If you have read my previous post you will know that on day six, I had to put an end to the Run Iceland 2018 adventure due to bad health. It was not an easy decision to make and I did not take it lightly at all, but sometimes there is nothing you can do and that’s that.
Only, that was not really that, in this case.
Though we had acknowledged the need to find help, we had a slight problem in that help was still several days hiking (and eventually bus riding or hitch hiking) away. This meant that whilst we had stopped running in the right direction, we still had some serious distance to cover to make it back to the ring road. The screenshot below gives you an idea of the issue – the only road which was legal to drive on at this time of year is the ring road (blue dot). Until we made it to this road, we would not be able to get any assistance. No mean task given that our location was approximately 50 km due south (over 90 on the road) of this point (pink dot), in addition to the fact that our pace had slowed significantly due to my inability to cover more than 3 km without a sit down and the size of the angry blisters currently plaguing Cadi’s feet. Not to mention the fact we were still drinking cloudy, gritty water that may or may not have been wreaking havoc on our internal organs.Despite the fact we were treading a very narrow ridge between everything being okay and everything going horribly wrong, it was with good spirits that we got going that morning. I say good spirits, internally, I was still battling against huge feelings of guilt and disappointment. But at the same time, it was as if a sense of relief had spread over the team. A sense that we were within touching distance of help.
Ruben, who had only brought a 500ml bottle into the desert with him (we had been warned many times about the likelihood of us getting a soaking and had never imagined we would be short of water), decided to press on ahead in order to reach a cabin which was about 15 miles away from our campsite. The cabin would hopefully have a fresh water supply, something which we could all do with, but something which Ruben needed the most, given that the glacial water had started having a pretty bad effect on his digestive system. Ruben told us all about how he had been suffering (oversharing was a natural thing between us now), but said he still felt like he could run on, so it made sense for him to go on ahead. We agreed to see him later at the cabin, and continued to pack up as he headed off into the distance.
We knew it was going to be difficult getting out of the desert, but the conditions seemed to be making sure that we really suffered. The sun was out in full force, with temperatures reaching 25 degrees by the time we left (around 10 am) and though we had no measure, presumably rising throughout the day. The heat was intense, causing the horizon to shimmer. What’s more, there was absolutely no shelter. There was a slight breeze, which we were incredibly grateful for, but as this grew stronger in the afternoon, it brought with it dust devils, fun to look at, but a constant reminder of just how dry it was out here, and a constant annoyance as they would coat our freshly sun creamed skin in a layer of volcanic sand. Then there were the flies, which seemed to have come out in full force to escort us out of their territory.
Writing this, in the comfort of a clean, air conditioned room, I can’t help but think it sounds over the top and moany, when in fact it was pretty cool. It was awesome I guess, when observed with some significant hindsight through a pair of rose-tinted glasses. The scenery was still unlike anything I had seen. Stretching out in all directions with no sign of human intervention besides the small dusty track we were following. The rocks here seemed to be predominantly dark volcanic rock, in an eclectic mix of shapes and sizes, interspersed with the occasional block of lighter, fine grained stone which the wind had sculpted into fantastic shapes. The smooth surface looked incredibly like weathered sandstone and the blocks, whilst beautiful, looked very out of place against the black, volcanic sand. It was a treat for the eyes for sure, and had I been feeling better, I think I would have enjoyed the scenery on this day more so than on any of the previous days.
At the time though, it felt awful.
I had a headache, stomach ache, I was tired, my feet were sore, it was incredibly hot, not one part of my body was free of sand, and to make matters worse we were still circling Herðubreið, as if the scenery was trying to taunt us. We plodded on though, gradually getting slower and slower as I found myself needing longer rests, and also starting to get worried as our water bottles were running very low, and we would not reach water until we reached the cabin that evening.
After around 10 miles of walking through the heat, I decided I needed to stop and eat. None of us really had enough water to do this (cooking used precious drinking water), but I was feeling incredibly weak, and with the relentless heat and lack of water, I was becoming really quite concerned I may pass out. We stopped by a rock, and Steph set about creating some shelter in the form of a make-shift tarp. It was (sorry Steph) a pretty terrible shelter. But the effort and creativity were appreciated nonetheless, and if we bent into some pretty uncomfortable positions, we could find a tiny bit of shelter next to the rock. Once again, despite being in a lot of pain, I found myself laughing with Cadi and Steph, and being grateful for being out there in such good company. I leaned back on the rock and attempted to eat a meal, before closing my eyes and allowing myself to drift a little.
The others were, understandably, quite keen to get moving again pretty soon after lunch and though I wanted nothing more than to have a proper sleep, I reluctantly agreed and I pulled myself away from slumber, and started to pack up my things. I was exhausted, thirsty, and seriously doubting my ability to cover the remaining five or so miles to the hut that afternoon. A few days ago, we could have covered 5 miles in less than two hours and it would have been considered an easy afternoon. But today, in this heat, I really doubted it would be anything like that.
As we were putting away the final bits from lunch, a low rumbling noise filled our ears. That’s odd, I thought to myself, that sounds kind of like a car. Just as I was thinking this, Cadi looked up and proclaimed that there was indeed a car coming! Staring in disbelief, we almost let it pass us without stopping, but as it drew nearer I snapped out of shock and ran to the side of the road, hand outstretched in a gesture that I have had more than enough practice with having had to find lifts through a series of tunnels in Northern Norway. Two men, looking equally as shocked as we were, slowed to a stop next to my outstretched hand. I paused nervously as the window wound down, fingers crossed they would speak English, and they would be able to help.
It turned out they did speak a bit of English. Well, it turned out later that one of them spoke a lot of English, but during this first encounter it seemed like they were a bit lost for words. What I did manage to ascertain was that they were maintenance workers, out here to spruce up one of the mountain lodges before the roads opened in a couple of weeks time. They were heading in the wrong direction (so that they could do some work on said lodge) initially, but they would be heading back to the ring road later that day. This was incredible news. Almost unbelievable. I asked if we could have a lift and they agreed straight away – though when I explained there was one more of us further up the road they said they wouldn’t have room for all of us. Cadi and Steph agreed that if that were the case then I would have to go – and they would hike out together. Not wanting this to happen, but at the same time not wanting to risk my health, I gratefully accepted their offer and agreed to see them later on. All I had to do now was survive the afternoon and I would be okay.
As they drove off into the distance, I seem to have regained some energy, and so too had the other two. Though they had said they didn’t have room for four of us, we hoped they would change their mind when it came to it. We started to smile again and set off down the road. Content with walking as we knew we were going to be rescued.
Those few hours on the road, whilst still difficult , seemed to pass in the blink of an eye. We had not yet made it to the hut when the car returned. They scooped us up from the side of the road and we headed to the cabin to meet Ruben. Luckily, they seemed to have discussed the fact that there were four of us and decided that they could at least take us all to the ring road – as technically we were off road at the moment and therefore not really breaking any laws. As we approached the cabin, remarkable changes in scenery occurred and we saw the first greenery we had seen in days. A source of freshwater running down from the heights of Herðubreið meant that the cabin we had arrived at was nestled in a mini oasis in the middle of this baron volcanic landscape. It was one of the most beautiful spots I have ever been – and yet I had no desire to stop and enjoy it. I just wanted to get out.
After collecting Ruben, we were driven out of the desert by our rescuers. They were clearly lovely people as they didn’t once complain, they actually delivered the others to a campsite on the ring road, they were keen to show off the local sites on the way and they would not accept anything, even a beer, in payment when they dropped me at a hostel in Akureyri. I could not see the doctor until the following day (and I didn’t think my life was in immediate danger so I didn’t want to waste time at A+E) so I checked in to the hostel. I bought some clean clothes from a local supermarket, forced myself to shower, then headed to my empty dorm room to go to sleep (my 13 room mates would wait to return to the room around 3 am).
The trip was now properly over – it hadn’t hit me yet but it would hit me within the next couple of days. Still, at least this time I could walk into the doctors to get help rather than being wheeled in on a bed.
Things like this are difficult. When you say you are going to do something, boldly collect sponsors from other people, but then fail, you can’t help but feel like a fraud. I know that there was nothing else to be done, but that doesn’t stop your mind from questioning if there was ANY thing you could have done differently. My reaction to this has been not to talk about the run much at all since returning home – but in doing that I worry that I have let the sponsors down even more.
Through the process of training and attempting to cross Iceland – we managed to raise £1,595.02 for Acorns Children’s Hospice – not our target amount, but equally a significant total. This money will go towards the cost of caring for 876 life limited children and 1097 families. And for that, I want to make sure I thank everyone who sponsored from the bottom of my heart. I’m sorry for letting you down – but you have still made a huge difference to the lives of others – and that is worth celebrating.
As for Iceland. I’ll be back to finish it off one day.