V. Never wanting to end in Suðurland

September 5 - 15, 2014

As we made our way to the end of the journey, we knew we had to face one last challenge, Iceland's mountain roads. And what a better destination than the Fjallabak Nature Reserve and the famous Landmannalaugar. The highlands have plenty of roads to explore, but they're really rough. And when the weather is bad it can get really dangerous. Luckily for us, we had a two days window of good weather to reach one of the most beautiful places in the world. And so we went on. For the first 5 km on perfect asphalt and rural landscapes that make you wonder why is this road only for 4x4s.

But, as you can see in the image above, the real deal was not far away. For the first 40 km from the intersection with route 1 we had a rather enjoyable ride. Aura proved to be the ultimate subject on this trip. Not the landscape, not the aurora borealis, not the birds or the fine light. But a girl who made sure we ate properly each day. Although I live under the impression she tricked me a couple of times with the chocolate bars that should have been split 50/50. And with the meals that required careful cooking in the tent, a thing I'm starting to be better at.

After leaving Hólaskjól, a camping in the middle of nowhere, we began our 10 hours ride to Landmannalaugar. This place, other than being a heaven for photographers, is the start of a 55 km trail going to Þórsmörk, another protected natural area. The Laugavegur Hiking Trail is done by every Icelander at least once in the lifetime. Well, even if we're not Icelanders yet, I think we can be considered exonerated from this hike by doing those last 34 km to Landmannalaugar by bike. We crossed over ten rivers and we pushed the bikes half of time on 15% slopes. Another day of suffering, much like the one we had in the mountains of the Westfjords. But it was so fun.

We had two days to be amazed at the rhyolite slopes found at Landmannalaugar. I wish I could have stayed more, to try to understand the magic of the place. But I'll return one day. A fun thing is that, part of our side project in collaboration with WWF-Romania, we met Elizabeth, who grew up in the Westfjords with Dabbi, the character that plays the friend of Nói albínói. I have to see the movie again once I return home.

Now, when I look back at all the types of landscapes we were lucky to experience first-hand in Iceland, I can't help but relating them to the Icelanders we met along the way: cold and discreet on the outside, but charismatic, kind and respectful once you get to know them. The Western model of doing business and having fun is present of course, but the tradition and culture are something to appreciate. For example, sheep are everywhere in Iceland, even in the most remote areas we've been, like the Fjallabak. They roam the land free and as the cold season approaches, farmers put in great effort doing the round up. This is part of the tradition and they do this every year, no matter the weather and the inherent losses along the way. Ragnar Axelsson, one of the most influential Icelandic photographers, has a book dedicated to the round up. At one point in the book, he makes a powerful statement saying that "everything becomes a picture". It pretty much sums up what Iceland is about.

We then left the mountains by bus. Tough days crossing rivers might be fun, but in small quantities. I have to take care of a crazy girl also, so responsibility comes first. Besides that, a good rest is always good for inspiration. That's why, after pedaling back towards east, we decided to end the cycling at Vík í Mýrdal, the southernmost village in Iceland.

We went to the beach and got on top of the promontory you see above. At some point I felt the adventure coming to an end. We were at ease, with the rush of the ride slowly fading away. Memories of the first days were still strong and we were laughing together about all that happened. But we confessed to each other the unrest in the back of our minds. What will we do next? One month and a half on the road followed by a sudden coming back to the normal life. It's strange. But hey, things must come to an end to really appreciate what you have. We are so grateful for everything we have been through together. And I'm guessing aurora borealis likes us a bit, as she decided to show up one last time to say goodbye.

We rode together, we helped each other in the hardest times, we fought great battles with ourselves. But we came out a little bit better at the end. I admit I nag her every chance I get, so I'm still amazed by the amount of patience she possesses. Thank you for sharing this adventure.

This is us after pedaling around 1.350 km in one of the corners of our planet, Iceland. The rest was done by walking or by bus as we were faced with bad weather or simply because we wanted to understand some places better. Every minute of effort was worth it and we took it all in. If you're reading this from the comfort of your home, knowing that you can easily get from a to b with a car, I can only suggest taking a bicycle or walk instead. There's an amazing world outside, somewhere at the edge of conformity. Sleep in a tent once in a while, sweat, be cold or wet, let the wind knock you down. You'll feel good, trust me.

Words fail me often in describing the best and worst of times. But maybe this image with a nordic fulmar facing the ocean is a good metaphor for our adventure, ending as I'm writing this. The fulmar is fearless, but for us it took courage and fear alike to face the unknown. Probably the best thing cycling in Iceland teaches you. And while Aura knows way more bad language than before, I got to use various creams for a moisturized skin.

Now, I think we can safely put aside a few stories to share with the kids. And it's just the beginning. Until I post the video of the trip, take care and stay outside.

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