If you’ve even been struck with the sudden desire to walk across a virtually uninhabited country like Iceland on your own, you’ll probably know that it is one of the hardest things to plan for. Not many people have done it. Even fewer have shared their experiences on the world wide web. Generally when venturing into a new place with nothing but a tent, a bit of food, and my own stubborn determination, I like to have a clear idea of where I’m going, how I’m going to get there, and what I can expect along the way. If I don’t have that I at least like to have the odd person who hopefully speaks my language, or at the very least has a good understanding of flailing arm charades, and who is able to tell me where I am and where I need to go.
Venturing into Iceland I will have maps. Probably not even very accurate ones. There will also be no people.
The interior of Iceland, even during the ‘busy’ tourist season, is essentially devoid of people and roads. There’s the occasional two-track or F-road and if you hit an unfordable river there’s a good chance that somewhere, at least, there is a bridge you can use to cross it. But in terms of human presence there’s not much else, and that’s what’s so glorious about it. The diversity and barrenness of much of the landscape means that distance is hard to gauge. Topography maps aren’t particularly useful when the land is flat, volcanic rock as far as the eye can see. It’s disorienting to be walking past the same mountain for hours on end, never feeling like you’re getting anywhere. I really have no idea what to expect on this journey. I will be investing a great deal of faith in my compass, my (as yet unowned) GPS, and my own intuition. It will be an exercise in trust. Trust in myself, trust in my capabilities.
That being said, I’m thinking that it’s going to go fairly well. The main advantage of choosing a country like Iceland happens to coincide directly with the most basic of human needs: water. The abundance of streams and glacial run-offs means that I will probably be getting fairly wet fairly often, but it also means that I’ll almost never be more than a few hours walk from a good water source. A good portion of the landscape is essentially devoid of viable life, and even if it weren’t I’m not familiar enough with the flora of Iceland to trust myself to ‘live off the land’. If I run low on food than I’m low on food until I hit the next store where I can resupply. Running low on food, though, is like a walk in the park compared to what happens when you run low on water. I will take a three week over a three day grace period any day, thank you very much. As long as I stay away from the lava deserts (real thing) than I should be grand.
Another major safety advantage of choosing Iceland is that the most dangerous animal I will probably come in contact with is an arctic tern. Damn birds are known for dive-bombing people, but they don’t exactly make me terribly concerned for my safety. Somehow the idea of stumbling across a little arctic fox just isn’t as intimidating as the thought of waking up with a full-grown bear outside your tent. Shocking, I know. There aren’t even mosquitoes to bite you. I’ve been told midge flies can be a nuisance, but they’re dealt with pretty effectively with a head net. If something does happen it will be due to my own stupidity, not the wildlife.