Monday, July 15, 2013

Þórsmörk to Reykjavik

Rested, relaxed, and well fed from our time in Þórsmörk, it was time to return to Reykjavik and hop our outbound flight to Spain for more cycling on the Camino De Santiago through the Basque Country. The trail back to the coast consisted of a a quick jaunt over the hill from Þórsmörk to a large glacial valley which we would navigate westward to the main highway back to Reykjavik.  

Again presented with some slow-going and challenging terrain of glacial till, the rubble left in the wake of glaciers movement.  The methodical process of  picking our way through the moraine induced more daydreams of longing for my fatbike. 

We had to back-track East into the valley for an hour or two in-order to find a section of river that could be safely crossed.  Low hanging cloud cover obscures the view of surrounding peaks and massive glaciers. 

Local wild life, offered some momentary entertainment as I stalked some ground birds trying to snap a picture or two.

Surreal contrast of greys and greens. Numerous river crossings on this section from the melting glacier that flanks the valley to the south.  Again, the best and only way to gauge the depth of the murky water was to watch the massive lifted trucks drive through, assess the risk, then spend 20 minutes or so walking up and down the bank to find a navigable and survivable ford.  This water was ice about 20 minutes prior to feeding into the streams and would numb the legs about half-way through each crossing.

The vistas were breathtaking, but the glacial river fords were chilling us to the bone.  We had had a taste of the good life in Þórsmörk, and with a point of contrast of dry clothes and hot showers fresh in our minds, our resolve was wearing thin.  Where as the previous week of freezing rain, hail, and snow had just become a way of life, integrated as a normal and expected aspect of our existence.
We came upon a couple of backpackers from Spain and Holland who asked us where we were biking from. "Þórsmörk and Landmannalaugar"  we replied.  The back packers were ecstatic, and it their broken English exclaimed "We also trekked from Landmannalaugar.  We have been following your stamps all week.  We saw your tire stamps in the dirt. We wondered how anyone biked up those mountains and through the snow."  "Well we didn't ride our bikes, we pushed them." I replied with dry humor.  The girl from Holland was staring at us, grinning ear to ear as she promised not to take our pictures, for a moment I felt like a celebrity.  Time to press on.

"Glaciers are soooo beautiful." I sighed with pained sarcasm.
Sooo beautiful.  This stretch of land was quite remarkable in the abrupt volcanic formations of bright green and deep grey accented with countless waterfalls from the melting glacier hidden in the clouds above.  reminded me of my time in Kauai on the Napali Coast only I was freezing cold.

After our 7th river crossing that day, we were phyisically and emotionally drained by the conditions of the trail, there was not much riding to be had due to the frequency of the rivers.  Ultimatly in surveying our next ford, a Toyota Hi-Lux pulled up, and older man got out waved hello, pointed at our bikes, and then pointed to the back of his truck.  Nodding in agreement we loaded out bikes for a ride in a truck and a welcomed escape from the suffering.  We were given a ride through about 15 more river crossings from a very nice older couple from the North of Iceland who didn't speak more than 5 words of English, we communicated by pointing to maps, smiling, and nodding to gain a ride to the nearest town to make camp for the night.  

After a hearty meal of a gas station hamburger, we discovered an inexpensive bus ride back to Reykjavik, that would allow us a full day to pack and catch our flight the following evening.  Opting for the luxury of a bus trip over an assuredly hurried and stressed  ride on the shoulder-less and busy highway, we threw our bikes in the cargo hold and spent the last of our cash on a bus ride; our cash barely amounted to the cost of one and a half tickets, but being that Icelanders are the nicest people on the planet, the driver waved us aboard with a smile.

Packed and ready for Spain.
 One bike on my back the other in tow.

The airport is full of other people touring Iceland by bike, masochists whose punishment of choice is freezing rain and perpetual headwinds; all of the cyclists we met were riding or had ridden the  primary road system throughout the island.  I was thankful we had gotten off the beaten path and experienced landscape typically reserved for multiday guided treks and done so in relative solitude.

I felt a very special connection to the land and to the people of Iceland, it is a magical place.
There is a harsh beauty of the land and genuine warmth in the people, both unique, rare, and endearing.

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