The Laugavegur


We arrived in Reykjavik on what just so happened to be the day of the biggest soccer game in Icelandic history. We stumbled across a public viewing of the game against Austria and got to spend our first afternoon abroad cheering on an underdog team with a couple thousand very excited Icelanders. It was quite the welcome party.

After that we hopped a bus to Landmannalaugur (which we learned how to pronounce about two days after leaving it) which is the starting point for the Laugavegur, the most popular hiking trail in the country. The bus ride was really an adventure in itself, spanning across most of the country and ending with several miles of windy, narrow dirt roads and lots of cringing on my part as I was sure the 50-passenger vehicle was going to tip over at any moment. Icelandic people seem very confident in the capabilities of their buses.

In all the 55 km trek took us three days to complete (though we still aren’t quite sure if you can call it a day when the sun never actually sets), covering 15-25 km each day. (We are still struggling with kilometer-to-mile conversions.) Along the trail, there are huts that provide indoor accommodations for people who have reserved in advance, and very expensive campsites for those who haven’t. We fell into the latter category, but the presence of bathrooms, picnic tables and clean water each night made us feel like we were living in the lap of luxury all the same.

I think we’re both still a little speechless at how insanely beautiful the landscapes on the trail were. Every few hours it seemed like we were walking into a different place altogether: we started in yellow rolling hills and hot springs that reminded us of Yellowstone, and moved from there into some of the most beautiful jagged mountain scenes imaginable, we camped on the beach of a calm blue lake, then walked into a black desert rimmed with green peaks, we hiked along lush mossy canyon walls jutting up from a narrow but raging river, and finally into a forest populated with small trees and a million wild flowers.

Though it’s still early in the summer (a season which averages in the 50s), we were by no means alone on the Laugavegur. Even now, when many miles of the trail are still under snow, people flock to it by the bus load to experience it’s world renowned awesomeness. We saw and camped with dozens of people from all parts of the world each day, and the campground where we are now is teaming with hikers. (Without moving from where I sit now, I can hear at least five languages being spoken– and we are seriously amazed at how the rest of the world seems to speak perfect English.)

The trail deposited us in Thorsmork, which is basically a campground and a bus stop, and is crowded with people who have either just come off the trail or are about to begin it. (You can tell which is which by how dirty and hungry they are.) Our plan is to continue on the extended section of the trail, another 30 km, which squeezes between two glaciers and heads further south to Skogar. Presently it’s raining incessantly and all of our gear is soaked, so we’re taking a rest day in Thorsmork in the hopes of getting some of our stuff semi-dry before we head on.

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“An adventure is afoot!” -Matt

Today is an airport day. Well, actually, it’s a car-shuttle-airplane-moving walkway-eight hour layover-another airplane day. In the next five months, Matt and I will have about seven more days very similar to this one as we weave our way through Europe using just about every method of transportation imaginable. 

Tomorrow morning we’ll land in Reykjavik, Iceland where we’ll spend about two weeks backpacking and hitchhiking around the small country, which has common words the length of this sentence and a fondness for fermented shark meat. We’re betting we’ll have plenty of time to see all the sights considering that it’s only dark for about three hours each day this time of year. After that, we’ll head over to continental Europe for hiking, WWOOFing and the general sort of bumming around that new college grads are apt to do in faraway places. 

Track us on our Spot page, or keep up with us on Instagram (@madisoneubanks and @jmguenther). 

I should also mention that we’re only taking backpacks. Here’s what’s in mine (which rang in at a surprisingly light 21 pounds, minus a full water bottle and a few other minor things): 3 t-shirts, wool base layer top, tank top, flannel, rain jacket and pants, pack cover, 2 pairs of leggings, a pair of jeans, 3 pairs of shorts, 6 pairs of socks, undies, down jacket, a hat, parts of the tent, spare shoes (hiking boots are on my feet), toiletries, first aid kit, fuel canister, journal, Spot communicator, plug adaptors, sleeping bag and pad, digital camera, camp food, headlamp, and…. I think that’s all. 

Matt has his personal gear and other camp essentials such as: the rest of the tent, camp stove, water purification, cooking pot, and a dram. (His pack weighs 24 pounds minus his camera, water bottle, and the iPad I’m currently writing on.)

We’ll pick up things we need and ditch stuff we don’t as we go. We spent the days leading up to our departure packing and repacking our bags, debating tiny details like whether or not to bring an extra stuff sack or a collapsible water bottle, and frantically searching our pockets every five minutes to make sure our passports hadn’t wandered off. After so much planning, we’re psyched that there’s finally nothing left to do but to hop on a plane and hit the road.