There is an ancient Icelandic saying that is quoted to show how the people have always been at the mercy of nature, “The King wants to sail but the breeze must prevail.” Natural elements play such a huge part in the lives of the Icelandic people that one only has to traverse this beautiful country to witness just how much impact nature has. As a visitor for a very short time, it was evident to me just how spectacular this country is and only enticed me to want to explore it that much more. You know when you are reading a very good book how engrossed you are and can’t even imagine putting it down until you finish? Well, that is how I felt while traveling around Iceland. I felt as if I was not reading a book but walking into it. The pages (landscape) almost came alive as we witnessed the most spectacular natural occurrences. For that reason, I will break down this blog into mini paragraphs as I witnessed them and hope that you can get a glimpse of just how exciting and magical this country was.
Upon arrival into Iceland we were bussed to our hotel in downtown Reykjavik, the oldest city in Iceland. It was about a 45-minute drive from the airport with ocean on one side and mountains on the other. What struck me immediately was just how green it was. In fact, I asked our granddaughter Alexis if she could count how many colors of green there were, and could she create a crayon that matched all of them! Her answer was that there were at least 4 greens combined with yellows and some brown, and yes, she could create it….I think she should enter a Crayola contest!!! Little did I know exactly what I was going to see, in fact, I thought Iceland….ice!! Well, from the bus we could not see anything remotely like what I had imagined. It was very volcanic with moss and grass growing all over. A two lane road led to the town which when we entered almost looked as if I was somewhere in Sweden. It is no wonder, as people of Norse and Celtic origin from Scandinavia settled Iceland. Our hotel was extremely nice and centrally located so that we could walk to restaurants, shopping and also for the pre-race jog along the waterfront. With only a 5-minute walk to the race site, race morning became more manageable with only a 5:00 A.M. wake-up call. With the family all settled into their rooms and fed, we were ready to retire with anticipation of what the next day would hold.
DOG SLEDDING ON SOLHEIMAJOKULL:
Today would mark one of the most memorable days of our family’s trip. A 12-seat jeep that had tires the size of a small building picked us all up. We loaded everyone in, Randy, myself, Jason (our oldest son), Donna his wife, Alexis and Morgan their daughters, Katherine (our daughter,) Emma and Aidan her son and daughter, Kevin our cameraman, Jennifer from Caron Renaissance and our driver. Wow, I´m surprised I could remember everyone’s name….it was like moving the troops!!! We drove approximately 2 ½ hours until we reached the building at the base of the glacier where we were to obtain the required gear to make the trek towards the dogs. Outfitting the small ones was quite a feat as Aidan (only 17 months old) really wanted nothing to do with the snowsuit, that’s supposed to only be for Santa Claus isn’t it? Emma looked like a puffball and Alexis fit quite nicely into her new ensemble. The rest of us just looked like, well, I don’t know exactly, but we weren’t going out on the town soon! We were loaded back into the jeep where we promptly began to climb up the glacier. This was quite a beautiful site with ice all around and bits of black lava rock jutting out. As this was the end of summer and very little snow had fallen there were quite a few cracks in the ice. For that reason, the dogs were situated further up the glacier and we were informed that taking the jeep to their location was not safe. So, our trekking journey began as we walked to the meeting point and some not too able guides, as we were later to find out, escorted Randy, Kevin and Jason on snowmobiles! Kevin’s interpretation of this may be vastly different than mine as he was the one thrown off the snowmobile….not once, but twice (I think he would have preferred to walk!)
The trek to the dogs began by maneuvering through some mud, over ice cracks and ultimately to a bit more of the hard packed, yet soft, ice/snow. I was carrying Aidan while Alexis wearing Ugg boots and Emma wearing tennis shoes were troopers and walked the entire way. I would venture to say that they would now go back to school telling everyone that they had their very first walk on a glacier without snowshoes! The walk did become a bit treacherous and unsettling as we were informed to be on the watch for large cracks with markers (long red sticks) near by. These holes, some of which I could not even bring myself to look into, were so deep that if one were to fall inside it would be to the point of no return. I think that this was about as close as I would ever want to be to rock climbing or ice trekking, way too much pressure for me! The walk took about 20 minutes, however, it seemed like an eternity as the snowsuits started to heat up, or was it me from the high blood pressure? Probably not the best thing to be doing the day before preparing to run 26.2 miles!!!
Well, we had finally arrived and what a gorgeous view we had from the top. The dogs were waiting, all connected to both sleds. Each was to be pulled by 8 dogs, their position determined by their age and strength. They were very friendly but we were not allowed to pet them until halfway through the ride and toward the way back. These dogs, native to Greenland, are actually quite wild but docile enough that under restraints can be pet, as they love the attention. With each other, however, they can be very aggressive and do at times fight ferociously. We took two sleds, one with Jennifer towards the back, Katherine in front of her, and Emma between her legs. Aidan and I were in the front of them. On the other sled were Donna, Morgan and Alexis. As the guides shouted the dogs began to pull and we were off, slowly at first up the glacier. Randy and Jason were on one snowmobile along side of us while Kevin was on the other shooting this most exciting adventure.
After about 30 minutes and some time to stop and get to know the dogs we were heading back on the sleds towards the staging point. As the dogs knew that they were heading home, their speed picked up and the guide had to jump onto our sled in order to slow it down. We were not even buckled in and our legs began to flop off the sled (well, probably only mine as I was more concerned with holding onto to Aidan.) I think that the seat belt law should be enforced here except it probably would ruin the moment.
What an incredible experience to feel the sheer force of the dogs as they began pulling, barking and leaping into the air. But now that we were back we had to begin traversing back toward the jeep and through the ice crack jungle. I must say that I was truly worried about the large holes and how thin the ice might be around them. Emma at this point was crying because her poor little feet were soaked through and freezing cold so having her ride on the snowmobile back was the only option. Randy was relegated to walking with us while Uncle Jason took Emma on his snowmobile. Now I had to worry about him following directions and staying in the line so that he didn’t slip into the cracks. To make it even worse he wasn’t even wearing tennis shoes but some sort of docker shoes (I’m not really sure what kind they were but certainly not what you would consider climbing a glacier with!) He did make it back without any accidents, however, I do recall Katherine shouting a few times….dad, stay behind and follow the guide’s line!!! His shoes however, did not make it and wound up in the hotel trash!!
The day ended with everyone totally amazed at the awesome spectacle of nature not believing that it could be so beautiful. Seeing it in a book does not compare to witnessing it first hand. While walking up there one almost felt as if they were not on earth but somewhere beyond. This experience was truly otherworldly!
My alarm went off promptly at 5:00 A.M. and once again, almost robotically, I began to mix that magic breakfast potion of applesauce and oats. Looking outside I could see that it was a bit cloudy but no rain. Instantly I knew that it was going to be a good day and sat with anticipation mentally preparing to run number 5 of my 7 marathons. By 7:00 A.M. Jennifer Lorey, a therapist from Caron Renaissance, who was about to run her very first marathon, greeted me. Together we walked to the race site where, as always, the butterflies began to flutter. One would think that after running so many consecutive marathons that the pre-race jitters would go away, however, they are such a normal part of the anticipatory process that I would worry if they were not present. Jennifer and I found our little plot of ground to stand upon, gave each other one last good luck hug and the gun sounded…..we were off for a wonderful run!
Heading through town I felt extremely strong and was ever cognizant that I really needed to pace myself on this one. With the weather almost perfect for running it was a little difficult to restrain myself but I was able, very early on, to find a person who appeared to be running effortlessly and at my pace so I stuck with him. Keith (my coach) would have been proud to know that I was finally trying to draft off of someone miraculously finding that he was blocking a lot of the wind (I’m a bit of a slow learner!) We headed out of the main downtown area, across a small bridge, through a residential area and ultimately back to the other side of town along the waterfront. From here we began a major portion of the run on walking pathways. It was so wonderful to have even ground beneath my feat and to be able to look ahead, instead of down, as there really were spectacular sites to see! Local people lined the course cheering everyone on but I’m not exactly sure what they were saying as the Icelandic language is rather difficult to figure out. Further down the pathway as we hit approximately mile 10, those running the half marathon began to head back to town to complete their race day. We continued on through the shipyards (the only part of the course that was not that pretty.) Once we came out from there it was back onto the walk path, through a beautiful park and ultimately returned alongside the water. At approximately the 13 mile mark I was still feeling great and holding a pace that would give me my PR (at least by my calculations.) I handed off my belt to Kevin, strapped on the new one and was off. It wasn’t until around mile 20 when the wind began to pick up and the rain started. It blew quite hard coming off the water, pushing me sideways and what felt like backwards. Luckily once we ran about another couple of miles we would turn inland a bit but that only took care of the wind dilemma. At this point, checking my Garmin showed that I had about 4 miles left and probably wouldn’t get the PR but could hold at least the time that I had qualified for Boston with, a 4:12. So I continued moving, a bit slower now, managed to get the next 2 miles completed, began to hear the sounds of the finish line and instinctively picked up my pace. Just around the corner and there it was….the finish line!! Katherine was at the end of the shoot holding our Run7on7 flags and what a beautiful site that was to see. She handed me one and proudly I ran with it crossing the finish line of my 5th Continent in 4:15:50!!!
FINAL DAY IN ICELAND:
Today we, as a family, were to soak up the history, folklore and very dynamic land that make up Iceland and have formed the way in which the Icelandic people exist and think. 11% of Iceland’s landscape is covered in lava rock as there are somewhere around 20 active volcanoes today. We were to cross between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates a visual of how this country is still changing and forming. Earthquakes, very common, but they say rarely harmful occur regularly. We witnessed the awe-inspiring activity of Iceland’s geothermal activity as Geysir, one of the oldest hot springs erupts every few minutes. Jason, Donna and Jennifer saw first hand how high and wide this eruption reaches as they instantly were mesmerized by the bubbling water and forgot to move as it shot up into the air and directly at them….first time at a geyser guys???? From there we continued on to Gullfoss, the most spectacular waterfall that I personally have ever seen. Most everyone climbed up to the top, stood and watched as the water fell down. I, however, went to the top, instantly realized that it was pretty high, one could slip and fall, the children could go over the top and I climbed down probably quicker than I went up! Heights are not my passion (as evidenced on the Great Wall in China!)
One of the fun parts of the trip was to watch and listen to the grandchildren trying to find where the Hidden People lived. They inspected every rock along the route and indicated exactly where, they thought, these people lived. Icelandic folklore believes that these very regal (almost prince and princess like) little people live towards the glaciers in the rock formations. Centuries ago when people had little idea about their land they spun tales about spirits that inhabited mountains and grassy valleys conjuring up trolls, hidden people, as well as horses and cows in the lakes. I must admit, I don’t think I’m too old to fantasize about these inhabitants, you never know what could be truth or fiction…maybe they have a pot of gold (wait, that’s Ireland…oh well!)
Iceland is such a magical country with so much to explore and do that I hope we have the opportunity to revisit. I have been so very fortunate to experience so much within a short period of time and can only hope that this trip will inspire others to explore it. In the book “Lost In Iceland” author Sigurgeir Sigurjonsson sums up the very feelings one gets when he states, “Is there a spirit in the mountain? Heathens believed so in the past, and Christians up to this day. Those who are raised beside a mountain carry that mountain inside them ever after – the mountain has made its home within them. And people’s thoughts beneath a mountain gradually take their shape from the mountain. The mountain becomes an integral part of the lives of the people around it, and their thoughts about the mountain gradually become the mountain’s spirit. But can the stones speak? Does a soul dwell in every flower? Is there a spirit in the mountain? Of course there is. And it is a whimsical spirit and it arouses conflicting feelings among the citizens of that land, leaving us sometimes fearful, sometimes full of veneration, devotion, helplessness, pride…” I hope you can feel the magic!!