Iceland: Crossing the Middle

I’m certain now that Icelandic weather forecasts should come with a disclaimer that any resemblance to actual meteorological events is purely coincidental. After two weeks of predictions that must have been intended for another planet, we gave up lending them any credence. Besides, this day had looked much more promising than yesterday, so we decided to go for it. After all, it’s only 57 kilometers.

Sometimes a big rock can be a very good friend

Sometimes a big rock can be a very good friend

We turned down the gravel road, happy to oblige the occasional car, since it meant if we had trouble, someone would likely be by that day. This would be tame compared to our adventure of a week ago. (More on this later.)

We enjoyed the quiet road and changing scenery while trying to ignore the side wind that had picked up, after all, this was an east wind, not the north wind that can be so brutal.

After only six miles, it was clear that the clouds were condensing, and worse, lowering. At about 10 miles, the temperature began taking a nose dive to 45, then 40 as we took turns trying to find shelter from the north wind to don extra gloves, socks and head gear. Each stop cost more in lost body heat. But at least it wasn’t raining.

The cruel combination of cold, wind and rain closed in on us by 15 miles, and the 25 mile per hour headwind, now from the north, had slowed us to a crawl. Our stops had to be very brief as we could both feel the cold getting a grip on us. I was still in  shock that the weather could turn so bad so fast and also haunted by the image of a week ago.

We were the first across the center of Iceland in 2006. Wonder why?

We were the first across the center of Iceland in 2006. Wonder why?

The adventurous part of our tour was supposed to be the crossing of the central highland Kjöllur Route while it was still closed to cars. We had checked in with the Icelandic Mountain Bike Club and learned to expect to push our bikes as much as 30 miles through mud and snow. As it turned out, we only had to push our bikes through shoe- sucking mud for 18 miles; a very long, lonely hike-a-bike that took us all day. This day, the weather was also bleak, cold and wet with the dank clouds draping around us; perfect weather for the bizarre apparition of a windblown man walking toward us from the opposite direction. He slowly trudged toward us, leaning into the wind. At speaking range, we asked if he was okay. He was and inquired in kind. While his poncho flapped feebly in the rain, the heat sucking wind swirled around as we compared notes on the road ahead. His bare, skinny legs were caked with mud and behind him he pulled a bulky trailer with two inadequate little wheels. Adding to the strangeness were his roller blades strapped securely to the pack. In my view, they may as well have been Viking ship oars. But the lasting impression I had was of his doughy, runny face and his shoulders hunched with cold. Bob would tell me later that I’d quickened my pace as if I’d seen a ghost. The thought that haunted me was: we aren’t crazy like that guy is, are we? After all, we have our reliable bikes, we have a tailwind…

This time it was us facing into the wind. Would we make it?