In 2010 I walked across Iceland. The trip took about 3 weeks. Self-sufficient, but I was able to get food in the last part of the trip.
I had become fascinated with Iceland, in particular the Sprengisandur, the desert that made up most of the interior. Sprengisandur can be translated as ‘the desert that you have to spring over quickly’ or alternatively ‘the dead horse desert’, a testament to its harshness for the early Icelanders who used to cross it on their way to the other side of the island. It was also embedded in Icelandic folklore as a place to be afraid of, the abode of trolls and outlaws.
Arriving in Reykjavik was a culture shock after some years spent living in Bangladesh, and there were a few thoughts along the lines of ‘what the hell am I doing here’. But I was heartened by a long talk I had with the owner of the hostel I stayed at, he really liked the idea of crossing the island on foot and we talked about mental strategies for a long trip like this. I was not as fit as I would have liked (illness and a bike accident had interrupted my training), but we both agreed that the philosophy of one step at a time went a long way.
After a few Polar Beers I flew to Akureyri on the north coast and after ritually dipping my feet in the sea and then getting hopelessly lost in the botanic gardens, set off on a track up the valley with that awful sick feeling when starting into something unknown. Some hours later I crawled into my tent totally shattered, too tired to eat, but feeling peaceful for the first time in a long time. And for someone who is afraid of the dark, the 24 hour light was wonderfully comforting!
For the next few days I followed a road that gradually turned into a 4WD track, past friendly farmers, turf churches and Icelandic horses, and then climbed up onto the Sprengisandur plateau. The barrenness and solitude was very powerful, and sitting outside my tent in the low midnight sunshine I began to reflect on my time in Bangladesh, to try and sort out what it all meant.
I awoke to powerful gusts of wind shaking the tent, and it quickly began to get stronger. I had been warned about the windstorms on the Sprengisandur, and not being used to conditions like this for some years I found it a bit frightening. After packing up with some difficulty I spent the day being literally blown (luckily it was a tailwind) to the welcome relief of the hut at Laugafell. The hut had geothermal heating, hot chocolate, a hot pool, and a couple of Swedes doing the same trip as me. They left the next day (I later heard they had made it) while I had a day off, sitting in the hot pool, in the process getting trapped in it naked while a succession of tourists passed through.
It seemed to me that a never-ending series of storms came through in the next week or so, but I knew that it was the normal weather pattern for this area and that my biggest danger was environmental. I crossed the interior on a mixture of 4WD tracks and making my own way, on one occasion following a compass bearing through the featureless terrain. I found the landscape totally fascinating; some people I met found it boring and monotonous, but I never did. There was the luxury of another hut at Nyidalur, along with food jealousy (I do admit to borrowing a teaspoon of someone’s hot chocolate). More wind and rain, passing an icecap, and then the biggest windstorm I have ever been in. Again I was lucky it was a tailwind. It was truly frightening at times, at one stage I was down to crawling on my knees. The sand would get in my eyes, even with sunglasses on, and I couldn’t see. Eventually I reached a main road and bailed out, hitching to the hotel at Hrauneyjar. When I walked through the door, the first thing the receptionist said to me was ‘you need a wash!’
Another rest day, a few Polar Beers and a couple of good old roast dinners had me hitching back to my bailout point and plodding through lava fields on the road to Landmannalaugar, the start of the well-established Laugavegur hiking track. The hut wardens were very enthusiastic about what I was doing, and said they had a few people through each year doing this trip. It was somewhat unsettling to be on the trail with so many people after the solitude further north.
The landscape here was volcanic and hillier. And then – my first tree! I actually took a photo of it. I had my first view of the volcano Eyafyajokull, which I still found impossible to pronounce, and then the hut at Thorsmork. Now it was the final up, to the pass at Fimmvorduhals, next to the volcano. The recent eruption was very much in evidence, ash was everywhere. The track had very recently been re-established across the lava, and although solid to walk on it was still hot – I could feel the warmth coming up through my boot soles. I stayed that night at the hut on the pass, and the next day wandered down the track to Skogar. As usual, the last day of a long trip always feels strange and gave rise to very mixed feelings. Popping over the top of the Skogarfoss waterfall I suddenly hit town – to me it looked like a circus, but it had the advantage of being able to get a burger and a beer. Next day I officially finished the traverse by walking the last few kms to the beach, and then on a complete whim got online and bought an airline ticket back to New Zealand.