Friday, August 21, 2009


The circle is complete.
At least the circle I was making around a small northern country this summer is officially closed.

Yes, yes, I have more blogging to do, gaps to fill, and pictures to download. These things may accumulate slowly over the next two weeks.

But I wanted to announce that I did have a wonderful day of paddling. The sun was shining all day, it was one of the clearest days I´ve experienced in Iceland, after a few hours it was warm enough to paddle without pogies, there was little wind, small waves, a beautiful evening sky that went from steel gray to purple to a light blue, and though I didn´t see any whales, I saw dolphins, I had a small friendly contingent greet me at Reykjavik´s boathouse, and of course to complete the day and properly celebrate, I had an ice cream cone dipped in chocolate. Mmmm.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Just one more day.... methinks...

Me hopes.

Okay. It could be two.

I´ve paddled as far as Hafnir which is in the middle of the end of the Reykjanes Penninsula (the arch of the foot). Right now, however I am in Reykjavik due to the great generosity and flexibility of Magnus who came and picked me up past midnight last night. Today I´ve been waiting out wind and hoping that tomorrow´s weather will continue to improve, as it seems to every time I check it. I will start late morning because of the wind, but then will also likely be fighting a setting sun. I enjoy paddling in the dark occassionally, but when you don´t know the area, encounter breaking waves, and don´t know the landing, it can be a bit of a hazard... Last night I managed to find my way into a no longer working harbour with no lights on to a strange huge pile of seaweed that one can hardly call a landing, but would never have been able to do so without Magnus on the phone directing me with Google Earth. Very amusing and highly memorable.

If I encounter problems tomorrow or find my pace too slow, I can bail out at nearly any point, (Magnus will pick me up!), and then hopefully finish Saturday morning. Not only do I now have the luxury and comfort of a roof and bed, but I also get to paddle in a nearly empty boat!!! Tomorrow (and any possible that follow) becomes a simple day paddle. ...which is really what this has been all along - a series of day paddles... Right?

One´s mental state in such an endeavor as paddling around a country is HUGE. Yesterday and most of today I´ve just wanted to be done. But now, the slight mental shift to another day paddle (and the prospect of improving conditions) makes it seem exciting again and something to enjoy. Also the reason I decided to do this in the first place... I wanted to enjoy it. I thought I would enjoy it. And I have enjoyed most of it. There have been a few times though where I´ve had to stop and check myself - 'You really don´t want to paddle today?' 'Then don´t. You don´t need to do anything. This is supposed to be fun.' Of course sometimes, the weather was not fun, and somewhere in the North I lost my ability to be amused and see the irony. But for the most part, when I´ve slowed down and accepted my circumstances I gain another gem in the situation, often in the people I meet or in discovering something I wouldn´t have otherwise.

That said, I hope I can announce completion of a summer ambition and a wonderful final day of paddling (where I see lots of whales (please!)) tomorrow night.
We´ll see...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I forgot...

to say last week -

A BIG Congratulations! to Gisli, the other paddler circling this island this summer. On Monday, August 3, Gisli became the 9th person, the 5th successful expedition, the 2nd solo paddler, and the 1st Icelander to successfully circumnavigate Iceland by kayak. (He went to work on Tuesday.) Congratulations, Gisli.

Much respect.


Once again I feel like the luckiest person in the world! Complete strangers have once again taken me in and told me to treat their home like my home... Yay! Icelanders, I love you!!
I am on Vestmannaeyjar for the day and have much to explore in only a short day. My intent is to leave tomorrow (Monday morning) and get back to the mainland before some major wind hits. On Tuesday, I hope to head inland again for some more days of hiking. My time here is drawing to a close and my original ideas of hiking and seeing ALL that I wanted to see is no longer possible. However, I´m trying to get as much in as possible, so blogging will be minimal over the next week and a half.
Lots of adventure over the last week and a half as I´ve encountered the infamous south coast. I´ve been incredibly lucky with the weather and lucky to encounter small surf for landings on the black sand. Even so, the dumping aspect of the surf is quite curious and caused me a bit of strife, most prominently that I broke my beautiful EPIC paddle! The paddling days have gotten easier as I´ve gone along and the last two days I finally had some true support with wind at my back. Leaving Breiddalsvik, however, was not so easy and the seas were quite big the first couple days, including a 4 meter wave that put me over and forced me to roll in this not-so-cold-after-all water. Then I had two days where I had very difficult landings due to strong tidal currents. Landing as Jokulsarlon was particulary exhilerating and scary as I surfed big waves coming from several directions while at the same time trying to avoid icebergs. More on all of this later...
I must take advantage of being Iceland while I´m still in Iceland! I´m off to explore! And eat! (Once again super hungry all the time!!)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

But not so far...

On Sunday, August 2, I left my new home in Nekaupstaður and paddled to Breiðdalsvik, a town of about 200 people, where 2 paddlers (Ingolfur and Helga)from the eastern kayaking club, Kajakklubburinn Kaj (based in Nekaupstaður) live. I started out in the rain and fog, but it felt good to be paddling again. The sun made a brief appearance and at least cleared some of the fog by the time I was saying goodbye to Reyðarfjörður so that I could at least see some of the scenery. The East Fjords have a similar feel to the West Fjords (from the sea... once on land, they feel very different), but seem to me to have more rock outcrops. (Or... What are outcrops called when surrounded by water instead of land...?)
On and off I had wind and waves at my back, allowing me to surf some fairly big surf and making the paddle significantly easier. Ari (and Kajakklubburinn Kaj) loaned me SPOT to track my progress and Ingolfur and Oskar (of boat repair fame) paddled out to meet me. The waves were such that we were invisble to each other and we passed each other unknowingly. When I landed, though, Helga and Malla (Oskar´s wife) were there to meet me and helped me carry the boat up and gave me a place to change into warm dry clothes away from the returning rain. Then they took me home and provided me with a hot shower, bountiful food (including a piece of chocolate cake before a dinner of delicious lamb chops, potatoes, and salad), and a bed to sleep.

A look at the weather outlook that night and continually the next morning created a bit of stress for me. Monday´s weather looked good for paddling at least a short distance (to Djupivogur), but then the wind was scheduled to pick up significantly on Tuesday and it looked like paddling would not be wise again until Saturday at the earliest. The distance I would most comfortably paddle on Monday would put me around Hvalnes (a point before Lonsvik), but at the time I would arrive in the area, I would have a 8-15m/sec wind against me and more importantly, I was told that in those particular conditions, landing could get quite tricky and it would be a very undesirable place to wait out wind for 4-5 days. I thought about doing a super long paddle to a better landing spot around Brunnhorn/Nestrahorn/Kambhorn. That way I would cover more mileage, reach a safer landing spot, and have the option of being closer to inland destinations (like Skaftafell) to which I could possibly visit during the days of wind and rain. Problems would be an extremely long paddle with few bailout options, still paddling through that 8-15m/sec wind against me that is known to create some big waves in that area, and arrival to my destination in the dark. Decisions, decisions... another week off the water, the need to make distance, and an ever running clock drawing me closer to my scheduled departure from Iceland on August 27... I finally decided the short distance to Djupivogur would not be all that helpful and Ingolfur and Helga graciously offered their guesthouse to me and the option to stay in Breiðdalsvik, so I accepted.

It is now Wednesday afternoon and it looks like I can paddle again tomorrow. (Constantly changing Iceland weather! Sometimes it is a good thing.)

My time in Breiðdalsvik has included more waterfalls, a visit to an impressive rock museum (thousands of Icelandic rocks collected by the aptly named Petra, a remarkable woman who opened her home and collection to the public) in Stodvarfjöjorður, the next fjord to the north, watching Ingolfur as a mechanic and Helga as a machinist (kickass!) in their massive shared workshop, more good food, some catch up on sleep, and more wonderful, enthusiastic company with more insights into Icelandic culture and living.

It looks like I will have at least a few good days of paddling with little to no wind. Let´s hope this proves true and continues far into next week and my time on the legendary south coast...

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Moving on...

I was planning on putting a comparison photo here ("How Tiger Got Its Spots"), but the camera is failing me and even a card reader is not allowing me to access new pictures. Trust me - the boat looks fantastic.
It´s Saturday, August 1 and I am still in Neskaupstaður. Tiger is rejuvenated, looking beautiful, ready to go. I´m a little sleep deprived because I´ve been trying to get the blog done and there is neverending socializing (and eating) with my new constantly expanding family. Last night was the beginning of a three day festival which guide books tell tourists to avoid because they turn into mad, drunken weekends. Neskaupstaður is trying to make it more of a family affair. This year for the first time they split the town into four different sections each having a different color. Each section decorates in their color and then on Friday night has a picnic together before marching to the center of town for music and further celebration. Decorations began on Wednesday night and get quite creative... yellow plastic streamers, yellow cups hanging from trees, yellow plastic plates in windows, yellow cut out figures, stuffed figures dressed in yellow (a fisherman mending a net, watering plants, etc), yellow lights, yellow football team jerseys strung as a banner or hanging from trees... Anything, everything yellow. Even the cars have been decorated. The red parade last night was led by a red tractor and had a band playing on the back, while kids in red tshirts hitched a ride balancing on kick scooters.
After the show downtown, the town dispersed to various balls and houses and we went to Ari´s grandparents' house, where hot chocolate and large quantities of waffles with cream and jam were made (and eaten.) We got home at 1:30am.
I still have about two weeks of my time in Iceland missing from the blog, but I am obviously wordy and it takes me time. I think I need to abandon the idea of catching up before I leave here... and actually leave. In short, the last two weeks of paddling were increasingly difficult and much of that was due to my psychological state concerning the weather. I had expectations of "better" weather, and if it wasn´t rain, it was fog, wind, or cold that got the best of me. The seas were also bigger and I was doing longer legs with more unknowns about landing spots.
Thanks to this wonderful week in Neskaupstaður, I am renewed and once again excited about what lies ahead (and particularly excited about paddling a dry boat with a working skeg!! woohoo!! Thank you EVERYONE.)
My next destination is Breiðdalsvik and hopefully there I will meet some paddlers who have some experience with the south coast - the most difficult and dangerous part of the circumnavigation ("You do know that, right?") Then I have under 4 weeks to make my way back to Reykjavik. There is abundant hiking I was hoping to do in this last section as well, but time and weather will determine if that´s possible.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Thursday, July 30, 2009

From Norðurfjorður...

My time in Norðurfjorður turned into a 3 day experience waiting out fog, rain, and wind. It was made all the better on Sunday, July 5 when in the early evening of my 2nd day, following a 5-10 minute conversation about kayaking, a complete stranger invited me to dinner at his aunt´s house. "Yes. I´d love to - Thank you. What´s your name?" "Geir." "Nice to meet you. I´m Margaret." "That´s my aunt´s name." (The second woman with whom I spend any decent time with in Iceland and they are both named Margaret.)

We had salmon they had personally caught in the fjord the day before! (and potatoes and salad) and then ice cream! (I swear the ice cream in Iceland is creamier than most of that in the States.) (Can you tell, for those of you who don´t know me, that I am a bit obsessed with food? This is true on a regular basis (Feel free to ask anyone who´s eaten more than two meals with me...), but of course this appreciation is enhanced when on a venture such as this and when my regular diet consists of pasta, pasta, and pasta. I also eat meticulously, extremely slowly, and a lot... Let me just say right now, thank you to all the Icelanders who have tolerated me continuing to sit at their kitchen/dining room table long after everyone else is done and for allowing me to nearly eat them out of house and home.)

Dinner was full of wonderful conversation and really my first in depth exchange about how life is and was in Iceland and what the possible future holds. Afterwards, Geir drove me around a little giving me a personal tour, including a rock that had traveled here from Greenland on ice flows, a site where witches were burned in a narrow passage between steep rocks leading out to sea, edible plants and flowers, and lots of personal family history as his extremely large extended family has very deep roots in the area. The next day I was invited to dinner again (Thank you!) and Gier and I played soccer (yay!) and again went driving, but this time on my first real 4x4 Icelandic jeep track experience. Road surfaces vary greatly in Iceland and the West Fjords have a reputation for particularly bad roads. Nearly everyone in Iceland that I´ve seen also has 4x4 capabilities and are fearless in where they go. There are no obstacles! Land, rivers, sidewalks... Iceland doesn´t need any amusement parks because a simple drive can turn into a roller coaster ride or, as this road was, one of those rides where they jerk you around, the seat moving in 8 different directions. And occassionally there are cliffs on one side and sea on the other and many, many waterfalls along the way, creating both scenery and drama. How do you turn around on a one lane track like this!?! Very, very carefully... And luckily we didn´t meet any cars coming from the opposite direction.

Tuesday, July 7, I once again set out by kayak, my sights set on the tip of the Skagi peninsula, a 40-50km crossing. There was hardly any wind and the sky was an ever changing Rennaisance painting. As I neared land, I somehow felt like I was in a different country. I had left the mountainous region of the West Fjords, found lower lying land, but a coastline of cliffs and rocky beaches that looked like they were nearly vertical. They looked like impossible places to land. The basalt formations and various rock gardens provided endless variation. It was along here that I had one of my more extensive encounters with animals. (They´ve been surprisingly and disappointingly very limited.) I saw as many as 7-8 seal heads peeking out at me at a time and they would follow me and pop up here and there, splashing as they went. Of course the camera failed! (It often simply decides to not turn on and most of the time that it does turn on (not very often), one touch of the zoom button and it turns off. Very, very frustrating, Pentax W60!)

I made it across approximately 10 miles of land at the tip of the peninsula and saw no good place to land. It had been a very full day of paddling and there was another crossing of 20+ miles ahead or the option of turning south into Skagafjorður. But would I have better landing opportunities in either direction, I could not tell from my map. I was for the first time in really unknown territory where nobody had told me anything about the land or what to expect. Luckily after I turned around the tip of lighthouse at Skagata, there was a small lagoon hiding behind some rocks and some flat greenery. Lots of rocks and a far reaching low tide required that I wade 60-80 meters to pull Tiger to land.

I awoke the next morning unable to see across the small lagoon, unable to see the lighthouse, unable to see much of anything because of... the dense fog. And here I had just waited 3 days in Njordurfjordur partly to avoid fog. Forget it! I´m paddling! (I also have more room for error because the Trollskagi peninsula juts further north.) Three minutes from launching and I cannot see land. I´m in a bubble with water on all sides and repeatedly find it incredible that I have no sense of direction whatsoever. With no reference point at all, I could look to my left or right, face forward in the direction which I thought I was headed and be 60 degrees off from where I thought I was. This is also where I learned how valuable it is to have a kayaking compass. I´m traveling with only a mountaineering compass which is 2 feet in front of me in my chart case. With a kayaking compass I can usually stay within 5 degrees easily. Here, I was all over the place, concentrating immensely, and finding it difficult to stay within 10 or even 20 degrees. It´s one thing to use this in an emergency situation, but if you choose to paddle in fog, it´s worth spending the extra money on a compass meant for kayaking!

All in all, this was a very odd day. I had the fog with me the majority of the day, but I also had a patch of blue sky directly above me for most of the day. About an hour away from land, suddenly from 60-80 meters away, a black and white bird (unseen by me before) perpendicular to me comes sqauking and charging at me out of the fog, flapping it´s wings, nearly walking on the water. No other birds in sight. Then it continued to follow me and squak around. It would dive for 10-30 seconds and continue the harrassment upon surfacing. Very bizarre. I´m far from land, nowhere near eggs. Eider ducks and their young run away and "duck" into the water. And for the last few weeks I´ve been paddling by thousands of birds and most of them take no notice of me and let me get 5-10 feet away before diving or flying away. Not too long after this, I see my first dolphins! Two-three swim across my bow. Then I see my first dead bird just floating there fully intact in the water. And then less dramatic, but more of this black and white bird behavior, but now I am able to see more of them and it does look like they are concerned about their young. Another dead bird...

Then the wind started to pick up. But it remained foggy. Stronger wind and from the side. What!? Really difficult to keep my heading while I keep getting weather cocked despite my constant full sweep on one side and the tiring edge (no skeg help)... Then I finally see land. And the blue patch that´s been following above my head starts to grow. I realize the land is an island, Malmey, and I´m farther south than I want to be. The bay continues to clear, I can see the magnificent scenery, and it looks like it´s going to be a gorgeous afternoon and evening. I adjust my heading, set out for a new point and after an hour, things are disappearing again. Please point, don´t you too disappear... The endless tease... Everything but that point disappears again and I thankfully have more visibility than that morning to find a camping spot around the lighthouse at Sraumnes.

The next day was clear and a much shorter paddler to Siglufjorður. I stopped there because I was curious to see the place and I was greatly craving ice cream. When I arrived around 6:30pm, I hadn´t been paddling very long and there wasn´t much wind so I was in debate about whether I continue paddling that evening or wait till the morning. Within minutes of landing, a truck pulls up and an Icelander greets me. A paddler from Reykjavik with a summer/winter house in the fjord, he saw me paddle by his house and drove down to the beach to meet me. He says I can use the internet at his house and drives me to the supermarket. At his house I am introduced to his familly and invited to stay for pizza! A look at the forecast tells me the wind is not scheduled to pick up until Saturday so I decide I'll depart in the morning and enjoy wonderful company while eating pizza for hours on end.

I depart Friday morning in no wind and there is little throughout the day. My camping spot is Rauðunafir, meaning red bay, a beautiful beach with red cliffs on one side and a waterfall on the other. Saturday morning the wind has picked up and is an unfortunate north wind during my crossing straight east to Husavik. This bay has so many whales that many whale watching trips from Husavik guarantee you´ll see a whale. Someone I met later who went on one of these trips said he literally saw hundreds of whales. I had two sitings of one. And I saw another dolphin cross my bow. That´s it!! I haven´t seen anymore whales since (except the one that ended up on my plate - a different story...) It took me a surprisingly long time to get to the harbor at Husavik because of the cross wind, but I found a spot at the end of the sand beach where I hoped I could stash the kayak for a few days. A look around town, an ice cream cone, a shower and hottub dip at the pool, and I realize I´m eager to begin my inland journey. It´s also an absolutely beautiful day, the sun is shining, and it´s warm enough that I can wear a tank top. Yay for it being warmer and drier in the north! (The North and East are supposed to have the best weather in the country.) I pack up and that evening I´m walking the main road out of town north, hoping to catch a ride to Asbyrgi, the northern tip of Jokulsargljufur National Park.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

From Isafjordur...

pic: my sights on the most southwestern point of Hornstrandir (Grænahlið)

So I did end up in Isafjordur... It was a beautiful, easy, early evening paddle there Saturday, June 27 from Sudureyri. There is a quite fascinating naturally existing L shaped sandspit in Skutulsfjordur on which the town of Isafjordur sits. It is extremely sheltered (making it nearly an ideal place to learn to kayak.) And the place, although the largest settlement in the West Fjords, is quite charming and intimate and feels full of history and culture. I spent my day off on Sunday meandering (and eating lots of ice cream.) It was a rare warm, beautiful day with a shining sun and blue skies! Dori, the kayaker I was hoping to meet, was scheduled to return from his sailing weekend around 8pm. I met him at the sailboat docks and saw three sailboats (all with kayaks on their decks) return from their weekend together and was greatly amused when they rearranged other 40-50ft sailboats by pulling on lines so that they could double dock. What a beautiful small community, everyone knowing everyone, that you can simply crawl over others' boats and move them around and that's okay.
Dori is one of the most enthusiastic people I have ever met and seems to have good reason to be so with the life he has in Isafjordur. The place is a little magical haven of sorts. There´s hiking and sailing and waterskiing and pool time galore for kayakers, the beauty of paddling in the West Fjords and along Hornstrandir, and a challenging tidal race a 1-2 hours drive away. In the winter, there´s great skiing right in their back yard. The kayaking club is quite large for a town of under 3000 people, is full of beautiful boats, and is in the process of renovating their large space after an unfortunate fire that happened last? year.

Dori invited me to join them all for dinner and this was where I had one of the best meals I´ve had in Iceland, one I will never forget. There was one group pan of catfish and one group pan of haddock?.. Both were delicious, but I was blown away by the catfish. And of course, as I did my standard - MUST GET EVERY LAST BITE - cleanup of the pan, they made amused comments in Icelandic and said that they would bring me some more. I didn´t think they were serious or maybe I thought they would just bring a small piece of fish, but they brought a very full individualized pan of catfish with all the fixings to me. These words escape my mouth at very few moments throughout my life, but I was full. All this beautiful food and I am full to the brim! I ask if I can take it to go. They shake their heads. Can i take the pan with me to my tent 400 meters away, eat the food for breakfast and return the pan? They found a plastic salad container. So thank you, thank you to Orn for the most fabulous dinner and breakfast combination I´ve had in my life. The company all around was great as well, I got some information about caves and rivers and landing spots, and Dori made sure I got the weather and a proper send off on Monday morning.

My crossing to Hornstrandir had very little wind, but once I made it past the first point it was clear I wasn´t going to make it as far as I intended. I ended up in Fljotavik for the night and camped in Hornvik the next night. Tuesday´s paddling was in some rain and quite a bit of cloud cover so I wasn´t able to see much scenery.

On Wednesday, I hiked above the also famous bird cliffs of Hornbjarg and the weather began to clear allowing me to see across the bay and creating an enjoyable day.
(Yes - this picture --> is the
I also was finally able to start a fire that evening with some of the abundant driftwood from Siberia that can be found on much of the north coast. (I had tried the night before and failed miserably, probably a combination of my poor fire making skills, damp wood, and too much wind.) It was particularly appreciated this evening because it was a little windy, making it just a bit chillier, and I was packing for my first night paddle (the paddlers of Isafjordur insisted this was the best time to paddle, especially around the cliffs, because of the light) with a scheduled launch of 11pm. The 24 hours of daylight are fantastic and allows one to easily extend a day of kayaking or hiking without the concern of dark descending, but... The sun does dip a bit and there is a few degrees change in temperature. Not a big deal for most Icelanders, but for me... it´s significant. So I added a layer of clothing, soaked in some heat from the fire, and set off on an absolutely gorgeous, calm paddle where I was warm the entire time. Around 5am I was in Reykjarfjorður with a warm rising sun, I slept very well, and by 2:30 I was headed towards Drangajokull, the glacier that I previously mentioned.

The next night, I arrived in Krossnes/Nordurfjorður, about which I´ve previously written.


Since I last posted, I have passed the northern most point of mainland Iceland, 1.5 miles from the Arctic Circle, completed the north coast and am now in Iceland´s most eastern town, Neskaupstaður. So much to say... where to start...? and once again I am finding it difficult to make time to blog, not due to limited internet access for once, but due to an extremely welcoming and hospitable community with whom I am very much enjoying socializing.

I am in a bit of heaven right now. Upon my arrival on Sunday, Ari, head of the kayaking club here in the east, opened the clubhouse for me to sleep with a roof over my head and within minutes, another club member stopped by (not knowing of my arrival) and brought me to his house for a shower and abundant food (dinner with his family of 7.) Then Ari invited me on a family vacation day for a drive through the mountains and past Lögurinn, Iceland´s most wooded area, and Egilsstaðir, a major town in the crossroads of the East Fjords, to a newly built incredibly impressive dam and reservoir. It is great fun driving on these rollercoaster roads and seeing a little bit of the sights inland. It´s been unusually cold here and indeed, we encountered falling snow in the highlands.
Back in Neskaupstaður and the unending rain I seemed to have brought with me, Ari was concerned about the clubhouse (which is somewhat of a construction site at present) roof leaking and suggested I stay in their guesthouse. I said I would first check inside to see if I would in fact be rained on through the night, and within a few minutes, Ari´s parents came walking by and invited me to sleep in their home. Hence the 5 star accomodation! since Monday night - a warm bed (with a down comforter!), bathrooms with heated floors, a beautiful warm cozy home with huge windows looking out onto the fjord and a very green landscaped backyard and garden. (There seem to be a lot of trees all over Neskaupstaður - a very uncommon sight in my Icelandic travels.) I am also treated to endless delicious food (I think I´m beginning to gain back some of the weight I´ve lost), warm tea, and wonderful company. And then - further practicalities... I´ve done laundry!!! I´m wearing clean clothes and have easy access to showers, drying space for gear, and internet. I truly feel like I´m living in luxury and am incredibly greatful.

My main concern on Tuesday was the boat. I´ve tolerated slow, small leaks in the front and back hatches and the cockpit more or less since the beginning of the trip, but the last week of paddling took discomforts to another level. My day hatch started to leak and for the last 3-4 paddling days, the cockpit was collecting 3-4 inches every hour. Very good air conditioning. Not so fun in this climate.
Boat repair is not my strong point. I filled the boat with water to try and find the leaks, the main one being an obvious hole about the diameter of the wire of a standard metal hanger. The rain made any other leaks impossible for me to detect. I was a little in dismay to find that the hole was under the seat and the seat is fiberglassed into the boat. It seemed like the best repair would be from the inside, but removing and possibly replacing the seat is beyond me. I decided I would try 2-3 layers of fiberglass on the outside and lots of gelcoat to try to make it as smooth as possible.. As I was sanding, Ari came by and arranged for another club member, their main repair guy, 40-50km away, to come and take a look.
Oskar to the rescue! 4pm Tuesday afternoon, a full assessment of work on the entire boat, "you want to leave Thursday?", full of smiles, "No problem!" A brief stop at Ari´s for coffee and Oskar was off to get supplies. By 11pm we were back at Ari´s for homemade cake, Oskar having dremeled out spider cracks in the gelcoat of the deck of the boat as well as conducting a careful search (by headlamp) for other weaknesses in the boat, prepared and dried all problem areas, and filled them with P40, a compound with which I was unfamiliar. Perhaps this is a common filler in the U.S., as it if often used on cars, but it is a thick paste/gel (the consistency of skyr as Icelanders would say) with bits of fiber in it. Oskar used no fiberglass cloth on the boat. The epoxy in my repair kit would never have been sufficient alone and it would have taken 2-3 days for my layers of fiberglass and gelcoat to cure enough to be suitable to paddle. The P40 was nearly dry last night and by noon today, Oskar had sanded all spots and covered a significant portion of the boat in gelcoat. Throughout it all, Ari was helping and addressing skeg problems (removing a lodged stone that had defeated me, and realligning/supporting the skeg cable which had slightly kinked, etc.) The boat is going to be in better condition than when I left Reykjavik! I am eternally indebted.

And now of course, I don´t think I´ll be ready to leave on Thursday. Tiger will be ready! (Thank you!) But I still have small bits here and there, and lots of blog to catch up on, and I am very tired, having slept little in the past few days due to all the excitement. Thursday will be 4 weeks from my scheduled return flight to New York and there´s so much to see and do on the south coast! Time´s a tickin´... I am once again getting jazzed for the rest of the journey. The last couple weeks got much more difficult, whether it be the weather, the specific places I was traveling, the accumulation of time, or simply my own psychology. I will try to blog in sections as I know my passages tend to get wordy and very long.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Leaving Husavik

I arrived in Husavik on Saturday, July 11 and left to travel inland for a few days, thinking when I returned I would take a day to update the blog, etc. Well, the day turned into an unfortunate, but necessary attention to practical matters at home and I am confronted with a very narrow window to avoid some wind. Thus, my plan is to leave at 3 or 4am Friday, July 17. My next major stop will be Neskauptadur where I promise I will take time to catch you up (from Isafjordur!), hopefully download some pictures (I´ve been having some camera problems, folks! I apologize.), and take a much needed rest. (This hiking thing gets tiring!) I anticipate that that will be in 7-10 days. Generally, things continue to go well and this country never ceases to fascinate. Soon...

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A beautiful day waiting out wind

Hello from Nordurfjordur!

I am using someone´s personal computer to write this, so I do not feel like I have the luxury of time with a computer. He runs the one and only cafe here in this very small place that as far as I can tell consists of a small harbour, 2 gas pumps outside a small store selling various items, including random food items (a pineapple!... a COSTCO sized Cheerios box...), and would be the one place I could post a letter, Kaffi Nordurfjordur (where I now sit), and literally a handful of unidentified, boxy buildings where rumor has it there´s a guest house and probably people live. I am camped 4km to the north (Krossnes) where there is an outdoor swimming pool (with nothing else) meters above the ocean. This is my second day here as the fog yesterday was so intense that for the majority of the day I could not see more than 100-200 meters in front of me. Yesterday was also very wet and I spent nearly 5 hours in this cafe sampling the menu and writing letters. Now the sun is shining (yay!) and I can see to the other side of the fjord!, but wind predictions for my 40km crossing include possibly 50mph winds... something I do not wish to encounter. Thank goodness for weather forecasts (Thank you Karel!) because otherwise I would certainly be paddling right now. So this is me playing conservatively.
On Friday, it was very foggy as well. Of course the good thing about fog is typically no wind. This may be a bit confusing if you look at a map because there are two (at least) Reykjafjordurs (There are several repeated names around Iceland and many of them are not very far from each other.) On Friday afternoon, I was at the Reykjafordur just above Drangajokull (the glacier to which I hiked on Thursday), and set out in some fog that I was hoping would clear. It lifted a little for a bit, enought to get around the first major headland, but then descended for good. As it was evening, there was no cahnce a hot sun was going to burn this off (like it did this morning, early afternoon.) I made it around Drangaskord and was confronted with either following the shore line and adding quite a bit of paddling to my trip or cutting across blindly to Veturmyrarnes, the next point, a mini'crossing of 10-12 km. I decided to try out my navigational skills. Of course, I knew that a sharp right ('Keep Iceland On Your Right') would bring me sooner or later to land. So I set my course and made time predictions about when I may see things (like possibly the island in the middle of the crossing.) An hour passes and no sign of the island. Hmnnn.... About half an hour to an hour before I expected to hit land (the mainland), out of nowhere I see land and see that it has a lighthouse on it. I erred! Several degrees too far to the east which brought me to an island (Saelusker) north (and slightly east) of Veturmyrarnes. Lucky, lucky that island/lighthouse was/is there! Otherwise I would have been paddling for a MUCH longer time and possibly MUCH farther into Hunafloi than I hoped to go. - not so conservative (but still playing it very safe I promise you all.)

Wind doesn´t look so great for paddling for awhile. I don´t think I will launch again until tomorrow (Monday evening), which sets me back from my plans of being in Husavik by Wednesday. So be it. Husavik is my next big destination that I expect to catch up on laundry, email, and then go off for several days a little into the interior. I am very much looking forward to visiting Jokulsargljufur National Park, the canyon there and Dettifoss, Europe´s largest waterfall.

So what´s this about hiking to a glacier! (I cannot find the question mark on this keyboard.)
Utterly thrilling I say (about the hike to the glacier.) Much of the hike was along the flow and debris from the galcier river, flat and fairly easy going. As some of this is swamp area though, I kept heading to rockier areas and ended up doing quite a bit of scrambling over and across rock... and waterfalls! There were so many water outlets from melting snow above in the surrounding mountains and there were some particularly stunning ones from the rock formations underneath them. (My favorite traveled down several stone steps.) When I reached the mouth of the galcier I found it a bit mesmerizing staring at the river pouring out from underneath this massive ice. Imaginings of how this got here and created this surrounding earth... Imaginings of what was happening in and underneath that ice... It´s power...!
Of course I wanted to climb on to the galcier, so I took a turn to the right to create some distance from the unstable mouth and headed for the deep snow covering to the side. This involved quite a bit of rock scrambling, which I enjoyed immensely and soon I found myself on the snow. And there in the snow were more waterfalls coming out from under the snow and disappearing again into the snow. Incredible!
I always have a strong inner draw to see what´s around the corner or over the next peak. Just a little further to see what´s there... So I climbed the snow hoping to see over the next bit and across the miles of glacier. I found myself losing sense of distance and thinking things were much closer than they were. It´s very tempting to cross the whole glacier. I got to a point where I could see I had crested the bit what I thought was a top of sorts, saw a little down into a valley on the side, but soon realized that the top was an illusion I would not reach quickly or easily. (Regardless, as a side note... though there were higher peaks around me, there was still some wild sensation of being on top of the world...!) When I decided to turn around, instead of scrambling down all that rock that I climbed earlier, I decided to stick with the snow for a bit. When I got what seemed close enough to the mouth, I found myself in a fairly steep incline back to bare land. Oh if only I had a sled!! I slid/skidded standing on my feet for 200-300 meters. Exhilerating!! What a unique experience... I cannot say that this was the most stunning or beautiful scenery I have encountered in my life, but there was something very special about this hike that will make it something I will always remember.

Friday, June 26, 2009


I am in Sudureyri, currently debating my next plan of action. There is an Icelandic kayaker in Isafjordur that I was hoping to meet/see this weekend, but he is away sailing. I decided to take a ?WIRF? day - I´ve spent quite sometime over the last few days trying to think of a clever acronym to address all the things I desire in a rest day - obviously I´ve failed, but for now, let´s stick with WIRF (wash, internet, recharge, fix) day. Predictions are no wind for the next two days... perfect conditions in which to cross over into Hornstrandir, the remotest part of the North Fjords, a nature reserve that can only be reached by boat or foot. Or do I go to Isafjordur and wait to meet the kayaker?

I admit, I am beginning to feel the ticking clock. I have decided I really want to be home by the end of August. Prioritizing is starting to be an important factor. I can´t do it all!

So... where have I been since Stykkisholmur?

I had my day off there on Monday, June 15 and left on Tuesday afternoon to make the crossing to Flatey, an island 2/3 of the way across Breidhafjordjur.

So far this was my roughest day of paddling. Strong winds (mostly from the East), confused and breaking waves, and no obvious (to me) landing spots for 44km. It was actually pretty great. Tiring, but great! Kind of like - this is what SEA kayaking is supposed to be all about! The next morning in Flatey, I checked my text messages and finally got the message from Karel that Tuesday and Wednesday were probably too windy for a crossing to Flatey. Oops! I decided to stay put for the day, where I spent much of it in the tent hiding from the rain (and the dive bombing arctic terns!) I had my first meal out in Iceland, a delicious fish stew at what I believe is the one restaurant/cafe on the island.

Thursday, I had another long day of kayaking, where I pushed to the east end of Rauðisandur (Red sand), an absolutely beautiful stretch of sand that goes on for miles before the coastline turns into the famous 14km cliffs often known as Latrabjarg. It was here that I met a Belgian who said some of my favorite words ('I´ll bring you back some chocolate!') and reminded me that I hadn´t yet named my boat... Ideas?

Friday was a near perfect day of kayaking. Though this was also the day my camera started to fail. Perhaps it was all my 10-15 minute stops of trying to capture the perfect closeup of birds swooping down from the cliffs... I never got the shot I desired (but I wasn´t getting cold! - a day of sun and clear skies!) When I turned the last bit around the cliffs and started to head East, however, things changed. Winds picked up tremendously and my temperature quickly dropped. I made camp at Latravik, a bit west of Breidavik, and was concerned with my numbing, fumbling hands and tremendous difficulty setting up the tent. Thank goodness this beach has a number of sizable rocks because I used several of them to keep that tent from blowing away. Once in the tent, I was not concerned about blowing away myself, but I kept worrying that the tent was going to rip. It felt like all the powers that be were hitting and beating all sides of that tent with intent - to destroy - ALL... NIGHT... LONG.

By 8am, I couldn´t take it anymore. I knew I couldn´t paddle that day and I wanted to walk to the cliffs, so I decided to try to find alternate shelter. At first I thought I was at Breidavik, where I was going to splurge for sleeping bag accomodation and have the warmth and shelter of a building, but... I wasn´t in Breidavik. I found this out by knocking on the door of a gentleman who was peacefully staring out the window and though he said he didn´t speak English, we were able to ascertain that I was in Latravik and that possibly one or two other houses might have English speakers. I wanted to find out about the weather and if this wind was likely to continue and I wanted to see if I could set up my tent amongst some walls that were likely someone´s private property. Hence another half day hiding from rain, wind, and... arctic terns. After getting hit 7-8 times on the head (You´ve got to be kidding me!), I finally learned to carry around half a paddle to hold above my head to avoid the nerve-racking attacks. I also walked to the cliffs this day and saw from above what I had seen the day before from below. The birds, including puffins of course (Iceland´s national bird) let you get surprisingly close. The seas that day were much more active and I was quite happy that I had rounded the corner so peacefully the day before and was not kayaking then.

Lots of rain throught the night, but the next afternoon the winds had greatly improved and I set out again - this time in hopes of getting close to the Hnjotur museum across from Patreksfjordur. Although mostly a farming and fishing museum, there are two films there that I wanted to see. One shows the rescue of a ship that crashed in the 1940s against the Latrabjarg cliffs and the heroics of rescuing the sailors by hoisting them up the cliffs with ropes. Another is about a hermit who lived his entire life in the remote area of Selardalur and only once ventured to his nearest village Bildudalur.

As a side note, Patreksfjordur is partly named for a Saint Patrick (although he be Scottish) and I found it quite appropriate and encouraging to see 3 rainbows during the course of my paddle. The next day I met someone who said she had seen 12 that day! (Guess they weren´t specially for me...)

I made it to the inlet where this museum is located and again camped on the beach in rain and wind. This beach is the end of a valley that has a lagoon and the museum is a few miles away at the other end of the lagoon. This resulted in some 'misadventures of Margaret' - trying to walk my way to the museum. I killed 1-2 hours walking around water in and out of fenced in pastures, inadvertently scaring animals, paddle above my head to dodge the terns, in guess what? more rain! I finally surrendered to the road and another 1 and a half hour walk, in somewhat clearing skies. I say all this because my intention that day had been to make a quick visit to the museum in the morning and then continue paddling that afternoon. When I reached the museum around 12:30 or 1 and found a beautiful warm cafe, friendly people, and free internet access, I decided to prolong my stay. It was here I also had what seems to be an Icelandic staple of waffles with cream and jam (sans jam - who needs jam, when you can have cream!?) and got to try a soft boiled razorbill egg, freshly stolen from its nest. These eggs are beautifully speckled and have a slightly fishy taste (very much like lobster roe, I´d say) and I was assured that the eggs are soon replaced by the birds. Birds' eggs have been a staple of life in these parts for centuries and it was (sometimes is) quite a common practice to climb down/rappel over the cliffs to gather eggs.

The day was in and out of sun and rain with an easterly wind that would help get me out of the fjord and on to my next destination. I erred in walking the road back on the wrong side of the valley which had a tidal stream cutting off my way to my beach, tent, and kayak. I debated whether I should wade across and decided that I´d rather walk, even if it be 3 hours. Luckily, I didn´t need to because I hitched a ride with pleasant New Zealanders who went out of their way to bring me to the other side of the valley and a short 10 minute walk from my camp. By this time it was 6pm... perfect conditions to get on the water, although a little chilly... What´s one more day? I decided to enjoy the evening there. Hence my fourth day off in 8 days!

Next day was beautiful, easy paddling to Arnarfjordur where I stopped on the south side to quickly see a hand built house (incidentally also where the hermit had lived), where nobody is living now and then crossed the fjord to Stapadalur. This is where Kaldbakur, the highest point in the West Fjords, is. On a clear day one can see the snæfellsnes ice cap.

It was my intent on Wednesday to climb to this peak. Though it wasn´t really raining, it was far from clear. Okay... I´ve been in this situation before, where it can start off cloudy, but by the time you get to the summit, it´s clear and beautiful and aren´t you glad you made the effort?... More misadventures across tuff grass not really clear of the trail, but unmistakably headed in the right direction, and unmistakably scaring sheep for miles. I make it above the first cloud line and cannot see the mountains on the other side of the fjord. And how do you actually get to the peak? I cross the snow line and decide to go the the lowest part of the ridge and at least peak over the other side. I cannot see more than a few horizontal meters and vertically the other side plunges. I´m sure its a magnificent view... when you can see it... Not worth going to the highest point, especially since I´m unsure of that mist rolling in... Still a nice hike with only a few sprinkles... That evening? Sitting having dinner at 7-8pm and it´s beautiful clear blue skies with a warm shining sun. Of course! Oh well...

Thursday was my longest day of paddling yet - a little over 11 hours. I had fairly steady 20 knot winds from the North, right in my face for 60-70% of the time paddling. It was during this time that I of course began talking to my boat. Then I remembered I still had no name for the orange fighter... Still thinking... but I found myself calling her 'Tiger' - as I needed her to be agressive and attack the oncoming waves and wind.. I also was thinking 'Sunshine' or 'Sunny' as what do I most often want with me...? Comfort name... Still open to suggestions.... ?

Luckily the wind died down a bit and made my last stint across Onundarfjordur possible. I attempted to camp at the mouth of Sugandafjordur (one of the narrowest fjords, which as a result does not get any direct sunlight for four months, longer than any other place with a village in Iceland.) Birds, rocks, and surf made it look like a poor choice. As I paddled toward the village, a friendly car stopped to say hello and had me follow it (!) to their boat ramp on the other side of their harbour. (This was probably a thirty minute process.) This brings me to my first night camping in Sudureyri. Then I began to write this on my WIRF day, and now it´s the next day, Saturday.... A bit of fog but no wind. I will head to Isafjordur today and see what tomorrow brings. It is likely that Monday I will head for Hornstrandir.

So though I´m gaining in paddling speed and still more or less lucking out with the weather, my progress remains slow. Time seems not so important right now, but I know in the back of my mind it will be August before I know it. Still lots to see!!!

And appreciating (almost) every moment of it...

Monday, June 15, 2009


Yes, this is the frist swimming pool I went to in Iceland and after a week of no showers, it was absoultely wonderful. The slide added to the fun and sitting in the hottub, I could see why this is a regular practice of Icelanders. How wonderful to sit in warmth no matter what the outside weather is...

Hello all,

Greetings from Iceland!

I am experiencing my first day off from paddling in this beautiful little city of 1230 people. I´m feeling the pressure of little internet time and so much to say... I´'m not sure I will be able to make many updates to this blog myself, especially as I head into the West Fjords and an even smaller chance of encountering computers.
I´m sure most of what I have to say here is cliche, but some of that is difficult to escape. I´m sure it is no news to anyone that the landscape is fantastically stunning. It simply dominates my experience. I am gradually finding my way back into a cherished life of simplicity of eating, sleeping, breaking and setting up camp, and kayaking. There´s ocassional reading, writing, and simply sitting...
What I found most surprising at first was my incredibly slow progress. I started off slowly in many senses... having not paddled much in the last few months, I´ve eased into this with 4-5 hour paddling days to start. First few days I was catching up on sleep from the last few weeks. It also took me nearly 3 hours to launch - lugging boat and gear down the beach - and where did I fit that last time..? I need to eat more food - get rid of some of this weight! I indeed have a very heavy boat and realize that I took enough food at first to last me at least a month. I would not be surprised if I still have some of this food when I (hopefully) return to Reykjavik in (hopefully) August.
The weather has been phenomenal and I´ve been very lucky. However, that said, I will add that every day has been a mild fight against current or wind until yesterday when I had my fist tail wind (woohoo! - What a difference!) I also am a self-procalimed cold whimp and yes, I knew this before coming to Iceland... but... this affects my paddling time each day. I´m comfortable (for the most part) when I´m paddling, but I cannot stop for more than 2-3 minutes on the water before I feel the cold creeping in. Must keep moving!!! These minutes are usually pumping water from the cockpit (yes, i´m leaking a little), getting 2-3 bites of food, or adjusting glove or hat situation. The idea of landing and stopping for a meal in my wet clothes (yes, drysuit is leaking a bit too) for 15 minutes + is unfathomable. The idea of stopping and changing clothes, etc. makes it easily a 2 + hour stop - might as well set up camp for the night. The 10-12 hour paddling days I imagined do not seem likely. 8-9 hour days are probably my limit and that of course will depend on conditions. We´ll see if this changes with time.
Once, I´ve camped I also have a tendency to wish to dry out before I begin my day. Depending on rain, etc. this usually doesn´t happen till post 11am. This has led to many days of starting to paddle at 3, 4, or even 5pm. Having the sun here 24 hours is a godsend and probably makes this entire trip possible for me considering my lazy, unconventional schedule. Still, at about 9-11pm, I can feel the temperature drop and the later I set up camp the more uncomfortable it is.

For the most part my paddling consists of pure wonderment. Disbelief that I am here.
Time is losing meaning and I can´t believe it´s already been a week. It will likely be difficult to finish this venture on time. Nevertheless, I hope to continue to benefit from good weather and gradually up my mileage per day. (Nancy - I don´t have mileage per day, etc.. but example of last few days... Thursday night I was in Hellnar, Friday in Skarðsvik, Saturday, close to Akurtraðir.)

Thanks for all the support and help along the way!

Now I´m soon off to a much needed shower, hopefully a little hike up Helgafell, some reading (I´m down to 6 books) and a good night´s sleep. Tomorrow I will paddle towards Flatey and the West Fjords.

Safe and happy paddling (and living) to all!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

First Crossing, First Night out, First Check in with the CG

The Coast Guard let Magnus know yesterday, Monday June 8th, that Margaret called the Coast Guard to say she is fine, and that she was camping 1 Mile West of Akranes.

Like previous recent sea kayak expeditions around Iceland, Margaret will be spotted by the Icelandic Coast Guard as best as VHF radio communication allows, by checking in with the Coast Guard and providing her current location, whenever there is VHF radio connection (like in, or close to, harbors and towns).

Akranes, a fishing town appr. 25 Miles North of Reykjavik is the last larger town Margaret will see before reaching Hollisandur, located on the North Western tip of the Snaefellness peninsula, appr. 80 Miles North from yesterday's campsite.

Pic: Sudorflos lighthouse, Akranes, Iceland

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Gone with the Wind!

Actually no, quite the opposite: The winds for the coming week on the West Coast of Iceland are predicted to be very low. Thus, Margaret left Reykjavik today, Sunday afternoon, after spending all day Saturday and the night at Magnus' house in Reykjavik. Margaret seems highly enthusiastic about the both moral and logistical support she encountered in Reykjavik, mostly by Magnus and Gummi.

Magnus, a kayaker, kayaking coach (BCU 5*) lives in Reykjavik and is volunteering to get past and present sea kayak expeditions in Iceland started, and supports the expeditions while they are en route.

In addition to assisiting Margaret, Magnus just helped to get a 66 year old Icelandic kayaker to get started, who started his attempt to circumnavigate Iceland past Monday, June 1st.

Friday, June 5, 2009

And off she is!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Iceland 2009

Today, June 5th, 2009 Margaret left NYC for Reykjavik, Iceland to attempt a solo circumnavigation of Iceland by sea kayak.

If successful, she will be the 2nd solo paddler ever, and only the 5th expedition overall, to successfully circumnavigate Iceland.

After shopping for food in Reykjavik on Saturday, where members of the local kayak club will assist her in getting ready, Margaret will face the biggest challenge of the trip right at the start of her trip: How to get all the food, her 7 books and camping gear in the 3 hatches of her NDK Explorer.

Margaret will update this blog propably every week to 10 days, pending internet access (and motivation to look for one!), stay tuned, and please leave lots of messages for her under "Comments" below.