“Well, of course it’ll be difficult!” Fabrizio stretches his hand out to the cigarette pack and appears nervous, as the conversation hits the subject of the hardships he will face on the way ahead. Quite curiously, I feel I am getting quite stressed and in a vein for smoking too. Comfortably sitting on a sofa at home, wearing a fleece that has clearly known too many winters, and looking like someone who definitely is not on his way out, Fabrizio is telling me about his imminent summer adventure: a forty-day solo expedition across the Icelandic Highlands, organised in cooperation with Cintamani and the Reykjavik Grapevine. Yes, he surely has some reasons to be stressed and, given the high degree of confidence between us – after all, we have known each other for almost thirty years – he does not bother to hide it.
< b>So, how did this plan come about?
Well, the thought of crossing the whole country’s interior on foot, from one corner to the opposite one, has been with me for several years… I finally seem about to realise it.
Precisely, where will you be walking from? And where to? And how will the journey develop?
I’ll start in Ásbyrgi, the hoof-shaped canyon in the North-East, and end in Þingvellir in the South-West, just one hour (driving) away from Reykjavík. The tour will include such locations as Mývatn, Askja, Sprengisandur, Þjórsárver, Kerlingarfjöll, Kjölur, and a three-day traverse of the Langjökull icecap. It should roughly be a total of 550 km of off-trail walking, which I expect to cover in thirty-five to forty days circa, including a few rests in between.
Have the locations on the route been selected according to some particular criteria, or merely following your personal inclinations?
This is a good question, thanks for asking me that. I meant to put together an itinerary that touched at the same time on the remote and on the well-known, and especially one that could give a sample of all of the diversity and variety of Icelandic landscapes – I think I managed. On the way I’ll encounter green valleys, barren glacial and lava deserts, geothermal areas and volcanoes, wetlands pullulating with life, and plenty of glaciers – all the best Iceland has to offer, except for the sight of the Ocean, maybe. I think, in this sense, the route to be highly representative of the whole country.
At a different level, also the starting and ending points of the trek have some special significance: Ásbyrgi is place of mythological memory, while Þingvellir represents the breeding ground for Icelandic institutions and political life. As such, the journey can be seen as symbolising the progress of mankind from mythos to logos. Or, in a more personal way, as a sort of initiating quest bringing me back from the mists of an outlaw and ghost-infested wilderness, to the world of the living and of civilisation. A Freudian reading could also be possible.
Yes… Just a curiosity regarding your trip and your symbolic views around it: has anyone yet stood to question your mental health?
Some did, and I actually think you were among them.
Ok, perhaps I was a bit harsh, but I still am not sure I grasp the point about your endeavour. I mean, is there anything more to it than you proving something to yourself (and to me)?
Interesting remark. And yes, in my intentions there definitely is more. I am just convinced that first-hand contact with and thorough knowledge of one’s surroundings is fundamental in shaping a more motivated and better-informed ecologic awareness. In this sense, I think that trying to promote an interest for the outdoors and their fruition can represent a concrete contribution to a sound environmental cause. And for this purpose, it is of course very important that this enterprise will have a secure media outlet.
Do you refer to the Reykjavik Grapevine?
Yes, precisely, as an extensive report of the journey will be published as a series of articles, starting this August. It is something similar to what we already did last year with the Lonesome Traveller series, only on a bigger scale.
Yes, but do not forget that last year you did only the walking, while I wrote the articles, and it’s likely going to be the same now… But why solitude?
Well, being among people is quite a job, and summer should be a moment for vacations, shouldn’t it?
Will you bring any pastime?
For the first time, I think I’ll bring a book on a backpacking tour, but I haven’t decided which one yet. No music, as that would alter too radically my approach to the Highlands.
What sort of difficulties do you expect to encounter on the way?
Well, at a more general level, some of the areas I’ll cross are among the most forbidding in the country: rough terrain, shortage of water, and surely no human beings for many days in a row. More specifically, some glacial rivers could turn out difficult to wade, and the traverse of the Langjökull icecap is, of course, a source of major concern. It is the weather, however, that worries me the most: if it becomes unforgiving, things might actually become really hard. But I should not think of all of this, if I still want to live!
And how are you preparing for it?
Overall, I’m feeling quite ready, both at the physical and mental levels. So I am mainly working on some technical details now: prooftesting the gear, studying maps and the geography of the areas I’ll cross, and trying to gather as much information about them as possible. Knowing at every moment what to expect from the territory is what I personally deem to be most important. Also, I am going to finally clean-shave, so I won’t have to carry a razor.