The Hike to Nowhere
March 23, 2019
Part of the R-tinerary Team just returned from a 5-day jaunt to Iceland. We barely touched the surface of this marvelous, mysterious and enchanting island. The group did most of the standard things that one should do on the first trip to a new place. We indulged in their foods and beverages and visited some of their geological phenomenons. We also experienced the Icelandic people and tourists. One touted item in the “none of the above” category is a hike to see the carcass of a Douglas Super DC-3 airplane. If I could drive right up to it, yes, I would like to see it. But to hike 5 miles, was it worth it? I was not excited about this hike, not one bit. However, the post-hike review changed that and I’ll give you the details on the reasons why.
It was freezing cold when we started the hike. The legendary Icelandic winds had kicked up and the snow was falling. The combination of the two makes for a rather pesky weather phenomenon. After stopping on the cliffs above the ocean, I was ready for some global warming of the hot mocha kind! The first challenge with this hike was just finding it. Google Maps pointed us to a spot that was clearly not right. When we got there, there was no turnout or parking lot. It was shortly after we realized it, that we saw the sign: “Google is Wrong, it’s that way”. Down the road, we went where we found the fenced-off parking lot with a gate opening. There was also an option to take a bus down to the site, but we were hiking this thing. There were no two ways about it.
We all stopped and read the placards. There was a warning about taking enough of the proper clothing on this hike and a reminder of how fast the weather can change in Iceland. The road is mostly firm soil, interspersed with rocks and pebbles. I tried to walk where the vehicles track so as to not have the soil or pebbles slip out from under my feet. The roadway is marked with the ubiquitous yellow plastic tubes with white reflector tape at the top. There’s a reason for this as I will explain later. After a couple of minutes of walking, I turned around to look back and it seemed we had gone no distance at all! The parking lot loomed close behind us. I was puzzled…. it seems like we should be further than a football field length away from it by now?
Onward we walked and after 10-15 minutes, everyone hit their own stride more or less with the group generally spreading out over about a 250-foot stretch. I was lost in my own thoughts, both marveling at the environment I was in and also, thinking about things back home, a longtime friend who as it turned out, was on his deathbed back in Florida (and who passed away the morning of our return from Iceland). It’s pretty amazing how the mind works when you are engaged in an activity such as this hike. I find that my thoughts can wander pretty freely and yet always come back to the physical task at hand and the mental ‘dashboard’ of my effort.
Very soon, it started to snow and blow, rather briskly. The snow was pretty much horizontal from right to left. At times a gust would push my gait off track. I’d have to lean into it only for it to let up. I was walking like I had just left a saloon, taking in the cold in properly layered attire and was not really cold at all. I had my GoPro on the Handler and barked commands to it: “GoPro, take a photo” or “GoPro start recording”. All the while, I would stare out in the distance ahead and see people about a millimeter tall on the horizon. I could not tell if they were walking toward me or away from me. Where is that plane carcass I wondered?? It started to feel like it was further than 2 ½ miles!
Finally, we saw the bus that had passed us only a few minutes before coming to a halt. A small handful of people stepped out of it. They were clearly not dressed for being there. A couple of the women only had shawls wrapped around their upper bodies. It was too cold for that attire! I looked in the direction they had headed and noticed the terrain dropped off. There off to the left was the DC-3 carcass. We hurried up our pace and made our way over to it. There were people crawling all over the plane (against the rules spelled out on the placard). Tourists taking pictures. In Iceland, we saw people from Thailand, China, EU, India, US, Indonesia, indeed, from all over the world. This was amazing to me to see so many different cultures visiting Iceland.
We headed back to Reykjavik in whiteout conditions after finishing the hike. I lost my sense of direction and realized we were cutting the corner. We were walking in soil which was much more difficult to walk in. So we stumbled and tried to find the marked path. Finally, we found it and then sought to set our stride and stride we did. It seemed we would never see the end of this hike. But finally, at long last, the parking lot became visible ever so slightly. I started to count my strides when we neared the end. I counted some 850+ strides (approximately 850 yards more or less) before we went thru the gate to end the hike.
We marked the successful completion of the hike by cracking a celebratory and rightfully earned cold beer. As I pondered the hike when heading back toward Reykjavik, my thoughts began to assess this hike. The airplane wreck is okay to see, but not great. However, the hike out is basically as flat as flat can be on this earth. You get a full experience of the ever-changing Icelandic wind, cloud, snow and the impacts on visibility on this hike. You get some great exercise to break the sometimes long periods of sitting to see the sites. Lastly, you can lose yourself in thought while doing it. We are very glad that we did it and it was yet another special time on our first tour of Iceland!
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