My Tale of Iceland 2014, or How I Ended up in a Hot Tub with Three Icelanders and Pants-less with Three Germans

Two words I never would have guessed I’d say/write: I blogged.  I blogged because I went to Iceland for a month of pure adventure, and had such a great time that it would be a shame to keep it all to myself.  I’ll focus more on the places and experiences I had, less so on my ruminations. Without further ado…

“Why Iceland?” you may wonder.  Three major reasons: there are no dangerous animals (or so I thought, except for the random lost polar bear from Greenland), it’s exceptionally beautiful, and it’s small and easy to travel solo.  A fourth reason, and where the idea originated from, was I wanted to ride their Icelandic ponies really badly. And I did.

A Tolting we shall go!
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Fairyhorses

Iceland met my preconceptions in every way – it’s a land of extremes, fire & ice. It was challenging & rewarding, friendly & inhospitable, very safe and quite dangerous.

Svinasfjelljokul glacial lagoon
Namafjall

The first ten days of the tour was by car with zero planned itinerary.  I had intentions (a really bad pun lies therein) of camping as much as possible, but the weather, dear lord the weather, was just so tough.  The wind. The rain. The cold. No facilities, No thank you. When it is so windy that your car door can be ripped off its hinge, it’s kinda difficult to set up a tent by yourself.  Icelanders are direct descendants of Norse Vikings and notoriously tough, and even THEY thought it was crazy to camp in that weather.  I did meet another solo female traveler who completed a 5wk cycling/camping tour of Iceland (IS)  in those weather conditions, so it was possible, I just preferred a warm hostel.

camping at the Center of the Earth
Cozy mountain huts – Langidalur & Emstrur
Mountain hut shenanigans with new friends

So Tip#1: don’t underestimate the weather conditions & do not plan to ever take off your 800 fill down jacket. Also buy some of their warm wool socks.

Places I visited during these ten days in fairly chrono order: Skogar, Hofn, Kirkjubaejarklaustur, Skaftafell, Jokulsarlon, Vik, Selfoss, Fluoir, Hella, Keldur, Arnarstapi, Hellnar, Hellisandur, Grundarfjordur, Stykkisholmur, Borgarnes, Reykholt, Akranes, Akureyri, Namafjall, Myvatn, Krafla. Here are pictures from those places.

Hellnar church
Stykkisholmur midnight sunset
Akureyri fjord sunset
Godafoss hobbit bridge
Viti Crater – a landslide on the trail into the crater happened here one week after I hiked it. Yay timing!
Ice Mammoth, Jokulsarlon Lagoon

Tip#2: of that list, the best were: Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon, glacier hike on Skaftafell, quaint Stykkisholmur, volcanic activity in Namafjall, and the Myvatn hot pot (geothermal hot tub).  Actually any hot pot anywhere makes the list.

Svinasfjelljokul tramping
Glacier tramping – Skaftafell

Tip#3: Talk to people in the hot pot, including three older Icelandic men in Stykkisholmur. It’s fun and social and you learn about each other. Cultural Exchange! And you will meet a woman traveling with her husband and daughter who is originally from North Dakota and has not only heard of the tiny small town where you are from (Bowdon) but has been there.  What are the chances?! I estimate one in millions.

Tip#4: it’s totally ok to pick up hitchhikers in IS and it’s fun to have “real taxi cab confessions” type of convos with them.

Then I undertook the more serious hiking part of my trip interspersed with what I called roosting days in Reykjavik, i.e. rest/refuel/regroup.  First up was the most popular trek in IS – the Laugavegur trail http://fi.is/en/hiking-trails/laugavegurinn/ – and there is good reason why it reaches traffic jam status in parts.  It was a spectacular range of landscapes, geology, trail variation, lush green valleys, and glacial views the entire 55 km from Landmannalaugur –> Thorsmork.  Before you go thinking hmm maybe I want to do that, envision canyons filled with noxious sulfuric gases, numerous frigid (and potentially treacherous) glacial river crossings, vast jagged volcanic rock fields, a couple of snowfield crossings (which may be melted in some parts to false ledges or slushpools), potentially dense fog, and weather that changes to dangerous on a dime.  But it was totally easy!  And the scenery looks like your eyes are playing tricks on you and it’s actually just all green-screen TrumanShowesque wizardry.  See, look at the pictures:

It may not be clear which path to follow but always keep your bearings straight
Finding double rainbows is sometimes about the timing – Thorsmork
Laugavegur trail technicolor
It looks like a painting but it’s not
Rhyolite mountains
Markarfljotsgljifur Canyon. Yes that is correct.
aint gonna lie, this was a bit dangerous
Golden Plover, or Heidloa. A signal of Spring’s arrival. 

Tip#5: don’t take the Laugavegur trail lightly, and PLEASE DO NOT LITTER. Sorry for the caps. I picked up a lot of garbage from garbage tourists and it makes me mad as a hangry hornet. Pick up your crap – sing Aretha Franklin while you’re out in Nature.

p.s. I did the hike in three days. I would not recommend two days. I stayed in the huts. And if a German tells you to drop your pants to cross the river, just do it.  It was great meeting you, Thomas, Frank, & Anke! Takk Fyrir for the Icelandic sheepdog postcard, which is now my dream dog.

Hekla, the happiest dog I’ve ever met. Rando friendly black lab hanging out a window.

Tip#6: don’t do a stupid trail run down a mountain in your stupid hiking boots thus injuring your Achilles tendon and preventing you from doing the Fimmvorduhals hike http://www.volcanohuts.com/fimmvorduhals with Thomas, Anke & Stefan.

Epic selfie – worth the injury?

Serious hiking trek Part II: Hornstrandir Nature Reserve http://www.westtours.is/trip-categories/hornstrandir-nature-reserve/ in the Westfjords.  This was nearly my Brokeback Mountain.  I couldn’t quit and it almost broke me.  This is the subarctic and it feels that way; it’s been uninhabited since 1952, billed as having the most extreme and intensely beautiful terrain in IS, and one of the last few places to feel completely alone on the planet. It is also home to something like 3/5th of IS’s plant varieties and the unique Icelandic arctic fox, which is IS’s only native mammal.

If you do not know how to navigate via map/compass/general sixth sense perception and do not know how to avoid water saturated river deltas that are quick-sand’ish and are not an expert on crossing steep snowfields with serious mid-field crevasses/melted lakes/false ledges or have a fear of heights or exposure where a slip might send you tumbling over a sheer cliff or do not like everything being soaking wet all of the time to the point where your toes get shrivel-wrinkled or your feet don’t like walking over  jagged rock-boulder fields with a 30lb or heavier pack on day four and it might scare you if a polar bear stranded three years ago in the same mountain pass you hiked through, or you never pack enough food and then you run out, probably reconsider undertaking this.  Also if you came here to see beautiful, verdant green cliffs of some of the largest nesting bird populations on Earth and instead you see fog soup, well, you need to adjust your expectations.

Hornstrandir wrecked my boots.
What it should have looked like : What I saw.

Tip#7: don’t fall three times.  Don’t go to Hornstandir unless you have bad-ass outdoors skills or unless you think you are very lucky and the weather or any of the elements above won’t work against your favor.  That said, it was really great! But I went with a guide, Jon, who grew up hiking in the area and knew it better than the best maps. Really. Also he and his fiance Berglin, who also grew up in a tiny village in the Westfjords, taught me about the flora & fauna & foxes, showed me the plants and berries you can eat including one delicious plant that tasted rhubarb-ey, told me about the local history of the region, mythology of trolls and elves, and in general imparted a lot of knowledge that made it into a rich & rewarding experience despite the above factors. Jon may be half-hobbit though because he would walk around the campsite at night in bare feet whereas my feet took approximately 2hrs to thaw in my warm woolen socks inside my +15F sleeping bag.

Your eyes are not tricking you. This is how it looked in real life. Dew drops on bright green moss. Worth falling over yourself.
I Survived Hornstrandir!
This is steeper than it looks.
And on the Fourth Day we shall have 1/2 of it without clouds.
Jon – Westfjords expert. Berglin, equally capable & 1/2 the size.
The start of the fog.

But yeah most people probably should not go here.  Currently only about 1,000 – 1,500 people visit/year.   If you do, please respect the environment; it is highly ecologically sensitive.  Check for loose polar bears.

Cairn sculpture
Was told cairns are sometimes called “trail priests” because they show the way.

Tip#8: Snickers for breakfast is really something to look forward to each morning.  Dried fish with butter is pretty darn decent, as is lamb tuna-salad’ish on flat bread, smoked lamb, and lakkris (licorice) chocolate.  Thanks for broadening my food horizons, Jon & Berglin!

If you know me then you’ll know that if I inhale > 1/2 a pizza, conditions were *pretty* challenging

I also did a one day superjeep tour from Isafjordur to Flokalundur (where Raven Floki, the Viking who gave Iceland its name, landed), over to Latravik, Patreksfjordur, Bildudalur, Dynjandi, etc. I saw puffins at Latrabjarg http://www.westfjords.is/WhattoSeeDo/AttractionView/latrabjarg , visited three outdoor natural hot pots, and climbed to the base of the most beautiful waterfall I’ve seen yet.

Dynjandi waterfall, words do not describe how beautiful it was. A shimmery cascading sheet of pristine water.
The Watchman
Awwwww
1200ft sheer cliffs in places, Latrabjarg the largest bird cliffs in Europe

Time for more Reyk roosting days before flying home, but first I snagged this nice shot in Isafjordur.

Glassy early AM Isafjordur harbor

Pretty much spent my last two days in Reyk going to hot pots. I also couchsurfed which was Tip#9: the MOST GENIUS THING EVER.  This came about during my previous roosting days through a hot pot convo.  I stayed with Bjnari and it was so what I needed. No stinky hostel room with five discordant snoring bunkmates.  A comfy bed, a quiet, peaceful nice-smelling apartment, an airport pickup, a fun hike.  If you are reading this Bjnari, Takk Fyrir so very much!

So then it was time for the flight back to the US, which felt like the final scene in Gravity when Sandy comes crashing back to Earth but in a reverse I don’t want to leave sort of way. Shameless dump of more pictures.

Broaden your Horizons
Proof I was actually in Iceland
I like abandoned technicolor buildings. Minimal processing.
Relics of the past
Keldur church, a Saga site
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Gratuitous waterfall pix
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Iceland’s national flower in upper left, and other pretty plants & flowers – Hornstrandir
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Another pic of bewitching Hekla, because it’s my website
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Yes I went down this & it wasn’t even the hardest one. I didn’t stop to take a pic on that one. #brains
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Bye bye fav Patagonia ice blue shirt that someone mean stole from me. Is it a coincidence that I’m posing next to a fire vent from the depths of the Earth?…

Musings on traveling solo: it was great!  So many people offered me help or food or advice and on the plus side it makes you very eager to strike up a conversation with anyone that will listen. That said, it wasn’t very common especially as a solo female. Oh well, nobody puts baby in a box. Make your own adventure!

Musings on Icelanders: I thought I came from hardy stock (descended from multiple generations of northern plains farmers), and knew what hard work in challenging conditions meant, being a legit farmgirl in the non-romanticized sense of the word. Let me bottom line this, Icelanders are the shit.  Seriously, just imagine a combination of all of the potentially dangerous things and awful weather that I’ve mentioned above, and their attitude is quite nonchalant, “it could be worse” and “it’s possible to die” and that would be an Icelander. Also everyone was so friendly to me.

This is how Iceland powers their cabins
Heads up L.A. truck owners – don’t be a douche poser
How to sturdily construct a bridge. Still won’t stand up to a jokulhlaup
How to anchor things and transport yourself

I prefaced this trip with a Helen Keller quote and I’ll full circle it with another. “What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”

So perfect.

~R

p.p.s I took over 1.3k pix so if you are someone other than my mother and would like to look through an abridged version, lmk in the comments & I’ll send you the dropbox link.

Lastly, if you do in fact go to Iceland consider donating here to their search & rescue organization which is all completely done on a volunteer basis by BAMF Icelanders: http://www.landsbjorg.is/en/icelandic-association-for-search-and-rescue/support-us

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7 thoughts on “My Tale of Iceland 2014, or How I Ended up in a Hot Tub with Three Icelanders and Pants-less with Three Germans

  1. I’d love to see your photos! Please add me to the drop box. These photos are unreal! This looks like an incredible trip and I loved your writings about it. I’m ready to book a trip to Iceland. Thank you for sharing! Glad you had a great trip! Looking forward to hearing more about it on the trails.

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  2. Perfection! I loved ALL of it – and thank you for sharing. My traveling solo adventures to outrageous paradises is on hiatus, but I adore seeing your conquering of the world’s mountains and depths. Keep exploring!!

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  3. You are an inspiration! I am very proud to call you Cousin. I would like to go through all those wonderful pics as well. A little more info on the removal of your pants may be required. Love ya bunches!

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  4. It was so fun and inpiring to meet you on the Laugavegur. So I really wanted to hear the whole story. The parts of it I allready knew are already told to lots of people. I was fascinated by the bicycle hiker which you brought to confess ot have nearly crying. But avoided it since it wouldn’t help, only make her even more wet. Marvelous blog-

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  5. Kirkjubaejarklaustur, That’s almost what I named my son, but I chose Sebastian instead. Close enough. 🙂
    Thanks for sharing part of your adventure with us! Hook me up to the Dropbox, Baby! What an adventure. One you’ll never forget. So the question now is, “where next?”.

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    1. I’m so happy you enjoyed it, Gerdine! Iceland was such a beautiful, magical place and I felt compelled to not only document it for myself, but to share my experience with everyone.
      I would love to consider a 2nd career as a travel/photo journalist — maybe I’ll make it happen someday soon!

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