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Arrival in Iceland

There was not a tree in sight as the plane flew into REK. Lava fields, a few shrubs, the sea, it is Iceland. Shit, how am I going to hang up my Hennessy Hammock tent in a landscape where nothing solid protrudes naturally from the earth? I asked myself this as we touched down on [...]

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There was not a tree in sight as the plane flew into REK. Lava fields, a few shrubs, the sea, it is Iceland. Shit, how am I going to hang up my Hennessy Hammock tent in a landscape where nothing solid protrudes naturally from the earth? I asked myself this as we touched down on the runway. My plan to tramp through this country either by bicycle or on foot was not initially looking good, my choice of portable shelter looked completely at odds with the surroundings I was coming into. Then I disembarked, and my feeling of ominousness began giving way to doom. I forgot about the hammock tend and focused on the temperature and the wind for the first time: it was cold. In a flash all those long nights of camping on the sly in the cold came back to me: the January night in Albany when my toes nearly froze of in steel toe boots, Japan in March when it rained and my sleeping bag froze ice solid, France in December when the cold prevented sleep for days on end during an ill-fated hitchhiking journey to Andora. I gulped big, so this is what I spent $500 on flights, dropped a fisheries job in Alaska, and left my family behind to do: freeze in Iceland.

Ships in Reykjavik harbor

Something omnipotent about the nomenclature of this country was sank in more far more thoroughly. “You know, they call it Iceland for a reason.”

The immigration procedure may as well have been automated: give passport, stamp, take passport back. It felt like more of an ATM transaction than being giving permission to roam another land. I sat in the arrivals hall and slumped a little in a seat. I looked around at the other travelers — they were decked out in adventure gear, Goretex, Northface waterproof bags. I looked at myself, and, almost to my surprise, found myself similarly clad. I had a $50 brand new pair of super discount Goretex boots on my feet, a waterproof Northface messenger bag, one of those super fabric breatheable watherproof jackets which I stole, and an incredible Lowe Alpine TT Tour traveling rucksack. My hopes rose, as I realized that I was not off to that bad a start: at least I had a tent, at least I was somewhat prepared to camp and do what I intended to do — which is sort of a rare accomplishment in a travel history in which nonchalance has been more of a mantra than a mere adjective.

Whales are killed for tourists sign in airport

I hopped the $16 bus and rode the 50km into Reykjavik. Getting out at the BSI bus terminal, I began walking out to the campsite that sits three kilometers to the east of town. Along the way something happened: I no longer noticed the cold. In fact, it was no longer present, the sun broke through the clouds and the temperature rose to warm. The sun was shining and my spirits reciprocated the action. I looked out over the sea from Saebraut highway — there were mountains on the other side, the great shock of nature in the raw formed a palisade around this city. This nature is percisely what travelers come to such an ominously named country for. Now I would only need to come up with my means of travel here.

Primary plan: bicycle.

Contingency plan: hike/ hitchhike.

Mountains from Reykjavik

Filed under: Europe, Iceland, Western Europe

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3705 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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4 comments… add one

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  • the candy trail ... | Michael Robert Powell June 19, 2011, 8:27 pm

    Have a blast Wade – sure it will be a great trip. Get into that wicked landscape. Look forward to hearing about your travels with a pink bike 😉 – a volcanic burial sounds cool. PS: Had a good laugh over your “free salad” splurge; good skills.

    the candy trail … a nomad across the planet, since 1988

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    • Wade Shepard June 20, 2011, 7:28 am

      Thanks MRP!

      This should be funny. All the other bikers here are super decked out with $10,000 set ups and corporate sponsorship. I am either going to show them up or look like a real ass.

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  • Bob L June 21, 2011, 8:40 pm

    You have already shown them up. Nothing better in my opinion than being the fringe man. The round peg and all that. Those folks will sell their soul to talk to you and hear their stories. Not all of them. Some will be horribly insulted that you are doing what they are doing on only a shoestring. Screw that part of the crowd. The rest will provide you with loads of pages to write. I see this in motorcycles all the time. You get the guys with the $20,000 adventure bikes so loaded down they barely make it down paved roads, and when they run into a guy on a beat up old street bike that by all rights should not even run, but the guy is on a world tour, some ignore the guy, others will buy him a beer, dinner, hotel, maybe a woman or two.

    Have fun…… But it would be more fun with a motor 8^)

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    • Wade Shepard June 22, 2011, 5:10 am

      This is an excellent analysis of this circumstance, and something that I am sure to experience much more of as this trip continues. The story that is going up today is a good example of the “amazed gawker” who can’t believe that you are doing something that so many spend thousands of dollars to do so raw and cheap. Though think that you are foolish, they are still intrigued and helpful. I have not yet met the other type yet, though I have yet to leave Reykjavik, but I know I will. Some people dropping $10,000 to do what I am going to do on a few hundred will be offended, or at least feel shown up — well, if I pull it off haha. I’ve experienced this on previous biketramping journeys. But Iceland, I am sure, will be more extreme: this is an “adventure” biking landscape, and not just Euro bike touring, and these people out here are very well prepared haha. Though I have seen a few other tramps too.

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