Bart Och - Travel Journalist

It happened suddenly. A looming realisation that the designs I have imagined for my life rest on blurred lines and intoxicated dreams. Disappointment. Heartbreak. On a cold, wet grass, surrounded by hills wrinkled with the cruel Icelandic weather, I put my backpack on.

There is no going back now. I forget the pain in my feet. I forget the weight on my shoulders. I forget everything as I put another depleting mile after mile behind me. My eyes set ahead, on the horizon of the desolate, ever-changing landscape. The oblique sunlight flirts with the endless meadow, giving it hopes of warmth, giving me hopes of clarity.

I find that clarity, a few days later, somewhere in the valley of Landmannalaugar. The rain hasn’t stopped for hours. I sheltered in the deceptively sturdy confines of my tent.

Fully clothed, a thick sleeping bag wrapped around me, I pour a small cup of hot chocolate from my thermos; the steam leaps out and curves around my fingers. I sit there in silence, listening to the storm lashing through the plateau. Focused, I slowly trail the tattered map with my index finger. I think of lonely roads and pristine glacial lakes. The smell of fresh air, the touch of the morning sun on my bruised skin. The feeling of dewy grass on my bare, blistered feet.

The rain stops as the night creeps in. I can’t tell how long it has been. Time feels irrelevant in the cosy interiors of the tent. In the early morning, I pack my things quickly, heedlessly – I have become very proficient at this everyday-task by now. My face curves into an honest, untainted smile as I lift my backpack off the ground. A smile that unties a knot and holds a promise of possibilities.

I decide as I walk away, to live for such moments – for silent conversations and unbridled smiles – to live for beginnings. To carry the weight of my choices with my head held high and my eyes wide open, keen and curious – to never look back.

A friend who is getting engaged, a friend who is getting married, a friend who is having a baby, a friend who just got a promotion. And me, bending over backwards trying to fit in, always building castles in the sky, consistently annihilating my dreams.

‘You should think about your future,’ a muffled voice whispers relentlessly in my head. I listen – patient, incredulous. ‘You don’t have to quit now. Wait for another few months and do what you feel like then,’ it preaches.

But I don’t want to wait. I can’t.

I can’t fathom this limbic aversion we have towards quitting. We treat it like a crime. They say it is an escape from responsibility. My patience begins to evaporate; my pacing becomes urgent. I want to make everyone see beyond fancy titles, company names, and salary figures.

The London night eases into the quiet street outside my small, rented apartment. I feel an absolute disconnect with everything. It is time – I know it. The dread of going back to work. The inviting ebb-and-flow of life on the road: of cramped dorm beds and extended bus rides, of dirt on my shoes and salt in my hair. I am taken. Completely. Inescapably.


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