Friday, July 11, 2003

Grindavik, Iceland

Friends: My sandals won't be getting much use on this trip. Not only is it cold here in Iceland, its winds are even colder. I had to quickly stop and put on gloves shortly after I set out from the airport. It may be July, Iceland's balmiest month, but the temperature was barely 50, about as warm as one can hope for. Such a temperature was almost welcome after coming from Chicago's hot and humid 90's.  The temperature may have at first just seemed as if the air conditioner was turned a little low, but I was extra chilled by a biting wind off the surrounding arctic sea carrying with it the cold from nearby glacier-choked Greenland, just across the Denmark Strait.

But neither cold nor head wind had me much chagrined, as my spirit was bubbling with that usual thrill of being on my bike in a distant land that has long lured me.   Nor was my spirit diminished by the minimal sleep I had on my over-night flight. It was just a four-and-a-half hour flight from Boston, though a three-hour time difference. When I had finished assembling my bike it was 8:30 a.m. local time, though my body clock placed me in the wee hours of the morning.  I came via Boston as there  were no direct flights from Chicago.

I was somewhat delayed commencing my ride searching fro a place to store the card board box my bike flew over in, as I would need some such container when I returned to Chicago in a month. There was no storage area at the airport, but I learned Icelandic Air provides plastic bags for bikes, albeit at a cost of 1,5000 kroner, about $20. That was no doubt cheaper than a month's storage for the bike box at a hostel in Reykjavik, and cheaper too, than bus fare to Reykjavik, thirty miles away, which transporting the bike box would necessitate. I could, of course, have tried to bike those thirty miles to Reykjavik carrying the box, which I have been known to do, not only to save the expense and hassle of a bus or taxi, but also to assert and maintain my independence from the internal combustion machine. But never have I carried a box that far.

I was glad not to have attempted those thirty miles, especially with the winds. There's no telling where they might have blown me with a four-and-a-half foot by two-and-a-half foot sail of a box under my arm. It could have been a test, though, of Icelandic hospitality. Would anyone have stopped to offer a ride? It could have been test too of Icelandic curiosity and character and how they would have reacted to such an incongruous site. When I chose to bike one-legged for fifty miles after breaking my left crank while bicycling across Australia, people thought it a hoot seeing such a site and thought they were in on a bit of history wanting to know if I was trying to be the first person to bicycle one-legged across their country. After disappointing a few by saying no, I began replying in the affirmative, earning a "Good on ya mate."

Not having to store the box in Reykjavik spared me from having to venture into Iceland's lone metropolis, containing about three-fourths of the country's 270,000 residents. I go off on my bike to ride where there is little traffic and lots of open space. I get enough urban bicycling as a messenger. I was happy to be able to immediately start this trip without a dose of urban congestion and mayhem. I will pass through Reykjavik eventually, but not until I complete the 850-mile circuit of this island country.

Within ten miles of the airport was the Blue Lagoon, one of Iceland's premier attractions, and its most renowned geothermal area. It had already attracted several bus loads of tourists when I arrived at 9:30. Its waters are blue from the effluent from a nearby power plant. They are said to have curative powers. Bottles of its mud can be purchased. There were a few heads bobbing in the steaming waters, but most of us camera-toters did nothing more than put a palm in. I'll have ample opportunity in the days to come to dip into hot springs. Most towns here have an Olympic-sized outdoor hot spring swimming pool that is open year round.

I was lucky to find a library open at the first town I came to, less than three hours after I started biking, but there is a time limit on the computer and I am nearing it. I hope to send out a few more reports in my month here. I've only biked twenty miles so far, but I'm already enthralled by the rough and rugged treeless countryside. This promises to be another good one.

Later, George

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