Though this summer has quickly morphed into a “I can cram a winter’s worth of training into a few weeks in June to get ready for race season, right?” frenzy, I have something else looming on the horizon: my 19-day trip through Iceland.
Oh, yes. Iceland. The trendy hotspot.
In my defense, I’m not going there because I saw the Blue Lagoon on Instagram *insert LOL smiley here*. I’ve always known Iceland was some sort of misnamed haven of natural beauty, but my own obsession started in January 2014 when I saw The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in theaters (which, to tie it to cycling… was the evening after my first USAC cyclocross podium!). The movie is mostly filmed in Iceland, though they’ll have you thinking it’s Afghanistan or Greenland. The first scene where he’s off the ship, riding the bicycle through Iceland I immediately said (probably out loud) “I’m going to go there and do that!” So there’s the backstory. No Blue Lagoon, no Instagram. It wasn’t until the fall of 2015 or so I really started planning, as international travel was a daunting task to me, and I was still trying to chase a pro mountain biker dream.
Original plans really settled around some expensive mountain biking tours in the highlands. Which, still, I’d love to do. But those plans faded away as I got deeper into my Iceland research and realized there’s a whole lot more I wanted to see from off of a bicycle. Then when the Glacier 360 mountain bike stage race was created, I decided I would go there to do that. But hell, the entry fee is nearly half the price of what I’m paying for having a camper van 19 nights… Ugh. 3 days of mountain bike racing, or maybe a longer trip? Finally in the summer of 2016 I made some lodging reservations for September 2017, happy it was finally starting to get planned… and that plan was really basing myself out of Reykjavik for day long mountain bike tours and snorkeling (never mind my fear of water over 5 feet deep and how I won’t put my face in water…). Then… naturally, life happened. I changed jobs. I no longer had a massive bank of PTO and flexible hospital nurse schedule. Iceland would have to wait 😦 *sobs*
After finally ditching the Glacier 360 race idea (though, naturally, I’d love to do it some day if I could find a willing partner since you must do it as a duo… hint hint), I set my sights on September 2018 and didn’t look back. Wham, bam, full Iceland planning ahead! Camper van reserved, nonrefundable airfare purchased, tickets on the bus into Landmannalaugar, and hopefully tonight, tickets for the ferry to the Westfjords. That’s it, I’m going to Iceland!
I’m probably done about one thousand times the research as the typical traveler to Iceland. I know this is true from reading the various Facebook Iceland travel groups I’m a part of, and how at least once a day I cringe at what appears to be someone buying international airfare without an ounce of research, who then wants to know what to see, bitch that Iceland is expensive, and that the roads are scary. But I digress… I have an obsessive personality. I have to know everything and anything. If there’s a travel blog on Iceland, I’ve probably read it. Travel guides? Yep, there’s 3 on my coffee table. Facebook groups? Already discussed. Quizzing friends I know who have gone there? Done. Million bookmarked sites on my laptop? Most definitely. I worked probably well over a year on my itinerary, growing it from 5 days to 19 days, and changing and adjusting as I discovered new things or when my boyfriend pointed out that we were missing the northeastern part, and that we shouldn’t (hey, I’m just happy he had some sort of input, ha! And it was brilliant!).
I’m two and a half months from departure time, and feeling a bit of a crunch all of a sudden. Not really on my itinerary, as in fact I have relaxed on that bit after being mad at myself for not going for 22 days and realizing it would be quite pricey to change my return flight home. It’s all the little details… ensuring what time we get picked up for our camper van, getting PINs assigned to my credit cards, getting my middle name added onto my Icelandair ticket as they didn’t have a middle name field when I booked it, buying inverters and European electrical outlet adapter things (which lead to me shamelessly yelling “Didn’t the US invent electricity? Why can’t they use our plugs? —-> the one stereotypical American attitude moment I’m allowed to have once a year), do I need a Sprocket printer to print photos for my bullet journal, where is the cat cafe located in Reykjavik, and how exactly do I photograph the Northern Lights?!
Arghhh… let’s not mention me buying a second rain jacket because it’s red and will look better in photos.
Travel bloggers make it all look so glamorous and easy. Which is probably why I blog about my cycling races and life, not travel. Because no one wants to read about how travel really is.
So for those who do, here’s how I’ve been surviving through this planning process of a 19 day road trip around Iceland:
- Google Doc: One page for each day. I put sunrise/sunset time at the top, followed by travel time. Under that I list each stop/thing I want to see/do, with possible maps (of hiking routes mostly). Next are any hot pots planned for the day (yes, really, I’m NOT going to the Blue Lagoon). At the bottom I list the campsite, price, and amenities (like free shower), followed by grocery stores the route passes through.
- Google Maps: You can create custom maps with Google Maps. This is really so awesome. I have 19 maps, one for every day of the trip that mirrors the information in my Google Doc. I also have one that just shows planned things for my one day in Reykjavik that is walking based.
- Leuchtturm1917 Medium Size Hardcover A5 Notebook – Dotted Pages- White: I’ve been using my version of the “bullet journal” for about 1.5 years now. I decided I wanted to create one for this trip that would have all the important details (flight info, embassy contact, insurance info, packing lists, whatever) and then space to journal and jot down stuff.
- Iceland Travel Reference Map 1:400,000-2015: Though there’s amazing cell service in Iceland, paper maps are always good. Plus it’s been a good planning tool. I’m a person that still likes paper and analog format (hence the Leuchtturm journal), and it’s a good idea to have a paper map when driving hundreds and hundreds of miles around a foreign country.
- Lonely Planet Iceland & Lonely Planet Iceland’s Ring Road: Two of the paper travel guides I got. Though not as useless as the all powerful Google search engine, still lots of great information. There’s many Iceland travel guide books on the market, and they all seem to have their pros and cons.
I’ve also decided to start making a pile in my spare bedroom of my house of stuff for the trip. Though luckily I have a ton of tech gear thanks to my general lifestyle, I beefed up my rain gear options and bought new hiking boots. I’ve also discovered the wonder of packing cubes, which I have gone crazy using for all my work travel. Oh, and let’s not forget the amazing double person sleeping bag! Some of the gear in the Iceland pile includes:
- North Face Resolve Parka: what, a rain jacket with polka dots?! Yes!! I have gotten to use this in a few instances of Wyoming wind and rain, and it works well.
- The North Face Women’s Venture 2 Half Zip Pants: Haven’t had a chance to play in the rain with these, but they came with good reviews. Much better than my ripped up Showers Pass ones that I wore cycling in Seattle, and ended up more wet from sweat than the rain…
- PackTowl Personal Microfiber Towel: Space is key in luggage and a camper van, and I only own regular bath towels, mostly with cats and dinosaurs on them. Enter this towel.
- Salomon Women’s Quest 4d 2 GTX W Backpacking Boot: I usually wear trail running shoes on my hikes because I was never a fan of my existing hiking boots, but realized something more durable and waterproof would be good for Iceland. I’ve only worn these around the house so far, but am a fan and will hike in them more this summer. I use Salomon trail running shoes as well, so the brand just fits me well. Luckily like most things I’ve purchased for this trip, they will get used beyond Iceland on all the hikes I do.
- Kelty Tru.Comfort 20 Degree Double Wide Sleeping Bag: This sleeping bag is simply amazing, regardless of fitting two people! OK, but it’s HUGE. Luckily I smooshed it down into a 35L compression sack. They told me it could not be done… but I got it done! I didn’t want to rent a sleeping bag from the camper van company, as it would be hard to know how warm it would be. This bag has already been used on several camping trips this year, too. Warm, snuggly, and even if you’re single it’s nice to have a big bag to stretch out in… or maybe share with a pet? Either way, I’m a fan!
So yeah… enough Iceland brain vomit for now. In a way, I can’t believe the trip is really happening in just a couple of months, especially after all these years of research and planning. There’s still more to buy, loose ends to tie up, and then of course packing and all the preparations involved in any vacation of this length. Until then, there’s plenty of mountain bike racing, hiking, and adventures to be had in my Rocky Mountains!