Perimeter of Iceland, 1999, 19 days, 19 hours, 28 minutes, 924 miles
By Joan Joesting-Mahoney
Every bicycle perimeter that I have ever ridden has had a beginning. As a child, I had seen pictures of Icelandic ponies and as a young adult read about Icelandic Air's cheap airfares to Europe. Also, I had read Amalia Lindal's Ripples from Iceland (1962) and Dr. Jerry Gardner, husband of Dr. JoAnn Gardner (we co-founded the Association for Women in Psychology in 1969) had told me about Eric Newby's Round Ireland in Low Gear However, no matter how one much wants to do an activity, one must wait until one has the time and money.
For the 1998 Christmas, my in-laws Connie & Dinny Mahoney had graciously given us a large check which my husband Matt and divided as we do any large sum of money that is given to both of us so I decided to do the perimeters of Iceland and Ireland which meant getting maps approved in advance, finding cheap airfare (in 1999, Icelandic Air was still quite inexpensive), gathering together the proper clothing, the bicycle, etc.
Right now, it is August 22, 2005, and I'm reentering my trip notes into my computer as for some unknown reason my notes had disappeared from my computer. This stresses the need for paper backups when one is involved with any technology.
On 5/8/99, my notes begin with "long time coming." I flew from my home in Melbourne, FL to Reykjavik, Iceland. The flight had been so turbulent that serving of dinner had been delayed. The two Icelandic women sitting beside me had moved to the rear of the plane to be with their families but gave me their telephone numbers in case I needed help of any kind. This was my first introduction to the "goodness" of the Icelanders.
After the delayed dinner, I was able to sleep and woke up to Iceland: garden of the moon with a plethora of rocks & moss. There was free currency exchange in the airport. However, one of my bicycle panniers hadn't arrived but Icelandic Air promised to locate it and bring it to me. There was the problem of biking to Reykjavik in the cold, rain, and hills. I became scared as I was beginning to shiver in my wet clothes so I purchased some leggings at the first convenience store that I saw. Fortunately, I wore my Gore-Tex blue raincoat on the plane so I had it on. I call it my "Arctic Savior." I had trouble locating the Reykjavik Youth Hostel but when I finally found it, it was fully booked. A woman guided me to a guest house in her car and said told me, "You're amazing."
The guesthouse was called Gistihemilio Berg Hafnarfiroi and as usual I shopped at a local supermarket for food. One learns so much about a country by shopping at its supermarkets. There were few fresh vegetables and the canned food had English labels on them because one can't grow many vegetables in Iceland. I purchased a beautiful handcrafted card for my mother-in-law. I kept phoning the airport about my missing luggage but decided to bike on the next day instead of waiting for it to be delivered. Yes, one can bike with only one pannier. I did have my athletic bag containing my sleeping bag, tent, and folding mattress.
5/9/99 Tonight I'm staying in what Icelanders call "sleeping bag" accommodations which was actually a tiny cabin complete with a bathroom, a tiny kitchen for $13.65 USD. The camp was called Asgardue Gistihus in Hoolsvollur. The woman owner had 2 sons and she and her husband were watching "60 Minutes" with Icelandic subtitles, a popular TV show on Sundays that I watch at home. Lesley Stald was speaking on TV and my host and hostess noted that I know all the bad things about the USA. The parents and their sons laughed. Their living room bookcase looked just like the one I had at home.
My hostess had called the airport for me and apparently my pannier had missed the last bus but Icelandic Air insisted that I would receive it soon.
I was very impressed when I watched her son hang out their wash. Iceland is my kind of country! Ha! The cabin was filled with crosstitch pictures using yarn on even weave linen. Yes, I do cross stitch but nothing as beautiful and impressive as the
crossstitch by the Icelandic women.
But I had had a hard bike ride with snowy mountains ahead of me and saw the sign of an 8% downhill grade. If I had known what was ahead of me, I might have quit but then winners don't quit and quitters don't win. Also, a student who was a member of the Florida Tech's (Melbourne, FL) crew team told me, "If you want it bad enough" and I wanted this perimeter. The traffic had been terrible and I had to walk up and down many mountains.
Finally the pannier arrived and the man who co-owned the campground as it was called had to take his van to get it. I decided that the Icelanders were the best people in the world. It seems that the more severe the geography is, the nicer the people. Why?
5/10/99 Today, I bicycled to the southern most point of Iceland. I am heading east along the coast with high mountains on my left with farms on the bits of flat ground bordering the flat road. I stopped to take a photo of a waterfall and a dog came running down his farm lane, tip toeing skillfully over the cattle guard, and running up to my bicycle and lifting his leg. Poor Icelandic dogs have no trees on which to mark their scents. The dog was very friendly but the flat road didn't last. I had to push my bike uphill with a 22% grade. The wind was now savage.
A man stopped his car to ask if I was OK. A woman at a small gas station had forgotten that yesterday was Mother's Day in Iceland. Mothers in Iceland are given a rose for every child they have. She said that she would have to telephone her mother and apologize. Hotel Lundi cost me $16.38 for a sleeping bag room, $12.97 for groceries, and 68 cents for postcards. I love the Icelandic liquid yogurt.
5/11/99 Tonight I stayed in Hotel Edda in Kirkjubiejasklanatur. This morning the headwinds had begun so I was forced to walk the bike 3 miles. I was able to take some "unreal" photos of this Garden of the Moon country. During my bike ride of 45 miles, there only about 20 vehicles as they seem to have disappeared. I stopped the bike several times, not only to rest but to listen to the "silence," as there was no sounds of cars. Silence is the sound of Iceland. The only music comes from the birds and the forever blowing wind.
5/12/99 It was difficult to find someone at farmhouse to register and to whom to give my money. to. It was sleeping bag only. When I finally someone, he couldn't speak English but a young man who was training with a soccer ball could speak English. It seems that when Icelanders can't speak English, they pretend to be mute and are just silent and stare. Today, I saw glaciers and was able to get a good photo of them. Again, tonight there's a mountain in my window 3 nights in a row. Iceland has been so scenic, yet so boring at times on the bike. There's very little traffic but many one-way bridges.
5/13/99 Tonight, I stayed in Hofn. The day had begun with a 30 mph tailwind but then shifted to a cross wind & finally a "mild" head wind. The last 5-10 kilometers (3-6 miles) were loose gravel. Most shops were closed as it a national holiday in Iceland to celebrate the anniversary of the day that Jesus went to heaven. My hotel had a room with a view the harbor and my "blood quickened" when I saw the Atlantic and smelled the sea. I am not a mountain person as the sea is in my veins yet I hate the beach. I love flat slightly rolling hills where I can see forever. My hotel room was lovely.
At a grocery shop, I heard British English. The Brits are filming "Ice" and are free lancers. This is the time first time I've heard English from a native speaker since leaving home. I was able to talk to Matt, my husband on the telephone. My mileage so far is
5/14/99 Rest day in Hofn. I asked at a cafe, "What is the cheapest thing you have?"
With marvelous Icelandic humor I was told, "water." The weather report was for rain and the nice woman hotel manager kept saying, "Get some rest!" I had splurged on some English books, got some necessary bike repair, and then talked to a Danish backpacker. On TV in my room, I watched a mountain bike on TV and knitted and wondered if I was alone too much. At times, I'm almost afraid of my withdrawal from people but the Icelandic youth hostels are not open yet. In 2005, I now know that my withdrawal from people is healing as I have had numerous problems with people throughout my life. I
have dyslexia so that I don't process sounds correctly and can have involuntary screaming panic attacks when I'm subjected to boom boxes or firecrackers. I hate July 4th! Also, I had been beaten by Robert King my ex-husband. Resentment is like prejudice like discrimination is like punishment.
I have been warned about mountains that I must cross with bad winds. Today I read that if one knows that she can do something then she doesn't need courage. This quotation was found in a book about Inspirational Crafts. It had patterns for crosses and my mother-in-law Connie likes crosses.
The clouds have bitten off the tops of the mountains and I am always hungry. I miss Matt and our cats.
5/15/99 Djispivogur. I stayed in Hotel Framtid or Hotel Future where there are many renovations going on. In 1905, the hotel had been shipped from Copenhagen, Denmark in pieces and the owner went bankrupt in 1908.
Today I began my ride "crawling" up a 16.7% grade in rain. I came to hate the signs that indicated that the road was turning into dirt. The road would change from asphalt to dirt and back again. Likewise, many times it would rain, then the sun would shine, and rain, again. I had beautiful views of fjords but I didn't have a head wind until the end. There
was little traffic.
At the hotel, I carried my bike up 2 flights of stairs but then was told that I couldn't keep my bike in the room. This has almost always been a problem when "perimetering." Richard DeBarndis of Perimeter Bicycling insists that he won't stay in a hotel that won't allow his bike in his room but I was too tired to argue. By then, I was so tired that I had to ask the young man for help carrying my luggage up to my room.
A nice young man told me Icelandic stories and insisted that the 16.7% grade was the steepest in Iceland. I talked to a woman Icelandic singer Bacca in the Kirkjubasjarklaustu Hotel and she said a man had backed his car around Iceland, a man had biked around Iceland, another man had run around Iceland with support but I was the first woman. She called me the bravest woman in Iceland.
5/16/05 Today, I battled the worst winds of my life holding onto the bike for dear life to keep it from slipping into the fjord below the road. It had taken me 5 hours to go 5 miles. A new personal worst. I was told that the wind is bad. The Breiddalsvik Road had actually blown away or so the hotel manager of the greatest hotel in Iceland told me. It was Hotel Blafell, and it had come from Finland in cartons. The hotel owners had taken photos of its building and had a beautiful photo album of it. It was a rustic log cabin type hotel like those in Finland.
There was a guest guitar concert by Bacca and she gave me a CD. She had a concert at the hotel and I put on my only dress that I carry. Bacca told me, "You look like a woman." Bacca told me that if a man loves cats, he'll love his wife. Indeed, Robert King, my ex-husband who had beat me badly hated cats. They sang in Icelandic with a man she had never met before. I shall never forget that she serenaded me, "Summer time and the living is easy." I remember this whenever I'm suffering from the heat/humidity during our Florida summers. I learned from the concert that one has to let things happen. When the elements cause hell I must say repeatedly, "It gets easier" and it did. She continued that stories make people different from animals and songs are stories put to music. She had a perfect life being an itnerant musician traveling around by bus and getting free hotel rooms. If only I could sing!
I interviewed Bacca and wrote the following notes: her son had just gotten out of alcoholism treatment center, which is considered a big thing in Iceland. As she took photos of my bicycle and me, we noticed that my bicycle luggage rack was cracked. She suggested that I duct tape it together. We were able to get duct tape from the manager of the hotel & she photographed me while I taped the cracked luggage rack.
She continued with our interview. I call this my Bacca's story. There is the old tradition of traveling troubadours. She gets rides by using her cell phone. She knew of Joan Baez and Janet Joplin who was born in the same city as me: Port Arthur, Texas.
She gave me a priceless gift: a handmade stuffed troll which now guards our bedroom here in 2005 in Melbourne, FL.
Pergola Arnadottier was Bacca's name and because of meeting her I'll never be the same
My notes contain some stories about mirth/earth; sad/bad, but no more than that.
The husband and wife managers of the hotel volunteered to call the weather bureau for me. They were the nicest hotel managers I have ever met.
5/17/99. First 10 miles were flat and easy with no wind but then came the steep mountain with the descent being slippery gravel. I walked and pushed my bike up and down mountains. Mountains all around were "splattered with snow." I heard about a book about the Icelandic people by Laxness "Great Independent People."
I stayed in Egilostodum because the campground was closed at the farmhouse. I shopped for cards and Christmas cat pins. I still own one and love it. There's a legend that if one doesn't wear something new at Christmas, the cat will eat you. I saw a gray cat at farmhouse where I stayed & it kissed me. I noticed that my right pannier holder was loose and got a man to tighten it but he kept saying it was broken and I would have to wait till 8 AM to get the taped part fixed at auto repair. The repairman wasn't home when a person called for me.
5/18/99 Sunny morning but left hip is aching badly. Nice man from the Egilostodum Guest House took the bike and me to get luggage rack repaired. I learned that aluminum could be welded after the repairman first checked it with a magnet. My nice landlord had paid for the welding! This was so wonderful of him.
But I had miles to ride in a horrible head wind. I gave up riding after only 31 miles with a terrible downhill. I saw reindeer at Hofteigur like in Finland.
I saw a 660 kilometer sign to Rekavick and began screaming. A local cyclist looked at me like I was crazy. I was! I stopped at farm Skjoldolfestadir farm with a nice bed. One of the women there had just returned from Ireland and I got to watch ewes lambing. Some of the births were more difficult than others with much bleeding. Sometimes the lambs were born all bloody but the ewes licked the blood off of them. Other lambs kept getting their legs caught between the boards of the barn. I actually helped by carrying water to the ewes after they had given birth.
All the sheep were wearing tags with the ewes and lambs having the same number so that people can tell which lambs belong to which ewes as sometimes they get mixed up.
5/19/99 Horrible 40 mph cross winds. Reykjahlio was an awful place but Myvator Lake not so great either. I almost slapped a woman at the Elda guesthouse as she was always in my face. I saw some geysers and was able to talk to my husband Matt on the telephone but it was difficult making a long distance call as most people in the phone system could not speak English. I did meet Payton and Christine. He is an Annapolis Graduate and is a captain in the US Marine Corps
5/20/99 Biked from ugh! Reykjahlio to the Promised Land city of Akurehri that had traffic lights. I didn't think Lake Myostin was great but now I have been saturated by all the Icelandic beauty. Today I did 65.87 miles going over 2 mountain passes and saw beautiful fjords. I stopped at Foscholl and met 2 touring buses loaded with French people. It was so cold that I had to put on my life-saving navy blue polypropylene shirt for warmth. I had trouble booking at the youth hostel as a German couple had told me the youth hostel was full; however, I was still able to get a room. I stopped a school where the children were picking up trash. I had washing machine problems at the youth hostel and I ended up drying my now clean clothes in my room. The washing machine was a side loader unlike those in the US that are top loading. Europeans insist they get their clothes cleaner than our top loading washing machines in the US. In 2005, they are now selling side loading
washing machines in the US but they are considerably more expensive but they do save conserve water.
I saw some geysers with 3 different ways of pronouncing them: Icelandic, British, and American.
At the youth hostel, I ran into Captain Payton and Christine, again. We ate green speckled eggs. I talked to Peter on the phone from the Icelandic Public Radio and he told me that I was getting famous. Right now, on 8/27/05, I can't even get our local newspaper to pay me for a story about my now completed 20 different country perimeters but then the US is extremely sexist and ageist or at least our local Florida Today newspaper is.
I was warned about a coming tunnel with no bikes allowed. A Brit suggested that I do it at night. One of the things I have learned from all my travels is that different nationalities have different ways of solving problems/meeting challenges. Americans go around problems, Icelanders get a ride, and the Brits get drunk or so I was told.
5/21/99 Glorious rest day in Karaoke. . It was hard to get out of bed as it was raining outside. I was interviewed at the youth hostel by Petor Pedur of Icelandic Radio. He described his problems of training on Icelandic roads and slipping on the ice. Yes, I got his email address and tried to email him when I finished the perimeter of Iceland and returned home but his email address was no longer valid. I purchased a silver cross for my mother-in-law who collected crosses but now (2005) we are no longer communicating as the US is in such turmoil and she on the side of the Right Wingers and I strongly believe in separation of church and state. The US has suffered so much division since 1999. It's very sad!
At the youth hostel, I met a German cyclist bicycling around Iceland counter clockwise and he told me that it would be impossible for me to get to Reykjavik as the conditions were too severe. I shall never forget looking him in the eye and telling him that I would bike it and I did.
Also, at the youth hostel was a drunken British woman who grabbed my arm and told me she was drowning. She added, "I don't like AA and never go to AA meetings on a holiday." She had just gotten out of an alcoholism treatment center before she came to Iceland. Indeed, she was drowning in her alcoholism and I felt her pain but felt helpless.
I spent one hour in the library that from its windows had beautiful views of mountains. I had to take off my shoes to get inside the library. I was able to read and send email. I shall never forget reading that my email had been sent from
5/21/99 More rain and I was shivering so, again, it was very hard to get out of bed and leave the very comfortable youth hostel and complete a ride from hell. At first there was a slight headwind with a long slow climb. When I began feeling weak from climbing, I would walk my bike. For a short while there was a bit of tailwind but then fog, traffic and a horrid tailwind came. I was very exhausted when I arrived at Hotel Varmahlid to encounter a very bossy landlady who spoke little English. She reminded me of my impossible mother-in-law (I have 2 mothers-in-law as my husband's father divorced my husband's biological mother & married her best friend, my step mother-in-law. Anyway, I was sick and miserable but glad my faithful Gore-Tex jacket kept me dry but that didn't keep the reading lamp from falling on me. For supper, I had sardines and that exquisite Cabury fruit nut bar for a real treat. I had a phone in my room but couldn't call my husband as he was visiting his mother who lives 90 miles away. I wish it were a million miles as she has been awful to me for the entire almost 12 years that we have been married. Our wedding anniversary is in October.
5/22/99 52.58 miles to Vidigeroi. This is all that is in my notes.
5/23/99 Again, headwinds at first today, then had winds coming at me every which way. I shall never forget the German bicyclist with his clipless pedals insisting that I couldn't do this part of the ride because he couldn't and had to put his bike in the bus. I was wearing the $10 USD dress that I had purchased in Estonia the year before. Today, while biking, I saw a ewe jump a fence while her lamb just ran through the chicken wire it but fortunately it was not hurt. Blondua is a booming town complete with an Esso Station. A white station wagon got too close to me on the bike and then stopped at a red light. Angrily, I banged my hand on the station wagon window and the driver yelled at me to bike in my own country. It's too bad I couldn't cuss in Icelandic Ha! If one wants to bike in hell, one should bike in the US. In 1979, I bicycled across the US and have done a perimeter bicycle ride in all 48 contiguous states but never again. There's too much traffic, crime, and mean people in the US, myself included. Ha!
5/24/99 Today, I had cross winds and some nice tail winds but then it began snowing gently. gradually increasing until I was biking in a complete white out and could barely see the ground. However, there was no traffic, no shelter, and I wasn't that afraid. Carefully biking to a lower elevation, I saw a sign covered with snow that said, "Reykjavik 100 kilometers." I will complete the perimeter of Iceland tomorrow!
There were sheep on the road as usual being herded by a truck. The driver stopped to let me by. The driver was speaking on a cell phone and it is mandatory in Iceland that drivers stop when speaking on their phones. Iceland is the most technologically advanced country in one of the most savage environments on this earth.
At the hotel there was nice man who gave me sleeping bag accommodations even when the hotel was not open yet. I did order bread and soup which I didn't like as I don't enjoy Icelandic food. This is not a bad thing as I am set in my ways regarding food.
I was able to telephone my husband Matt who told me that my plants were wilting.
5/25/99 Today there was a 4 hour rainbow. I bicycled toward Reykjavik with an unbelievable tail wind, with mountain scenery, and some sweet silent rain, the kind that I like. Traffic increased something terrible on my way to the airport to finish my perimeter of Iceland in 19 days, 19 hours, and 28 minutes, a total of 924 solo miles. There was a Salvation Army sleeping bag accommodations where I had a room with 2 other women. I felt very uneasy about them because I had been away from people too long or so I think.
When I checked the drawer of my bedside table there was Amalia Lindal's book "Ripples from Iceland" waiting for me. This is the book that had inspired me & had come the full circle.
Because of the weather, winds, and ever-changing roads, Iceland has proven to be my most difficult perimeter. No, I would never do it, again, but I came to love the Icelandic people who were so very kind and caring except for a few people that I had irritated. With my abrasive personality, it's a wonder that I didn't bother more people.