Iceland: On the Ring Road

Posted by on Jan 18, 2018 in Unmowed Blog | 0 comments

The Road,” as Bilbo Baggins often remarked, “goes on and on, down from the door where it began.”

In the words of J.R. R. Tolkien:

“He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

In Iceland, this is especially true: there is only one Road. The center of the country is glaciers, rock and ice. So the main–heck, the only highway in the nation circumnavigates the island in a giant, two-lane, 800-mile circle, called the Ring Road.

In October I embarked in a little red rental car to travel the Ring Road. By an odd coincidence, I was re-re-many-times re-reading The Lord of the Rings, and Tolkien’s masterpiece was a road map for my adventure. The place names of the villages, valleys, and mountains made me feel like I was adventuring in Middle Earth—Bifrost, Blonduos, Myvatn, Grenfell. Of course Tolkien, an expert on Norse languages, was drawing from the same word bank.

Ironically, instead of ending my journey at Mt. Doom, my first stop was a volcano. Grabrok isn’t exactly the roiling mass of lava that is the Cracks of Doom—it’s an extinct volcano (so they say, but with all that geothermal bubbling just beneath the surface, who knows?) It couldn’t have been easier to get to—just pull off the road into a parking lot. Like Mt. Doom, it was a bit of a climb, but stairs made it easy.

Sweeps of gloomy black rock form an immense crater, its sides decorated with moss and tiny plants in deep jewel colors, emerald and ruby, glistening in the rain. A pair of ravens soared overhead. In Norse mythology, Odin has two ravens, named Thought and Memory, that fly all over the world, then return to sit on his shoulder and advise him.

After lingering too long on the slopes of Grabrok, it was getting dark and lonely on the road. I hear Iceland is besieged with tourists in summer, but in October there were few travelers, especially up North. The little town of Blonduos, on a quiet fiord, was beautiful in the dusk.

I’d come a couple of hundred miles from the bustling streets of Reyjavik. Now it was time to turn east.

Check back for On the Ring Road, Part 2.

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