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Posts Tagged ‘fall’

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Especially in the Fall* (that we didn’t see on anyone else’s list):

In addition to the usual lists- here are links to a couple good ones- above and beyond the waterproof rain pants and coats, credit cards, a presentable “out” outfit, blah blah:

1. Gaiters for over the rain pants and gore-tex boots are non-negotiable for cycling, and debatably if you want to get out of your car anywhere in the fall.

2. Waterproof panniers- don’t even think about liners, or garbage bags, at least not in the fall.  Your stuff will get wet.  Riding and camping, day after day, everything will get wet.

3. Twice as many dry bags as you think you’ll need.  I had four, plus my waterproof panniers.  I had the cheap ones, not the eVents, and I still had no problem compressing them quite adequately.

4. Waterproof camera

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5. Waterproof ziploc bag for cell phone (there are lots of kinds).  This was an impulse REI purchase the day we left, and H.W. envied it the whole trip.  My phone almost never came out of it. There are Otter boxes, too, and “guaranteed” waterproof phones, but H.W. has had one of those that turned out not to be, so I still recommend the fancy phone ziploc.

Notice a theme?  Rain, rain, rain.  If you’re cycling, rain is a concern.

6.  At the same time I bought Tenacious Tape , and that was really clutch.  Iceland is full of lava that rips up synthetic stuff, and wind that breaks your tent, etc.  We patched up everything with it.  Speaking of which, you need a strong tent.

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7. A Click-Stand.  There are no branches lying around in Iceland to prop your loaded bike up with, and even fewer parking meters.  It’s no fun laying a loaded bike down, and picking it up.  We loved our Click-stands, and they proved worth the price, although H.W. was initially skeptical.

Also in the lead photo there’s included my tiny stove and the box that it packs into, to show its scale.  I just think this tiny stove (the Snow Peak Gigapower) is so awesome.  Really its only downside is that it’s darn easy to lose in the rest of your stuff, since it compares to a deck of cards.  The first time I saw it I was asking my brother if he had the stove and he said, “Why yes, right here in my pocket,” and pulled it out of his jeans, like Steve Jobs pulling the MB Air out of the manila envelope.  It screws onto the can of fuel that forms the base, and that kind of fuel can is easy to find in Iceland.  In fact, the HI hostel/campground in Reykjavík had heaps of partial cans discarded by departing travelers, for free.

*rain is not nearly the same concern touring in July and August.  But come September, watch out!

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Current structures

We went to Iceland for two months in 2012.  I didn’t saddle myself with any grand expectations of how much I might blog about it, considering how the last time worked out (took over a year to write about it).   I posted a smattering of pictures like these, but it’s probably high time to report on the overall trip.

Don’t plan to cycle in Iceland after September 15.  When the fall, haust season is described as being “beautiful, getting windy and rainy”, it’s not “a little bit of wind, picturesquely causing the grasses to wave”.  It’s gales and gusts of wind blasting down the fjörds that can blow motorcycles off the road (saw it happen), and shake a vehicle like you’re in a riot.  Wind you can’t walk in, that beats a tent up badly.  It’s rain, all right, hammering sheets of it.  Then in the beginning of October, the rain switches to snow.  Blizzards, since the wind doesn’t abate.  Late October and November, we had some serious run-ins with road closures.  Not only do some storms close half the roads in the country for a day or two, but some roads permanently close after the first good snow, cutting off lots of fascinating places (forget the highlands).   Plus the days are getting shorter.  So if you’re considering cycling in the shoulder season, don’t.  Iceland is trying to extend the accepted “tourist season” with marketing, because the numbers of tourists pouring in are rapidly escalating, meaning higher volumes and greater impact on their natural sites.  They want to spread out the visiting, but the weather- jeez.  They call it tourist season for a reason.  I’m Canadian, and I found it daunting.  It bears repeating: Don’t plan to cycle in Iceland after September 15.

Iceland is still stunning, breathtaking, and elemental.  There are still lots of cats. Apparently, they grow bananas in Iceland.  During movies at the theatre, they turn it off halfway – just hit pause mid-movie, mid-action sequence, mid-sentence – for intermission.  Everyone mills about, stretches, gets more popcorn, and uses the rest room.  This is the most fabulous thing ever, and I so so wish that some bold North American theatres would try such a thing.

There is a much, much greater variety of foods in the grocery stores – markedly different even from 2010.  Cell service is complete, with nearly no service-free zones in the whole country, and just unbelievably cheap.  We spent less than $50 total on sim cards and plans for all three of our cell phones for two months, all the text and data and talking we could need.

Gas is ridiculously expensive, in contrast.  There was an odd trend in effect of US flags, and stars and stripes being used all over clothing.  I didn’t get a satisfying explanation – only a guess that it was about the cultural difference where Americans spray and wave their flag on absolutely anything and everything, while in Iceland there are super strict rules about any reproduction and use of the flag.  Rules which are followed.  In October, we almost never even saw a flag outdoors, because the days were so short it seemed to not be worth their while to put one out and take it down mere hours later.

There are still thousands of gorgeous, stocky horses, and hundreds of thousands of sheep.  Those were mostly behind fences this time, though, which was much less exciting.  It was so fun in 2010 to see them popping up everywhere.   Any still at large this time were hastily being collected, after the major storm around Akureyri that killed so many sheep so early this year.  Seeing wagons jammed with fleecy lumps was a regular sight our first weeks on the road.

There are more guardrails and ropes now.  Iceland has noticeably suffered from the impact of tourism, and it made me much much more aware of my impact.  In the same places where there were no barriers and I ran unrestricted around on the grass in 2010, now I saw worn paths, erosion, and bare compacted areas flawing the landscape.  I got very angry at my husband when he stepped over ropes, and livid at groups of photographers in the hot destinations (Vík) who stepped en masse over ropes marking nesting areas.  Photographers, of course, are above rules when it comes to getting the perfect shot.  That really made me laugh, too.  Ten side-by-side nest-trampling jerks with fat lenses on tripods, all pointing at the same rocks, all waiting for the same sunset, all about to capture minor variations of the same picture.  And this was off season!

On the plus side of going late season, there were fewer tourists cluttering up the place, and once we got out of the hot zones (the southwest, Akureyri), we saw nearly no tourists at all.  Campsites were nearly all shut down, but then, most of them were free.  So if you want to camp in the snow, with no facilities, it’s generally free, and we saved a great deal of money this way still having the convenience of flat, private, hassle-free mid-town camping.  Because of the inclement weather, we opted far more often (vs. only once last time) this time to pay for a room, and guesthouses are abundant.  However, lots of them are closed after Sep 15 or 30, and that meant a lot more advance phone calls.  They were somewhat cheaper for being off-season.  Iceland doesn’t rely too much on “indoor attractions”, but almost all of the museums also closed after late Sep.  Don’t fret, though, the Phallological museum, the Museum of Witchcraft and Sorcery, and I think Skogasafn, are open year round.

We were there a long time, and encountered a lot of people.   There were lots of friendly Icelanders still, proud of their country and happy to share it, but to make a general statement, the natives are sick of tourists.  I thought it might be because we were there late, everyone who has to interact with tourists has had a full three months of dealing with idiots and is ready to have a peaceful winter speaking only Íslensk, but I fear it’s a deeper fatigue of the invasion of útlendingers (outsiders).  Iceland’s tourist industry is not that old, a welcome upsurge and new infusion of money after their much-publicized crash.  Lots of people are capitalizing on all the people and foreign money discovering Iceland’s incredible nature, but this is coming at a price.  At any rate, it made me very sad to see the changes happening.

Also sad for me, I didn’t get much practice with my Icelandic, that I’d spent a lot of time working on.  Naturally spoken it’s about a thousand times faster and sounds different than it does on a CD, but I still could understand much more than anyone assumed, and I very often could have said what I meant in Icelandic but chose English instead, because it was vulnerable to try, and I was very rarely indulged or encouraged.  In retrospect, I feel great kindness and gratitude to the native speakers who did exchange a couple sentences with me at the beginning of our trip.  Not too much later, I’d given up, and settled into using my Icelandic only for avid eavesdropping, reading, and translating.  I got the weary “Oh great, you learned ten Icelandic words  from a book and you’re using them badly” expression paired with the response to my question in disgustingly perfect English so often it crushed my desire to try, and I started conversations always in English.  That made me sad and frustrated when I knew enough to have said it all in Icelandic, albeit imperfectly pronounced.  That was easy to think afterwards, when someone had been sweet and open, but in the split second of deciding which language to begin in, without knowing if the topic would go outside of my range or if I’d get that withering look, it was too scary, and I reverted to English only.

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After an oddly even 800 km, I’m off the bike.  My knees are in agony and I’m exhausted so it’s time for a break.

Day after day, the winds have been 40-75km/h, and powerful enough at times that I just get thrown off the bike, down the bank.  Not just when riding, but even when standing there the wind would strike like a body check.  H.W. saw a motorcycle get blown into the ditch.

H.W. says only Canadians would travel on vacation to somewhere colder than where they live.

So, about cycling around Iceland in the fall- don’t do it.

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