The first day of my Icelandic unicycle-backpack trip began at the small town of Vík and then proceeded through hitchhiking cars, paved roads, and gravel roads to ultimately end at a wild campsite nestled in the bends of a beautiful Icelandic river. Here are my experiences from that first day and a few pictures and videos to give you a taste of the day. Enjoy!
Author’s note: this is post is included in a series of articles I have written about this trip. To read more, check out the following links or use the “Iceland 2017” category on the right to filter posts:
- Day 1 Flickr photo journal
- Day 1 YouTube playlist
- Overview of uni-packing trip
- Logistics of uni-packing trip
Waking up on that first morning, Sunday morning, was almost surreal. The previous few days had been a wallop of chaos: packing, prepping, weighing, sprinting to airplanes, flying, bussing, camping, you get the idea. It wasn’t until Saturday night when I dropped off my extra bag for storage at the Icelandair Hotel in Vík that I finally felt free, relaxed, even light. I had dropped off the excess, and there was nothing left to do but have a “last supper” from the gas station before sleeping.
The next morning, when my alarm went off at 6:00am, I laid for a moment and listened to the rain drops on my tent roof while I thought of the day ahead. The goal was to hitchhike from Vík east along the Ring Road to the start of F208, the gravel road that would lead me towards Landmannalaugar. I hoped to ride at least 30 km along the gravel road that first day, but I wanted to pace myself because I was extremely out of shape. I figured that spending all day riding an easy 30 km along well-groomed, mostly flat roads would be a great way to ease myself into the trip.
Despite starting to hitchhike really early, a wonderfully friendly, elderly Icelandic gentleman picked me up just after 8:00am on a Sunday, let me throw my unicycle in the backseat of his Buick, and drove me to F208. On the way, we listed to Rainbow (a rock band from the late 70s), talked about the masses of purple flowers (turns out they were lupines) alongside the road, and generally enjoyed each other’s company.
Waving goodbye to my driver (whose name I never caught) was the last substantial human interaction I would have for the next two days. It was time to ride some roads. After quickly donning my helmet, gloves, and knee pads and ensuring everything was in place, I hopped on my unicycle and began to ride.
The morning portion of the Day 1 route ended up being absolutely perfect for transitioning into my first-ever uni-packing trip. The first several kilometers were paved, which helped me adjust to riding with a 20-kg pack on my back. The road grade was never very steep, though I ended up walking almost every uphill anyway, and the traffic was minimal (perhaps one car every 45 minutes). The views, too, were not to be missed.
The good weather didn’t hold, however, and the rain finally came in during the afternoon. But it came when I was hiking up the only substantial uphill of the day, so I didn’t mind it and even welcomed the cooler air. In fact, my only concern during the ride was water: contrary to what I had read on forums everywhere, there were not dozens of streams every half-kilometer pouring out nature’s sweet nectar that is Icelandic water on this route. There had a been a few small streams earlier in the day, but they were in sheep territory so I didn’t want to fill up there. I found a very nice spot halfway through the day and filled up a 1L bottle, but after that there was nothing until I pitched my tent by a river in the afternoon. Luckily Iceland is cool (literally), so I was nowhere close to being dehydrated.
As expected, my lack of physical fitness became apparent by the end of the day. Hiking—especially uphill—became a chore, and I had to stop and snack more often. I had to focus all my attention on not falling while riding, and both hands were often waving in the air for balance. As I got closer to the Hólaskjól Campground, I started looking more carefully for wild camping spots. I’m not sure whether it was Iceland or my exhaustion, but when I came across a beautiful river I had a minor pretty-nature-induced freakout and decided that, yes, this is where I would set up camp. So I did.
The campsite was wonderful. My tent was nestled in a U-bend of a river and rested upon bizarre lava formations covered in thick, spongy moss. Dozens of flies buzzed around my head when I walked outside, but that was only because there was no wind, and since they didn’t bite it wasn’t that much of an inconvenience. Sheep bleated across the water and criss-crossed by my tent when I sat inside. I cooked pasta inside my spacious vestibule while a rainstorm passed over, and then took a well-deserved nap.
Evening Walkabout and Swim
When I awoke from my nap, Iceland had decided to show me just how beautiful it could be. In other words, the sun had come out. And it was wonderful. Everywhere I looked, the sun had brought out highlights and colors to delight the senses. Even a rainbow made an appearance! The scenery was so refreshing and I felt so happy to be outside having adventures again that I jumped in the river a few times. It was cold (obviously), but absolutely worth it.
In the end, I dried off, changed into my warm gear, and nestled into my cozy tent with my cozy sleeping bag. I countered the ever-present daylight by pulling my hat down over my eyes. After such a demanding day with my out-of-shape body, I drifted off immediately. I slept very well.