I remember the moment it happened vividly. One moment I was standing on the beach taking pictures and the next I was completely engulfed in the frigid water. My only thought was, I’m going to die. At this point my instincts kicked in and I fought desperately to get out of the icy, turbulent water. It all happened in only a few seconds. So fast that Ann didn’t even realize what had happened.
I was on a black-sand beach in southern Iceland called Reynisfjara, well known as one of the most dangerous beaches in the world. The waves are unpredictable and the currents are unbelievably strong making it easy to be swept out to the ocean. I knew of the dangers before we arrived. I read of a man who had died there just a few months before. I listened to our guide stress repeatedly to not turn our back to the beach.
I thought I was being safe, we were about 40 feet away from the shoreline, standing with other people all taking pictures. In fact, majority of people on the beach were much closer to the ocean than we were. We kept watching the waves and stayed in the same area for about 10 minutes remembering the safety warnings we read/heard about. We had a false sense of security. And then we all saw the sleeper wave coming and turned to run out of its reach. This would of been the end of the story but my hiking boots slipped on the wet sand. In that one second, when I was flat on the ground the wave reached me, it barely went farther than where I was lying. But, I felt the power of the water pulling me back into the ocean and thought this was it. I managed to pull myself out and was thankful to be on dry land, to be alive. The water couldn’t of been more than 40 degrees but I didn’t feel cold, not at first. It took a few hours for the full reality to set in of how close I had come to death and that my camera and phone were destroyed from the water and sand.
This experience has made me think a lot more about safety when I travel. As a woman who travels solo or with groups of friends I have to be smart. I wish it didn’t matter, but we do have to face the realities of the dangers that are out there. I’m not saying don’t take the trip, I always vote for let’s go, but you can educate yourself and be prepared for the unexpected.
Note from Ann: as I started running away from the sleeper wave, I looked back to make sure Teri was running too. Then some guy pushed me out of his way as he was running (thanks for that one!), I took maybe another 10 strides and turned back around. By that time, Teri was back up standing and looked like nothing happened, other than when I looked closer and noticed she was drenched. This whole thing happened in under ten seconds. The lesson here is that mother nature is powerful and deserves our respect and a healthy dose of fear.
- Pay attention to safety signs and warnings. In the US, we tend to go over the top in our warnings making it easy to not take the signs as seriously as we should. In many other countries, such as Iceland this is not the case. In fact, some places don’t have warning signs at all. Not the case with Black beach, but there are others.
- Research places you are visiting to know areas to avoid that may not be safe.
- Always tell someone where you are going and provide hotel names and dates.
- Trust your instincts. They are your most powerful tool for protecting yourself.
- Have a spotter if you’re taking pictures close to or on the road.
- If you’re hiking on ocean beaches, check tide schedules, so you don’t get stuck in high tide.
- Sunset shots are great but always make sure you can safely return to the car in the dark. We experienced this first hand in Sedona when we had to walk a mile back to the car through wilderness in pitch black without a flashlight. Always carry a flashlight. 🙂
- Make sure you know what to do in case of wild animal encounters. Ann experienced this in Alaska with a black bear! Stay tuned, Ann will be back with tips for How to Avoid Wild Animal Attacks.