Iceland – Day 1

It has taken so long to write this blog entry and I cannot explain why, perhaps we were so busy in Iceland and afterwards that we have had not time, poor excuse. I did not enjoy Iceland? The experience was fantastic as were the people, so not that. I caught a cold, yes but no excuse. The only reasonable explanation (excuse) I can come up with is that I suddenly realised I am 64 not 63 this year, I have lost a year hence the delay, but gained a memorable Beatles song… Anyway whatever the reason for the long delay, back to present day Iceland…….

……….Touchdown, a firm, but not heavy landing at Keflavik airport in Iceland. We had been warned that strong winds could make landing tricky and earlier flights had problems and long delays. Low cloud had us just glimpsing the perimeter lights before landing. We are here in Iceland, the 98th country we have visiting in our travels. Keflavik Airport was the former Naval Air Station Keflavik, which played a prominent role in monitoring Soviet naval activity during the cold war, covering the seas between Greenland, Iceland and the United Kingdom, which was known by the acronym ‘GIUK gap’. The base which closed in 2006 has been proposed in 2017 by the US military for funding to build new hanger facilities for Navy surveillance aircraft in light of the deteriorating US-Russian relations.

We have arrived in our 98th country since we started traveling back in the 1970s. I think that a hundred is quite feasible, but since we have so many places to revisit, probably not much beyond that. We will leave those to other adventurers to discover.

The terminal has a strong nordic feel, clean lines, wood and stone and arriving and departing passengers mixed up, similar to Munich. We are surprised to find shopping trollies where I expected luggage carts. Locals are stocking up on beer, of which six litres can be imported duty free. Then reason behind this becomes apparent when one has to pay in excess of US$10 /€9 a beer in a cafe/resturant. A little research reveals that alcohol tax in Iceland is volume based, not the traditional alcohol percentage model, hence the stock up on the beer at the airport on the way home. They do have luggage trollies as well I hasten to add.

Our friend Kristjan, whose path we crossed from time to time on both our and his first RTW journey in 2014/5 is waiting for us. We are so pleased to see him. In 2015 my illness precluded us from visiting Iceland as planned, but some two and a half years later, we have made it. Kristjan is outside customs and we have a joyous reunion. It is great to catch up with a fellow traveller, and friend, again.

While Europe is being covered in snow and ice from Siberia, we are treated to rain and low cloud on our first full day: well low cloud anyway, the rain sound is caused by the snow tyres passing our apartment in the centre of Reykjavik that Kristjan and his wife Asdis, whom we have still yet to meet, have kindly lent us for our stay. Showering we smell the unmistakable sulphur smell associated with hot water delivered from volcanic origins. Luckily cold water comes from a different source.

We finally get to meet Asdis at their house over a sumptuous breakfast. It is great to finally meet Asdis who is very hospitable and friendly. Kristjan had sent us a detailed schedule of our activities, with him as the guide. We are very spoiled. Heading east through the fog we start to notice the barren nature of the landscape. It is treeless and the roads which wind their way through the chunky lava strewn landscape have no hard shoulders. We see cars off the road that are not coming back without the assistance of a tow truck.

Hellisheiði Power Station is our first port of call, like the prow of a boat, the visitors centre emerges mysteriously out of the mist, the largest geothermal power station in Iceland generating 303MW of electricity and 133MW of hot water. The water is piped some 27 kms to Reykjavik providing heating and hot water for the city. The insulated pipe only keeps the temperature loss to only 2 degrees celsius from the 80 degrees that it leaves the plant at. No wonder our morning shower was so hot!

Visitors Centre at Hellisheiði Power Station

Here in the visitors’ centre we learn about the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates which are drifting apart at 1-2cm per annum. Iceland is the only place on land where we can see the effects of this. The fault line runs across Iceland and the Hellisheiði Power Station is situated on it. We are assured that the buckled floorboards are due to water ingress from a leaky ceiling, not seismic activity. I am not as reassured when I spy a wall panel indicating the previous major eruptions, 2010 then 2014 and I wonder if 2018 is next in this numbered sequence. Now what year is it again?

We head further east then south towards the coast. Kristjan keeps up a stream of facts, population only 330,000, the smallest nation to ever make the world cup finals. Two million tourists a year now visiting and not just in summer, our flight was pretty full. All the sulphur in the water is a corrosion issue for computer motherboards. I wonder if one day, after we have ‘solved’ the carbon and methane issues, sulphur will move up the leaderboard. I am surprised to learn that Iceland is slightly smaller than the US state of Kentucky, I would have thought much larger, perhaps the sparse population makes it seem so.

Taking to dirt tracks we visit the southern coastline where the the jagged lava has met the sea, almost devoid of plant life this landscape seems almost alien, Neil Armstrong practiced for the lunar excursion here in Iceland in 1967 as the lava surface was seen as a good approximation of the moons surface. One can see why.

Hafnarfjördur, Iceland

With Kristjan at Hafnarfjördur, Iceland

Trying to wash our muddy boots at Hafnarfjördur, Iceland

All the primeval elements seem to be in play at the same time in Iceland: fire, water, earth and air as one imagines molten lava (fire) flowing into the sea (water) forming earth and steam in the air. What must the first inhabitants of Iceland thought, although their first settlement at Reykjavik was close to low temperature steam which was used for heating, quite enterprising.

Lunch is taken at Bryggjan, a small cafe in the heart of the port of Grindavik. Here I am introduced to Icelandic Lobster Bisque, a popular local dish and very tasty too. As many refills as you want. A smattering of tourists occupy tables amongst the local workers who use this place every lunchtime. The impact of the massive growth in tourism reaching further into the countryside.

At the quaint Bryggjan restaurant

“Do you believe in pixies?” Kristjan asks us. “Of course” we both reply. While Icelanders may not necessarily believe in pixies or elves, they do not want to deny they exist, just in case. And so you find rocks around Iceland, that construction workers will not disturb but work around, just in case elves live within them.

Do not disturn, Elves might live here, in Grindavik, Iceland

More wild coast of Iceland:

Reykjanesbær, Iceland

Love what Anne has done with her hair.

No 1st day in Iceland would be complete without a motorcycle travel presentation by the 2slowspeeds to the AGM of the Icelandic BMW Motorcycle Club. How did that happen, they moved the date of the AGM to coincide with our visit. ‘No pressure’ as Anne says until we learn two guys drove 480km to hear our presentation and are heading back tonight! We had a very friendly welcome and hopefully our ‘Iran and the Stans’ presentation may encourage someone to venture in that direction. Having said that, Iceland has some pretty amazing scenery and roads of its own.

BMW Motorrad Reikjavik AGM

With one of our faithful followers, Gudmundur

Based on our first day, I think we will be back and exploring here in the future.

– Anthony

Air Canada: Fly your bike 2018

The 2018 Air Canada “Fly Your Bike” program has been announced earlier than previous years so you can start planning your adventure now. This program provides an effective and easy way to move motorcycles between Canada and Europe. As a user of the program in 2015 and 2017, we can say we were very happy with the service provided.

Destination changes this year see the removal of Amsterdam, Netherlands with Brussels, Belgium as a nearby alternative. For the African adventurers there is the addition of Casablanca, Morocco. For further information read the pdf file and for contact and Q&A information go to Air Canada Cargo icon on our links page.

Dangerous goods: your bike and equipment will be inspected for dangerous goods. Your fuel tank must be less than a quarter full – best to get it to when the fuel light just comes on if you can. Empty any camping bottles and spare fuel containers – we take the tops off so that there are no fuel fumes left. In addition, we had to leave the following behind:
the rubber glue and the CO2 canisters from our AirPro puncture repair kit, Loctite, Dendrite (some instant adhesive), wd40, and scotoiler oil (the brake fluid/oil was ok). We also took our Sena intercoms with us because of the lithium batteries.


On the slopes in Utah & Wyoming

Sweat pouring down my brow, muscles aching and I have only just put on the ski clothing and boots! This does not bode well for the next week. After a long sleep and a leisurely first day just relaxing and sightseeing, Friday the 9th is the big test for me: back on skis for the first time in four years. Our first stop is Snowbasin, a ski resort northeast of Salt Lake City which we have not been to before. The reason for this is that I purchased a ticket called “Mountain Collective” which gives two days skiing at a number of resorts in the USA and Canada for an all inclusive price. So we will be resort hopping for the next week.

After a record “powder” season last year in Utah, the snow gods have not been kind to this region in 2018. Brown barren landscapes greet us as we wend our way towards Snowbasin, only the peaks show the glimmer of snow – we had more snow along the roadside here last year on ‘Streak’ and ‘Storm’ in May. The roadside snow depth indicators have their bases exposed, that’s how poor the snowfall has been!

The lodge at Snowbasin is well appointed and Anne will be comfortable while she waits for me, spending the day enjoying myself on the slopes, still she has to prepare the presentation for…. ahh you will have wait for that one, nearly let our secret destination out of the bag. I can still get on and off the chairlift without causing a catastrophe, let’s see how the skiing bit will go.

Snowbasin looking east, no lower elevation snow

Tested the stopping first, then upward and onwards, let’s explore. It quickly becomes apparent as perched on the chairlift rising up the mountain side; the lack of snow, bare patches between trees, “no snow well”, as I heard from other skiers, around the base of the trees. It seemed like spring skiing conditions, without the warmer weather. If it was not for the continuous snow making during the day as well as at night, I shudder to think what the slopes would be like.

Snowbasin, snow covered at higher elevations

I am able to ski! No style, not much skill, but I can get down the easy blue run. I am skiing again. I am sorry that Anne cannot join me, but glad that skiing friends did not take up the suggestion that they join us in Utah this year. Two days of gentle skiing at Snowbasin are a very enjoyable return to skiing for me. I explore the mountain finding a mixture of snow and ice, realise I have really been spoilt in the past by groomed slopes and fresh powder. Still I am happy.

Two days up at Snowbasin and onwards to our next ski resort on the Mountain Collective pass, Jackson Hole Wyoming which we passed through Jackson in 2015 on our first RTW. First a short detour to KLIM to see Rhylea and Kelsey, KLIM Woman’s Adventure Motorcycle clothing designers, who back in May last year during our visit on the second RTW, were designing the KLIM 2018 range. We travel with snow falling again as we did in May last year, this time we are inside our nice warm car, so much more comfortable.

KLIM having shared their thoughts with us then, and listened to Anne’s comments on her current KLIM Altitude jacket, Kelsey and Rhylea were now able to show Anne the results of all their hard work: the Artemis jacket and pants which is hitting the stores as we speak, or write in my case. Rhylea and Kelsey exceeded Anne’s expectations and they also seemed pleased to see Anne’s reactions as they showed all the features of the new motorcycle clothing. The end result, Anne purchased an Artemis set and cannot wait to get home to test them out. More adventures in that direction coming I think.

Jackson Hole does not disappoint, a little further north and a little more snow, I am soon wizzing down the slopes, blue only I hasten to add, over 28km on the first day. A lot less on the second day, even though I exercised before departure by cycling, my legs tell me from time to time to ease off a little. The second day sees intermittent snow showers, which darken the sky, this allied with my cataract impaired vision has me still staying on the groomed slopes to keep me safe.

Beautiful open runs at Jackson Hole

I always enjoy the rides on the cablecar or chairlift, meeting people from different backgrounds and always learn something interesting. This time I met two people who are using stem cell treatments, one to overcome a back injury, the other a stroke, neither in the USA however as the regulation and approval of such treatment is governed by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). As it was pointed out, why does the use of ones own stem cells on oneself require approval of a drugs administration? Interesting.

My final skiing destination is Alta, back near Salt Lake City, an old favourite from the time Anne and I both skied together and one of only three, I believe, that only allow skiers and not snowboarders, thus a favourite of Anne’s, after being knocked unconscious by an out of control snowboarder at Park City, Utah some 10 years ago.

A perfect day for skiing

Blue skies and 17 inches / 40+ cm. of fresh power snow are waiting for us at Alta. We get an early start, along with many others heading up high to take advantage of the snow and sun after such a poor ski season to date. The crisp crunch of the perfect snow underfoot brings back great memories. I cannot wait to get started. The view from the top is spectacular and a quick run down and back has me warmed up and eying a large patch of virgin power snow. A must do after the crunch of the groomed slopes, the almost soundless hiss of the skis hidden beneath the deep powder snow is priceless. Up and down a few more times, then the ‘signed’ gate onto a black run beckons. ‘Expert skiers only’, ‘Beware Avalanche’ etc etc. Good thing I have cataracts as the USA seems paranoid about risk. Down the fresh powder and splat, face first into the deep unmarked powder. Ten minutes are spent fruitlessly searching for a lost ski, invisible beneath the deep snow. Ski found and I am off again. A few minutes later I am reminded why they have different types of categories for ski runs as I peer down a steep snow filled chute watching the effects of gravity on dislodged snow as it runs without stopping further and further down the mountain.

Exploring the black runs

Starts to get more interesting

Suffice to say, I get down, albeit with a few falls and a reminder that advanced areas with exposed rocks, trees and narrow descents are best left to those with the requisite skills – do heed the warning signs! Still, over the next one and a half days I ventured off groomed tracks more than once and enjoyed every minute. It did make me realise that if I wish to progress further, more exercise in advance and a lesson or two would not go amiss. Thank you Anne for sitting, watching and wishing you could join me.

What a wonderful day I have had

My ski holiday is over, next stop Europe, family and friends in what will be a busy few weeks.

– Anthony