January 2014 arrived with 2013’s slightly nerve-wracking holiday season in the rear view mirror and an amorphous new year loomed ahead – a veritable tabula rasa of potential and aspirations, untapped dreams and a crap load of cluelessness. The company I work for was bought by another firm just after Thanksgiving 2013, so the powers that be were still sorting out the merger’s finer details and implications, and the government was doing its usual ramp up after its traditional holiday slow down, so I had a little time on my hands. The moment was ripe for my imagination, already sparking up with ponderings about where and what would be my next big adventure. After two very enjoyable and rewarding domestic trips last year – white water rafting in West Virginia, and attending Nunway 5 and a gay wedding in San Francisco – I definitely had a hankering for a more exotic journey (if one can imagine something more exotic than a wedding attended by drag queens…I leave that for meditation and deliberation in another forum).
But what sounded good for this humble and indecisive traveler? Europe? That’s always an option given how much of it I haven’t explored and experienced, but I wasn’t feeling the lightning bolt of inspiration or insatiable craving for it (even after regretfully passing on – because of work commitments – not one but two opportunities for visiting Italy last year, and a Spring river tour of Vienna, Prague and Budapest). Australia and/or New Zealand? A THOUSAND TIMES YES, but a trip of that magnitude is a minimum investment of two weeks and a price tag that’s a just outside my allotted travel budget. The Caribbean? Ah…now that sounded really good, especially when the closest I’ve been there since the Caymans in March 1997 was a South Beach/Miami visit a few years ago (which is notoriously symbolized and summed up by my receiving the mother of all sunburns). I mused about how badly I wanted an island vacation – warm sun, generous amounts of rum and scantily-clad people…that idea had an undeniable appeal. Although you’d think I would’ve learned my lesson about clothing-optional beaches and resorts after some of the people I saw – or rather, parts of them that I saw – on South Beach (HINT – don’t believe your porn movies, kids!).
Then the great Paul Cathcart, master and commander of his Never Travel Solo group, posted the magic question on Facebook – did anyone have any ideas for trips in the coming year? Immediately, I mentally ran down my checklist of dream vacation locales, a list that gets longer the more I read or hear about new and amazing places on the “see before you die” checklists. However, for this time around, my only decisive qualification for locales was “must be outside of the United States.” As I was drafting a few ideas (including the Caribbean) in my comment response, something strange came over me – dubious if it was the Force, impulsive inspiration, the little devil on my shoulder or something toxic I ate influencing my judgment, but I nevertheless found myself typing the word…Iceland.
Hmmm…okay…Iceland. I guess that…wait – ICELAND?
As other Facebook users posted approving comments and “Likes” for this frozen wonderland of a destination, my mind quickly berated me about the logic behind such a bold and suspicious suggestion:
Hey, ‘sup? So…uh yeah…y’know, it’s cold in Iceland. As in, FREEZE YOUR ASS OFF cold, right? It’s basically the polar opposite of the Caribbean. The native dress is wool sweaters – NOT BIKINIS. It has glaciers, is a stone’s throw below the Arctic Circle, and doesn’t see daylight for months. The number of mammal species living on it can be counted on one hand. And less we overlooked the fact, the entire island is a GIANT FUCKING VOLCANO. It has geysers, and hot springs and tectonic plates (OH MY)! It’s second only to Australia, an entire subcontinent of flora and fauna that will kill you…EVEN THE FUCKING CUTE ONES. Save a few bucks and camp on top of Mount St. Helens instead, because nothing screams (figuratively and almost literally) “BEST. VACATION. EVER!” like a selfie taken while running for your life from a pyroclastic flow.
Internal monologue be damned, but the fact of the matter is everyone I know who’s visited or lived in Iceland has loved it and enthusiastically recommended taking the trip. The clincher was Paul’s draft itinerary that hit or covered just about everything a tourist should do with a week there. Plus, Reykjavik has gained a reputation as a must-see travel locale, so maybe it was worth a hop over there to see what all the fuss is about. I shared the itinerary with friends and family, and while a few were tempted (my parents heavily debated going on the trip), previous commitments and limitations clashed with the trip and its early October target dates (though works out well for me as things slow down for me in October). So by February I had written my deposit check and cleared the time off with my boss.
Get Ready ‘Cause Here I Come
The joke in my family is it rains whenever I visit them.
Since they re-located from Northern Virginia to Virginia Beach,(1) I try visiting my parents and sister as often as I can, but it always seems as if black clouds follow me…no, I mean that quite literally. We live in the Mid-Atlantic Region, and like so many places proudly boast, if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes. It’ll be “sunny skies and warm temps” in the morning, but OH MY GOD WE’RE GETTING SNOW! IT’S THE END! WE’LL BE EATING OUR OWN CHILDREN! SAVE YOURSELVES! by lunchtime. The previous winter was a brutal onslaught of snow every other week (a nearly factual statement), where accumulation predictions started as “a mere dusting” and steadily increased as time went on, finally topping off at “record-breaking” amounts as flakes started hitting the ground.(2) Spring and Summer bring about their on-and-off bouts of rain, and sometimes my Mom hoped I’d visit so there was no need for marching around and watering the plants. Work had been wildly busy this past Spring, and remained that way throughout the Summer, so I couldn’t visit nearly as much as I wanted. However, I slipped in a little extra time off over this past Fourth of July weekend, just a the day before Hurricane Arthur “ripped” its way up the East Coast. Apparently, my tenuous connection with Mother Nature was upping its ante from proclaiming merely bad weather to full-on Acts of God (though in all fairness, Arthur was much ado about nothing for a hurricane).(3) I’m thinking of applying as a Herald of Galactus for my next job – I could use the career change.
So of course, just a scant two months before my trip, the Bardarbunga volcano woke up and cleared its throat. In truth, I find this far-too-convenient convergence of my travel plans and potential natural disaster a little intimidating because 1) my visiting Australia and New Zealand someday means that’s when the great asteroid will smack into the Pacific, and 2) the 2012-end-of-Mayan-calendar-apocalypse wasn’t a hoax or an urban legend, but actually me being in a good mood that year.(4) Thankfully, the volcano played nice and the Iceland trip moved forward without a hitch.
In previous years, my trips have had minimal impact on my normal life since I wasn’t married or in a relationship (at least, nothing serious), and my only domestic snag was for a good-natured friend (and/or one who enjoys me owing them favors) checking in on my cat while I was away. This time around, the trip fell right on the six-week mark with someone new (a wonderful, beautiful woman who also, as it just so happens, enjoys reading this blog), and we even discussed the feasibility of sneaking her there in my luggage (I still argue it could’ve worked). Sadly, we didn’t have time for fine-tuning the logistics or hire a good smuggler, so it meant a week apart.
Admittedly, I can pack a bit like a girl because I like having a few options when there might be unpredictable weather while I’m traveling. In this case, the weather reports were predicting a mixed bag of conditions in Reykjavik (care of the North Atlantic’s less than cooperative self) for the coming week, plus there was the added complication of figuring out what I’d need for a glacier hike and a horse ride (insert 1980s movie montage of raiding big chain outfitters and interviewing hardcore hikers). Surprisingly, I fit in a week’s worth of clothes with extra gear and room left over while staying under the 50 pound luggage weight limit.
(1) Like many people in the Washington, DC area, I’m not a native of Northern Virginia. My Dad is a former Army officer and his last duty assignment was at the Pentagon, and the old joke is once you’re in DC, you never leave. Although my parents eventually escaped this den of power mongers politicians and lobbyists, societal remora social climbers and gold-diggers, and egocentric douchebags bigwigs, my own career path lends truth this sentiment.
(2) This being an area where just whispering the word “snow” means school closings, traffic accidents, and panicked mobs empty out grocery stores because all of the bread, eggs, milk and toilet paper in existence will surely abate the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
(3) Oddly enough, my Hawaii trip was in March 2013, but the islands didn’t get hit by back-to-back hurricanes and an earthquake until August 2014. I’m still figuring that one out. No need for a mahalo, Hawaii. You’re welcome.
(4) In a similar vein, I’m still supremely disappointed that the Year 2000 (Y2K) glitch didn’t destroy all of the computers like everyone feared (and I hoped for). I’m chalking that up as it being a technological event and not a natural one, but damn it, I was well-positioned for a great back up career as a for-hire typist.