We camped up that night just the other side of Reykjavik, waking up to the sound of rain on our first morning – not heavy pounding rain, just thick dense drizzle. The 15% climbs up and over towards Pingvallavatn, kept us warm but definitely not dry; it wasn’t long until we’d wetted out.
Pausing at a remote, lonely, glass fronted luxury hotel to fill our bottles, we had a window into other people’s experience of this environment as they sat in the warm, dry, contemporary viewing area. I had that same feeling I get when I’m sitting in a car on the motorway and a motorcycle comes past. You’re warm, dry and comfortable – the other guy is battling 70mph winds, isolated and literally holding on for his life. The Icelandic winds weren’t making this easy for us.
Rolling into the first town we’d seen since we’d left Reykjavik, we were a few hours late for lunch and the tanks were empty. We sat down and stripped off, hanging our clothes on various chairs to dry out in the service station. George said to me “I think that last 20km was the hardest of my life, I reckon I can take 3 days of that, tops.” Before we’d set off from the UK, we’d checked the weather and it didn’t look good. Knowing we wouldn’t have the luxury of service stations and civilisation for much longer, we were both nervous how long the rain would last for. Refuelled, we made use of the southwesterly
winds and a short 20km’s later we’d taken our left turn to start heading north, leaving the south behind….
We were now following the Þjórsá river, a massive, bulging flow which carried the snow and glacier melt out of the central highlands down to the south coast and out into the North Atlantic Ocean. Tracing the meandering river as the low grey clouds hurtled overhead, we watched the weather play out in time lapse; breaks of sun, pockets of rain – always checking over our shoulders. We felt the ever presence of the weather that danced and played all around us. Somehow we’d managed to stay dry.
Later that day as we pulled away from the last signs of civilisation we would see until we reached the North coast, the sign at the side of the road confirmed this – “next services 254km”. We reached a crossroads and as the tarmac changed to gravel we turned onto the road we’d know for the next 3 days – the Sprengisandsleið – an ancient pass that fell out of use for over 600 years, desolate and isolated to the extreme, passable for only 2 months of the year. Its name derived from the term “to ride your horse to death, to explode from exhaustion”; as one had to ride as fast as possible to cross the lifeless desert, nearly driving your horse to death in order to reach the fertile lowland pastures before starvation.