More Staycationing

The room felt perfect when I woke up. Small and cozy. I pulled up the windowshade and the walls glowed. Outside I could see a patch of grass and the churning ocean beyond. The world was reduced to this little place. Quiet, simple, timeless.

Yesterday’s ride had been long and a bit chilly, though not back-breaking. I felt like it was time to sit around for a day and catch up with work and photos. I wasn’t really paying attention to the length of the route versus the days I had left to ride it — a deliberate choice to let my mind wander as far as possible outside any fixed routine.

This spare little room was somehow one of the best of the trip so far.

I mulled this over as I got dressed and tidied up the room. Forgetting the date felt like the sign of a real bike tour. Better yet, forgetting the day of the week! I wondered if I could write up a list of “signs it’s a real bike tour”…

Signs you’re on a real bike tour (a rough draft)

  1. You forget the date.
  2. You forget what day of the week it is.
  3. Most of the time, you don’t even notice the time — just how high the sun is.
  4. You start mentally going through every piece of gear you have, wondering what else you can leave behind or mail home to reduce your burden.
  5. You lose count of the number of times drivers give you a grinning thumbs-up gesture.
  6. You start having conversations – out loud – with animals you encounter along the way.
  7. You wonder how much weight you’ve lost. (You know you’ve lost some, but have no access to a scale.)

That wasn’t bad for a first try. Feeling inspired, I set up the laptop in the common area and did some more writing.

Eventually I got around to some Q&A from interested friends:

How does Iceland compare to Alaska?
Iceland is like a browner, flatter version of Alaska with different lore and much higher prices!

Everything is closer together in Iceland. The flowers are just as pretty but the mountains are less majestic, and there are no sprawling forests. On the other hand there are more dramatic waterfalls in Iceland, and most of the cool attractions are conveniently close to a road.

There is zero danger from wild animals in Iceland. I’ve noticed that sometimes I get pestered by little clouds of flies, but in Alaska there were clouds of super-aggressive mosquitoes. I’ll take the flies instead! Frankly, I’d say Iceland is like Alaska in “beginner’s mode”. Visit Iceland! If you love it, consider Alaska next!

What’s it like cycling on the main road?
You need to be pretty experienced, and tolerant of risk.

In a number of places, the main road around Iceland is the only connection between one area and another, so if you’re making a continuous trip you will be forced onto it eventually. The farther you get from the capital city the less intense the traffic gets, but it will always be difficult because the cars are traveling at freeway speeds, and there is no shoulder.

That means having your wits about you at all times, having a rear-view mirror and using it intelligently, and being willing to just exit the pavement completely and stop in the gravel by the roadside when the situation calls for it. And unless you’re already used to this, it will be scary.

On the other hand, the traffic is aware of cyclists and accepting of their presence. People will slow down and move well into the opposite lane whenever they can. Also, you will find other cyclists out there on the road with you, and that’s a comforting sight, because a driver that sees one cyclist will be ready for the next one.

As soon as you leave the ring road, the traffic drops by 2/3 at least, and the speed drops as well.

Later on in the day I tried a little cooking on the electric stove in the common area. The simplest thing possible: Instant noodles. I also had a bag of dehydrated vegetables that I’d optimistically bought from a supermarket days earlier, and I thought, “hey I bet I can spruce this up!” So I poured the whole thing into the pot. “Just like adding fresh vegetables to soup at home!”

Nope. It was like adding a big pile of sawdust. A couple of bites and I knew the meal was ruined, but I kept eating it for a while anyway because I was really hungry. Of course that just made me feel sick. “Okay; lesson learned!” I said as I scraped the pot into the trash. “Dehydrated vegetables are for the truly desperate.”

Then I bought a piece of pie — the most nutritious snack they had for sale.

The rest of the day seemed to pass too quickly. The little bedroom was so quiet and simple, and it made the outside world feel so cold and treacherous and full of distraction. I would have been happy to stay there for a month, just writing and resting, feeling at peace.

But the road was calling, and my time was limited. And one cannot survive on ramen and pie.

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