Finding Myself in the Land of Fire and Ice
Originally posted HERE.
2017 had been an eventful year for me: I graduated in May, went on my first solo trip to Washington DC, took a 2 week trip with a person who ended up being emotionally abusive and manipulative, and nearly went broke trying to pay for a spontaneous trip to Iceland sandwiched between two trips to New York City. Yet with that all encompassing whirlwind of a year I cannot bring myself to wish that it had gone any differently. It was like a domino effect: one thing lead to another so that I could become who I am today.
Following the month-long abuse I suffered at the hands of someone I trusted I felt adrift. I was in and out of contact with friends, more mistrusting of the people I was surrounded by, and I doubted myself. My instincts were so utterly wrong concerning matters of the mind and the heart, and I couldn't figure out why or how I got so off-base. Was there something wrong with me? I found solace in a friend, Tom, who is half a world away and we bonded over healed wounds given to us by past relationships. He allowed me to let it out, to empty my entire being which had been filled with a viscous toxicity that stuck to every aspect of my life.
Beyond that Tom taught me about Value Takers and Value Givers. Value Takers were the ones who constantly take from you: your energy, your love, and your self worth. Consequently, Value Givers are the ones who give you affection, build you up, listen, and give advice. After about a month building me up, and helping me with my photography Tom broached the topic of tagging along on a trip to Iceland for a photography excursion. In desperate need in a change of pace I accepted without hesitation, and bought round-trip tickets that flew out from Newark. In the 3 months that followed I scraped together every single penny so I could buy a passport, gear, pay for a week-long stay in New York City, and cover my part of the Airbnb in Iceland.
Against the wishes of my parents and ignoring the trepidation of going so far out of my comfort zone, I boarded the plane to Iceland an settled in for a cool 6 hour flight. People gripe about WOWAir, but it's actually not that bad, Probably because I'm only 5'4” but I had plenty of leg room, and they had a COAT HOOK. Such a little innovative touch that I has never seen on my plethora of flights that year and it had me chuckling to myself. Even better was when I saw the spectacular display of the Northern Lights about 5 hours into flight time. The man next to me thought nothing of it and shrugged it off, even when I was excitedly pointing it out to him and gave him room to look. Undeterred, I smushed my face into the glass and gasped with wonder at the natural light show.
Landing in Iceland I could still hardly believe it. This little Floridian girl was about to get her first taste of what a real winter was going to look like. I called up Tom who said they were going to be delayed because they had to switch out the car to another. Turns out that they got the most flippable car in Iceland, and it probably wouldn't be safe driving out there with massive winds and a snowstorm that would be brewing all week.
Forever and a half later (really a couple hours) I finally met Tom and Jack in person. I met them out in the parking lot where it was SNOWING! As light as it was, it was actually snowing and I couldn't stop freaking out. I think my first words to them was “IT'S SNOWING!!” No 'hi, how are you?' Nope. My mind went straight to the white stuff falling out of the sky. It was my first time seeing the stuff in real life, and I could not, would not contain myself. Both men were flabbergasted that I'd never seen it before. Well, when you're new to travel, and you live in a state that has 70 degree winters you can understand why seeing snow is hard (and a big deal). The second thing I noticed (besides the obvious snowfall) were their accents. Gotta love a good British accent. Aside from that they were the most affable considerate people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting face to face.
Iceland was a baptism in fire when it came to winter weather, and we just so happened to schedule the trip during a blizzard. The first day we went to Gullfoss, one of the more popular waterfalls in Iceland, and everyone could see why. Beautiful seems too ordinary a word to call the landscapes of this country, and to be able to look at them in person was an incredible privilege. It was also a riot to see people slipping and falling on the icy trails. The cold was unmatched by the beauty of the landscapes although my fingers might've told a different story. I ended up buying a $30 pair of wool gloves since my flimsy pair from H&M were just not cutting it.
I brought a couple dresses to do some fashion shoot stuff, and it was arguably the best decision I made in my entire life. We took a trip to Kirkjufell (you probably now know that mountain from Game of Thrones) and decided that that was the place where I would don a dress and do some epic shit in the snow. After getting some panorama shots as a photographer I trudged down to change into my second look. We didn't count on a blizzard to come barreling down on us, so after shrugging of my coat, doing my best smize, and Tom taking like 5 shots we all hustled back into the car to warm back up.
That mini shoot snapped me back to my old self, I think. We could laugh and joke and I felt lighter. I could pull faces: be ugly, be silly, and be fully me again. It probably sounds dumb that a photo shoot could open a person up again, but it did. The adrenaline of doing something exciting ( and “exceptionally stupid,” as my mother stated) allowed me to shed the remnants of my self doubt. Still half frozen we grabbed dinner at an American styled diner, and cracked jokes at each other well into the night.
Arguably by far the hardest day was the day we decided to visit the US Navy DC-3 plane wreck in Sólheimasandu. Honestly, we couldn't have picked a worse day to go. The winds were the strongest they've ever been, and Tom had to open my door for me, lest it fling off. That's an actual thing in Iceland. Doors rip off of cars. All. The. Time. It's insanity. Before going to the wreck we went to the Skogafoss waterfall. It was beautiful, but we (or rather I, because Tom was a badass and went so much closer) couldn't get too close because the water and the winds were so strong. It should've been an indicator for the hell ride we were in for that 1 hour walk, but we were ignorant to the pain that lied ahead.
Walking towards the wreck was great. The wind was at our back like a playful friend urging us to discover the raw beauty of something broken. We giggled, joked, and took photos of the poor souls who were hiking back braced against the wind. It couldn't be THAT bad.
By the time we got to the wreck the wind was a bully. I was pushed and shoved, and couldn't get my shutter speed fast enough to get a focused photo. Jack lost his lens cap to the demon beast winds, and I took solace within the wreckage of the plane until Tom finished taking his photos.
The walk back was hell itself. The winds were ridiculous and punishing as they knocked me down more than once. Ice and snow whipped my face raw, and I snotted, cried, and prayed for death. I was not being dramatic. Promise.
“Fuck you” became a mantra that was ripped from my lips and away into the desert of the black sands. My yellow sunglasses became a sacrifice for an unwieldy beast. They were torn from my face, snapped in two, and disappeared from sight in a matter of seconds. Tom had offered to take my backpack if I took his tripod instead. I clutched it like a lifeline the pan-head digging into my jaw so much that I developed a raging migraine and bruise the next day. The guys were far outpacing me, however Jack kept looking back to check if I was still there. Unfortunately, I was.
I did a lot of contemplation during that bitch of a walk. It was harder than my half marathon, more painful than losing toenails, breaking a finger, damaging my elbow when I fell off a boulder, or even the aftermath of getting my wisdom teeth pulled… I never really experienced pain before, in all honesty. Two things kept me going during that walk:
1- I'm a Francis and I can do anything 2- There's a hot car and Swiss Miss at the AirBnb if I survive this hellhole.
Spoiler Alert: I made it and I was A-Okay. Although I promised myself that I would never do that walk again. Spoiler Alert (again): I DID do that walk again AT NIGHT. I fell off the wreckage, but I was FINE.
This trip was a milestone for me in so many ways, and my friendship with Jack and Tom will probably mean more to them than they will ever realize. The camaraderie and the warmth of friendship that spread between us through shared breakfasts, and gulps of SwissMiss. From that night in the hot tub where I introduced to them “The $5 Bet”, and got 5 euro from being dared to roll in the snow, to when Tom accidentally put dish soap in the dishwasher and soaked the kitchen floor. We bonded while watching each sunrise and sunset, and through chasing the Northern Lights (I never could get a good photo). It marked the closing of one chapter of my life, and the opening of another one that is more exciting than I ever dare to dream of. Never in my life have I ever been so grateful. I've been blessed to see and do so many things: snow (and a blizzard at that!), a new country, black sand beaches, and gorgeous waterfalls.
Your limitations should not define you, and though you might have been a victim at one point that does not define you either. What you do, how you live, how you cope, and ultimately how you survive is how you define you. Seek solace in friends, and the familiar. When you're ready (and even if you're not) seek out a place that scares you. Shock your body and mind into starting anew, and to see the world that is so much bigger and much more powerful than your foes. Find somewhere that lights up your soul, because much like the DC-3 plane you can find beauty in the wreckage.
HUGE thank you to Tom Durn of Tom Durn photography seriously, you are incredible and anyone would be lucky to have you photograph their wedding. Please go visit his photography site, and book him. HE TRAVELS (duh)
Also: Major shout out to my new (not so new now) friend Jack <3 I'm so glad to have met you, and you are probably the most caring and badass driver I've ever met. Thank you for no letting m slip and fall off a cliffside, seriously you are major.
Here's some of my favorite photos Tom took ^_^ ALL photos (with the exception of one) are his.