Saturday, August 13, 2011

Recovering in Reykjavik

Our cycling adventure over, Eiko, Sho, Saya and I spent a couple of days in Reykjavik before returning to NYC. We had planned to stay in a hotel, but accepted an offer from Gerda Sigmarsdottir and Hinrik Johannesson to sleep in their home. It was generous and risky to invite us, since we had only met briefly by the road in northern Iceland a few weeks earlier. But Gerda said that she could tell from the cycling blogs that we would all get along.

And she was right. Sho and Saya quickly bonded with Gerda and Hinrik's three children and spent the days jumping on a trampoline, playing soccer, wearing out the local playgrounds, visiting a petting zoo and one of Reykjavik's marvelous swimming pools. When I asked her what she had done at the playground, Saya responded with the poetry of childhood: "I climbed over a real rainbow and jumped off into the world!"

We adults stayed up late each night, sharing opinions about the joys and challenges of raising children, and various approaches to staying healthy and managing work stresses. Gerda and Hinrik told us about their plans to do some ambitious, multi-day family hikes as their kids get older. I loved their desire to seek out vitality and growth with their children, and appreciated one more gift from this ride across Iceland: new friends.

Sho and I hiked with Hinrik and his twelve-year old son Johannes up Thverfellshorn, a mountain near Reykjavik. As we climbed above the cloud line, Johannes and Sho magically became the super heroes "Cloud Walker" and "Mountain Tamer." Both boys were frightened by the steep slope near the summit, but bravely faced their fears with a little help from their dads. Sho tripped on the descent, sliding face first in the dirt (see pic). I ran to him, worried that he was hurt, but he jumped up laughing, "That was awesome!"

The next day, Gerda generously watched our kids so that Eiko and I could run errands. We retrieved our bike boxes and suitcases from Darri Michaelsson, who had stored them in his home during our ride. Thanks again for the help Darri!

I disassembled my bicycle and carefully packed it in a hard shell case. Placing the tires so that they overlapped one another and were protected under a foam pad, I removed the pedals, seat post and saddle, pulled out the handlebars, and set them with the frame on top of the foam. I paused before clamping shut the cover and appreciated the jumble of parts. The bike's sturdy chromoly frame still carried the grime of a couple thousand kilometers of Iceland's roads. The tire treads were worn, the chain dusty and in need of a good cleaning. The bicycle seemed to be slumbering, waiting for me to bring it back to life and set off on another family cycling adventure.

On the day we left for Keflavik Airport, Gerda and her family saw us off with hugs and promises to stay in touch, as we loaded four bike boxes and five suit cases into an oversized taxi minivan. Soon Reykjavik was receding in the distance, and we began to pass black rocky lava fields. I reminisced about our lunches on similar rocks while cycling in Iceland's vast wilds, and felt an emptiness that this adventure was over. Turning back to glance over my seat, I asked Sho if he was interested in doing another ride next summer. "Duh!" he said, as if it were obvious that he wanted to. "But this time I'm riding my own bike."

Saya chimed in, "And I get to ride on the trailer cycle!"

Eiko smiled at me, and I felt a twinge of excitement at the prospect of planning our next family adventure...

Here are some pics:

The two princesses, Saya (age 4) and Saga (age5):

Hiking up Thverfellshorn with Johannes and Sho:

Sho and Johannes amid the cotton grass:

Cloud line covering Reykjavik in the distance:

Hinrik and Johannes:

Hinrik at the top:

Me at the top:

Signing us in:

Sho after a face plant into the dirt:

Breakfast with the kids:

Eiko, Gerda, Saga and Saya:


Eiko and I with Hinrik and Gerda:

Our luggage: two bikes, a trailer cycle, bike trailer, five suitcases...

Magnus, friendly guy who drove us to the airport:

- An Iceland Bike Adventure post

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Day 46, Last Day of the Ride: Aug 10, 2011

This was it - the last day of our ride! We slept in a guest house by the sea in the small village of Hellnar, squeezed next to one another in a bunk bed. Eiko and Saya took the top bunk, while Sho and I snuggled below. I awoke at 4:30 am, stirred perhaps by a desire to prolong the final day of our adventure, and snuck quietly outside. The windless pre-dawn sky glowed orange and gray over a range of coastal sea cliffs. Nesting gulls called out from the cliffs to my left, their staccato exclamations echoing off the rocks and harmonizing with the soft lapping of ocean waves far below. Dozens of arctic terns cried out from the field to my right, performing early morning aerial stunts while hunting for breakfast.

A single star shone brightly over the never-ending sea's dark waters. It was the first star I had seen since coming to Iceland on June 21, the summer solstice. Clouds and a sun that almost never set had obscured the constellations throughout our travels, and I wondered how different my experience of Iceland's big skies would be if I came back during the winter's nearly perpetual nights.

As I stared out over the waters, absorbed into the peaceful early morning, I felt the movement of time. Time is both friend and foe, the life-giving epitome of nature's cruel insouciance, and I wondered how much of it I have left. Spending 46 days on a charity ride through Iceland with my family was not a bad use of it, I decided. And I felt a twinge of excitement at the thought of dreaming up more adventures to explore and cherish and share with my children this remarkable planet we live on.

Once everyone was up, we ate breakfast and cycled 60 km (40 miles) from Hellnar to Vegamot on the southern coast of the Snaefellsnes peninsula. Snaefellsjokull glacier receded behind us, as we cruised through rough lava fields and farm land on another gorgeous summer day. We paused for lunch at a cabin by a beautiful mountain lake. By mid-afternoon, we reached the N1 gas station in Vegamot, where we would take a bus the rest of the way to Reykjavik. Originally, I had planned to cycle back to Iceland's capitol, but we ran out of time before our scheduled return to NYC, and chose to ride around Snaefellsnes peninsula instead of fighting traffic on the Ring Road.

Enjoying another of many examples of Icelandic generosity, we spent the night in Reykjavik in the home of Gerda Sigmarsdottir and Hinrik Sigurdur Johannesson. They heard about our ride and offered us a place to stay before we fly back home. Sho and Saya loved the opportunity to play with kids their own age and disappeared into rooms filled with toys, while Eiko and I chatted late into the night with our wonderful hosts.

Here are some pics:

Sunrise in Hellnar at 4:30 am:

Pic from the road:

You can see the edge of the lava flow:

Our lunch spot:

The end of the ride:

- An Iceland Bike Adventure post

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Day 45: Aug 9, 2011

Our ride through Iceland is almost over. We need to return to Reykjavik by tomorrow night and decided to slow down and enjoy our penultimate ride.

We rode 45 km (30 miles) from Olafsvik to Hellnar, appreciating the clear sunny day as we cycled around the base of Snaefellsjokull glacier. We stopped frequently to take pictures and explore the lava fields and beaches at the western end of Snaefellsnes peninsula. The sea shimmered under the sun's rays, glistening ripples massaging the surface of the endless blue. At one point, Eiko laid down beside the road, staring up into the sky. "I can only see blue," she mused with a smile. Saya snuggled up next to her giggling.

We saw fields covered with hundreds of nesting arctic terns, watched whooping swans and eiders paddle easily over azure lakes, and paused to experience the calming silence at the foot of the glacier. Sho and Saya picked tiny blue crow berries to snack on and studied pock-marked volcanic rocks that were lighter than they looked. It was a fitting bookend to our ride.

Here are some pics:

Snaefellsjokull glacier:

Arctic terns. From a distance, I thought they were rocks:

The glacier:

Our lunch spot by a windy sea:

Eiko staring at the sky:

Sho and Saya picking crow berries:

View from the village of Hellnar:

Church in Hellnar:

- An Iceland Bike Adventure post

Monday, August 8, 2011

Day 44: Aug 8, 2011

We cycled 65 km (40 miles) today from Stykkisholmur to Olafsvik on the gorgeous Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Warmed by the sun shining overhead in a nearly cloudless sky, we rode along the base of a mountain chain to one side and a yawning, glistening blue sea on the other. In the distance to our right, over miles of ocean, I could make out the towering bird cliffs of Latrabjarg. We stopped frequently to capture photos of the stunning landscape and ate lunch on a sprawling moss-covered lava field.

We passed hundreds of ducks and gulls along the shore and regularly encountered docile sheep nibbling sweet grass on the road side. When we rode by a group of noisy arctic terns, Saya asked warily if they were going to attack us for bothering their babies. They threw a few obscenities our way, but we made it by the aggressive birds unscathed.

As we worked our way over a steep climb, Snaefellsjokull Glacier suddenly appeared in the distance directly ahead of us. It's majestic, snow-covered volcanic shape reminded me of Mt. Rainier in Washington State, where Sho was born. Eiko thought it looked somewhat like Mt. Fuji in Japan. We pulled over to the side of the road to take pictures. Upon seeing the glacier, Sho let out an appreciative, "Whoa!"

"Remember this scene," I counseled, draping an arm across his shoulders. "The glacier is receding about four meters a year now and will likely disappear completely in your lifetime." I imagined him returning here as an old man, recalling his childhood bike adventure in Iceland, and mourning quietly at the sight of a looming mass of black rock.

Or maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps human beings will come to terms with the reality of the Keeling Curve's data on the rapidly rising amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and reverse the harmful changes we are making to the global climate. It will likely require a new generation of young people willing to challenge the status quo. Perhaps my children will hear that call...

We made it to Olafsvik in time to get in an evening swim at the local pool, where Saya showed off her "I swear I'm not drowning" dolphin swim technique, and Sho crushed me in a game of water tag.

Here are some pics:

Saya snuggled up in her trailer:

On the road:

Lunch in a lava field:

Looking out toward Latrabjarg:

Snaefellsjokull Glacier:

- An Iceland Bike Adventure post

Day 43: Aug 7, 2011

I awoke just after 6 am inside the tent to Flatey Island's peaceful sounds. Arctic terns called out nearby as they hovered and dove into the sea for breakfast. A few yards away, the ocean's rippling waves made gentle lapping sounds as they washed back and forth over the rocks An intermittent breeze sent a shudder through the tent, the nylon undulating and bowing around me.

Eiko, Sho, Saya and I huddled close under sleeping blankets on thin pads, sweatshirts rolled up under our heads as make-shift pillows. It was a tight fit in the three-person tent, but we had been grateful for one another's body heat in the cold night. I sat up cross-legged, pulled out my journal and wrote for a while. Saya softly snored and sucked on her fingers next to me. What a wonderful way to start the day.

After everyone was up, we hiked down a short gravel road to eat breakfast at the island's one hotel. We filled up at a buffet of sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, muesli, bread, apple cake, ham, etc. We then explored the island, passing by farms, summer homes and a quaint church with an impressive mural covering the ceiling and walls. The painting was made in the 1960's in exchange for free accommodation by Baltasar Samper, a Catalan artist. He localized the image by including puffins and an image behind the altar of Christ wearing an Icelandic wool sweater while preaching to two sheep farmers. As we made our way through a field back to our tent, we passed too close to some arctic tern nests and were reprimanded by the protective parents. Saya did not like the experience and ran crying into my arms as a screaming bird swooped down within an inch of her head.

We took the afternoon ferry to Stykkisholmur, a town on the northern coast of the beautiful Snaefellsnes Peninsula. As we waited for the ferry at the dock, a tractor rolled up carrying a group of smiling kids in its scoop. "Now that's a good way to travel," Sho commented. The grandfather behind the wheel decided to have some fun and rolled to the edge of the dock so that the kids were dangling precariously over the water. They screamed in excitement, and yelled back at their chuckling grandfather not to drop them in. While Eiko and Saya dug in the dirt with sticks, Sho and I joined other kids at the seaside, hopping from rock to rock and exploring. I thought, "This is what childhood is all about."

Once the ferry arrived, we rolled our bicycles next to the line of vehicles in the broad car deck. I placed the bikes in an open spot near the front of the boat, not realizing that ocean water would splash in and soak them during the journey. Good thing we have water resistant panniers...

Once in Stykkisholmur, we visited a volcano museum, where we enjoyed a variety of volcano art and learned about the different types of rock spewed out by Iceland's many volcanoes. Sho and Saya particularly liked watching footage of some recent eruptions. We ended the afternoon at the local swimming pool and playground, where Sho and I raced one another on an obstacle course. We studder stepped through tires, swung across monkey bars, climbed up and down a rope ladder, army crawled under a long net, carried rock-filled buckets, etc. Man, he's getting fast!

Here are some pics:

Saya by the sea on Flatey Island:

Sho pretending to take a dive into the sea:

Farm house with grass roof to keep out the wind:

Part of the ceiling mural in the church on Flatey:

The best way for kids to travel:

- An Iceland Bike Adventure post