This is the first time I've travelled on my own for a while and already I've gone through the whole gamut of emotions from "oh, fuck, what am I doing" to "this is going to be fucking great". Most of these before I had even finished packing.
Speaking of which, I was up early to finish packing my bag. Most of it was done last night, but a stinking headache and what felt like the beginning of some horrid bug had me in bed early. Tossing the last few pieces of kit into my crayon-orange bags, I tied up some other loose ends.
As always a trip like this sneaks up on you. Work has absorbed all of my time for the last few months and I have made a shamefully tiny quantity of images that I could say I was proud of or more importantly enjoyed making. This trip was to be three weeks of sheer image making joy. Or at least I desperately hoped it would be...
Finally all the zips were pulled closed and having had a tentative lift of both the bags I was certain I was going to get raped at the check in desk for the extra bag and what felt like tens of kilos over the weight limit. Too late now to try and slim anything down. Michael brings the car closer to the house and I'm struck by the fact that I used to be able to do this with a lot less baggage. Not any more it seems. The promise of my massive 4x4 has meant that I have no reason to skimp on comfort.
I hope that the ground covered between the top of the ramp at the station and the check in desk at the airport is the hardest of the entire trip. It's an airport, so lots of people have heavy bags? Many will have slimmed down or left their English currency at home? But to get a trolley I needed a £1 coin. I didn't have one. My arms ached and the bags felt heavier than ever. Reaching the check in desk I was pleased to see that it would only be the fee for the second bag. I was certain their scales were broken. There was no way there was only 18kg in the one I was sure weight 40 and so paid the fee gladly.
Being a bank holiday weekend, the airport was full of small screaming children, stressed looking parents manhandling suitcases, scooters and pushchairs with varying degrees of success as the smaller versions of themselves burst into tears.
I squeezed into one of the airport lounges and waited for my flight to come round. A combination of a flight delay and listening to a group of women natter and cackle meant I wondered back into the airport to pick up a few bits from boots. In the minutes this took, the lounge filled and they were unable to let me back in. Lingering on the main concourse I waited for my gate to appear.
When checking in I was amazed that the exit row seats, usually gold dust, were still available. Leg room! The compromise is being the last to board. I stuffed my camera bag, tripod and coat into any space I could find in the overhead lockers (I would be the last person off too it to be able to retrieve them) and got very comfortable. Actually I was so comfortable that I was asleep by the time we were taxiing to the runway and was totally unaware of a further delay to our flight. When I woke up we were somewhere over the Scottish islands.
Now, I'm a Londoner. A born Londoner. Travel on a plane is not unlike the tube. You exchange pleasantries to get past people, maybe a nod or a smile to your fellow passenger but generally it's a solitary experience. I put my headphones on and was listening to music, in the hope of getting a little more sleep when the lady next to me tapped me on my shoulder.
"Where are you from...?"
We had a quick chat. I put my headphones back on as quickly as I could without trying to be rude but then the next tap came.
"Is that an iPhone...?"
Again a quick chat. The lady and her friend thought I had an iPhone but just wanted to check. The interruptions kept coming and the pair became more and more animated through the flight, especially as the on board shop wheels past. The attendant ends up pulling almost every item from it and having to find each in the on board magazine and make a guestimation about what it cost in dollars. I think everyone was relieved as we began to descend, except maybe the flight attendant who was strapped into a seat facing the pair and received a grilling about where she was from and did she have a boyfriend.
I was collected from the airport at Reykjavík by a man named Johan. Well this is Iceland. He had been stood by the door exiting customs with a piece of paper with my name and several others on it. Helping me heave my huge bags into the back of a people carrier, we then drove for 20 minutes into a desolate looking industrial estate. He leads me into a blue wooden shack with a door that has a knack to the latch and I start to wonder what I've gotten myself into.
Eventually I am much lighter in the wallet and handed the keys to a tired looking Jeep. It starts and runs. I'm told to ignore the warning light about the tyre pressure sensing system. A sat nav is included! I faff for a good ten minutes digging out cables and my 12 volt USB adapter so I can charge my phone, figure out where in Reykjavik I need to get to to collect my camping gas and then I'm off!
Having not driven a car in a while and being on the wrong side of the road, I was pleased I had gone for an automatic. It's very worn, slightly smelly but warm and comfortable. Maybe by the end of the trip it'll be one of those quirky things I laugh about. There's a lot less traffic on the road and I make good time. I park by the shop and access the twenty four hour lock up where you can collect your goods out of hours and there on a shelf with a note from the lady I had emailed, were my two gas canisters sat on a shelf waiting for me.
I decide to pull out the camera bag and make the short walk to the Sun Voyager, I sculpture on the Rejkyavik harbour wall and all of five minutes from where I was. It can be immensely beautiful at sunset but today was cloudy and just starting to rain as I arrived. No matter. I had to start somewhere. Waiting for a moment where it wasn't vein scaled by other tourists, I took a few photos.
Back in the car it was time to figure out where I was going. Iceland at this time of year is deceiving. It felt about 3pm but in reality it was 7:30 and most things had closed. Including the supermarkets. I flicked through the guidebook to where I had stuck a post-it note labelled day one. Either I had been really switched on whilst planning or it was a complete fluke that I had picked a site not far past the airport in my anti-clockwise direction that had free camping and if the weather improved would give me great views at the start of the next day. I set off for Gardsskaga headland.
I stopped at a petrol station on the way to pick up essentials. Some water. Some quick cooking "chicken flavoured" noodles and dropped what I thought was a good amount of petrol on top of my half tank to get me going. It didn't make a dent.
I sit on the headland for a while watching the rain last against the windscreen and wait for an appropriate moment to get out and pitch my tent. I debate sleeping in the car but no, not on the first night. A lull comes in the rain and after a few moments of wondering whether I would become a human-kite hybrid, I suddenly have a tent.
Sheltering against the wind, I boil some water and begin to cook my noodles. It's clear when I open the sachet of "chicken flavour" that they have never seen nor are they about to see anything that might have once been a chicken. More like chicken crisp flavoured. Someone has described chicken to someone who has never eaten a decent roast dinner and this is their approximation. The colouring of the flavour sachet is so intense that it doesn't come off my pan as I wash up and I worry that I'm going to have coffee with a hit of chicken for the rest of my trip!
I need to spare a moment for my usual travelling companion. Sarah: I thought of you when I found my Thai sachets of instant coffee in my wash bag - winner for the morning. I don't think I'll need the sunscreen, but I wait to be proven wrong!
It's 10:30 by the time I settle into my sleeping bag and finish inflating my mega sleeping mat. The wind is rustling the tent and there's the occasional smatter of the rain. It feels pretty great to be camping by the sea in Iceland.