The last day of riding

I could see on the map that most of my day would be spent wiggling up the side of a gigantic hill, and I wasn’t in a hurry to get started.

Now that's adorable!

There was a retro-looking diner on the edge of town, so I stopped there and ate two meals at the same time. It’s that bottomless bike tour stomach thing. Even with two meals packed away I decided to get a chocolate shake afterwards.

The bathroom had a giant mural on the walls showing a street corner in San Francisco. It didn’t make me feel homesick — just vaguely disoriented. “What’s so interesting about San Francisco?” I thought.

Mint chip shake. I DESERVE THIS.

Icelandic bathroom with a mural depicting San Francisco. Weird.

I lingered in the restaurant for about an hour, writing and going through photos. I knew I was stalling, not wanting to have all the Iceland riding days behind me and none of them ahead. That would be a weird feeling. If I waited too long I’d be riding in the dark for hours, though, and that wouldn’t do.

20 minutes of casual riding brought me to the beginning of the hill, and the end of my milkshake.

This is the hillside where I will be pedaling for the next five hours.

Up, and up, and up it goes. This is where we separate the casual – but sane – bike tourists from the truly obsessed and probably crazy ones. You gotta be crazy to spend five hours going up a hill that everyone around you is clearing in about 10 minutes. Life is short, right?

About halfway up now...

So why do I do this? Why not just chuck the bike on a shuttle?

Mainly it’s that I’m stubborn. But I’m also combining a bunch of things into this experience that ultra-modern technology has made available; things that people will happily spend entire days doing without a bike involved:

  • Talking, texting, and sharing photos with friends and family.
  • Listening to one of a massive collection of audiobooks, radio shows, and podcasts.
  • Dictating my thoughts and observations into notes for later.
  • Looking at maps, and making future plans: Buying tickets, booking hotels, seeing what’s around.
  • Singing loudly along to music using my little handlebar speakers!

Also, I participate in code reviews and discussions in the work chat room, so I even contribute a little to my job while I’m pedaling.

How’s this for an office?

The tiny river in the foreground seems to join with the highway in the distance.

That list also makes another point: The overall experience I am having is thoroughly modern. I can’t lay any claim to being more like some “traditional” method of travel or way of seeing the world. My ancestors did not have maps, roads, money, services along the way, and probably didn’t have the energy to spare for self-indulgent exploration after throwing their bodies into tough agrarian chores all day. I’ve made this point before, but it bears repeating: I am living like royalty out here on my bike, and I hope that it serves at least as a kind of revenge for all the hardship my ancestors bore, fleeing from oppressive tyrants and governments.

Even though I’m crazy, it’s good to be me.

The closer I got to the top of the hill, the more aggressive the wind became, and as I reached the plateau it suddenly doubled in strength.

(Beware: The wind noise is very loud in the following videos.)

“Last day of biking in Iceland. 45 mile-an-hour winds. 2500 feet up. Country’s tying to kill me. Been trying the whole time. This is nothin’! Hah! I can take it! Let’s go!”

Not kidding about the wind. Here’s a short video of my loaded bike just kickstanded by the side of the road. All that dancing around you see is the wind battering it.

I covered the next few miles very slowly and patiently, listening to more old episodes of Dead Ringers. It’s obvious to me now that I’m going to associate this radio show with the experience of Iceland, and the connection makes no sense at all. Years from now I’ll be in the middle of some long drive – or a commute to work – and the podcast player will shuffle into an episode of Dead Ringers, and as the bombastic theme song plays I’ll suddenly picture the rocky coast and mossy hills of Iceland, and feel the cold wind on my face.

Likewise if I ever return to Iceland, I’ll climb to the top of some hill and behold a majestic panorama of the forbidding frozen coastline, and in my head I’ll hear a British voice actor doing a really awful imitation of Robert De Niro getting into a fight with Jack Nicholson.

Who knows what bizarre connections will unfold in the future!

For today, it was time to look at a bizarre art installation:

Something odd by the roadside.
Aha, it's art.
I gotta admit, I just do not know what statement this piece is making.
Televisions on cement blocks. Why?
I wouldn't want this thing rusting into the water supply. But hey, can't argue with art...?
Maybe the idea is that the televisions will erode as the years pass?
It's a coincidence that this looks like the letter A, but it gives me an idea for a really cool art installation that's only visible after a rainstorm at sunset...

As if the art installation wasn’t weird enough, about a quarter mile later on I found my first example of e-waste in Iceland:

I think someone went all Office Space on a printer out here in the middle of nowhere...

Then the road turned into a causeway, bisecting a high-altitude lake. The low late-evening sun washed the hills and the water into deep shades of blue.

Night is actually falling, now that summer is over.

As I stopped for a selfie, I noticed a stream feeding into the lake.

Enjoying my fancy "top of the mountain" view.

Fresh snowmelt.

A little ways up the stream there was an adorable island:

The tiny island of flowers is in the top ten for "cutest natural land formation I've ever seen".

It was late and getting colder, but there was no way I was gonna just bike on past that. Time to see this enchanting bit of terrain up close.

It's so mystical!

Don't you want to just lay down in those flowers?

I could not help feeling like an invisible group of fairies was dancing around on that island, like some Nordic legend come to life. If only I had sprite-vision glasses!

Nils Blommér (1816–1853) Swedish painter Oil on canvas National Museum, Sweden:

I didn’t have the right footgear for wading out to the island, and I didn’t have time to strip down and then dry off afterwards, so I had to content myself with photos and wistful gazing.

Alas, the water was a bit to deep to just wade across...

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