by Faith Briggs
When Denis Irwin, Manchester United football legend, meets you at Old Trafford Stadium in Manchester, United Kingdom, arguably one of the most recognizable sports arenas in the world, and tells you that the task at hand is playing football in Iceland, you know you’re in the midst of an incredible adventure.
Hours earlier, my fellow Director of Toughness, Mark Chase, and I began our first journey as the Directors of Toughness for Columbia Sportswear. In this capacity, we travel the world testing gear and having incredible adventures for the next nine months.
The letter that informed us we’d be heading to Manchester was pulled out of a wooden envelope while standing knee deep in a gorge near the Multnomah Falls in Portland.
Surreal doesn’t quite describe the experience thus far, but it’s the best word we’ve found close enough.
We bundled up in our new Manchester United outerwear (yes, they’ve gained a new fan) and said goodbye to the UK to head to Reykjavik. The drive into the city was stunning. There’s nothing like a new landscape to underline just how far you are from home and the deep green moss rolling out from either side of the road reminds me that I am far from Brooklyn.
At this time of the year, Iceland has about four hours of daylight and it felt like 10PM when we arrived at the small pitch where we tested our football (soccer) skills. Students from a local school arrived in red and blue and were warming up, changing their shoes, kicking the ball around.
I realized Mark and I would be squaring off against each other. And wouldn’t you know it, just before game time we were called into the center of the field and Denis suspiciously ELATED, gleefully announced that whoever lost would take a dip into a glacial lake the next morning.
$%&Y $^&*ING #@!T
The looks on my new teammates faces add to the moment. One girl blurts out, “you’ll die” before being shushed by a friend. Another elaborated on the floating ice chunks. When it was time to play, magic was on my side…named Agnes, Arnhildur and Gunnar.
“They saved me from the freezing depths!”
Mark wasn’t so lucky, but I’ve never seen anyone take on an ice bath with such composure. The bloody murder screams I would have let loose were nowhere to be found as Mark coolly walked chest deep and took the plunge, surrounded by blue glaciers jutting out from the water. I was pretty toasty as I stood up gasping on shore, he seemed to enjoy himself and even started to splash around.
The next morning, in pitch blackness, we headed for the ice caves. Along the road there were brightly lit greenhouses and small towns springing out of nowhere. The sky was still a midnight blue at 9:30AM, but lighter hues began to show themselves and by 11:30AM, we were in an extended dawn.
We then climbed into a “souped up” monster of a truck and left the road for what I can only describe as dirt moguls. If you think you’ve been on a bumpy ride, I’ll raise you the drive out to Vatnajökull aka the Vatna Glacier. A few heads slam against windows later as we were pulling on crampons and hiking across the largest ice cap in Iceland towards an unknown location.
It was so cool, I’ve never walked on a glacier before and I enjoyed the crunching under my feet.
I thought about my parents; my mom would LOVE this and I’m quite sure my dad would hate it. I didn’t grow up doing cold weather sports and I think I’m the first person on either side of my family to walk on a glacier.
It was a thrilling experience.
At the top of a crest, steps lead down into the ice and we descended into an ice cave. I felt like I was surrounded by walls of blue diamonds, everything was so bright, pretty much indescribable and definitely one of the coolest places I’ve ever been in my life.
Back near the capital the next day, we checked out some rocky ridges that overlook the fields of moss we’ve all been freaking out about, they were beautiful. We learned from a local biologist that the moss grew in areas that were once lava fields following devastating volcanic eruptions.
The wind was whipping around and I’ve never been up on a ridge at wind speeds like this before. I had to hold on when I felt my body being pushed around.
It was riveting.
The view from the top of a ridge at the flat, seemingly endless, land below was insane. The colors were brilliant: blues, yellows, and oranges. We had just enough light left to also drive to a black sand beach and walk along the water.
The landscapes we’ve seen in a few days were so varied, cloudy blue water still as glass, the smoke of hot springs visible as you drive along, the most beautiful sunsets and even The Northern Lights. The color pallet is unlike anything I’ve seen. It really was a magical country, it made sense that there are stories about mythical woodland creatures.
If they live anywhere, I’d bet on Iceland.
It was raining on the way to the airport, which seemed fitting as we began the trip back to Portland. A journey through Iceland and back. There was so much to explore here and we know we’ve only touched the surface.
This island screams adventure and it’s the perfect place to be #TestedTough.
Follow Columbia Sportswear’s Directors of Toughness, Faith Briggs and Mark Chase, as they journey around the world and put our latest gear through the harshest conditions on Twitter, Facebook, Periscope, Instagram, and Snapchat (columbia1938).
Faith Briggs is an avid runner and documentary film maker from Brooklyn, New York. She’s passionate about sharing contemporary stories from diverse communities and can always be found with her camera, whether in the photographer’s pit during New York’s fashion week or in the cloud forests in Honduras. She lives by the motto #goodvibesonly and loves to show that women and girls, quite literally, run the world. You can follow Faith’s journey as Director of Toughness here and social channels including: Twitter | Instagram