of 19, I moved to London where I studied Magazine Journalism at the College of Media and Publishing as well as Digital Photography and Creative Writing. In 2011, I found DEFUZE magazine. Before that, I used to work in a pub. I left the comforts of my life back in 2016. Currently, I am living out of a backpack and traveling the world. Website: www.lovagabondo.com (under construction) Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook: @lovagabondo