This Backroads Life

At Backroads, I´m called a leader. I much prefer chasing sheep on horseback, but that job doesn’t pay as well, and I’m deathly allergic to hay, so I’ll stick to Backroads leading.

Skaftafell National Park for a Backroads day

You can also call us glorified tour guides, where we’re capable of acting as babysitters or bus drivers just as well as we get to shine in the spotlight, but Backroad’s leaders are really one of a kind – a rare and spectacular breed of individuals that are capable of so much. There’s benefits to being an Icelandic leader in Iceland, but actually it means I get to spend extra time defending Backroads in Iceland, and doing extra work for the company since Im the local language expert and live here anyway, so I’m not really that special, on the Backroads global scale kinda measurement.

on Fjallsjokull glacier

The trips I lead are called multi-sport: we do sports, different kinds, one for every day. Its a 6 day trip, and we hike, bike, glacier walk, and sometimes, horse back ride. We go from Hofn to Reykjavik, in our Backroads vans, and are always atleast 2 leaders working together. We sleep at Iceland’s best hotels; Hotel Ranga and Ion Adventure hotel, to name a  few, and eat like kings and queens. It’s hard to stay fit, even as an active tour leader, since the food weighs me down, day after day, in addition to all the snacks we’re meant to offer guests, but really just end up eating ourselves, out of boredom, or guilt, or satisfaction, or all of the above… I don’t know.

biking around Thingvallavatn

The Iceland season is short, beginning at the start of June and ending at the start of September. I start and end the season, with a few weeks off in between, and our groups are anywhere from 9 to 26 people, almost always only Americans. They tip, so I love them, and speak English, which makes my job easy, but the few weeks I get off from Backroads to lead horseback riding treks are also a blessing. I may be surrounded by middle-aged German women, who were expecting a Chris Hemsworth kind of Thor as their guide, and barely speak english, but the horses are always worth it.

horseback riding in Hella

A couple of nights in the highlands, in mountain huts without running water or electricity, sharing bunk beds in one big room, and I’m immediately ready to go back to Backroads leading. My Fosshotel glacier room feels more like home than my own bed in Reykjavik does, and I’m not sure I remember what life was like before Backroads… *sigh*

my well-worn hiking boots at Hoffell

This Backroads life was meant to be, the dream job I never had and the perfect lifestyle to enjoy Iceland and traveling. If only my midriff agreed.

Advertisements

Photo Highlight: First Horse tour of the season

Summer arrived late in Iceland this year, but we went into Þórsmörk nature reserve anyway, snow and all. But the late snow melt meant some riverbeds were empty and the mighty Krossá river was low enough to only wet a few toes.

The first riding tour of the  2015 season with Ishestar was in Thorsmork

The first riding tour of the 2015 season with Ishestar was in Thorsmork

Thorsmork Riding Trips

 

rainbow over Þórsmörk

rainbow over Þórsmörk

Ishestar offers a 3 day riding trip into the famous nature reserve, Þórsmörk in Iceland. Its usually a popular hiking destination, but why walk when you can ride? I went as a guide for the first 2 trips with Kiddi from Eyvindarmuli farm, along with 12-15 riders, and I don´t think I´ll ever go back without a horse. We were able to ride where even the biggest jeeps had problems going, like the big glacial river Krossá. We also rode into the steep, narrow gorges hidden in the mountains around, and slept both nights at Volcano huts, complete with a barrel sauna and hot pool… well, actually more like a luke warm puddle.

river crossing

river crossing

I took two of my horses with me, one for me and one for the guests, and Þór ended up being a guest favourite twice. My Mjölnir had a bit of spring fever, but was wonderful to have along. The herd was about 50 horses strong, and they all had a bit of spring fever. I think we had 3 fall offs, one from the staff who ended up knocking herself unconscious. We knew she was ok when we ran up to her, lifeless, but snoring, so still breathing.

Þórsmörk

Þórsmörk

There´s an onsite masseuse and yoga teacher, who holds classes in a small circus tent outside that they heat up with stones. There´s also an onsite chef who cooks the most amazing food for hungry hikers and riders, which is always ready when you come in cold, wet and/or tired. But luckily we had pretty dry weather, although the deep river crossings got us wet anyway, but then the sun peeked out at all the right moments to warm us up and brighten all the green fields and forests.

There are a few 6 day trips that go past Thorsmork and into Landmanalaugar or Lákagigar with Kiddi, and going on this Thorsmork trip just makes you want more so I guess thats the next step. If you want to join me on a tour, come to the east to west Power of Creation tour in August.

horse change

horse change

Laugavegur trail: hiking from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk

The colourful moutains in Landmanalaugar

I got back from Poland and flew the same day to Höfn, an unusual place to end up after a week in Hamburg and Warsaw. Even coming back to Reykjavik sometimes gives me small-town culture shock, but Höfn’s airport makes you feel like you’ve arrived in the middle of nowhere. You’re right under Vatnajökull glacier, on an isolated peninsula that sticks out into the sea. They’ve got really good hot dogs there, and after the next 8 days riding horses from Höfn to Fljótsdalur, the first fast-food I ate again was another hot dog in Egilstaðir.

I got back to Reykjavik on a Saturday, and after almost 9 days without any contact with civilization except the other 15 riders,  the same city now gave me big-town culture shock. I was actually enjoying being back in a heated house with running water, until my friend Tom called me and asked if he could come to Iceland and hike Laugavegur with me… on Monday. I had no time to hesitate, since he booked his flight 20 minutes later, and flew to Iceland 36 hours later. Then, we backed our gear and provisions and set off for the remote highlands, once again.

Landmanalaugar

We started in Landmanalaugar, a mountainous and colourful geothermal region 5 hours away from Reykjavik. The elvation is 6o0 metres there and though you´re in the highlands, its a popular tourist destination and thus built up with basic services. The best part of Landmanalaugar is the hot river you can bathe in. It was freezing cold and windy, so getting down to our bathing suits was the hardest part, but once we had sat there for an hour, it was no problem to retain the heat while we redressed and started the 11km trek to Hrafntinnusker. We hiked through yellow steaming mountains and moss covered lava fields, even over some snow, but 3 hours later we were 500 m higher, home at a rocky camping ground just before dark.

the highest elevation point, at Hrafntinnusker

The first night we had frost, a lot of it, enough that our whole tent was frozen stiff and we had to shake off the ice before we could pack it up. The next day we passed 2 huts, Álftavatn and Hvanngil, doubling day 2 and 3 into a long, 28km day. The scenery was incredible, and we had fun stripping down to our underwear for repeated river crossings, but the last 3 kms were the longest, slowest kilometres of the whole hike. The weather changed constantly, from bright sun and calm winds to sideways hailing sleet, but one thing was consistent; everything around us was naturally dramatic.

We only passed a handful of other hikers, centered mostly around the 2 huts we passed, but on the 2nd night at Emstrur, we made some friends. There was the tour group in one hut that gave us left-over kjötsupa (lamb soup), the tour guide who sold us beer, and a German couple who let us use their primus to make tea. We crashed in out tent that night, and wake up way after everyone else had left.

the last 3 kilometres…

The last day was a gentle 12 kms, mostly downhill, back to greener pastures, and we ended in Þórsmörk prepared to indulge in all the services they had. We heated and stretched our sore muscles in the sauna for 2 hours, swam in the hot pool, cooked soup, drank hot tea, cold beer,  and the last provisions of whisky we had left. We made more friends by bonding over our hike experiences, and slept like babies before the bumpy bus ride back to Reykjavik.