> “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Captain. We have just been cleared to land at Keflavík Airport, Iceland. As we start our descent, please make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright position. Also, make sure your seat belt is securely fastened and all carry-on is stowed underneath the seat in front of you or in the overhead bins. Cabin crew, please take you seats for landing.”
I watched outside the window and saw my dream land touched by sunrays and scattered rainy clouds. Then I noticed that my two neighbours, a senior couple, were holding their hands; not out of fear, but out of happiness. As we were descending to the ground, both visions truly moved me.
During the bus trip from Keflavík airport to Reykjavík I still had my head so deeply in the clouds that I remember almost nothing of it. Droplets of rain on the windshield, cars passing by, a harbour full of containers. What else? Yes, an alleged Viking Hotel.
It was sunny while I was unpacking my bicycle, but as soon as I balanced the cardboard box on the saddle and the handlebars of my bike to carry it by foot to a storage place, the rain started to fall again. Seven kilometres of misery. After dropping it off, seven kilometres to run… in the sun.
On the bus from Reykjavík to Staðarskáli I finally had the time to relax and enjoy the view outside. Well, I’d lie if I said I wasn’t disappointed. And I’d life if I said this wasn’t the first thought that crossed my mind:
“Iceland is just a greener and darker Sardinia?”
A bare landscape dotted with boulders, creeks and mountains. Intoxicated by all those over-retouched photos I had seen online, I expected to be wonderstruck by every corner. Instead, every corner seemed to be only meh. But then the sun began to set, and it somehow shaped a triple rainbow on the horizon. I could clearly see where it touched the ground, and wondered if there were three pots of gold at its ends.
“Ok, ok… maybe I’m wrong, maybe there is more.”
As the sun fell beyond the rocky skyline, light wind and rain again. This sanctioned the beginning of my bikepacking journey around the Westfjords: 10 kilometres to go before I sleep. I don’t know if it was the dreary weather, a blind spot on the road or simple inattention, but a truck near missed me at high speed.
“Shit, this is exactly what I need to avoid!”
Shaken but not ironed out, I got to Borðeyri: my first night under an arctic sky. The gentle tapping of the rain on my cosy tent quickly brought me to sleep.
I woke up that it was still dark outside to prepare for my first stage, Borðeyri to Hólmavík: 108 km. Everything was in order, except for the odometer of my bike. For some reason, it had stopped working.
“Whatever… there’s only one road. I arrive when I arrive.”
And here lies the problem: if there’s one road only, all the vehicles will travel that way. Hence, I rode my bike with my mind always centred on the nearing traffic, which I could rarely hear approaching due to the constant sound of the wind in my ears. And I didn’t know for how many more kilometres I should have lingered on that uneasiness. A lovely sunny day, green fields full of curious sheep, little white houses, lake-like sea in deep fjords, seagulls flying over me… and I didn’t really feel them. I needed to, but I could not. When I reached Hólmavík I was flat-out exhausted, not physically but mentally. I was sorry.
I didn’t want to spend the rest of my journey constantly worrying about traffic, so I devoted the following day to sleeping and changing my plan. Instead of going clockwise to the wilderness between Hólmavík and Flókalundur, I would have gone anti-clockwise to Heydalur; a nice place to crash for a few days. A 110 km stage on a (hopefully) less beaten road: a steep rise of 440 m a.s.l. (13% grade) and then all downhill and flat stretches.
I ate my breakfast watching the sun rising over the bay, somehow fixed the odometer and was ready to go. The road was mostly straight and therefore rather dull, but in fact there were almost no vehicles. I had just started to relish the verdant valley when the hill arose before my eyes.
“Oh, come on… are you kidding me?”
I soon shifted to the shortest gear and began zig-zagging on the whole carriageway to keep my balance. After about half of the climb, the road bended on the right just in time to allow me to see four oversize load trucks closing in fast on my position. Well… I decided to stop, let them pass me and proceed by feet.
“My pushing the limits ends where the others’ folly begins.”
As soon as I reached the top of the hill, I had a surreal experience: a pond with swans, spots of snow, a grass-covered shack and a lonely boy walking around. There, it was so cold that I could perceive my own breath in the air, and that both my phones went off. After turning them back on, I noticed two things: the clocks marked one hour after noon and the signal bars were non-existent. With another 80 kilometres to go, those were not good news, even if I had already overcome the hardest part. For one hundred metres, I suppressed a deep sense of vulnerability and apprehension… the feeling that what I was doing was not right. And then a forgotten memory popped up in my mind:
“Do you know that I increase my micromort number by 1 unit for every 10 kilometres of motorcycle travel?”
Lorenzo cheerfully asked me this question a few months before that damned night of May, while we were returning home from the movie theatre. I couldn’t not listen to his voice, so I turned around and went back to Hólmavík. Had that memory remained buried, I wouldn’t have changed direction since I’m stubborn, and who knows what would have happened: the possible outcomes of my journey would have been endless. Thanks to that experience, I learnt the thin difference between courage and imprudence.
“Hi. I’d pay four more nights at the campsite, please.”
The guy at the counter looked at me with an astonished expression, but I couldn’t figure out why.
Three days exploring the little town of Hólmavík far and wide; I laid the tyres of my bike everywhere I could. Plate covered colourful houses. Artsy paintings on the walls. Peculiar ornaments on the inner windowsills. Snowy linens drying in the wind. Big wheel off-road vehicles in the streets. Huge BBQs in messy courtyards. Small rucksacks left there in front of the main door. Rusty car wrecks in untidy backyards. Abandoned fishermen’s sheds. Broken fences and locks of a warehouse. A coastal road leading to nowhere. Black shores strewn with seaweeds and bird traces only. An empty kennel near a white cross planted in the ground, with the name “Lan” written on it. At that moment, I understood the look on that guy’s face.
“Where is everybody?”
Except for a couple of passing tourists around the Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft, the gas station and the campsite, it seemed like a ghost town. The only few locals I’ve seen appeared to be annoyed by my presence, or they even behaved in a way that nearly creeped me out.
There were two girls playing dice and drinking sodas on a table overlooking the harbour; as soon as I sat on the table next to them to enjoy the sun, they left. I was riding in a residential area to discover new, random photographic views: a woman was washing the dishes in front of a window and a man was unlocking the door of his house; they kept staring at me, with a blank face, until I was out of their sight. Every morning at the same exact time, a lady with a stroller walked a dead-end road three times… the road that leads to the campsite.
I didn’t feel welcome there. Everything was desolate, and everyone was distant. In all my life, I’ve never felt so invisible. And thus, an unexpected realisation: might I have caught a glimpse of someone’s state of mind, someone who’s thinking to end his own life? Perhaps… I don’t know. What I do know is that I tried to relish the sky, the earth, the sea and all the beauty in between, but I could not.
“How dare I not appreciate how lucky I am?”
Again, I was sorry. Into this darkness, my own self didn’t have the strength to reach out to the world. I just hoped that it was the world to reach out to me.
On my fourth day in Hólmavík, it did.
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