“Iceland, really?” yes it is true. Charlie and I went to Iceland to compete in Iceland’s premier Worldloppet cross-country race on May 2nd.
May 2nd is our friend Wes’ birthday and last summer he asked us to go with him and his wife Linda to celebrate by skiing in the Fossavtnsgangan in the Wild West Fjords of Iceland.
Iceland’s Fossavtnsgangan is the last event of the year on the Worldloppet race calendar. The first event for next year’s calendar is the Ushuaia Loppet on August 8th, in Argentina. The USA Worldloppet event is the American Birkebeiner in Wisconsin and Canada’s Gatineau Loppet held in Gatineau Park near Ottawa.
We flew out of Boston on Thursday night via WOW airlines. This is a new discount Icelandic airline that is no frills; you even have to pay for water. The five hour flight went by quickly and their new Airbus was nice (its carpet reads WoW and when leaving the plane it reads Mom). In Iceland it is four hours earlier so we arrived at 4:30 am on Friday.
From the Iceland international airport (KEF) we took a 45 minutes taxi ride to the domestic airport in Reykjavik (RKV). We waited with a few Russian skiers outside in the cold wind for more than an hour for the small airport to open. About 15 minutes before our 8am flight they opened up the desk, grabbed our luggage, gave us a seat assignment and had us walk on to the plane.
I slept for the one hour flight to Isafjordur (IFJ). The airfield is on the water of the fjord. We rented a four wheel drive Suzuki and loaded all our luggage and skis into the small rig. We drove around the water to the small village on the other side.
We picked up our race registration; the race would start in less than 24 hours. We went to a bakery and had coffee and sandwiches. The small shop was packed with skiers from all over the world.
We visited the ski shop in town that was also packed tight with skiers wanting to learn the local pros’ wax recommendations. Some people dropped off their skis and paid $100 to have the shop wax their skis.
Next we were off to find our Hostel and we had to drive through a 6 mile long tunnel under a mountain to another fjord. 3 miles of the tunnel was a single lane with pullouts every tenth of a mile, crazy.
Our hostel was located in the tiny fishing village of Flateyri and only opened to host us for the race. Tourist season doesn’t begin for another month. Eleven skiers from Germany, Japan, the UK and the USA shared the house with two bathrooms; bunk beds for everyone. Truly it was wonderful and the sun didn’t set until 11:30 pm (sorry no Northern Lights when the sun barely sets).
The next morning the ride back through the tunnel (we had the right of way this time) and the bus ride up to the start line were exciting. The wind was blowing and it was snowing in the mountains. We learned that the 50k (32 miles) race would be two laps of 25k for our safety instead of one lap deep into the mountains.
Wes and I joined the 9 am mass start for the 50k and we skied up into the blizzard. At times the long line of skiers disappeared and I could barely see the person in front me. The tracks blew away. Wes and I skied together and before he skied off ahead of me he told me he might drop out after the first lap if the blizzard continued.
Charlie entered the 25k and Linda the 10k and their start was delayed to send the groomer back out to try re-set tracks.
A funny thing happened just before I started out on my second lap. The sun came out for only 10 minutes. Wes confessed the sun was out just long enough to make him decide to do the second lap. In fact the second lap was tougher than the first.
I skied hard at my own pace, enjoyed warm energy drinks and kept on kicking and gliding. I was comfortable and having fun and I hoped Charlie and my friends were too.
At the finish line I could hear Charlie and Linda cheering. My time was four and half hours, a good time for a tough ski and Wes finished about fifteen minutes ahead of me. Charlie had a fast race and stayed with the lead pack right until near the finish. Linda said there was a good chance she might have been the first USA finisher (and only) in her event.
After the race in the school’s sports center a large cake buffet and awards were held. Just imagine cakes and treats of all kinds and 800 hungry skiers attacking the buffet. Homemade yummies that appeared to be endless were served.
The 25k awards were first and Charlie was presented with first place in his age group. This was no surprise to him since he was certain everyone that finished ahead of him was younger. But during the 50k awards when my name was called for 3rd place in my age group, we all almost fell out of our chairs! I learned if I was a minute faster I would have been 2nd and if I was a minute slower I would have been 4th. Ha! I beat Norwegians was my first thought. I guess snowshoeing all over NH’s mountains was good blizzard marathon training.
At the same venue in the evening we attended the “fish buffet”. Now the gym was turned into a lovely banquet hall with the tables covered with white table clothes and set for dinner. Local fish prepared using different Icelandic recipes were the delicious fare. Our new friends from the hostel joined us and a group of skiers from Luxembourg filled our table. After the meal I confess we were all too tired and we skipped the dancing.
The next morning we drove over the next mountain and around another fjord to reach the smaller village of Pingeyri, home of West Horses. We explained we wanted to ride their Icelandic Horses but we had to make the 3 pm flight back to Reykjavik. No worries, we helped round up the horses, we saddled up and we took off. Linda is the only one that rides horses. Charlie, Wes and I just did what we were told. Icelandic horses look like shaggy rugged ponies and are the only horses in Iceland. No other horses are imported and if one leaves the island it cannot return.
Our morning ride was a thrill. The horses carried us along the mountains, over snow, through rivers and along the fjord’s beach. I held on tight and managed not to fall off the sure footed trotting beast.
Once in Reykjavik we rented a car and found our hotel. We walked all over the city, went up to the top of the famous church tower and enjoyed a fabulous meal down at the waters edge.
We hit the road early again and were off to experience some of Iceland’s famous natural attractions. We hiked a couple miles up and over some big hills to reach the Steaming Valley and we soaked in the Hot River. Charlie and Wes went up close to a boiling pool and ran away quickly after it spit hot mud up in the air. We were lucky we had the place to ourselves and on our return we passed several dozen hikers making their way up.
Next we drove to the Geyser and every 4 to 8 minutes the blue bubble formed and it exploded! After watching it blow a half dozen times we drove further to the grand waterfall, Gullfoss. The spectacular falls isn’t quite as big as Niagara Falls but they claim a larger volume of water flows over Gullfoss. The temperature was cold and the gale force winds turned the mist into flying ice spears. The wind almost knocked us over.
We drove back through a national park where 1,000 foot mountains looked like the tips of our Rocky Mountains, so sharp and white. We really made the most of our last full day in Iceland.
The next morning we packed the car but before heading to the airport we decided we had a couple extra hours that we could smartly spend at the National Icelandic Museum. Luckily for us the Museum not only houses many of its country’s earliest artifacts but has a fine café. We enjoyed a fine breakfast before touring the exhibits of early Viking settlers to the modern living in the city of Reykjavik.
Charlie and I were home in New Hampshire before supper time on Tuesday. We enjoyed the short trip and brought home many good memories. Have Fun.
Amy Patenaude is an avid skier/outdoor enthusiast from Henniker, N.H. Readers are welcome to send comments or suggestions to her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.