The first day of Icelandair's non-stop service from Seattle to Reykjavik featured flowers and music, champagne and fanfare. The second day was business as usual, with the full menu of petty indignities that modern air travel has on offer.
Extortionate baggage fees? Check. Ten bucks for a pastrami sandwich? Got it. Seven hours in a cramped tin can? Coming right up.
It's been exactly two weeks since I limped home from my lap around America. Two weeks of doctor's appointments and acupuncture and endless whining about my aching sciatic nerve bundle, whose very existence I was blissfully unaware until 19,000 miles of driving brought it to my attention. I spend my waking hours in a narcotic haze; a walking, talking (or limping, mumbling) advertisement for the unpleasant side-effects of animal tranquilizers.
In reality though, nobody wants to listen to you bitch about how much your ass hurts, so maybe it's just as well I can no longer string a complete sentence together.
There was, however, the matter of preparing for four weeks of arctic travel in the midst of Seattle's glorious Mediterranean summer. I dig through piles of smelly expedition weight fleece and gore-tex while the sounds of summer echo through my open windows. I somehow cram it all into my cases, carefully weighing each one on my bathroom scale and then making my way onto the plane with nerve bundles dancing with excitement.
Once on board, I pop a couple more Percocet to change the subject and hours later, somewhere over the high arctic, orange light fills the cabin as the sun skirts the horizon. I sit there half-baked in the warm midnight glow, speeding over Greenland's melting ice sheet and toward the volcanic island beyond.
I land as evidence of civil unrest is being cleared from the downtown streets. Turns out it's just the broken glass and debris from another wild Reykjavik Saturday night. The Icelandic economy might be on it's knees, the once-proud currency a cruel joke, but none of it is slowing down the hard-drinking sons and daughters of Viking blood.
The upside of all the economic turmoil is that suddenly, the whole country's on sale. The downside is that hordes of cheapskate Europeans know it, and have descended in noisy crowds to this rugged arctic wilderness. Last time I visited here, I was surprised to share the nation's waterfalls and geysers with the country's Vice President as his security entourage of one napped in the parking lot.
This I'm elbowed aside by a knot of French backpackers and trampled underfoot by busloads of ill-mannered Italians. I try to remain philosophical. The VP didn't seem all that thrilled to see me, either.