inside a kuku camper

Fire and ice day 5: “Highway to Hell”

June 17, 2021

A road to perdition leads naturally to perdition

No stop signs

Speed limit

Nobody’s gonna slow me down

                                  –AC/DC

   The thing about a highway to Hell is that you normally don’t know you’re on it until it’s too late.

   Our second day on the Ring Road dawned with clear skies and great confidence. I was feeling more comfortable behind the wheel, and the scheme to designate one of the van’s soup bowls as my nighttime potty proved quite successful in keeping me out of the Icelandic elements during my many nighttime calls of nature, especially when I learned to crouch rather than sit.

GPS lady kept taking us to the ferry, as if she knew what lay ahead on the road

   Anyway, today we were off to see the puffins of the West Fjords. Carol slid into her Prince Henry the Navigator role, of which she would execute flawlessly compared to the GPS lady, who managed to give our satellite-challenged brains fits (once taking us to the same ferry landing we wanted to avoid three times, in spite of both of us shouting at her to stop!).

   Carol’s expertly planned itinerary to the puffins of the West Fjords came to an abrupt end, through no fault of our own. Highway 54 turned ninety degrees left, and we found ourselves suddenly thrust onto what for me was a dreaded gravel road. Mind you, growing up in Chalmette, LA, I’d learned to drive on gravel roads, since that’s what the visionary town planners had provided us. But that was more than 50 years ago, I was now driving a camper van, in Iceland, and, excuse me, but I was still feeling a little like living on the knife edge just driving the country’s paved roads,

Yet, the road legend showed it as “improved”

   “I can’t do this,” I told Carol, pulling off to a turn out.

   “I don’t want us doing it,” Carol said, “and, according to the map, we’re not, as it’s not a gravel road.”

And then it got worse. Carol and I suddenly came upon a road construction site that was rebuilding our “road” from scratch it seemed. Gravel suddenly became crushed rock and stone, earth moving equipment was everywhere, and there was no way around it except through it.

   “No way!” We both cried out.

Not saying the isolation was not without its visual wonder

   But there it was, in all it’s gravelly glory. (So my question was, if the map says this is “improved,” then what the hell will an “unimproved” road look like?) It appeared the whole of the West Fjords would be like this, and neither of us wanted any part of it. We’re not backcountry people, and had no interest in beginning a new lifestyle in the middle of Iceland.

   Carol carved out an alternative route that would negate having to backtrack all the way back to Borgarnes, but it also meant abandoning getting jiggy with the puffins. But it still meant traveling the gravel road, and hooking up with a (theoretically) paved one that would get us back to the now glittering-with-modernity Ring Road.

The Good Samaritan said, “just follow me, it’s perfectly safe”

   I have to say honestly, that our first experience with driving over gravel met and exceeded all my worst fears. The lanes were unmarked, there were no shoulders, the drop-offs steep, the sharp curves promising lethal spinouts, the potholes plentiful and deep. One that I came upon had its own personal warning sign (I mean, if you took the time to cement in a warning sign, couldn’t you have just filled in the damn pothole?), and was so wide and deep it could have justified its own crater designation). There was little to no traffic. At one point we lost wifi, so if anything happened to the van, we’d might as well have been stranded on Mars.

inside a kuku camper
One of the more deserved Happy Hours that evening

   And then it got worse. Carol and I suddenly came upon a road construction site that was rebuilding our “road” from scratch it seemed. Gravel suddenly became crushed rock and stone, earth moving equipment was everywhere, and there was no way around it except through it.

   “No way!” We both cried out.

   I started to back up, the sinking feeling of retracing the last hour heavy on my brain. A construction supervisor, parked off to the side of the road, told us it was perfectly safe to drive through it. Our combined looks of disbelief prompted her to offer to guide us through the construction and back onto the (now) relative ease of mere gravel.

   I can tell you, asphalt never looked so good, when we finally arrived at the alternate, and were soon back in the warm bosom of the Ring Road. We made a wine stop farther up the road, and found a well appointed campground in Blönduós, which would end our trek up Iceland’s west coast. The happy hour was well-enjoyed. We had confronted our irrational fear of unpaved roads, and found it to be quite rational indeed.

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