September 2, 2017
Iceland’s Route 1, or the Ring Road as the tourists refer to it, is the main road that encompasses the entire island excluding the isolated Westfjords. Since it connects most larger towns, it is one of the few roads that is regularly plowed throughout the winter. Because of its accessibility to so many major attractions, this is a popular route for visitors. While you could in theory drive this 1332km (828 mile) road in a very exhausting 2 day stint, most travelers enjoy exploring the sights over a week or longer. Our schedule allowed for an 8 day road trip, and I would recommend this amount of time at minimum.
The girls and I commenced our first full day on the road departing Hvolsvöllur in the counterclockwise direction towards Kálfafell. Tourists flocked to our first stop. Seljalandsfoss (I eventually realized that anything ending in “foss” translates to waterfall) presented itself with a majestic uniqueness. As we clambered over slippery rocks and followed the footpath, we soon found ourselves standing behind the waterfall. I had never seen the back side of water before! While I ogled at this new perspective, the rain paused for a moment and created a small rainbow in the distance.
We weren’t done exploring the area, so we wandered to the grotto next door and found another enchanting waterfall. A shallow stream invited us through a narrow cavernous opening to Gljúfrabúi where water splashed over mossy rock walls and a refreshing mist filled up what felt like a secluded room.
According to the map, the neighboring F road (“F” standing for mountain or 4WD road) lead to Thórsmörk, another seemingly picturesque Iceland destination. Unfortunately, the three of us travel with limited off road skills and the Icelandic F roads are not somewhere I care to learn on my own. We drove as far as we felt comfortable until we had to succumb to a river crossing and increasingly bumpy terrain. An inviting nearby mountain beckoned us to frolic in its florescent fields. We didn’t get too far up before we witnessed the most magical double rainbow that would even make a non-believer set off to chase the pot of gold on the other side.
In the short drive to Seljavallalaug, the weather quickly deteriorated from its former promising conditions. A 15-20 minute walk guided us into the foothills of the mountains and along a river that roared with the coming rain. Nestled between the crevices of the surrounding ranges, one of Iceland’s oldest hot pots offers a stunning place to soak in the naturally warm waters. However, the room temperature state when we visited did not encourage us to stick around for very long! While a novel idea at the time for us to change and jump in, we would have much preferred to stay warm in our North Face coats.
That afternoon we coined the term “car picnic.” By the time we had a quick look at Skógafoss, thick waterfall mist and heavy raindrops soaked us to the point that the only retreat we could find was inside our car. We re-parked to a prime location, and enjoyed the view from our dry place while we munched on mouth-watering banana bread we bought the day before from a geothermal kitchen that baked it in the ground. Never before had we heard of “Earth cooking” and the concept thoroughly intrigued us.
With the constant changing weather, the drama I noticed around the country never seemed as prominent as it did at Sólheimajökull. While many people embark on guided tours to climb this glacier, we chose to spend our time walking around the glacial lake. A thin layer of fog dangled above bits of icebergs floating on the frigid water. In an eerie moment, colors burst from the olive landscape in the background and charcoal terrain below our feet.
In 1973, a US Navy plane was forced to crash-land at Sólheimasandur. Miraculously, the entire crew survived, but the bones of the airplane still remain on a lonely black sand beach in the south of Iceland. The three of us weren’t initially interested in visiting the site, but since we had seen so many pictures and heard so much about it, we figured it must be worthwhile. Sorry to say, we did not find it to so. We began what we thought was a 4km walk roundtrip to see the wreckage with a couple beers between us (yes, we were those people) and little in the way of “survival supplies.” A light mist fell so consistently for the seemingly eternal time we spent out in the elements that we could not believe how utterly drenched we got. There was no shelter for miles. We couldn’t even find a place to discretely pop a squat in front of the hoards of tourists making the pilgrimage. Fine gravel-like black sand blanketed the flat, open ground for as far as we could see almost making us feel like we had departed Planet Earth. In nicer weather, we could have enjoyed ourselves, but we walked in the rain 4km both ways to see a gutted plane with missing wings.
The back and forth weather played with our emotions throughout the day more than we expected and it was time for a warm, hearty dinner and a cozy place to sleep. Tomorrow we would be more mentally prepared!
The title of this blog is inspired by a rapper Kayla, Katie Green and I met Spring Break 2010. Note: this extra special video clip is best viewed in full screen.