Tuesday, July 15, 2003


Friends: As I encroach upon the outer reaches of this island, the scenery and terrain is turning more and more distinctly Icelandic. There are untold varieties of volcanic debris strewn as far as the eye can see, some thousands of years old and others mere decades. In this excessively wet part of the country much of the rocky terrain is overgrown with lush green moss. This country got its name, not because it is covered in ice as is Greenland, but because the first Viking to settle it saw a bay full of ice bergs, an unanticipated sight for someone coming from Europe. Not even ten per cent of Iceland is covered in ice. The majority is covered in lava.

There are dramatic cliffs and ridges and lone hunks of rock towering majestically as in Arizona's Monument Valley or parts of Australia. When the sun manages to burn the mist out of the air and the clouds lift, the clarity is astounding. Few places on the planet have air any cleaner. The air is remarkably free of particulates thanks to the minimal polluting sources of energy. The vast majority of homes and buildings are heated by the hot water that lies beneath this land. There are few trees to speak of, only a dwarf birch is indigenous, so wood burning stoves and fire places are unknown. There is no need for coal or nuclear generated power. One can see farmhouses miles away as distinctly as if they were at arm's length. All lines are etched with incredible precision. I feel as if my vision has gone from 20-20 to 20-10.

I am often accompanied by terns and others birds who like to fly along with me and occasionally swoop just past my ear with a whoosh. It was a bit shocking the first time it happened. Fortunately, they have yet to develop precision bombing. One has extra reason to wear a helmet here.

Yesterday I saw my shadow for the first time in days--a startling site. At last, I had a companion. Every other cyclist I have passed has had a partner, and they have always been drafting one another. I passed four such sets yesterday, my first long day on the Ring Road. It had me asking, "Wherefore art thou Jim Redd? You promised. I was counting on you. It's your turn to take a pull." Solitary travel is not recommended in Iceland. Even those driving 4-wheel drive vehicles are encouraged to travel in pairs when they leave the Ring Road. Josie Dew, noted English touring cyclist and author who generally tours alone, teamed up with another cyclist when she biked here.

But I am happy to be a committee of one when it comes to making decisions. I had somewhat pushed the pace to reach Vik yesterday by 5:30 to reach the tourist office before it closed at seven to have an hour or more at the Internet. I was eager to see how Lance had fared on day three in the Alps and to reply to all the emails I have been receiving. I was crestfallen to learn my information was wrong and it had closed at five and wouldn't open until ten the next morning.

I went to the grocery store and bought some dinner. As I was eating at a picnic table along the main drag of this town of 296, I was engaged in a couple of debates with myself. Debate number one was whether to camp for free on the black sand beach or to pay and stay at the official campground, which included a shower and swimming pool privileges. My legs were urging me to push on, which was debate number two. The winds had been with us for the first time and the sky was partly sunny, both rarities, and made for optimal cycling. I'm always happiest when I'm upon my bike, so it was hard to deny my legs from continuing on.

The next tourist agency with Internet was 45 miles down the road.  I had no worries about dark, as there is none here this time of the year. I could linger in Vik and search out the puffin colonies and climb some of the ridges for their views. There are better puffin sites ahead. I have gone out of my way many a time for a view, and none has ever rivaled the view I have perched atop my bicycle seat, so neither of these attractions had any great allure. The greatest allure was some more wind-aided miles. I was sitting on 80 miles, so had a chance for my first Icelandic century. With that decision made, I hurriedly ate, eager to get back on my bike before the wind or weather changed, as it can in an instant here.

An hour-and-a-half later I was 25 miles down the road and was setting up my tent on the fringe of a good luck garden of piled rocks. Back in the late 800s (yes, 800, that is not another of my typos) shortly after the country was settled, some farmer's house was devastated by a lava flow at this site. People began stacking rocks in piles where his farm had been to bring good luck. It is a tradition that has gone on for over a thousand years. There is a mound of spare rocks just waiting to be plucked and piled. After sleeping at this site I ought to have enough good luck to be spared flat tires for the rest of this trip. I might even be able to win a lottery or two.

Later, George

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