Monday, 23 July 2012

Iceland Part 2

I was now travelling by myself for the first time in almost 2 months. I had no travel buddy, no deadlines to meet but I only had 9 days left in Iceland before I had to be back at the ferry to head home again.

After I dropped Kiya off at the airport I went back to pick up my off road tyres from the camp ground where I had left them 1 week before. The road tyres on the bike now had done almost 10,000 miles (16,000 km) and were looking quite slick.

I was not dealing with being alone very well, my motivation was low. Normally I’d be excited at the thought of another chapter starting. Thinking back to how excited I was the day I arrived in Iceland my mood today just did not make sense. I thought back to when Mila and I rode up the pass after leaving the ferry and how amazing I thought everything looked through my fresh eyes. Why can’t I feel that way again? Is Iceland getting old this quickly?

Looking at the map and I picked a direction to travel in. I wanted to ride up the west coast from Reykjavik and try to get myself as far west in Iceland as I could.

The following day I rode through Reykjavik. As I rode I wondered if I should stop in and see a little bit of the city. I felt a bit torn between two things and wondered to myself which I would regret more, leave the capital without seeing what is has to offer, or would I regret wasting the time doing that when I could be out in more remote areas while I had the means to do so. After all if I really want to see Reykjavik sometime then I could fly there and walk around the city, but then I’ve never been a big fan of cities.

By this time the city was slowly disappearing in my rear view mirrors. I was riding up main coastal road to the North. The weather was dry but the sky was full of grey clouds which hugged the mountains just to the east. The rock of the mountains was quite black looking but there were bright green moss or grass patches which really give the scene an amazing contrast. The road is quite busy with cars, though they don’t look like tourist cars, more local traffic. I soon get fed up of being in a queue of traffic and I find a place to stop. I was a bit sore as it had been a few hours since I got on the bike… 2 hours seems to be the norm for this, though I often do more when I feel the need, but today there is no need. My sudden lack of deadlines and lack of destination was causing my pace and enthusiasm to slow down. It didn’t seem to matter how long I stopped for or how fast I rode, as nothing or nobody was waiting for me at the other end.

I man handle my bike onto the centre stand to do some checks... Engine oil… ok. The chain is starting to get tight spots, but it’s not getting too noisy yet, so it should be ok for getting home. I fill up my chain oiler with fresh oil and remove the nozzle that drips the oil onto the chain. Sometimes after rain it seems to gunge up when the oil mixes with water causing the oiler to stop working. Its maintenance and I DO need to do it, but it just feels like I’m wasting time, I have no drive and once I complete one thing, I start looking for something else that might need attention. It feels like I’m just making excuses, I feel like I should be somewhere else, but I just don’t know where that place is. Why can’t I make the most of this?

I continue North thinking some distance might help my mood. After looking at the map I discovered that the highest waterfall in Iceland was only a 30 minutes ride away. I turned off the main highway and head east up what would once have been the main highway before they built the road tunnel under the Fjord.

I really feel like I’m off of the tourist route now. All along the south coast of Iceland there were tour busses, big 4x4s, motorhomes, motorbikes, hire cars, but now there was very little traffic. I park in the car park where the walking path starts for the waterfall. It is now lunch time so I eat a few boiled eggs that I had boiled earlier in the day, then a few cookies… The cookies were the same brand as Mila and I had bought when we travelled together, eating them made me think of her and wonder how she was getting on with her new job. It was now raining quite heavily and there is no place to shelter so I made do with the luxury of wearing my motorbike jacket and helmet to keep dry and I sit on the bike. I wish I had an umbrella, I then thought about somehow rigging my tent over the bike to keep dry while I waited for the rain to stop. I noticed that some children were watching me from a car that was parked a few metres away, they must have been left by their parents while they walked to the waterfall. I was jealous they had somewhere dry and comfortable to sit.

The rain would just not give up! I waited for as long as my patience would allow before I decided that I needed to find a place to stay for the night. I didn’t want to ride in this rain as it was heavy enough to soak me if I rode too far. I finally decided to put on a brave face and 40 kilometres later I was in Akranes. I had seen clear skies off to the west so I kept going in that direction hoping the distance would cause the rain to stop. By the time I made it to Akranes it was sunny and late enough to not feel too bad about stopping for the day. I found a camp ground, but didn’t find anyone to pay for the privilege of staying there. The camp ground was beside the sea and was full of caravan and motorhomes, it looked more like a grassy place you might have a picnic on a warm summer’s day rather than a place to sleep in a tent for the night. There were toilets and showers but they were in a portacabin. Everything looked quite temporary.

Glymur in iceland

I now had my tent up and I was sitting in it feeling glad that I didn’t have to put it up in that heavy rain. I was still feeling quite blue and isolated. I remembered that I often feel more isolated when I camp by myself in a busy camping area than if I camp alone in the mountains. I never seem to feel lonely when I camp in remote places by myself, but often when I come out of remote areas and camp again near others I end up feeling really lonely and disconnected. It seems so strange to feel alone when there are other people just metres away and not when people are 100’s of kilometres away.

I had not managed to find any sort of attendant or manager for the camp ground, not even a sign to say how I should pay for the privilege of sleeping on their grass. Maybe someone will come around later looking for some money at a more normal stopping time for the night. My mood made me feel something was missing… was it really just the fact that I had gotten unused to travelling by myself? I really didn’t know… but I hated feeling this way because I knew when I thought about it later I wouldn’t understand why I did feel that way and I’d just feel like I’d wasted time for no reason. I phoned home to see if there was any news that would change my mood. I phoned my brother first, then a few friends, one told me a funny story about something that had happened at which cheered me up a bit.

In the morning I rode back to the waterfall car park and started walking up the path towards it. The path was quite flat for a few kilometres but then dropped away and disappeared into a lava tunnel. I crossed the river by walking over a steel cable that someone had kindly put there for that purpose. It was a bit like a tight rope walk, but there was also a normal rope at hand height to help balance with. I trusted myself enough to not fall in but didn’t completely rule it out. Over the past few years I seem to care less and less about things going wrong while travelling and I’ve managed come up with something to say when it does… “It’s all part of the adventure”, today I didn’t need to use the phrase as I managed to get myself and my bag of camera equipment over the river without getting it or myself wet.

As I stood looking over the highest waterfall in the country I tried hard to be impressed. I thought about the first waterfall that I had seen in Iceland when Mila and I were riding up the pass away from the ferry. I didn’t stop for a photo, but I was impressed, everything was impressive that day! Why is nothing impressive today? Its times like these that reminds me why I always take people’s travel advice with a pinch of salt. If someone didn’t recommend I went to a certain place then they’re likely basing that advice on the experience that they had when they went to that place, but what if they were in the same mood I was in when they went there. This scene should have impressed me, I knew it! But it didn’t, was it the weather?

It was a few days later that I started coming out the mood and started seeing things in a different light. I was riding up a pass over a mountain and once I got to the top I saw a red survival shelter. These seem to be quite common in Iceland, though I’ve not seen one like this before, it looks like some sort of life boat perched on top of a mountain, or some sort of survival pod that might see in some science fiction film. I went inside to have a look and found a set of bunk beds and a few tins of food laying around, there was also a log book that a few people had written in.

I was now riding the bike West towards the most Westerly point of Iceland, which really is not very far from Greenland. I passed fairly big boat that was washed up on the beach which had a sign next to it saying it was the oldest steel built ship in all of Iceland. The road turned gravel after this and started following the coast. The track was cut into the side of a hill and as I rode along the right side of it I could look down 50 metres or so down to the sea. I was glad I trusted my abilities on the bike on the gravel but I couldn’t ignore how bald my back tyre had become now and thought that there would always be a chance I could underestimate the grip and drop the 50 metres down to the sea.

Bjargtangar; well I didn’t know the name of it before I got there, but I saw it written on a sign when I arrived. It said something about being the most westerly point of, not only Iceland, but Europe too. I didn’t really think that it might be the most westerly point of Europe when I planned to go. I walked along the cliff for a while and soon spotted some Puffins. I’d never seen a Puffin before. They’re such weird looking birds. This place really was a haven for them, there were hundred’s! I guess there must be a lot of fish in the sea here. I set up my camera to see if I could take a panoramic photo that included some puffins. With the lens I use for a panorama I really do need to get close to them to see any detail, but I just couldn’t get close enough and I didn’t want to disturb them too much in their territory. I changed the lens back to the longest one I had and took a few photos. I was amazed how laid back they were, yet how worried they looked at the same time. Their beaks were like rainbows! I finally saw some in flight, it really does not look all that natural, their wings look far too small to keep them up in the air. I’m far from an expert on them, but I thought the wings must be small so they can dive into the water more easily. What an amazing bird that can walk, fly and swim!

Puffins at Bjargtangar in iceland

I followed the track back to the main road then began to follow the coast around the North-West corner of the country. Progress is slow, the roads are gravel. I overtake cars as most of them are going too slowly for me to follow them. I try to be careful so I don’t create too much dust or throw any stones up, but become impatient when some drivers don’t let me pass safely. I wonder if they want stones in their windscreen? Eventually the road is strait enough and I can creep passed without too much excess speed. I resist the temptation to open the throttle wide as I pass after the driver had not slowed to allow me to pass for over 20 minutes and it was only out of sheer respect that I didn’t just pass before anyway.

I didn’t really have a plan now, I didn’t have anywhere in particular that I wanted to be, but I was now quite happy and satisfied with everything that appeared over the horizon. The bike eats up the distance of these Western Fjords so quickly. Tonight I decided to just keep riding passed my normal stopping time. There was not much danger of it getting too dark to ride on, for it does not get dark at this time of year this far North. Normally I think 10pm is too late to pull into a paid camping ground as other people might be sleeping by that time, I’d normally want to be stopped somewhere between 8 and 9pm. This was a pretty remote area and I didn’t see any towns for a long time and I didn’t see anywhere I could put my tent up but I didn’t really mind. I stopped to eat about 10pm and continued on until much later before stopping at a big waterfall that pours down the side of a mountain then cascades through a series of other falls down into the fjord. There was a yacht anchored out in the bay and there were some other people camping near the beach. It was late now, but I didn’t worry too much about my bike making too much noise as I rode in as the waterfall would have drowned out the bike easily.

It was not raining, but the sky was grey and the cloud didn’t seem to be too far above the mountains. It was quite cold too, but then I wasn’t surprised as it was after midnight and I was just a dozen miles south of the Arctic Circle.

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