Right now we are experiencing a blizzard here in D.C. (in late March!? wtf) so I figured it was a perfect time to talk about the coldest I’ve ever been.
Since we were kids, my brother and I decided we wanted to travel to Iceland together. This was way before we had traveled anywhere outside the U.S., but I still knew that one day that dream would come true. I think my brother chose Iceland arbitrarily, but who cares, it stuck.
After I graduated college, I moved to Spain for a year and my brother decided to come visit me. This was before the lovely, new airfare deals between the US and Iceland, so I wanted to take advantage of our proximity to the country at that time. We decided to take a little Euro tour, making Iceland our first stop. It was in the upper 90’s in Spain at the time, so let’s just say I was unprepared.
We arrived in Iceland at 11pm at night, and being summer, it was still relatively daylight out. I didn’t quite realize how underdressed I was until I saw everyone get off the plane. They all had hiking boots on and specialized winter rain jackets. I was wearing a loose poncho, a tank top and leggings… Luckily I had splurged on some hiking boots a few weeks before, which probably saved my life.
The whole Iceland trip was just as incredible as you can imagine. I won’t go into full detail here because I want to cover that in another post, but if you want to see more of Iceland and the other countries we visited, check out the video my brother made above.
Every trip that I go on, I like to do one really exciting activity. This varies a lot, some being much more thrilling than others. The one I landed on for Iceland was scuba diving. Now why in the world would I think of scuba diving? It was summer in Iceland, but the highs would only reach about 50 or 60 Fahrenheit. However, I was intrigued by a special spot in Iceland that makes it one of the most unique places in the world to dive at. It’s a little place called the Silfra Fissure in Thingvellir National Park (https://www.dive.is/dive-sites/silfra/).
When you dive here you are actually in two places at once, or maybe no place, depending on how you look at it.
The fissure is a crack between the Eurasian and North American continents, and it’s the only place in the world where you can swim right between them.
This water was especially beautiful because it was as clear as air. It’s actually glacier water filtered by a nearby volcano, and we were told it’s the cleanest water in the world to drink. When we visited the glacier, the tour guide said a high-class Gin bar in New York actually imported ice from this glacier–yes, all the way from Iceland! Now that’s some dedication and money!
Besides being clear, the water was also FREEZING. I don’t think you can grasp just how cold it was until you feel it. It’s like the analogy of giving birth. You think you can imagine that kind of pain (or shock), but you just can’t Nemo. It’s so cold almost nothing survives, so don’t dive here for all the exotic fish (spoiler alert: there are none!). The water stays an even 35-39 degrees Fahrenheit year round. It is glacier water after all.
The problem with water is that it cools your body much faster than air, 25% faster to be precise. This means that you are pretty much freezing your ass off from minute one. The good news is, the wonderful dive team will give you a dry suit. Never used a dry suit, you say? Well they are just like a non-permeable wet suit except that you wear clothes under it. They also cover more of your body, and you push a button to add/release air into the suit to keep you afloat. Just in case you were wondering, you will feel a crushing pressure from your suit that leaves you breathless when you are unable to inflate it fast enough. Some people have a panic attack. One guy from our group of four did, so the odds are really not in anyone’s favor. (Note: if you’re calm underwater even in stressful situations, then this won’t be you.)
The unfortunate thing about dry suit technology is that they haven’t (to my knowledge) mastered the ability to keep your face warm. In fact, your face is completely exposed to the water. The guide was taking us each underwater one at a time, making eye contact and holding onto our arm. I didn’t understand why they would employ such a slow procedure. Couldn’t we just all get in at once? The second I went under I realized why.
The pure shock of feeling such a cold temperature on my bare skin made me want to immediately jerk back out of the water and never submerge again.
If the guide hadn’t been so cute, I certainly would have. A few minutes later I was able to adjust, but I will never forget that first physical shock. I’ve never felt anything like it before or since.
After we swam around for 30-45 minutes, we got out and had some hot chocolate, then they told us we were going back in. Say WHAT? Now that I was finally gaining feeling in my limbs they wanted us to go back again for another 45 minutes? I thought they were crazy. But at the end of the day, I knew I was only there once. Besides, I hadn’t caught anything on camera, and as they say, if you didn’t capture it, did it even happen? So we went back for round two. It was painful, yet such a beautiful and unique experience. If you’re ever in Iceland I highly recommend a quick dip there! 😉 Also, can we all just take a bow for those guides who dive that everyday? One of them was wearing a t-shirt after he got out. They were the closest things to aliens I have ever seen.