Pre-departure Ponderings

Trip Start Jun 17, 2011
Trip End Aug 26, 2011

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Flag of United States  , New York
Friday, June 17, 2011

Upon our return from the DR, we had a few days at a more familiar all-inclusive--Mike and Esther's at Long Beach (Long Island)! This was a good transition from the luxurious warm tropics to our soon to be cold and frugal existence in Iceland. We balanced our time between running last minute errands by day and visiting relatives and family friends by night. In addition to spending a bit more time with Adam, Lauren, Avery, and Ben, we had a great time catching up with several of Matt's aunts, uncle, and cousins over dinner at an Italian place. We also made a trip out to Hoboken, New Jersey to visit the Edelman family. This was significant due to the fact that it ended a long running joke that I was Snuffaluffagus since Matt swore he had a girlfriend during past visits with them, but they had never actually met me.

This was also our last chance to mentally prepare and reflect on the last four months of preparation before the adventure was officially underway. So what exactly are we trying to brace our mental stamina against anyway? Here's a selection of some of the things we've read and heard from reputable sources:

The Lonely Planet guide book shares, "Cycling through Iceland's dramatic landscape is a wonderful way to see the country, but you should be prepared for some harsh conditions along the way. Gale-force winds, driving rain, sandstorms, sleet and sudden flurries of snow are all possible at any time of the year. It's essential to know how to do your own bike repairs and to bring several puncture-repair kits and spares, as supplies are hard to come by outside of Reykjavik."

A website we regularly consulted for information emphasized, "Strong winds can be a serious problem in Iceland, particularly if it's a side or head wind. We were nearly blown off the road on a couple of occasions. Heading into a head wind can seriously reduce your speed. We met a German couple on the Highland Kolur route going south to north, due to a 25-30 mph head wind and going uphill they had only managed to cover 25 km in 2 days."

To make that point just a little sharper, when we approached Thomas, who biked the length of North and South America (see entry 12), after his REI presentation for advice, he responded along the lines of, "Iceland? Oh, it's very windy in Iceland. When I traveled there by car, I learned from the locals to always park my rental facing into the wind. Otherwise, when you open the door, the wind will rip it off!" Cool, thanks, since we won't have a car, we'll be sure to always point our bikes into the wind so we don't get ripped off of them!

Casey´s Aunt Anitra wrote from her experience in Iceland, "A wonderfully weird place but it is alllllll uphill, so good luck with the biking."

Some advice from our friend April who spent some time riding in Iceland last summer included, "Ride the bike fully loaded a bunch before the trip. Iceland has headwinds in every single direction and I ended up with tendinitis in my knees for the last four weeks of the trip, I think because I didn't ride fully loaded. We also had some 16 to 17% grades in places, which were intense, but way fun." Well, we didn't quite accomplish the fully loaded part, does somewhat-loaded count for avoiding tendinitis?

Another contact who enthusiastically shared advice from his biking Iceland experience wrote, "We had plenty of maritime conditions but only one to two times had severe winds. We stayed in hostels a couple of times during bucketing storms."

"If you don't have the physical and psychological equipment to put up with cold, wind and rain, then you may well have a miserable time," quoth another website.

The author of Arctic Cycle described himself, "An avid traveler, runner, skier, cyclist ..... and unbelievably poor surfer .... Andy is no stranger to physical challenges. It is only natural that his first book should concern the biggest challenge of his life. A regular marathon runner, he freely admits that cycling round Iceland was the hardest thing he has ever done."

My personal favorite comes from Insight Guides authoritatively declaring, "Cycling in Iceland has become increasing popular in recent years. To Icelanders this development is, it has to be said, all but comprehensible. A very large proportion of Iceland's rural roads are still gravel-surfaced, and some of them are bumpy, stony, and downright hazardous. The country is mountainous, and often very windy. If it rains, cyclists get plastered with sludge. If it is dry, they choke on clouds of dust. Cycling around Iceland is strictly for masochists."

On the flip side of these daunting, yet realistic, observations and advice, we've received an outpouring of encouragement from innumerable sources in a variety of creative formats. Whether spoken words, a champagne toast, a gift, a thoughtful letter, an "adventure fund contribution," ride to the airport, or just by being interested enough to suffer through this blog, we have found strength in the outpouring of other people's belief in us. And for this we are grateful, VERY grateful.

So on the verge of our departure with little time left for preparation, how do we feel about our efforts to date? As with anything, we have our strengths and our weaknesses. What we have going for us is our carefully selected gear, which at this point you've probably heard way too much about. We feel that we have a good deal of background knowledge about Iceland, mainly in the form of random factoids and superlatives that were primarily gathered when creating "Icelandic Trivial Pursuit" as part of our celebration of Icelandic National Beer Day (see blog entry 2). And lastly, we have our lasting anticipation and excitement that has seen us through four months of almost complete absorption of our spare time.

In terms of physical training, we are neither here nor there. Since finding out that this was to become a reality this summer, we've cycled about two-thirds the distance of the Ring Road at 650 miles, yet we never rode our bikes at full weight capacity.

In terms of mental preparation, we have no similar experiences to draw upon nor did we ever deal with any significant adversity in our training trips. Perhaps the area where I still feel the most vulnerable is in our ability, or lack thereof, to repair a broken bike in the middle of nowhere. While we have come a long way in learning the basics, the mechanical workings of this relatively simple machine are far from intuitive for me. Since my travels in Latin America have instilled a pride in me of being able to communicate in the local language, I had hope to make headway into basic Icelandic phrases by now. Lack of time and the intimidating complexities of pronunciation have hindered progress, so our repertoire remains at yes, no, thank you, goodbye, six, telephone--and most importantly--cheers! And fortunately for us, Icelanders start learning English, among other languages, at a very young age.

We'd also argue that while we've done our best to prepare, a total lack of planning is actually an asset to our potential for success as well. Our bike idol Willie Weir (see entry number 12) sums it up perfectly in his book Travels With Willie: Adventure Cyclist. In fact, I haven't read anything that better captures the WHY of travel by bicycle and I highly recommend that you get your hands on a copy. He'll inspire you too. Anyhow, he writes:

    "The most important piece of advice that I can give to someone heading out on an extended bicycle journey is don't overplan. It is also the most difficult piece of advice to follow for a first time traveler. Planning gives one a sense of security. It helps suppress hyperventilation and anxiety attacks prior to leaping off into an adventure. But stare at the map long enough and I guarantee you'll go to far. The brilliant idea will come to you that if you average ninety-six miles a day, you'll be able to visit fifteen major national parks, six museums and still have time to catch the annual yellow zucchini festival. Or you'll alleviate all fear of not finding a place to stay by calling ahead and making reservations at thirty-four hotels and fifty-three campgrounds along your "carved-in-stone" route. Adventures are many, many things...but they are never planned. Trips are planned. Adventure is what happens when the plan takes a detour. But detours take time, and if you've planned your journey down to the fine minutia, there is little or no wiggle room for adventure to squeeze into."

Which is precisely why Matt and I haven't yet bought a map or cracked open the guidebook, or so we justify to ourselves...And while it is easy for us to come to consensus on how much not to plan, our differing perspectives on how to approach our mental preparation made for some stressful moments and tense conversations. Basically, Matt's guiding principle is to prepare for the worst and don't bother to hope for the best because there is no way that it is going to work out that way. Whereas, I fall back on something along the lines of ignorance is bliss and serendipity is on our side. While in reality these extreme views are a tad more moderate than summarized, the overall effect was that our differing approached balanced each other out, but not without testing the bounds of our patience and communication skills.

Coming back from our last ride, Matt commented that he couldn't believe how far we had come with our biking abilities and being prepared for the challenge. I responded, " That sounds strangely optimistic coming from you," to which he replied, "Well, we haven't ridden in bad weather yet."

But perhaps I will leave you with my favorite Matt quote stated prior to our first overnight ride: "I really hope I like this bike touring thing because I already have it in my head that I want to do more of it." How's that for optimism?

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Erica Tucker on

I love the planning/overplanning passage you shared from WIllie's book, and will think about it on my 4 month roadtrip (loosely sketched in my mind, and very ambiguous about details!). Lots of love to both of you...

Esther and Mike on

Wow..gale force winds, huh?
We know you are going to have a wonderful adventure! You're smart travelers, so we expect you'll know when to head for the hotel!
Have safe!

Aunt Bunny on

Once again thanks for sharing --I should have sent Flat Aunt Bunny with you.
Cool adventure for next years class.

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