Tuesday, July 22, 2003


Friends: I have reached the northern coast line of Iceland. Husavik is a fishing village of 2,400 residents that was one of the first settlements of this country in the late 800s. It is the largest town I've passed through in my nearly two weeks here. It rests on a cove on one of the several peninsulas that jut out towards the arctic, none of which quite make it. The only part of Iceland in the Arctic is the island of Grimsey, not far from here, which just straddles it.

I spent two-and-a-half weeks beyond the Arctic Circle two years ago on my tour of Scandinavia and never was as cold as I've been here. The only time I saw my breath there was in the tunnels. A couple of days ago, as I climbed to 2,100 feet up into the clouds with visibility of not even fifty feet, my huffing and puffing was making a huge contribution to the cloud cover.

I've let the Tour de France and Internet availability dictate much of my riding schedule on this trip. Twice I've lingered in towns all day until three p.m. when a crucial mountain or time time trial stage was concluded before beginning my cycling for the day, knowing that it could be a couple days before I'd come upon the Internet and learn the results. Iceland is two hours behind France and one hour behind England, though for six months of the year Iceland shares the same time as London. No need to juggle the clocks here for more sun. The Tour stages generally conclude at five p.m in France, though with stages of over one hundred miles lasting five or more hours, finish time is not always a sure thing.

Yesterday I had the dilemma at 12:30, after I'd come forty miles, of whether to continue on the Ring Road another 22 miles to a town with Internet where I could follow the final blows of the last climactic stage in the Pyrenees or turn off and head to another national park and wait 24 hours for the news. I was going to let the wind decide for me, but it was blowing from the southeast and one road went west with the wind and the other north, both sort of with the wind. I decided to forsake The Tour and let the suspense of its outcome hang over me for 24 hours and skip the minute-by-minute reports of the dramatics on one of the cycling websites. So I was a day late learning of Lance's success, winning his first stage of The Tour despite taking a fall when his handlebar became entangled with a fan's bag.

I wasn't all that happy with my choice of roads, however, when shortly after I left the Ring Road, the road turned to dirt and a sign warned of washboard for the next 43 kilometers. I had suffered washboard surfaces already here in Iceland, but none were so severe that they merited warning. This indeed did, though fortunately not all 43 kilometers were rumbled. I was just praying my rear axle, which had so valiantly survived Bolivia's "Most Dangerous Road in the World" and Cambodia's "Roads from Hell" the past two years, wouldn't break, nor that I become seasick from all the tossing around the road subjected me to. I was reminded of Bolivia again, as the Highlands that I was crossing were as desolate as the Altiplano and similarly flat and rolling with distant peaks like mushrooms popping up here and there. There was just scruff enough for an occasional sheep to feed upon. But at least there was air to breath here. This was in the midst of a one hundred mile stretch between towns, my longest so far on this strip, but puny compared to the 750 miles I once cycled in Australia across the Nullarbor Plain. I had filled a fourth water bottle, but with the cold, running out of water wasn't much of a concern.

After eighteen miles I came to the Dettifloss waterfall, the "Niagara of Europe." Iceland considers itself part of Europe and ranks their natural wonders against those of the mainland. It is some 150-feet high and is in a fifteen-mile stretch of a half-mile wild canyon that is "The Grand Canyon of Europe." It all lies below the flat plain of the Highlands. There was no clue whatsoever that there was this great river running from "The Largest Glacier in Europe" nearby. Another twenty miles further, at the northern end of the park, was a distinctly Icelandic canyon with 300 foot high walls carved out of various layers of volcanic flow. It is a vast horseshoe going back a mile-and-a-half and about a mile wide, facing out to the arctic. Geologists cannot explain how it was formed.

I arrived at the canyon at seven p.m. after eighteen miles of some easy, windblown riding and some, not-so-easy, rough-road riding. My legs had energy enough though for some exploring. I hiked to the canyon wall where a rope dangled for hikers to pull themselves up to reach its summit. I could have joined several hundred others in the park's campground, but my preference, as always, was to camp alone and free, not only as in non-paying, but without restrictions. Communal camping, like communal worship, is rife with hypocrites and distractions. Camping and worshiping are both best done solitarily. So at nine p.m., after concluding my exploration of the park, I mounted my bike to seek some solitude--something I can't seem to get enough of.

It was forty miles to Husavik and the Internet and news of Lance. I was momentarily tempted by the notion of making that my destination for the day, or night. The prospects of some midnight sun cycling was one of the allures. But then I might have to camp communally or camp in a spot where sleeping late wouldn't be possible. Best to get to bed at a civil hour, I decided. I would limit myself to ten more miles and ninety for the day. But I thought again and remembered it was about a year ago that Jim Redd and I oddly had back-to-back 93-mile days biking from Minneapolis to Chicago. I would make this a 93-mile day in honor of Jim. It is always nice to have some quaint or personal goal to add significance to one's day. And, voila, there at 93 miles I came upon an open gate to a farmer's pasture, as if it was meant to be. The pasture was dotted with several dozen large rolls of harvested hay sealed in thick, white plastic--winter feed for sheep. Each of the rolls was large enough to hide my tent and block the wind if it turned surly. A fine place to camp it was and a fine capper to another great day on the bike.

Later, George

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