The return to normal life after our expedition to Iceland could not have been faster for me. Having landed in London on Tuesday at lunch time, I was back at work the following morning. That was ok, only meaning, that I haven’t had much time to think through some of our trip experiences. However snippets of memories have been steadily coming back almost every day. And finally four weeks after landing I started to write down some summary.
When I looked back into the calendar and counted the days of our trip some interesting numbers came out. The whole expedition lasted 70 days from the first paddling day to the last one, when we arrived back to Reykjavik. Out of which we had 38 days paddling days and 32 non paddling days. The longest we waited for the weather was the 9 days at the end, the weather never improved and we finally decided to finish.
The distance we covered was approximately 1500 kilometres, and we were short of reaching Reykjavik, our starting point, by 300-350km.
As we have been waiting for suitable paddling weather a lot, very often we would ask ourselves if we should have pushed harder, paddle longer, launch sooner. And every single time, as we paddled the stretch, for which we waited, we were really glad we didn’t attempt it earlier in bigger conditions. The risks we would expose ourselves to would be too great.
If I compare this trip to others we have done before, this was by far our hardest trip. Most days we would have fairly strong headwind for significant part of the paddling day. To make the most of the weather we started to paddle any time of the day or night. Actually, more accurate numbers would be 26 paddling days and 12 paddling nights. At one point we paddled 52Nm within a 24 hour period with 4 hrs of sleep. I don’t recall any significant weight loss during any of our previous trips and expeditions. Here I lost 10 kilos in 8 weeks.
Our boats were quite heavy, we had been carrying provisions for 4 weeks most of the time. We never knew when we would reach the next shop. In the end, due to careful planing, decision making and sometimes pure luck, we were able to restock every 10 days, the longest time between shops was 16 days.
When on expedition like this, number of things is a must. The really obvious ones are kayak, tent, paddle, sleeping bag and so on. Yet, there were few small things which made unexpectedly big impact on our wellbeing. I will name three of them.
We always struggled with latex neck seal and salt water combination. Every time we come back to work after a weekend of paddling, people would be asking if someone tried to strangle us. Therefore the prospect of wearing drysuit day after day wasn’t something we were looking forward to. Fortunately I managed to find 1mm neoprene collar that could be worn between our neck and latex seal. It worked magic! Now it lives permanently in a drysuit pocket ready to be used any time.
It is always easy to focus on paddling gear while preparing for long journey and overlook land based stuff. To select only one pair of land shoes which would do everything for two and half months proved to be difficult. In the last possible moment we found high ankle boots which were also incredibly soft to pack small to fit into the kayak. At the same time they provided comfort in rain, snow, sand and survived abuse on lava fields.
For years we had been sleeping on our trusty self inflatable mats, however as we are getting older, it was time to get something more comfortable. In the end we bought large dawn sleeping mats, incredibly expensive, but worth every single pound we paid for them. They were wide enough to take over most of our three man tent. They were high to give enough comfort to our backs, and provided amazing insulation on cold Icelandic nights, that the fleecy onesie never made it out of its dry bag. They packed small into the hatch, but in an emergency could be used as lilos to float us around. Natalie was convinced of that.
Of course this expedition would not happen without the constant support from Tiderace Seakayaks. We have been paddling Pace Tour for last four years and we knew that it was the best kayak to take on such a journey. Its capacity, comfort and efficiency makes it an incredibly well balanced kayak. It’s also fun to paddle fully loaded and is really reliable in big and messy conditions. We knew that our kayaks would have to go through lots of abuse, therefore we chose the strongest layup, thatTiderace offers. I remember being particularly glad to choose this layup when I had to seal launch fully loaded kayak from boulders through dumping surf. In the end of our trip we each had just one chip in gelcoat.
We expected to endure very complex and ever changing weather so went for the best and chose Kokatat wanting to stay dry, warm and comfortable. The expedition drysuits worked magic but our favourite piece of kit became their salopettes. For years I believed it wasn’t possible to have just one PFD that would work in any environment and for any paddling. On this trip I discovered Maximus Centurion pfd, it gave me plenty of pocket space for all the gear and vhf, and offered the best freedom of movement compared to any BA’s I’ve ever tried before. It works perfectly on the sea and as it’s primarily designed for whitewater it works there well too.
We have been struggling for years to find kayak shoes which would work and mainly, last. I have been told few times that I expect too much from my paddling shoes and I should be more realistic. During last few weeks of our UK circumnavigation my shoes resembled more a roll of duck tape than shoes. Natalie’s shoes disintegrated completely on our Northern Four expedition. So this time we wanted shoes which would actually last. Astral shoes did more than just that. They have sticky rubber to stop them slipping on shore. They are just high enough to stay on even when trying to walk through horrible terrain, and mud, and most importantly they are nicely wide and comfy when paddling.
For most paddling trips, weather is the one factor with biggest impact on them. Having good and reliable forecast is an essential part of an expedition. We were lucky to be receiving very accurate weather forecast twice a day from Karel. It was making it easier for us to know when it was a good time to commit and when it was better to stay on shore.
We undertake long expeditions not only to explore places and enjoy the everyday satisfaction of miles covered. What we like most, is the various chance encounters with people. Paddling around Iceland has become memorable due to meeting people at the right time.
Firstly it was Gisli and Gudni, who helped us with logistics at the start and finish of the trip. Maggi in Isafjordur, who led us his SPOT, when ours started to play up.
Then is was all the people who shared their homes and food with us. Hefdis and Thor in Arnarstapi were the first, who took us in for few days, looked after us and showed us their area. Maggi’s mum invited us for lunch on a Sunday. In West Fjords, of which we were warned they would be deserted at the that time of the year, we met three brothers Frederic, Gudnar and Inky. Thanks to them we could stay in warmth and under a roof during a week of storms. Their distant cousin in Fljotavik invited us to stay for two nights after we helped him to unload of the delivery boat. Jon and his wife in Reykjanes let us to thaw in their living room after a particularly freezing couple of days. The farm lady on Skaggi peninsula not only invited us for coffee and snack, but gave us butter, which we used as butterometer ever since. Liney from Thorshofn invited us for great breakfast and gave us us books as ours were finished. Ari from Neskaupastadur kayak club waited for us and let us stay in the club house for two nights. Then, there were Kidda and Siggi we met on the south coast. Because of their openness, and them lending us their car and letting us help them on the farm, we could keep sane during the long wait for the weather. When the time came to make the sad decision to finish before completing the full circle, Kidda drove us all the way to Gisli’s in Reykjavik.
The expedition is now finished, and while we are still reminiscing in the moments and memories, many people seem to need to ask us what next. The answer is the same, next, we go back to work. And only when the right time comes and we come up with new plan and save enough money we will know where to next.