Hiking

Iceland 2018 - Part 2 by William Bryan

“These renowned, dramatic cliffs on the headland beside Bjargtangar Lighthouse, extend for 12km. Ranging from 40m to 400m they're mobbed by nesting seabirds in early summer,” my dad read from the Lonely Planet guide to Iceland.

“Yeah, that’s what I’m excited about, we get to take pictures of puffins! And not the nasty cereal,” I replied excitedly.

“No, you didn’t hear me. Nesting seabirds in the early summer,” my dad taunted.

And then it hit me. This 800-kilometer detour into Iceland’s west fjords was motivated, in large part, by a plethora of photogenic seabirds that nested on the westernmost part of the island. And they wouldn’t even be there.

We decided to press on and hope that, for some reason, there might be some stragglers in the puffin flock. As we drove further towards the cliffs my dad checked the weather and turned pale.

“You sure we want to make it all the way out to the cliffs? There’s a storm with 40 m.p.h. winds coming in tonight. Just after sundown,” my dad said.

I distractedly thought about how fast 40 miles per hour was as I slowly navigated the winding road that was carved out of a cliff’s edge.
“Oh we’ll be fine,” I mumbled as I eyed the front right tire, and the crumbled rock that ended just beyond it. I had other things on my mind than a little wind.

Both Lonely Planet and the weather app were spot on: no birds at the cliffs, and epic wind gusts and buckets of rain pelted the van and pop-top as we tried to sleep that night.

After the sleepless night, we were ecstatic at the site of our first geothermal hot spring on the side of the road. We gingerly inspected it, half expecting it to not be real, or warm. But when we found that it was both entirely real and hot enough for soaking—we rushed back to the car to change.

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After enjoying ourselves in the warm waters with some Dutch travelers for a while we noticed some ominous clouds sweeping towards us quickly.

“That’s my cue to leave, nice to meet you,” I yelled behind me as I sprinted up the stone steps.

As I slammed the sliding door to the van shut behind me I heard the rain bounce off the roof above me. I looked out the windshield for my dad and as he rounded the corner the rain turned to hail.

He yelped as he clambered into the van and said, “man, you’ve got great timing. I definitely don’t.”

We laughed at what we were certain would be the last misfortune on the trip.

Two hours later we meandered along more bumpy dirt roads, nearly out of the west fjords, when I felt like the car was sliding around on the mud more than before.

“Something feels off,” I told my dad.

“Yeah,” he said. “This whole Junker that we’ve been in for two weeks is off.”

“No, more than before,” I said as I pulled over. “Will you hop out and give everything a look?”

As soon as he hopped out of the passenger door he deflated.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he grumbled.

A flat.

A flat tire in the middle of nowhere on a dirt road in Iceland, only two days before the end of the trip. After assessing the damage, we climbed into the back of the van, donned our most wind-proof gear (thank god it wasn’t raining, also) and got to work. Soon after we started an Italian couple stopped and insisted on helping, and if not for them we wouldn’t have gotten any of the nuts loose from the bolts, our tools just weren’t good enough. They offered a helping hand and a rental car with a better tire-iron.

As we heaved, pulled, pushed and kicked we snapped two rusted bolts in half as we tried to loosen them. Unfortunately, a better tire-iron doesn’t mean good bolts. After an hour of struggling we had the spare tire on the car, with four out of six bolts left to hold it on.

We realized that we weren’t in any position to push the clunky van any further than we absolutely had to so we pushed on towards Reykjavík, passing by some of the most photographed parts of Iceland on the Snæfellsjökull peninsula. After stopping at three mechanics we finally found one who would repair our old tire and thought they could replace the broken bolts (they couldn’t), before we limped on towards the van rental office and the end of our trip in Iceland.

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Seattle, Washington 2017 by William Bryan

Olympic National Forest is only 26 miles from Seattle as the crow flies, but driving there involves navigating Puget Sound, a dozen other beautiful little bays, and more than 2 hours on the road. But I still had my parks pass and I’d be damned if I didn’t get my money’s worth so of course I insisted on dragging Sach and Kev to Olympic National Forest. We had no idea where to go once we got there but we thought we’d just ask some rangers at the visitor center for some hike recommendations.

The southern fork of the Skokomish River.

After an early wake-up and two-and-a-half hours on the road our phones told us we were in the national forest but there was no visitor center to be seen. We turned back to the nearest town and noticed a small community center that looked almost like a visitor center and hoped they might have some info for us. Inside we found an elderly volunteer that was short on hiking guidance but full of kindness. She had two hiking recommendations: a flat 4-mile river trail or a 2.5-mile, 3,000-foot climb to the summit of Mount Elinor. We wanted expansive view’s more than a meandering water-way so we decided to concede our distance goals and tackle the summit of Mount Elinor instead.

It turned out that 3,000 feet in only 2.5 miles isn’t much of a hike, it’s more like climbing a ladder—straight up. After a couple hours of huffing and puffing our way up the steep barren slopes of Mount Elinor we arrived at the top to expansive views of Olympic National Park and Oregon’s Mount Hood in the distance to the south. After scarfing down our lunches, we hung out with a mountain goat friend and took in the views before sliding our way back down the steep shale mountainside to the car.

After our hike, we drove north into Olympic National Park (just to say we'd been there) and spotted some teenagers enjoying an end-of-summer lake trip with plenty of beer and boulder jumping for those that had the courage.

Lake Cushman boulder-jumpers.

Lake Cushman boulder-jumpers.