Messages in a Bottle #4: Cold Lang Syne

Today’s winter storm event – Winter Storm Liam – is turning out to be a non-event for my area. There are two more potential snowmakers behind it, per my favorite bedtime story,  aka The Weather Channel. Maybe those will live up to the hype that Liam didn’t.

The blizzard we ran into in Iceland in the final installment from my holiday trip was decidedly not a non-event. I assume it was the same bomb cyclone, aka Winter Storm Grayson, that caused our complications as the one that caused problems for most of the U.S. Either way, this entry is dated 1/2/18. Its lessons include a) always scan your important documents into Evernote if you have ADHD, even if you are on vacation, and b) get the winter damage rider on your rental car if you visit Iceland in January. The pic of just sheets of white is a road. If you don’t believe me, look for the road signs as hints. We drove in that.

A true adventure, per my partner, is not just an intense or extreme activity. It has to involve a real – thought hopefully small – risk of death. Our fjord adventure counted as an adventure because of the multi-hundred-foot drop that would have awaited us if we took the turn wrong. Getting stuck in the snow technically wasn’t an adventure, as we were never at risk of death. We were just inconvenienced once it happened. (I think we could debate whether the fatigue that caused him to pull over in the first place counted as an adventure part of the evening, but that’s a debate for another time.)

I apparently count an adventure as anything where I eff up. My partner was driving during the fjord adventure, so, while it was understandably scary, it didn’t trigger a full-scale anxiety attack. I can skydive tandem without anxiety – I have skydived tandem without anxiety- because I believe my instructor doesn’t want to die. Thus he will not let me fail. (He won’t let me fail like I otherwise would, as the bully-in-my-brain would have me believe.) I probably would never skydive solo because then the embarrassment of my death would be all on me. The surprise blizzard that hit us today counted as an adventure for me. It didn’t for my partner. Or, at least, only the driving part itself counted. The part that sent me into a panic didn’t fluster him at all. There was no risk of death: just one damaged car door and one further piece of evidence for the bully-in-my-brain that I’m incompetent. Rejection sensitive dysphoria doesn’t take a vacation.

We missed the part where there was a bomb cyclone a-coming. We were having trouble finding weather reports that were region-specific in Iceland in English. So, we just looked at road.is and followed it like lemmings. Today we visited the black beach of Vik. It isn’t a traditional sand beach. It’s a beach made of tiny volcanic basalt that has been ground down into grains the size of sand. There are also signs on it on the best of days warning about the high winds. We visited it while a blizzard apparently sprang up around us. Tiny grains of volcanic basalt hitting you in the eye hurt like a mother! Also, it is possible to be swept off your feet completely by hurricane-force blizzard winds. At least it is possible to be swept completely off your feet if you have no balance (like I do.) I’m very glad we didn’t go up on any high cliffs or down right by the crashing ocean waves. We are not those tourists** who willingly ignore safety ropes put there by people who know the area much better than us. We weren’t those types of tourists, to begin with, but we also met a few of those tourists** on this trip, and we watched one of them have an adventure that was way too much a true adventure by both of our definitions to risk it. So, when the winds started up, we headed back to the car.

And, I effed up. I am entirely too weak to be trying to open car doors in blizzards. The wind ripped the door right out of my hand and cracked it. It would have taken the entire door off and flung it into the ocean if not for my partner’s quick thinking and superior physical prowess. So, that was my first mistake. Why was I stupid enough to try to do something physically beyond me like keep hold of a car door in a blizzard at all? My second mistake came during what should have been the triumph that made up for the first mistake. At the last minute, we had caved to the recommendation of our rental car agent on our first day in the country and bought the super-deluxe-extra insurance that included “winter storm damage” coverage. We had learned that things like a cracked windshield from falling ice are not covered by the normal insurance. The normal agency insurance only covers damage incurred during road events. Winter in Iceland is apparently not a normal road event. Visit the country in January at your own risk. We bought the winter storm rider. Thanks to the surprise blizzard, we made the right call.

Except, because we had added the insurance at the last minute, we had never received an email copy to confirm we had, in fact, added it. We only had one receipt – physically handed to us on day one by our agent – to confirm our claim we didn’t owe the entire cost of our now obviously blizzard-damaged door.

My partner spent the next two hours worrying about driving to our next destination in a rapidly worsening blizzard that eventually created full whiteout conditions. (We found out later the authorities did actually close the Ring Road, stranding a lot of tourists. However, we were already on the Ring Road at the time that it closed. There was nowhere for us to go but to push on through, so whiteout driving on a closed road it was! Nobody came and got us because by the time they could have come and gotten us, we’d have already reached the next town. There isn’t a lot of anything on the road between small towns in Iceland. Once you start traveling, you have to just keep going and hope for the best.) I spent the next four hours freaking out because guess who has ADHD and managed to lose the receipt before she could scan it into Evernote?

Forget natural disasters. I’ve been there, done that. The most terrifying thing in the world to me is that we might go broke because I failed. My partner misjudged the surroundings and got us stuck in the snow. He shrugged it off. I was both the one who pushed for the extra insurance and the one who lost the proof we had it. I couldn’t take credit for the former or shrug off the latter. It’s probably a good thing the blizzard was too bad to really do anything else today because I was an anxious wreck for the rest of the day. My partner tried to convince me that we either owed for the damage or we didn’t, and there was no point in wasting vacation time that could be better spent engaging in a bit of New Year’s Jolabokaflod in a nice hotel with a cup of cocoa. He tried to convince me I’d regret even the blizzard day “wasted” to anxiety after I was back home working and stressing out about everything else I might be doing wrong. It didn’t help.

He eventually gave up and tracked down the one live operator on the entirety of planet Earth that our car rental agent employed who finally was able to confirm that, yes, they had our extra rider in the system. No, we didn’t owe on the damage. The agency could even come out and exchange the car for a non-broken one and we could enjoy the rest of our travels. The crisis was resolved satisfactorily, but, because it touched on my own mistake(s), I wasn’t able to calm down after it was taken care of because there was that moment during the call when the agent couldn’t find the random note typed into our file. There was that moment where she didn’t believe we had the insurance. What if? What if the original agent had forgotten to add the note? What if I just wasn’t so stupid and had neither damaged the care in the first place nor lost the proof that we were fine anyway? What if I’m going to mess up in another way because it’s only a matter of time? Someone stupid enough to lose their only proof of insurance and to risk a multi-hundred – or maybe thousand – dollar bill will mess up eventually. Someone almost stupid enough to have not bought the winter damage rider at all will probably forget it next time. Someone like me won’t hold it together forever. Damn it, anxiety and RSD. Why is your definition of an adventure one in which we get in trouble because I’m an idiot?

**1/4/18 Post-Script:

Someone like me may be an idiot. RSD will never let me forget that fact. After all, I’m currently still awake and writing about how I’m an idiot while I should be checking if the sky has cleared enough to see the aurora tonight. (We saw it during our fjord adventure, but I have no photos. I’d like to see it again at a time when I can properly document it for my scrapbook and have a better view than through blowing snow out a car window.)

However, I am thankful to the bully-in-my-brain for at least giving me credit for not being quite as much of an idiot as some of the tourists we have seen. The worst I have personally witnessed this trip is a group of tourists blithely climbing over the safety rope to get up close and personal with volcanic fumaroles at Namafjall. The signs clearly indicate those fumaroles are spewing 80-100 degree Centigrade steam. I know I said that I wanted to experience a volcano, but I only wanted to experience one safely to count it on a technicality for my goal of experiencing all of the natural disasters. I very much did not want to experience the last two on my list the way I have experienced some of the other natural disasters. I have no wish to be boiled alive.

I am grateful to the bully-in-my-brain, especially, for giving me credit for not being the tourist my Partner met in Katla Geothermal Park. My Partner climbed a small hiking trail to see a scenic view of a river basin down below. I stayed in the car because it was icy and steep. That type of hiking is in my past thanks to an autonomic nervous system dysfunction that often makes stairs challenging. It was too much for me physically, but it wasn’t for my Partner. He climbed to the top of the ridge and peered down into the basin, but he stayed inside the safety lines. He also took less-than-perfect photos for me.

Another tourist with a camera wanted perfect shots with his fancy camera. He didn’t stay inside the safety lines. My partner got to watch him slip over the slide of the ridge and have as much of a true adventure as it is possible to ever survive. He landed just perfectly in the one place that wasn’t a sheer drop down into the river itself. There was a single narrow trail of switchbacks, accessible only in summer, and he landed on the single strip of the icy trail of only a few feet across. A few feet to either side – or if he’d slipped a bit more on the switchback itself when he’d landed – and he’d have gone over. My partner saw it happen in real time. I didn’t, but I believe him when he came back down far enough in the future I was starting to get worried about him myself. He was with the couple when they came down the mountain. I know enough German to make out the gist of the types of things the man’s girlfriend was calling him. She was still quite noticeably cry-yelling, and she made sure to warn my Partner over and over in English not to ever be the stubborn fool her own partner was. From what I can tell, the couple hung around a bit longer to warn future tourists not to do what they had done. I’m an idiot, but at least I’m not that idiot. That is an adventure I do not want, and a type of death – if things went less luckily for me, as they likely would – that the bully-in-my-brain would manage to find a way to torment me about well into any afterlife that might ever turn out to exist.

 

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