My Restorative Iceland Adventure - by Alex Bancroft
Iceland has been on my radar for years, but I kept put it aside for other European trips. Just like the rest of the world, we have had two years worth of canceled plans and vacations. So in mid-March 2021, when Iceland announce they were opening up to vaccinated Americans, we decided this was the year! We immediately booked our plane tickets and Airbnbs and scheduled our trip for the first week of September 2021.
Let me back up. In June of 2019, I tripped over a root trail running and landed with my hands face down to catch my fall. I later learned that I tore my TFCC in my left wrist. As any ultra runner would do, I wrapped it up, ran my first 100k in the Berkshires, raced Tahoe Rim Trail 50 Miler (DNFing at 40 miles) and later in the summer ran the rim to rim of the Grand Canyon (see my previous blog post for Lily Trotters). Just as Covid hit in early 2020, I had my first surgery to repair the tear in my wrist (unsuccessful). Later in the year, I had my second (this time successful) surgery to repair the tear. Unfortunately, the pain was still persistent even though the tear was fixed because my ulna arm bone was too long and with this fragile weak point in my wrist now, the long arm bone kept the wrist from functioning and healing correctly. So in July of 2021 I had my ulna arm bone shortened. Needless to say, this last surgery was very painful and has not been an easy recovery. My arm has been immobilized and in a custom made hard brace all summer.
The micro-movement in my left wrist when I have tried to run for the past two years has been painful. And the constant surgeries and recoveries (and not to mention the pandemic) have taken a toll on my mental health. When you wrap your self-worth in something like being an ultra runner and a badass adventurer and then you develop a long-term injury, you start to dread the memories of what you used to be able to accomplish. And you start wondering if you will ever be the runner you once were.
That’s why this Iceland trip was so important to me. I really needed an adventure to set myself right. But what I received was so much more.
We landed in Iceland early in the morning, picked up our rental car and drove to the Blue Lagoon. In hindsight, this was the smartest decision and the best $100 we spent on our whole trip. That warm crystal blue water felt so perfect after a sleepless overnight flight with no coffee. My six-inch long surgery incision was finally healed enough to submerge and to leave my brace in the dressing room. Within my first few hours in Iceland, I started feeling its restorative powers.
I had spent the past 5 months planning our road trip around the Ring Road. Our goal was the see as much of the island as we could in one week. Due to the pandemic, I really lucked out to book some iconic Airbnbs that are usually reserved years in advance. The first night we stayed
in a tiny house right across the road from the famous Reynisfjara black sand beach near Vik. We woke up early the next morning to walk the beach, where the contrast of the white ocean foam against the black sand beaches was truly breathtaking.
Day two was filled with driving, waterfalls, hiking in Skatafell National Park, and a stop to sit in awe at the beautiful Jokulsarlon Glacier Ice Lagoon
We eventually arrived in Hofn late afternoon for the night. This was the only hotel we booked for the whole trip and the only dinner we ate out. It is true what they say about how expensive eating out is in Iceland, but the food was fresh and delicious.
Day three was one of my favorite driving stretches of the whole trip. The east coast of Iceland is absolutely gorgeous with jaw-dropping views around every corner. It was also the day I finally was able to pull over and pet a few very friendly Icelandic horses. It was one of the highlights of the whole trip.
We stopped in the town of Seydisfjordur to see the rainbow road and church before continuing on to Fellabaer for the night.
On day four, we left early to hike near Studlagil
Basalt Canyon before the rest of the crowd, then continued on the road where we happened upon Hverir Geothermal Field (geysers) even though it
wasn’t on our list. Much of the trip was this way. We had written down a number of places we wanted to see, then spent most of the time just pulling over
when we saw other people doing the same. There is so much to see right off the Ring Road that you could literally stop every 5 miles to take in the views.
We booked a noon time appointment at Myvatn Nature Baths for another soak before heading to Akureyri and our most beautiful stay in a tiny house
Airbnb overlooking the inlet and city.
Day five had us up early to drive into Akureyri to the hospital for our rapid Covid test so we could board the airplane in 48 hours. Armed with our negative results, we hit the road for the longest drive of the week to get to Snaefellsnes peninsula for our last night. I wish we had booked another night to explore this area more. We stayed in an adorable tiny green house in Grundarfjordur, overlooking the majestic Kirkjufell.
Sunrise on day six was gorgeous as we loaded up our little rental car and headed a few hours south back to the airport to end our trip.
These six days were completely restorative to me. Driving on the open road, having no hard plans other than reaching our next tiny house each night, and stopping to hike all the waterfalls and trails we could find off the Ring Road was just want I needed. It put me in the right frame of mind to finish my physical healing and it reminded me to relax and enjoy the ride for my mental healing. If I never get back to the level of running I once did, then there are plenty of other adventures to be found at a slower pace.
My Iceland Tips:
- Get international service on your cell. Cell service was surprising good in most places. - Most places take credit card and many do not take cash. We got $200 worth of Icelandic money ahead of time and spent the little we had left at the airport. The airport had a good gift shop once you got through security, so don’t worry if you don’t find places to find souvenirs or gifts during your stay.
- Eating out is very expensive. Alcohol (especially wine) is very, very expensive.
- Always fill up your car when you see a gas station so you don’t let it get below half a tank. N1 is the gas station we saw the most. We bought prepaid N1 cards and never had to go in to pay for gas. However, their gas stations are pretty nice, have excellent coffee and even hot dogs/sandwiches if you are looking for easy lunch on the road.
- Book everything well in advance. Airbnb, Blue Lagoon, glacier tours, car, etc. all fill up fast. - If you are going to airbnb it, pack a medium size collapsible cooler to put in your luggage to bring your perishables each day with you.
- Every place we stayed had a checkin time of 4pm. Everything is very hard to find there as there are not street numbers, names, etc. for addresses…addresses tend to be the families name and Google Maps does not comprehend that. Print your Airbnb directions to bring with you to try to follow. Your goal should always be to get to the airbnb before it gets dark (depends on when you go) so you can actually find it. No lights, no numbers, no electronic help.
- Iceland likes to spell names in multiple ways to keep things interesting for us foreigners. Keep that in mind when you are trying to find locations.
- If still during covid restrictions, many additional things to make sure you do so meet with Mark to get those).
- Check-in in Boston and in Iceland to come back took us 1-2 hours. Security was the fast part. Make sure to give yourself time for this.
- Pack for all weather. We also brought quick dry towels for the hot springs. - I would get a small SUV instead of an economy car. Our small car did fine, but was a little low to the ground for some of the parking lots along the road.
- Don’t worry if you can’t find gift shops along your trip…the international departure area in the airport has everything you could want.- Pack a pair of your Lily Trotters to wear on your long flight. They are perfect for improving your leg circulation.