After months of anticipation and preparation, I found myself anxious and excited to meet my classmates at school and carpool to Toronto for our flight. Arriving at our gate, five hours of driving behind us, five hours of flying ahead of us, I started to get to know my classmates. Work was already far from my mind. My youngest child was in safe hands. I felt a rare sense of freedom…I was unmoored and ready to grow. Arriving in Reykjavik at 6:22 a.m. (2:22 a.m. back home), we piled into two vans and took off for our hostel. I never got to do a year or even a semester abroad when I was in engineering school. Now was my chance to experience life abroad as a student.
After settling in to the hostel, with strict instructions not to nap, we changed into many layers of clothing, piled back into the vans, and drove halfway back to the airport. We were at our first site. Our mission was to observe. I pulled out my waterproof field-book and a mechanical pencil and looked around. The landscape was alien…so alien that filmmakers often use it as a backdrop in movies that take place on Mars and other extra-terrestrial places.
I sketched the outcrop in front of me…I saw a dark band of dark basalt heaved up over red rock. I moved closer and looked at the rocks. I was clueless. I looked around and saw that classmates were climbing up the rocks. I took a deep breath and started climbing. I mostly looked at my feet…the way was steep and the footing unstable. I nervously climbed higher and higher. A new classmate reached out a hand to steady me. I accepted, feeling part grateful and part pitiful. Eventually, I could look back and see a circular depression…a volcano crater! Or so I thought…
One thing that I needed to learn was how to be safe. I flashed back to the first time I was in Colorado taking skiing lessons. Three times on one downhill run, I almost died. I was out of control. After the third time, I finally internalized the lesson that it did not matter how slowly I descended the mountain as long as I was in control. I thought of that often every day I was in Iceland.
Meanwhile, some of my classmates had wandered much farther afield. The landscape was full of many similar structures and they were off in the distance examining them. Meanwhile, I continued to observe. I wrote a lot of random things in my notebook. I did not feel very scientific…I couldn’t organize my observations or my thoughts. Eventually we gathered and our professor gave us some insight into the site. It turned out that we were observing a cluster of rootless cones.
Even though I’d been up for over 32 hours, I felt energized. I couldn’t believe that I was in Iceland. I had eleven more days of traveling with my class, holing up in the hostel at night, working with my two undergraduate teammates by day, exploring volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls, and everything else that I could absorb along the way.
Find the Joy in the Journey…and what an amazing journey it is!