My Icelandish Exit

Dearest Ernie and Hadley,

It’s August 26th, and by now you likely realize I won’t be back for some time. A year, in fact, give or take, depending on covid, funding, some time to think about why I’m being held in a Turkish prison, or maybe my unexpected demise at the hands of a herd of water buffalo. It wasn’t exactly a quick exit, and you clearly knew something was up, what with Jason and Rachel slowly turning what was your hardwood floored home into a carpeted castle for Grayson the Bunny.

Speaking of whom, please don’t eat Grayson. Thank you.

I was worried about leaving you both in the care of other human tenants, strangers until a month ago. Ernie more, if I’m being honest, as you, Hadley, have always been aloof in that way elitist dog people speak of cats. Oftentimes, I felt as if our home was merely a diner, and you a regular customer who was sometimes sociable, sometimes not. But my fears were allayed (and I was more than slightly insulted) when I visited four days into their tenancy and you, Ernie, greeted me without excitement, nor even disdain, but as if I were a faceless mass of human DNA for which you had no particular attachment. A dick move, if I may speak bluntly, but at least I knew you would be just fine.

This adventure was months in the making, the result of pandemic quarantines, no work, some work, freelance work, and on the heels of grandpa’s (dad’s) passing, lots of time to question the meaning and point of life. It isn’t a paycheck for marketing overpriced tee shirts, that much I’ve learned. Beyond that, I’m still working it out.

In that time, I figured, I’m still relatively healthy, no longer young but young enough, and traveling the world is something I’ve wanted to do since I was twelve, sitting at dinner with grandma and looking at the moon and saying, “if we’ve walked on that, the least I can do is see our own planet.” So why wait? Why not now?

I couldn’t think of a reason. Nor could anyone else I mentioned the idea to – every person I mentioned my plans to responded with positivity and support – and that caught me unprepared.

To be honest, my father could maybe possibly sometimes be considered a negative guy to those who really knew him. His first response to an idea like this would be something along the lines of “What the hell is wrong with you? Grow up.” But the fact is, he was the perfect person to bounce ideas like this off of, since he’d at least give me pause, make me think, and if not cancel plans entirely, at least modify them in ways that made more sense, in ways that made my ideas seem more reasonable, in ways that made me think, sure, I have some genuinely stupid ideas now and then, but all in all, I’m moderately okay.

And eventually, when he knew his cause was lost, he would come around, transitioning into help mode. What to do, what not to do, who to trust, who not to, always ending our separations with “keep your nose clean,” which, at least figuratively, meant “don’t act like an idiot.” And then he’d slip some cash into my hand.

The truth is, with grandpa gone, having no one ask me what the hell I was thinking was surprisingly disconcerting.

But here I am, aboard the MS Norrona, fifteen hours into a nineteen hour ferry trip to the Faroe Islands, where I will stake my claim as the first American ever, in a two-man race, a race between myself and my famous author friend Jeff Hull (Broken Field, Pale Morning Done and more – look for my name in his wonderful novels. I appear, lovingly, as “Pud”) to set foot upon its soil. More than set foot, I will roll naked atop it, doing ungodly things, things of which my father would wholeheartedly disapprove, soiling its very soil forever, soiling it in a way that will become lore, passed down to future generations of Faroese children, soiling to the point that Jeff might be wise to decide to never visit these storied islands.

So, Iceland. Iceland was stunningly gorgeous, if not absurdly expensive (even for the locals), with town and road names that sound like they’re from the mind of Jim Henson. It will be disappointing to many to learn I spent only one evening in Reykjavik, choosing instead to put just shy of 1700 kilometers on a brand new rental car that in four short days aged fifteen years, as I took that poor thing from bouldery moonscapes to rocky roaded mountaintops. But then, that’s what they get for the cost of a rental.

While most places I visited are on the traditional tourist list, within four hours of my arrival I did witness a live, erupting volcano in the Reykjanes peninsula (Fagradalsfjall volcano). It was a long hike with a once-in-a-lifetime payoff, lava boiling up and exploding over it’s rim, flowing down it’s mountainside in reds and oranges, leading to a valley lake of black volcanic rock.

I saw crater lake, and watched active geysers along the Golden Circle, walked to – and behind – destination waterfalls, and hiked to others off the beaten path that just popped up along my five hour drive to Jokulsarlon, Kálfafellsstað, and later to Hafn, a five hour drive that took me nearly ten, because around every gorgeous bend was another jaw dropping scene to stop, hike, and enjoy. One minute you’re driving along a long straight road with nothing but volcanic rock and soil as far as your eyes can see, and around the next turn is a lush green mountainous valley inhabited by nothing but free-roaming sheep and two dozen horses, a sight that made me think of my niece Morgan, and how she would quite enjoy life here.

Gullfoss Falls.

Beautiful Black Sand Beach, which has so much more to offer than the name implies – stunning caves and sheer rocky cliffs, basalt sea stacks called “Reynisdrangar” rising from just offshore, where seals swam in the waves looking for a snack. All around Jokulsarlon, not just Glacier Lake, but glaciers everywhere, with some chunks as large as houses, sitting perfectly still in ripple-free lakes, while others broke free and rushed dramatically out of Jokulsarlon Lagoon, down the channel and out to the ocean, where huge chunks littered the beach in dramatically beautiful fashion.

Fjallsarlon Iceberg Lake.
Glacier Lagoon. The chunks littered the beach.

Huge mountains with waterfalls rushing top to bottom appeared in almost every valley, at the bottom of which a small farmhouse might lie, or might not. Oftentimes, not. Oftentimes it was simply scenery for scenery sake, with no one taking advantage of each acre and point-of-interest to build a home or make a dollar. Other times, well, I’m not exactly sure what this was all about. Suffice it to say that the last thing I expected a random piece of airplane in a beautiful, remote valley to be a monument to was one man’s commitment to proper airplane mechanics, which is at least what my translation seems to say…

Sveitarfelajid Hornafjordur.

In fact, contrary to the general cost of living in Iceland, very few places charged anything for the scenery, and if they did, it was often an optional donation, or maybe a nominal parking fee. I would drive until I saw a dirt road, and if there were no farmhouse at its end, it surely meant there would be a sight that all by itself would have been a memory of a lifetime.

Random find along the route back to Reykjavik. Had to hike for this one.

And I saw dozens of them.

Fjadrargljufur Canyon.

I know what you’re thinking, Ern. What about the people, and by the people, you mean cats. Well, I trust you’ll be interested to know in all of my travels, through countryside and city, I saw but two. That’s it. One that looked like he could be your twin, nearby my first ever AirBnB, where I stayed in the bedroom of a private home in Mosfellsbær, while the husband and wife watched tv in the living room. I felt like their 54 year-old, antisocial teenaged son, but they were wonderful hosts, and I slept well and clean. Another was a longhaired orange in the stunningly picturesque valley of Seyðisfjörð, from where my ship sailed out through a fjord and into the evening’s gale force winds. So you could have the island much to yourselves, it appears. And better yet? Not a single dog. It seems everyone here prefers horses. And sheep, of course, as even I can attest. In fact, if you ever make it to Hafn, I suggest the lamb chops at ZBistro, born and raised, brief as their raising might have been, at the owner’s farm. And, I’m told, much better than bunny.

That’s it for now. I have to take a long hot shower before arrival – you never know when the next chance might come.

Bon voyage with a home-brew from El Grillo pub in Seydisfjordur.

Heading asea through Seydisfjordur fjord.