Back to nature
As a yoga and fitness instructor, I’m continually encouraging others to do something different, to go outside their comfort zones and to expand their horizons.
I’ve always considered myself an avid outdoor enthusiast, having hiked the entire Appalachian Trail as well as spent 1 year traveling in Central and South America. I’m certainly no stranger to adventure, however this last decade has seen me living in big cities like Chicago, Toronto, Philadelphia, Montreal and New York. I found as the years went on, I became less and less “outdoorsy”. My fitness endeavors morphed into urban adventures and became more focused on yoga, sidewalk surfing (my quirky term for walking the entire city), and being a good old fashioned gym rat. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with these activities, I felt like I had lost a part of myself somewhere along the way.
As a Yogi, I am often participating in personal development courses that revolve around self reflection. Recently someone asked “When do you feel most connected to your self?”
My answer was “When I am in nature.” It was in that moment things became very clear. I knew I needed to spend more time outside the studio, outside of the pumping music at the gym and get back to nature, get back to my roots and ultimately get back to myself.
As I was researching our upcoming trip to Iceland, I found a story on the popular travel blog Be My Travel Muse about renting a campervan and taking a road trip around the stunning countryside. It was like an electric current shot through my entire body…”That’s it, I exclaimed to my husband! This is exactly what we are going to do!”
So we booked our campervan with Rent.is and starting planning the route. Right away I realized I didn’t want to spend a bunch of time planning. Part of the beauty of driving a campervan around the country is to have boundless freedom to stop when and where you want, so we decided intentionally not to plan the entire trip day by day as our American type A personalities would like and to let the road be our guide, simply taking life as it comes. We only knew we had 5 nights on the road and we knew we wanted to drive the entire loop from the airport pickup, heading east and eventually west, back into Reykjavik.
Day 1 – The Golden Circle
We arrived on our overnight flight direct from Chicago, having hardly slept and completely dazed out. I was not looking forward to the process of camper rental at all, but Rent.is made it so easy and painless, we on the road in no time! The next thing I knew I was navigating my husband to the Golden Circle for our first taste of Icelandic adventure, after coffee of course!
First stop – Þingvellir National Park with continual green rolling hills, waterfalls and a beautiful lake. We were immediately impressed with the park facilities. Campgrounds were plentiful, complete with bathrooms, showers and even places to wash your dishes. It was evident that Icelanders not only spend a great deal of time outdoors themselves, but actually encourage camping, making it super easy and fun.
The geysir was a great stop for us since not only was the geysir itself really cool exploding into the sky every few moments, but the store and facilities were perfect for a much needed lunch and bathroom break.
Here you could shop for any forgotten gear such as hat, gloves or rain jacket (which you will need for the upcoming waterfalls). We were also crashing hard from our overnight flight so we decided to jump in the back for a quick snooze before heading on our way. The fact that we could do that; just jump in the back and sleep, was a perfect example of the freedom and empowerment the campervan gave us. We lovingly named our van “Beethoven” after the band Camper Van Beethoven, an alternative rock group out of California. It was perfectly clever (or at least we thought so). We awoke from our nap refreshed and ready to move on to see the Gullfoss waterfalls. These falls were just the first of several colossal, powerful and waterways. You will come to know them and be awe-inspired as we were by their majestic beauty. We then continued on to walk around a crater lake made by the top of a volcano which had gotten blown off, found some fresh lobster as we moved on to the south coast and wrapped up the day by 9pm camping outside of Selfoss. It was the perfect intro to the land of fire and ice.
Day 2 – Waterfalls & Glaciers
I couldn’t believe Day 2 could possibly top Day 1, but somehow Iceland continues to impress with it’s natural beauty. From the exhilarating Seljalandsfoss where you can walk behind the falls to really appreciate the sheer power of mother nature to the Skógafoss falls where you can hike above them to relish in a completely different view, Iceland was one giant adventure around every bend. I think we saw more waterfalls this day than we had ever seen anywhere else!
The Sólheimajökull Glacier is certainly not to be missed as is the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon which was a hidden gem off the beaten path. Day 2 was long, but we felt so empowered and confident with these ease of sleeping in Beethoven and the Midnight Sun, we just kept on driving all the way to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon where we found a pristine camp spot right on the water at Diamond Beach, overlooking the bay. It was like a dream.
Day 3 – Eastern Fjords
It was so refreshing waking to the sound of the ocean and feeling the cool, crisp breeze. We opened the camper doors and literally just laid there watching the waves and ice lap onto the beach. It was surreal. I wasn’t quite ready to go, but I was also anxious to see the fjords and fishing villages. It was a leisurely day driving in and out of the deep fjords imagining glaciers carving the finger lakes into the land. One of my favorite stops was The Old General Store (Kaupfjélagið) in Breiðdalsvík. It’s truly as the website states “like a step back in time”. With a population of 139 people, it has a quiet, charming feel. We lingered over a cup of coffee and considered staying until the newly built town brewery opened in just a couple of hours, but alas, decided to press on. When we arrived in Seyðisfjörður I knew we had made the right decision.
This was one the most picturesque villages of the trip. It was perfectly nestled at the harbor among the backdrop between steep fjords. The village itself was small and quaint, but had just enough to keep us interested. In fact, to keep us there altogether. It was 6pm. Day 2 had been long and there were plenty of shops and restaurants to visit. The sun was shining, the air was crisp, the lobster was fresh and the wine was flowing. Best of all, the campsite was literally right in town just across the street from the “rainbow” road. Overall, this was one of my fondest memories in recent travels …all due to Beethoven.
Day 4 – Geothermal
After coffee at the Nordic House, it was time to move on. More waterfalls to see and hot, bubbling mud was calling our names. Visiting Námafjall Hverir, the geothermal area in the north is hard to describe. It’s a genuine wonder … like another planet, like you’re on a movie set…like any moment a dinosaur is going to come over the hill and…”CUT!”
To think about our society as we know it being built on top of a crust with an underlying center of molten lava…well it’s the stuff movies are made of. It is simply fascinating to witness the depths of the underworld rising to the surface in the form of spewing gas. Yes, I’m a scientist at heart. Everyone should see this. This land is not ours. We belong to the earth.
Day 5 – The Wild West
We had used Akureyri as only a pitstop to refuel the camper and take in some delicious fish and chips as well as the famous Plokkfiskur, the Icelandic fish hash, layered with potatoes and topped with cheese. After all, we live in a big city and while I can certainly see the appeal of this town as a base for a plethora of activities, but this trip was more about getting out on the open road and taking in the unexpected. In lieu of staying here the previous night, we opted for another quaint fishing village with just a few shops, a harbor and another great campsite right in the center of town.
It also set us up for a full day of exploring the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, which is apparently often overlooked on the tourist circuit. Snæfellsnesjökull Glacier, steep cliffs and coastlines were the name of the day. We hiked around another crater and marveled at the endless lava fields before moving inland to camp in the hills at Húsafell, a quiet campground at the base of Langjökull glacier with rolling green hills, a fine dining establishment, excellent camp facilities and a casual cafe. It was the last night with Beethoven. There was a slight sadness between us as we knew the trip was coming to a close.
The next day would see us heading into Reykjavik where we would again immerse ourselves into the urban world. Although I love cities and was excited to take in it’s downtown adventures, but I couldn’t help fantasizing about calling the rental company and asking for another week. Having Beethoven for even just 6 days, roused a sleeping spirit within me, woke the drive to explore and to be one with nature. Even as I’m back home in Chicago, I am already planning the next campervan adventure. In fact I’m also planning my next trip to Iceland…stay tuned!
Read more: Camper Van vs the World
Happy Camping! #CamperStories
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