I’ve struggled with weight my whole life. But a trip to Iceland changed everything

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I booked my trip to Iceland five days after my friend Jeff died suddenly from a heart attack in December 2022. I’d known him my whole life and he was always the biggest personality in the room. It was so crushing – almost unbelievable – to wrap my head around the fact that he was gone, and I would never have a conversation with him again.

In fact, at that point in time I was already reeling from another major bereavement. A few months earlier, my cousin Gabby – whom I had grown up with, and was very close to – died unexpectedly from a brain aneurysm. Like me, both Gabby and Jeff were in their 40s, and their deaths were truly shocking. You go through your life thinking it will go on forever and we’re all invincible. And then suddenly people your age start dying. 

I’d dreamed of travelling to Iceland for over 10 years. I fell in love with the romance of the place: the idea of its unspoiled landscapes, the sound of crashing waves on far-flung beaches and the opportunity to see the Northern Lights. Rather than staying on a tour bus, I also yearned to explore the incredible Icelandic scenery in a hands-on way, via a comfort-busting element of adventure. 

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After Jeff’s death, I realised that I was at risk of never fulfilling my dream. My version of “some day” was rapidly becoming “never going to happen” – unless I took positive action to change that. It was the catalyst I needed to get booking. 

From that point of making the commitment, I had ten long months to wait; plenty of time for self-doubt and second thoughts to kick in. You see, I’m a lifelong chubby girl. I’ve struggled with weight my whole life and I’ve always felt that there are certain things that I can’t do because I’m too big.

I’ve always felt that there are certain things that I can’t do because I’m too big

I don’t know whether this was something that I’ve actually told in the past, or a self-narrative I’ve created due to childhood teasing. Either way, it’s a belief that’s core to my identity.

Up until last year, I’d always told myself that I could go travelling when I reached a magical dress size. Meaning, whatever socially acceptable number on the scale I chose as my “reward” in my weight loss journey. But all that happened with that mentality is that I delayed – indefinitely – the things I wanted to do with my life. I realised that I could instead use the Iceland trip as my motivation to build my fitness and endurance. I flipped the script. 

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Still, I was worried. Flash Pack’s winter Iceland itinerary is very active – covering everything from waterfall walks to ice-hiking on the Sólheimajökull Glacier. I thought to myself “Can I physically do this trip? What if I’m too heavy?” I know it sounds mad but I even thought, “Am I going to go out onto the glacier and break it with my weight – even though it’s been there hundreds of years?”

I also feared being the slowest person in the group. What if I got left behind or slowed everyone up? Would my fellow solo travellers judge me, or laugh at me behind my back? It took months of self-talk, telling myself that I could push through and do this, to get past these very real anxieties. 

Yet, here’s the funny thing: the trip couldn’t have been further from the fears. The first thing I realised after stepping off the plane in Reykjavík is that everyone in our group was so kind and lovely. It was beautiful to meet my fellow solo travellers. I quickly saw that everyone had their own stories and reasons for doing the trip. They were all caught up in their own narratives; they weren’t paying attention to mine. And that was so refreshing to know! 

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On day two, we got immersed in the Icelandic landscape with a hike on Sólheimajökull Glacier. And sure, I was a little slower than some people. But I made it to the top. Everything was just fine. But then came our Valley of Thor hike. The geology is constantly forming in Iceland and the terrain in the stunning Thorsmork Nature Reserve is very rocky, with rivulets of water emerging at different heights between crags and boulders. 

So it happened that I came face-to-face with one of my big fears. My foot slipped on a wet rock and I fell hard, knocking my hip. I was injured; but the reality is that fall could have happened to anyone. It was just gravity. It didn’t happen because I was too big.

So many limitations in life are self-imposed. We’re our own biggest critics

Our Pack Leader, Svavar, did a wonderful job of taking care of me, as did everyone else in the group (we happened to have quite a few people with medical experience in the mix). And for a while, I managed to keep going. But when we got to a crevasse with a steep glacial run-off, I knew my body needed to rest. Everyone else went on to see a waterfall, about 20 minutes further down the route. But I chose to sit it out and meet them on the way back up. That way, I could break enough in order to continue afterwards.

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I think it almost killed Svavar to leave me there. But the crazy thing was, even though the incident was everything I feared – being injured and getting left behind – I ended up having a fairly profound experience. You see, Iceland’s Golden Circle is so popular. It’s really rare to have any time in that area for yourself. But I happened to hit a half-hour where no other tour group came along. 

There I was, sitting in this beautiful valley in front of a gushing stream, with golden cliff-faces all around. It was so tranquil. It was probably the best moment of the entire holiday, and, months later, it’s the happy place I imagine when I meditate, to bring calm. 

And guess what, no-one made fun of me for what happened. They were just concerned. And I made it through the next few hikes unscathed. The thing I’d really worried about happened, and it was a non-issue. Later on, I was even able to laugh about it – as I soothed my muscles in a hot spring over a beer or three with my group. 

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The whole experience made me realise, so many limitations in life are self-imposed. We’re our own biggest critics. And we tend to sabotage ourselves, creating obstacles to what we’re truly capable of. This tendency is universal, too. Most of us do it, we just have different fears.

I’m so proud of myself for making good on my Iceland dream. As it turned out, I was the oldest and biggest person in our group. And there were days when I was the slowest person, too. Did I fall flat on my back? Yes I did. But there’s no more spectacular place to crash-land than in the midst of the Icelandic wilderness. 

That moment could have tipped me into wallowing on a negative narrative. Instead, it did the opposite. Together, my guide and group made the adventure amazing and I didn’t miss out on a thing.

Jessica Hruby is a paralegal from Minneapolis who travelled with Flash Pack to Iceland.

Got a story or adventure that could inspire a solo traveller like you? Tag @flashpack on social or email [email protected] to be featured.

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