Saturday, July 30, 2011

Day 35: July 30, 2011

We cycled an easy 40 km today along the west fjords coast from Broddanes to Holmavik, enjoying gorgeous blue skies and inspiring ocean views. We encountered more arctic terns, often in groups of ten or more, calling out opinionated throaty squawks at us as they hovered and dove and swooped overhead. Saya picked up on my adoration of these magnificent birds and stated, "When I was three, I loved Lamby (her stuffed animal), but now I love horses and arctic terns."

We ate lunch at a roadside picnic table and looked forward to grocery shopping in Holmavik. The last time we had a chance to buy food was fives meals prior, and our supplies were running thin.

As we neared Holmavik, we passed by a group of seals lounging offshore and took time to appreciate the calm creatures. One slipped into the water and kept an eye on us with just his head above water, but the others were unconcerned by our presence and kept napping.

Once in town, we secured a room at a hostel and visited the Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft. When the manager there learned about our charity tide, he generously let us tour the museum for free. The displays were quirky and bizarre, reflecting the superstition and lore of early settlers in Iceland. We all found it fascinating. Afterward, I spoke with the kind manager, who has lived in the area for decades. He acknowledged the downsides of superstition, but said that belief in creatures people cannot see has served to protect some of the wilderness in Iceland. The government has even changed the planned route of some roads based on concerns from locals who said the route passed over areas inhabited by magical beings. Still, he said, one of the key reasons that Iceland remains such a wild and beautiful country is it's small population. "Add 800,000 people here, and you'll see the place trashed just like so many other parts of the planet."

I asked him about garbage we saw along the shore, mixed in with bleached driftwood, something we had not seen in the east fjords. He explained that the trash comes from trawlers dumping waste overboard while out at sea. "It's actually better now than it used to be." And he said that the sea level in this particular fjord has risen markedly over the past 25 years. He speculated that it was the result of melting glaciers and lamented the disregard for the environment that has become so pervasive in our modern, materialistic societies.

We ended the day at the local pool, Sho, Saya and Arisa horsing around in the large pool, while Eiko and I lounged in a hot tub hoping to rejuvenate our weary legs for tomorrow's ride.

Here are some pics:

Arctic tern hovering overhead:

In local myth, these two stones are trolls who got caught in the sunlight and turned to stone:

Saya exploring:

Our lunch spot:


Driftwood and trash:

With the kind manager who let us in to the museum for free:

Sho reanimating the dead:

Belly flops hurt less when you're four:

Walking in Holmavik:

- An Iceland Bike Adventure post

Friday, July 29, 2011

Day 34: July 29, 2011

I awoke to the sounds of a strong wind and looked out of the guesthouse window to see waves lashing the shore. Going outside to investigate the conditions, I thanked the wind god for blowing from the south. In contrast to yesterday, today we would ride with a tailwind.

We cycled 65 km (40 miles) from Brodeyri, a coastal hamlet with around 25 residents, to Broddanes, a small coastal farming village in the west fjords. Sometimes the road was paved, sometimes gravel (see pic). We made steady but slow progress over the rolling terrain, cycling along an inspiring dark expanse of water for much of the day, and looping around our first fjord. We passed cows, horses, and sheep hemmed in behind ubiquitous lines of fences.

Occasionally a few cars passed by, and we began to see more birds. Dozens of long-tailed ducks splashed away in the water when we approached. Black-headed gulls lounged on dark jagged boulders offshore, and arctic terns danced overhead by the dozen. I saw hundreds of these acrobatic birds throughout the day. Sometimes they swerved in tight arcs just a few meters away, and I marveled at their beauty and power. Arctic terns, which can live to be thirty years old, fly from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back each year, covering something like 70,000 km (44,000 miles) annually. No other migratory animal comes close to that distance. I might see the same birds on Long Island, NY later this year. It was a privilege to share their company for awhile and hear their distinct cries dissolving into the air over the vast ocean.

We ate lunch by the road, huddled under jackets against a spitting rain that showed up off and on all day. With about 8 km to go before reaching the hostel where we would sleep in Broddanes, we encountered a monster climb, 12% grade on a gravel road that seemed to stretch into the clouds. A lone cyclist from Finland caught up with us, and we chatted for 45 minutes, as we all slowly trudged up the steep climb. He was on his fifth major long-distance cycling adventure and regaled us with stories of his rides.

He said that many people drawn to long-distance cycling find it much like therapy. I agree. When cycling across an unexplored country for many hours, day after day, your body not only grows stronger; your mind becomes less attached to the demands and distractions of settled living, and almost merges with the passing scenery. The vicissitudes of weather and terrain have a material impact on the distance you can travel, engendering a sense of connection and humility with the natural world. You feel tiny and huge at the same time. And whatever troubles linger from before the trip diminish with each mile you travel.

While I've been lost in cycling-induced reverie, Sho and Saya have been enjoying Eiko and Arisa's company immensely. I've included a few pics of their silliness below.

Sho communing with the cows, who only saw him as a potential source of food, I'm afraid:

Unpaved road:

Our lunch spot:

Cool rock formation by the sea:

Happy to be back together:

Arisa, Sho and Saya:

Sho exploring:

With our traveling companion from Finland:

Arisa and Sho playing pool and acting silly in the hostel in Broddanes:

- An Iceland Bike Adventure post

Day 33: July 28, 2011

Sho, Saya, Eiko, Arisa and I cycled 45 km (28 miles) from Hvammstangi to Bordeyri today. The wind god decided to make our legs stronger, blessing us with a constant head wind as we crawled along the rolling terrain. Even when riding down hill, we had to pedal hard to keep up momentum.

It was exhausting, and we took many breaks, including a visit to a museum featuring old shark hunting boats. The museum attendant was knowledgable and shared fascinating descriptions of the life of a shark fisherman in the days of sails and oars. The fishermen often spent a week at sea in an open boat, exposed to the elements. Sometimes it was so cold that parts of a fisherman's beard would freeze and break off. Sho and Saya listened intently to his stories and were treated to a taste of shark meat. I tried it too - there is a slight hint of ammonia and a complex sensation as you chew the meat. Sho thought it tasted pretty good. Saya spit hers out. The attendant gave her a glass of milk, explaining that milk takes away the aftertaste.

Near the end of today's ride, we turned off the busy Ring Road and started to head toward the west fjords. It was a relief to leave behind the traffic of Iceland's main highway, but we were careful to stock up on extra food, since there are few people or shops for long stretches along this route.

We spent the night in a guest house by the water in Bordeyri. Sho excitedly pointed out oyster catchers hunting along the water's edge, their long orange beaks, black backs and white bellies shining in the evening sun, as they strutted through the shallows. I'm looking forward to seeing many more birds as we cycle through this beautiful part of Iceland.

Here are some pics:

With the owner of the guest house in Hvammstangi:

We rode by many horses today:


Sho and Saya in the shark museum:

Trying shark meat:

Arisa's artistic entry in the shark museum's guest book:

Arisa, holding flowers Saya picked for her:

View from the road:

The guest house we stayed in is the red building farthest away, next to the water:

Sunset at 11:30 pm:

- An Iceland Bike Adventure post

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Day 32: July 27, 2011

Eiko, Arisa, Sho, Saya and I spent the morning enjoying the swimming pool at Blonduos. Saya had fun showing off her budding swimming skills, but she is a bit over confident. When Eiko warned her that she would sink in a deep section, Saya responded with a four-year old's logic. "That's ok. I like to go under.". Needless to say, Eiko and I kept a close eye on her. Sho and Saya loved the slides, one of which was short and super fast. The other was long and winding, with streams of lights and glowing images of dolphins passing by overhead, as you slid through the enclosed tube.

We ate lunch at a cafe after swimming and finally began cycling at 2 pm. Today's ride covered 58 km (36 miles) from Blonduos to Hvammstangi. We cycled on a rolling road through a broad valley, fields stretching to brown hills on either side. We rode past occasional farms and countless herds of horses lounging in the picturesque countryside. Intense, rolling clouds dominated the sky, occasionally allowing small strands of sunlight to filter through.

We made it to Hvammstangi at 7:30 pm and got a room at a local guest house. When the owner learned about our ride, she nodded kindly and repeated words I have heard many times on this trip: "Yep, you all are crazy."

Here are some pics:

Morning pics in Blonduos:

Sho goofing around:

Eiko with her trusty steed:

Some shots from the road:

- An Iceland Bike Adventure post

Day 31: July 26, 2011

Before starting today's ride, we took the kids to the heated pool in Varmahlid. Sho and I tossed a beach ball and attacked one another with various pool toys, while Saya showed off her improving swimming skills to Eiko. After swimming, Eiko worked on Saya's hair. Wow, what a difference! (see pic).

We rode 51 km (31 miles) from Varmahlid to Blonduos today, Eiko and Arisa's inaugural ride. They did great! The first 20 km (12 miles) included a lot of uphill sections and ended with a challenging steep climb over the top of a mountain. A steady head wind worked against us, as we struggled at a crawl to reach the top.

Eiko and Arisa had ridden a bus on this route the day before, but couldn't remember the terrain. From the inside of a bus, long climbs don't make much of an impression. But when you're on a bike, you notice every minor change, from the quality of the road surface to the grade of slope, to the direction and intensity of the wind. You hear the gurgling sound of streams and waterfalls, birds' song carried off by the wind, sheep's bleating, the padded sound of horses' hooves, as they canter over soft grass alongside. Instead of boring dead time between stops in a car, the journey from one place to another itself becomes an adventure, a slow unfolding of terrain and weather and animals and sweat. And it is a test of endurance and fortitude. You worry at times that it may be too much, but you get stronger and start to relish the challenging sections, appreciating the value of discomfort.

At least, that's my take. You can ask Eiko and Arisa for opinion!

The final 30 km of the ride took us down the other side of the mountain and onto flat terrain. We pedaled at a much faster pace and made good progress. Including breaks, we spent about three hours getting through the first 20 km. The final 30 km took us only an hour and 45 minutes.

A light rain began to fall at the top of the mountain and continued for the rest of the ride. We rolled into Blonduos dripping, but satisfied. Eiko and Arisa had done great! We celebrated their success over a delicious meal of fish and salad at Kiljan Bistro in Blonduos, a pleasant restaurant/guest house by the sea.

Here are some pics:

Getting ready to go:

Saya benefitting from having Mommy focus on her hair. Hmm, I obviously need to work on my hair management skills...

Eiko heading off:

Arisa exploring fashion options with a helmet:

Shots along the way:

Celebrating after the ride:

- An Iceland Bike Adventure posting