We chose counterclockwise. Opposite of how the commentary was laid out in the Lonely Planet guide, we elected to drive the ring road of Iceland the other way. After our climb of Hvannadalshnúkur, as we headed out Route One toward the glacial lagoon of Jökulsárlón, I remarked to Marian, “We are turning left for the next 1000 or so kilometers.”
Iceland’s Ring Road (Route One) was completed in 1974 with a bridge (Iceland’s longest) over the Skeiðará River to celebrate 1100 years of habitation. This meant the coastal communities of Iceland were all connected via road. The 1339-kilometer road is mostly paved with asphalt but there are still a few sections with gravel tops (in reality, some of the finest gravel roads I’ve ever driven on). Route One has countless bridges, mostly one-lane, as well as several tunnels including one that provides passage under the sea.
In what turned out to be “way not enough time” in our opinion, we circled Iceland mostly staring out on its beauty from behind our windshield glass. We knew, going in, that this trip was an “appetizer trip” that it would likely fuel a desire for future exploration and we were right. To truly be able to explore in the way we would have liked to (with protracted stops for lots of hiking, paddling, and backpacking), we’d likely needed eight or ten weeks (we had one). But what a week it was!
Iceland and Newfoundland are so alike (and so different at the same time). Around every corner, we found some connection to home and the familiar barren beauty moved us to snap more photographs than were kilometers on the road. Each day delivered a raft of geographies and topographies, some unique, some repeating, that were lashed into a tapestry of textured experience that made 250 kilometers seem like a lifetime. Each region presented a buffet menu of more mountains that I ever could have ever imagined; a lifetime of climbing propositioned me each day.
The first sightings of waterfalls brought the car to a screeching halt but then after the twentieth one or so, we could just admire them from 90 kilometers an hour. The major icecaps played hard to get, hiding behind shrouds of low fog and driving rain so they are high on the return menu for sure. Farms of sheep and horse dotted the landscape like Morse code and reawakened my connection to my family’s heritage of agricultural living. Coastline, jagged and broken, provided an engaging foil for the regularity of the pavement’s edge. Volcanoes, geysers, bubbling mud pools–it’s all there in Iceland: fire, ice, sky, water, blue, white, grey.
We broke each travel at one of Iceland’s fabulous hostels. Their network of 36 hostels provided the structure on which we planned our trip. Each night an international gaggle of characters assembled in the kitchen to replenish after a big day’s drive. We met a wonderful Englishwoman named Ruth with whom we shared much laugher and many cups of hot chocolate–she earned the nickname, “Ruth of the Fjords” for a particularly epic day of driving in the West Fjords. We’re trying to lure her west to Newfoundland for a visit.
On two occasions we had the pleasure of soaking in “guilt-free” hot water, taking advantage of geothermally heated water but paying with lingering aroma of sulphur. We had some challenges in securing food and fuel amidst the Easter holiday shutdown but in the end managed to feed ourselves and keep the car moving to the left. All to soon, we had ringed the country and returned to Reykjavik just in time for our flight (actually a tad bit late given another fueling difficulty but that’s a story for another time). We were sad to go but the desire to return to Iceland is strong-next time for a longer visit and perhaps we’ll go right this time.