Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Saga of Bavychlorskjevya boskjorB - Canto the Second

For those of you that have been waiting anxiously for the next installment in the Icelandic Saga of Bachelor boB (that's Bavychlorskjevya in Icelandic) here is the most recent post. Apparently he lives, but only by the skin of his teeth, and perhaps a few knuckles.
I should be dead.

Note that there is no humor in that statement.

I endured cold, rain, sleet, heat, non-existent trails, deep sand, sharp lava, impossible footing, quicksand (for real), bog, drought, sand storms, fog, impossible wind (tent was literally flattened, then dragged across the sands with me+gear inside = 250 lbs. *several* times in a night+day), etc. But all of that really means nothing.

My 20-day hike ended yesterday (Thursday), for on Wednesday afternoon (day 10 or 11; not sure) I was swept away during a river ford. Two rivers off of a glaciar have re-routed themselves into one. After hours of trying to travel upstream, through crumbling moraine, ice, and hidden mud pits, to get across or above the source, I went back downstream to the original jeep ford and headed across.

The current swept the very loose bottom from below my feet, a Leki hiking pole snapped, and I went under. Mind you, this river is ragging and barely above freezing, with a large floating ice content. I was tumbled, above and below the surface, for several minutes. A shoe was pulled off by the force of the current, but the gaitor kept it to me. Knowing that I would never make it out without both shoes, I gave up on stopping myself or standing up in order to secure the shoe and lost the broken Leki in the process. Somehow I managed to get my right wrist through the shoe´s laces.

At that point I was in fast and deep enough water to follow the advice I´ve read of getting yourself feet-first+head up going downstream. From that position, I dragged my hands to try to stop myself. They and my feet found bottom very abruptly soon after, but dragged for some time. Though stopped, I could not stand for the soaked pack, so I rolled over to face upstream. Trying to stand, I suddenly realized that my legs were so numb that they were failing, so I forced myself onto my knees using the Leki and both arms. Once up, I headed for the far shore only to be swept away again.

From there, I dog-paddled for the shore like my life was ending. (It was..) Thankfully, the current threw me to the bank and I dragged myself up it.. I could no longer feel legs or hands, which was good, as I dragged myself up the bank to behind a large boulder. (The wind was still gusting 40-60 kph.)

I have never even heard of someone shaking the way I did as I put on my rain jacket and pants. I was screaming to keep going and the blood was pouring from my hands and knees. The rain gear did what nothing else would of as I lay trembling behind the rock. Once I could stand, I headed for better cover, and noted that I had been swept downstream at least a mile.

My right hand was unusable, the shoe laces having constricted it in the current. I somehow managed to get my tent up with my left hand and right armpit. For the time, I thought my right wrist was broken. Though the howling wind quickly dried the pack, it had about 10 new lbs. of volcanic sand in it. My clothes were worthless (soaked + sand), but the waterproof sack and synthetic sleeping bag did their roll. That night was sleepless as the wind turned into a sandstorm. I sat up to support the tent "roof" for the worst part.

When morning came, I was coherent enough to know that no one was coming for me, no one would be coming by, and I was far enough away from the route to likely never be found. I did what it took to get walking again, having lost nothing except the one Leki.

My best way out was back across the same river. I cried at its edge.

Then I used my brain a little better than in the preceeding 24 hours. I followed the river for several kilometers downstream to the lake it entered. The area is currently in its seasonal drought and the lake is very low. Before reaching the lake, the river split into dozens of channels. I zigzagged my way across them, feet renumbed with ice water, until I was fully on the opposite shore.

This was still a very risky route, as the river *out* of the lake is impassable, which is why the trail takes the route it does. When I saw jeep tracks around the shore, I knew that it had recently been crossed and the tears now flowed from relief.

Around the very large lake´s shore, insane wind and deep sand still battered me, my hands and knees missing lots of skin and covered in cuts and blood blisters. My right hand was still about 50% too large and the fingers barely worked.

That´s when I saw 2 hikers, standing on the south shore, watching me approach. When I got to them, all I could say was, "I hope you guys are doing better than I am."

They had driven to the new dam (which removed the impassable drainage river) and hiked out to see if the river I was swept away in was fordable. They needed to know in preparation for doing a hike that covered some of my same route. I briefly told them my story, how to successfully cross it, and we 3 returned to their car. They were openly surprised by my route, being solo, and having survived. Icelanders don´t mince words.

An unimaginably different 24 hours later, I am back in Rekjavik (capital), showered, in twice laundered clothes, have about half my gear cleaned and dried, have the tent functioning again (it´s now died 3 times; I showered with it last night), have eaten a great pizza, cheese, fresh bread, and skyr (yogurt), it´s calm, bright sun, and quite warm, and I´m planning to fly to the north in order to do the end of my original hike. (That will skip the center section that virtually no one goes to/through, for very good reason.) I am covered in large, deep bruises, I´m almost certain that I have a damaged (not broken) right-front rib, my back hurts very badly in one spot, and I look like I fell off a mountain bike at full speed. But I´m not going to waste the next 12 days.

My fingers are very painful, so this has not been easy to write physically or emotionally. I´m not going back to check or correct. I just want everyone to know a few things:

I did something stupid. I should have known better. It almost cost me my life. Hikers die in that same river every 2-3 years and I knew that. I really should be dead. I´m not going to play the "What if...?" game and/or the "If only I had..." game. I´m just going to accept that what happened is what happened and continue to live accordingly, appreciating that I´m (mostly) okay and knowing that things can go from fine, to nightmarish, back to almost normal at dizzying speed. Life is perilous, tenuous, and precious.

Think about that and be happy.

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