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 have written several other articles about this trip, including logistics and day-by-day descriptions. To read more, use the “Iceland 2017” category on the side (desktop) or bottom (mobile) of the webpage.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.”