It was like a lucid dream – every turn revealed a fresh layer of bliss, yet somewhere inside I felt it couldn't be real. The snow couldn’t be this good every run. And even if it was, could the landscape below me be real? Could it really be this late in the day? My mind could only reach one conclusion – impossible. It answered my bewilderment in a stereotypically choppy nasal robot voice: “Does. Not. Compute.” The lunacy of the jetlag paired with the nigh on eternal daylight, the extraterrestrial landscape, and the endless selection of ski terrain, created this Icelandic dreamscape. I planned a trip this spring with two of my closest friends to live this dream, or maybe just to dream it. Looking back, it sure felt like the latter.
https://www.newschoolers.com/videos/watch/909854/TROPICAL-SAGAS-IN-THE-NORTH-ATLANTICI met Matt on literally the first day of kindergarten, with the both of us hiding behind our mothers’ legs, scared to make a move. That makes it eighteen years of friendship. We’ve dragged each other through countless adventures and misadventures, from years of imagining on the elementary school playground, to our formative outdoors trips as we grew up. His spontaneity and natural talent are catalysts for action, though often ill advised. My penchant for planning and thinking (or maybe overthinking) tends to pull our team back towards equilibrium. It’s a good balance.
Matt's New Linkedin Photo
Matt sells medical dummies now - simulators according to his company, or sex dolls according to his friends. I guess you could argue that sales is an adventure in its own right, with challenges unforeseen. Though it's an adventure sorely lacking in snowy mountains and fun - especially when you live in flat Toronto tied down by a girlfriend who our friends have somewhat affectionately nicknamed “house cat”. Needless to say, Matt was keen to get out of town and into some unknown mountains.
Rudolph's class photo for film school
Alex Rudolph, or just Rudolph, meanwhile, is the starving artist who lives in my basement. Well, not exactly starving, just reliant on a diet heavy in quesadillas, beans, and rice. When a freelance client flaked before the trip, rather than bow out he took the prudent and patriotic approach of taking out a new credit card. It’s fine though, he’s headed to grad school in the fall, and what’s another couple thousand dollars in debt anyways? Hollywood aspirations drive this modern hipster cowboy mountain man. Don’t let his appearance fool you, however, he’s plenty capable on skis as well as behind the camera.
In a cheesy Instagram caption on his way to Reykjavik, Rudolph quipped that he was over here doing some soul searching. While I've no doubt in his honest intentions heading into his new chapter, I don’t know if he found any answers out there. We did find a pretty cool place to ski though.
Counting down the fjords
Arriving in Reykjavik at 6AM, after I don't know how many hours of travel, set the mood for the trip: my head cloudy with disbelief – was I dreaming? I knew I wasn’t, but you'd have been hard pressed to convince my brain that. While still pondering this, I faced one of the toughest decisions of the trip, how to use my duty free allowance at Keflavik Airport's liquor store. With booze certainly taking second place to my crisis of consciousness, I left with a light load to meet up with the boys, a move my wallet would come to regret. A “cheap” bottle of whisky runs about $60 at the Vinbudin, the state-run liquor stores. Despite that, Vinbudin is perhaps the only Icelandic word we really learned.
Google Maps told us our first drive would take five hours, we made it in eight, entirely through fault of our own. Every thirty minutes saw us stopping, but with sixteen hours of solid daylight you’re never really in a hurry in Iceland. A speeding ticket just half an hour into the journey was a small wake-up from the dream, but drunk on the lack of sleep and the scenery, we pushed on.
This is Iceland
The drive went a little like this: brakes on, swerve to the shoulder. “What now?” from a passenger as they pulled their head up either from their phone or from sleep. “You have to check this out!” the driver would reply. Then we’d hop out of the car, wander around, and snap a photo or too many. Rinse and repeat. An agonizing (I really had to poop) number of zigs and zags through fjords later we arrived at destination number one in the small West Fjords town of Bolungarvik.
A 5 minute drive across town from our house in Bolungarvik
We hadn’t planned on skiing the day we arrived, but decided that with the abundant daylight and our restless legs, why not? After exploding our ski bags, we quickly got to work bootpacking up a couloir above the tunnel into town. Dropping in on line number one of the trip, stoke levels climbed off the charts. The weariness of hours of travel quickly fell away as we skied what would turn out to be one of the best lines of the trip. After months of planning, we were actually doing it. Living your dreams feels pretty damn good, and skiing is fun, too.
The first line of the trip, we reached the top at around 9:30 PM
The travel bred exhaustion returned shortly after, but that feeling was hard to shake. Sleep may have tried to lay claim over our eyelids, but the excitement kept it at bay. No more anticipation, we were really there! Describing this feeling alone does it the diservice of trying to define a lifetime (so far) of friendship and adventure with adjectives bound by a dictionary. We were too drunk to take notice, however.
Descending back to Bolungarvik for hot dogs and booze
The short board meeting with our duty-free sourced colleagues tacked a couple more hours onto our sleepless streak, pushing it well over 24 hours. This, in turn, shifted our wake up time to noon the next day. But hey, it was light out until 11PM, so none of us cared.
The routine became simple: wake up, make a hot dog filled breakfast, drive less than 20 minutes to skiing, boot up, ski down, eat ramen, ski more, make a hot dog filled dinner, pass out. This was our choice of vacation, we’re pretty weird, aren’t we? Northern Iceland is a remote place, and our budget was too small for eating out much, so we barely even spoke to anyone outside of our group. The local people, when you did manage to find them, were all very nice, albeit largely indifferent to our skiing endeavours. They were too busy getting own with their lives to care much about our spectacle. The Instagram likes, however, poured in.
This old ski lift in town had not run for many years. Line #1 can be seen across the fjord
The following week was filled with plenty more lines, lots of second guessing our senses, and some good ol’ being a stupid tourist in a foreign country. Iceland is a prime spot for the latter, but we managed to avoid the tourist traps, sticking mostly to near-empty fishing villages.
Storage Almost Full
We headed to the Troll Peninsula for more of the same, though with far superior accommodations. Here we stayed in a log cabin. In a country with no logs. Iceland has been entirely devoid of forest since the Vikings cut it all down. The juxtaposition fit well into our journey of disbelief, although we were far too distracted by the hot-spring fed bath and the women who worked on the farm to ponder the irony. The women, though they worked on the farm, weren’t quite sure how they had ended up there either. Maybe there is an Odyssean siren song ringing around the place, or maybe we were just equally dumb and lost. You be the judge.
Our log cabin paradise
Apres ski Icelandic style
The skiing here on the peninsula was fun as well, with notably grander alpine terrain. The quality of snow and my old man back kept our ambitions mellow, however.
A quick walk through a field was the longest approach of the trip
The easy access to the lines in Iceland in general was pretty amazing, but also added a funny dimension to the trip. It wasn’t like the movies - there was no epic struggle. We were lazy, and it was great. For most of the skiing, there was virtually no approach. So, rather than spend hours skinning up flat valleys or breaking trail, we parked at the bottom, boot packed up, and skied straight back to the car. The hiking itself was no easy work, so we were still definitely exhausted. We usually only skied one, maybe two lines in a day. Given the long days it felt somewhat like we were wasting our skiing time, but our legs couldn’t take more than that. I guess that’s what you get for holding down a full-time job behind a keyboard.
Reflecting, or napping at the bottom of the final line
In the end, I think that was the biggest break from reality, stepping away from our newly minted careers to ski halfway around the world. We’re still young, 24, and money is somewhat tight for the lot of us and it turns out life gets pretty busy. So, deviating from the worlds we’re working so hard to create for ourselves was a welcome change. We sure are lucky. But as I drunkenly said in the Reykjavik gay bar on our last night, you can’t get rich being poor. I’m not sure it really meant anything at the time, and the more I think about it, the more it still doesn’t make sense. That said, we got our fill of skiing and it was glorious. We got rich, even though we may still be poor.
We hardly understood what a journey of disbelief this was while our boots were on still on the ground. Aside from occasionally pointing out a new landscape unveiling itself in some previously unseen direction, we didn't discuss it. We didn’t sit around and discuss whether our senses were failing. We hiked, skied, talked about girls and life, we drank booze, and we retold old stories. Now it’s sounding more like vacation. Hopping straight back into our daily routines is what really made the trip feel like a dream, gone in an instant. Matt is back in Toronto, Alex is on his way to LA, and I am behind my keyboard. Tough life, eh? No one is celebrating our accomplishments of Icelandic exploration. We conquered the VIkings and tamed a wild land. Where is our parade? Or maybe that was just in our dreams. We came, we skied, and we left. It was pretty a good time.
Vacation is hard work, but someone has to do it
Vacation is hard work cont'd
Contemplating the meaning of... something
(Not) enough hotdogs