Day 9 – A Beautiful Grey Day

October 23, 2018

Akranes to Lambafell

We slept well. It sounds like we say that at the start of every entry but our beds really have been quite comfy and we’ve been sleeping through the night and waking up rested.

Something else we keep doing is setting alarms and sleeping through them because it’s always dark when we get up.

This morning was no different.

Our alarm sounded at 730am but we didn’t get out of bed until about 8am.

Laurie showered and put on her robe. She felt fancy and was grinning from ear to ear. Sometimes it’s just the little things that we need to help us feel extra special.

We packed and headed to breakfast. Toast, jam, pickled herring, peppered cold cuts, 8 types of cheese, eggs, granola, flaky mini croissants and chocolate pastries. Yum! Hands down the best breakfast yet.

We drove 5 minutes down the road to Skogafoss. The crowds hadn’t arrived yet but there were at least a dozen camper vans in the parking lot. Some people were outside drinking coffee and making breakfast but others seemed to have not woken up yet. It clearly states no camping, but apparently some people disregard these signs.

We hope this does not lead to more stringent regulations and enforcement in the future. Part of what makes this country so enjoyable is it’s wild nature, lack of guard rails/fences and police presence.

We hiked up the metal stairs to the top of the waterfall. The trail continues here for miles and miles. In the summer it is possible to start a 4 day trek from this location with huts along the way. We hope to do that someday.

We were the only ones at the top of the falls but couldn’t fully enjoy the water crashing down because of the annoying buzz from a drone. Again, there are signs that clearly state no flying drones but we saw plenty of people ignoring this restriction.

At 10am we met our ice cave tour group in the rear of a supermarket parking lot. There seemed to be more people than they anticipated and it took some juggling to fit everyone into two 12 passenger vans.

Laurie asked to sit in the front seat since nobody else had claimed it. We drove through town and on Road 1 for about 10 minutes, then pulled off on an unnamed road.

The Ford Econoline vans were lifted, converted to a 4×4 and had massive tires with an onboard inflate/deflate system to provide a softer ride off road. (You can tell Andy has a slight obsession with these kinds of trucks).

The falling snow provided a nice dusting and contrast to the black volcanic rock.

While driving, our guide gave us some nice history of the area. The Ring Road (which we drove on and appreciated the smoothness of everyday) was completed in 1974. Prior to that the main road around the island was gravel and located in the foothills. Many places where the current road was built upon in the south was still underwater prior to the 1970s.

He spoke about the shrinking coast line and how floods often follow volcanic or earthquake acitivy, which is why the new road had so many bridges and dikes.

We learned that the locals don’t know road numbers, only names. And not just names of roads but the names each ravine, hillside and large rock in the area – usually names after the first settlers. They locate their sheep by using such landmarks.

Once at the base of the glacier we put on Kahtoola microspikes and helmets and headed to the cave. We had to wait a few minutes to let another tour exit. We were both excited and Laurie nearly ran into our guide when he suddenly stopped.

The ice caves form by water running through and off the glacier. They change every few months depending on the rains.

Unfortunately, as it was snowing, the light was too bright so the glacier wasn’t blue like we had seen in pictures but it was still cool to walk inside.

Laurie scampered around and climbed whatever she could. The volcanic rock was loose and deep and the microspikes aren’t made for climbing so she didn’t get very far.

We wandered around the glacier a bit as a group, looking at old cave locations and remnants from sink holes.

Eventually we made our way back to the 4×4 and back to town.

It was raining in Vik so we weren’t in any rush to head to the waterfalls. We had a tasty lunch (more arctic char and lamb, although this time a marinated lamb sandwich). Very tasty.

We drove to the black sand beach to check out Reynisdrangar, which is quite popular given the number of tour buses and cars in the parking lot.

It was cold and miserable walking to the beach with rain and wind whipping our faces. Reysindrangar are hexagonal basalt sea stacks located up the hillside adjacent to the beach. There are tall and interesting rock formations not too far out into the sea as well.

The natural geometric basalt shapes are so amazing. There were other thinner pancake like stacks inside a basalt cave, all of which are a result of the volcanic activity of the region.

Given the poor visibility, we didn’t walk on the beach much and headed for our next stop Kirkjufjara beach. There were more basalt formations here along with more interesting rocks in the sea that weren’t clearly visible given the rain and fog.

We can see how these beaches would be beautiful with sunny skies, however in the rain it looked like just another coastline with some cool arches made from crashing waves.

We hurried back to the car to get warm. Again we passed up an opportunity to see more rock formations and drove past our accommodations to visit two waterfalls.

This was the third time we had attempted to visit Seljalandsfoss. The first time it was dark, second was yesterday and it was getting dark. Third time had to be a charm.

We parked away from the crowds closer to Glúfrabúi. This is a waterfall that falls into a cave. One must walk through the river to enter into the cave.

We started out stepping on stones to get in and met a line of people partway through trying to get out. Andy kindly helped each of the 15 people identify which rock to step on while Laurie desperately clungto the rock wall trying to make herself as small as possible so as not to be in the way.

It was entertaining to see the differing comforts of people’s rock hopping skills and getting wet feet. Some people clung to Andy and then onto Laurie to avoid dunking their feet into the river, while others laughed as they skipped along the rocks.

The cave was cool, although like with most things, it would have looked better in the sunlight.

We walked about 500 meters to Seljalandsfoss, one of the most photographed waterfalls in Iceland. This one is popular because you can walk behind it, making it a nice place to take sunset photos.

There was not going to be any beautiful sunset shots tonight so we didn’t hesitate in walking around for the experience.

We entered from a different direction than most and one American “recommended that we don’t go that way because it was treacherous and she couldn’t see how we could possibly face the wet rocks and mud going downhill.”

We smiled and continued – aware of our abilities and comfort zones. The trail was no worse than the mist trail in Yosemite without the steepness, duration or mud.

The issue, more than the condition of the trail, was waiting for a break in the trail of people to get a chance to walk.

We were soaked from the rain so the mist from the fall didn’t phase us. It was cool to watch the water crash down in spurts from 60 meters (197 feet) above.

We had one more stop on our itinerary, but Andy was done. The one place that we had identified and had hoped to see on multiple days was Iceland’s first swimming pool. It has one wall made out of rocks to trap geothermal water. The pool was located very close to our accommodation (a short drive and 15 minute walk) up the valley but it was 4:45pm and very wet out.

Laurie reluctantly agreed that it made sense to get settled, eat early, relax, work on the blog and sleep early on our last evening, however she had trouble letting go of “seeing it all.”

This entire trip was about letting go of seeing it all given the variable weather but the need to see and do it all runs deep within Laurie.

Eventually we settled into our room, played 2 rounds of pool and attempted to watch TV (but nothing good was on). It started to pour which made Laurie feel a little better about passing up on the hike and swim.

This trip was wonderful and we both are left with a desire to return to explore more.

Next time we would hope for sunnier skies but one never knows with the weather. All you can do is bring your rain gear and hope it stays in your pack.

Tonight we are grateful for compatible traveling styles and cozy evenings while listening to the rain fall outside.

Skogafoss

Our tour guide in the shot for perspective

Andy – the keeper of the ice cave

Reysindrangar

Glúfrabúi

Seljalandsfoss

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Day 5 – Highway To The Thermal Zone

October 19, 2018

Seydisfjordur to Myvatn

In order to see the northern lights one must have all three of the following: solar activity, clear(ish) skies and little light pollution. Last night there was a slight chance (a score 3 out of 9) for solar activity and clear skies. Our hostel was on the outskirts of town.

That was enough for Andy to set his alarm for midnight with hopes to see his first northern light show.

There were a few stars out at midnight so Andy got dressed and headed outside. He looked up and immediately saw a shooting star.

He was happy. It wasn’t too cold and the sky kept clearing. He was hopeful. He called his parents, blogged and saw a few more shooting stars.

Around 1:30am the temperature dropped and the wind picked up, but Andy persisted.

At 1:45am he thought he heard chickens. Fearing he was hallucinating, he thought it was time for bed but he kept hearing them and remembered the hostel offered fresh chicken eggs for 50ISK. Then he heard the ducks calling.

He couldn’t help but laugh.

He returned inside around 2:15am disappointed but content with the multiple shooting stars. Laurie was sound asleep spread across the double bed but easily moved over to let Andy in.

We both had trouble opening our eyes when the alarm went off at 7 am. We bargained with one another and finally got up at 8. We opted to eat on the road to save precious time and daylight. It was going to be another jam packed day.

Our first stop was a waterfall just past the hostel in the opposite direction. The morning air was fresh and only a few clouds hung in the sky. We scampered up the hillside, Laurie aching to just keep hiking.

The constant feeling of needing to keep moving to see it all has been the hardest part of this trip. The weather makes it really hard to plan and there is just too much beauty to see in 10 days.

Essentially this trip feels like a scouting trip so we will know where to come and spend more time next time we come. (And there will be a next time – this country is amazing!!)

We stopped off at Gufufoss waterfall on our way back up the hairpin turns.

On the way down from the pass we noticed a car on the side of the road facing us at an awkward angle. We slowed and stopped to help an older French couple who had veered off the road and buried their wheels in the steep bank.

We were the first of 7 cars to stop and try to help. It was amazing to see how helpful everyone was. Andy and another gentleman attempted to push the car out but the wheels spun and dug deeper into the loose soil.

Ultimately a suave Icelandic driver backed the car down further into the ditch to level it out a bit and gain traction. He then slowly and methodically drove backwards partway up the bank. A big rig positioned itself on the narrow 2 lane road to pull the car out. The locals strapped one end of a tow rope to the car and one to the truck.

As the truck driver slowly inched forward and Mr. Suave slowly drove in reverse, the right rear wheel of the car came off the ground. After a few tense moments all four wheels were on tarmac once again. All the bystanders applauded the efforts of the friendly and helpful locals.

From here it was a long 2 hour stretch through snowy alpine tundra and along a river.

We have been checking the road conditions religiously since we are not in a 4wd car. The road to Dettifoss indicated there were patches of ice but it was fine to drive. We were reassured to see the road was paved all the way to the west side parking lot.

Dettifoss is the largest waterfall in Europe. It is much wider than most and the amount of water that thunders down is insane- according to one guidebook 500 cubic meters (17,700 cubic feet) of water spill over the ledge every second.

The area around the falls is all volcanic and it was fun walking around what felt like a Mars like environment.

Selfoss was a 1 km walk upstream and was a smaller but similarly powerful waterfall. While Dettifoss is a singular and long waterfall at a ~45° angle, Selfoss is more of a bowl shaped waterfall and very pretty in its own right.

Back in the car we drove to Krafla, past a power plant and up to the caldera which was formed during the volcanic activity of the 1970-1980s known as the “Krafla- fires.”

On the way down we saw a bunch of cars and one tour bus parked in a snowy parking lot. Tour buses are our indication of something interesting so we followed the muddy footprints through the snow to the colorful crater of Leirhnjukur.

The sulphur smell was strong but the light blue water and surrounding orange clay provided a nice contrast to the dark molten lava and snow.

We were happy we made the side trip but yet again there was so much to see and it was already 3:30pm. With 2 hours of daylight remaining we opted to skip seeing more geothermal mud pits and instead turned toward the underground hot spring of Grjótagjá.

Unfortunately it is too hot to swim in but to the hands it was nice and the water was incredibly clear. On the way out Andy hit his head on a rock neither of us saw, resulting in a sizeable welt on his forehead (what Armenians call a shishka).

Laurie of course started laughing as Andy asked rubbing his booboo, “Ah, what was that?”

“A rock probably” spit out Laurie amidst giggles.

“Yes, definitely a rock ” confirmed Laurie after lightly hitting her head on the same rock.

Our last stop of the day was the 3,280 foot wide crater of Hverfell. We hurried up the steep path along the side of the crater trying to stay warm. The strong wind whipped sand at our faces near the top.

Once at the top we stayed long enough to take one picture before turning our backs to the wind and heading down.

We checked into our bed and breakfast and went out to eat a nice, tasty farm to table meal.

The restaurant was called Vogafjós Cowshed Cafe. They use the word “cowshed” quite literally as there were cows eating hay right next to the dining room, but that did not stop us from ordering a burger.

We split that and a lamb flank. With so many sheep grazing about we had to try some of the local cuisine.

We are now cozy in bed in our tiny little room with a wall of windows. Fingers crossed for an active evening of northern lights! Today’s score is 4 out of 9 so there may be some green lights overhead..

Tonight we are grateful for sunshine and farm to table restaurants.

Dettifoss

Selfoss (or Selfiefoss if you’re Laurie)

Krafla

Leirhnjukur

Leirhnjukur hot shower (there’s a sink next to it too!)

Grjótagjá hot spring cave

Hverfell crater

Hiking as a couple

“Aren’t you tired of one another yet?”

This is a question we got all the time.

Luckily, our answer every time was “No.”

Spending 6 months together felt like a privilege. Prior to the trail with differing work schedules, the most consecutive time we had spent together was a 3 week vacation in Nepal.

Sure, there were moments, hours and miles of irritation and frustration but the difficulties felt few and far between compared to the perks of sharing this experience together.

The success of our hike together was a result of good planning, open communication, a willingness to adapt and cheese!! 🙂

Researching success and failures of other couples

In preparation for the hike Andy did a lot of research. One of the common suggestions for hiking as a couple was to have separate food. Despite our desire to share, we followed this advice and it really helped.

Happy couple at Eagle rock

Happy couple at Eagle rock

Thru hiking makes one hungrier than imaginable which creates feelings of scarcity and possessiveness. Knowing we each had enough food fostered feelings of abundance which led to sharing with one another and other hikers.

Clear communication

Communication is one of the strongest aspects of our relationship. We have worked hard to create a strong foundation where it is okay to have needs and wants, and to express those feelings. It felt safe to say “I am tired” or “my foot hurts.” We tended to each of these issues as they arose and came up with solutions.

Still smiling at Vasquez Rocks

Still smiling at Vasquez Rocks

We knew we wanted to hike together. There were only a few moments of “agh, Andy is so slow” or “Jeez Laurie, get out of the sleeping bag – it is time to get going.” Neither of us felt like the other was holding us back. I believe this stemmed from clear expectations from the beginning and helped prevent feelings of resentment.

Making decisions together 

At each resupply point we devised a strategy for the coming section. We decided when we wanted to get to the next town, how many miles we wanted to walk on that last day and divided the remaining miles by number of days.  This became our rough itinerary.

still smiling at Crater Lake

still smiling at Crater Lake

As the miles wore on, we became more fluid in our planning. We always had a rough idea but in the last 500 miles instead of having an exact mileage goal we would identify 3 potential campsites over a 5 mile range and around 6 o’clock  decide on our destination. We were lucky that our comfort zones expanded and our bodies adapted at a similar pace so we could push when we wanted or needed to.

We seamlessly fell into a routine

We recognized our individual habits and comforts and worked together to share camp and town chores. Laurie hikes faster so she usually led. (Until we encountered a rattlesnake, at which time Andy would take the lead.)  This was never a discussion, it just felt natural.

Andy was the one to hike down the steep use trails to get water. We both wanted to spare Laurie’s knees and it was a blessing. Laurie often blogged while Andy disappeared into the brush. This way both of us felt we were contributing to the team.

Back in the Sierras - still smiling

Back in the Sierras – still smiling

When we got to camp, Laurie craved coziness and would quickly jump in the tent, clean off and change into her sleeping clothes. Andy recognized Laurie’s desire to be cozy and cooked while Laurie unpacked the backpacks, inflated the pads and fluffed the sleeping bags.

Benefits of hiking as a couple

Some couples hiked just as fast as solo hikers, but this wasn’t the case for us. We took more breaks, took longer to get going and often didn’t hike as late into the evening, mostly because we didn’t feel pressure to keep up with others.

It was nice to always have someone to share the highs and lows with. It felt like the highs were higher and the lows more bearable having someone to commiserate with. We made decisions together and it was nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of. I can only imagine how easy it would be to create negative stories in one’s head while hiking alone and in silence all day.

Maybe it's the apple & cheese, but we're still smiling

Maybe it’s the apple & cheese, but we’re still smiling

Hiking as a couple afforded us the opportunity for conversation and silence. 80% of our days we hiked within 20 feet of one another but would go miles without sharing a word. It was comforting knowing Andy was right behind me and allowed my mind to wander in ease.

One of the major benefits of hiking with someone is that you can share the weight of gear. We divided the tent (although after 100 miles Andy carried 90% of it), first aid kit, water purification and cooking supplies.

Challenges

One of the biggest challenges for us was that our bodies responded differently to the trail. We felt strong at different times and on different days and had to compromise to meet the needs of the other. Laurie became a slug around 2pm or whenever it was hot but experienced a second wind as we got closer to camp (probably because she would eat candy around 4pm).

We started to converse during these hours as a way to motivate one another to continue. Laurie would often turn to podcasts during these afternoon hours but as we got closer to camp Andy wanted to discuss camping options. He found himself getting frustrated that Laurie was tuned in and plodding along rather than mutually discussing where we would camp that night. We talked about it and decided Laurie would unplug around 6pm (an hour before we usually made it to camp).

Final thoughts

The trail, like life, was about learning what worked and didn’t work, both individually and as a couple, making adjustments and moving on. In many ways it seemed easier to adapt and work together on the trail. Maybe it was out of necessity or fewer distractions that made it easier to feel grateful for whatever each of us brought to the table.

hiking couple

Five months have passed since stepped off the trail; we continue to rely on our open communication as we navigate through life as a couple – still learning, still adapting, still leaning upon the other when in need of support.