Reykjavík and Unimogs


The Iceland Expedition Stage 1 {Reykjavík and Unimogs}

Its been several months since I returned exhausted, muddy and smiling from the land of ice and fire.

So…Are we sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin….

Remi and I arrived in Iceland on the 5th of June to meet our Icelandic contact, the Yeos. Although we had never met we were warmly welcomed with true Icelandic hospitality. No sooner had Richard and his two young boys finished giving us the tour of “the big city” was I contently drinking tea in their warm living room.

Full to bursting point with delicious roast lamb Remi and I and enjoyed tales of Inga and Richard’s past adventures until long after the sun should have faded. It was indeed late on our first night, when under the midnight sun Remi and I wearily stumbled to our bunks. Our beds were set in cabin of what can only be describable as Iceland’s answer to the mobile home.

A small heater was delicately wafting silky waves of warmth through the bitter morning air, it shimmered in the golden light of the small hours. I gazed intently to the pastel skys behind cobwebbed windows bolted to the rusting doors of Richard’s faithful Unimog.

Dazzled in untimely sunshine I was surprised upon checking my watch to see it was only 4am. Surprisingly over the night neither elf nor troll had crept upon our bunk, there had been no volcanic apocalypse nor arctic storm to engulf us in our sleep. The “night” had been for lack of a better word, blissfully comfortable.

And so began the first full day in Iceland. A gentle stroll down a quiet riverside path later, Remi and I found myself bumbling around the bright and vibrant town of Reykjavik. Between intermittent snow showers I enjoyed the cold crisp air, air so cold that even the trees wore jumpers. A recent movement of guerrilla knitters whom it seems are too cool for spray paint had taken to graffiti by needle and thread. I even spotted an occasional wooly bike, spokes and all.

Months of planning behind a desk (probably when I should have been revising for exams) had prepared both Remi and I for a tedious day of organisation. Last minute shopping, a meeting with ICESAR (Icelandic Search and Rescue) and ration parcels required immediate attention.

Somehow, within a single afternoon Remi and I managed to contact ICESAR, locate, purchase and pack the remainder of the food rations, and with help from Richard deliver six cardboard/duct-tape frankenboxes to the PostIS and BSI bus terminals.

It was in unexpectedly good time and spirit that we had organised all the support drops to be delivered. They were now destined to scatter across Iceland’s barren interior with deliveries to Landmannalaugar, Askja and Myvatn. That evening I couldn’t help  wondering to myself, “what if  the rest of our journey is so easy?”  The hike would be a simple walk in the park, all be it a large one.

This was not to be the case, even before leaving the Yeos Iceland upped the game. Unbeknown until our arrival, the already famously harsh Icelandic climate was experiencing its coldest June for 59 years.

Moments before sending our food rations Richard had asked “are you absolutely sure you don’t want to wait a month?”

But our minds were set and with a gun-hoe attitude of “No worries an extra jacket will do, we’ll be fine” we made the choice to continue as planned.

It was with with youthful naivety that we chose to ignore the chances of delayed glacial melt and remaining permafrost leaving an endlessly hard ashen bog.

In hindsight we perhaps should have listened to the advice given. Just a few days into our route we encountered the first of many rivers to come. A river which in June normally represented a small stream but this year remained a colossal raging torrent. The power of the water immense volume rendered the valley ahead uncrossable even by jeep.

Spurred by snowmelt to reconsider Richard’s words of wisdom we returned to the road having learned some important lessons in expedition planning.

Lesson 1: Listen to the Locals – especially if they are very experienced in the area and conditions

Lesson 2: Do not be afraid to re-arrange intended plans to better suit to the conditions.

Lesson 3: Never have a plan B, it makes the plan seem less exiting/desirable. Instead simply make a Second Plan A.

With a refreshed plan to allow the melt water to subsite until july before staging a second attempt at the crossing, we turned our concentration on a new goal.

The circumnavigation of Iceland’s west-fjords and ring road by hitch hike.

The following series of blogs will document the secondary attempt at Crossing Iceland

This will be concluded with a blog on the adventures of Icelandic Hitch-hiking

“Stay tuned folks” _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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~ by Will Copestake on January 20, 2012.

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