There’s something about standing on the side of the highway in Iceland hitchhiking with your wife that has a way of bringing you together. We stood there in the kind of storm where at any moment it will literally start raining cats and dogs. I yelled above the fierce wind and pounding rain, “Watch out for that Golden Retriever and Siamese kitten coming right at you!” For a half hour we stood there among the raining animals before a car came by and mercifully picked us up.
This happened a few months ago during a vacation of destination running in Iceland. The sole intent of our trip was to immerse ourselves in the culture, the scenery and the trails of the country. Our desperate hitchhiking experience wasn’t how we envisioned the day ending.
Earlier that day, we set out to run the 15-mile Fimmvör”uháls Trail, rated by National Geographic as one of the World’s Best Hikes. We left our car at one end of the trail, then took a bus to the other end of the trail. This bus went places that I didn’t think buses could go. We crossed terrain that appeared unpassable. We crossed rivers that appeared too deep and swift to cross. The long bus ride took us to what could safely be described as “The Absolute Middle of Nowhere.”
We spent hours running and hiking through the kind of scenery you see on calendars.
Then we started coming across groups of hikers who had our same destination in mind, but were forced to turn around because of a storm at the top of the ridge, and a narrow ridge line covered in ice that didn’t seem safe to pass. We were faced with the dilemma of trying to continue onward to our car, or returning back to The Absolute Middle of Nowhere and hoping another bus would arrive to take us home.
We quite enjoy the hobby of… um… living, and decided to not attempt crossing the ridge. Thankfully we were able to catch a bus back to the main highway, but then we had to spend the next half hour with our thumbs up in the rain to catch a ride back to our car. It was the kind of experience that, after time, healing and some mental health therapy, you can look back on and laugh.
We hiked and ran to glaciers and countless waterfalls so beautiful that they didn’t seem real. We ran to the wreckage of a 1973 plane crash on a black sand beach. (Don’t worry. Nobody died.) When my daughters saw the pictures, they were giddy that we had run to the very same plane wreckage that Justin Bieber skateboarded on in one of his videos.
One night we arrived at our hostel in the small town of Akureyri at 10 p.m. Iceland doesn’t get dark at night during the summer, so while my wife slept, I laced up my shoes and went for a run. I was intensely thankful that I had brought my credit card when I came across an ice cream shop. It’s not every day that you can enjoy a mid-run ice cream cone in Iceland at 11 p.m. and I wasn’t about to pass on that opportunity. I loved exploring the quiet town by foot in the middle of the night without even needing a headlamp.
Being able to run through such dramatically beautiful scenery in Iceland made it worth the couple times we were attacked by bloodthirsty demonic birds called Arctic Terns. And the unique escapades of staying in a different hostel each night. And that time we were hours away from civilization when the brakes in the rental car went out. It was all worth it.
I haven’t cleaned my shoes since that trip. The dirt on my shoes is special. It’s a souvenir from the most memorable running adventure of my life.