‘We all want to lead a simple life, but no one really knows how to do that’ – Cameron Britton
Búðakirkja, Fuji XT2, 10-24mm
I’ve been trying to move over to a purely mobile work flow for photography. By that I mean not ever using a computer but just using an iPad to back up photos in the field and also process them. After a few months of faffery, I’m almost there. Been a bit of a learning experience with new software and trying to work out when to use the cloud and how to have secure off cloud back up. The big item was finding out that I’d been working on down sampled renders of JPEG’s and they weren’t even the full files – just a preview file. I thought I was working on the full raw file but nope, just something with about 10% of the data. What’s most interesting about this is that I never noticed and neither did anyone else. Just goes to show how little information you need to edit a photo to put on the inter webs. On the downside, it does mean that I have to re-do all the processing again when I come to print them or update the website (which is long overdue but it can wait until winter!)
I’m writing this blog at the same time as preparing for my next trip. It’s 5am and I should really be in the garage prepping honey bunny and in particular, trying to dial in some rebound settings on the rear shock and yet here I am with you, good morning, hope you slept well 🙂 Pretty excited about the trip – be good to be back on the bike and a long way to go with heaps of technical riding when I get there…coupled with some long mountain hikes for when the bike just wont be able to go any further. I recall speaking to a full time motorbike/landscape photographer a few years ago and asking him how he organises his day because I could never find the time to ride and shoot properly, especially if you also needed to hike to the vantage points. He said you either do one or the other on a given day which makes sense. I’ve now (I think) got the gear ready in order to be able to ride off road to the trail head and then get changed into hiking gear with a full backpack full of photo kit.
Anyway, back to Iceland. Let’s talk practicalities, food, drink, driving, camping and taking the python for a walk
As someone who is used to showering every morning, I feel grubby if I don’t have one and its like an itch you cant scratch. Showers are available in campsites and you can also use the ones in swimming pools but they mostly charge for them, are on timers and vary in quality and cleanliness. Doing the ritual changing dance of taking your shoes off, taking you socks off and then gingerly putting you foot back down on the shoe to minimise contact with the mud and grime thats accumulated requires the balance of an acrobat. Then that moment where you remove all the layers and the cold, nay freezing cold, air hits you. Rubbing shower gel down your thigh, across your chest and on your head so that you are ready to begin the race – money in, clock starts and you frantically wash away 3 or 4 days of sweat and dirt. All done but 20 seconds left on the clock, so another dollop of gel on the head and you’re done. Bitter sweet, you know its going to be several days before you do it again. Then you reverse it , gingerly stepping on your shoes, balancing while trying to put a sock back on, your wet feet and legs catching on every piece of clothing. My god though, how good was it to be clean and to change into clean clothes. Bliss.
Grundarfjörður, Fuji XT2, 10-24mm
Porridge every day for breakfast, tuna sandwich for lunch and some type of pasta with packet veggie Bolognese and peppers for tea. That plus hiking a lot meant I lost a full waist size and by the time I boarded the flight home, my belt was the only thing holding up my flapping hiking trousers. Fear not, a few weeks back home and it was all put back on. Supermarkets are broadly the same price as the UK for most things but eating out is expensive – and its not particularly exciting menu when you do find somewhere. Everything has to be imported so don’t expect restaurant style quality with tarragon dressings and the like. The few brief hours I spent in Reykjavik (and you don’t need more than 2 hours there – at most) showed the true extent of catering to the tourist market – massive prices and store after store full of T-shirt’s, baseball caps and stuffed whales. Grim. For those who do the 3-4 days in Iceland with Reykjavik and a few day tours around the close tourist sites it would paint about as accurate a picture of this countries beauty as if I were to copy the Mona Lisa with a sharpie on an old strip of cardboard. Blindfolded.
Driving in Iceland is very straightforward if you’re just staying on the ring road that circles the whole island. It has no bends at all other than where it passes through the mountain/coast roads on the Eastern Coast, some of which are a bit hairy in terms of no barriers and big drops. There are very few side roads off the ring road and in the main they tend to be gravel and very bumpy. Gravel can mean pea size gravel or it can mean rocks the size of your fist. The Eastern approach road to Dettifoss waterfall (road 864) was particularly brutal, with washboards, large rocks and a bone shaker of a ride even at 20mph. The Western approach to Dettifoss is paved but the views are far superior from the East, hence why I risked osteopath bills. The paved roads are in good condition and limited to 90kph BUT…the cambers are all over the place and its a full time job keeping your vehicle in a straight line. I must admit, I am so glad I didnt do this on the bike – it would have been utterly dull riding around road 1 apart from the odd brief set of curves. Off road would be phenomenal however – particularly up in the Westfjords. Note that apart from in approved areas, any form of off-road (this includes pulling off at the side of a road) is strictly forbidden because of the damage to the ecology. I saw a handful of photo opportunities while driving but with the next pull off being several miles (at least) past it then there was no choice to stop. Be prepared for this if you go – and also take every opportunity to use toilets, it can be a long distance between toilets (and there aren’t any public ones in the few lay-bys, you have to find a store or garage or some such thing).
Plenty of campsites about and they range wildly in facilities. You can buy a ‘camping card’ which is like a pre paid card that is usable at a reasonable amount of camp sites. I worked out it became economical if you used it more than 9 times (compared with just paying when you arrived). Most camp sites had basic showers, some were freezing cold (the building) whilst others were heated. The most basic I stayed at was right by a small waterfall and it was a patch of grass with a single toilet and a sink with just cold water. The most luxurious was a patch of grass but with a small restaurant/coffee shop on site and hot showers but in a cold building (and I do mean cold). One thing about all of them though – stunning views of mountains, volcanoes or just emptiness all around. That trumps any lack of facilities.
Jökulsárlón, with the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier in the background, Fuji XT2, 10-24mm
For those times when there were no showers for a few days, I just waited and used swimming pools who will let you in for a small fee (about £3) to just use the shower. There’s something refreshing about clambering out of your sleeping bag in your thermals in strong winds and brushing your teeth at an outside sink. You soon get used to the outdoors, in fact its harder to return to closed in rooms – you feel the lack of air and the artificial warmth of radiators that don’t need to be on. In the age old advice of every parent throughout time ‘cold? Put a jumper on!’
Supermarkets are a must – just for fruit and veg and some milk. I tended to stock up on peppers (last well and easy to use raw with tuna or cook in a bolognese) and bananas. Reasonably priced too given that they are imported. I’d taken quite a bit of food with me – mainly packaged dried mince (veggie), energy bars, cans of tuna and porridge, crisps (and how much of a treat is a bag of wotsits after a long hike!). If I was going again, I don’t think I would bother – the difference in price didn’t make it worthwhile. Maybe just take the snack type stuff and veggie mince which aren’t easily available.
Petrol is easy to get hold of but can be a reasonable distance from one filling station to another so I just topped off if i was approaching half a tank. Drivers are, in the main, courteous – there’s the odd idiot but you get there anywhere. In all the time there I only saw one policeman – and he was giving a ticket to a car that had gone past me at serious speed about 20 minutes prior. I don’t think speeding fines are cheap over there so I was religious about the limit and, in any event, I’m not there to be an idiot and the scenery is not something you want to rush through. There are a couple of tunnels and one of them is a toll but you don’t really know it is a toll until you are in it – and it catches many people out as you can only pay online. You either pay in advance or you have only a few hours after passing through to pay. Having been warned about it, I paid online in advance which brings me neatly on to mobile phone signal. In all this vast remoteness, there is almost complete 4g internet. You see the repeaters all over the countryside at the sides of the road. I think there was just one occasion when there was no signal but, to be fair, no one lived anywhere near there so I guess no need for a repeater.
So , its easy to get around Iceland. It’s relatively inexpensive to live out there if you have a little bit of planning and just go with the basics of camping and soul food. It’s easy to navigate because lets face it, there’s only a few major roads and a handful of side roads.
There was a big lesson for me and its one I’ve learnt before…and forgotten before. As you stand there, layered up, the wind on your face watching clouds slowly move across a mountain, your tummy full of plain food, the gently waft of a sweaty armpit finding its way to your nose and sipping on a glass of water, you don’t really need much more. A can of tuna, a slice of bread, sleeping bag, shower, porridge, repeat. You soon forget about the latte’s, wi-fi, houses, gossip, the latest gadget. You feel….you. Then i get back and descend back into the soul destroying embrace of ‘life’.
The more I try to remove myself the more they suck me back in. On the plus side, I didn’t drop the bag of fruit on to the ground. Capiche?