To the end of the world and back – exploring Iceland

To describe the Langanes peninsula in north western Iceland as remote would be the understatement of the year. In a country where hikers regularly vanish into the highlands, never to be seen again, understanding the vast emptiness of this country takes some getting used to. You can easily stand beside the thundering waterfalls that line the country side, scream at the top of your lungs until your frustrations vanish, and will not encounter a sole in the process.

It is this remoteness that draws me to Iceland, and makes me want to return. It is a country where the pursuit of outdoor adrenaline is at its finest, with some of the world’s best hiking options, fantastic caving, mesmerizing diving, and unspoiled glaciers. I’ll be back.

An easy route across Iceland is the Ring Road, a well-maintained 2 lane highway that tightly hugs the coast and loops around the country. Ben and I followed the Ring Road from Reykjavik to the East Fjords. Armed with a detailed atlas of Iceland, a map of Hostelling International and a battered copy of Lonely Planet, we set out from Berunes and headed north until the road ended.

Past Þórshöfn in Langanes to Ytra Lon

The road was rewarding. Off the easy to navigate Ring Road, we encountered what I could only call the curvy road of doom. Our Subaru, Bjorn, creaked and sputtered until I figured out that despite the automatic transmission, I needed to change gears.

We were alone on the road, and it started to feel like we were the last people on Earth. We picked up a faint radio signal, and after a few minutes of straining to hear it, we realized they were not speaking Icelandic, but Norwegian.

The Icelandic landscape rewarded me with its emptiness.

But it was a volatile relationship. A turn of a corner, and it was downright lunar and eerie, lacking in all but the simplest of vegetation.

The road threatened to disappear into the dense fog. The rock cairns seemed to come alive, and we tried to scare the shit out of each other with Icelandic sagas involving trolls, before realizing that we didn’t actually know the stories.

We raced against the fading daylight, desperate to make it to Þórshöfn before the sunset, and stock up on food for the night. We made it to Þórshöfn with 10 minutes to spare, and raced to the grocery store to replenish our beer reserves. We drove onwards, northbound, until the road ended. We doubled back, until we found a light at the end of a gravel road, Ytra Lon.

There are times when a camera will not suffice. Staring blankly out the window as I did the dishes, I felt a tingle along my spine. Ben and I had spent the better part of the week hunting the Northern Lights, and I finally gave up on seeing them. I burst out laughing as I cleaned the remains of our Arctic taco dinner, and the electric tingling along my spine came back. We ran out the door, tugging on our warmest layers. The wind was bitter, sweeping in off the Arctic Ocean, 40 km south of the Arctic Circle.

The sky exploded with colour. Flashes of white, yellow and green danced across darkness, dipping into the ocean and soaring over our heads. Huddled in blankets and clutching our beers for warmth, we sat on the hood of Bjorn at the edge of the Earth, watching the Northern Lights dip over the horizon, emerge from the sea, and surround us in white and green, the Arctic Ocean providing us with the symphony to this silent drive-in movie.

As suddenly as it all began, the tingling in my spine stopped, and the light show faded into the darkness. The stillness of Ytra Lon enveloped the night, ushering us back inside its cozy interior, filled with Icelandic and Dutch books and a TV that only got one channel – sporadically, even.

The Langanes peninsula is where I go to in my mind when I need to calm down and be alone with my thoughts. Where do you go?

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