Thoughtful Ride To Þjórsárdalur Camp

I had a meta-dream last night.  I was wandering around in a hotel, and I ran into a guy I knew in college named Kenny.  He was wearing pajamas and brushing his teeth.  I said: “Wow, I haven’t seen you in a while.  What have you been up to?”  He said nothing, just kept brushing his teeth.

I said, “Ah of course you can’t answer, this is a dream.”

He took out his toothbrush long enough to say: “You can’t tell me what to do in a dream!”

I said, “No, no, this is my dream.  And I don’t know what you’ve been up to, so I can’t dream you telling me!”

“Agree to disagree,” he said, and shook his head and kept brushing his teeth as he wandered away.

Ready for another day on the road!

Packing went well. Everything was dry, thanks to the wind and sun.

Fast-moving canyons of cloud cut the sunlight into miniature days, fading the landscape around me from gray and somber to green and dazzling and back to gray, over and over.

Now you see it ...

... Now you don't.

I the distance I could see the side of the first real mountain on my route, often showing sunlight when the terrain closer at hand was buried.

Frozen mountain top in the distance.

As I went up, the clouds came down, mingling with the terrain. Sometimes they would condense a bit too much and coat my bicycle and the road. There were almost no cars to break the silence.

The open space gave me time to think.

In the back of my head, I’d been wrestling for the past few days with the state of my romantic life. The last time I was in Iceland two years ago I was at a curious inflection point where I was newly single and considering the idea of staying that way, while I continued riding, somehow extending my three month visa into a journey much longer. Work, then the pandemic, altered my plans. This time, I didn’t feel like there was an inflection point. I knew I was on a trip with a limited timespan and I was fine with that. I also knew I had some romantic trauma to recover from but it was different in nature.

Probably the strongest evidence that things were different this time was that I felt like I knew who I was, rather than a stranger trying to rediscover himself. But there was still work to do.

Messy post-rain cloudscape.

My obsessive filing-clerk soul wants to nail everything down and remember it. So I’d been writing, for the last week or so in bits and pieces, about my last relationship and the way it ended. I was convinced that some useful insight would eventually appear. At the same time, I knew I was going through my own version of a process that everyone does, when things go wrong and pain happens and they need to get somewhere past it. You sift, and you think, and you talk, partly just to pass the time while the pain shrinks to something small enough to fit on a shelf where it won’t be underfoot. Maybe you pick something out that feels like a big insight, and that becomes the label you stick beneath it on the shelf. And maybe the insight you chose was just what was in front of you when you got tired of looking. Maybe it’s nothing more than a flourish, announcing that you can move on.

It’s a jaded interpretation, I know, but it’s useful for me: Obsession and documenting can unmoor my brain from the immediacy of life in a living body. Sometimes it helps to let some hot air out of that self-important balloon, and drift back to Earth.

I arranged the flight to Iceland just after I got vaccinated, when the country was still making tourism top priority and flights were dirt cheap. It seemed like the best idea, since I’d already tried dating for six months and my heart wasn’t in it. I even walked away from two promising starts, in favor of this long-term travel. Then in Reykjavik I had a vague feeling like I missed romance even though I was probably still bad at it. So I turned my dating profile back on and browsed around a bit, distracting myself from work and enjoying the diversity of people and their stories. Then I forgot it was there.

A week passed, and a couple “intros” appeared in my email, but they were inane one-liners like “hey how r you.” Easy to ignore. Then two days ago I got a message that caught my attention. The sender actually acknowledged I was in Iceland, which I’d written at the top of my profile, and asked some good questions!

I started a conversation with her over email that quickly snowballed into an avalanche of words. So at the same time I was trying to wrestle the story of my previous romance down onto the page, I was eagerly sharing brain-dump emails with this interesting new person, and there was so much more to talk about that I didn’t really feel like pondering my ex or what happened any more. I didn’t even care about searching for a nice label to put on the shelf. It felt like a waste of time.

Thinking back, I shouldn’t have turned the profile back on, in case something like this happened, because there is currently no way I can tell if I’m actually attracted to this person, and there won’t be a way for months.. Today in the latest email we both acknowledged that, which put me in this thoughtful mood, and led me to this particular thought:

My ability to make records has outpaced my need for them. This trip needs to be less about processing, and more about letting go of the past, to make room.

One liter of reduced-fat milk: My constant companion in Iceland.
Enjoying the wacky weather.
Spot the sheep!

So I decided to close the file on my ex, and made no commitment to return. Maybe what happened with her could just be something that faded from memory without a lesson learned … or at least without a lesson identified. Maybe going back over it was just forcing me to relive the trauma. Maybe I would feel better, faster, if I just talked about all the rest of my life with this fun new person, and the rest of my family and friends.

More looking around and forward, less looking back.

I arrived at the campsite early, and wandered around until I found a spot that looked safe from the rain. I didn’t want pools forming under my tent. For the heck of it I decided to make a video while setting up camp:

That inflatable tent makes it so easy!

Ready for another evening.

Comfy as usual!

The soft patter of rain faded in and out as the clouds continued their march overhead. I ate snacks, listened to a few podcasts, made some notes, and generally drifted until sleep overtook me. It was still light outside of course.

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