Becoming Iceland’s “Crazy Unicycle Girl”

In July of 2017, I completed a 150-km backpacking trip with my mountain unicycle through gravel roads and over the Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls hiking trails. The hiking trails were by no means remote, so I often encountered surprise, disbelief, and even some scepticism. “But why do it on a unicycle!?” My exact responses varied, but the core idea was the same: I had planned the trip to challenge myself. To force myself to do something outside of my comfort zone. And I succeeded.

Author’s note #1: If you saw me on the trail and have some nice pictures or videos to share, please feel free to use my contact form. 🙂

Author’s note #2: I plan to write a few more articles regarding logistics and to upload many more pictures in the weeks to come. I will add the links here as I write/post them, so be sure to check back later if you want to see more about my Iceland unicycle adventure.

This trip developed from dream to reality in three stages. First, I knew I wanted to go to Iceland for this year’s vacation. Second, I wanted to do something adventurous that I had never done before. Thus, a standard backpacking trek was out of the question. Since mountain unicycling (“muni”) is a big part of my life and some of my friends have done some incredible long-distance muni trips (Patagonia and the Colorado trail, for example), I decided that I would do a backpacking trip on my unicycle. In the third and final stage, I stumbled across Cristophe Noel’s article while researching bikepacking routes in Iceland. After skimming the route description and pictures, I was hooked.

The road points the way to the colorful Landmannalaugar mountains on the morning of Day 3
One of the amazing rock formations you see along the 208 on the way towards Landmannalaugar.

I modified Noel’s route slightly, choosing to hitchhike the ring road sections rather than ride dozens of kilometers along a narrow, two-lane road frequented by many campervans and buses. My route started at the beginning of the 208 east of Vík and wound 70 km through rolling green hills, jagged volcanic peaks, and ice-cold rivers just tame enough to ford, until eventually I reached my halfway point at the tourist attraction Landmannalaugar. There, I enjoyed a rest day by soaking up the un-Icelandic sunny weather, chatting with other travellers, and spending as much time as I could in the free hot springs without turning into The Human Prune.

Occasional moments of tranquility on the 208 to Landmannalaugar in between cruising 4x4s filled with other visitors to Iceland
Pretty flowers near my wild campsite on the second night
Landmannalaugar: a picturesque setting for a tent and a great place to spend a rest day

From Landmannalaugar I turned my wheel south, transitioning from nicely graded gravel roads to the Laugavegur hiking trail. And it was at 6:30 AM, just 2 km from Landmannalaugar, that I experienced my first hardship.

I fell. I fell hard.

I fell so hard, I thought I broke my hand. As I stood there, cradling my palm to my chest and sobbing into the sulfur-laced air, I thought about my options. The most obvious: I could turn around and walk back to Landmannalaugar, perhaps wait to see if my hand got better or worse. I’ll be honest, the scaredy cat in me liked this option. What if it gets worse? he whispered. You wouldn’t be able to ride! It would take the fun out of the trip!

Stupid Rinker forgot to put her helmet on one morning and then decided to fall on her face. Not recommended.

In the end, two things stopped me from turning around. First, the idea of trudging back to Landmannalaugar with my tail between my legs, nursing an injured hand and with a fresh scrape on my cheek (earlier I had forgotten to put on my helmet—a stupid mistake—and promptly fallen on my face), was extremely distasteful. I had seen the looks in the hundreds of eyes camped at Landmannalaugar when they saw my unicycle. She’s nuts, the eyes whispered. She’s going to get herself hurt. To walk back now would damage the sport of muni forever in their eyes.

The second reason, though, is ultimately what pushed my forward. I simply asked myself, What would my friends do? And the answer was simple. Broken hand or not, they would see the journey through. They would finish what they had started. And if I wanted to be half as cool as them, then I needed to do the same. So I pushed on.

Leaving my mark in hut logbooks

In the end, I was lucky: hour by hour the pain lessened until I was able to travel almost as if I’d never been hurt in the first place. I was able to ride through crazily colored mountains, over ridges spewing geothermal steam, and through kilometers of rock-strewn volcanic plains that looked like another planet. When I couldn’t ride the trail (which was about 80% of the time), I pushed my unicycle or balanced it carefully on my shoulders.

Portaging my muni up the last mountain ridge before Skogar (bandana for sun protection)
Leaving my mark in the sand

As might be expected, I attracted a fair amount of attention. “This hike is difficult enough on foot,” people often told me, “and here you are with a unicycle!” Even the park wardens were surprised to see me—they told me that no one had ever done the trails on a unicycle before. On one hand, the attention was quite daunting. I’m not a strong rider, so to come around a corner and see a half-dozen cell phones pointed in my direction was a little unsettling. But, after awhile, I learned to accept it, even embrace it.

“Yes,” I would say with a smile, “I’m the crazy unicycle girl.”

Celebrating the successful completion of the trip at the Skogafoss waterfall

9 Replies to “Becoming Iceland’s “Crazy Unicycle Girl””

  1. Wow! What a great trip, looking for more pics soon! I’m glad you weren’t hurt too badly 😨 Love ya , sweetie 💕

  2. Jenni, we briefly met near the hut on your last leg to Skogar. You came out of the clouds with your bike on your shoulder. It looked like a scene out of a Mad Max movie. I have two pictures I would like to send you. Let me know how to get them to you.

    Congrats!

    1. Hey Michael! I’m so glad you found this article! It was really cool to see you guys at the top of that ridge. If you don’t mind filling out my contact form (http://lifeofajenni.com/contact-me/), we can exchange the pictures over email.

      Hope you guys are enjoying Iceland! Happy travels!

    2. Adding to my friend Michel’s comment here. That scene of you suddenly appearing through the Mars-like mountain-top clouds carrying your unicycle was definitely one of our trip’s memorable ‘what-the heck’ moments! 🙂
      I must have told that story a dozen time already: “And then… just as we we felt like astronauts on Mars…”

      1. Hi Martin! Ha, I’m sure I was one of the least-expected things that could have come out of the fog. I’m happy I got to see you guys on the trail — it definitely helped me get through that day to meet you guys on that ridge. Safe travels!

  3. I am 66 and enjoy my muni. In N Z the weather at present is shocker (rain, rain) so I enjoyed reading about your uni adventure in iceland.
    I.e. Reading about your adventure helps me get through the winter here. Well done. Bruce

    1. My pleasure, Bruce! The winters here in Denmark are rather rainy as well, so I understand the feeling. Glad I could make a little something to cheer you up a bit! Happy trails. 😉

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