If I couldn’t find the path on the ice, what was I going to do? This question pressed uncomfortably at my mind but at least it was a distraction from my blistered, swollen feet. In this moment I knew that I was facing six or seven more days of this pain; of this indecision. I begrudged every gram of weight in my pack.
This was hypothetically only two kilometers from the camp I was aiming for, but it would be a lot further if a glacial excursion left me lost in Icelandic backcountry.
How will you feel if you walk all the way back?
Good point, me, but how will I feel if I get lost and die of hypothermia?
Whose idea was this?
As I stepped onto the ice, my internal voices continued to argue, and I kept walking. I could pick out some footprints here, or a shallow depression there, and once in a while even a gloriously tall wooden trail marker in the snow. It turned out I didn’t need orienteering mastery.
A few hundred meters in, I looked back. The air was like a blanket of water and I couldn’t see past the snow through the fog. Walking through a sea of frosted grey and white while the ground faded into the air where they met was a wild sensation. 360 degrees of wet nothing.
I have never felt so alone or, frankly, been so alone.
So I cried. Obviously.
I released the straps on my bag and dropped it into the snow and just stood there crying. Don’t get me wrong; this was at a time in my life when I had a few things to cry about. But this wasn’t entirely about those things. It was more a kind of emptying.
Because The Outside lets you do that: feel whatever you want and stand there pouring it out with no humans around to react. The Outside is utterly indifferent.
To call it indifferent sounds negative, but indifference does two things: it forces us to take total, sole responsibility for what we feel, and at the same time allows us to feel anything. We don’t have to justify it out there.