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One man, one wheel, one island
One man, one wheel, one island
Crossing Iceland on the unicycle
„There should be a refuge in this direction...“ I am just trying to get orientated in a place where there is nothing to get orientation from. I cannot even see my hands in front of my face. A unicycle on my back and a damn heavy backpack over my shoulders. I am at the end of my physical power – but I cannot even stop walking. I have the feeling my shoes might melt under my feet. Always repeating in my head „watch out fort he yellow places – their might be liquid under them!“
Suddenly I slide and, out of a reflex, I grab for hold. But just as quick as I grab, I instantly release my grip – this will result in a blister.
Travelling in an altitude of 1.000 m in Iceland, heading south. The phrase keeps repeating itself in my mind „if you want to go to Skogar...“ „cross the new lava field - some made it before, it is ok, it is cold enough“. Obviously, people in Iceland handle fire and ice in a pretty cool way.
Actually, they were even happy that very volcano with its unpronounceable name, which froze Europe’s air traffic for several days, finally erupted – it was really time for it to do so – just like 5-7 more that are still expected to erupt soon.
But for me as a European it is a challenge to find a way through this maze of 3-4 meter high crumbly lava formation. Steam comes up from everywhere, so much, that I cannot see anything anymore, this heat, this stink everywhere.
But what’s up now? Suddenly I am standing on muddy underground and it is ice-cold again! The mud is a cocktail of snow and ash. Once again I am trying to orientate myself but in this fog I simply cannot see anything.
Walking back on dead-end-tracks, trying to find my way back to the lava field – but for God’s sake, where is it? So let us take out the GPS and search for the waypoint to the refuge. I had saved it precautionary down in the valley. If it was only that easy... signal is too bad. I am desperate, ashy snow is glueing on both the unicycle and my shoes and that makes everything even worse.
What the **** am I doing here all alone in the middle of nowhere? With a unicycle? Such a stupid idea! On my trips, I often was asked why I did them. Because I lost a bet? Nobody could imagine why I was doing something like this to me. Well, actually it was rather about winning a bet. My goal was to be the first one to travel across Iceland from West to East on a unicycle.
I was not the first guy on a unicycle travelling in Iceland – there was already someone who had travelled around the island on the unicycle, so I was just the second guy anyway. But nobody yet has crossed the island from West to East unicycling! That person was one month ahead of me – the first travelling along the Iceland’s ringroad. This lifeline connecting the civilization along the coast.
But once you leave this ringroad – you leave civilization suddenly. Iceland is the safety needle connecting between the Eurasian plate with the American one. This country is a desert consisting of sand, ash, boulder and lava fields full of moss and full of glacier-rivers with a water temperature of shortly above zero degrees. I have to cross dozens of those on my trip. This ain’t plain sailing. Having crossed such a glacier river, which by the way often consists of several branches and can easily be 100m of width, I was happy every time when I began to feel my toes again.
Instead of travelling Iceland northwards on the most difficult track: the “Sprenisandur” - as initially planned - I ride southwards on the most popular hiking track, the “Laugar-track” – crossing several passes back to civilization. The middle of Iceland is the point where I cancel idea of crossing from West to East because the rivers are simply to deep due to the heavy snowmelt in the midst of June.
On my trip I met a group of French people. I had not many provisions but I shared everything I had with them. In return I could use their camping stove and prepared hot meals now and then. This way, I could unexpectedly enjoy my cereals hot. I had no stove myself since I had reduced my baggage to the minimum: sleeping bag, tent, some food, the cloths that I would be wearing during the 21 days long.
The last days I did not eat much – in fact too little as I realize now. Luckily, yesterday the host of a refuge offered me some food – I was very grateful for this energy boost: without it, I would not have gotten here.
Now I am standing here – all alone – shedding desperate tears, I shout my desperation out into the ever-present grey and white. It is 12 days since I left the international Airport. 12 days and 400 kilometers that I have been travelling.
I keep on trying and get stuck on tracks that lead nowhere. Luckily, according to the GPS I am only 100 m away from the refuge – but I cannot see it anywhere!
I hope that I entered the right GPS-Data and did not transpose the digits. All the time I see the guy from the movie “Into the wild”, in my head, this American guy all alone in Alaska. He wanted to live in the nature, on his own – and only made one little mistake, too – and died. Just like the memorial tablet I saw 50 kilometers before from the year 2004 or the one 500 meters away from the refuge, or those of two guys who froze to death in February 2010 on this glacier.
I am totally exhausted. I kneel down on my knees from time to time and keep telling myself “come on, get up, do not stop!”
But wait – what’s that? Light at the end of the tunnel? I see a yellow pillar two meters away from me – but where is the next one? My GPS tells me “You have reached your destination.” Traces in the black snow – but no refuge anywhere.
But anywhere (I can see) is just 5m away from me right now. I am so tired. Anyway, keep on going! Just follow the traces in the snow – they will lead you somewhere, climb that hill!
In front of me, something big comes up – I cannot really recognize it – a cliff? No! It is the refuge! Finally – I found it – please, please, let it be opened! And I am lucky – the back door is open. I will stay here until the fog has left. I sit on one of the beds and fall asleep instantly – I have never been so tired in my whole life.
The host of the refuge, Uwe, arrives a short time later – it is the first day of the season for the host.
I help him to clean the refuge from the knee-deep ashes and can therefore stay for free. In the evening, a group of Icelanders. The next morning, I get to know that these are signposting a path over the fresh lava-field. Looking at their satellite pictures, I see that I passed the largest area of the lava-field. From today on, there will be an official hiking-path crossing it again.
The fog is still too intense so I return to the valley with an Italian couple that knows the way back down. Once the visibility improves, I get back on my uni and ride down to the coast.
This is where the third part of my trip begins – the first part had been to ride eastwards, crossing the island as fast as possible. The second part was to ride to the South of the island, back to the coast and back to civilization.
The third part will be to return to the airport – easy going along the road. This actually feels more stressful than riding all alone off-road and off-track. All that traffic! Only riding kilometer after kilometer, straight ahead. So I spontaneously decide to accelerate that road-riding part by exceeding the daily goals I had set myself. A great idea since this allows me to spend some days in the gorgeous hiking area 40 km away from Reykjavik where I meet a lot of great people. I take photos and shoot movies and bath in hot rivers.
The final 100 kilometers to the airport are spitted in bite-sized stages.
Iceland is a country that calls itself fire&ice – and that is so very true – it has its really specific charm and is always worth a trip – even alone off-road and off-track.
text, photos: Florian Kaiser
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