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Climate Ride Iceland | Jamie Dobbs’ Daily Journal of Mountain Biking in the Land of Fire and Ice

EDITORIAL NOTE: The following are excerpts from Jamie Dobbs’s Daily Journal from Climate Ride Iceland 2017. Thanks for sharing, Jamie!

Wow, Climate Ride was truly magical, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the support of friends, family, and colleagues! With the help of my donors, I raised $4,947 – that’s 124% of my goal! Thanks to all of you who pitched in! My team raised $77,842 – 8% over our goal! Our fundraising is helping Climate Ride expand their operations to include more international trips (you could ride in Iceland or Bhutan) and more domestic rides (they just announced a Colorado Ride!). Check out their full listing of rides and hikes here: Climate Ride is not only using these funds to expand the number of rides they put on, they are expanding the audience of people who ride, donate to and fundraise for the environmental movement. The organization is launching a new program in partnership with local bicycle coalitions to attract more bike riders to join Climate Ride (cycling is a slippery slope to environmentalism!). Only 3% of all American donations to nonprofits go to the environment, so Climate Ride is working to increase that number by providing people a fun way to peer-to-peer fundraise for the environmental groups they care most about. Plus, the environmental movement and cycling as a sport have a problematic lack of diversity. By partnering with bicycle coalitions, Climate Ride aims to change this dynamic, and create an inclusive cycling culture that attracts a wide array of people. I’m proud to be part of such a passionate, positive, and driven organization, and so grateful to all of you for supporting me and Climate Ride! I’ve been savoring my memories and sifting through photos, trying to find the perfect images to share with you. Iceland was truly magical. It is hard to distill this trip into one story or five photos. It was a deeply meaningful experience and a seriously inspiring trip. Iceland’s environment is enchanting. Their culture and hospitality are beautiful. And the experience of riding bikes six days straight with adventure-seeking, mission-driven, good-to-the-core, joyful, and relentlessly positive people is one that I wouldn’t trade for one million dollars.

Daily Journal:


DAY 1:

Stoked and nervous! We meet at the big church in town at 9 AM for pick up (This is the famous Hallgrimskirkja church which can be seen from almost anywhere in the Reykjavik). Kristen and Chrissy kindly took care of transporting our bags while the rest of us walked into town for breakfast. We stop at a bakery and picked up breakfast sandwiches and pastries. OMG, so good! We drive 30 minutes out of town for a test ride. They have us line up by height without using words – and they can match us with our bikes. I’m the shortest person in the crew. We start biking up a hill. The landscape is dramatic – it looks like Mars crossed with Montana or Wyoming with its expansive views and small geothermal plants that resemble space capsules. We see sheep. Chrissy is enamored with the black sheep. The route is rocky and tough – a “rock garden.” People are falling and walking their bikes. The daring are still pedaling. I take my mind off the tricky terrain by appreciating the views and everybody’s giddiness. There is a stream crossing (or seven) even though they told us there would be none. I circle back, looking at the river like a cat facing a bath. Alix goes for it. The guide Sveinn shows me how it’s done. I follow suit, almost making it. We cross several more rivers and practice our new skills. When the ride comes to an end, we load back into the van and make a pit stop at a charming cafe in a tiny nearby town for coffee and beers. Then we drive another two hours to our cabin. The cabin is much nicer than we expect. As is the weather. We drink beers by the river, catch up with old friends and start to make new friends. Everyone watches with awe as Kristen goes swimming in the freezing cold river. The guides cook a white fish on an outdoor grill. It is so good I eat two. Chrissy and Carly plead the guides to take them on a sunset ride. Most of the crew goes. Several of us stay behind and watch the long sunset while playing Frisbee and chatting by the river. I chat with a new rider Scott, until the frisbee hits him right on the nose. Day 1 Bicycling in Iceland The sunset is unbelievable and lasts forever. The hills glow pink and the clouds are electric. This trip is going to be magical. I get ready for bed. The riders come back later than we expect. They tell us about a barbed wire fence crossing and a lost Frenchman (our guides made the newspaper for finding him). We all get ready for bed and as I’m pulling down my eye mask, the bike company owner drives upbringing Haley and Randy’s bikes. Haley is surprised by her tears and we all cheer with joy and relief. It feels like Christmas morning! Chrissy sleeps outside in a bivvy even though she’s recovering from bronchitis. We all think she’s crazy- it’s so cold! But she falls asleep to the shooting stars as we pile into our bunks and sleep blissfully.

DAY 2:

The terrain feels like a flat desert – except black instead of Southwest red rock I’m used to. The environment is unlike anything I have ever seen. Are we on the moon? There are rolling hills of black sand, craggily black and silver moss covered formations, snowcapped hills in the distance. We break at a windy intersection to eat lunch. I’m in good spirits! After lunch, the terrain becomes green and fairytale-like. Sveinn tells me the moss creates habitable soil out of the volcanic ash. I am in awe trying to wrap my brain around this environment – it feels prehistoric, simple and bewildering. There are green mossy fields and sheep in groups of three. No fences. No other critters. I feel like I am in a fairytale. I’m biking around the bend with Erica. I look up and see horses running right towards us. We are mesmerized and panicked. Are they wild? Will they stampede us? Are we safe? I see a cowgirl galloping behind the herd, and reach for my camera as they pass. A black beauty races by my right while I take a burst of photos of the herd racing by on my left. I squeal. Erica catches her breath. Wow! We keep riding and come to a fun river crossing. I take photos of people crossing. Liz wants to do it again. I giggle at her glee. We bike straight to our cabin. A picturesque setting. We arrive right before the rain begins. We snap a few photos and drink some hot cocoa with whiskey and talk our guides into bringing us to a hot spring. We pile into the bus and make the journey to Landmannalugar. A precursor to tomorrow’s ride. We are on cloud nine, and talk to the guides into giving us longer route options for tomorrow. The hot spring is perfect. It is large – there are other groups there and plenty of space for everyone. We find a spot where the freezing cold water converges with the boiling hot stream. The slightest move can change the temperature. We shuffle around and soak for an hour before heading back to the hut for dinner. Over dinner, our guides surprise Blake with chocolate cake and sing happy birthday. They have really good singing voices. There is no electricity in the hut. Annie and I pull out temporary wolf tattoos and Blake pulls out his Climate Ride tattoos. Carly wants a fierce looking Wolf on her calf. I put a howling wolf on my forearm. And Lily puts the same on her throat. We have a good laugh. Our guides get into it too and Karen gets goofy and piles her tattoos on top of each other. They look terrible. My sides hurt with laughter. A group gets excited to walk to a nearby cave. Niall, Haley, Randy and I follow after petting the horses. We light candles around the cave and Sveinn and Fridjon tell made up Troll stories. On our walk back, Erica is determined to find an Icelandic equivalent word for cowboy. It’s Horsman. Kristen pulls out a fresh bottle of whiskey, but Niall and I head back to the hut go to bed- happy to get a good nights rest.

DAY 3:

The weather today is icky. But I am excited to ride! We bundle up, pack up, and excitedly wait for the approval to ride. It’s cold and misty. Some people opt for a shuttle so they can ride a shorter distance. I ride with Maggie and Karen for a little bit through the hills then with Chrissy as we sing “landmannalugar”- the name of the hot springs. We come across a pretty lake with what looks like moss covered lava spilling between hills and into the lake. I take photos and scarf down a bar. People are cold but I’m doing OK with my layers except for one wet foot and cold hands. I ride with Haley and Randy for a bit. I lend Randy my wool buff and he feels much warmer. We find a section of singletrack. Haley, Randy, and Liz are stoked. I race ahead and pull out my camera to snap a few shots of them having fun on the trail. It’s so wet, windy and rainy my phone dies. We come across a magical emerald green valley with one reddish volcanic mountain, a big lake, and fields of green with fluffy white flowers that look like marshmallows or feathers. I’m hungry yet energized. But hit a wall as we climb a big hill then descend to another River Crossing. We stop to eat a sandwich. The majority of the group is on the other side switching out of their sandals. We flagged down Baldur and hitch a ride over the stream. We play sag wagon to the crew who are still riding. I take on the role of cheerleader and photograph others. Jim and Chip are grateful. I pep Liz up. I get Carly and Haley back out on their bikes. I guide Dan and Kirk through the river crossing. Blake tells me I should be a trip leader for Climate Ride. I’m flattered. I hang out with Baldur and get to know him and the area better, while others rest on the bus. Baldur shows me you can drink straight from the stream. Karen gets silly using the mic on the bus to tell stories of bike trolls and troll homes. Baldur eggs her on and we all laugh. As we drive to our hut, we see Haley having a blast on a single track. Then we see Liz and Carly taking a picture and being silly at the sign. My heart swells with pride and love for my friends. We are at this hut for two nights, so we get settled. Everyone is in the same hut tonight. Our gear is piled high. There are clotheslines everywhere with sopping wet clothes hanging to dry. We shuffle through the showers. Niall and I squeeze into the bathroom together and he tells me about his day. I’m so proud that he biked the whole route, through the driving rain and miserable conditions. He’s exhausted but stoked. Today’s our two year anniversary- we joke about how we keep doing bike rides and sharing rooms with friends on our anniversary. How do we top this next year? Baldur spent three summers working at this hut. He is proud to return and share this place with us. Over dinner, Sveinn and Baldur sing for us – a song about coming home. It’s beautiful. They are so synchronized it’s hard to believe they didn’t know each other just three days ago. After dinner (delectable fish balls!) Baldur takes us on a short hike from the hut to see a waterfall. On the way back he hides along the trail, and jumps out to scare us! He points at a spiky bush and exclaims “troll!” We squeal and laugh. This becomes a joke the rest of the trip. Spirits are high and hearts are full.

DAY 4:

Today we get shuttled to the largest glacier in Europe then bike our way back to the hut. Baldur stops the bus at a view point along the way. It’s pretty foggy, but we get a spectacular view of the glacier. I’m hungry before we even begin. I sneak a bar on the bus and scarf down a sandwich at the view point. The landscape continues to amaze me. The ground is black – Black road blends into black rolling hills. Neon green moss line the creeks and rivers. A more mature green moss dusts the hills. Little pink flowering bushes pop up here and there. The glacier is so large it looks like a sea of clouds coming through the valley. There’s a huge mesmerizing lake at its base. We ride along this lake for a while. We are told that today is more downhill. That turns out to be false. But the uphill keeps us warm. The weather is cold, wet, and rainy. Today’s terrain is rocky so I have a hard time keeping up. Jess and I bike together for a little while. We start naming the colors as if we were creating a crayon box with an Icelandic palette. Electric green. Neon green. Glacial cream. Volcanic black. Ba ba Black. Wool white. Troll hole grey. Hobbit hut red. I am chipper and feeling goofy. Jess laughs at me – she knows how stressed this mountain bike thing has me really feeling under all my silly banter. We come across a hobbit house. Everyone is crammed inside eating lunch and seeking warmth and shelter from the rain. We pack up and start the second half of the day. Jess is ready for the bus. I’m having a hard time keeping up with the pack. As we get to the bus, before a monster hill climb, Fridjon looks at me and tells me I can (should) get on the bus. I’m torn. I know I’m capable of getting up that hill but I know he wants to catch up with the rest of the crew. Jess and I hitch a ride. Baldur drives the bus to the top. Sveinn and Fridjon call him criminal. He’s not supposed to take the bus up that road. The bus stalls and gets stuck on a steep section. I’m sitting in the front passenger seat. I compose myself and repeat in my head “Baldur’s been driving buses for 32 years. He’s got this.” After pushing a bunch of buttons and flipping switches and a couple of false starts with the bus sliding downhill, he gets the bus moving back up the hill. He takes us to a pull out and insists we ride just one kilometer to a beautiful waterfall. It’s his favorite. He’ll pick us up at the other end, he promises. I jump out of the bus. Jess and I start riding. The waterfall is immense! We meet up with the group. Kristen is handing out sour patch kids. The guides are figuring out where to go. It is really windy. The group divides into two. Half hike their bikes downhill to the waterfall’s base. The other half bike down the road. I hem and haw on which route to take and Annie convinces me to bike down with her, Randy and Haley and others. We bomb down the hill and come to a halt at a huge, deep, unexpected river crossing. The group’s frustration is palpable. I turn on my cheerleading, group-leader peppiness. “Come on! We all knew there would be river forging on this trip. It’s an adventure!” I change into sandals strip down to shorts. I’m the first one to follow Fridjon across. Annie calls me a champ, a Billygoat. I pull out my camera and take pictures of everyone crossing. I get Randy to laugh. We all make it across the thigh deep freezing cold stream… Then Haley calls out that there’s another river to forge. She finds a good spot to cross and we follow her lead. We’re not far from the hut and the sun is still out. Haley rode this section yesterday. She knows where to go. We speed home, beating the rest. Maté has hot tomato soup and poundcake appetizers waiting for us. We love him for it. I realize I left my pants behind between the two river crossings. They had fallen out of my backpack. Before dinner I convince Fridjon to drive me out to the river. Along the ride I ask him a ton of questions about him and Icelandic culture. He asks me about my work, and is impressed that Americans can be philanthropic for environmental and legal causes. He says I wouldn’t find donors like Earthjustice’s in Iceland. We talked briefly about politics. We get back as dinner starts. Dinner is delicious. We gather around a big table and Caeli tells us about the impact our funding will have on Climate Ride’s operations. We encourage Kristen and Liz to sing. They had recorded a video at the waterfall base of them singing a song from Hamilton for a friend. They refused to reenact it, but instead lead a sing along. Baldur wrangles the group for a surprise excursion. We load up in the bus, drive back to the river, and begin speed hiking. Baldur leads the way and we rush after him. We have no idea what to expect, but we know we’re racing daylight. We reach a glacial pond – it’s breathtaking, absolutely stunning in this light. Baldur is proud to share this with us. Kristen paces at the pond, eager to dive in. She wishes she brought her swimsuit, and regrets that she left it in the bus. We all encourage her to swim anyway. She strips down and several others do too. They jump in. The water is frigid and cold. They gasp for air and rush back out. Exhilarating. We cheer, impressed and in awe.

DAY 5:

My favorite day! The sun is out! It’s actually warm! We wake up singing about the sunshine. It is so warm, we are shedding layers – down to our shorts. It feels so nice. We start from the hut climbing on single track. I hang back not wanting to get caught in the middle of the herd. The single track ruts get deeper – so deep it’s hard to pedal without hitting our feet on the sides. Blake and I giggle and walk our bikes like they are kid’s trikes. We make it to a steep fire road – people are climbing. Baldur comes honking behind us. At first I think he’s cheering us on, then I realize something is wrong. We are not supposed to go up that hill. I start yelling “stop, turn around!” Blake, Jess and I high five – sometimes it pays to be in the back. We reconvene and head out on single track – thank goodness for Baldur! We make our way to another River Crossing. It’s deep like yesterday’s. No biking across this one! We forge the river by foot. Next stop: a pool with a jumping rock! Maggie scopes it out and jumps in. Karen follows suit then Kristen in her pink swim cap. We keep peddling and the terrain gets more technical, which for me means walking my bike. The sun is out and the landscape is so green. We arrive at another hobbit sized hikers hut and break for lunch. Many play with their bikes and cheer each other on as they practice tricks over the bridge. We cross the bridge and head up to a really big climb. We wind up and out of the green valleys. The view at the top is phenomenal. It takes a moment to register what I’m looking at. The largest glacier in Europe is on my left and the fourth largest is on my right. The glaciers are so big they look like a sea of clouds and blend into the sky. I get teary-eyed looking at the view. I can’t help but think about how these glaciers are sitting on top of large volcanoes. What happens to Iceland if they erupt? What happens to the earth if the volcanoes erupt? These glaciers are the worlds air conditioning and a freshwater supply. We descend the mountain and the terrain changes from green hills to flat plains of black sand with dustings of electric green on the mountains in the distance. We cross another stream. The road becomes flatter and we are biking straight towards the fourth largest glacier in Europe. The scenery is black… Flat and black with one green mountain and a glacier engulfing a black mountain. The road is so straight and long, we joke about Icelandic directions – go straight towards a glacier, hang a right at the Green Mountain, then cross the stream. This stream was the coldest. But somehow it doesn’t phase me – my feet must be numb. I’m wearing shorts and biking alongside a glacier. What a strange and wonderful experience. I bike with Chrissy and Annie and Caeli for a while. We come upon an abandoned European space contraption alongside a river in a deep canyon. As we are biking, Chrissy has us pick our favorite mountain out of the skyline and we reflect about how many different landscapes we have biked through today. We begin descending it to the most picturesque, tranquil, breathtaking view I’ve ever seen. Really – each day is more beautiful. We yip and howl, ooh and awe. We’re coming to the end of our 50K day. We see Baldur parked on the right. He points us in the right direction. One kilometer left! We carry our bikes over a narrow bridge Then bike through a rock garden into the prettiest, most beautiful green valley yet. Our hut looks so picturesque! Wow! Niall has secured a bunk for us, and we get in line for the shower. Rain clouds start moving in – what perfect timing! Niall tells me the guides couldn’t find a store on their way over so they stopped at the farm and picked up fresh produce and four thighs of lamb. We drool! The rain passes and we eat on the porch. Karen has us in stitches with her silliness. The food is mind-blowingly good. We talked with Sveinn and Fridjon about the Icelandic rhubarb sauce. Each hut has gotten smaller. Good thing we all like each other! Niall finds me and encourages me to come outside. Kristen is in her swimsuit dancing outside in the rain. Everyone else is huddled under the awning laughing and hollering. More and more people come out and gather. The rain stops and Liz finds a bottle of Jim Beam. We are at the end of our booze supply. We form a circle and take turns standing on the picnic bench, sharing our highs from the trip. We start off silly but then get deep. We are touched that our guides and new friends Fridjon, Sveinn, Baldur, and Maté wish they could spend more time with us. Maggie’s words get me near tears, and Lily has me crying. Kirk and Chip both thank me for cheering them on and thank our whole Wolfpack for being so welcoming and positive. Kirk caps off the toast with a long ramble followed by singing an R Kelly parody he wrote on the ride with Erica and Kristen’s help. We are laughing so hard. The song is so perfect. There’s so much joy, pride, and good cheer. We finished the booze. I chat with Chip for a bit and reflect on what brought us here in the first place. I’m so proud of the group and our positivity – all the energy not just for biking but for the protecting the planet. Each and every one of us on this trip knows how threatened our earth is, how serious climate change is, how grave the consequences of human consumption are for our planet. Instead of facing this reality with ambivalence, or denial, or fear, we through our hearts, bodies, and souls into something good. Over the past nine months, we worked together to raise over $70,000 for the environmental movement. We inspired others to make their first donation to an environmental cause and poured our efforts into spreading some hope in the scary time of politics and climate change. We picked up a new sport- mountain biking- one that helped us fall in love with our local environment all over again. We made new friends and built up our support system. And during the actual Climate Ride, despite the cold, the driving rain, the constant river crossings, washboard roads, and endless gravel, our team was persistently, relentlessly joyful. Silly, sweet, exuberantly positive, super supportive, gleeful and giddy. And most of all grateful. Grateful to everyone who supported us in this endeavor. Grateful to Climate Ride in their work to bolster the environmental movement. Grateful to each other for the unwavering teamwork. And grateful to our Icelandic guides for their good cheer, warm hospitality, and beautiful culture. This trip – the unbelievable magical landscapes and the deep bonds we formed give me hope – hope for our future and faith in the good of people.     For more photos: I hope you’ll consider riding or hiking with climate Ride someday. It’s truly a transformational experience. Check out their full listing of rides and hikes here. With gratitude, Jamie