The land of fire and ice. 64,002 square kilometers of dramatic volcanic landscapes, remote, rugged fjords and barren, windswept plains. Iceland has recently become one of the most popular international destinations and for good reason. There are few places left where genuine wilderness and remote locations are as easily accessible.
For the last couple years I’ve been living in my van, a 1976 VW Westfalia with an antique wood stove in the passenger seat. Being used to the freedom that living and traveling in a van provides, I didn’t think twice, when William Woodward invited me on a last minute trip to Iceland with no agenda other than to circumnavigate the country via a VW syncro van.
William, my travel companion, also lives on the road full time, so traveling around the Pacific Northwest in a van vs. traveling around Iceland in a van was only a plane ticket away.
Landing in Reykjavik, Iceland, armed with only a couple hundred bucks and a firm resolve to skate every road, jump in every hot spring, and flip off every waterfall no matter how cold, we hit the road with eager anticipation. Rather than spending hours researching and building a travel itinerary, we both have a knack for cruising by the seat of our pants, so we ditched the tourist brochure and decided to wing it, putting our trust in the open road.
Iceland has over 130 volcanoes , 30 of which are still active. Over 11% of the island is covered by glacial ice with some 269 recognized and named glaciers. This mixture of fire and ice results in an incredible landscape and vast amounts of geothermal activity, which in turn leads to a convenient amount of hot springs littered far and wide. Many of which are located a few steps off the road.
Will and I met up with a couple good friends, Chris Burkard and Ryan Hill. Chris has been to Iceland over 20 times and knows a thing or two about the locals only spots. We spent a few days following Chris and Ryan into the West Fjords in their 80’s Landrover. The West Fjords boasts some of the most remote and underrated areas of Iceland. Thankfully both of our rigs were 4×4 equipped.
An adventure is never complete without a cliff jumping experience, and I was determined to discover an epic cliff or waterfall. Before the end of the first day, Chris led us to a waterfall composed in front of Kirkjufell mountain. Cold, windy, and cloudy, we gritted our teeth, crossed our fingers and took turns jumping into the coldest water I had ever experienced. There is no way to fully describe the feeling of jumping into glacial melt water, but to put it lightly it could be described as a mixture of hitting a brick wall and swallowing a gallon of ice cream at the same time.
One of my favorite movies is “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, and if you’ve watched it you won’t forget the scene where Walter skates down a fjord into a town right before a volcano explodes. There wasn’t an exploding volcano, but we did find the infamous Walter Mitty road and for 7 1⁄2 minutes I bombed down one of the sickest roads I’ve ever skated. What the movie doesn’t show you is the cattle guard grate at the bottom. There’s no brakes on a skateboard and it’s not easy to stop at 40mph. Before I had time to think, I abandoned ship and was jumping for my life over a 10 foot long booby trap of steel. Thankfully I was able to somehow plant a foot on one of the iron grates without slipping through, jump across the the rest of the cattle guard and tumble to the pavement.
Although I left some blood and skin on that Icelandic road, it did nothing to dampen our level of stoke in the land of fire and ice. We bombed many more roads, jumped off cliffs into freezing water, discovered secret hot springs, got stuck in knee deep mud atop of a mountain, and experienced incredible 6 hour arctic sunsets. It was a road trip for the books, and one that we won’t be forgetting soon.