My View: Motorcycling around Iceland

  • Article by: JERRY GOODRICH , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 2, 2013 - 10:32 AM

Gales, geysers and a unique way of touring give the author one of life's great adventures.

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Author and his �extended family� enjoy a break on a rare sunny day in Iceland. Left to right: Ben, Orna, Ernesto, Armando, Jerry, Soffia, R�sa, Toggi, and John. �

Photo: Photo by Simon Siggs, Star Tribune

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We were on a 2,500-kilometer ride around Iceland, one of the most fascinating countries in the world. Our group included Ben, John and me from the United States, Armando from Mexico, Ernesto and his wife, Orna, from Ecuador, and Simon Siggs, the tour company's liaison, from England. Our Icelandic guides were Gudmundur and Thorgeir ("Toggi"), each for five days. A partner in the Reykjavik Motor Center, Soffia, provided the dual-purpose Triumph Tiger 800s and drove the support van, with her fun-loving 12-year-old daughter, Rosa, riding shotgun.

It was a damp, blustery late-afternoon on the sixth day of the 10-day trek. The winds in Iceland are legendary, and I was leaning my motorcycle over into a crosswind of about 50 kilometers per hour off my right shoulder. Five riders were ahead of me, and Toggi led the pack. Simon had my back; Soffia and Rosa had his.

I saw the lights of an approaching automobile emerge from the roiling mist and tightened my hands on the grips. The auto was nearly abreast of me when a ferocious gust of wind shoved my motorcycle into its path. There was no time to see my life flashing before me, say a prayer or even wet my pants.

It was over in the blink of an eye, and I will never know how we missed each other. Later, Simon said that he thought I was about to meet my maker. He saw no daylight between the two passing vehicles. Apparently, with intervention from on high, two objects can occupy the same space at the same time.

Undaunted, our group continued around the island's southern and eastern coasts. Thus far, we had experienced fields of geysers, including Iceland's "Old Faithful"; sulfurous, smelly, boiling pots of mud; spectacular waterfalls; nicely paved two-lane roads interspersed with others of dirt, mud and gravel (the fun riding); many superbly constructed tunnels through the mountains, some with a single lane and recesses to escape oncoming vehicles; double rainbows; gorgeous three-quarter-size Icelandic horses, and much evidence of the 2010 volcanic eruption that spewed ash so high that flights to and from Europe were disrupted.

Ahead of us along the northern and western coasts were more amazing waterfalls, fog obscuring our roads, fishing villages, flocks of sheep with the manners to run from the road as we approached, a whale, the most westerly point in Europe, where thousands of birds nest (to include the colorful, wobbly in flight Atlantic puffin), the largest glacier in Europe, massive chunks of glacial ice resting in a lagoon, and Alaska-like mountains rising from the Greenland Sea and creating dozens of picturesque fjords -- all this and much more, to include pristine, sandy beaches. Iceland is a topographic and climatic mélange.

Goodbyes at dinner

We crested our final mountain on Day 10, headed down to sea level and rode an excellent road into the capital of Reykjavik, from where we had started. We said our goodbyes at dinner and promised to stay in touch.

I was stationed in Iceland as an Air Force officer a long time ago, and was so taken with the country and its hardy "Vikings" that I always wanted to return. I had finally made it, thanks to Phil Freeman. An adventurer at heart, Phil worked as a fly-fishing guide, sea kayak guide and ski instructor before falling in love with motorcycle touring while teaching English in Japan. A small-business success story, Phil formed MotoQuest in Fairbanks, Alaska, 14 years ago. His enterprise is the only U.S. one to offer a guided motorcycle tour of Iceland.

It is now five months later, and I recently exchanged e-mails with Ernesto. Riding two up, he and Orna have toured the world. Ernesto commented, "We still talk about our wonderful experience in Iceland. The group was excellent and, in my experience, you need a good group to have a good tour."

How true. We clicked from the beginning and, at the end, we were like family. It could not have been otherwise given what we had shared -- not only the ride and the sights, but also the nights spent in rustic dwellings out in the middle of nowhere and many mouth-watering repasts (cod, halibut, salmon, salt fish, sea trout, Arctic char, lamb) during which we exchanged stories and laughed a lot. Simon is the funniest guy on Earth. He is also an expert photographer and did the official shooting; see his Iceland album at smu.gs/VHeqQq.

My return to Iceland left me "younger," infused with energy and eager for the next adventure. I live by the maxim that if I always have something fun and exciting to look forward to, I will have a long and fulfilling life. Perhaps that was Methuselah's credo, too. It is believed that he lived to age 969.

Iceland was No. 1 on my "bucket list." Next is a two-wheeled journey from the northern tip of Argentina down through Patagonia and across the Magellan Strait to Tierra del Fuego. Phil is leading the 16-day trek to "the end of the Earth" in February, and I am eager to saddle up.

Have you wanted to do something for many years but keep putting it off because "there will always be time"? Life is finite, so resolve to do "your Iceland" before another year passes!

Jerry Goodrich is a Prior Lake resident.

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