Uni-Packing in Iceland: Day 1

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:

The Beginning

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.

My last dinner (bought at the gas station in Vík) on Saturday night before beginning my journey Sunday morning. Icelandic ice cream, beer, and a delicious Naked juice: what more could you want?

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.


I began hitchhiking in Vík early Sunday morning, not expecting to catch a ride. But you know what they say: the early bird gets the worm! Despite it being 7:48 AM, I was picked up not long after I snapped this picture of my wet surroundings. Adventure time had begun!

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 first 10 kilometers of the 208 were paved and fairly flat, which was a wonderful warm-up for the very out-of-shape Rinker. Not many cars frequented the road, either, since it was 9:00am on a Sunday. So it was just me, my wheel, and the sheep. Legends, all of us.
Snapped a picture of this sign at one of the early road intersections. Only 70 km to Landmannalaugar, which was my halfway point for the journey. I planned on arriving there early on Day 3.

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.

F208 transitioned from paved to nice gravel a few kilometers in. Besides that, the views were fabulous and the weather unusually good for Iceland. I quickly stripped off my top thermal layer and enjoyed the sun on my shoulders and the sight of these cliffs in the distance.
Hard to keep looking forward when you keep getting distracted with what’s behind. Luckily for me, even the slightest uphill was more than my weak legs could handle, so much of this section was walked. This allowed me plenty of chances to glance behind me without worrying about falling on my face.

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…the rain came. But it just served to highlight some of the amazing details in the landscape. Plus, I was walking up these hills anyway and everything I had was in plastic bags, so a little skywater was no big deal.
The only good water-bottle-fill-up spot that I found for all of the Day 1 riding. In hindsight, I probably should have filled up more than just a single liter here. What’s that about “what doesn’t kill you”?
This sign marked the location of the one water stop I found on Day 1. And, hey! I rode 12 km since the last sign! Isn’t that neat.


It was really nice to have beautiful little creeks to stare at when I topped out over every hill. Really helped me get past my tiredness.

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.

I didn’t really train for Iceland, I just kind of…went. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it doesn’t. It worked for me because I knew I would be out of shape and I planned my route to take my lack of physical fitness into account. However, there were definitely some moments I wished I had a nice sofa to rest on.

I love setting up my tent. Creating a cozy space where there was nothing and then taking it with you when you go, leaving little to no sign you where there…I love it. And when the weather is nice, you’ve had a long day of hiking/riding through beautiful countrysides, and you’re surrounded by the bends of a beautiful Icelandic river, I don’t think there is any way to make life better.

Making Camp

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.

I. Love. Sheep. I love going somewhere, being in the middle of nowhere (or maybe the edge of nowhere) and having flocks of sheep wandering about your campsite. They are such hearty animals, and so dang cute. (Especially in early summer, when there are still tons of lambs wandering around!)
My wild campsite was surrounded by these really cool lava formations that have grown thick layers of moss over the years. Not only does it make for the squishiest, most delightful natural mattress of all time, it’s also really fun to look at.
Photo evidence of the preponderance of flies at the campsite. But honestly, I’ll take these non-biting buzzers over a single Scottish midge any day.

Settling down for my post-pasta, rainshower-induced afternoon nap. It was SO GOOD.

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.

The view to the west from my Day 1 wild campsite in Iceland. I had laid down for a nap in the afternoon during a rainshower and awoke to this sight. Just beautiful.
Trying to take a cool photo of the bridge by my wild campsite that I fell in love with. Not sure if I succeeded.
I’m sure Iceland has tons of rainbows, since the weather changes so constantly, but I was still happy to see this little guy to the east after waking up from my nap.

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.

A little pudgy (that’s what happens when you don’t exercise!), but more than a little happy. Jumping in that ice-cold Icelandic river a few times was a perfect ending to a really good first day on the trail.

3 Replies to “Uni-Packing in Iceland: Day 1”

  1. SO great to read such a detailed account of your day, and the videos and photos are fabulous!!! Amazing job putting this together!
    Looking forward to each day’s journal!

    Love ya -Mom

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