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.