Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Alone on Iceland's coastal 917

I repeatedly find myself reminiscing about Iceland almost every day.

In the middle of a busy week leading up to the Labor Day holiday rapidly approaching, I was reflecting this morning back to this exact moment in the late fall of 2016, in this exact location in Iceland.

This tiny island in the North Atlantic opened my heart and set my mind free. For a long two weeks, I rented a Suzuki Jimny and drove around the entire country, corner to corner, by myself. No GPS, no smartphone (rather a cheap $20 Nokia I picked up in Vietnam nearly seven years ago), no real plan. Just get in, refer to my big road map laying on my passenger seat atop my sleeping bag and Lonely Planet guidebook, and go. Leaving the town of Egilsstaðir early in the morning, rather than continuing on the paved 1 "Ring Road," I ventured off onto 917, a bumpy dirt road that weaved its way towards the Northeast part of the island, up a heavenly mountain pass, to the village of Vopnafjörður.

The wind was ferocious as I piloted the Jimny along 917, violent gusts and bumps throwing this tiny red 4x4 (engaged, of course) all over the place. I turned off the music, gripped the rim of the steering wheel tight, and remembered thinking if I went off the road, I probably wouldn't be found for hours, as this part of Iceland was a pinnacle of desolation. I could hold the steering wheel pointing the nose of the Jimny between 1 o'clock and 2 o'clock, to combat the gusts while going forward. At the start of the pass, marked Hálsakot, on my map, I stopped over, threw the five-speed stick into neutral, yanked the parking brake up, and paused. The views moved me and were nothing short of polarizing.

I could look all over and see absolutely nothing but raw Iceland. No buildings or infrastructure, no people, no noise. The North Atlantic wind yelled raged against the Jimny, rocking it back and forth, shaking it. I had the chills out of a welcomed pure shock of solitude.

I was alone, on this ridge along Iceland's remote 917.