Why I’m Bicycling Iceland
The flight from Anchorage to Reykjavik moves from afternoon to morning, skipping night altogether. The effect is deliciously disorienting. I arrived at my hotel just after 8 am, or what would be midnight back in Alaska. The hotel clerk was gracious enough to let me check in. I could have slept. Instead I walked outside and wandered in the disorientation of jet lag, found a coffee shop and then another. The menus all said breakfast while my brain registered last call.
i am in Iceland to ride my bicycle, potentially a foolhardy idea. I say so because as I am writing this, the wind outside howls. Earlier, I watched a woman struggle against the force as she bicycled downhill.
“I guess you know what you’re doing,” said the hotel clerk when I told him my plan. I do not. If I waited to know what I was doing, I’d never do anything.
A former student put it another way: “Don’t take this the wrong way,” she said but don’t you have to be in pretty good shape to do that?”
You probably do, but I hope not.
(“I’m in better shape than I look,” I’d lied.).
Here’s the thing. When Joan and I were here in Iceland in 2013, and we drove the 800 plus miles around the ring road, all I wanted was to be on a bike. I used to get that way a lot, especially after my long tours around the West. Once you experience the world from a bike seat, it’s hard to not feel you’re missing too much zooming along in a car. I like to drive, it’s a little fast. I like to hike, it’s a little slow. Bicycling is about the right speed for me.
On that first trip, I knew Iceland would be beautiful, but the landscapes had surprised me, were more varied than I expected, especially given the general lack of trees. It was a glorious trip, one that stays with me. But I wanted to melt into those landscapes in a way I know can only be done on a bicycle. I’m not looking for adventure; I’m just trying to slow down.
Iceland is perhaps a curious place for adventure, anyway. If, as Camus wrote, “What gives value to travel is fear,” Iceland has little value as a destination. There are no predators, nearly no crime, no snakes or venom of any kind, really. Traffic is light. There aren’t even pesky mosquitoes.
There is wind, yes. But wind is an annoyance, not a horror.
I would argue with Camus, though. Fear is fine, I guess, if you need the physical sensation of it. The daily news is more than enough fear for me, thank you. My previous experience with Iceland was pretty much the opposite of fear. At the end of a chaotic, stressful and long semester, what Iceland gave was a sense of tranquility, a calming of the restless sea of my mind, a post-storm calm, a parting that lead to an opening of a head space that had reminded me who I wanted to be, and why I wanted to be it in the first place.
Its been a long year. The waiter brings my coffee. The wind stills, then rises again, music I don’t recognize plays along. I’ve battled wind before, in Wyoming, Nevada. Probably I will curse it, but for now I mean to embrace it.