On Top of the World

Monday, June 19, 2017 – Rich here again…

Jon puts out a wonderful spread for breakfast, which includes some of the best muesli we’ve ever tasted. It’s got a nice toasty brown-ness to it, blending perfectly with milky yogurt Súrmjólk on top. Jon makes killer breads too.

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We’re blessed with another beautiful sunny day, blue skies and puffy clouds. Our quest for this morning takes us first to well-visited Gullfoss about 30 minutes drive. Tourist buses populate the place and bodies are everywhere. We resist the urge to visit the falls and instead wait to rendezvous with guides for a more special “secret” activity.

Linda’s actually already told me what we’ve got in store – I think she wants to share the anticipation. We’re both excited about it.

We board a van that takes us northeast and through road signs that declare 4-wheel vehicles only. The terrain becomes amazingly barren, like a moonscape strewn with rocks.  I’ve even read that Apollo 16 astronauts Ken Mattingly and Neil Armstrong trained for moon missions somewhere in these parts of Iceland.

Our guide cites a few interesting things on the way. Among them, the millions of gorgeous lupines we see were actually introduced from Alaska. Apparently it was thought that they would provide good soil conversion so other plants and trees could take hold, and it was thought the lupines should grow well here. Just how well no one could have guessed – they are EVERYWHERE. Some towns even have “lupine control” groups that eradicate them.

We reach a base camp to get suited up. For what activity? SNOWMOBILING (of all things)! On top of the Langjökull glacier!

We are issued jumpsuits, gloves, goggles, and helmets that make us feel like astronauts, or maybe more like crash dummies. I’ve never even sat on a snowmobile before. How hard is it? Is it easy to wipe out? And how fast do these things go anyway?

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From the base camp, we all board a monstrous vehicle they call the “super truck”. Its wheels are nearly as tall as Linda. During other seasons, the tour can start here at base camp, but in summer, we’ve got to continue up the mountain another 10-15 minutes to reach snow.

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A line of sleek-looking Ski-doo and Lynx machines awaits us. We all get a brief operating lesson plus a few instructions about staying in line and following the guides. More than half our group ride in pairs, but Linda has booked us to each ride our own machine.

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Nervous but ready

And off we go! Linda and I were actually thinking this might be a head-to-tail affair where we’d be modestly plodding along. Wrong-o. These machines are pretty fast and we go blazing out onto the slushy powder with little introduction. At first everyone dutifully stays in the tracks of the machine in front, but some of us soon find that the fresh snow rides much better.

I slightly cut off a curve, gunning my mount, and the guides wags his finger at me. Fortunately, they’re not overly restrictive, and the line actually moves at a brisk clip. So much fun! One soon learns to steer the machine mostly with body weight, and to use the legs as a cushion over bumps. In fact, when you see a bump ahead, the best thing to do is rev up the machine and fly over it!

Linda also breaks free from the line and starts passing others full throttle, only to get scolded by the guide back into line. We can’t help ourselves – it is too much fun!

All riders stop for photos and selfies, and we are told we’ve reached the edge of the glacier – so far we’ve been riding on snowy mountain. When we do head up over the ice, I actually can’t tell much difference – it is all snow covered and feels similar.

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What I do feel is as if we are riding at the top of the world. The air is crisp and fresh, the sky a deep blue and the snow brilliant white. Linda has been saying it over and over but we just can’t get over where we are.

We stop again and are shown an ice cave. It’s made of glacier ice over 600 years old, and we’re told this is the last tour this year that will be allowed inside, due to hazards from falling rocks. In fact, we’re told to go single file inside and to scoot through the entrance without lingering.

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Inside the cave it looks like a Hollywood movie set. Light streams into either end and beautifully lluminates blue and brown strata in the ice. The guides are kind enough to snap a few pics of us.

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Back onto our machines again. After 40 minutes of riding, most of us are starting to get the hang of the machines, and the group moves even faster with more meandering. Nobody gets the wagging finger this time. What a complete blast!

A duo in front of me nearly wipes out on one slope. Linda and I decided later that riding a machine single is easier (albeit more expensive). Much easier with better weight control.

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Back at the super truck, we reluctantly give up our machines. The MP (ahem AMP) has once again come through with flying colors. Fantastic!

Coffee and hot chocolate await at base camp, where everyone visits and shares their experiences.

On the trip back, we learn a few more Icelandic tidbits. Artic foxes live here, brown and grey during the summer and beautifully white during the winter. Minks also live here, having escaped captivity. They are scorned, in that they often kill other animals without eating them. Polar bears sometimes make it all the way to Iceland too, but they are feared. If a polar bear is successful in reaching here, it is often very weak and dangerous.

We are deposited back into the tourist throng at Gullfoss. We might as well go down to see what the fuss is about. Dodging our way through the shutter-happy masses, we make our way to the falls, which are both huge and breathtaking, replete with rainbow. The walkway allows you to get really close too.

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We grab a tourist baggette sandwich and a couple of waters, which sets us back around $40. Oh yeah sorry – no conversions allowed – almost forgot. We make a quick decision for our next destination. Well…let’s play some golf!

The Geysir Golf Course is not far from our guesthouse, so we head over to check it out. It’s a nine-hole layout, they have rental clubs and pull carts – no sweat. We ask about balls, and there is a jar full of craptastic lightly used Wilson Staffs for $200 ISK each. We ask how hard the course is, and the pro answers, “Hard.” We buy 3 balls each.

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Sorting through the used Wilson Staffs

He’s sorta right. The layout is challenging with narrow fairways and lots of carries over a river that winds its way throughout. In the distance, the Strokkur geyser is visible and we see it erupt often. Linda and I both hit the rental clubs surprisingly well, and I can tell Linda has been missing it.

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On the 5th tee box, my tee states 142 yards. The green is on the other side of the river. I look at the flag stick and decide, nah, it’s shorter than that, pick up a wedge, and plunk it onto the left side of the green. We walk to Linda’s box. As she is sizing up her shot, I interrupt – hold on, wait a second. I can’t see any bridge or pathway to get to the green. It is only then I take a good look left to see the REAL 5th green on our side of the river. Chalk up 1 lost ball.

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Playing to the wrong green

We finish up with a whoop as Linda sinks a snake on the ninth green to par the hole. The most expensive 9 holes we’ve ever played (I won’t say how much) but a fun activity. I’m sure it’s replenished Linda’s golfing soul, a little bit anyway.

We give back the 6 balls to the pro (we found one out there) and he seems unduly grateful.

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Wow, what now? We need to eat. Linda read somewhere that a diminutive pizza place is nearby, and we find it next to a tent campground. Inside is a cozy rustic bar. We like the place right away, especially a small chalkboard sign behind the barmaid.

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Two draft Tuborg Golds for us, and we find seats outside among the backpacker set. The weather is still remarkably nice – blue skies, light winds, and 60F. We’re soon discussing all sorts of topics with the young camping set, who hail from Sweden, Denmark, Boston, etc. You know, topics like Icelandic tourism, global warming, Brexit, the States, Scandinavia, camping details, and of course, the seemingly ubiquitous topic of Trump. We love to hear their perspective on things, and I think they actually like hearing what a couple of slightly-more-than-middle-aged Americans think too. We spend a wonderful 2 hours with beer, pizza, and friends.

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What a day. I’ve been missing an afternoon nap every day but there is not much choice – too much to see and do here. We’ll just have to catch up when it’s all over. Back to the Mengi Kjarnholt guesthouse.  Linda snaps a photo of these sheep at almost 10pm.  It’s amazing how light it stays all day here.

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3 thoughts on “On Top of the World

  1. I just know some of the snowmobile pictures will grace the shelves or walls of your home. They are so amazing! Your smiles are radiant and I’m smiling while looking and enjoying all this. Miss you both!

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