Iceland - The Westfjörds

I'll do a more detailed post that includes practical, detailed information like route gpx., calorie count, pack list, etc. For now, this is just a post to say that Iceland surprised me. 

You know, I really wasn't seeking out Iceland.  I didn't really feel called to explore there.  But all the stars aligned, and made an offer I couldn't refuse. I went with my boyfriend, Alex. I've dragged him on a few weekend trips in the past, but this was different. He got excited, built a bike, refreshed his rain gear, and almost lost it logistic-ing with Iceland's public transportation. 

I more or less overhauled my Avid Guide brakes (after 4,000mi. of good service), he conducted camp food calorie tests, and we talked about bikepacking gear almost exclusively for 2 weeks straight. 

I'll include better beta about how and what I packed in a subsequent post, but for now I'll just say getting ready for a duo multi-day trip where you're not co-located is a real PIA. There was a lot of gear knoll photos sent back and forth with questions like "are you bringing the multi-tool?" and "we've got enough zip-ties to choke a horse". 

To get ready, it took us about one evening of ticket-buying, two weekend afternoons of collaborative information gathering, a handful of evenings of bike and gear prep, and two long nights of final packing. We optimized our arrival by taking an overnight, non-stop flight from Denver to Reykjavik. We arrived at 6am. Tired, a little cranky, and ready for the day's challenge: driving from Reykjavik to Isafjordur, which is in the northern part of the Westfjörds. 

Driving for a full day when you arrive in a timezone 6 hours ahead is simultaneously the best and most dangerous way to get over jet lag.

We really struggled.  We took turns driving, and eventually made it the 7 hour drive to Isafjordur. It was then a mad scramble to go grocery shopping, empty the car, assemble the bikes, return the car, and eat dinner... all before either of us passed out. Caution: Going grocery shopping in Iceland while jet lagged can lead to staring at racks of unidentifiable meat, talking in circles, an under or overbuying of food, and at least one hangry tiff. 

Our campsite in a lightly-used park was an unassuming start to what would become one of the most challenging, rewarding trips I've ever taken. 

The next day, we rode out of Isafjordur (p.s., i'm copying and pasting that town name every time, because I will otherwise misspell it, like every Icelandic town name.)

We would spend the next three days winding our way down the Westfjörds. Sometimes going around the fjörd, sometimes going up and over it through the highlands. I'll do another post that details what otherwise was a grueling few days.

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It was windier than I ever could've imagined. Iceland broke us down, and just when you swore you'd had enough, you'd look back at where you came from, and the pain would momentarily vanish. It was incredibly beautiful. 

Here's a small overview of the sights:

Due to the wind and persistent, inclement weather, we decided to skip a detour to a reported hot spring.  Skipping the side trip meant we cruised straight through the highlands on the 3rd day, finding ourselves at the end of our planned route one day early.

We decided we'd explore and toodle on our 4th day before catching a ferry to a town where we could get a bus to Reykjavik. I called the ferry's number to confirm the details for the following day. It went like this: 

Operator: "Oh. The ferry won't be running for 3 or 4 days. It's broken right now. Yeah."
Me: "Well, we were planning on taking the ferry, and there's no bus out here. It didn't say the ferry wasn't running on your website."
Operator: "Oh. Huh. Well, it's not running." 

The ferry - our only way out of the Westfjörds, wasn't running. No apologies, no backup solutions. Just a "huh, looks like you're stuck."

We found out later that it's customary in Iceland to assume that things will work out as they should. And they did. 

After a similar-sounding conversation with a native Icelander who appeared to be a handyman working on a hotel that was not yet open for the season, we decided it was time to start hitch-hiking. Our flight to Spain left in approximately 45 hours. It seemed like plenty of time to somehow figure out a way back to the airport. 

After standing on the side of the road for 5 minutes, a camper van pulled up. In it was a 30-something guy on vacation, waiting for his buddy to arrive. "You know, I was supposed to turn right, but I looked at you guys (down the road) and thought 'No one is going to pick them up. They need a ride.'" 

It was pretty amazing. Turns out, myself and Chris grew up in neighboring towns in Ohio. The next 12 hours were exhausting, but fun. We piled the bikes in the van, drove to see a "red" beach, a waterfall, and a hot spring. We then drove through most of the night to get to Reykjavik in time for his buddy's arrival. At 6am, we found a hostel to call home for the next 24 hours. 

The following two days were filled with exploring the city, drinking some overpriced beers, eating some of the best food I have ever eaten (also overpriced), and generally feeling like we were actually on vacation. Caution: all the food and drink in Reykjavik is expensive, and it's best to seek out happy hour specials whenever possible. One benefit of having spent every waking and sleeping moment outside for the previous 80 hours meant that weren't afraid of the weather in the slightest. Rain and wind didn't keep us from venturing out in the city. 

I'll leave it there for now. So much happened in those scant 6 days, and I'm having a hard time figuring out how to communicate the struggle, the reward, and all the fun gear talk in one post. So... stay tuned for a subsequent blog post on the technicalities: weather, route, gear, food (or rather, food-rationing), and of course - what worked and what didn't

My thoughts leaving Iceland were "I'm really glad I did that once, but I don't need to go back anytime soon." 

I could say that it's because there "are just so many other places in the world to see first!" But really, it's because Iceland kicked my ass, and there are other places where I have no previous memory of ass-kicking that have to be explored.  

Thanks for reading!