ICELAND – ADVENTURE OF A LIFETIME
TEXT: Jiří Čeloud, instructor of self-sufficiency training at the Paraple Centre
PHOTO: Jiří Čeloud’s archive
It’s raining, the windows are foggy, one light is on. At first glance, a passerby might think the car is a young couple on a date. But we finish a bottle of becherovka, I play on a Hohner flute I bought a few hours ago, tuned in C major to the tune of Pata a Mata, and Jenda composes on the ukelele the anthem to our first expedition – „…trý hendbajks end trý frends, gouing eraund Ajslend“.
We return from Martina in Bologna and somewhere near the coast in Caorle we are planning how we will manage to travel one thousand six hundred kilometers on our handbikes.
I think it’s meant to be. The fact that I’m in a car. Although, I could use a healthy arm… I was walking around Jihlava with a friend in high school, and we were staring at some charioteer, and I was like, „If I was on a chariot, nothing would change, I’d just ride a handcycle instead of a bike.“
ARO, spinner, Kosumberk. The year flew by. Then Paraple.
In Kosumberk there was a sticker of Dušan on the wardrobe – he was going from Moravia to the Vatican. On a handbike. I was quite interested, but I didn’t tell anyone.
Within a year of the accident, I got a handbike too. It’s been five years since my first ride in a parking lot and subsequent muscle fever. I’m in shape now and the hills of the Highlands are a challenge, not a reason to cry.
„I want to go „hard“ from Dačice to Krumlov. Then through Austria and through Novohradky, back around Trebon.“ The sentence that got me off to a new start. Those seven days and the three hundred kilometres I travelled in South Bohemia are such an intense adventure that there is no turning back.
A year later, Jenda, Matěj and I set off with a car loaded with three handbikes and a metre of equipment to the Danish port of Hirtshals. We became friends in our teens, packing the same girl. The Norrona ferry sails for forty-eight hours with a brief stop in the Faroe Islands. It’s got a nice cabin with an accessible bathroom. On the first night, two cats from Brno come to see us. Unfortunately, with their father. We drink slivovitz and have a good chat. The bad thing about the ferry is that you can’t tell if you’re distracted by the drink or the waves.
After the experience from South Bohemia, the boys decided to ride a handbike too. I’m a quadriplegic without tricks, no need to kid myself, I just ride slow. Especially when I still have twenty-five kilos behind me in the cross-country. A regular bike is infinitely faster. Uphill, my speed is equal to an old grandmother walking. Jenda and Matej are carrying something between thirty and forty kilos, depending on food and water supplies.
Iceland shows its good side when we disembark in Seyðisfjörður harbour. The sun warms us and the light breeze from the ocean makes us feel safe. Confidence that we can make it.
To begin with, you need to overcome several hundred metres of altitude. The road winds upwards. The boys don’t wait for anything, they wrap rubber bands around their handbikes and drag them behind them. In some sections, although I don’t like it, they pull me too. Ego has to give way.
After an hour, everyone’s recurring prediction comes true. Within a few minutes the sky is clouding over, it starts to snow and all I can think is that I can’t survive in this for long. Icelandic weather can be a temperamental beast.
In Egilsstaðir we join the Ring Road No. 1, which we follow for the next forty-three days. The weather is getting wise again. This April is testing us throughout the whole trip. We pitch our tent in an abandoned campsite. We cook pasta with red sauce on the stove and then crawl into our cool sleeping bags.
The first week I can’t sleep at all. My body is not used to such a load of cold and discomfort. I’ve been on the bike for at least twelve hours every day and despite being very tired, I shiver in my sleeping bag for several hours before falling asleep. The good thing is that I’m traveling with two dudes who have no problem wiping my butt, but the tears really don’t, so I’m putting off the crying for another day. I can feel how this trip is making us all stronger.
We are heading to Dettifoss, Iceland’s most massive waterfall. The hundred-metre-wide Jökulsá á Fjöllum river has a flow two to three times greater than the Elbe and Vltava rivers at Mělník combined. This natural spectacle has an indescribable power. We’re running out of food and the detour to get it is 60 kilometres. Never mind, that’s why we’re here.
Although not quite. If someone asks me for my most powerful experience, I won’t say a waterfall, geyser or nature in general. I’ll say the feeling of freedom. A time when we drive in silence side by side with the whole road to ourselves. A time when one is alone with oneself and yet not alone.
At 3 a.m. we arrive at the spa at Lake Mývatn. There is an unopened beer can by the sidewalk. We peel it open and the boys quickly set up the tent. I go to sleep immediately, I’ve already slept almost on the bike. Jenda quickly jumps into the hot water. Matej jumps in right after him and smashes his head on the bottom. How ironic when he is on an expedition with a man who broke his cervical spine by jumping into
We’ve been on the road for a week now and we feel like we need to take a nap or two. Eat well, replenish our energy. We’ll buy whatever we feel like at the grocery store, regardless of the high local prices, and we’ll overeat terribly.
In the afternoon we get on our bikes without luggage and go to check out the Krafla volcano. The moonscape around it was formed a hundred thousand years ago and it’s strangely crackling and hissing under our bikes. There’s a power station here, using geothermal energy from around the volcano. And in it is a man who can weld aluminium.
Matěj broke the handbike crank during the climb. Earlier we got a contact to an Icelandic handbike dealer in case something happened. We call him and tell him our troubles. He „…well, you know, I’m a handbike dealer, but I haven’t sold any yet. However, a man from Reykjahlis has ordered one. Try calling him, he lives three kilometres away, maybe he can help you.“
Gísli Sverrisson was not at home, so he sent his friend with a pickup truck. He drove us to the power plant to the welder who welded the crank. Nobody wanted anything. They said it was normal to help each other.
In the morning we went to visit Gísli. A smiling, handsome 50-year-old who owns a local campsite. He said to stay till tomorrow and hang out with him tonight. We’re happy to accept. Besides, we haven’t washed in a week. We tried his typical Icelandic bread. They put the dough in milk cartons, put them in a hot ground for 24 hours and let them bake slowly. The bread is thick and sweet and is best with butter and smoked salmon. Gísli taught me the meaning of hospitality. I’m grateful to him for that.
The first night after visiting Gísli we sleep half a kilometer from one of the most beautiful waterfalls on the island of Goðafoss. In the morning we go to it to admire it, but unfortunately, an unpleasant thing happens. When two buses of tourists arrive, we become the attraction. It clicks and bleats around us like monkeys in a zoo. We better quickly pack a snack and drive back to our road, where we feel best.
The journey to Reykjavik is going well. The weather is good, the sun is shining and we are happy. Icelandic horses, known for their tölt gait, run along the road with us and look at us curiously. The sheep talk to us again when we have nothing to say to each other.
We have two days of rest in the capital. We buy a few beers and go for a walk around Reykjavik. We’re just sitting outside the Háteigskirkja church when a car pulls up. The three guys dump a complete toilet bowl out of the trunk, each sit on it, take a picture and drive on. They say that this is how they get around all the famous places in town. That’s funny.
We repair our bikes, buy supplies and continue east to check out the geyser with a small „g“ named Strokkur. Every five to ten minutes it spews boiling water up to a height of twenty meters. A few kilometres away is the Golden Waterfall of Gullfoss. Together with the Þingvellir National Park and the geyser with the big „G“ Geysir, it forms the so-called Golden Circle. A great spectacle.
We’re slowly running out of money. Jenda talked about dupster diving, or picking up trash, at the beginning. So one evening we try to go to the supermarket to see how the situation is. In the dumpster there are expired cookies, a few crumpled but otherwise undamaged cans of Coke and a yellow, just-ripe melon.
The expedition is taking a new direction. We stop devouring kilometers and cheating ourselves with „toast“ and margarine. We’re becoming scavenger hunters.
Nwe’re going east. With daily portions of around seventy kilometres, we manage to keep to the plan and the vision of catching the ferry is reassuring. Only occasionally do we get held up. For example, the magnificent sixty metre high waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, or the Vatnajökull glacier covering an area of roughly one hundred by one hundred and fifty kilometres. At the huge glacier run-off we eat our recently „executed“ meal, snap a few photos and drive to the finish line.
The descent to Egilsstaðir, where we end our Ring Road pilgrimage, is highly emotional. Six weeks, one thousand six hundred kilometres. An adventure of a lifetime. A thousand thoughts running through my head, but the overriding feeling is that I’ve done it. To myself.
Thanks, guys. Thanks, Iceland.