Thursday, July 24, 2003


Friends: Last night I camped alongside Lake Myvatn with about 150 others, seventeen of whom were cyclists. The cyclists were scattered among everyone else, mostly in pairs. Like all these Icelandic campgrounds there were no specific sites, just one big meadow. Sometimes the meadow is separated into smaller sections by a hedge or two, which also serve as a windbreak.

The campground looked as if it was near capacity, but another 50 tents could have been crammed in rain fly to rain fly if need be. The cyclists were French, Dutch, German, one Czech pair and me, the lone American. I've heard of only one other American cyclist, some chap from Michigan. Most of these European cyclists fly in to Eglisstadir, about 100 miles away, a cheaper entry point than Reykjavik on the other side of the island. It is a two-and-a-half hour flight from Germany. Most of them had no plans of going all the way to Reykjavik, content with seeing just the eastern half of the island.

There was a nearby thermal power plant, so we had hot water aplenty and no extra charge for showers. We could take as long as we cared, or at least until someone started to impatiently pound on the shower stall. There was just one communal bathroom with three toilets, three sinks and two showers. There was quite a line for the showers, so I waited until nine p.m. when the line had diminished. It had been four days since my last shower, so a few extra hours meant little. The ratio of showers to campers has been about the same at all the campgrounds.

This campground also had two Internet terminals. I feared a long wait for them too, but they weren't in high demand. Only once in my two weeks here have I had to wait to use a computer. In Scandinavia I was lucky to get twenty minutes on a computer in a library before having to give it up. Here, libraries are little used in the summer months. Everyone wants to be outdoors taking advantage of summer, such as it is, when the temperatures are relatively mild and there is daylight, even if the sun may not be shining. They'll have all winter to sit indoors and read. It could be, too, that the computers are rarely free in the libraries here, in contrast to Scandinavia. I've spent more money on the Internet than I have camping or eating in restaurants, but it is money I don't much mind spending.

I arrived at the campgrounds at one after a short day on the bike, climbing back up to the Highlands from Husavik on the coast. Lake Myvatn is a central traveler's gathering place with much hiking in the area. The lake has a circumference of 28 miles and is dotted with small islands, many of them mini-volcanoes, long extinct and grass-covered. Off in the distance, there are just as many full-sized volcanoes jutting up from the Highlands. It is a most other-worldly setting. After pitching my tent, doing some wash and checking in on the Tour de France, I set off on a five-hour hike to the rim of one of the nearby volcanoes. I pranced along in delight at Tyler Hamilton's dramatic stage win. One thing I didn't have to worry about was being caught by dark since there is none for another month or so.

The hike passed through a lava flow from the late 1700's that pretty much wiped out this town, all except its church. "A miracle," some say. The trail took me past a row of caverns containing steaming 50-degree Celsius water. There were warnings of excessively hot water and not to slip in. At one time they were a favorite spot to take a soaking. The rim of the volcano gave a spectacular view of the lake and dozens of smaller volcanoes all the way to the horizon. A thousand feet below, the crater of the volcano was filled with graffiti, mostly people's names, etched in the sand or marked with rocks. The crater is protected from the wind, so they are fairly enduring. It is now prohibited to go down into the crater, though no one knew whether the markings were made before or after the ban, or why those there hadn't been raked away. The lip of the crater's rim was lined for half a mile with scattered hikers. It looked like the photos of climbers plodding to the summit of Everest. The wind was most brisk, threatening to blow off my hat. Like most of the hikes I've undertaken here, this was an out-and-back, rather than a circuit.

I biked 65 miles today to Akureyki, a veritable city of 14,00 back on the coast. I didn't set out until nearly noon after taking another hike. My intention was to put off my arrival here until tomorrow, but the winds were so favorable, I arrived at 5:30, an hour-and-a-half before the library closed. If I want to wild camp tonight, I'll have to head on out of town after I'm done here at the library. If it weren't so chilly, I would have paused on my ride in this afternoon along the road to read to delay my arrival. I stopped only once at the lone service station between here and Myvatn, where I could sit against a wall, out of the wind, and not freeze, and eat my lunch of baked beans thickened with some sort of pizza loaf luncheon meat.

I bicycled for about an hour with three French guys. They envied the drop handlebars on my bike, allowing me to be a bit aerodynamic to better cope with the winds. They wished they'd brought along their road bikes rather than mountain bikes. They're not the first to tell me that. I am the only one I, or any one, has seen not riding a cross or mountain bike. Everyone was intimidated by the reputation of Iceland's roads. They can be rough, but I'm managing just fine on my semi-skinny, 27" x 1 1/4", tires and have no regrets about my choice of equipment.
I'll spend tomorrow here seeing the sites. I'm most looking forward to its botanical garden, the largest in Iceland, containing every species of Icelandic plant life as well as plants from around the world that can brave these latitudes. If it's a sunny day, I could devote a full day there to R & R (rest and reading). But if it is the usual dank, cold, overcast with a chilly wind, I'll have to keep moving. My top priority now is to be in a town with a computer for Saturday's time trial. With just a minute separating Lance and Jan, it will determine the outcome of The Tour. I had hoped I could do that here, but I arrived sooner than anticipated.

Later, George

No comments: