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  • Kaelan Brown

Dropping Bullets & Catching Moments

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain

I’ve always had dreams of finding myself lost in some great wilderness, eyes glued to my path, looking for an answer to whatever troubles I may have. Not to say that my troubles are all that great, I do find myself quite fortunate, however life can still be very daunting. Amongst the artillery that is my school, my music, my friends, my work, and all the other tasks and sounds that fly towards me like bullets, there is me standing on the other side of the gun, attempting to catch them all like some sort of Hindu god, perhaps Durga, for I am my own protector. Sometimes, as much as I love to live for the fat of it all and take in as much as I can, I find myself needing some sort of trimming, something to slice away the extra pieces and give my daily routine space to breathe. Yet, I live for joy, and I live for fun, and I live for spontaneous evenings, and hopefully waking up somewhere I don’t recognize in the morning. These moments provide the best stories in my opinion. It all boils down to why you don’t allow yourself to just take a leap and bring your closest friends with you for a new experience.

Thinking all of this, on a random evening last semester I quit my job and bought a ticket to Iceland for a random date over my summer vacation. I called my friend Craig from high school and told him about the trip, immediately he was on board. My roommate Carlos came into my room and after five to ten minutes of pressuring, I had myself two solid buddies to encounter the Icelandic wilderness with. However, there was still a missing piece. I felt I had taken some sort of leadership role in this gaggle of boys that I had been able to round up. Craig took the position of researcher, Carlos needed to leave the country for once, but still we needed some extra spice in this scenario. I called my friend Spencer, who’s a videographer that recently started his own company, asking if he would be interested in this spontaneous adventure. A man like Spencer is quick to jump onto opportunity, even if he is six or seven shots in at a Mexican restaurant celebrating some sort of achievement, contemplating a tattoo to put on his neck after the festivities. Despite all of this, Spencer woke up the next morning with an email confirming his booking of a roundtrip ticket to Iceland, our band was complete and ready for take off.

We first took a bus into New York City, because tickets leaving from JFK were much cheaper than from Richmond or DC. I was able to introduce Craig and Carlos to the city for their first time, hitting all of the spots they had seen in movies, working our way through the crowd, hypothetical life situations spilling from our heads, to our mouths, to the city streets. Spencer was going to meet us at my dad’s cousins house in Jamaica Queens later that evening for dinner before our flight. When we arrived to my cousin Eddie’s house that evening, we were greeted with a feast of Jamaican and hispanic food as well as a cooler of Heineken and a ammo box containing 15-20 various strains of marijuana. I’m not much of a smoker myself, but when your 70 year old family members asks if you’d like to “partake in the herb” with him, it’s hard to refuse the offering.

We ate like kings, talked about our travels and dined in splendor. Finally with only an hour until our departure, we realized we needed to head to the airport. My 70 year old cousin Eddie drove us, finding ourselves at our terminal literally minutes before takeoff. It’s a blessing we didn’t miss our flight that evening, seeing as our chauffeur to the airport was stoned out of his mind and missed our terminal entrance twice. To top all of that off, my companions and I were also under the influence, maneuvering ourselves through international airport security with the arm of paranoia firmly planted on each of our shoulders. Airports are essentially a confusing twist of boxes and tubes that you ride through to inevitably find yourself on a flying machine headed to a different country. Nothing is more entertaining than this idea when you’re high out of your mind with only 10 minutes to catch your flight, with the ever present feeling of Uncle Sam tracing your footsteps clinging to you until your body is in the air, out of the country, and over water.

We woke up in Iceland the next day, the long forgotten teeth of winter biting at our ears and fingertips. There were record breaking winds approaching the mainland that week, leaving us with the hope for a strong tent to house us throughout our travels. Our goal was to travel the Ring Road, which is essentially the singular highway of Iceland, circling the countries perimeter, and splintering off into separate roads at various towns and tourist areas. We spent the first night in Reykjavik at an airbnb we had secured at the airport. We wanted to explore the city as well as take the time to gather our camping equipment and get our bearings set for our adventure. The internet informed us before our trip that Iceland was an expensive country, and to be prepared for its costliness before traveling there. We were prepared, but clearly not well enough, as we were hit with some of the most expensive meals and outings I’ve ever had to partake in. An eight piece bucket of KFC was seventy five U.S. dollars, and I immediately knew my wallet to be meaningless. It was almost calming to know that whether I liked it or not, I would be leaving iceland with essentially no money. It almost allowed me to refrain from focusing on my expenses, wich flooded my focus with the raw sense of the travel at hand. We rented a car from the airport, crammed four sleeping bags, a cooking stove, and a small tent that we would end up sharing into our trunk with our luggage and left the city of Reykjavik.

Iceland is, at its core, a natural paradise. Despite the fact that the vikings essentially chopped down all of the trees there hundreds of years ago, the land itself is a beautiful mixture of icy tundra, deserted sand dunes, rocky, moonlike fields, and lush, green meadows. The most interesting part about the landscape itself is that one can encounter literally any of these environments in any sort of order at any given time on their road trip. There were moments on our trip where we found ourselves low on gas as well as morale, working our way out of a freezing desert, to be immediately greeted by the sight of frozen mountain caps, our tires leaving sand in the snow.

Our living situation was far from perfect, yet exactly what I wanted for our trip. The four of us had managed to keep ourselves from the impending storms and harsh winds in a three person tent, settling snug each evening next to one another for warmth like the beams of a radiator, taught and cozy. Due to our lack of funds and Iceland's extremely relaxed rules for camping, our first evening was spent next to a beautiful waterfall directly across a river from a paid camp site. All we thought about was the Icelandic beer in our bellies and the heaven that was our setting. Moments like these, where the distraction of a phone is executed, and the only thing to think about is the taste of dinner and the musical accompaniment to your mood, are those that we take for granted. I found myself thinking about my friends, how much I loved them individually, and how lucky I was to be alive and well, even if my dinner did only consist of sardines out of a tin can.

Everyday of our road trip, I spent watching our surroundings. The absolute beauty of a place essentially untouched by destructive human hands is something the world needs to see. I remember one day in particular when we were looking for a place to camp out for the night. We had just passed Budardalur on Iceland’s western shore, and I had let Craig, who didn’t have his license, practice his driving on the rolling hillsides of a “sound of music”-esque scenery, rushing past us like film projected on our windows. During the summer, the sun doesn’t truly set in Iceland for more than 2 hours, leaving a glow to our midnight memories there. We approached a grass field at the edge of the earth watching a sunset against the horizon, bursting with color, like some god started a fire in the heavens and the embers were the stars. What a wonderful campsite that was.

On our second to last day of the trip we were hit with the storm that was projected to touch Iceland at the beginning of the week. We managed to find a campsite that we drove onto in the middle of the night, setting up our tent in the corner as to avoid any charges that could ensue. We built our tent in the freezing pouring rain and took shelter. Buzzing with the warmth of a bottle of Icelandic Brennivin licorice vodka, and the last of our beers, we dozed off to the sounds of the storm. The winds tugging at our tent like a bulldozer trying to dig up our placement. In the middle of the night, our tent was destroyed by the winds. I don’t remember exactly how hard the winds were that day, but I do remember waking up to our campsite evacuated and pieces of our tent missing. Our things had been soaked by the torrential downpour that night and we had become engulfed in an emergency mission to get back to Reykjavik. We quickly packed up what was left of our tent into the back of our car and hightailed back to Iceland’s capital, missing a couple of interesting spots, but ultimately completing our goal of driving the Ring Road. We were able to find ourselves a cheap Airbnb upon our arrival and even were able to make evening plans with some friends we had made in the city, confirming our hopeful abilities to socialize in foreign countries. After two days of lounging around, exploring Reykjavik, and partying with the locals, we found our time in Iceland spent, and headed back to the states.

I remember leaving Iceland’s airport with some feeling of accomplishment. I’ve been to foreign countries before, and I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to see some of the amazing things that our world has to offer, but still this journey made me feel different. As I sat next to Carlos on our flight I thought about my friendships and my family. I thought about my life and my wish to see as much as I can before it’s all over. Sometimes the simplest of things are the most important, and the most grand landscapes force you to look at yourself in a new light. A light that can make you feel as small as a bug being analyzed under some microscope. I don’t know what else I will learn in this world, but I know that there is so much out there. Im happy to know I will never stop moving, but will always be ready to stop for a moment and take in what is offered.

I sat on my flight back to the U.S. with a Gull beer I had saved in hand, my friend by my side, and a heart full of thanks. I love this world, I love this life, and to whoever is reading this, I love you to. <3

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