Surviving the Road North

Sunday, September 25th was a rough, rough morning. I had just experienced my first Reykjavík rúntur – drinking all night until sunup – for my 23rd birthday the night before. I was able to sleep a measly 4.5 hours from 5:30 am until the cleaning staff kicked me out of the room at 10 am. So I wasn’t feeling too great. Head pounding, sick to my stomach, groggy and tired – perfect conditions for a 2-hour journey up the road north to Stykkishólmur!

Conquer Fear the road north
The first place I stopped on the road north out of Reykjavík. The mountains on the left were the ones across from my ascent on Friday.

The day was as beautiful as the landscape, so I had to fight through the pain and enjoy every bit of it. I continued stopping for pictures with a persistent regularity. That’s one of the things about shorter trips – you find it harder to justify taking days off. On a long trip you can relax and spend a day doing nothing but relaxing or recovering. But on this short, 7-day jaunt in Iceland, there would be no such thing.

I was driving along Route 1 up towards Borgarnes.

On my left was the frigid North Atlantic Ocean, and on my right was a mountain ridge. As is the norm in Iceland, there was beauty all around me. It was here that I would make a friend.

Conquer Fear The Road North
We can be friends. Just please don’t bite me.

I don’t have a whole lot of experience with horses. Just that one ride on the beach in Fiji, really. I’m always surprised by how big they are in person. Well, usually. Iceland is actually known for having smaller-than-average horses. Iceland has a law forbidding people from importing foreign horses at all to stop diseases from spreading. In Game of Thrones, producers had to use some camera trickery to make you think the horses are of a regular size. Some of the larger actors made this particularly difficult.

Looking at you, Rory McCann.

But anyway, this horse was generally friendly. I approached slowly and it allowed me to pet its nose. I thought it was very cool to get so close to an Icelandic horse in person, especially outside of a tour or service.

Conquer Fear The Road North
What a scene. I remember the wind in this place would arrive in brief, powerful gusts.

The place where I met the horse was incredibly colorful. The stony brown ridge-line towering over the road, the azure cloud-covered mountains awaiting me in the distance, the open road stretched out under the sun between green and golden fields. It was lovely to look at, but I had to get a move on.

There was simply more to see.

The next curiosity that had me parking on the side of the road was a waterfall. I’m not really sure if it even qualifies as a waterfall. Aw hell, let’s give the little guy the benefit of the doubt.

Conquer Fear the Road North
Ranks a fair bit closer to “babbling brook” than “thunderous waterfall” I’d say.

I happened upon this small waterfall at a horseshoe bend in the river. Through a little miraculous Google Maps sleuthing, I discovered the name of the falls is Langárfoss. So it is actually classified as a waterfall. If you find yourself on the road north, you can locate it just off of Route 54, between Route 533 and 536.

I had to go in for a closer look.

Carefully, I maneuvered my way over the rocks to get a better angle.

Conquer Fear the Road North
Please, this time let’s not have my keys fall into the river

The water of the Langa River rushed under me as I straddled the black, volcanic rocks that it was carving through. At the time, I wondered what those steps were on the other side of the river. Now, I know that the Langa is one of the most productive salmon rivers in the country. So it’s actually a salmon ladder. I’ve also discovered that this particular river has received worldwide acclaim for salmon fishing (thanks, internet).

Well, I certainly wasn’t about to do any of that. So I took a few photos, admired the river for a bit, and hit the road north once more.

Conquer Fear The Road North
This picture is unforgettable for all the wrong reasons…

When I pulled over to the side of the road to admire the view in the above photo, I experienced something shocking for the first time. I was just taking a few photos of the landscape. The colors of autumn in Iceland are quite beautiful – the land looks like it’s been set ablaze with all of the yellows and reds sprinkled throughout the golden grass.

I got close to the fence to get a nice view of the foggy mountains in the distance. While moving around to play with different angles through the viewfinder, my arm brushed the wire.

And that’s the first time I ever touched an electric fence.

It wasn’t anything too crazy, just a sharp jolt to my arm. I jumped backwards, shocked by the rapid turn of events. Heh. Youch! Not something you want to do with regularity.

Conquer Fear The Road North
According to Google Maps, this place doesn’t exist.

My next stop was at these signs for Þverá and Þverárrétt. No matter how many times I type them into Google Maps, I cannot find them. Well, I can find Thverá (which is the same thing), but it’s on the other side of the island. So maybe the intersecting road is just supposed to send me in that direction. In any case, Þverárrétt can’t be found. Maybe you can find it?

I still like this picture though. Those street lines are just so clean.

Conquer Fear the Road North
The mist hovering over the mountain ridge was alive, swirling high above the lonely house.

The road north towards the Snæfellsnes Peninsula was full of amazing views like the one above. The mountains and the mist left me speechless. I tried to capture the flowing mist on video, but it never came out right.

I guess it’s just one of those things that you have to experience first-hand. Now go out there and find some mist!

At one point, I did miss my turn. I’m not perfect, ok. My head was still pounding like a horrible dubstep concert, so I was giving navigation the very best effort that I could manage.

Conquer Fear The Road North
After I righted my course, I headed for a pass through the mountains.

Stykkishólmur, my destination, lay just on the other side of the ridge. It was time to put the pedal to the floor. Once I got to town, I could reward myself with a nice afternoon nap. But I wouldn’t let my aching body make me rush my trip.

I wanted to get the full Iceland experience.

So I kept stopping for pictures with a frequency that most people would consider insane.

Conquer Fear The Road North
Seriously, which one is better? With road or with flora?

Blue skies would have been magnificent, but you gotta work with what you’ve got. So I learned to love the mist and the fog and the grey of a moody Iceland sky. At last I passed through the mountains, knowing I was closing the distance on my goal.

I only stopped at one lookout on the way. There was a wonderful view of a body of water, and I had it all to myself. If I had only thought to pack a lunch, I would have hung around a little bit longer.

Conquer Fear The Road North
Baulárvallavatn. I thought it was a river, but apparently it’s a lake.

After exiting the mountains on the north side of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, I could practically smell the finish line. It had certainly not been an easy drive. But I had escaped unscathed with great pictures and better memories of a landscape that dares you to forget even a single view.

At last, the road north had landed me in Stykkishólmur.

I had covered 173 km, give or take an extra 25 for going the wrong way and for all the side roads that I can’t help but explore. And guess what, it had only taken me two hours longer than a normal person!

But it was worth it.

If you’re going to go out for a big night, sometimes you’ve got to be ready to roll with the punches in the morning. Especially when you’re on a short trip.

After conquering the road north, I was ready for the next part of the adventure. But maybe after just a little bit of sleep first…

P.S. Surviving the Road North was Iceland Part 5. Read on!

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