It is time for a day off

I had already decided yesterday that the epic adventure of the wind and rain called for a day off to recuperate. Especially since that adventure had already eaten most of the next day anyway. When I woke up it was 1:30 in the afternoon.

A week earlier I had decided to try and photograph every place where I set up my tent, to help me remember how each day of the trip started. Most of the time I’ve been remembering this only after I’ve packed up the campsite and am preparing to ride away. So here’s what I saw after packing up today:

I set up next to this bush. The only safe place from the wind in the entire site.

The view of the campground. I'm the only person here.

It was well weird being the only person in a campground.

With everything ready for transport, I boarded the bike and rode directly into town and up to a hotel, where I checked in for the day. Then I pulled all my gear off the bike and spread it around the room, and cranked the radiator up as far as it would go. The intense rain from yesterday had soaked everything. If I was going to pay nearly 200 bucks to stay here for a night, I was going to take full advantage of it.

This is what you do when you get to a fancy hotel and everything you own is wet.

With that taken care of, I walked out to a nearby restaurant and ordered a seafood salad and a big chunk of oven-baked cod. Both tasted fantastic, and I ate them slowly as I sorted photos and made notes, then checked in with my workmates. I could tell my body needed rest and repair, and plenty of nutrition for both. I also spent a while answering more questions about the trip.

How do you feel about Iceland now? Did you have any expectations, or just go in with a blank slate?
It’s honestly a little hard to remember what I was expecting. The memory has been squished by the experience of the country:

I was expecting to have to camp nearly all the time, and stealth camp some of the time as well — or at least knock on doors and ask for permission to camp on someone’s land. Perhaps that would have been the case 15 or 20 years ago but apparently the country has changed a lot.

I was expecting to see a lot more snow, and a lot more meltwater, even at this time of year. I was definitely expecting it to be much colder, much more often. Maybe I’ll still encounter some real cold in the higher elevations when I head inland some more, but so far it has been almost disappointingly moderate. Like autumn in San Francisco.

I was expecting the country to feel even smaller than it actually is — and it’s pretty small. On the ground it feels big. The days have turned into weeks, and I’m still geographically only halfway across it.

I was expecting more of the roads to have wide shoulders, instead of almost no shoulder, which is the norm here. On the other hand I was expecting to have to negotiate gravel roads much more often. If I added up all the segments of gravel road I’ve covered it’s still probably under ten miles.

I am impressed by the availability of electronic payment systems, pleased by the ready availability of high quality information about services and road conditions, and in general finding the tour around the country to be much more first-world and accessible than I was expecting.

And how are you doing … emotionally?
That’s a much harder question to answer. I’d like to say I’m feeling wonderful, all the time. But in truth it’s been a mixed bag because the events leading up to this trip have given me a lot of emotional work to do. The good news is, I feel like it’s actually getting done.

This long range tour thing is something I’ve definitely missed. Doing a tour in this place, with equipment that I’ve been refining for such a long time, is a dream. I wake up each day feeling glad I’m out here, and amazed that nothing’s gone seriously wrong yet, despite my risk-taking.

But at the same time I keep remembering that I don’t have anything else going on in my life except for this trip. Back home – if that’s even the word for it right now – I have a cat, a job, and a stack of possessions small enough to fit in a closet. I don’t even have a bed, or an actual place to live since I rented out both units of my duplex. And that’s it.

When I was still in my previous relationship and feeling low all the time, I kept nagging myself internally with a question: “The real measure of ambition is sacrifice,” I said. “How much would I give up to go on this trip? If my partner doesn’t want to come with me, would I give up my romantic life and go anyway?”

Well, the relationship ended before I could make that decision. But now, here I am in the middle of nowhere with no romantic prospects, cautiously going through my regrets and making peace with them in an unhurried way, and re-examining my priorities, and I’m still doing just fine. And that’s great, but it also sort of worries me.

I’m wondering, what does that choice say about me, and about my future? Some days out here I float the idea of locking the bike in a storage unit and flying home to go on some dates and jumpstart my romantic life. Other days I feel like that is the absolute last thing I’d ever want to do, because I am truly enjoying this adventure and flying home would bring it to a screeching halt. And if I do head home, will I just want to be back out here again in a few months? Regardless of who I’m with, or whether I’m with anyone?

I can’t see that far into the future right now. But I feel blessed in that I don’t have to. Right now each day brings healthy exercise, fun little discoveries, good food, and all the time I could ever want to think and write. Plus I can talk with my friends and family any time, thanks to the iPhone. I can just let this roll forward into the next day, and the day after that, as long as I put in some work hours and stay on schedule to reach my work conference after crossing Iceland. And that’s what I want to do.

So I guess, if anyone asks, tell them: I feel fine.

Now give me an easier question, please…

You’ve mentioned peeing by the roadside. What if you’re not near an town and you have to poop? What do you do?
A poop question! Much easier. I have pooped in the middle of bike tours before. You need two sealable bags and a big wad of toilet paper, and you basically poop on half the toilet paper and then clean up with the other half, then put everything inside both bags and dispose of it when you get to civilization. Turn one bag inside out and put your hand inside it to use as a glove, like dog owners do.

Hikers generally don’t have the fortitude to pack out their poops, but it’s easier for a cycle tourist, and since a cyclist is more likely to be close to civilization on a road, it matters more. The land on either side of a road is likely to be somebody’s residence or farm.

When you camp is it always near a town?
On this trip, when I camp it is always in a campsite. That’s the law in Iceland, more or less. There are exceptions but I haven’t taken them.

Official campsites are usually on the outskirts of a town, or near a restaurant or shop along a highway.  Some are run by local government, some by private citizens. I’ve been camping about 3/4 of the time.

Relative to other ways of spending a night, camping is DIRT CHEAP in Iceland. You’ll pay over a hundred bucks for a hotel room, at least 80 for a room in an AirBnB, and around 50 for a shared bunk in a hostel — but a campsite with hot running water and bathrooms will cost about twelve bucks a night.

On other trips I have stealth-camped, or stayed in hotels all the way.

Okay, that was enough questions. It was 8:30pm and the restaurant was shutting down around me.

Next order of business: A hot shower, during which I applied soap to both my of long-sleeved shirts and all of my underwear, then added them back to the drying pile. Another Iceland-style laundry day.

And then, I was done. How done was I?

  1. Just done.
  2. Like, so done.
  3. Done.
  4. Totally completely done.

Back to bed!

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