Friday, July 18, 2003

Hofn (2)

Friends: Not only is there not a stop light in this quiet, isolated fishing village of less than 2,000 inhabitants, there is not a stop sign either, just yield signs at the various intersections. The Icelanders are enlightened enough to recognize the absurdity of forcing vehicles to stop when there is little traffic and what little there is can be seen.

The most prominent sign in Hofn is "No Camping," warning us wild-campers not to be tempted by all the inviting beach camping just out of the town proper. All camping is restricted to an authorized campground within the town limits. It was the second time I've failed to exercise my freedom to camp where I wanted in my first week here, and stayed at an authorized campground.  Both times I was serenaded by a noxious snorer, one of the many reasons I prefer non-communal camping at places of my own choosing. I didn't even get a shower at this campsite, as it was out of order. It was just as well, as it cost one dollar per minute, an outrage in a country that is plopped upon a vast reservoir of thermal waters.

Though I camped wild the night before, it wasn't so quiet either, though it was at an absolutely idyllic site at the foot of a glacier. The most ferocious wind I've encountered so far whip-lashed my rain fly against the sides of my tent all night, even though I was in a somewhat sheltered gulch. It was a thirty-mile per hour wind that had been directly in my face all day. It had held my speed to six miles per hour for a couple of hours. It was a wind that wouldn't let up, not even in the night. I had given it a chance to relent in mid-afternoon when I sat against the wall of an Esso gas station for a couple of hours reading a book periodically glancing up to see if the violently flapping flags at the station had begun drooping at least a little.

By 5:30 when it looked hopeless, I summoned the effort to push with all my might into the wind.  The plan was to give an all-out effort for an hour, take an hour break and then ride, or push on, for an hour more. I could understand why every cyclist I've met has resorted to taking a bus for at least a segment of their travels here. The gas station proprietor told me the wind would let up about twenty or thirty kilometers up the road. Looking at the map I didn't see why, as the road angled at the same degree as the wind was assaulting me for the next one hundred kilometers to Hofn. Since I was only managing ten kilometers per hour, it looked like I was in for a brutal ten hours of pedaling.

After eight miles and more than an hour of pedaling I came to a rest area with a huge boulder shielding a picnic table from the wind. When I stopped I was more drained than I had realized. I hoped an hour's rest and some food would revive me for another hour on the bike, as I was pretty much done in. When it was clear I wasn't going to regain the energy to continue, I meandered around in search of a sheltered spot to camp. A monstrous glacier a few hundred yards away made this a campsite worthy of a magazine cover. Though I hadn't intended on camping here, I was glad that's what the fates decided. It was so idyllic I should have stayed a couple of days. A century ago, I might have been inclined to claim it for a homestead, though not in such a wind.

I kept hoping during the night that the wind would die, or at least wane a bit, but it unmercifully slapped and pounded the sides of my tent all night. I regularly awoke, usually when there was a brief lull, but it was wishful thinking every time. The wind felt as fierce the next morning as it had been the evening before, but I was able to increase my speed to seven miles per hour. I couldn't say if it was my rest that made me stronger or if the wind had indeed weakened.

It brought to mind a climb in Bolivia. I stopped for the night at 14,000 feet when I was only managing three-and-a-half miles per hour in the increasingly thin air, but the next morning, I was able to ride at four-and-a-half miles per hour, a hefty thirty per cent faster. It felt as if I was rocketing up the mountain compared to my previous speed. My increase of speed here wasn't so dramatic, but it was still significant. After about eight miles I passed a ridge and the wind suddenly dissipated, just as promised, though it seemed like a miracle. Suddenly my speed catapulted to ten, then twelve miles per hour and my ten hours of riding time to Hofn was cut in half.

Later that morning I heard a sudden whoosh behind me, as if I'd suffered an instant flat. My heart sank and I braced myself for that sunken sensation of a tire going soft. Before my despair was confirmed I heard a second whoosh, and this time I could feel and glimpse out of the corner of my eye a tern cutting right behind my orange helmet. And then there was another whoosh. There was a pair of birds, like a pair of fighter pilots, practicing maneuvers on me. I waved an arm to warn them off, but then quickly desisted, trusting the precision of their aerial antics and hoping to experience some more.

Later, George

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