Day three of the post-Christmas adventure started with a hike up to the Mount Whitney trailhead through snow, ice, and some impressive scenery. After spending four hours adding to yesterday’s blister count I returned to the Suby and took off south with no real destination in mind. California is one of those unique places where a random highway can lead to truly bizarre sights, and while today’s find can’t compare to the weirdness that is the Salton Sea, finding myself on a road between a Naval Weapons station and a massive RV/ATV gathering in the middle of the desert was unusual enough to make the day a success.
Archive for 2008
Christmas this year was again spent at Ma & Pa’s house in the Bay Area. Aaron was given the gift of Cavs tickets and an Anderson Varejao wig, the Skipper got a cookbook for curry (he cooks now), and Ma got enough pedicure gift certificates to keep her toes pretty for months. In a surprise move, rather than the usual gifts of sweaters and bizarre neck massagers mom also put together a really awesome album with copies of the family Christmas cards and letters going back about twenty years; Aaron and I were expecting the worst when she told us to “close our eyes”, so this gift was a pleasant surprise.
This year’s holiday miracle came in the form of a visit from Roto-Rooter after Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo took up residence in the downstairs bathrooms. Combining blocked toilets with the holidays brings out the best in everyone, and despite Sally’s initial dismay and Aaron’s dry-heaving it ended up being a fairly amusing (if expensive) event.
Tonight I’m camped out in a closed forest service campground in the Eastern Sierra near the base of Mount Whitney. After driving through gold country and up to Tahoe yesterday I spent the night in Carson City before heading south today. Hiking and photography at Mono Lake went well, although the silver dollar-sized blisters on my insteps indicate that the afternoon’s attempt at cross-country skiing was less successful. The interesting fact of the day comes from Mono Lake, which apparently lost forty feet in depth (and a signficant amount of surface area) due to diversion of streams by the city of Los Angeles starting in 1941. As of 1994 a lawsuit requires LA to restore twenty of the lost forty feet to the lake level to provide improved habitat for the two million birds that visit the lake each year, although at present the lake has risen only about eleven feet from its low point. Along with the restoration of the Lower Owens River, returning Mono Lake to a healthier state could have a huge impact on the wildlife that migrates through the Eastern Sierra each year, thus making me the slightest bit more optimistic that people may actually make the world a bit better during the remaining decades of my lifetime.
A lot has happened this month:
On average, about once a year I’ve used this journal as a way to record my thoughts and not just my experiences. Those posts are probably the most boring to read, but I like having an occasional snapshot to look back on and remember how things felt at any given moment in time. This post is another in that series, so feel free to ignore and watch the Mr. T video in the previous post if this sort of rambling isn’t your thing…
So the economy is a mess, an election is 24 days away that looks like it will massively change the make-up of government, and with so much happening it’s easy to overlook that this moment seems to be one of those pivotal times that will be recorded in history books for years to come. There haven’t been a lot of major events that I’ve lived through in my 33 years – the ones that come immediately to mind are:
There are other stories, but I’ve either forgotten them, they seem less impactful, or strike me as being related to the stories above – Hurricane Katrina or the Iraq War are clear examples; in my mind, those stories started with the 2000 election, in which the US electorate signalled that it was more important to have a President who seemed likeable and shared religious values rather than someone who was more intellectually qualified such as McCain (the 2000 version) or Gore. I’m sure Bush is a nice guy, but just as you wouldn’t hire a CEO who didn’t have expertise, leadership ability and a sharp mind, the President should likewise be elected based on those qualities and not on his likeability or success in demonizing the competition.
In any case, what prompted this posting is a feeling that the current time is another big moment in history, and I want to remember it. With banks failing, stocks down 40%, the government pumping $700 billion into markets in addition to countless loan guarantees and bailouts, this moment will be a pivotal one. In general people don’t like big changes, but with current conditions people are willing to try just about anything, meaning the next year could see more major policy changes than in the past thirty. Obama has campaigned on the premise that the dominant economic policy of “trickle down” is a failure, and is instead trying to implement his own “bottom up” strategy in which it will be the strength of the middle-class, rather than the strength of markets, by which the economy is measured. I expect higher taxes on the rich, massive government investments in infrastructure to create jobs, and at least in the short-term some large and scary deficits that will, for the first time since World War II, mean that America is no longer the clear economic leader in the world. While I think that after the past eight years America would have lost its economic dominance no matter what happened, the transition due to Obama’s proposals will (I think) make it happen sooner, although I believe that the investments he proposes will cause the downturn to be much shorter than it would have otherwise been.
In any case, it will be interesting to see the outcome of this change – $15 billion a year for energy research, if enacted, will go a long way towards creating new industries, and if done right could completely re-make how the world produces and uses energy. Higher taxes on the rich may reduce some investing, but at the same time a stronger middle class will (in my opinion) have a stimulus effect that will more than overcome any investment losses and fundamentally shift people’s view of what a “strong economy” means. The elephant in the room is the deficit – unless that comes under control inflation will rise and nations will be less willing to loan America money. For a country that relies on the ability to have large budget deficits a lack of credit could result in very traumatic cuts to defense, entitlements, and other government spending. As an Obama supporter I trust in his vision and like where it could lead, but at the same time see this moment in history as a very pivotal one that will be interesting to look back on twenty years from now.
It is a tragedy of modern cinema that Mr. T doesn’t have a major movie career:
It went mostly unnoticed by the news, but SpaceX just became the first private company to put a rocket into orbit. Their costs are significantly lower than other launch offerings, meaning that we could (finally!) be on the verge of seeing space open up to the extent that so many were predicting it would back in the ’60’s.
Between work, JAMWiki development, Iceland photos, the Skipper’s retirement, and various other odds and ends I’ve done a craptastical job of updating the journal – my apologies. Here’s a breakdown of the major events of the past six weeks:
Pictures from Iceland are only about halfway done, so it will be a while yet before they’re online. In the mean time, here are a few of the ones that turned out reasonably well:
Beds are soft and warm and comfortable and awesome.
The cliffs of Arnarstapi were roamed all night under the midnight sun. Seabird colonies are generally noisy, chaotic places, so it was almost otherworldly to see all of the birds quiet and either resting or calmly staring back at me. The Arctic fox made a brief (although un-photographable) reappearance, and the twilight painted magic through the evening.
I set off towards Reykjavik at 4:30 a bit sleepy but more peaceful than anything else. A day earlier I had been thinking that the one photograph I most wished I had gotten was a good shot of the whooper swans, who in general have been so wary that they swim away at the first glimpse of a person; it seems I did something right in a past life, because at 5:30 a family of swans was sitting in a pond next to the road, posing for pictures. Shortly thereafter the little guys in the brain signalled that if there wasn’t at least a couple of hours of sleep that they would go on strike, and since that’s generally a bad thing while driving I pulled over and let the neurons rest.
Once back in Reykjavik I roamed all over looking for the delicious cafe that the Skipper and I ate at two weeks ago, and of course finally found it a block away from my parking spot. After lunch I returned to the cathedral for another obligatory photo of the Leifur Eriksson statue, and finally came back to find a parking ticket on the Wondermobile – apparently being able to read the small print (in Icelandic) under the giant “P” sign would have been helpful. After returning the Wondermobile and catching the bus to Keflavik there was much sleeping, showering, and trimming of hair and beard. Today it’s off to the airport and a flight to Boston, and after that the great Iceland Adventure of 2008 comes to its end.
The trip is coming to a close in a pretty cool way – it’s nearly one in the morning and the skies are totally clear, allowing the twilight to cover the land. For about two hours the sun has been hovering around the horizon and the world has turned purple – if sleepiness doesn’t get too extreme I’d like to stay up all night to fully savor this midnight sun experience.
Here’s the day’s summary: I unintentionally slept late again, waking up at 9:30 under clear skies. It took about four hours of steady driving to reach the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, and after a traditional Icelandic hot dog lunch the Wondermobile started the journey around the western edge of the peninsula. Given the clear weather the landscape was fully visible and it’s a beautiful place, with the Snaefellsjokull icecap (gateway to Jules Verne’s center of the earth) dominating the scenery. I made a stop at a bird cliff set amidst old lava flows at the peninsula’s western end, then headed up a four-wheel-drive-only track towards the icecap. From the high vantage point I got to watch the fog enveloping the peninsula’s end before I headed southeast towards Hellnar and Arnarstapi, site of the trip’s beginning.
I arrived in Hellnar at 10:00 PM, which in recent days has been when the light disappeared, and set off hiking without the camera. Of course on this night the world turned purple, kittwakes were feeding their fluffy white chicks, and the trip’s second Arctic fox showed up. It was tough to be upset over the lack of photos, however, especially since the odds are that I would have botched the pictures and it was nice to utterly relax amidst the scenery. Additionally, the symmetry of ending where things began is nice as it gives some insight on what effect the trip has had – for example, I’m noticing small details that I would have missed four weeks ago, and feel more willing to slow down and let the world unfold around me. Modern life makes both of those experiences difficult to accommodate, and as much as having a bed and a shower sounds nice it will be a shame to revert back to old ways.
An unexpectedly great day. The past few days have apparently been more exhausting than I realized, and after a long ten hours of sleep I was awoken by an arriving tour bus at 9:30. The fog was still heavy, so the Wondermobile was guided to Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city with a population of over 16,000. The library there offers free internet access, and more importantly has a cafe with really good coffee, so I took a couple of hours to catch up with the news and get my caffeine on.
Since there wasn’t a real plan for the day, and since there was a paved road heading around the coast, I detoured off of the ring route and took in the countryside. Eventually the road turned inland, and as the mountains rose and a fjord disappeared behind me the Little Voice in my head started talking. The conversation went something like this:
Duly chastised by my inner monologue, who made an excellent argument, I pulled the Wondermobile off of the road and set off up a massive and scenic peak. Following a zig-zag path through boggy fields, up snowy slopes, and over loose rock it took a couple of hours and a few buckets of sweat to reach the summit, but the experience was awe-inspiring. While at the top I took a handful of photos, including several of fog rolling in from the fjords; it was only after about ten minutes that the realization dawned that heavy fog would make it extraordinarily difficult to navigate back to the car, so a hurried descent was made, all the while making note of every landmark I could find to use as guides back to the Wondermobile. Luckily whatever was rolling in wasn’t terribly thick, and the long trip back to the car ended up being surprisingly straightforward.
After the mountain climb the next stop was a short detour along high cliffs to Siglufjordur, Iceland’s northernmost town. The place once had a population of over 10,000 but the herring fishery collapsed in the sixties, and now it’s a sleepy and very beautiful little outpost along a fjord. Most important about this town, however, is that by the harbor is a municipal campground with hot showers. As grungy backpacker Ryan stepped into the shower and turned on the water a chorus of angels sang out and light shone down from the heavens as the liquid cleanliness flowed forth. I really liked this town when I arrived, but after that other-worldly bit of refreshment I found myself briefly considering forgoing a return visit to the bird cliffs of western Iceland in order to stay here for another day.
I finally found a spot to sleep and headed to bed at 2:30 last night, then got up at 8:30 to revisit the waterfalls. Two days ago I was debating skipping Dettifoss altogether, and instead ended up visiting it three times – go figure. It’s a pretty awesome waterfall (“awesome” as in it shakes the ground), and after the fog lifted and visibility increased to more than two feet I found a placard that clarified the “largest waterfall” confusion from yesterday – the placard states that it is the most powerful waterfall in Europe.
There was a bunch of hiking today in Jokulsargljufur National Park, although I’m old and sore so not as much distance was covered as yesterday. The trails led to some odd lava formations, through the river gorge, and past several waterfalls. I took a look at Dettifoss from both the east and west side of the river – distance across the river canyon: probably two hundred yards, driving time: about two hours. Unlike the United States they aren’t concerned with saving people from their own stupidity here, so there are no railings or safety warnings around the waterfalls, which provides some amazing opportunities – I was able to sit on a sheer cliff with the waterfall roaring next to me for a good hour this afternoon, alone to think and enjoy the scene.
After leaving the eastern side of Dettifoss the journey continued on its loop back to Myvatn and onwards towards the west coast. While driving through Myvatn a bank of fog came in from the fjords that literally looked like something out of a Stephen King novel, and it went from blue skies and sunny to druid-like in about two seconds. The parking spot (for now) is by a waterfall further inland, and barring someone kicking me out the plan is to hide in the fog here tonight and then head on to the western fjords tomorrow. Sadly there are only two full days remaining in the trip before I have to head back to Reykjavik to return the Wondermobile on the tenth, with the return flight scheduled to depart on the afternoon of the eleventh; with luck the weather will stay good and the adventures will continue until then.
Ridiculously full day. Started out at seven in the morning roaming around on a volcano, ’cause that’s how I start my days now, and then revisited a number of sites around Myvatn including Vindbelgjarfjall. Lonely Planet describes the mountain thusly: “the easy climb up 529m-high Vindbelgjarfjall, west of the lake, offers one of the best views across the water.” Lonely Planet’s editors either just returned from an expedition up Mt. Everest or else they forgot the “…NOT!” after “easy”. In any case, the views are inspiring and a little exercise is always a good thing, so I climbed the beast both days. Today two little kids were already on the trail, and seeing as I’m competitive to an unhealthy degree I figured I could catch them and pass them along the trail. Lesson learned – Little Kid A went up the trail like a mountain goat and absolutely dominated me, although Little Kid B fell by the wayside about halfway up. Whether it’s healthy to compete against little kids in mountain climbing is a subject that can be dealt with later in a professional setting.
After chasing birds, more hiking, and other fun the next stop was at the Myvatn Nature Baths for a shower and some hot spring time. The notable events from this stop: first, during the mandatory pre-hot spring cleaning the showers were open and very close together. Having a hairy, large, butt-naked man scrubbing vigorously in the shower next to you is not good, and especially not good when you have mantouch issues. Second, the hot springs are nice – they make your skin pretty. Third, bikinis rule; there can never be too many good things said about them. And finally, in the changing rooms on the way out the little naked singer appeared. Maybe being a parent makes having a little naked guy walking around singing seem normal, but to this childless thirty-something it seemed just a bit surreal.
The marathon of a day continued after the nature baths with some photography followed by a longish drive along a four-wheel-drive-only road to visit Dettifoss, the largest waterfall in Europe. It’s listed as being the largest waterfall “by volume”, although since there are other waterfalls downstream it’s mildly confusing as to why this particular waterfall got designated the largest. In any case, even shrouded in dense fog (visibility is probably fifty feet) it’s a hugely impressive sight, but a warning to any future visitors – the spray blasting off of this waterfall will soak you; unfortunately my nice clean clothes are now quite damp after hiking down to the canyon’s edge. It’s now well after one in the morning, and as sleepiness is creeping in I’m stuck for a place to spend the night – the Dettifoss parking lot is the first place in Iceland where there has actually been a sign posted saying that sleeping in cars is prohibited, so I’m off to find another spot to park the Wondermobile for the few remaining hours of this evening.
Perfect weather, lots of hiking. Myvatn and its lake is very pretty, with lots of birds and lots of geologic stuff that blows up. Europe and North America are moving apart at a rate of two centimeters per year here, and the result is a volcano, some hot springs, lots of lava flows, and too many other geothermal things for me to remember. Any geologist reading this right now is probably all like “son of a…” – sorry, I don’t know from rocks.
The weather report claims that the wet and blowy stuff will be staying away for a few days, so the plan is to stay here for at least another day. I’ve been spending nights sleeping in the Wondermobile, and can say with some authority that a Suzuki Jimmy will not let anyone who is over three foot six sleep comfortably; the contortions required to lay down in the back seat while stretching my legs into the driver seat are worthy of Cirque du Soleil. As much as I’m enjoying this return to my grungy backpacker roots, the shower and bed that’s waiting at Hotel Keflavik on 10 July is looking better and better.
The majority of the day was spent under overcast skies in Husavik, the whale watching capital of Iceland. After the close encounters in Antarctica the standard for whale experiences has been raised unreasonably high, so instead of going on a boat ride I visited the whale museum. The museum is excellent and features skeletons from several beached whales that do a good job conveying how big the animals are since… well, since they’re skeletons of whales, and are life-sized and stuff. Interesting facts learned about orcas: the females live to be 90 (!), and the name “killer whale” was bastardized in translation – early Basque whalers saw orcas attacking larger whales and named them “whale killers”. Interesting facts about sperm whales: they can dive to two miles in depth and hold their breath for two hours; no word on the origin of the name, and I won’t make any guesses since my mom reads this journal.
An interesting aspect to the museum was the fact that Iceland, along with Norway and Japan, is on the short list of countries actively engaging in whaling. There is a history of eating whale meat in Iceland going back over a thousand years, and the Icelandic word describing a beached whale essentially translates as “hitting the lottery” since back in the day a beached whale could feed several families through the winter. Things are different now, however, and while Icelanders will still consume minke whale meat in small amounts, the majority of the meat from the endangered fin whales that were killed in 2006 was never purchased and remains frozen in industrial freezers. While minimal whaling for minke whales might be seen as justified, the push from the whaling industry for larger harvests of minke, fin, and potentially other whales just doesn’t make much sense, especially considering that revenue from whale watching far exceeds whaling revenues. The position on the issue in this museum was clear, if muted, and they posted an interesting cartoon on the subject from a Reykjavik newspaper that showed a whale arguing with whalers that an intelligent animal shouldn’t be killed, and ended with the whalers shooting the whale and then asking “Hey, did we just shoot a talking whale?”
After re-reading the guidebook it turns out that the Langanges Peninsula is famous among mariners for its thick and persistent fog, so rather than wandering off into the morning mist I spent a couple of hours with the birds and the seas before turning back for fog-free lands. Once out of the fog banks the weather was good all day, and the scenery of Northern Iceland is tremendous – amidst lakes, hills and seascapes were birds including loons, whooper swans, red-throated divers, phalaropes, plovers, whimbrels, snipes, oystercatchers, eider ducks, harlequin ducks, gulls, jaegers, and numerous others that I couldn’t identify.
Amidst the nature and scenery the day’s main event involved another act of stupidity. It was my assumption that Iceland was located in the North Atlantic, but the Lonely Planet has been taunting me with two words – Arctic Ocean. If in fact Iceland really is in the North Atlantic and the book’s editors were merely playing a practical joke in the hopes that some fool would try to add another ocean to his swimming tally then congratulations to the editors, because they found their fool. Barring any mischief by the guidebook staff there are now four oceans that I’ve swum in, and surprisingly today’s soaking seemed ever-so-slightly warmer than the glacial dip a short time ago. In this case the water was unfortunately shallower so entry and exit took considerably more time and the brain was able to more strenuously argue its objections prior to the full dive into the freezing cold. Rod previously commented that he doesn’t get why I need to jump into cold water – luckily by definition irrational acts don’t have to make sense and it can be assumed that some sort of brain damage is the ultimate cause.
UPDATE: According to Wikipedia the northern part of Iceland does indeed touch the Arctic Ocean. Boo yah.
God spent most of the day recharging the waterfalls, but the wet stuff finally quit around 6:30 PM and the big bright thing made a brief appearance. The eastern fjords of Iceland are supposed to be incredible, but with visibility sometimes reduced to four inches it’s impossible to be be one hundred percent certain – Lonely Planet will have to remain the authority on the subject.
Since there’s still a lot of time remaining until the return home I made a detour up north to the Langanes Peninsula, which the guidebook describes as one of the loneliest parts of Iceland. Having spent over two hours driving the fifty kilometer “road” out here, it seems like the guidebook has it right. There are a handful of abandoned farms, a lot of birds, an occasional sheep, some rolling hills, and a blustery coast, but almost no signs of people – there have been two other cars all night, and no inhabited buildings. One very cool sight while coming out was a herd of 20-30 nearly wild horses running along the coast – they don’t like cars, and it was impressive seeing so many animals all take off at full speed across the countryside. The “road” ended in the midst of a long-abandoned fishing village so I’m camped here for the evening with winds howling, dozens of birds flying by every minute, and some impressive sea cliffs disappearing into the fog along the peninsula’s southwest coast. If the weather cooperates there will be a lot of exploring tomorrow, and if it doesn’t then it may be time to make an offering to Thor to try and get the sun back again.
Today started out looking like good weather, and has turned into one of those days that usually requires a guy in a yellow raincoat on TV to be saying “The full force of this category three storm is now becoming apparent…”. At the moment I’m parked in the Wondermobile next to a lighthouse, and the car is shaking as waves of horizontal rain go tearing past; this is definitely the strongest storm I’ve been in recently, even more impressive than the two big storms at the beginning of this trip.
Aside from Mother Nature’s fury it’s otherwise been an unremarkable day. I slept late (8:00 AM), visited the glacial lagoon, and then covered some ground driving towards the eastern side of the country. Nature-wise there’s a sheltered bit of ocean about a half mile from my current parking spot with several hundred swans in it, and I also passed a sign with a picture of a reindeer on it; it would be more notable had I seen an actual reindeer, but when the weather is this bad I’ll take what I can get.
First full day on my own, and I spent most of it re-visiting sites from the photo tour:
The wind was still howling at 6:00 AM this morning so the Skipper and I packed up and started making a leisurely journey back south. We arrived in Reykjavik around noon and played tourist, visiting the national cathedral, taking the obligatory pictures of the giant Leifur Eriksson statue, and then heading to the national museum. Amidst thousand-year-old relics and other archaelogical treasures the hidden gem within the museum is a room in which you can try on a Viking helmet, sword, and shield, and the Skipper was truly menacing once armored up. From the museum we walked down towards the harbor, and along the way discovered a pond that has every single bird we’ve been stalking for weeks swimming up to people looking for bread – it was a vast difference from a week ago when it took fifteen minutes to get within thirty yards of two whooper swans. I refrained from taking pictures, but will loudly object should my dad try to pass any of his photos as being truly wild birds.
From there we ate dinner, and then it was sadly time for the Skipper’s trip to come to an end. I drove him to Keflavik, we hung out for a bit longer, and then I was off for the solo part of this journey. It’s sad to see everyone go, but at the same time I haven’t spent anytime alone and away from everything in a long time, and it will be a good chance to do some thinking and evaluating of how the whole “life” thing is going.
The Skipper and I awoke reasonably refreshed in a windblown tent this morning and then set off around the Vatnsnes Peninsula. On the far side of the peninsula we found a large grey seal colony and a neat little hostel, and since Mother Nature chose to blast us with wind, cold and rain it seemed like a good place to stop. The soft-spoken but very friendly farmer who owns this place has either been a regular subscriber to the Time-Life carpentry collection or else just simply likes excuses to buy tools, and he has hand-built several two-story cabins along the ocean. It’s a dramatic setting, but given the weather I utilized it primarily as a napping spot.
The day’s one notable adventure came as we were heading off for dinner. Most of the more interesting roads in Iceland require negotiating steep hills, fording streams, and escaping from some slick situations. The rental car I’ve got to handle these roads is a Suzuki Jimmy 4WD, aka Suzy the Wondermobile. Suzy has been a bit underpowered on the roads compared to my trusty Suby, and the handling has been a bit suspect, but she showed her true mettle as I was turning around in a gravel parking lot and she got stuck. Suddenly many of the roads on the Iceland map no longer look like possibilities. In her defense Suzy was fine once I switched the car to 4WD, but getting stuck in a spot that a Ford Focus would navigate with ease is at least mildly concerning.
The photography tour portion of the trip came to a crashing end this morning, and sadly I wasn’t able to find Rod and Marlene to say goodbye; I miss them already, which is unusual for me. They’re both very genuine and fun people – it’s disturbingly rare to find folks today who speak from the heart and don’t attempt to conform to expectations, but I get the sense that everything about the Plancks reflects who they are and what they believe. And in addition to that sentimental mumbo-jumbo, Rod is funny as hell.
The car rental folks arrived at the hotel promptly at 7:45 AM, and surprisingly all I had to do to get the car was sign two papers. With the extra time available I trimmed the mane, which had gotten shaggy enough that I might have earned second place had there been a Rod Planck lookalike contest. The Skipper and I hung around the hotel room relaxing and napping until about 11:00, and then per the Skipper’s request we headed off for the north of the country. The drive north was scenic, and I don’t think I caused any international incidents with my driving. After a few stops along the way we arrived at the coast and hung out on a sea cliff with some inquisitive fulmars that would briefly hover at eye level a few feet away before continuing on their looping flights. We next visited a herd of the Viking horses that they raise around here – they’re the most beautiful horses I’ve ever seen, with long manes, frisky temperaments, and mild personalities. As soon as we stopped the entire herd wandered over to us, but they were either just curious or else looking for something other than the apples we offered.
The day ended at a non-descript restaurant in Hvammstangi that hides within its walls the most beautiful waitress in the world. She spoke English without any trace of accent but said she hadn’t been abroad and attributed her language skills to watching a lot of movies. The other residents of the town were of the squidgy and funny-looking variety (even moreso than yours truly) so one can only assume that the stork delivered the future Ms. Iceland to the wrong address many years ago. Following the dinner with the goddess we headed to a nearby town to put up the tent, took a dip in the local hot pools, and now we’re preparing for a potentially long night as rain and a ridiculous wind is building around us.
Last day – sadness abounds. We started off in Hof, and drove along the ring route towards Reykjavik. There were several stops along the way at some incredible waterfalls and a really neat basalt column formation that I climbed on because I’m a big dork. Hawk introduced us to the Icelandic rock throw, which he very likely had just made up and which he dominated – his best throw was farther and louder than anything that Marlene, Rod, Skip or I could manage.
We arrived at our hotel in Keflavik around seven and gathered for dinner at eight, and after spending two weeks with such a fun group I set aside my qualms about the mantouch and accepted a hug from Larry and Rod. A hearty goodbye from Mavis and Marlene was about all I could handle as I’m poor with goodbyes, so the Skipper and I headed off to bed. I have to pick up the rental car early tomorrow, so there may be more chances for goodbyes before I head off for three days with the Skipper followed by close to two weeks on my own.
At this point in the trip everyone is showing signs of sleep deprivation after nearly two weeks of non-stop action. Any bad weather that might have curtailed our excursions and provided a chance to rest has surprisingly stayed away, so people are falling asleep in the van, taking naps whenever possible, and generally looking disoriented in the mornings; by my accounting that’s a sign of a great trip. Today we set off a bit later, with an 8:00 AM breakfast followed by a return visit to the Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon. Instead of ice I spent the morning with my dad and Rod photographing an active bunch of arctic terns, and ten bazillion photos later I can actually say with some confidence that I’ve got some good ones. Despite repeated dive bombings I was nipped only twice on my hat, although the Skipper took a full load from the back end of one of the birds and had to spend a good while cleaning up in the restroom.
The remainder of the day was primarily spent photographing glaciers that flow off of the massive ice field – apparently the world’s third largest behind Greenland and Antarctica. In addition to having enormous ice sheets Iceland spices things up by adding volcanos, and during eruptions huge masses of the ice melt quickly and wash away anything below including sheep, bridges, towns, etc. Everyone seems to be generally OK with this arrangement, most likely due to a thousand years of living in a tough little corner of the world.
Post-photography I opted to walk forty-five minutes back to the hotel, getting bombarded by a pair of skuas along the way. Dinner followed, and since the trip is nearing its conclusion the alcohol flowed more freely, Hawk made a speech thanking us for making it a fun two weeks, and we retired to the lobby to burn away a few more hours of the night. Tomorrow we’re making our way back to Keflavik, visiting a few sights along the way, and the following day it will sadly be time for the trip to come to an end.
Today is in the running as the best day of the trip thus far. We awoke at 4:15 AM and arrived at the Ingolfshorfoi bird cliffs at 5:00 AM. After a twenty minute tractor ride across tidal flats to the cliffs we spent nearly six hours photographing puffins and skuas – puffins on the ground, puffins flying, puffins with fish, skuas displaying, skuas flying… there were a million different photographs to be taken. Marlene is to be greatly commended for arranging the early and extended visit.
After returning to the hotel for a nap and eating an early dinner we headed off to do some photos of the local glacier, which comes down from the world’s third largest ice sheet. Arctic terns, grey seals, icebergs, mountains, and all sorts of other goodies filled the photos, and it wasn’t until after sunset (around midnight) that we finally returned. Since tomorrow is a late (8:00 AM) breakfast there was time to enjoy a beer with Rod, Marlene and Hawk, and many old stories were dredged up, including the infamous tale of Rod’s famous victory interview several years ago in Antarctica. Sadly only two full days remain in the trip, but if our luck continues they should also be good ones.
This sentence would be a nice transitional sentence if I knew how to write well. At one point during the day Marlene asked Rod what he was photographing. In his best little kid voice the reply was “I’m photographing air… and sunshine… and love”. The moment doesn’t translate as well when written down, but it was pretty damn funny at the time it was uttered.
More great weather today – when asked about the weather Hawk said “Yes, it has been very good. You usually have to pay for that later.” If his prophesy comes true I may have some interesting days of camping once the photo tour ends. Today was another travel day, and we spent it driving along dirt roads, through streams, and past landscapes that included volcanic deserts, lava flows, glaciers, lush fields, and other awesome sights. There were numerous photography stops, and hopefully a few of the day’s photos will be decent ones.
Since we were making good time Hawk suggested we visit an out-of-the-way lake that tourists never go to, and for the next hour we traveled along a road that was at times very nearly impassable, and it eventually became truly impassable at a large snowfield. Hawk indicated it was a short hike to the lake, so after eating lunch and doing some sliding on the snow I set off at a brisk pace. The number of stupid things I’ve done in my life is far too short, but today it grew slightly after a swim in a glacier-fed Arctic lake. There was a quick bit of stripping down, a longer bit of psyching up, some running into the water, some frantic “Panic!” signals sent to the brain, a dive, some loud yelling, and then a quick retreat. Afterwards there was quite a bit of jumping around onshore to get the bloodflow going again. I spent the rest of the day in wet boxers, but it was definitely worthwhile. We’re in bed early tonight with a 4:15 AM wakeup tomorrow to head off to another bird colony before paying a visit to a glacier lagoon that is supposed to be really picturesque.