- Post date:
- Tuesday, 9 May 2017
By Richard Wheeler
In 2016, Richard took on the challenge of the Iceland Trek to raise funds for RNIB. In this account of his journey, he describes exhilerating landscapes, making new friends, and gives tips on how to prepare for the expedition.
Deciding to take part in the Iceland Trek
In early 2016 I heard about a trek across Iceland that the RNIB was arranging to help raise money. I’ve always wanted to go to Iceland and try to see the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) and since losing my eyesight about 6 years ago due to a rare hereditary condition (LHON
), I was keen to try to give back to the charities and support networks I used during my transition. I also felt that the fundraising and even the trek itself would be great for my CV and to help prove myself, not only to others, but to show me personally that eyesight shouldn’t hold you back from accomplishing anything.
“I nearly doubled the initial fundraising target”
My girlfriend and I set to the task of raising the nearly £2500 that was the minimum to take part in the trek, and did this through a multitude of fundraising events
: holding a street collection with permission from the council, a stall at the local ‘hat fair’ in Winchester, wherein we both raised money and awareness of sight loss and probably most importantly a quiz and raffle, which we ended up raising £2300 from and took a lot of effort to prepare and host. I also decided to push myself to train up for a 10-12 mile assault course (Tough Mudder) and was determined to do a half marathon, which happened to fall on the following day after the assault course (although I had to pull out of the half marathon after spraining my ankle during Tough Mudder). After all my fundraising I was getting close to doubling the minimum target and was all set and ready for the trek itself!
Preparing to trek Iceland
Preparing for the trek itself took a long time and during the trek the phrase ‘better safe than sorry’ came to mind, as I didn’t actually end up using a lot of the kit I had brought along. Checking the weather beforehand, it seemed a similar temperature to the UK and whilst trekking, although I may have been the only one, I found myself getting too hot and trekking along wearing only a t-shirt with no extra layers unless it was raining. The cabin we stayed in was actually pretty cosy, with good electricity and facilities, and again, we ended up having the window open most of the time as the cabin tended to get pretty hot!
Making friends along the way
I had met my guide ‘Shad’ just once before the trek, but we got on like a house on fire and people kept asking how long we’d known each other, as they thought we’d known each other forever. The times at the cabin were spent talking about the days we’d had and enjoying good food, with good people. I tended to be the last one up chatting and drinking with everyone and having a brilliant time, then up bright and early to start trekking again. There were maybe about 20-30 of us in total and although a lot of us, including myself, were blind or partially sighted, there were also a lot of sighted people who came along as well. Having such a mixed group of people was lovely, especially how well everyone got on with each other.
Learning about Iceland and its culture
The first day we went out, we didn’t actually go that far, as the guides were trying to figure out how much they needed to accommodate us all and what they would need to do differently to help with any sight related issues. Although day 1 was slightly shorter, it had some great moments, chatting to the guides about Iceland and learning not only about the country in general, but also its culture, including the myths and fables the people are brought up on. This trek also helped us learn what it would be like in general and made me realise not to wrap up quite as warm and whilst I was resistant at first, after this first day I came to really enjoy using a trekking pole I had borrowed from another member of the group.
The breathtaking Icelandic landscape
The second day was a day of beauty and wonders whilst trekking in the foreign lands of Iceland, with its unpredictable weather, sunny and hot one minute, then sudden brief hailstorms the next! This was a much longer day and I think we all lost count of the number of rivers and mountains we climbed. We spent the day chatting and laughing, playing games and getting to know each other. The scenery was beautiful from what I could see and what I was told about it; having geysers and waterfalls pointed out to us at various locations. At about the half way mark, the option was given to head back if people didn’t want to go further that day as it was going to get a bit trickier, although only a couple of people headed back with the rest of us determined to travel on. The rest of the route was brilliant, walking right next to geysers and feeling the heat coming off of them, trying to avoid breathing in the sulphuric gases they were spewing off. We walked through hot streams and ended up walking next to many rather dangerous drops to our sides; the phrase ’death drop’ to your left or right became commonplace to me and my guide.
“This had to have been the windiest weather I’ve ever been in”
The third day and final day of trekking was in my opinion the most exciting. The option was given to carry on trekking or to go to the hot springs nearby and relax; it was an obvious choice for me! I love to challenge myself and the reason I’d come all this way and to put in all this effort was for the trek. We began hiking up a rather steep mountain and a short way up we found ourselves in a wind tunnel. The whole way up it was windy and rain was blasting us in the face, but this was something different altogether. This had to have been the windiest weather I’d ever been in and it was a little frightening for everyone, as we were being blown all over the place and found it difficult to steady ourselves, with big drops to the side. After this wind tunnel some of our group decided to turn back, although they had put in some tremendous trekking over the week and everyone was very proud of what they had accomplished. We carried on hiking the rest of the way up the mountain and finally made it to a river which had geothermal hot springs heating it. It was a weird experience as everyone stripped down to their swimsuits whilst the rain and wind beat all around us and we were desperate to get into the river and warm up. Upon getting in however, we realised that the water was much colder due to the rain runoff and there were only patches of warmth that we were crawling over to along the shallow river bed in order to stay warm. This was still a fantastic experience and although my weary bones may not have been as well rested as those who went to the hot spring spa, I’m very glad with the choice I made.
A well-earned rest in Reykjavik with all our new friends
After this third day we had a lovely night out in Reykjavik and were treated to some of the local delicacy’s such as Lobster soup, followed by a fantastic night partying and dancing the night away with all our new friends. The next day before our flight home we managed to have some time to ourselves to check out the town itself and buy some mementos to take home. Shad and I had a great day looking about the place and ended up checking out some fantastic views up the church tower, going for a lovely breakfast and also checking out a local museum; they do have a rather eclectic range of museums on offer.
“I’d definitely recommend this sort of thing to anyone”
I’m so glad that I signed up for the trek and had a fantastic time. I’d definitely recommend this sort of thing to anyone and everyone that may be interested and would be more than interested in going along to a similar kind of thing again myself. I learnt so much, I made such brilliant friends and the time that I had trekking across Iceland was a fantastic experience that I definitely won’t forget any time soon!
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