Leavin’ on a jet plane

“Both optimists and pessimists contribute to our society.  The optimist invents the airplane and the pessimist the parachute.” ~Gil Stern

I don’t know how this 4 day week is going to pan out in terms of free time so I figured I’d go ahead and make a post now.  I also don’t know if I can or will even want to get online once I’m in country.  I’m sure parts of Iceland will have wi-fi, but I’d be surprised if the places I’m going does. And I have no intention on even turning my phone on so AT&T can bend me over with an international fee.

I also don’t picture myself having as much time to sit down and write as much as I did on my road trip.  Eight days may seem like a lot of time, but exploring a country in eight days is pretty aggressive.  Eight days in the land of fire and ice.  From the looks of the forecast, it’s going to be more like the land of rain and more rain.  That just means our rental car smells like a swamp when we turn it back in eight days later. I’m hoping the rain lets up at least some so that I can set up for some shots of the northern lights.  Iceland is a photographic dreamland and I already have certain expectations of myself in capturing what I see there.

As you may recall from past posts, Mother Nature hates me.  So eight straight days of rain would be par for the course. It makes me glad that our first stop after de-boarding the plane will be the duty-free shop in the airport to buy our alcohol for the week – tax free of course.  From there I plan on getting my camera ready to take a picture of the dude holding a little sign with my last name indicating he’s going to take us to the rental car.  I can’t imagine what that’s going to look like.  A bunch of tired, jet lagged Americans, whose first stop was the liquor store, carting as much alcohol as they can carry on top of their luggage, stumbling like zombies toward him.  Awesome stereotype.

I can never sleep on airplanes.  It’s a control issue.  I always think I’m going to end up like one of those people in The Langoliers. And I don’t like stale food.

So as a result my in-flight book will be Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank.   It’s been on my bookshelf for a while now and I’ve purposely avoided it just to read on this trip.  And since this is me, of course it’s a post-apocalyptic book so I should plow through it pretty quickly.

My bag is not packed, but at least it’s open.  (It’s the thought of packing that counts.)  I have so much to do both at work and at home in the next 4 days that it’s very possible that I may be forced to sleep on the flight simply out of exhaustion. I’m tempted to upgrade my seat if I get the opportunity.  I’m sure I’ll need it after going through security.

Johnny B. “Good”

Mine’s a tale that can’t be told, my freedom I hold dear.
How years ago in days of old, when magic filled the air.
T’was in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair.
But Gollum, and the evil one crept up and slipped away with her, her, her….yeah. – Led Zeppelin

(Note, the above quote has nothing to do with this post as I usually try to relate them somehow.  I just wanted to quote them.  So there.  Secondary note: I may or may not have had a few beers while I’ve been working today.)

I’ve been thinking about what I can do while I’m over in Iceland with only 8 days.  Yeah, yeah, there’s the typical tourist stuff, but this thought path was really more about what “I” can do (or not do) while I’m over there to make the best possible time had by all.

Allow me to elaborate.

10.  Use common manners.  I know they’re in me somewhere.  My mother drilled them into my head every time we went out in public as a kid.  Please, thank you, hello, goodbye and some others that will come back to me eventually. I might need to wiki those.  Maybe write them down or make some flash cards.

9.  Don’t drive angry.  Here in the states, we have gigantic parking lots superhighways that turn in to virtual race tracks with Joe Toughguy cutting off every person just because he’s a selfish prick and he can.  From what I’ve read, Icelandic drivers are laid back and overall very calm.  I’m sure some of this is due to low overall population but nonetheless, my plan is to observe and mimic.  Go with the flow.  Oh and not wreck the rental car.  At least not on the first day.

8.  Don’t become a statistic.  Many things fall  into this category.  Don’t die in a freak blizzard, don’t die from a rare fish allergy, don’t die by falling over a waterfall trying to take an awesome picture, don’t die by falling into a glacial crevasse, don’t die from having your own dog sled team turn on you, don’t get electrocuted by foreign voltage, don’t get arrested, and don’t end up in a Thai prison.  Hey, I’m just covering all my bases.

7.  Think before speaking.  Iceland has been through quite a bit in recent years, in particular an economic collapse in 2008.  From what I’ve read it’s somewhat of a sore subject and I won’t get in to the back story but the point is, I need to think about what I’m bringing up in conversations.  I’m usually pretty diplomatic.  My job, if it’s good for anything, has chiseled that into me.  Often times I’ve found that the cure for foot-in-mouth disease is to just shut the hell up.

6.  Keep my TSA remarks to myself while at the airport.  I’m just going to start this rule right now.  It’s better that way, trust me.  I’ve been flying a lot lately.

5.  Cleanse.  Living in the cancer capitol of the United States, every day I deal with factory plumes and toxic runoff from DuPont, BASF, DOW, Valero, and the list goes on.  One of the first things I noticed immediately when I visited the Rocky Mountains (and Acadia) was the difference in air quality.  I spent each moment I had with sheer admiration of the crisp, clean air and water.  Iceland is said to have some of the most naturally pure air and water resources on earth.  If only I could bottle that and bring it home with me somehow

4.  Prior to leaving, pledge to return home and not live out the rest of my life in Iceland.  F-that.

3.  Acquire male and female snakes, introduce to the ecosystem.    If the rest of the world has to put up with them, Iceland should be no different. Think of all the new exotic meals they could make!   Snakes like to travel on planes, right?

2.  Find a really cool representative souvenir.  I’ve seen that you can purchase ash from the recent volcanic eruption.  You don’t see that every day.  I could put it in an urn and claim it was a relative.  Oh who am I kidding, I already know it’s going to be an awesome Icelandic wool sweater.  The only question is, how many Icelandic wool sweaters?

1.  Don’t be the loud, rude, inconsiderate, obnoxious American stereotype.  Observe and respect Icelandic culture, customs, and practices.  Learn about them.  There’s nothing more I hate than most of the American public.  There’s a reason (well, actually many reasons) why people from other countries have a certain view of us.  Respect is earned and I’m going to do my damnedest to debunk those stereotypes.

Unless, of course, someone charges at me in viking helmet.  Then the gloves come off and I go all Philly on them.  International incident be damned.

Cry “Havoc!”

“Always gotta keep busy or the voices start telling me to do wild things.” – Steve Brown

And so crunch time begins.  I miss the days when I had no responsibility.  When I could co on vacation and not have to prepare my job for it a month in advance.  Now days, it’s a crazy game of chicken and egg with respect to stress and taking a vacation.  I take a vacation to relieve stress, but I am busier than ever preparing for said vacation only to come back to more stress.  So why even take the vacation?

There are essentially 4 weeks before I leave and I already know that 3 of those I will be traveling for work.  That leaves me one week, just one week to save the world from evil get everything in place just at work.  Somewhere in there comes actual Iceland packing.

I’ve been having a rough past few weeks.  It seems lately that there’s the normal way things happen in life, then there’s the way things seem to happen for me.  If you’re a fan of astrology, the stars would be aligned in the shape of a middle finger pointed at me.

While I drafted a proposal today for work, I had my Netflix streaming Out of the Wild:  Venezuela playing in the background.  It’s like Survivor only with actual survivors.  I caught parts of the first season in Alaska but missed the second chapter so I decided to just have it running as white noise as I typed.  So there I am, typing away and I hear one guy say “I’m here because the corporate world has ground up his life” and removed any traces of who he was or wanted to be. I instantly stopped what I was doing and looked up.  It’s like I was watching myself on TV.  I actually stood up, pointed both of my index fingers at the TV and said YES!  THAT!   THAT’S IT! That guy ended up leaving the trek before reaching the end but as part of his exit speech he again said something that I found myself thinking about on my drive back home last year.  He said he’s leaving early because he now knows what he came there for and that was to get out of the machine and back in control of his life.  He left early because he wanted to start that change in his life – right then and there.  For him it was teaching.  He had experienced enough of the world outside of what he was used to, to confirm what he had known all along:  He was dying on the inside day after day as a corporate stooge.

If only we could all go on TV and have an epiphany while eating grasshoppers and larvae.  Maybe it’s just that my situation isn’t  dire enough yet for a leap of faith.

I think this year and this trip are different because of timing.  I’m out of my natural sync.  I don’t tend to take vacations this early for a number of reasons, work being only one of them.  I’m feeling like I’m interrupting my “normal” vacation schedule which is usually carefully planned with warmer weather, no kids, and much-needed solitude.  A complete detox from my normal hectic chaotic life which allows me to continue my sanity for another year.  I’m excited to go to Iceland, but for some reason not as excited as I think I should be.  And right now, I’m not sure why that is.

It could be related to my recent string of bad luck.  It could be my 5am flight back from New York yesterday after I was forced to spend the night at the airport.  Or if could be the tiny twin-engine propeller plane they shoved me on and then forced a 6’5″ person (me) to sit next to a woman who needed not one, but TWO seat belt extensions.  The woman who tried to put her tray table down for a drink and found it wasn’t possible with her gut.  Or it could have been the lady that refused to turn her phone off after being asked 3 times to the point the flight attendant said we’re not closing the door until you put that away.

But I don’t think that’s it.

It’s just this weird feeling that I can’t quite identify yet.  I’m sure it will all be fine as long as Siri is with me.

Thanks Siri.  Now pack my bags.

Ready, set , wait…

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” -Carl Sagan

Well, all of the plans are set.  Travel is booked.  Cabins are booked. The rental car is booked.  And so begins the art of test packing what I’ll want need  to take with me.  I’m struggling with this.  I really am.  This is the reason I drive most places – it’s the reason I drove all the way across the US last year.  I’m the type of person that likes to be prepared.  I’ve seen, read, and listened to too many accounts of accidents happening where unprepared adventurers become a statistic because they didn’t account for the possibility of their trip encountering a problem.  I don’t mind flying at all.  In fact, if I had my own plane that I could stuff full of, well, “stuff”, I’d fly everywhere.  But now I’m limited to what will fit in a checked bag and a tiny overhead bin.

I’m well aware that I have a problem.  Some professionals call it “Fortheloveofgodjustrelax”.  (I think it’s Latin.)  But it’s in my nature to account for the unknown.  It’s who I am.  I’m the guy that knows he has a long exhausting hike ahead of him but chooses to carry that extra 5 pounds on his pack anyway simply because you never know when an ice axe might be needed in the desert.

Last year, on my road trip, I had the luxury of bringing the kitchen sink simply because I could.  It wasn’t just my obsession with being prepared, it was because I was traveling somewhere unknown to me, very remote at times – and I was doing it alone.  If I could dream of a possible scenario where something could happen, I took the measures to counter it.

It turns out that, thankfully, I didn’t need to use any of my “emergency” supplies, but it did give me the self-confidence I needed to push myself to go to places I might not have gone without knowing my safety rope was there.  And that is why I do it.  To cautiously take the chances to really live life and see what’s out there in the world.  You don’t get to see places like this without a little risk.  And experiencing these places are what keeps me feeling alive.

With just over a month to go, once again I sit in quiet anticipation of meeting a new culture, exploring a new land, walking on a glacier, relaxing in a geothermal spring and re-energizing my life.   If you would have asked me 15 years ago what I thought life was about, you would have gotten an answer about climbing the corporate ladder, partying, and slowly working toward some tangible form of success.  I only wish I’d realized how naive that kid was a lot sooner.

Getting antsy

camping_in_iceland_national_park-wide

“All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own. And if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it.” – Samuel Johnson

Just over 3 months to go until my Iceland departure.  I’m starting to get that itch again.  The one where I can’t concentrate on the things that I should be doing.  Working from home only intensifies it.  It’s like a little devil on my shoulder saying, “hey, you should check out this website” or “now is a good time to brainstorm what gear I might need”. “Don’t forget that power outlet converter!”

Dammit.

My homework over the Christmas break is to research the island and come up with a “Top 10” list of things I’d like to see or do with our 8 or 9 days in country.  We have about 830 miles to cover in that time which isn’t bad but knowing you need to compete the loop of the island because you have a plane to catch is like a work deadline in itself.  In many ways, that’s why I loved driving across the country last spring.  I had no deadlines.  No evil plane ticket that said “thou shalt be in this cramped seat drinking a watered down drink on this date at this time.”  While I strongly believe that every trip should be about the experience of living in the moment, there’s a lot to be said for freedom of roaming around with no rules.

It looks like we’ll be trekking around the country make our way from farm-house to farm-house.  This definitely beats staying in a hotel and lets you interact with the Icelandic people even more.  I’m even starting to practice my Icelandic.  It’s a beautiful language, but very difficult to replicate the accent without a lot of practice.  My friend Natalja made a video below and I’m studying her, um, er, pronunciation.  OK, she’s not really my friend.  Yet.  (Note to self:  add “Find Natalja” to Top 10 list.)

Once I learn it well enough, I’m going to tell people I speak elvish and apply for a role in The Hobbit.   I have a weird fascination with languages.  True story, I once found a Rosetta Stone CD for Arabic and I was learning phrases inside of a week.  Of course I forgot them all now.

See how easily I get distracted?

So I’m off to try and plan an itinerary, or as they say in Icelandic, itinerary.

Harmonic Convergence

“I love England. It’s no coincidence it’s the first place I moved to for a more cosmopolitan life, which is the only thing Iceland lacks.”  Bjork

Coming to an Easter near you!

Well, it’s been settled.  Iceland, here I come.  I sure hope the Easter Bunny will be able to find me over there and get me my basket of candy.  Otherwise, we may have an international incident – if I don’t get my candy that is.

I mentioned before that it didn’t take much convincing, but my good friends at National Geographic only fanned the flames by publishing this article.  I hate it when I’m right.  While we still have a good deal of planning to do, I’ve started digging in to logistics, things to see, weather, and culture.  Turns out they eat some, er… “odd” things over there.  I’m not a picky eater and in fact I’ll try anything once as long as I can mentally convince myself it’s just like chicken.  Although I’m still trying to figure out how I’m going to convince myself that svið, (singed sheep’s head) is just like chicken.  But let’s face it, I’m not going there for the food.  I’m going there to play Beowulf and defeat Grendel for the view.

The entire country is nearly energy self-sufficient in that most of their power comes from geothermal or hydroelectric generation.   For now, the plan is to travel the 830 mile long main road that rings the outer edge of the country and see what we can find along the way.

Those who have read this blog and followed me during my western trip last May know that part of the greatness of that experience was taking my Jeep across the country and just turning off the road and heading out in to the middle of nowhere.  Well, this is not America, and they don’t have big gas guzzling V8 and redneck Jeeps where one can just tromp all over the countryside….

THEY HAVE LAND ROVER DEFENDERS!

 

Ok, back down to reality.  Yes, they have them to rent, but they are much more than the average rental car.  😦  But, but, how often do I get to travel the countryside of Iceland – IN A DEFENDER!?!?

These.  These are the things we have to work out.  You know, along with the little things like lodging / camping / food / plane tickets / gear / dates.  Truth be told, as long as I get to personally witness the Northern Lights, and get to unplug from work for a while I’d rent a bike and pedal my way across the island.  (But did I mention they have Defenders? )

Which brings me to another point.  I am out of shape.  Seriously.  From the time I got back from my trip in May, I’ve done very little physical activity other than sliding my office chair back and forth around the room.  Thank God my house has two flights of stairs, otherwise I’d be some kind of blob.

It doesn’t really matter what Land Rover vehicle  we end up renting, there’s going to be hiking involved.  And where there’s hiking, there’s a backpack and everything that goes along with it.  It’s time to get back on the exercise horse.  Besides, from what my dreams travel sites have told me, Iceland is filled with beautiful blond women. Just like America is filled with overweight, gun-totting, inbred war-mongering, rednecks, right?  No?  Well, there better be blondes or I’m asking for a refund.

It seems there’s a lot to do before Easter rolls around, but I love it when a plan comes together.  Icelandair, we’ll be seeing you soon, keep my seat warm and my drinks cold.

Ice Ice Baby

Happiness is not a state to arrive at, but a manner of traveling.” – Margaret Lee Runbeck

A few days ago I was having a few beers after work with some friends and the topic of vacations came up.  I started to outline what I had in mind for 2012 as they are well-traveled and I always love getting advice.  My friend looked at me and said “Iceland“.  Wha….?

His “hear me out” speech was really just the icing (no pun intended) on the cake.  As it just so happens, in my search of the Interwebs for great photographic destinations, I’ve always found a few shots from Iceland.  The preconceived notion that it’s just a patch of dead ice is far from reality.  In fact, Iceland is quite beautiful. Take a look.

(Yes, those are cars parked at the mouth of a lava flow from an active volcano)

What I hadn’t known, until my friend’s speech, was that it’s only $600 round trip to fly there and the actual travel time isn’t that long leaving out of New York.  The idea is to fly over, camp our way around the countryside, live the experience and fly back.  When it’s all said and done this would be one of the cheaper vacations I’ve been on.

I was 90% sold but then it hit me, Iceland is one of the best places to witness the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) – a natural phenomenon that not many people ever see in their lifetime.

Reykjavík, here I come!