Published: May 9th 2012March 7th 2011
This was our last day on this unique island, dropped in the north Atlantic, straddling two enormous continental plates. Most of what happens here is linked to the earth's geology, and that gives it a striking beauty incomparable with the rest of Europe. We thought we'd make the most of it.
After our second wonderful breakfast at Ranga, we were ready for a full day ahead. We decided to retreat a little east at first and try the road to Porsmork. We were not entirely sure what we were going to get and set off down the straightforward deviation from the main road, past yet another waterfall and headed inland. As we progressed, the quality of the road deteriorated until after about 20-30 minutes, we were being thrown around in our 4x4 by uneven, icy, snow covered rocky surfaces. We continued at a slow pace for a while having the road tip one way, then the other as we thudded down over very uneven surfaces; this car was really doing its job getting us forward over this. 10 minutes later, we encountered a familiar problem: our path was crossed by a river, however, this one was deeper and the drop into it more severe. Buoyed on by our efforts at Hoffell, we gave it a go. The front wheels slammed into the water but we had just enough momentum to continue out the other side, and a little pressure on the pedal meant we made it up the bank and back onto the rocky road. At this point, not only was the road getting worse but the snow was getting thicker, again, this would not be a place to get stuck. We noticed up ahead that someone was coming from the other direction, which gave us some hope that if they could do it, so could we. As the other vehicle got closer, we noticed that it was not in a similar range to ours. It can only be described as a monster truck. The top of the wheels were at about my eye level. We pulled to one side to let it pass. The driver, clad in reflective sun glasses, wound down his window and cooly said "you'll have to turn around" and drove on. Who were we to argue with him?
Turning around was not acheived with the blissful aplomb with which he uttered it. However, after a few moments, we were heading away from the interior again, a little wiser as to why Iceland just has the one main road around the coast. This was not the end of our problems at this time, for we still had our river to cross and upon approaching it realised why the wheels hit the water with such vigour. The slope on the other side was considerably steeper. We again moved forward at a medium pace and dropped into the water with our usual momentum. Despite this, it was not enough and the car stalled on the steep bank the other side. Handbrake on, neutral gear, restart engine, first gear and enough pressure on the pedal to get us up before we looked too foolish. We were away and gradually approaching something that barely resembled a road. Another 20 minutes and we were back on tarmac; we stopped at the waterfall to admire the bird colonies nesting in its shadow and look back over what we had attempted to cross. Having failed to reach Porsmork, we were blessed with more time and we didn't want to arrive in Reykjavik too early and waste the day. We decided to give the site of Pingvellir a go, which didn't represent too much of a deviation from our planned course, so we continued west along a smooth surface, glad of the capabilities of our 4x4.
The road to Pingvellir was a normal one, and as usual, it began to snow again. Contrary to the east, closer to Reykjavik you are likely to encounter another car every now and again, and we found ourselves travelling at 80-90kph behind just one such car. Of the tens of thousands of days that I had lived, the ones in Iceland numbered only 6 so far and I didn't want number 7 to be spent travelling for too long. I'd like to say that this entered my mind as I pulled out to overtake, but I was now overconfident in the abilities of myself and the 4x4. As the snow falls and compacts into ice, the cars' wheels push it to one side and a grip is acheived on the tarmac once again. When overtaking, there is a strip in the middle of the road that has not had this treatment. As I crossed the strip and attempted to straighten up again on the other side in order to overtake, the view shot across the road to the right, then with the slightest adjustment, shot back across the road to the left; the back tyres had lost all grip on the road and I was swinging wildly on ice at 90kph. I gave up any battle of keeping the car on the road and it careered off the road onto the rough snow that bumped us along for a few seconds. I had let the physics of what the car was going to do take its course and remained away from the wheel and the break. 20 metres from the roadside we slammed into a river and then the bank on the opposite side, most of the impact being taken on the front passenger side. The car then settled down into the river. With its right side beginning to submerge and the left propped up on the bank.
There was not a single car that passed and did not stop to offer us help. We climbed out of the windows and sat in the back of the very car I'd tried to overtake. We waited for an ambulance crew to check us out. The paramedics asked how long we'd been in Iceland, and my dented pride was nursed by one of their comments "6 days? We normally do this for you guys on the first day." Local Police from nearby Selfoss then took us to their station. However, before we left we visited our fallen comrade to collect our things that weren't underwater.
At the police station, we were collected by the jolliest man from the car hire company who took us back out to the crash site for us to pick up anything else. The car's front passenger side was totally crushed, with the wheel at a right angle to the rest of the car. The other half of the car had been in the river water for some time, although by the time we reached it the car had been pulled out and remained on the rough snow at the roadside. We collected a few very wet things, including cards from a deck that were now mostly floating around. With a silent, sad farewell we left the scene and were taken from Selfoss to Reykjavik by our very upbeat driver. A snow storm came in as we approached the city but were eventually dropped off in good daylight at a hotel near the bus station for our final leg of the journey the next morning.
Having rested our wet things all over the room, we stepped out into Reykjavik for something to eat and also bought a few sweets for our final night. The city was very welcoming and it was good to settle down after the day we'd had. We missed the wilderness of rural Iceland but were happy to be there nonetheless. Once back in the hotel we stayed indoors to lick our wounds and be ready for a very early start the next morning.
At about 5am we took a taxi down the road to the bus station in very thick falling snow that was making progress very difficult for our driver. We bought tickets to Keflavik airport and boarded our bus which seemed much more adept at dealing with the very heavy snow that was now settling on the ground. It was sombre to be going back to reality after the week we'd had. Iceland is a testament to the beauty that is still present outside our concrete worlds, that no design can rival the natural art with which this geological monument has been constructed. With our journey at an end, we did what Iceland has annually stopped Europe's aviation giants doing, and took off in a plane.