Today is a big day! We are planning to take our rig to a place called Askja in the uninhabited Icelandic highlands, an inhospitable barren place accessible only a few short weeks each summer. I already told you that I have been having serious reservations about going there. It’s a long drive down dirt F-roads into the highlands, and requires crossing multiple rivers, two of which are big crossings. That makes me nervous. But…and the big but…..there is a place there called the Viti Crater where you can go for a swim….it’s a big volcanic geothermal crater that promises the rewards of high adventure! How can we say no to that? Even if it is a long and hard road to Askja, I say to myself, we must focus on the fact that ‘it’s the journey, not the destination’.
If we plan to get to Askja today we need to get up early, and get up early we do. I am exhausted from yesterday’s activities, and we didn’t pull into our camping spot here on the shores of the mighty north Atlantic Ocean until 11 pm. We pitched camp in the hazy arctic light of an August night for our third night of camping in Iceland.
This morning when I arise I truly can see the amazing beauty of where we are camped. This is not a campground, but rather we just pulled off the remote eastern Ring Road at what looked like a good spot to pitch a tent. I open the tent zipper. Looks good to me!“Good morning, Mr. Handsome! Are you ready to hit the day?” I inquire.
The tent has lots of condensation on the outside this morning, although I don’t think it rained during the night. Nothing quite like a good tent that keeps you dry!
I crawl out of our tent and leave Mr. Handsome snoozing, not that he needs any beauty sleep! Several drops of dew land on me as I squeeze my way through the small doorway and straighten up my aching body.
The kids tents are pitched close to where we parked the car……
….but the old romantics that we are…..we pitched ours by the edge of the cliff last night so we could enjoy the crashing waves.
Right next to our tent there is a waterfall that cascades down into the ocean. It’s so beautiful here.
I peek into the tent. “Dude….come on….if we are going to get to Askja today we have to get moving!”
“I’m coming, I’m coming,” he replies with a smile!
Our tent is a 2 person made by Big Agnes. It’s actually crazy small, which I guess is a good thing for trips like this. It’s very cozy for the two of us, which is okay, if you ask me. We snuggle up close, and it’s about as perfect as life can get.
I have a pot of oatmeal ready to eat. Delicious! Oatmeal makes a great camping food because its cheap, easy to make, filling, and tasty…..if you make it right. We are actually kind of low on food after our earlier excursion into the highlands. We will need to hit a grocery store before we head into Askja…..especially in case we get stuck up there for some crazy reason. I am still having doubts about going there.
There….you can see my little trick….I have lots of room in our trailer so we don’t bother to take the air out of our mattresses. When we take the tents down we put the mattresses into the back seat until the trailer is packed. It saves us a lot of time fussing with the air mattresses. We shove the sleeping bags into a garbage bag, and that saves us time as well. We can be on the road in less than an hour from waking up, which includes making breakfast and cleaning up camp. When I look at the car from this vantage point I have to say, it is pretty small for hauling around 7 people!
You have got to love this kitchen…..on the shores of the mighty Atlantic! It’s definitely my dream kitchen!
While I clean up our outdoor kitchen I send dad and the kids to pack our tent away.
Cool! Check this out! An old grass covered barn once we are back on Hwy 1 heading north!
We make a quick stop at the Bonus grocery store in a town called Egilsstadir. We have to tank up as well, for goodness knows when we will see a gas station next!
Before we make the turn to head inland towards Askja on 923, I pose the question again to my fellow travelers, “Are you sure you want to go to Askja? It’s supposed to be pretty cool, but who knows? The road sounds crazy!?”
Everyone says that they want to go, and so it is that despite the warning bells going off in my head we make the decision to ‘just do it’.
Well, we might as well say goodbye to civilization for a while. Once we turn off the Ring Road we find ourselves in an increasingly remote part of the country. Initially the road (923) is in pretty good shape and we make good time. I love this ramshackle sheep barn!
Off in the distance I see a cool waterfall surrounded by incredible basalt columns. If we had time I would love to hike the the edge of the falls…..next time…..or maybe you will never again find me traveling on this road….who knows? Maybe Askja is so amazing I will come back again and again! Or maybe not! This basalt waterfall is so remote that I don’t think very many people have walked to the base of it.
Soon we turn on the F-road 910, and it’s bumpy! We have been driving down a pretty rough road for a while and come to an intersection. Our GPS is confused about where we are supposed to go, and tells us to turn left, although my instinct is to go straight. When I look at my paper map there is no way for me to know exactly where I am. There is no internet service, but luckily there is a car stopped at the intersection.
We stop to ask the driver if he knows which way to Askja, but he is from France and can barely speak English. In fact, he even brought this crazy camper from France with him with the snorkel and all, or so he claims. He tells us to go one way, but we want to go the other. Or is it the other way around, I don’t know. He is trying to get to Askja too, and is lost.
To make a long story short we end up going one way, turning around because it seems wrong, going back past the Frenchman the opposite way, turning around, going past the Frenchman the opposite way, turning around, going past the Frenchman the opposite way…..
Okay, I am not joking! We spend an hour at least turning around three or four times trying to decide which way we are supposed to go. It’s not easy to turn around on this narrow road with a trailer, and you’re not allowed to drive off road here. Later when I look at the map it makes perfect sense, but we did want to trust our GPS. The road the GPS was trying to send us down was just an unnamed dirt trail, and yes….we did go down it a couple times trying to figure it all out.
We turn around the last and final time, our nerves frazzled. Of course, who fights when they are on a trip like this? Not us. We are just patiently turning one way and then the other. All of a sudden we hear a huge scraping and grinding noise! Oh no…..did our car break down on this ridiculously bumpy and stupid road?
“Stop, stop, stop!” I say forcefully….”Something is broken!”
David and Kristoff jump out and discover that the small wheel on the trailer jack had fallen down. It got bent and broken, and we had no option but to remove it completely. Luckily it didn’t fall down at a high speed, because it could have “jacked up” our whole ridiculous trailer! That would have been a complete nightmare! We could have even had a bad accident on account of it! Of course we have no tools with us either.
Finally we are heading back towards that intersection that we couldn’t figure out. This time for sure we know that we are going in the right direction. That’s when we see the Frenchman coming towards us. He has decided to go the wrong way…..we just wave at him, as he looks at us incredulously! We laugh heartily and wonder how long it will take before the Frenchman decides to turn back. We continue on our way headed towards Askja after wasting at least one hour of our precious time. That’s a lot of bumps and potholes and turns and twists….
“On the road again…..”
The landscape becomes increasingly barren. It’s totally a volcanic wasteland up here! I guess it has its own beauty if you really dig deep into your soul, but it’s not really that appealing for me.
Just prior to approaching a huge river crossing there is a park ranger who stops us. She is stopping all the vehicles to make sure that they are capable of crossing the river. I don’t know why I didn’t get a photo of her. She hands us a brochure about Askja and this area.
“Is this a 4×4?” she asks when we roll down the window.
She tells us that it is still 2 1/2 hours until we get to Askja. I look at her with shock…..really? We have already been on dirt roads for 2 hours! Lady…..you don’t know what you are talking about! I drive fast! There is no way it will take me that long!
With that we lurch forward, and approach the huge river crossing, the first of two big crossings on this route….seriously? We have to drive through this?
You know, I really don’t like this river crossing business. Look how huge this river is! I grip the seat and close my eyes tight when we descend into the river, the tires slipping and gripping, and then slipping again, and gripping….slowly and deliberately we inch across the waterway as I hold my breath.
We make it safely to the other side. The landscape becomes increasingly barren and moon-like. I can almost understand why the Icelandic people say that this place is haunted. It has a surreal and almost other-worldly quality to it that’s hard to describe.
This raging river has a little bridge over it, thankfully. There’s plenty of traffic on this ridiculous road, I might say.
You definitely don’t want to fall into this river!
These are some pretty extreme campers. They look like garbage trucks lumbering along this insanely bumpy road. They sway from side to side like crazy with each bump in the road. In my mind’s eye I can see all their stuff inside falling off shelves, the waste in their holding tanks sloshing around violently…..Who in their right mind thinks of converting garbage trucks into campers? It’s just plain wrong in my opinion!
The road is rocky and sandy and narrow…..and bumpy….and annoying….and twisty…..and turny….and up…..and down….and all around…..
Who digs this? Not me! Look out….you’re going to hit this car….
Whoa….rocks like this can puncture your tires. The last thing we need is a flat tire around here! Gotta keep it slow! I sure don’t want to be changing a tire in a pile of volcanic ash!
A raging river roars in a chasm. The water in the rivers up here is dark from volcanic ash, creating an aura of mystique and drama…..the kind that I don’t like…..the farther we drive down the bumpy dirt trails, the less sure I am that this is where I want to be at this time. I begin to hear comments from my fellow travelers that echo my thoughts.
“Don’t worry,” I tell them boldly, “It’s the journey, not the destination!” I only half heartedly believe that myself, but it sounds good.
My hand grips the door handle as we bump and grind over the horrible rocky road, my knuckles white, my heart intermittently palpitating furiously in my chest. Truly everyone in the car is getting sick and tired of this drive. It didn’t help us at all to spend an hour turning around multiple times earlier in the day.
After almost 3 hours of bouncing around down this road we see a sign pointing to Askja…….what a relief!! I want to take the F88 on our way out of here, but the park ranger assured us that the water is about 3 feet deep in the river crossings on that road, and our car won’t make it. That means in order to get out of here we have to back track quite a bit before we head north again. I am dreading it!
Ahaha….I can see Askja ahead! Finally! Yes, the park ranger was right. It took exactly 2.5 hours to get here from where she stopped us, and a total of 4 from when we left Hwy 1. I don’t know about you, but I don’t love 4 hours of bouncing down dirt trails at a snail’s pace!
That’s it, folks! This is all there is to Askja. A visitor center. Some showers and bathrooms (which charge an exhorbitant fee). And a campground in the middle of nowhere. To say that we are disappointed is an understatement! So much hype about this “must not miss” place in a barren and godforsaken pile of volcanic wasteland?? I can’t believe I was hoodwinked into coming here. Surely there would have been a 100 better places to go to! Well, maybe someday I will be glad that I came here. And like I suggested earlier, the adventure is in the journey, not the destination.
We don’t stay long in Askja. Just a few more miles down the road is the parking lot for the hike to the Viti Crater. That’s where we are going.
When we finally stop and park, I open up the trailer. Oh my word!!! A bottle of soda has exploded in the trailer! There is sugary soda over everything. And a fine volcanic dust is coating everything in the trailer! My air mattresses all have a thick film on them! I am livid!! Why would the car rental company rent us a trailer that is not even remotely air tight? Why was I so dumb to leave the air mattresses blown up? And how stupid to put soda in the trailer!
The trailer must have been bouncing like crazy because all the stuff is everywhere in a complete disarray! I have no time to think about it. We are finally at Askja, and we must hike now to the Viti crater. That’s what we came here for, and it sure as heck better be worth four hours of bouncing along ridiculous roads covered with volcanic ash, and river crossings that took a couple years off my life. I dig around and find everyone’s swim suits and towels.
Even our delicious apples have turned into applesauce from all the bouncing happening in the trailer!
There is no way on God’s green earth that I want to spend the night at the campground here, or anywhere near here. It’s spooky and weird, and dusty and barren and just plain not nice. And it’s going to be at least 3 hours of driving to get out of here….with rivers to cross….and barren wasteland to maneuver through…..and it’s going to be getting dark before we can make it out, and the locals believe this place is haunted…..I sometimes feel I have an almost uncanny ability to conjure the spirits to my presence…..we must get out of here…..
But first the Viti Crater….we must see it since we came this far…..I hope it is worth it….or should we just skip it and get the heck out of here before it gets too late?
I stuff the swimsuits into a backpack. After a quick snack that does not include apples or soda, we start the trek towards the crater. We have come too far to quit now. There is a thick cloud cover threatening rain, adding to the gloomy atmosphere that dominates this place.
Nothing lives here….not even flies at the outhouse….no plants….no animals….it’s just black and barren and dusty and dirty and grimy….
That crater swim….it better be worth it….
Dear Reader: click the link below to read about the Viti Crater swim!