Kara Folkerts Hikes 586km Across Iceland
To start things off, can you please tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Kara Folkerts and I am 22 years old from Calgary, Canada. I have a deep passion for nature, travel, exploration of wild places and really just finding things in my life that bring upon so much joy. I am a recent University graduate of an Ecotourism & Outdoor Leadership Bachelor’s Degree which have been the best four years of my life. I made incredible like-minded friends, got to take amazing outdoor activity courses, was able to travel and I learnt so much. Now that I am done, I can’t wait to go out into the world and continue to pursue some of my craziest dreams.
You recently completed a very lengthy 586km hike across Iceland. How did this journey come about and what was the inspiration behind it?
After finishing my third year of university I had the opportunity to travel to Norway on an Outdoor Leadership field school. After this month long trip, I wanted to continue travelling and was really drawn to Iceland. Months before this planning I felt like I was getting into a bit of a slump and was yearning for something bigger, some grand adventure and undertaking. When I was younger I also really felt pulled towards completing a thru hike. I felt like taking on such a large expedition, especially doing so solo would really motivate and push me, but also challenge me to create a better understanding of my capabilities. I knew this was a pretty ambitious goal for someone who has never camped even one night solo before. So with the drive to travel and explore, pursue a dream of completing a thru hike, tied together with the challenge of doing it all alone, I was set to walk across the country of Iceland.
How did you decide your route? Did you just have the plan to head into the freedom of the unknown or did you heavily prepare the route prior to your departure with key milestones along the way?
I spent endless hours researching online. I felt the most difficult portion of my route planning was in the interior highlands of the country, where there is essentially nothing. No people, towns, minimal roads and little information online (though more resources are becoming available as more people go). Because I was applying for grants at the time, I had to have a very detailed route to show that my expedition was feasible. It’s funny though, while I was at home researching I felt like the route planning stressed me out the most, but while I was actually there, I changed up some parts completely on a whim. I had a better understanding of the areas being fully immersed in it, had the chance to talked with locals and went at a speed that surpassed what I had initially planned.
Iceland is a country full of stunning views, waterfalls and landscapes, but it’s also a country full of wild and unpredictable weather. How did you handle the conditions? Tips?
Ahh yes, the weather. To be honest, this was one of my drives for doing it solo. I knew the weather was going to be my biggest challenge (and those endless days of continual, relentless rain were). However, I felt that by going alone, I had nothing to do but continue on. I knew if I was going to be with someone else, I would have been more inclined to complain about being cold, putting on soaking wet rain gear, or I would have looked for signs in the other person to put up the tent and stop early -- but instead, I continue to push forward. I believe pushing through less than ideal weather during those days created a sense of resiliency in me. Also, I suppose I should mention, that coming from a background of outdoor pursuits in university you better believe they ingrained the phrase “there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad outdoor gear” into you.
If you could go back to one particular location during your hike where would it be?
That is such a tough question. The country has so much to offer everywhere you look. However, the top of Ásbyrgi Canyon overlooking the massive horseshoe shaped canyon brought me to tears with it’s sheer beauty. Also, I would give anything to spend one more day in the heart of the highlands. Some days felt otherworldly with no town, vehicle or person for hundreds of kilometers.
Who’s been an inspiration to you within the adventure world?
I don’t think I necessarily have one particular person in mind. I am fortunate to be surrounded by a community of so many passionate outdoor leaders, partners and friends. I do credit my father for instilling a strong sense of adventure and a love for the outdoors as he always took my siblings and I skiing, hiking and camping growing up. I would also say I am continually inspired by my old professors at Mount Royal University who taught me so much, but also my friends and boyfriend who are completely driven by living a life fueled by travel and outdoor adventures.
What were some of your biggest worries and concerns about this trip and how did you prepared yourself to make sure your had everything covered?
As mentioned before, I was worried about the weather, but learnt very quickly there was nothing to do but continue pushing forward. (I should mention there was one day in the mountains the storm and winds were so strong I had to stop after 13km midday). Another concern which actually did occur was getting lost. This was on my 5th day when I was high in a mountain pass during a brutal storm. This portion of the hike was on a set trail, however, I was doing it earlier in the season when barely anyone was travelling through it yet. There was still a high volume of snow which covered a majority of the trail markers. It was the combination of snow covered markers and the heavy fog, wind and rain that created zero visibility for me. It’s safe to say that was my biggest scare in the entire trip (could only get better from here, right?). There was no way my map and compass could help in this situation since I couldn’t see 15 meters ahead of me. This was the first time I brought out my GPS and I could not have been more grateful for that handy-dandy piece of technology. After 20 minutes of getting whipped around by the wind and rain, lying on the ground hunched over my pack, finding the satellite coordinates and trying to stay calm, I was able to move forward and find my way. I found out a few days later that a couple behind me got caught in that same storm and spent the night on the mountain before getting rescued. With this in mind, make sure you have contingency plans, good gear and the proper preparations if you get into these situations.
Packing for any endurance hike is never an easy task and we’re sure packing for a hike across Iceland must be a tedious task. So what 3 tips are a ‘must have’ to complete a journey like your own?
I loved packing and seeing how lightweight I could manage. I did twenty days with a 65L pack and felt very comfortable.
Tip one: Food. Find resources to break up the weight in food for a longer trip. I stressed about my food packages working out properly or showing up to a place and them not being there, but it is so incredibly easy. In Iceland, my first choice of where to send my food package wasn’t available so I called a lady who owned a small guesthouse in the middle of the highlands. She was more than willing to have me send a package to myself with her address. The other package I sent to a small town's post office that I would be passing through. Look into your options and make the calls, most of the time the people will be very helpful. Also, I dehydrated all my own meals. While it was a lot of work, I had so much fun with it, could get creative, avoided chemical preservatives and ate like a queen on the trip. Sidenote: always include chocolate.
Tip two: Sleeping bag liner. For someone who is always cold, having that extra liner helped me stay warm and toasty during some cooler nights. It was very compact so it helped me avoid bringing too many bulky layers.
Tip three: Duct tape and tincture oil. Blisters became no problem with this duo. Some may think it’s gross or wouldn’t work, but it was a dream for me. I had blisters and sores on the back of my heels and would just slap a big piece of duct tape on it. If the edges began to come loose I would use a q-tip to apply tincture oil around the edges. This stuff is an insane adhesive glue. Moleskins have never worked for me, so having duct tape over it for a couple days at a time before applying a new one worked great. I didn’t have any of the hotspots or discomfort with this method.
How did you document your hike? Could you tell us about ‘Solo Saga of Iceland’ and how we can learn more about it?
I journaled every night as it gave me time to decompress, see how I was feeling and relax. I think for anyone doing a solo trip, having a fieldbook is essential. It helps to keep those memories alive, but also is a powerful tool to check in with yourself. I also took many pictures and used video to create a short documentary about my experience.
Your tone and style of writing particularly grabbed our attention. You have a profound ability to reach out to your audience through adventure and document messages everyone should hear. This leads us to ask you about this quote:
“It is so important to find joy in everything you do and wherever you are. I may not be travelling in Norway or trekking across Iceland anymore, but I am still able to find immense happiness back home. Travel shouldn’t be used as a means to escape your current life, but to enhance it and grow. Perspective and positivity is key to finding joy everywhere”.
In what way has adventure changed your life?
It has continued to shape and mold me whether on a grand scale or in everyday life. Outdoor adventures bring so much joy, light and wonder into my life, but it also challenges and confront me with some of my biggest questions and fears. I love that adventure has continued to keep me curious and always wanting to learn more, whether it is about myself, others or the natural world. In regards to the quote, I would say that how I have chosen to live my life has given me the opportunities to have adventures such a larger expedition crossing Iceland, but also back home, whether it is biking to work, finding local trails to run on or going cross country skiing or snowboarding with friends. I want a life of adventure, but I sometimes I need to remind myself to be open to the trade offs. Right now for me, that means working nearly every weekend to save for the next big adventure. With that in mind, I have still found the time to go for runs outside, meet with friends to go into the backcountry or simply riding my bike around. All of these things give me joy and help fuel my passion, motivation and sense of wonder.
Finally, you’re about to make your dream home a tent with your adventure man for your next adventure on a bike. What will this involve and where will this take you?
Yes! We are so excited as we leave the end of April. The last few months have included visa applications, endless research and planning, selling and donating most of our stuff or packing away the rest at our parents. We will be cycling from our home in Calgary, Canada, essentially to reach Japan for the winter to work and snowboard. Our route with include heading to the northern part of Canada to reach the Arctic Circle in the North West Territories, then backtracking to Anchorage, Alaska before taking a flight to Eastern Russia. From there we will cycle through Russia, Mongolia and China before taking a ferry to stop in Japan for 4 months. We plan to camp along the way to fully immerse ourselves into nature and with the various cultures.
What parting words of wisdom can you leave those who’ve read this to encourage them to make their adventure dreams happen?
Do something big, something you’ve always dreamed of but were maybe hesitant to go through with. Do something that you question is possible. When others think you’re insane, crazy or going against the norm, don’t let that deter you from following through with your passions and truth. Be realistic, but also don’t be afraid to chase ridiculous and lofty dreams. Those big adventures and aspirations won’t come easy, but working towards them and finally just doing it without letting yourself or others hold you back will be worth it in the end. Success or failure, at least you can say you had the courage to try. Lastly, you must remember to always, always, always have fun, be silly and do what makes you so incredibly full of pure happiness.
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