Monday, July 31, 2017

Iceland Day 4 - Glacier Kayaking in Jökulsárlón

Welcome to Jökulsárlón!  We've got glaciers, we've got icebergs, we've got seals, we've got black sand, we've got crystal clear ice, we've got dreams come true, we've got it all!

Every couple's paddles in this picture, except the Crabby's, are in sync (or N'Sync if you prefer).  Get your heads in the game Crabby's.  This is serious business.  Don't you realize that handfuls of people will see this picture on this blog?  Handfuls.  We can't have amateur posing mistakes like that.  We're better than that.

Jökulsárlón was one of the coolest places we visited in Iceland.  No pun intended...  I can't decide if it's more appropriate to say in Iceland or on Iceland.  Tomato, Tomatoe.   

Jökulsárlón is a deep lagoon that is the magical leftovers from a receding glacier.  The lagoon connects the glacier, and the icebergs that break off of it, to the ocean.  It's about 5 km from the glacier to the ocean and apparently 100 years ago the lagoon was completely covered by the glacier.  I guess Jökulsárlón is one benefit of global warming?  You've gotta look for the bright side of everything...  Sorry Al Gore.

We got to wear dry suits and kayak around the icebergs that were floating in the lagoon.  When we arrived to meet our guides they had pretty disappointed looks on their faces.  It had been blowing super hard all morning and they said that the wind speed was higher than they typically allow for kayaking.  Then they saw Nin's shaved head and thought, "Well this chick is clearly a badass so at least whoever is in her kayak will be fine."  Amazingly the wind died down and it became, according our guides to Bobo and Brindisch, one of the very best days on the lagoon they had experienced.  They said the group just a few hours earlier had to paddle as hard as they could against the wind to move just a couple of feet.  For us, there was barely even a breeze.  #Blessed.

See Crabby's, paddle synchronization.  You gotta GTS (get that shot).

Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon that connects the Vatnajökull glacier to the Atlantic Ocean through a short waterway.  When we pulled up to the lagoon we were blown away by the size of the glacier.  The glacier went from the lagoon all the way up the mountain and covered the ridges as far as you could see.  It wasn't until later that we realized this part of the glacier was part of the 8,000 square kilometer Vatnajökull glacier.  For those of you who don't hablo metric measurements, that is equivalent to an area larger than 3,100 square miles.  Yeah, it's big.  It covers 8% of the entire island.

We paddled around the icebergs and marveled in their unique beauty.  This was definitely not something you can readily experience in most places on Earth.  We turns some mini icebergs over, made loud noises on our kayaks to attract a seal, and even took a quick plunge.  Crabby led the way and just jumped in.  Kollin and I followed and just "iceberged" for a minute.  We figured that most people wanted to swim in the lagoon on their kayak tours but when we asked if others ever jump in they just said, "Uh, no. Only you are this crazy."  It really wasn't bad at all with the dry suits on.

After kayaking the girls got in the water with us too. 

Then us men partook in a public display of our strength to woo our females.  I think I won.  I think this is one of the main reasons Nin loves me.

As the icebergs calve off of the glacier they float 5 km across the lagoon towards the Atlantic Ocean.  I'm guessing that the icebergs go out to the ocean when the tide changes because there were a bunch of icebergs lined up at the outlet of the lagoon to the ocean.  It was so amazing to sit next to the water and just watch them.  It sounded like a giant bowl of Rice Krispies with all of the snap, crackle, Mitch, and pop.  Pieces of the icebergs would break off and a couple smaller ones even flipped while we were there.  Check out this pano!

On the other side of the short waterway connecting the lagoon the ocean is the Black Sand Beach.  This is where the strongest icebergs end up. The ones that finished their dinners and drank all of their milk when their mommies told them to.  The float down the waterway then get pounded against the beach by the ocean waves.  The remaining ice is crystal clear which makes for an amazing sight.  A long black sand beach that looks like it's littered with precious treasures.  

Nin got a little greedy trying to get the perfect shot.

Nin and I sat on the beach and watched the waves beat against a couple shrinking icebergs.  It was one of the most relaxing parts of our entire trip.  If you ever go to Iceland, this should be at the very top of your must do list.

Here is Nin GTS'ing hard.

After our adventures in Jökulsárlón, we drove to Svartifoss which is a waterfall surrounded by dark lava columns.  The hike was pretty mild and the prize at the end was worth it.

It wouldn't have been a normal day without Kollin having drone issues.  As we left Svartifoss for our AirBNB we passed beautiful fields with rivers from glacial runoff.  Kollin had to GTS and in true fashion he lost his drone.  We were sitting in the car watching him and Crabby fly around.  Then out of nowhere Kollin starts running to the away from the cars.  Then he turns around and runs back to the other side of the cars.  Steph radioed "I think Kollin lost his drone again" without an ounce of surprise.  He lost connection with his drone, as he does, and it was going to auto-land.  He didn't know where it was and because of the area we were in there was a 82% chance that it was going to auto-land in an ice cold, milky glacier river never to be found again.  Fortunately he reconnected with the drone and flew it safely back home.  You might think, oh man I can't believe Kollin had another crazy experience with his drone.  Just you wait, there's more.  

I should also point out that I've only highlighted his crazy drone stories.  Once you see the footage that Kollin gets, I think you'll agree that the NDDE's (Near Drone Death Experiences) are well worth it.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Last Chemo Dose of Round 1!

We've been a little incognito lately, apologies for the absence.  We've been busy with chemo, kids, work, adventures, and more ice cream than usual.  Not too much ice cream, just more than usual.  You can never have too much ice cream.  We don't officially have a family crest or motto but "You can never have too much ice cream" sounds like it could be the beginning of something beautiful.

Right now we're sitting at the Huntsman Cancer Institute where Nin is getting her fourth and final dose of her first round of chemotherapy!

After this she will still have her 12 weekly doses but apparently that treatment is much easier than this one.  These four doses are supposedly much more difficult to tolerate than the next 12 doses.  Nin tolerated the first two doses fairly well but the 3rd dose (two weeks ago) really took the wind out of her sails.  We think the problem was the she forgot to hydrate, which is super important to flush the drugs out of your system.  We hope that was the reason and that it wasn't because the drugs were compounding and becoming harder to tolerate.  This last dose should answer that question for us.  We made sure Nicole drank plenty of fluid the day before, the morning of, during, and after this dose.

Crossing our fingers that drinking a lot of water will help and she'll have an easier week that last time.

The main side effects she suffered last time were fatigue and nausea.  There was a lot of this happening that first week:

and this:

We assume that both of these side effects were intensified by her not hydrating.  After chemo she couldn't even look at water because it tasted terrible.  Chemo can make things taste different for some people.  For Nin it makes things taste like metal.  Mostly drinks.  Because she wasn't hydrated and couldn't drink anything, she became more dehydrated and wasn't able to get the chemo drugs out of her system as quickly as before.  It was a vicious cycle.  She needed to drink to flush the drugs out of her body but the drugs made her too sick to drink.  A real nasty chicken-egg type situation.

Along with the fatigue and nausea Nin has been suffering from blurred vision around Day 3 or 4.  Luckily it only sticks around for less than a day.  She has a hard time focusing on things further away.  So when she has conversations with people she looks like she's squinting while staring into the sun.

We love to have something to look forward to.  We love to travel and try to do one International trip each year.  We also try to do one big trip in the US each year, usually a long distance camping trip with our tent trailer.  Having a trip to look forward to every few months makes for a happy Schweppe family.  With all of the crappy-ness that is cancer, it's treatments, and it's unpredictability, having things to look forward to is so much more important than usual.  Our recent trip to Iceland was a HUGE blessing in keeping us in good spirits through all of this.

This past weekend we took a quick trip up to Lava Hot Springs.  It was a great getaway before this latest chemo infusion.  I wish we had a bunch of awesome pictures to post but we hardly took any.  We spent the entire day swimming, sliding, and jumping off stuff at the pool.  A crazy rainstorm blew in around 4pm so they had to close the pool.  We went back to camp and got in the tent trailer. Both kids immediately fell asleep and we sat back and relaxed as rain drops slammed the top of the tent and wind blew against the walls.  It was just what the Doctor ordered.

Nin's next round of chemotherapy will start on August 3rd and run weekly for 12 weeks.  She will be getting Taxol, Herceptin, and Perjeta.  There are still a lot of side effects with these infusions but most people breeze right through them compared to these past four infusions Nin received.  We're anxious to find out how she does with the next round.  We are optimistic and hopeful that the side effects will be minor.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Iceland Day 3 - Husavik & Fosses

After we left the amazing AirBNB with the foxi and the geothermal hot tub, we hit the road for hours of driving in some of the most amazing, picturesque landscapes ever to landscape.

We had to stop shortly after we left so a family could herd their sheep across the road.  A few minutes after that we passed what I can only assume was an opening scene of an upcoming Western movie. In the middle of a glacial valley ran a beautiful river surrounded by green luscious land. In that river there were people, who I'd assume to be the protagonists of this future film, riding their horses. I bet Steven Spielberg was filming from somewhere, it was that good.  Kollin promptly stood out his sunroof to document the magic. In fact, Kollin stood out of his sunroof taking pictures in most places we went.

We dropped out of the mountains into a quaint little fishing village that was also labeled a "ski town". The ski lift was only a few hundred yards long but what it lacked in skiable terrain in more than made up for with their regulation size ski long jump ramp next to the recreation center in the middle of town.

I'm just kidding.  The jump they had was about 1/100th the size.  Instead of 250 meters, imagine 25 feet.  Max.  It's where Iceland's ski jump legends are born.  In reality it is probably for kids and it made my heart warm.

We stopped to fill up our cars with gas like we did at every gas station. Good thing it was only $27 a gallon! It was actually only around $9 a gallon. See what I did there? After reading $27 a gallon you thought, "oh man, $9 a gallon is a steal."  Reverse psychiatry.

After giving all our monies to the gas pump, we took a breather at this quaint little coffee shop. It was Sunday morning, the sun was out, and a hot chocolate was calling Nin's name.

Sometimes we go so hard on our trips that we forget to slow down and be locals for a minute.  There is so much to see in this world so we try to maximize every trip we take.  When we're older we'll go back to our favorite places to relax. It was nice to sit on this patio, drink some hot chocolate, eat some cake, and just relax in the sun for a bit.

After being quaint we went to check out some fosses.  This one is Glosafoss.

A few minutes away from Glosafoss was a small fishing town called Husavik.  We ate lunch on the harbor at this great restaurant.  They had a lot of really cool looking sail boats.  I know nothing about boats but I know they looked pirate-y.

We made a lot of great memories in Iceland and two of my favorites were made in Husavik and they both involved Kollin.

As we were eating at the restaurant above, Kollin kept itching at his armpit.  He stood up and started to lift his shirt up like it was Spring Break 2004.  He casually said, "I think there is a fly in my armpit."  As our normal thought processes shot into action we all thought it was just a shirt tag, or a down feather, or some foreign fuzzy object stuck in his shirt.  Nope.  Sure enough as he lifts his shirt up, a fly flies out of his armpit.  Like a cartoon.

After Kollin had rid himself of common house flies nesting in his clothing he and Crabby got their drones out. They brought their drones to Iceland and flew them whenever they had a chance.  Kollin is notorious for things going wrong with his drone and it is always entertaining.  While Kollin and Crabby flew their drones around the harbor, the town, and the purple flower covered hillside, Nin, Alex, and I walked around the town.  We gave ourselves a self guided tour of this beautiful old church.

I suspect that we weren't supposed to be in there because a few people cane in after us, likely following our lead, including a guy who kept to himself in the corner on his phone. We were the last to leave and he followed us out, locked the doors, then ran away.  He literally just ran off.  No rush while he was in there but the second he got out, it was go time.

Bless his heart for letting us look around when we probably weren't supposed to be in there.

Anyways, back to the drone story.  Kollin had flown his drone way up the mountainside. He'd gotten a little too greedy with his distance over the ridge and his drone lost service. This happens 92% of the time he flies his drone, it doesn't even phase him anymore.  Steph casually says over the radio "Kollin lost his drone and we're going to look for it.  It might take a while so you guys can go to the next waterfall (hours away) and we'll catch up later."  Yeah right, like we're going to miss out on a Where's Waldo adventure.

When Kollin's drone loses connection it will either auto-land or return home (home to wherever he is standing, not home to Utah). In this case it was returning home. It used sensors to keep it a certain distance above the ground on it's return trip.  What it didn't realize was that the mountainside leveled off before dropping back down again.  So naturally, it crashed.  Kollin had a GPS reading of it's location but the battery was dying quickly.

It should be mentioned that this isn't some entry level hobbyist drone. This drone takes up an entire full size suitcase and it costs what I could only imagine to be dozens of dollars.

So with a GPS location and a quickly fading battery we found a dirt road up the mountainside that we hoped would get us close to the wreckage.  All of us got out of our cars and waded through the thick purple flowers called "vibrant purple nootka".

Fun educational fact about this Vibrant Purple Nootka aka Alaskan Lupine.  It was introduced to Iceland in 1945 to add nitrogen to the soil and function as an anchor for organic matter.  It's crazy that it isn't native because it is everywhere and it's so pretty.

Kollin was standing right where his GPS said the drone would be and he couldn't see it. Steph was literally just two feet away from him and found it.  That's how thick the flowers were.  The crazy part was that it only had 4% battery left.  If it had died we never would have found it.  Nobody would have found it for years, if ever.  It would be added to Icelandic lore and the story would be told for generations.  I bet National Geographic would have even done a show about it.  A lot of missed opportunity there but I'm sure Kollin was glad to have his flying friend back.

After a successful drone treasure hunt, we headed to the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe, Detifoss. It was pretty late when we got there, around 11:30pm, which was nice because we were the only ones there.  The hike it was short and looked like the surface of Mars.

The girls headed back to the car while the guys hiked a little way up river to another big waterfall called Selfoss. We didn't hike all the way but we did hike far enough to get this great shot.

The smaller, more yellow waterfall in the center is called Schweppenfoss.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Iceland Day 2 - Westfjords -> North

As you can tell from the previous post, I got a little ambitious with my expectations of keeping the blog updated while we were in Iceland.  I knew we would be doing a lot of driving but between the driving, the adventuring, lack of interwebs, and more adventuring, we didn't even think about having time to update the blog.  Which is exactly how it should be when you are on an adventure.

Now we are home, rested, and ready to type all the words about Iceland.  All the words.

We saw and experienced so much in Iceland that I'll probably break it up over a couple posts.  This is more of a digital journal for us so we don't forget this amazing trip.  For those of you following the blog for Nin's cancer journey, pardon this detour.  It was a much needed cancer vacation.  A vacation from hospitals, from chemo, from appointments, from it all.  We traded all of that noise for waterfalls (fosses) and adventure.

Let's start at Day 2.  We woke up in our AirBNB that was an hour and a half from the nearest town in its own valley.  I wrote a little about this place in the first Iceland post.  It takes the woman that lives there an hour to get to the next valley over where someone she knows lives.  In the winter they have to travel by snowmobile and it only takes 20 minutes.  I'm assuming his is how she made up the time...

After we left the AirBNB we made our way to a natural hot pot on the side of a fjord in the middle of nowhere.  The land owners had created a little cement pool to contain the water.  It was a beautiful place to sit in toasty water and enjoy the view.

Perhaps the best part was the mini tour bus of older Germans that showed up out of nowhere and tried to bust into the changing room where Nin was Winnie the Pooh-ing it (my made up term for when you are wearing only a shirt and no pants).

Once Nin was changed she left the room and all of the Germans squeezed in there.  It was like a clown car but instead of clowns it was a bunch of naked Germans.  Probably 12 people in that tiny room.  Good for them.

Shortly after we left the hot pot we were driving down the side of another isolated fjord and over the walkie talkie we heard Steph scream "I saw a whale!"  Swimming nonchalantly in the fjord next to us was a pod of Orcas.  Killer Whales.  Free Willys.  While none of them jumped over us, it was still pretty amazing to see whales in the wild.

Here is one of the very crappy pictures we got of the whales.  If you look really closely you can almost not tell what it is, at all.  This is one of those "you had to be there" moments.  Luckily we had binoculars.

As we hit the road again we passed a girl hitchhiking.  What's crazy is we passed this same girl ealier that day hitchhiking hours away from where we were now.  Seeing as how Nin doesn't have an immune system I declined to pull over.  I thought it would be awkward to pull over and have a conversation like this:

Me: "Hi, do you speak English"
Hitchhiker: Of course.  I'm not a lazy American, I speak five languages.
Me: "Do you have any diseases or illnesses?"
Hitchhiker: WTF?
Me: "Well you see, my wife has cancer and her immune...."  [This is where I realize it would be too long to explain the whole situation and just drive away, feeling remorseful for even getting up this poor girls hopes that she'd get a ride.]

We got about a mile down the road when Kollin, in his true DTP (Down To Party) fashion flips a U and goes to pick her up.  Because, I quote, "We're here for the adventure."  So they picked up a girl whose name sounded like May-when.  My French is nonexistent so apologies for the misspelling.  She seemed pretty cool.  She was 19 and was spending a few weeks backpacking and hitchhiking the Western side of Iceland.  By herself.  At 19.  This is how safe Iceland is.  For reals, apparently it is one of the safest places to live.  Here is a really hi-def selfie that Steph took of her.

It only got weird when we wanted her to talk to us on the walkie talkie.  We had three different cars, one for each couple and we constantly communicated and made stupid jokes as we traveled the island through our walkies.  They handed Maywhen the walkie and said it seemed like she'd never even seen one before.  She held it a few feet from her face and talked into it.  It got really weird when I asked if she was dating anybody.  She didn't get it and I think it made her feel awkward.  The Brink's then explained that I was just joking, that I was married, and that I was too skinny to be attractive.  Hopefully that helped.

After we dropped Maywhen off at the town she was staying in, we continued our journey.  We still had a few hours to go.  As we drove up this super green mountain pass we turned a corner and beheld the most magical of all sunsets.  These are the unedited pictures I took from my phone.  One day someone way more talented that I will edit one of them to show its true beauty.  Until then, you get what you get and you don't throw a fit.

After we sat and drooled at this sunset for a good 30 minutes, we continued on to our AirBNB.  This was the nicest place we stayed at and my favorite (Nin said she liked them all for different reasons, like the sweetheart she is).  The whole village was heated by geothermal water that they ran through their houses like radiant heating.  They also had a hot tub heated by the same water designed to refill and drain so it was nice fresh and hot water.  It smelled slightly sulfur-y but it was pretty amazing.  We got there and got in the hot tub around 2:30am.  We watched the sun kind of set, then watched it kind of unset.  It was surreal to be hot tubbing in the middle of the night with the sun out.

The next morning we woke up around 11:00 am and enjoyed the grounds.  The owners have made the area into a mini petting zoo.  It had been unseasonably cold for the past few weeks so most of the animals were still tucked away in their heated bungalows.  As we were getting ready to leave the owner asked if we wanted to see their Arctic Foxes. Foxens?  Foxi?  I'm leaning towards Foxi even though I know it's not correct, it just feels like it should be in my heart.

Arctic Foxi are the only animal indigenous to Iceland.  They apparently don't get very big.  When I asked the owner's son where they got the foxi, he said "There is a guy that hunts them."  I don't know what that meant but I'm going to pretend that it means they were operating an underground railroad type of situation for Arctic Foxes.  A true Icelandic Harriet Tubman.  They raise the foxi and apparently they become domesticated like cats.

That was Day 2.  I thought I could squeeze a few days into each post but I'll refrain and just end here.  Much more to come.