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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Iceland 2016: Seyðisfjörður

The day began with another dirt traversal on our mini van, which was remarkably challenging, since I had to keep shifting gears to keep the car from stalling out on the steep dirt roads. The Citreon Grand Picasso has a feature that I thought was quite broken: there's no separate hand brake control. Starting the car and putting it into drive automatically turned off the hand brake, while stopping the car and putting it into the park automatically engaged the hand brake. While a nice convenience feature on flat land, it makes starting on a hill with the usual trick of "engage the hand brake, then slowly let out the clutch while providing gas and only disengage the hand brake when the car's not going to stall" impossible to utilize. I stalled the car a couple of times, but between the dirt road, the fog, and my obvious incompetence at the stick shift (the car did roll back a couple of times while I got the hang of starting off on dirt) meant that not only was my wife too nervous to take pictures, she was also to terrified to consider asking me to stop for pictures.

Once the road became paved and we started up the road to Seydisfiodur, however, the scenery became even more stunning. On a good weather day don't expect to take less than an hour to traverse the road because it's simply too pretty. We stopped at every turn out, even in some places blocking dirt roads for pictures, and when we found the hiking pull out about 500m in elevation above the town we simply had to stop.

The scenery was gorgeous. The hiking reminded me a lot of my first day on the coast to coast: soaked through with water, and a severe test of the water proofing on my Salomon XA Pro 3D trail runners (summary: they failed --- the waterproof label is pretty worthless). Staring at the trail map, it looked like you could hike all the way to town from there, and it would have been awesome to arrange a one-way taxi from town to this location so you could hike down to town, or find the corresponding location in town to hike up --- it looked very rugged, but with gorgeous scenery it's definitely not something any serious hiker should pass up.

In town, we had a supermarket lunch, and then proceeded to find more hiking spots.

We shot picture after picture, and hiked up to a waterfall. Iceland on that day definitely exceeded my expectations --- it felt just as pretty as Switzerland was, but with its own unique vegetation and terrain.

We had to drive back to Eglistadir for lodging, and reluctantly left in the mid afternoon. The drive to our AirBnB turned out to be once again over a dirt road to a bunch of newly built buildings. The furnishings were quite elegant and compact, and it had an outdoor BBQ. We made dinner and then, given the infinite amount of light we had, ambitiously went for another waterfall hike. As usual, Google maps misled us as to where the trailhead was, but we eventually found it thanks to a local runner. When we got to the trailhead, it was quite clear that the trail was under going some heavy duty renovation: huge machines were driving up and down and were clearly about to pave it.

This one wasn't nearly as gorgeous: while the waterfall was promised to be one of those that you could hike behind, when I got there with Bowen, it was very clear that this was beyond the ability of a 4 year old: you had to drop off into a dark canyon/ravine holding on to a chain. Any slip could cause a major injury. What blew my mind was that this hike was rated "easy." I was learning that Icelandic Hiking is set at a level far beyond what I was used to in other countries. In Switzerland, for instance, I learned that a 2 hour hike according to the sign would take me an hour and a half at most going at full speed. Here in Iceland, a 2 hour hike would actually take me 2 hours, and despite carrying Boen I'm still a faster hiker than most visitors I saw! If you visit Iceland for a hiking trip, bring all your gear and be prepared for the "easy" hikes to take much more than you expect. And yes, Bowen did do all the walking himself, though he wasn't fast. This is definitely a country for those hikers who like challenges.

We got back to our AirBnB in time to see the horses back in their pasture. For more than the first time, I wished that I could have known in advance to spend way more time out here on the East Coast of Iceland, but the reality was that the forecast was for more crappy weather and we probably wouldn't have gotten a chance to do more hiking anyway.

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