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  • Writer's pictureStefanie Chiguluri

"Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost"

...So they say. I guess maybe there should be more emphasis on the word ALL because the one time I truly wandered I got very lost. That's how I felt in the moment, but what I learned from this journey was worth wandering for.

It was yet another gray night in South Iceland. Regardless of the sun only barely setting at very late hours of the night in late June, the skies were often overcast, so it was never particularly light out. As a result, I had decided to skip seeing Gullfoss since I knew I wouldn't get to see the double rainbows it's known for. Instead, I chose to venture to a set of three waterfalls known for their phenomenal aquamarine hues (the primary one being Bruarfoss). I parked my car in a marked parking lot and easily found the trailhead of a 7k loop. I chose to go around counterclockwise which led me to find the waterfalls at the very beginning of the hike, only about 2k in.

The first of 3 waterfall sightings

At the beginning of the hike, there were even others around. In fact, this first picture was taken by another passerby. What happened was that I got so caught up taking pictures that, eventually, everyone I was previously following was no longer to be seen. Once I had found Bruarfoss, the final waterfall, I began to question whether I should continue the 7k loop or turn back the way I came. My adventure-loving brain thought "what could be the worst that would happen if I continue?" I quickly found out the answer.

I knew something was wrong when I found myself choosing between paths without any obvious markings to guide my choices. A little too far in, I realized I chose a horse path because, for a while, I was just trying my best not to step in horse dung and following hoof prints. There was no turning back though by this point.

I finally came to a clearing with two choices: Follow the path towards a large stream that I could see my car across from or follow the path up to a small town. The choice seemed obvious to me. If I kept going towards my car, I would eventually get to it. So I did. However, the path stopped at the stream. The waterway was all that was stopping me from getting to my car.

I was desperate now. I was eager to get back to my car and drive to my hostel. It was 9:30 pm. My phone was at 5%. All to say... yes, I tried to walk across the stream to my car. I could tell that I'd be able to touch the bottom the whole time while crossing and the current didn't look terrible. I had trudged about halfway across when I knew I wouldn't be able to make it all the way; the current was too strong after all. I needed to get out while I still could. I turned back and headed towards plan B, aka the town (By now this felt like a "choose your adventure game" where I kept choosing the losing adventure).

According to my phone map, I had two miles until I made it back to the parking lot. Yet another choice: I could walk and it would take about 40 minutes or I could run and it would take less than 20 minutes. I ran. Wet up to my knees, cold, stressed and exhausted, I made my way up a large hill to the town. I made it to another hill that led me back down to the highway. To the side of the highway, there was a path next to the shoulder that finally led back to the parking lot. An immense feeling of relief took over as I sat panting in my car.

A view of Bruarfoss after deciding to continue my hike

This whole experience made me question the frequently quoted phrase "not all those who wander are lost" originally written by J.R.R Tolkien in The Fellowship of the Ring. All I wanted to do was "wander"; I wanted to see what more this hike could've potentially offered. Were there any hidden beauties I would miss had I turned back? In retrospect, I would've missed out on quite a story and some great pictures that were taken after the waterfalls. What's more is that I also would've missed out on important lessons. Perhaps I wasn't lost after all.

Getting lost was ironically me finding the "more" that I was in search of, despite it being a difficult path. I overcame obstacles and, even in the stressful situations I was in, I was able to keep a level head and make decisions without panicking too much. Sometimes, you just have to go with whatever happens and readjust when things don't go as planned.

Now, after hearing all this you might be wondering how I could possibly still think of Iceland as "peaceful." I was questioning this too as I reflected back at my hostel that night. What I concluded was that even though it was a stressful experience, the calm I simultaneously felt had come from the stillness around me. I knew the nature present was constant; only my decisions were changing. So, like I already said, with a level head, I knew some path would lead me back to my car, whether or not it was the obvious one. That put me at peace.

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