Uni-Packing in Iceland: Day 2

The second day of my Iceland unicycle-packing trip saw me climbing up over mountain ridges, passing through expansive rocky valleys with snow-patched mountains hovering in the distance, and ultimately ended at the second (and last) wild campsite of the trip, nestled up a remote river valley not too far from Landmannalaugar.

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 to filter posts:

I woke up that morning feeling better than I expected, considering that a) I had never uni-packed before in my life, b) I was pretty out of shape, and c) I had hiked/ridden over 30 kilometers the previous day. In hindsight, me feeling good was probably because I slept for about 9 hours, possibly even 10. But it’s easy to do that in the woods, you know. You get to your campsite, make dinner, and then you’re tired from a day of adventure so you lay down to rest…then it’s morning. (But this doesn’t always happen – sometimes you get a second wind and go jump in an Icelandic river instead.)

The first section of road I rode followed alongside the river upstream. Very quiet at 07:00 in the morning, so it was nice to have the place to myself. Well, myself and the sheep.

It took me awhile to get everything in order. As it always is when you first start an adventure, I couldn’t remember which things went where, or how the heck everything had fit into my pack in the first place, and of course once I packed everything I realized that my tire pressure was low and I needed my air pump. Which was, of course, in the bottom of the pack. So I had to dig it out. Frustrating. Eventually I succeeded in getting myself ready and I was finally able to start riding.

Sheep! On an island!
What my backpack looked like all packed up. Weighed about 20 kg at the start, including food and water. I’ve got a lot to learn in the ultralight lifestyle.

I had camped only a few kilometers “up trail” of Hόlaskjόl, a wilderness center/campsite, so very soon I was riding past the sign and pondering the smoke rising from the huts in the distance. Should I drop in to get water? Take a dump in their toilets? Sneak a bag of trash into their trash cans? After a few minutes of roaming my eyes over the all-too-quiet camp, I decided to push on. I had already wasted enough time that morning. It was time to freaking go places.

Not many people were stirring when I passed the Hólaskjól Highland Center at 07:10. (I thought it was 09:10, but that’s a different story.) I had originally debated stopping in to grab some water, use their toilets, etc., but I decided to push on instead.

This day was the second day that I rode on F208, one of Iceland’s many nicely groomed, remote gravel roads. My road-trail began by proceeding up the valley, very slightly uphill, until I topped out on a brief plateau that gave me a nice view of the river valley in which I had camped the night before. The road then crossed the plateau, wound through some really cool rock formations (lava is rad, man), and brought me to my first river crossing of the trip. The river defined the border between public land and a national park, and I know this because a) there was a freaking sign and b) someone had pitched a tent right on the border. It was difficult to tell on sight how deep the river would be, and I was pretty nervous to cross it since the last time I tried to cross a river (in Patagonia), I fell in and almost ruined my trip.

As it turns out, it wasn’t very deep.

Found some really fantastic lava-rock formations not to far outside of Hólaskjól. Sometimes I wish I had a pocket geologist who could tell me how all of this stuff had formed.

Just after the river, the road finally started to go up significantly. And this was probably the first time that the road became really not rideable – it was just too steep. (Not that I had been riding that much before – I was too out of shape.) But, I had all the time in the world and plenty of snacks, so I took my time hiking up to the top. And the view at the summit was definitely worth the climb.

Really cool to see how the sunlight highlighted the valley floor.
Took a moment at the top to try and get a triumphant photo of myself. It didn’t really work, so here is just a photo of me and my good ol’ unicycle, Beauty.

The next 10 (or so?) kilometers after that summit were just magical. I felt like I’d been transported to a completely different world – back to Alaska, in fact. Except the livid green moss made it clear I was still in Iceland. Not to mention the rented Icelandic SUVs trundling by every hour or so. Regardless, it was beautiful, and I kept having to stop to take pictures and videos. The weather even cooperated – I don’t think it rained at all that day.

More of that lime-green moss
This part of my journey really reminded me of some of the places we would camp when I was growing up.

 

Eventually, I wound my way out of the mountain ridges and dropped back into a valley trail. This is the view from the road just before it dropped back into a valley.

The trail eventually dropped down out of the mountains (to my chagrin) and followed a series of river valleys until it ultimately reached a very broad valley that boasted some nice views. I was on the fence about stopping for a longer lunchtime break, but when the wind kicked up and I found a nice sheltered spot to sit in the sun, take off my boots, relax a bit, and snarf some crackers and peanut butter, I was sold.

Lone rider.
View from my wind-protected, sunny lunch spot. I really, really didn’t want to leave.

As I was packing up, I met some bikepackers heading in the opposite direction who told me that Landmannalaugar was less than 10 kilometers away. Perfect! I thought. This verified that my location was, in fact, near where I expected, and I could then pick any spot in the next few kilometers for my wild campsite.

 

The closer I got to Landmannalaugar (this was maybe 10 km away), the more people I saw. Just after packing up from my lunch break, I saw a group of four bikepackers! One of the very few people I saw on that rode not in cars. You can just see them on the far side of the river here, putting their shoes one after wading through. A Jeep also wandered by.

Sure enough, a few kilometers later, I came across a river that I thought was the one I wanted to camp at. I wasn’t sure, to be honest, since it wasn’t labeled and the trail I thought would be there wasn’t anywhere in sight, but it seemed promising. More importantly, it looked like no one else had hiked next to that river in a while, so the chances that my solitude would be disturbed were small. So, I turned off the F208 and started walking upriver.

I finally covered enough mileage for Day 2 that it was time to say goodbye to the road and find a place to wild-camp. I consulted my (very rough) map, and figured that walking upstream of this creek would lead me to a nice campspot. So, it was time to bid the rather-crowded road farewell.
I followed these faint Jeep tracks through a river to my campsite. Pretty nice digs, actually.
There was some strong, buffeting winds coming from further up the creek that prompted me to pitch my tent here in the protection of this small ridge. I took a lot of time setting it up and trying to make sure everything was taut in case the winds increased even more.

To this day, I’m still not sure if I camped where I thought I wanted to camp. My Spot malfunctioned that day, so I have no idea for sure if I pitched my tent next to the correct river. I like to think so, but I don’t know for sure. Here is what I do know, though: it was a great campsite. I saw some faded 4×4 tracks that looked like they hadn’t been used in years, and my evening walkabout revealed a previously used campsite further upriver (I had stopped earlier to hide from the wind behind a ridge), but I pretty much had the place to myself. And I was fairly confident no one would join me – in order to get to my campsite, you had to walk in the river because it crossed from one valley wall to the other. Most hikers don’t really like to get their feet wet if there’s no good reason to do so, so I doubted any neighbors would be joining me. Definitely made me feel like I was in the “cool kids club”.

Snapped this on my evening walkabout
This amazing rock formation served as a guard for my campsite — it extended so far into the river that the only way to get further upstream was to get your boots wet. It’s part of the reason that I was fairly certain no one else would try to camp where I was, and it was also wonderful eye-candy.

After carefully setting up my tent, cooking a bucketload of pasta, and washing up/changing, I went on an evening walkabout of my new territory. And, as always, there were some “undiscovered treasures” to find just around the riverbend. 😉

The predominant colors of Iceland are black (stone), green (moss), and blue (water or sky). But every once in awhile, you find something else that adds a little extra to the visual spectrum. Take, for instance, these flowers, which I found next to my campsite in the evening. They’re tiny little things, maybe about half of my shoe, but beautiful nonetheless.
On my evening walkabout, I continued up the river a little further, away from the road, to see if I could find a lake that I thought was nearby. Well, I didn’t find the lake, but I did find this old campsite that people had used in the past. (See the collection of large rocks in a circular pattern below the snow patch?) Too bad I already spent an hour hauling rocks and setting up my tent at the other site.

I went to bed fairly early that night, excited about the successful day I had had, but even more excited for the next day, when I would get to Landmannalaugur and the hot springs that I had heard so much about. 😀

Just happy to be outdoors and camping again.

5 Replies to “Uni-Packing in Iceland: Day 2”

  1. Just got back from spending a week in Iceland and I took my 29″ Muni with me. Got go down some gravel roads and stuff, great place to go. Would recommend it 🙂

    1. What, that’s great! I remember in your comment on the other article you mentioned you wanted to go, so I’m stoked you got the chance. 😀

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