Iceland 2016: Pull Over, Brian

4 07 2016

Friday, May 27, 2016

“Today your journey takes you from fjord to fjord under awe-inspiring mountains.” So says our itinerary.  So much for the plan.

We start the day by back-tracking around the fjord to the western-most part of Iceland, Latrabjarg.  Back in 2013, Brian and I spent a wonderful few hours here, climbing to the edge of the impossible cliffs, spotting puffins, razorbills, and many other seabirds.  I am eager to show this fantastic place to Dave, Nancy, and Annalise so that they too can experience the wonder.

We all pile in Dave’s Ford Focus and head off.  It’s still rainy and windy, but this is Iceland after all, and I hold fast to the saying that the weather here changes faster than my mind.  But not today.

By the time we get there, it’s raining even harder and the wind is blowing hard enough that there is a real fear that we will be blown off the edge.  But we have learned from yesterday and are at least all wearing rain pants and jackets on top of our warmest clothes.  (Nancy had even packed an extra pair of rain pants, which Annalise gladly wears.)

5-27-16 Látrabjarg (2)

Annalise and David brace against the wind

5-27-16 Látrabjarg (4)

Note Annalise on the opposite cliff

5-27-16 Látrabjarg  fulmar (2)


Shielding our cameras, we search in vain for the puffins.  Not a one to be found.  They are probably all comfy inside their cliff-top burrows, watching their tellys and settling arguments with their squabbling kiddos.  We do see some razorbills, but that’s hardly compensation for driving an hour out of the way and getting drenched and wind-tossed after hiking along the sides of the cliffs.  Still and all, this is Iceland, and the weather will get better and we will see puffins.  We can only hope.

5-27-16 Látrabjarg  razorbill auk egg

Auk eggs: weighted so they won’t roll of cliffs

5-27-16 Látrabjarg razorbill auks (2)

A long way down for this razorbill auk

.Back in the car, we crank up the heat and head back to Patreksfjörður where we pick up the Peugeot and head to the fjords by those “awe-inspiring mountains.”

5-27-16 Látrabjarg (10)

A reminder to drive safely

And they are pretty awe-inspiring.  And as the road turns to gravel, the rain continues and we head to the highlands and the biggest adventure of our trip.

5-27-16 rocks in road (2)

A recent rockslide

Picture grey skies, spitting rain, a gravel road raised on a bed a couple feet from the ground, the sides of which are filled with run-off from the “awe-inspiring mountains.”  Grades as steep as 16%, twists and turns.  And the slopes pock-marked with ice unmelted yet in late May.  Luckily, few cars on the road.  Unluckily, few cars.  Keep your eyes on the road, for one mistake can lead to…

5-27-16 stuck in mud (9)

Beside the road, a river rushes and gushes out of an enormous snowbank.  In spite of the weather, another great photo op.  “Pull over, Brian.”  Famous last words.  Infamous last words.  Words that will live in family folklore for years.

Brian pulls over so that the passenger tires are just off the road. Mistake.  Bad mistake.  Immediately the tires sink.  Immediately bad words start issuing forth.  I step out and I too sink. Oops.

5-27-16 stuck in mud (3)

David and Nancy, traveling ahead of us, see us stop and so they back up, but fortunately stay on the road.  The men assess the situation.  With Dave and I pushing from behind, Brian guns the engine.  The tires spin deeper into the gravely muck.  We move to the front and push backward this time, again to no avail.  We are stuck.

5-27-16 stuck in mud (1)

A lark for Annalise; not so much for Brian

With no cell reception, there is no highway assistance.  Dave and Nancy decide the only option is to travel on, hoping to find someone in a nearby village who can pull us out.

And so we sit.  At least Brian and Annalise sit, keeping dry and warm inside the car.  Myself, I do penance.   I stand outside on the road, keeping up the appearance that this is all just a grand lark.  I lure Annalise from the car and we walk over to the river, where we cut the fool, posing for silly pictures.5-27-16 stuck in mud (8)

Every 20 minutes or so, a car comes up the hill, pauses.  Window rolls down. “Can we help?”  Only if you have a rope to pull us out.  No such luck.  Window rolls up and they continue on.

Soon I am soaking wet, through my rain jacket, through my wool sweater, through my turtleneck sweater, all the way through my base layer to my skin.  I change my soggy shoes to my only other pair, my leather high-top boots.  For a while, my feet are dry, but gradually my toes are again in spongy wetness.  Enough penance.  I get back in the car.

Then a car comes, slows down, and pulls over.  Two young couples from Iowa bop out.  “Can we help?” Only if you have a rope to pull us out.  As luck would have it, they do.  And the two guys are engineers.  Good ones.  They discover the eye bolt holes in the back and front of our respective cars.  They unload their trunk and find their eye bolt and we find ours.  The future brightens.

5-27-16 stuck in mud (21)

Their rope is a nylon one, some 60 feet long but thin.  Not strong enough to pull out a car mired in the muck.  Engineering skills kick in.  Running the rope through the eye bolts six times from the back of their car to front of ours, it is finally deemed strong enough for the job.

5-27-16 stuck in mud (19)

And with one strong pull, we are out.

5-27-16 stuck in mud (20)

We head on down the road, me with my mouth shut as we pass areas of great photo opportunity.5-27-16 stuck in mud (16)


We try and try and try again to contact Dave and Nancy on our cell phones.  Finally we get a message to them that we are safe and on the road again.

Turns out that they had stopped at a power station about two hours down the road, the only sign of life to be found.  The sole person working there could not leave his post, but opined that it would cost about $400 to get a truck to us, as far away from the middle of nowhere that we were.  He offered the use of a rope, but with no knowledge of the eye bolt possibility, David didn’t see the use.  And with at last cell phone confirmation that we were on the way, they continued on as well, to meet up at the hotel back in civilization.

The rest of the day was anti-climactic.  After driving an hour or so, we stop at a waterfall, but only because it has a well-traveled parking lot, giving Brian a chance to inspect the underneath of the car for damage.  (None.  Although for days the tires would squeal with rocky muck wedged somewhere inside.)

Dynjandi.  One of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls, which is saying a lot.  Actually, a series of waterfalls that fall from over 300 feet.  Towering.  Stunning.  A sight not to miss.  Dave and Nancy missed it, speeding on to find help.

5-27-16 Dynjandi Waterfall

And Brian and Annalise have had enough for the day.  So I trek up to the base alone, where I chance upon our heroes, the four Iowans who pulled us from muck and despair.  Not so much of a coincidence, really.  We are traveling in the same direction, with only one road to travel.  I take the best photo of the day: our four saviors, who braved the cold and wet to rescue their fellow Americans.

5-27-16 stuck in mud heroes (2)

So did our day end, meeting up finally with Dave and Nancy at the Hotel Horn in Ísafjörður, eating bad pizza at the only restaurant we could find, and stocking up with groceries at a nearby store.

All the while we were stuck in those desolate but “awe-inspiring mountains,” I kept thinking, we will laugh about this one day.   At the time, those niggling thoughts:  but how and what if.  But it didn’t and we did and we came through it and so now, finally we laugh.




2 responses

4 07 2016

You might want to consider County Kerry in Ireland for your next adventure. High cliffs overlooking the sea, waterfalls, etc., but way nicer weather–it may rain, but won’t be so cold, and in May when we went, it was gorgeous–covered in wildflowers. Also, way cheaper food!!

4 07 2016

That sounds gorgeous! When we finish our love affair with Iceland, we might have to give it a try. Actually, by the end of our trip, I was wishing I had brought short-sleeves. The West Fjords are the coldest, windiest part of Iceland, at least in our experience. But oh so beautiful!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: