I’m driving faster than I should through slushy snow. My confidence driving in winter weather has grown, but more importantly, we’re running late. I’m deeply afraid we’ll miss out on the tour.
I’m worried about missing a tour! Usually I’m skeptical at best when it comes to tours, but today’s adventure is one I insisted on: snorkeling in the Silfra fissure in Þingvellir’s rift valley. From the moment Robert told me about it I’ve been obsessed. Now it’s a dark winter morning, after nine but cloudy and still pitch black, and I’m speeding through inches of unplowed melting snow to get to the Silfra dive point in time. I didn’t factor in the time it would take to clear the vehicle of snow, or the slow winter driving, or the fact that once we arrive we’ll need to pay for parking and walk from the public parking lot to the assembly point. Hands on the steering wheel at ten and two, eyes sharp on the road, body tuned to the Tucson’s motion. I manage to make up a little time — the ETA on my phone ticks slowly backwards, a minute earlier every ten or twelve minutes. By the time we park in the icy lot and walk up the narrow road to where our tour van awaits, the clouds above us are brightening with sunrise. We find our van among the throng of tour vehicles, unmistakeable with its stylized Viking logo. We’re the last to arrive, but no one bats an eye, and I can finally relax. Well, I can relax a little. I’m still reserved, still cautious of other people, but my nerves have settled.
The dive is led by a pair of guides. Chico comes from Portugal and radiates mellow cheer, orchestrating our preparations with practiced confidence. Gretar is Icelandic, taller, quieter. One gets the sense that if he were crowned emperor of the world, or witnessed an alien invasion, he would nod thoughtfully and weigh his options. I would follow him anywhere. Chico has me sign the release form and then passes me off to Gretar, who sizes me up and selects an underlayer and a drysuit.
I’ve worn a double layer, merino wool under leggings and a warm shirt. Thick socks. I shed my coat and hat and gloves, remove my watch and jewelry, and climb into the black quilted underlayer before stepping into the drysuit. It’s my first time wearing a drysuit, which is a thicker and baggier wetsuit with more accoutrement. The legs terminate in solid built-in boots; the arms and neck have thick rubberized gaskets. Our tour companions are further along in the process, and I stand with the top of the dry suit dangling around my waist while the guides draw the other participants’ arms and heads through the gaskets and zip them into their suits. There are advantages to arriving last; by the time it’s my turn, I’ve witnessed several iterations and I squeeze my hands into tight claws, punching them through the gaskets. I pop my head forward and up through the neck of the suit, an eager turtle ready for her swim. I have a few inches on Chico, who stands on the raised boardwalk behind me to zip the back of the suit closed. Then Gretar fits a big zip-tie around my neck to ensure water doesn’t leak into my suit (why yes, I’ll let a tall Icelandic man tighten a zip tie around my neck, thank you very much). An exuberant English woman in the group makes many sly jokes at this point; Robert endures the same depredations and then we’re all ready to waddle after the guides to the water. We pull on neoprene mittens and neoprene hoods, grab our fins and mask and snorkel, and we’re off.