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The Hardest Sit-up Ever

ICELAND | Tuesday, 21 June 2011 | Views [1453]

Hallgrimkirkja in Reykjavik

Hallgrimkirkja in Reykjavik

Today was, you guessed it, another beautiful day in Iceland.  There was a little bit of rain coming down in the late afternoon but in general there's been nothing but blue skies.  I went on the Hvita river today in Drumbo for some whitewater rafting with Arctic Adventures.  It was about a 90-minute drive to the river, and is actually pretty close to the area I went yesterday for the waterfall and the geyser.  The driver had on an oldies station playing mostly American songs like "Unchained Melody" and "Ring of Fire," which combined with the empty lands we were driving through seemed to fit.  During the last 9 km of the drive I saw why driving in Iceland is both very easy and very difficult.  Easy because there is no traffic, but difficult because the road goes from paved to unpaved seemingly at random and with no warning signs.  It was a very bumpy ride down the gravelly road.  The other people on my tour were a couple from Germany, a couple from America, and a father and son from America (although the dad was originally from Russia).  Our guides remarked on how we were lucky to get such good weather. It was a gorgeous river, glacially fed like all the other rivers I've been on before so the water was very clear and pretty cold.

The whole operation wasn't as organized as what I am used to on these sort of risk activities; I don't know that they get enough tourists to put on the full operation with positioned cameras, etc.  It was nice on one hand because then it was just all about the rafting and enjoying nature, but on the other hand I couldn't get any pictures of the pretty river we were on.  We had a very quick training session before we went out on the water with the commands that the guide was going to be using: all forward, backward, stop, hold on.  They seemed to make a big point that it was common to fall out of the river, and apparently the boats have flipped 3 times this year already.  Our kayak safety guide was this guy named Lama from Nepal, and apparently he's some badass rafter who can guide a whole raft by himself .  Our guide said this type of work was the easiest thing for him to do.  He was showing us what to do if we fall out of the raft and if we needed to cling to his kayak what to do if we were holding onto the front or the back. 

We went through the first set of waves with no problems.  The second set we hit a big rapid and with the momentum of the raft I thought for sure we were going to flip over.  Fortunately we didn't, but unfortunately I felt my weight go backwards so there were a few seconds where I was doing this awkward balancing act of my my back leaning horizontally outside the boat, my right foot hooked into the footpad, my right hand holding the paddle, and my left hand holding a death grip on the O.S. line (a.k.a. the “oh sh*t” line) around the edge of the raft.  I couldn't quite force myself back into the raft because we were still spinning and I remember thinking that I really didn't want to fall into the cold water, and also how my pride was going to take a hit because out of all the high-adrenaline activities I've done, this relatively calm river was going to be my downfall.  I was already preparing my paddle to put between my legs in preparation for somersaulting over the edge because my muscles were wearing out but fortunately my guide reached out his arm and all it took was a hard pull to get myself back in position inside the boat.  Well I said I had wanted some excitement today!  Morale of the story: always lean forward into the raft when you have to hold on.  Also I'm really glad that I didn't sign up for the class 4+ whitewater rafting trip.  

At one point we reached a canyon where we could jump off a cliff into the water below.  The jump itself wasn't that high and I was more worried about the temperature of the water, so I didn't go for it.  That's probably the first time ever in a trip where I've opted not to jump off something voluntary but it didn't look worth it to me; I might as well have just fallen off the raft earlier if I wanted to get wet and get some real excitement.  The rest of the river was fairly easy and calmer than my Whistler rafting trip last year.  There were some unique rock formations along the sides of the river due to the volcano eruptions in the past where the lava cooled, and it was pretty quiet for the most part.  Our guide wasn't so talkative and there were points where I couldn't tell if he was joking about something or not.  At one point he told us to stand up and paddle and we just turned around to him and were like, “Really?”  And he was serious so we tried it out and it wasn't successful.

Once we got back to base and changed out of the wetsuits we had soup and sandwiches and coffee/tea on the patio.  Our driver who had picked us up was talkative so we talked about the weather here and how even though Iceland was applying to be part of the European Union, if you asked most Icelanders they would say they didn't want to join.  He also mentioned that it doesn't get dark here so when you go to the pubs, when you get outside again you have no idea what time it is.  The Russian-born American guy was pretty funny because he was asking very direct questions such as the opinion on previous foreign military presence in Iceland and what kind of industry existed in Iceland anyway (fishing is a big one).  Then he asked the driver if he could still smell the sulfur in the water or if he was used to it now.  The driver said he couldn't smell it anymore and the American said that the first time he turned the hot water on and smelled it he was like, “'What the hell is that?'  I thought it was going to kill us.”

I got back into Reykjavik about 6 hours later from when I left for the trip and immediately went in and booked a glacier-hiking trip for Friday.  Then I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around town and getting bites to eat.  I had a nice cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream at this coffee/bar called Mokka, and then I visited this huge church called Hallgrimkirkja – the tallest building in Iceland.  When the weather is exceptionally clear again I will climb up the tower to get a panoramic view of the city.  Finally I went into the central open outdoor area where I watched these kids skateboarding, and falling down quite a lot.  This was the biggest group of (naturally) blonde people I have ever seen gathered together.  Super blonde and very, very fair-skinned.

Tomorrow I am heading to Snaefellsnes (pronounced SNY-felts-ness), a peninsula on the Western side of Iceland with mountains and glaciers.  It's going to be a 12+ hour day and I have to get up early so I'll be heading to bed early tonight.  I also have to pack up my things because I'm moving to the “deluxe” single hotel room tomorrow.  I've actually gotten used to this tiny room but my neighbor snores at night and the walls are super thin so it'll be nice to get away from that.

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