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Ring Road is the Artery of Iceland

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REYKJAVIK, Iceland- Iceland has one highway, it circumabulates the country, forming a perfect ring. Not surprisingly, it is come to be called Ring Road, or Route 1, and it covers a distance of roughly 1,300 km. To get between north and south, east and west in Iceland you travel around the coast on this highway — only the truly bold with vehicles to match travel across the center of this geological monstrosity.

The interior regions of this Iceland tend to be rough, volcanic, glacial, desertified, or otherwise hellish landscapes. People tend to only venture there for kicks, on trips, or for a little adventure. “People don’t really live there,” I was told when I first arrived in this country and began asking questions. 90 something percent of Icelanders live around the coastal regions, most within reach of Ring Road.

Ring Road around Iceland

So the entire country relies on this single highway to transport goods, passengers, and for general travel. But what happens when there is a problem at some point on Ring Road  that is shut down to traffic?

A group of Americans that I met in Reykjavik found out first hand. After renting a car in the northern city of Akureyri with the plan of driving a clockwise route around Ring Road to Reykjavik. When they were approximately half way around, in the south of the country, a guy flagged them down from the side of the highway. He told them that a bridge up ahead was destroyed by a flooded river, and Ring Road was impassable.

“Ok, so how do we get around it?” the Americans asked unconcerned. Detours are normal anywhere in the world when a road goes out.

“You can’t, you have to go all the way back around,” the guy informed them.

“All the way around where?”

Ring Road, of course.

[adsense]They would now have to turn around and travel on Ring Road all the way back around the country to Reykjavik in a counter clockwise direction. They would need to go back to where they already came from, travel all the way to the west of the country, then all the way south again to get to the country’s capital city. The Americans were just sent on a thousand kilometer detour. No joke. There was a way around the destroyed bridge on Ring Road, but the Americans could not access it with their rental car. So, essentially, they were sitting on the eastern side of Iceland completely blocked off from accessing the western side in the south. Iceland was virtually bifurcated.

There are few true detours in this country that are accessible to a general range of vehicles. 4 X 4s can use the gravel roads that go through the interior, but cars and larger trucks cannot. When Ring Road goes out, entire parts of Iceland become inaccessible save for 1000+ km detours around the ring in the opposite direction. But this fact does not seem to send Icelanders into a panic, for all intensive purposes, they seem use to such environmental inconveniences.

Icelanders seem to be a people who are use to the climate and geologic activities of their country. They seem to take natural inconveniences with sheer grace. Everyone seems to understand, accept, and know how to live within the bounds of this country — they have been living here for hundreds of years, they grew up into this landscape. I did not hear Icelanders complaining about the temporary closure of the southern portion of Ring Road, even though, for all intensive purposes, it divided the southern portion of their country in two. They either drive Ring Road all the way around in the opposite direction, take a 4 X 4 route through the mountains, or they just wait for the bridge to be repaired. These are the only options, the way it is, a fact that seems to be so well accepted. The people here seem to know how to live within the bounds of this volcanic, glacial land that sits between 64 and 66 degrees north latitude. When geo-thermal activity gets hot, glaciers melt, when glaciers melt, roads and bridges are closed — you just have to go around.

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Filed under: Europe, Iceland, Natural Disasters, Transportation, Travel Problems, Western Europe

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 80 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3134 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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