Iceland is a place of contrasts. Bright moss on dark lava fields. Quiet fjords beside an often violent ocean. Geysers, gorges, cliffs and caverns, and countless mountains and waterfalls — the land itself seems both old and new simultaneously, either ripping itself apart, or still just taking shape.
My wife Corrine and I first went to Iceland several years ago, rented a car and tent-camped around the Ring Road and the Westfjords for two weeks. The Ring Road circles the entire island. It’s something many travelers do, though many don’t venture up into the more remote Westfjords.
This time, we set ourselves on a similar path — seeing some familiar sights and exploring new ones as well — though with a completely different mission. We brought two Portagers, Paddle North’s hard-wearing inflatable stand-up paddle boards. We wanted to paddle as much of Iceland as we could. We remembered the quiet waters and sunny days of July, from our first Icelandic adventure. This time, however, we went in mid-September.
Frankly, we discovered September is colder and windier in Iceland than it is in Minnesota; and that even though Minnesota winters are apparently colder, winter comes quicker to the small North Atlantic island. But even so, this whole trip turned out to be one crazy adventure.
We paddled almost everyday. At first, we weren’t choosy. We stopped at small streams and shallow rivers and ponds, pumped up the boards and went out, exploring, even in wind and rain. After a few days, we dialed in our exploring, and set our sights on some really beautiful, calm bodies of water.
Our first amazing paddle was right around the corner from a little town called Hofn, in the south. Fortunately for safety reasons, the water was shallow. But that did mean we had to literally portage the Portagers across sandbars to find sections of deep-enough water, and the water was almost unbearably cold. It was also insanely beautiful and still and silent.
Another really interesting outing was just outside a town in northern Iceland. We were Googling geothermal pools in the area because we needed some warmth. Instead we found out about an unmarked geothermal lake near the town that was full of.. goldfish. We thought it might be a myth or a joke, but we eventually found the steaming lake, and sure enough, there were countless bright-orange goldfish swarming around our boards as we paddled. Legend has it local families once released their pet goldfish into the warm water to survive the winter in a more spacious environment.
Probably our most breathtaking excursion was on the peninsula of Snaefellsnes, on the quieter northern side. We passed a fjord one night in the car, camped a few miles down the road and decided to backtrack the next morning. The water was perfectly still and the sun was shining, neither of which happened often on this trip, so we wanted to take advantage of it. We paddled there for so long, and found columnar basalt on the other side of the fjord.
We paddled a dozen other places as well. Some waters with rumored sea monsters. Other times we paddled in super recognizable places, like Kirkjufell Mountain. All in all, this trip would not have been the adventure it was if we hadn’t brought the inflatable boards. We got to see a lot of things from a new perspective, and having them pushed us to do things we wouldn’t have otherwise done.
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