“When have you experienced Euphoria and how would you describe it?”
Rotten eggs. Another wave of the sulphurous fumes hit me and I gasped, putting a hand to my rounded stomach. Nausea rolled through me and I cursed the twenty five week old fetus that caused it. I had gone through hell for the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. Unable to eat anything but crackers and marmite. Nausea had been constant. I had lost weight even as my stomach grew. Things were better after that but my stomach was still delicate.
The child was already big for his age and it felt like he was sapping every ounce of energy from me. Was I at home? Feet up? Sipping ginger tea?
No- I was climbing an active volcano in Iceland.
I had not intended to be pregnant. I had been told I was unlikely to have children and had been unable to conceive after two years of trying. Finding out I was pregnant had been a shock and my life had needed some considerable reorganisation. However, I was determined not to waste £600 of my own money and I went ahead with my planned field trip to Iceland.
The pace was grueling. Had I really let myself become this unfit? The cinder volcano was steep… composed of loose pumice and ash, burnt ochre in colour and fiendishly sharp. Material shifted under my boots and I was obliged to use my hands… crawling.
Maternity trousers bit into my hips. My stomach flopped.
A French tourist had already commented on me, saying I should “Lay off the cake” before I could not walk. I had responded with the most English of accents and a derisory snort.
“I’m 25 weeks pregnant, I have an excuse for being fat, what is yours for being so rude to a complete stranger?” Oh the glorious backtracking, stammered congratulations and an inquiry as to why I was not at home. I walked off without answering. I was pregnant, not dying!
I struggled onwards, remembered outrage fueling my efforts. I was at the back of the group as usual and it was annoying me. My stomach scraped against sharp pumice. It was everywhere… in boots, socks, bra… I would later even find orange ash in my knickers.
The day was hot, the sky acid blue and as sharp as the material under my feet. Long days of sun. Not what you would expect this close to the arctic circle. I would later find myself sunburnt.
Another sulphur filled breeze pushed the hair out my face. It was a mess, tied with a headscarf and left limp and frizzy. I was too exhausted in the mornings to get up and style it. I rolled out of bed only with enough time to wash, dress and leave.
Foot slipped again and I dug my hands in, cursing as the pumice cut my palms. Why was I doing this to myself?
Why not. How many people could say they have climbed an active volcano? How many got the opportunity to see such a thing? I was not going to miss this. I would make it to the top.
And I did, one step at a time, legs and lungs burning.
I remember reaching the top, crawling over the edge. Arms and shoulders quivering with the effort it took. I straightened, gasping. Then I looked down.
What I saw will remain with me for the rest of my life. Alien orange rock, open vents steaming hot gasses into the blue sky. The air shimmering with heat. Below… black, twisted sharp pinnacles from a previous lava flow, ripples frozen and cooled. Then the sea, the blue an undecided colour as opposed to the stark blue sky.
Waves crashed against black rock, vents hissed. I felt like I was alone on the top of the world.
Elation washed over me. I had made it! So many people had been worried I would not cope, that I was making a mistake. Yet there I was. Standing, on a volcano.
I wanted to bounce on my toes, cry, punch the air and shout all at once. I understood suddenly why people climbed mountains. The rush of adrenaline, the sense of achievement and pride in myself was something I was not prepared for.
I’m British. I let the emotions wash over me yet acted on none, save to smile.
There must have been something in that smile. A member of my group asked to take my photo. I agreed even though I hate having pictures taken.
In that moment, on that volcano, I was gloriously and unapologetically me. That photo is one of the few of myself I like and every time I see it, I smile.