We’ve been driving a bunch since we last met. As you know, a good road trip requires five things…the second of which is a trusty means of locomotion. Enter, our new best friend Jimny.
As previously mentioned, the format of this visit to Iceland is a fairly thorough self-guided tour of the Ring Road, the highway that generally circumnavigates the outer edge of the country. This means lots of driving.
Of course “cool places to go” is the first requirement of a road trip. Iceland has lots of cool places to go. Jimny has already helped us explore a couple. These are the sorts of places where some might fear to venture…where four-wheel drive is required, where a couple of country music CD’s and a good sense of humor are helpful. We also brought snacks. Tunes and snacks are the fourth and fifth things needed for a good road trip.
It’s a good thing we have Jimny; I don’t think we would have made it with a lesser vehicle. The wilds of Iceland are no place for mere 2-wheel drive conveyances. A Ford Focus traveling Iceland’s gravel roads would be beaten to death by lunchtime.
Oh, have I mentioned the wind? It’s nuts. Continuous 25-30 km / hr winds are standard. Rainstorms start and stop every few minutes. It makes for good rainbows though. Between the changes in elevation, the changes in weather, the changes in road grade and width, the frequent wind, and the cold temperatures, this place is tough on cars. And it’s only October!
Speaking of the wind, I nearly lost a car door the other day. We had stopped along the highway to get gas at a truck stop, and I did what I always do…I casually flung open the driver’s side door. That door was caught by a tornadic gust, and bounced hard against its hinges. It made an evil crack as it was forced beyond its normal range of motion. I thought for a moment that it might simply tear loose and fly off into the distance like a tumbleweed. Becci stared in surprise from the passenger’s seat, and then pointed to a warning sticker that was affixed to her side of the dashboard. It read: “Damage to doors not covered; please use care when entering and exiting the vehicle”. She looked worried as I muscled the door closed and checked the door, hinges, and fender for damage. When I opened the door again, more carefully, she called to me “Hold the door!”.
“Hold the door!”became a catchphrase, rather quickly shortened to “Hodor”. This word is uttered now by whichever of us thinks of it first as either is getting in or out of the car. Feel free to steal it. “Hodor!”
As we were leaving the West Fjords (last episode), we found our way to the tiny fishing village of Hólmavík. This place is home to a shrimp processing plant, and it smells it.
A couple of noteworthy things happened in Hólmavík:
- I went for a five-mile run in the 5 C / 41 F, windiness. It was awesome; I can run forever in the cold. I don’t think Icelanders run, though, and Hólmavík doesn’t get that many tourists in the fall and winter. A lot of people were looking at me oddly during that run, which mostly took place on the highway leading into town.
- In my “runner’s high”, I locked us out of our room.
- We took in a few pints at the single local pub in Hólmavík that is open at this time of year. It’s called Galdur, and it shares premesis and proprietorship with the Icelandic Withcraft and Sorcery Museum. We considered visiting this museum the next day, but after glancing at it through half-closed curtains whilst consuming our pints, we decided it probably wasn’t essential. Restaurant Galdur normally closes at 2100, although a sign outside warns that they will close at 2000 is no customers are there at that time.
- Two young French couples staying with us in our lodging utterly took over the (theoretically) shared kitchen, creating within a twelve-hour period the two most extravagant meals I have ever seen prepared in a hostel.
- We enjoyed the best bed of the trip, so far. Although the bed itself took up almost all of the space in the room, it was magnificent. It was so warm that we almost punted the next day just to sleep in and watch Luke Cage on Netflix.
- I guiltlessly took a thirty-minute shower. One fun Iceland fact is that all of the electricity produced and used here is created via renewable means. It is inexpensive to consumers, and unlike everywhere else I have ever been, no one worries too much about using it. Almost every apartment has a window cracked open for fresh air, while still cranking up the heat inside. Nobody worries if you take an extravagent shower. People don’t fret over turning the lights off when they leave a room. It’s so different that it’s off-putting.
After eating our breakfast cereal on the couch (the French continued to monopolize the dining area), we packed up and left our little fishing village. Single-lane gravel roads and hurricane-force winds awaited.
One of the first tough choices we had to make involved the city of Djúpavik. Boasting a permanent population of 2, this city on the sea is currently one of the sites where the new Super Friends…err, Justice League…movie is being filmed. We thought it might be cool to go check that out, although this would take us a little out of our way.
Then we started reading about the drive to Djúpavik in our Rough Guide to Iceland book. And I quote:
North of Lagerholl, Route 643 cuts into one of the most remote corners of Europe, where towering rock buttresses plunge precipitously into the icy sea and the coastline is stern with vast expanses of driftwood that originated on the other side of the Arctic Ocean, in Russian Siberia. Tourist facilities are virtually nonexistent…the road is in shocking condition…with huge potholes and some alarming narrow stretches, while the wind on this exposed coast is ferocious at best, hurling rocks and scree down from the mountain slopes onto the road below and blowing cars from one side of the road to the other.
I was reminded of a story told to me years ago by my friend Tall Mike, about his father, who had reluctantly driven his truck and an attached camper across a bit of non-existent (washed out) dirt road on the side of a mountain cliff in Wyoming. He faced a precipitous drop, but the alternative was a near-impossible attempt to back the truck and camper down the mountain along a single-lane gravel road. His dad went for it and made it, and Mike said that his father wept at the conclusion of this death-defying driving adventure. Mike also mentioned that he had never actually seen his father cry. I know Mike’s dad; he comes from a different era. I’m pretty sure that he’s made of nails. I decided that I did not at this time care to experience my own version of this type of driving misadventure. Not to see Ben Affleck. We opted to visit Seal Island instead.
This type of schedule adjustment is typical for how we traveled during the 365 trip, and it works for us. We got some coffee (now referred to as Dewey Egbert) and jumped in the car.
The Vatnsnes Peninsula is a small land mass in north central Iceland, just east of the West Fjords. Driving up it starts with some pretty significant hill climbing that made us wonder if we were driving to the top of the world.
We drove, sometimes up and down a number of low mountains. At one point as we drove along the coast, I wanted to stop to take off my jacket, and we pulled over at a beautiful spot by the sea. It was postcard-perfect and adorned with a picnic table. Other than the wind, which was comically extreme, it appeared to be an ideal spot for a picnic. “Hodor!”, Bex called out as I opened my door to get out. Suddenly, a wave of repellent air washed over us. We looked at each other in disappointed surprise.
We peered around for a decaying carcass, probably a whale’s, but none was apparent. The smell was as awful as it was intense. It was as if 300 rotting corpses were sitting in the sun, inside a septic tank containing a good bit of used perm solution.
We drove on, purposefully now, while continuing to consider the cause of such a specifically offensive smell. We never figured it out, but that part of the coast is now referred to by us as Stinktown. We journeyed on.
It rained, although never for more than ten minutes at a stretch. The skies modulated between overcast and gloriously sunny. The Icelandic countryside is beautiful when overcast and stunning when fully lit. We made our way to the seal portion of our program.
We parked the car and began the 1 km hike to the peninsula’s prime seal-viewing spot. As we walked in the cold wind, it began to drizzle, then rain. Several couples that had started out with us turned back to their cars. We pressed on, through the rain. We came for the seals, after all, not the comfort!
At the end of the path, we found seals. And the rain brought rainbows.
We journeyed on, finally making our way to Sauðárkrókur, the second largest town on the northern coast of Iceland. Population: 2,572. We met our lovely host Madura, her two boys, and her kitten Bob. Four-month-old Bob is still awfully playful, and during our overnight stay he:
- Left numerous small scratches and bites on my and Becci’s hands.
- Tore out and ate a super-important part out of our “actual-size” map of Iceland.
- Found a carefully wrapped, hermetically-sealed roast beef sandwich in my luggage, and made it his.
- Punched me in the eye, drawing blood.
- Made me fall in love with him.
That’s about all of the words you get for now. As you know, the last thing ya need for a good road trip is good company. I think I’m gonna go spend some time with mine.
Until we visit next…enjoy some more gratuitous pictures of amazing Iceland, taken over the last two days. All this beauty! And a couple of amusing but useful road signs.
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