The Road to Hell: A drive past Mount Hekla, Iceland

Iceland Road, Route 1

One wrong move and I’m a goner. A split-second loss of concentration, an over-exaggerated movement… a sneeze. Oh god, please don’t sneeze.  I don’t even feel the need to, yet now I’m worrying about sneezing. My mind’s wandering.

Stop. Concentrate. Back to the road ahead. What I can see of it anyway. Or it’s over for me. For us.

You see, it’s not just my own life I’m responsible for here. I have a passenger too. Which is making me even more nervous. Piling on the pressure that little bit more. Wrenching my gut another notch.

Not that my passenger seems to notice, or even share my apprehension. I don’t think. No, the fact Yatin is blissfully tucking into a bag of  tortilla chips and washing them down with one of those pint cans of Coke I’ve only ever seen here in Iceland suggests he’s fine with our current situation.

But he’s not the one driving. He’s not the one squinting to find the smallest bit of visible tarmac in front. Straining for the slightest sight of road markings that will keep us on track through the thick mist that engulfs us. Because that’s all I’ve got to go off here.

We’re so smothered in fog that I can see less than two metres ahead, or to the side. And although I can’t see, as we climb Þjóðvegur, the road out of the town Hella, I’m all too aware of the height we’re reaching and the sheer drop forming to my right. A strip of white paint and intermittent flashes of yellow road markers are all that’s stopping us hurtling off it.

Hella is an appropriate name right now. As this feels like hell. Which is ironic as I was looking forward to seeing hell, but from a distance, in the form of Mount Hekla. This famous volcano was named the ‘Gateway to Hell’ in medieval Icelandic scriptures because of its regular, fiery eruptions, and our route across the south of Iceland is supposed to be taking us past it. For an outstanding view. Except I can hardly see a thing.

All I’m getting is the road to hell. Just more mist, a metre of gravel ahead, and another pint can of Coke rolling distractingly across the dashboard with every tentative turn of my steering wheel.

And so this goes on for what feels like forever. A long, slow drive through what must be Iceland’s biggest cloud. Hardcore concentration. Virtual silence. A burning fear.

But fortunately, this hell isn’t for eternity. More purgatory, as it turns out.

As is the want of Icelandic weather, the mist clears in what feels like an instant. I now see we’ve made a descent and are back to near sea level. Things are looking up. Or ahead, at least.

We’ve missed Mt. Hekla, but in surviving that hazardous drive we’ve also escaped Satan’s clutches. Now a clear, visible road stretches far far in front. A heavenly drive through more of Iceland’s jaw-dropping scenery awaits.

“Is it my turn to drive?” asks Yatin, with just a hint of the devil in his eyes.



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