A day off to wrap up

The sound of people and cars outside in the street was unfamiliar after so many days in the wilderness. I woke up early, took an awkward rinse in the weird, fragile-looking shower, and packed my gear onto the bike in touring configuration for the last time. Tomorrow I would be rearranging things for travel on the ferry boat: I’d separate my sleeping gear and laptop into a backpack, and the rest would be stowed on the bicycle in a locked cargo area with a bunch of parked cars.

Loading everything up in touring mode one final time.

I rode around town for a while, enjoying the fact that I had no destination or budget of miles to ride today.

Welcome to Seydisfjordur. No fishing on the bridge!

Eventually I settled in a restaurant next to the one I’d visited the other night. A cycle tourist was there, all fresh-looking and clean because he had just rolled off the ferry boat and was preparing to head East, retracing my steps.

Justin is heading out on the Iceland portion of his seven-month tour. Go go go!

Justin is built for speed, and his gear weighs about half mine. He’ll rocket up that scary mountainside and arrive in Egilsstaðer before dinner! I’m glad I got some touring done in my early 30’s so I could experience it when I still had that level of energy. Now I’m slow and cautious and thoughtful. And I like fish and chips way more than I should!

With some time to spare, I answered some thoughtful questions from friends and family.

Question:
How do you feel now that the Iceland crossing is done?
Answer:
I’m feeling proud, accomplished, validated, and more than a little surprised.

Proud and accomplished because of the miles I’ve covered, and the fact that I did it as I intended:  Without any bus, train, or other wheeled transport, in an unbroken line, with the exception of the boat rides.

Validated, and definitely surprised, because the equipment and the bike worked so well.  I was over-prepared, and sent some cooking equipment and electronic toys home midway through, but I never felt like I was lacking for a piece of gear.

For example, the combination of waterproof socks, gore-tex pants and jacket, rain hat, wool sweater, wool cap, sweats, hiking socks, and sandals let me add layers one at a time as the day got colder, all the way up to the coldest day I experienced. More than once I remember being confused by the sensations I was feeling, because I was standing next to the bike while 30+ mile-per-hour wind was slapping freezing rain into my body, and I felt perfectly warm and dry.

I’m also feeling a strange ambivalence about returning to the US, and getting back to work.  I like my job: The people are fantastic and the work is challenging. But on the other hand, I’ve validated this set of hardware, and I’m way closer to “touring shape” than I was when I started, and I feel like I’ve only barely begun to see all the amazing things out in the world through this mode of transport.  The trip feels just long enough – or perhaps almost long enough – to complete a transformation, from my rooted self to my compact and traveling adventure self.  And now that transformation will have to run in reverse. That’s a bit disappointing.

Still, there are creature comforts I miss about Oakland.  The weather.  The easy access to amazing food of almost every kind, with multiple options of each.  The cornucopia of cultural experiences, always renewing and changing.  The high concentration of computer geeks.  I can set up a chair in the park and read, and watch the sun creep down the cool granite of the monuments.  I can unfold the laptop in a coffee shop — one of a rotating list of lovely places to think and write, where the staff know me by name.

I can hold my cat.

There are things I am definitely going to miss, and eventually pine for, about touring as well.  The fact that I can get aerobic exercise for hours every day in an ever-changing and sometimes challenging and breathtaking environment.  The direct exposure to smells and fresh wind and weather and living things.  The excited discussions with fellow travelers.  The firehose onslaught of new thoughts, triggered by random things on the road, in endless combination.

And probably most of all, how sometimes during the day – and almost always during the night – I can stop the bike at any random time, and there I am: Outside, in a quiet open space in the middle of nowhere.

So yeah, it’s complicated. But for now, in the careful balance of things, home is my destination of choice.

Question:
Do you feel like you’ve had enough time in Iceland?
Answer:
Part of me will never feel like I’ve had enough time in Iceland. I can imagine myself living an entire life in Iceland, roaming over the hills, and resting among my fellow quiet introverts.

There’s always less time than we want for journeys like this. It would have been amazing to cross the center of Iceland like I was planning, but I’d need another month to do it right. I could have easily dropped another two weeks into the terrain I covered in the last 4 days, and still not felt like it was enough — like I was slowing down enough. Actually, what would it take, to go slow enough? Would I have to abandon the bike and walk? How about if I crawled across the landscape, inspecting each rock in detail, and pausing every five minutes to meditate and listen to the wind? I could cross Iceland that way in a mere five years. Would that be slow enough? Bah.

I looked back over my GPS recordings and recreated something close to the equivalent with Google Maps:

The route I ended up riding, after making some on-the-fly changes.

750 miles is a pretty epic ride, especially with so many hills. I can be happy with that.

I sorted photos and made notes, and ate an early dinner in the pub. Then I went tootling around on my bike for a while.

This quaint rainbow road leads from the main restaurant in town to the door of the church.

I'm going to assume without checking that this sculpture is the same shape as the fjord seen from above.

Is this a punk band? Name like that, it should be.

Whatever's in here, it's bound to be wacky.

After that I went to the hostel, where I would be spending my final night on Icelandic shores. While I was checking in, a kitty colonized my bike.

Apparently someone has taken my seat.

Way too cute to move.

I shall name her Brunhilde!

The welcoming committee outside the hostel.

After hanging out with the fuzzy welcoming committee for a while longer, I went browsing around the building. It had a huge kitchen with a dozen people mingling in it. Several meals were in progress on the stove and countertop. I sat down for a while and checked in with work, enjoying the indirect presence of people and the indirect sunlight.

The Lagarfljót wyrm!!

The first floor of the hostel. Does it seem like a converted hospital? That's because it is.

Old stairs, typically narrow.

In spite of all my traveling, I’d never stayed in a hostel before. This would be my first experience with one. As I scoped out the rooms I felt like the lack of privacy was going to make me nervous. How could I protect all my gear? But then I remembered: I’m in Iceland. A local stealing so much as a candy bar would probably feel so ashamed that she’d return and leave some money where she took it from.

Upstairs in the hostel.

I picked the bed by the open window. With my earplugs and sleep mask it was comfortable.

Standing around in the room, looking at all the beds, the fact that I was in a way-station for tourists returned to me, and I decided to use a little more caution. The clerk at the desk downstairs told me about a janitorial closet down in the basement that was nicely concealed, so I stripped all my bags off my bike and stacked them down there before setting up my bed.

The Icelandic sunlight hours were still very long. The other people in the room were probably glad that I’d taken the bed by the window, but I had earplugs and a sleep mask. I applied them and slowly drifted off. The final night in this country would pass without fanfare, and that was fine.

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