On the morning of day five, following what can only be described as a miniature breakdown the evening before, I did something I didn’t know I could do, and actually got out of bed early. The beautiful weather we had been treated to since we arrived had its downsides. One of which was the fact that whenever the sun made its return from just below the horizon, the tent would gradually grow in temperature until it was just about unbearable to stay inside.
I had slept fairly well, which was not surprising given how tired I was the night before, but I woke early with a pain in the pit of my stomach, a headache, and a worrying feeling that something was up. Making as little noise as possible – a surprisingly difficult task when sharing a confined space with two others – I wriggled out of my sleeping bag and hobbled (the blisters were out in force) down to the river for a wash. It was not particularly warm out yet and the river, fed by ice patches high up in the hills above us, was bitingly cold, but I stripped off my base layers and made myself wash. This was quite a difficult task, being that it hurt to immerse any body part for more than seven seconds, but it was necessary, and it made me feel (for the time being) so much better. Not long after I had managed to convince myself to stay in the water long enough to get clean, I was surprised to be joined by Cadi. Either I hadn’t been successful at quietly leaving the tent, or Cadi was just suffering the heat a little too. We laughed a little at how cold the water was, before I walked up the bank and left her to wash. Somehow, I thought I might be a bit slower than normal packing up this morning.
As it turns out, I was the last one ready that morning (and probably was most mornings), but as we set off I couldn’t help but feel a little more optimistic. The legs were still good, the blisters manageable, and I had just treated myself to two portions of adventure porridge to make up for the lack of dinner the night before. I was determined to get back in control of this run. After all, how many chances do you get at doing something like this?
Our route on this day was going to test us more than we had been tested before. Little did we know, that morning would be the last time we would come across grass, it was the last morning we would have access to clear water, and it was the last time we would see any form of civilisation. Unless of course you count the one digger which seemed to be determined to run one of us over despite the fact we were in the middle of nowhere with (literally) nothing else to hit. We headed up a hill from our campsite and emerged onto a surface which was completely different from anything we had seen so far. The surface was very much (and yes, we can say this with absolute certainty) like that of Mars. Or the moon at the very least. Nothing was alive here. There were no plants, no animals, and very little else. Something which was clear right from the very start of the day, but something which didn’t really sink in until later that afternoon, namely when we were desperately hoping for a lunch spot having found that two rivers marked on our map were completely dry, and that we were at serious risk of not having enough water to make it through the day.
This was a completely different ball game. Up until now, our problems had been mainly mental. Yes, we had blisters, aching shoulders and very minimal food, but there was never any question of our survival. Now, we were out in 25 degree heat, we had no shelter whatsoever for the majority of the day, and we were having to span 10 miles gaps just to top up on water which quite visibly was not fit for drinking. It was very much now a question of not just running the distance each day, but also making sure we were making sensible decisions to ensure that we actually survived from day to day.
And to make things even better, I was starting to feel really ill. Something which I tried to sleep off at lunch time, but which only got worse throughout the day, with me having to stop every few km in the afternoon because I was just so uncomfortable. Not ideal, given the circumstances.
The afternoon of day five seemed to stretch on forever. Cadi had slipped at lunch time, causing her already pretty nasty looking toe hood (the technical term Cadi has given to the phenomenon whereby her entire little toe tuns into one big blister – inevitably resulting in the loss of a ‘hood’ from said toe) to turn purple and swell considerably. This was (obviously) extremely painful and I could tell I wasn’t the only one struggling. Ruben moved back and forwards between us, constantly smiling and just chatting, making the whole ordeal slightly less painful. And Steph appeared to be making one of the strongest comebacks yet. Gone were the tearful struggles from a few days ago. Steph kept marching on and boosted moral whenever possible. Towards the end of the day, when we were all starting to struggle, I was once again so grateful for her company. We whistled marching tunes, took the mick out of the involuntary struggling noises we were making, and laughed until our stomachs hurt.
For the majority of the day, we had been treated to spectacular yet sparse scenery. Lava fields that stretched on so far you were never quite sure where the lava stopped, and the sky started. We had all imagined different things – from seeing huge expanses of snow, to hearing sheep bleating, and children screaming. We had run through some of the most bizarrely beautiful settings, yet I had been in so much pain I hadn’t stopped to take many pictures, or even to really appreciate where I as. Towards the end of the day though, and as we sat and ate dinner, the beauty of our surroundings began to really sink in.
We had seen nobody since that morning. We were pitched up on the sandy (black, volcanic sand of course) bank of a raging, glacier fed river. Blocks of solidified lava rose up around us, poking awkwardly up from the never ending dust. A geographer may compare it to the clints and grikes of a limestone pavement, but to an ordinary person it was like being sat amongst a jigsaw of ill fitting igneous blocks. What is more, we could see one of Iceland’s most famous and dramatic mountains (shield volcano) – Herðubreið – from the door of our tent.
I had struggled to eat that evening, but knowing I had to, I opted for strawberry porridge for dinner. I can honestly tell you now, that had I not been sure that my insides were failing me, that would have been one of the best dinners I have ever had. Slightly dry, overly sweet porridge, in the shadow of the Queen of Iceland’s mountains, with good friends and a beautiful sunset.
It was a stunning place to camp, and though we had really started to struggle that day, and I knew that I was definitely not well, it was pretty easy to forget all that that evening. We did our usual cook, eat, wash and turn in, and all hit the hay. I think it is safe to say we were all hoping we would feel better in the morning, but no one more so than me.
To give you a better idea of the scenery, check out this video that I found just now whilst googling Herðubreið.