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 RauĂ°isandur (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...


  1. Great blog, Margaret! Just read your latest installment--and then read it again slowly, tracing your route on the map. Yes! Your new post makes it clear you’re past those initial shakedown blues you wrote about from Stykkisholmur. So many trips—even ones much less ambitious—begin that way. Good to see you’re over that and into the meat of an adventure that’s solid food for the soul. Your new report should ease the minds of us who’ve been “a bit concerned”; maybe even encourage others along their own ways. You go! Stay strong!

  2. Love your write up :) So visual.
    Habit died hard and although I knew you were away I put you on our last email-party-list. And drank at least one beer for you :)
    I'm digging the boat name Tiger and think you should stick with it ... the thought of you and 'Tiger' out near the Arctic Circle conjures up Max-And-The-Wild-Things-esque images :)
    Keep enjoying MM. Home isn't going anywhere and you sound like you're on quite the adventure :) Biff x

  3. Hola Chiquita! Glad to hear it's going well. Sounds like you've had almost as much rain as we have had here.

  4. I vote for calling your kayak Tiger. It reminds me of that book you recommended to me, where the boy crosses the entire Pacific in a lifeboat with only a tiger for company...

    Zach'd get a kick out of it too; you know how he likes tigers.

    I look forward to seeing your pix when you get back. Thanks for sharing your adventures!

    Lots of love, Julie

  5. 'Tiger' is good. 'Hobbes', if you liked the one in the funnies. The rainbow thing was good. Maybe 'Rainbow Tiger'. Seems like when I need to come up with a name I work real hard coming up with names, and then something much better hits me from a completely unexpected angle. Can't say the work was wasted, since I probly wouldn't have had the loopy thought without the work. Great blogs. Stay strong. -jt

  6. Margaret! Congrats on doing this expedition. I am so impressed with you and your adventurous spirit. I didn't realize it was going to be a solo! I look forward to keeping up with you thru the blog. I like the name Tiger too. It seems like the nature of spirit you need to accompany you thru the waters and winds of iceland...
    Chaz is on his own mini expedition in the mountains right now. Outward Bound in NC. 2 weeks backpacking and outside contact. I will show him your blog when he returns.
    Love you Cuz...I will be holding you in my thoughts.

  7. What an excellent adventure! Have fun, be safe and keep up the posts ! More pics too if possible.

    - kayaker Randy (friend of Beki)