|As children, we learn the meaning of the US flag design.|
How about the meaning of the colors of the Iceland flag?
Blue of the surrounding ocean, against a white cross representing snow and ice,
with the red of Iceland's fiery volcanos.
|A quick trip back to the 80s ...|
AM: After a 6am arrival and hotel check-in, 7 miles with Matthew around where we were staying in Keflavik. Unlike two years ago in Europe where Matthew declined most runs, I think he came with me on every single run this time. Good bonding and someone to share the sights with.
|1st Iceland run, in pastoral fields in Keflavik|
|Outer-worldly rock formations in southwest Iceland|
|Geysir with sulfur-streaked soil. Pungent sulfur smell as well.|
Reminded me a little of formations at Yellowstone National Park.
|Hafnabjarg Sea Cliffs. One of many where pictures don't do this justice.|
|Mark, on top of cliff in picture immediately before this.|
PM: 5 miles with Jana and Matthew, while awaiting for our appointed time to enter the Blue Lagoon, a famous geo-thermal hot spa.
|Jana and Matthew running|
near Blue Lagoon.
|Lava field from an eruption in 1226 AD.|
|Cool gravel running path|
with seldom seen trees.
|Post run, Matthew soaking in just a very|
small part of the Blue Lagoon.
|Personally not into one of the Icelandic national dishes of lamb ...|
|... but their bakeries certainly sated|
my sweet tooth.
|Descending into the cave.|
|Deep inside the cave:|
(l-r): Mark, Matthew, Jeff
Bárður the troll lives in this area, and
protects it from evil.
|Running the technical trail from Arnastapi to Hellnar.|
|Matthew running single-track|
through the highlands.
|These Arctic terns are nasty. They hover,|
and then dive-bomb you.
|This is the bungalow we rented and stayed in while on the|
Snæfellsnes peninsula. Right on the water and trails.
|Twisty gravel road mountain-pass rises and switch-backs.|
|Dynjandi Falls. The short 1.5 mile hike was well worth|
the sights and experience, as well as giving me a needed break
from driving. The four of us in lower right.
|Sheep outnumber people in Iceland by|
We were signed up for a 10K that evening, but time was running too tight. A subsequent snafu with a mountain tunnel entrance being closed, and then having our hotel reservations explicably canceled by Orbitz and a wait to get replacement rooms at a nearby guesthouse caused us to be unable to get to the 10K bus departure point on time. A race that we had excitingly signed up for and was taking place in Iceland we wouldn't actually be able to make. I didn't know if Matthew would ever talk to me again, but after initial disappointment, he seemed more accepting of this than me. While I couldn't have anticipated either the tunnel or hotel issue, I hadn't given any allowance for contingencies. Poor planning.
|Start of Friday night's northern Iceland run. Along a fjord,|
with snow-capped mountains in the background.
In fact, sunset wouldn't be until close to 1am, followed less than two hours later by sunrise!
|The Súðavík Arctic Fox Center seemed a little overrated,|
but you have to admit this fox cub is cute. Mark tried to pet it,
and it thought Mark's fingers looked tasty. This is the only
land mammal native to Iceland.
|The views just don't quit in the Westfjords.|
(Jana took this from the grounds of the Arctic Fox Center).
Post-afternoon trip we went for a short swim in the outdoor heated (it would be too cold otherwise) public pool in the village, but unfortunately we were pushing up against closing time of 7pm. Next the family went for dinner. Mine was plokkfiskur, the ubiquitous, inexpensive, and delicious Icelandic fish stew.
Runner's Festival 2016 - Vesturgatan 24K Wilderness Trail Race. Simply awesome and very unique experience. Race write-up to follow.
After a long-ride (again, up one side of a fjord, then back down-to-another), punctuated by a late night delicious dinner of "Salt Fish" along the way, we reached Reykjavik at Midnight. We had rented a 3-bedroom apartment downtown and I repeatedly apologized to the landlord waiting for us at Midnight, but he just brushed it off and gave me a nice tour of his small, but very functional apartment.
|Skogafoss Falls. (I'm in blue jacket and|
We were able to hike to the top of the falls
as well, but the views were best from
|Sólheimajökull Glacier Hike.|
Simply amazing to be hiking on top of a glacier.
|The boys having fun with their ice picks.|
|Gulfoss Falls. Rated among the top ten in the world.|
|From this vantage view looking down on the falls,|
you can see a hint of a rainbow.
After a long and tiring day of hiking, I was long ready for bed at 10pm. Matthew would hear nothing of it, and wanted to go for a run in the city, and had made the effort to research a few spots of interest. When would I have the chance to run in Reykjavik again, let alone a near-sunset run along the water? Thank you, Matthew! My legs were not thrilled, but my heart and spirit were soon lifted. Not the wonderful natural sights of the past few days in the Westfjords, but certainly unique and interesting.
|Fresh Arctic Char:|
just another healthy and delicious local meal.
|I thought Mark was going to try the smoked puffin, but he|
had the whale steak instead.
|Reykjavik night run:|
(Statue in front was a gift from
the US to Iceland in 1930;
it's of Leif Eriksson, believed to
reach America 500 years before
|Sculpture of a Viking ship "Solfarid - The Sun Voyager"|
along the Reykjavik waterfront,
just before sunset at 11pm.
|Right in Reykjavik.|
But, yeah, we didn't quite make it there.
Happy Birthday to me. For my 50th birthday, I ran 50 K with friends. For my 51st, I ran 51K, mostly solo in the heat, but Matthew "carried" me for the finishing miles on the beach in the dark. For my 52nd, a birthday adventure run I don't know how I will ever best:
Mount Esja! 2,600+ vertical climb, average 19% grade. It was about a 40K drive outside of Reykjavik to the base of Mount Esja, towering over the water at sea level. It was about 12C (in the low 50s) to start, but cooler at the mountain-top. There were only three hikers ahead of Matthew and me as we started our trek upward, but numerous hikers we encountered on our way down. The trail started out on gravel but the higher we got the more it became rock-strewn and technical. With a number of breaks, we were able to run the entire course, save the last 100 meters, which I'll show you why in just a moment.
|Alpine flowers and start of our run.|
|Getting steeper. Reykjavik in far distance across water.|
|Barely runnable now.|
|Final 100m, no longer runnable,|
as I am pulling myself up
metal chains over rocks.
|Top of Mt Esja!|
|Esja - success!|
|The descent. Yikes!|
Tuesday capped out 60 miles of running in Iceland in 7 days. Hit most of the activities we set out to do, but due to time and other constraints, had to skip sea-kayaking and Latrabjarg (puffin bird cliffs).
|These are the major areas we visited in Iceland on our 2016 trip.|
2600 km of driving, but still left quite a bit untouched.
(If it's not obvious, the white areas are glaciers.)
Iceland trip pros:
Stunning beauty. This was my 17th country that I've visited, and by far, the most beautiful. Simply amazing natural scenery that wouldn't quit, especially in the drop-dead gorgeous Westfjords region of northern Iceland.
Extremely clean country. Almost no litter to be seen. I might give Singapore the nod here as the cleanest country I've ever been to, but it would be close.
Technology: Ahead of the US in many areas, from chip-and-pin credit cards, to a virtual cashless society (although I did like their coins with fish and sea creatures on them instead of presidents!), to self-scanning baggage machines, FREE unlimited wifi nearly everywhere even in our rental car, etc.
Safety. The third lowest violent crime country in the entire world! Ordinary policemen don't even carry guns, and we were told most people in Iceland don't even lock their doors! Not to knock our own country, but we're not even in the same ballpark.
English fluency. Icelanders learn English as a second language, and Danish as a third.
Proximity. Would it surprise you to know that we took a 5-hour direct flight from Boston? (Flight price was only $378 round-trip, but being on an Icelandic budget airline "WOW Air", you get nothing, and baggage charges and seat choices rack up quickly. Pack snacks ahead.)
Weather. This could be a con for many, but personally I don't enjoy the heat. Highs most days in the upper 50s, a few days reaching the upper 60s meant I was very comfortable. Perfect running weather!
Metric system. Can we please, please get rid of the silly antiquated English-inherited system that England and her other former colonies have long abandoned, and join the modern world? Everything makes so much sense in the base-10 system, and you don't need to know that there are 5,280 feet to the mile or 128 ounces to the gallon or how many square feet to an acre?
Food. Again, this could be a con for many, but the Icelandic palate agreed with me quite well. I could finally easily achieve one of my goals: becoming a pescatarian (eating no animals at all except seafood). If you need to wake up to your American breakfast of fried eggs and bacon, you could probably find that in cosmopolitan Reykjavik, but that wasn't the norm at hotels / guesthouses. The European breakfast I was used to (cheeses, meats, rolls, jams, muesli, yogurt, OJ, coffee) met with my high approval.
No mosquitos. Iceland is one of the very few places on earth where there are absolutely zero mosquitos!
Friendly people. While they wouldn't typically show it with emotion (i.e., not a lot of smiling), I had great conversations with a number of Icelanders. 1) Asking for directions in , it appeared odd to me that the man I asked started to walk away until I realized he was going to his car to get his personal map, mark it up with the street blocks I need to walk, and then give it to me to keep. 2) At the overbooked hotel where our reservations were cancelled, the manager apologized profusely (it wasn't his fault; it was Orbitz's), personally arranged other accommodations for us and insisted the four of us sit down and have anything we want to eat and drink in his coffeehouse "on the house" before leaving. 3) In Reykjavik, an elderly man living in the adjacent apartment and one of the few non-English speakers I met nonetheless insisted I follow him into the basement (OK, is this getting weird?) where he showed me where he kept his bicycle and offered us to use it anytime.
- Expensive. With nearly everything imported (exceptions of seafood and lamb), it's common to pay the equivalent of US$20 for a salad, or nearly $7 for a gallon of gas.
- Driving. Long rides up and down fjords were anything but "the shortest distance between two points ...", and the gravel mountain pass climbs without guardrails were white-knuckle experiences for me.
Shortly after arriving in Boston on the return flight, waiting in a long line to clear US customs, and then packed in like sardines on the Silver Line bus to South Station, Jana (from busy, hot, and traffic-prone Taiwan) made the comment that there are "too many people here, too many cars, and it's too hot". I agree on all sentiments! Before I die, I would like to come back for an extended and less rushed vacation to Iceland. If for some reason that is not fulfilled, our 2016 Iceland family vacation has already left an indelible lifelong impact upon me as a most remarkable and beautiful part of the world.