Iceland Roomates

We arrive in Iceland.  The view from the plane depicts a small village with not much going on, such a contrast from Amsterdam. Perhaps it has secrets to explore we muse?

Our friends have arrived early this morning from Canada and kindly wait in Keflavik to chauffeur us to Reykjavik and our rental where eight of us will share the space.

Soon we are zipping along the highway trusting the GPS navigation to lead us to the correct place.  We twirl around, get lost, found again and arrive.  We haul our too large bags in and settle into our spacious room where it appears we have won the bedroom lottery.

A few of us venture to a nearby grocery store to buy provisions.  We rely on the GPS unable to argue and blindly follow directions and turns that seem to come too soon.  “Turn now,” I implore as Gilles going straight has to make a hairpin turn to keep up with my directions.

The store is our first look at prices in Iceland.  Despite what is said about the high costs in Iceland, nothing prepares, a king’s ransom for nearly nothing.  We bite the bullet and buy less than we might have, had the prices been reasonable. We have to eat we decide. Coleen strokes the chocolate bar she has chosen for herself and I wonder if we will learn that less is more in Iceland.

We return to the rental.  John and I have brought cheese, meat, crackers and wine from Amsterdam to share with our friends, pricey though after the grocery store trip, much less than Iceland.  We sit back, relax with each other.  Our conversation begins where we left off,  the way it always is with great friends.

Carol has bought Brennivin, also known as black death, or burning wine. It is 40% proof,  a  unsweetened schnapps considered to be Iceland’s signature drink.  Generally it is served on special occasions and taken as a shot. Today is special as it marks the beginning of our newest adventure together.  Carol pours each of us a large tumbler.  A small glass of wine leaves me tipsy, so I decide to sip.    It is smooth and reminds me of the sipping gin John’s grandfather drank. I decide the sipping method works better for me as I would like to remember tonight.  John with his higher tolerance, drinks like a Viking all at once. “Skal,” we shout as we clink our glasses and announce the beginning of the adventure.

I smile, sit back, let the couch swallow me whole and relax while I think about how we met.  We  answered an email about an adventure to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and trained for a year, physically and mentally preparing ourselves for our assault on that great mountain.  We were victorious.  Although we thought we knew one another, the experience itself cemented our friendship in a way none of us could have imagined at the outset.  Since that time, we have included others’ into our group as I look over at Maureen who I’ve known for 19 years and Carol’s sister Coleen who sat out the Kilimanjaro climb and enjoyed the Safari that followed. Coleen has earned her Iceland stripes and our gratitude by researching the best places to see in Iceland in our relatively short amount of time.  We are blessed I decide, as I remember  countless evenings just like this one, drinking wine, eating great food, laughter talking about our shared experiences. Life is always sweeter when its shared I decide.  I wonder what we will experience in Iceland that will have us reminiscing years from now, on a cozy night just like this one.

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How far is a Marathon?

Wine, great friends and before the night was over I’d signed up to run the New York Marathon again. Misery liking its company I’d convinced my husband and a friend to sign up too. 

Generally I never do the same experience twice and yet this would be different. The first time, I taught myself, trained solo and ran the race with 45,000 new friends. This time, I’d train with my husband, and eleven Kilimanjaro friends, plus several new friends. Together we would run the race with 50,000 other people on race day.  It would be different. 

When people learn I’m running a marathon the most common question is, “how far is that?”  The simple answer is 42.2km or 26.2 miles.  This answer is incomplete. 

I began training in January. I ran through all four seasons, logging miles and running four days a week. I ran hills, cross trained by biking and walking and participated in total body workouts by attending Orangetheory for the first 6 months of the year. In total, I ran 1200km, the distance from Prince Edward Island to Manhattan. I will complete the final 42.2km on November 1st. 

I trained with the Pulse Generator group, led by Joan when I could and admired how each person transformed into fitter, leaner versions of themselves. I especially enjoyed the weekly run at my home followed by wine and great food, thanks Maxine and Gilles!  The hill training was difficult though fun when shared with the group. I’m thankful for all the words of encouragement. 

I started training early to gain strength and keep up with my speedy husband, John. In a case of be careful what you wish for, I will achieve my goal, though John will not run his best race. Surgery derailed his plans in early summer and while recovered, he is now battling bronchitis. We will run and walk and cross the finish line together, certain to remember that salient point years from now. Our finish time will not matter. We climbed Kilimanjaro together one year ago and I will never forget how John stayed with me that long night while I shuffled up the mountain. How fortunate am I to repay that selfless and loving act. 

I trained for a marathon and along the way I gained fitness, flexibility and strengthened the bonds of friendship. I learned what matters is not the time I finish but who is next to me when I do. NYC here we come!

  

Thankful

The night is magical as the stars peak through the canopy of trees above. We sit around the campfire and wait to be called for dinner. I think of our family and the Thanksgiving dinner that will be enjoyed half a world away. There will be too much food and too many choices, thanks difficult due to the sheer abundance of things to be thankful and yet little appreciation. We seem always searching to find thanks in our world of plenty. Tonight our thanks is crystal in its clarity. We have little of our typical comforts and abundance and yet in a small campground in Africa I look to the heavens and give thanks for life, for sight, for love. I am at peace.

Dinner is served and is special as we have all purchased wine and share with each other. Our meal is a simple stew, our mood festive.  The usual fare is extra tasty tonight. We each share what we are thankful for on this night. I’m thankful for John’s understanding, tolerance and love when I’m at my least loveable. We are both thankful for our family and our newest grandson. Collectively, we are thankful for the opportunity to travel, access to clean water and our new friends. We smile at each other under the glow of the camping lights and commit this night to memory.

After dinner we gather again at the campfire, our bellies full, wine in hand and chat. We learn more about each other. Stephen explains the education system in Tanzania. He has two sons, they wear uniforms to school and education is critical to achieving a better life. Our Canadian group talks of the places we would like to visit and what is next on our agendas. Stephen is strangely silent. I ask him if he travels and he tells us that this is not possible. It is not easy for a Tanzanian to travel freely. Many countries are concerned that they will not leave once they arrive. We are silent as we imagine what it would be like to not have this freedom, to have a passport that closed doors. Hussein joins us and we chat about religion. He tells us that his friends and family wonder how he can spend time with us as we are not Muslim. Stephen explains the difference between Muslims and Christians. He says that if a church of Christians are praying and a group of Muslims gather and state that the people in the church are stupid, the Christians would be tolerant. If the opposite were to occur, the Muslims would defend their religion using whatever means was required. Hussein smiled and agreed. It is an interesting glimpse into a different belief system. Its interesting that everyone’s beliefs are so intertwined into the fabric of their being. It is thought provoking to hear another way. We fall silent thinking about the words that have been spoken. On this night, we have solved the word’s problems as we are understanding of differences and not needing or wanting to force change.

We are soon off to bed. We will stay here two nights, and are excited about not needing to pack up tomorrow or drive around aimlessly at the end of the day while Stephen and Hussein shout into the radio at our camp staff, as our camp is not ready, yet again. They speak in Swahili but we have become experts at picking up non verbal cues and listening for the click of Stephen’s tongue and rapid head shake that symbolize his displeasure.

We sleep sound content with our full bellies, wine buzz and knowledge that the Maasai warrior will keep us safe from any predator.