Monday, July 14, 2003


Friends: Day four in Iceland and not a day has passed that I haven't seen at least two sets of touring cyclists. So far they've all come in pairs. The first I encountered was a Dutch couple on day fourteen of a sixteen-day tour. They were not happy campers. They had been rained upon every day, forcing them to stay in a hotel every couple of days to dry out their gear, as they didn't have water proof panniers. Staying in hotels had greatly escalated the cost of their trip. They wondered why any one would want to live in this country. I too have endured a spot of rain every day so far. But my ever reliable Ortlieb panniers have kept my gear dry. With minimal sun and warmth when the clothes I'm wearing get wet I have had to rely on my body heat to eventually dry them.

I suffered a mini-disaster my first night. One can camp anywhere one cares to here, but with the predominantly rocky volcanic terrain, it's not so easy to find a place to stake down a tent. I camped in a quarry my first night. It offered some flat terrain. but it was too rocky and solid to allow for my tent stakes to be of any use. My tent is free standing, not requiring stakes, but I need to stake out my rain fly for it to be fully functional. When it began raining some time during the  night, water began to seep into the tent, thanks to my unsecured rain fly blowing in to the side of the tent, and the rain run-off trickling in.

I got up and collected four ten-pound rocks. I didn't have to search hard, as there was an abundant supply.  I placed one at each corner of my tent.  I wrapped a cord around each and then tied them to the corners of my rain fly, pulling it taunt.  I then gathered a few more rocks and placed them inside the tent in case the wind kicked up any worse than it was already blowing. I didn't realize how much water was seeping into the tent, unable to soak into the rocky surface, until I noticed my shirt, tights and shorts (my riding clothes) had been soaking it in and were wringing wet. Since I only had two sets of clothes I was in trouble. I thought of the Dutch couple and asked myself, "How many more days until I can go home?" After that, I made sure to put all my gear into my panniers at night in the tent.

It had been early to bed, as I was operating on minimal sleep after my overnight flight, so I expected to arise early. It wouldn't have been at first light, as I like to do, as there is no first light here this time of year. Iceland is far enough north, just below the Arctic Circle, to have 24 hours of light during the summer months. When I awoke to a drizzle at seven, I rolled over and slept some more. And I continued dozing when it was still drizzling an hour later. It wasn't until nine that the rain let up and I could break camp. It was chilly, but I was soon toasty warm from the exertion of riding on an unpaved road of soft volcanic gravel into a strong head wind requiring my lowest gear. I was soon warm enough to change into my damp clothes to being drying them. Even though they had been dangling off my panniers in the wind, they had dried little in the dank overcast that continually smothers this country.

Today, two days later, I finally hooked up with the main Ring Road that encircles the country. I had avoided it until now to ride more lightly traveled roads and visit a few sites. Almost half of my first 180 miles so far have been on unpaved roads. My first two days I was only able to average eight miles per hour each day, battling the winds and rough roads. I detoured 50 miles from the Ring Road to visit the town of Geysir, where a geyser that dwarfed Yellowstone's Old Faithful gave birth to the word we use to describe such things. That geyser is no longer active, but there is another nearby called Strokkur that spouts some 60 feet every ten minutes or so. Less than five miles beyond Geysir was the waterfall Gulfoss, also on the Golden Circle, the main tourist circuit. There were a couple of tour buses at both places, but the crowds were negligible compared to what one would find at tourist attractions elsewhere in the world.

Reykjavik is just 75 miles away via the Ring Road. The traffic has diminished to a trickle on this main road, making me truly feel as if I'm in a faraway place. I am writing from the tourist office in this town of 650 people, as it does not have a library. It is $2.50 an hour to use their Internet, a great bargain considering I paid $4.50 for a bowl of Cheerios earlier this morning. Only Japan is more expensive. But I am keeping my expenses down, not having to pay to camp yet. My last two nights were in free campgrounds in towns of 50 or so people. Only one had a shower. The peanut butter I brought is going fast. I will be able to replace it for about $3, a relative bargain. Heinz baked beans are somewhat reasonable too at 65 cents a can. Another of my staples, potato salad, is rather expensive at $3 a pound. Even tuna in this country of fishermen is $1.50 a tin. I have yet to notice a grocery item at a reduced sale price, something I am always on the alert for and use to dictate my diet. Fish paste in a tube, also common in Scandinavia, and liver sausage, are other things I'm putting on my bread.

I am about 55 miles from Vik, the southern-most town in Iceland and also its wettest. No rain yet today and the wind is with me. I'm averaging fifteen mph today, a jolly good pace on a fully-loaded touring bike. I see occasional glimpses of snow-covered volcanoes and massive glaciers when the clouds lift. I am nearing the glacier Vatnajokull, the largest in Iceland, covering 5% of the island, and have passed the notorious volcano Hekla, which has had over a dozen significant eruptions since 1104. The latest was in February of 2000. It is Iceland's most dreaded volcano. A favorite Icelandic epithet originating centuries ago is "Go to Hekla." It evolved into "Go to heck," then "Go to hell," as Hekla was thought to be the entrance to hell.

I am getting used to the cold and wind and rain, but I'm not always as eager as I would like to be to get on my bike in the morning. With it light 24 hours I could get really early starts if I wished. It seems to be a national custom, though, to stay up late and not get up too early, as there is virtually no traffic on the roads until ten a.m. I am getting lots of sleep, though I've awoken nearly every night around one a.m. starving. I could easily eat two or three hamburgers at a time, the main fare at the small cafes, but at $8 each, they are budget-killers I have so far been avoiding.

Later, George.

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