I am riding through Iceland in a camper van, but if I look out the window, it feels like I’m on the moon. The terrain is lumpy and unfamiliar. My friends are sitting in the front navigating and I’m sprawled in the back on our makeshift bed, utterly useless to the cause, because I don’t know how to drive stick and I don’t know how to get anywhere. My purpose on this trip is less about functionality and more about providing a healthy dose of effervescent naiveté. The bed and carpeting of our camper resemble that of an early 90’s arcade. At night I sleep with my face mere inches from the camper’s roof on a bunk, reminding me of the way people get shelved away in mausoleums.
This morning we swam in hot springs, which are like natural Jacuzzis right there in the earth. You let the heat envelop your body and watch the steam roll off the surface. Most of this trip has been spent soaking our bodies like millennial noodles until we’re soft, chewy, and delusional. Yesterday we watched geysers explode into the air. People gather around at the base and then scurry away when the ground begins to rumble. Collective noses scrunch as these geysers reek of farts.
This trip started when Dee, McBride, and Hagen called me.
“Wanna drive through Iceland in a camper with us? These things don’t have toilets so it might involve some roadside shitting.”
“Yes.” I said. This is how I travel. Perpetually willing to tag along and do things to rattle my contents.
McBride is still reeling from our most recent hot spring. It was empty except for a wooden donation box with a handwritten sign at the gate. A fog contrasted brightly against the green of everything else. We plunged our bodies into the water, boiling ourselves. I thought of my mother and the hot baths she takes, so hot her legs turn red and her eye shadow melts down her face like some kind of Mediterranean clown.
I sunk myself deeper into the water so it covered my shoulders and so I could feel my muscles unfurl. My mind wandered to the giant hunks of anti freeze colored ice we saw floating in a glacier lagoon and the black sand beaches, where the sea foam bubbled stark white against the sand and the fog made the mountains look like sketches of dinosaurs that were haphazardly erased.
I looked at Dee, who packed two pairs of leggings, a shirt, and a few pairs of underwear into a backpack for this trip. She always manages to look comfortable and clean, despite how little we’ve bathed. Hagen was wearing her glasses; thick salmon colored rims that fogged up with the steam, so when I look at her I see white squares instead of eyes, freckles and straight, white politician-kissing-a-baby-like-teeth. We’ve all taken to calling Hagen “Coach Kay,” because her outfit of choice resembles a dad who coaches his daughter’s softball team: faded blue baseball cap, a Patagonia Navajo fleece, a neon yellow vest over the fleece, and black Adidas trainer pants.
In the distance, we saw McBride walking towards us. We thought she was rummaging in the van for her bathing suit. Even from far away, we could tell something happened. Her body language emoted urgency.
“I just took a shit behind a radiator on the side of the road. Cars were zooming by and I didn’t have any toilet paper and I had to wipe with my hand.” She holds up the hand and spreads her fingers wide for emphasis.
“But McBride,” I said, “There is a toilet,” I said. We laughed and partly delighted in McBride’s misery because there has always been something funny about her own personal spin on distress.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” she asked.
She turned around to quietly absorb the outhouse in the distance before slipping her body into the spring.
Now, it’s afternoon, and in the front of the van, I can hear them shouting about a glacier. McBride makes a sharp turn with the steering wheel until we’re on the side of the road. They hop out, slide the van door open, and let the light in.