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Permanent Daylight, Travel Exhaustion and Icelandic Road Maps

June 07, 2012|Stephen Markley

There are only two reasons I'm ever up at 5 a.m.: If I'm still up from the night before or if I've slept 10 hours in the last 72 and there's a bed in a hostel in a coastal fishing village called "Grundel-ford" (not the village's real name, but our approximate pronunciation of the Icelandic) that feels like sleeping between Jessica Biel's breasts and puts me out by 10 p.m.

Exhaustion set in yesterday as we rounded the corner of the second western-most peninsula of Iceland in the shadow of three volcanic peaks and a glacier called "Snuffelufegus" (not the glacier's real name). The problem is not just the five hour time difference from Chicago, the traveling, the late nights, the Icelandair stewardesses who are now all your Facebook friends (say goodbye to ever having a one-off encounter with a foreigner; you'll all be writing wall posts well into your thirties).

It's also that in the summer here the sun basically never sets. Sometime around 1 a.m. it looks like a typical Midwestern dusk and then an hour later like a typical dawn, but that's about it. Permanent daylight tricks my biological clock apparently, and it tricks it good--mostly because my body still thinks it's seven years-old.

"No, no, no!" says my biological clock. "What are you doing? It's still light-time out! Let's play. Take off your shirt, rub mud on your face, and pretend you're King Kong! Then let's get into Dad's liquor cabinet!"

We spent our day of imminent exhaustion rolling along in our rental car, turning around a lot because Iceland only has six roads and therefore their roadmaps are written kind of like, "Yeah, hmm, well, this one kinda goes here, and this little gravel one kind of goes this way, and I don't know, you'll figure it out...", listening to Bon Iver's "Holocene" and trudging up the rims of extinct volcanos on wind-battered plains. The Eldborg Crater bordered on being just a little more than we bargained for, especially after pulling ourselves up by chain link the last few meters (like a yard, except I don't know how long it is), and especially after the wind took Bojo's hat and I thought he was going to chase it off a cliff. "Eldborg" sounds like a "Lord of the Rings" destination but it will now be best remembered by our trio as the place where we all had to pee into the schizophrenic wind and then talked at length about how our urethras aren't working as well as they used to.

From there we made our way to a lava field where we found a small church and a cemetary overlooking the peninsula's southern coast. The Icelandic, it seems, are very fond of building churches in totally inaccessible rural fields, fjord cliff faces, and probably just splat in the middle of glaciers. They probably know Americans like it that way for our Bon Iver videos.

When imminent exhaustion finally set in, I had to deal with one of those specifically obnoxious hostel decisions: do you rent the blanket and sheet? Most hostels, you see, give you a bed and one bulimic pillow and make you rent the rest, which is totally idiotic because they have to wash the bottoom sheet and pillow case anyway, so Jesus Christ, guys, c'mon, just throw another sheet on top of it instead of charging poor writers, college kids and vagrants the equivalent of $9. I skipped it this time because it hadn't been worth it at the last hostel, only to discover that our two female roommates had decided to leave both of the windows open, making our room about 50 degrees.

"Hey," I said. "Do you mind if we close the windows? It's freezing in here."

"Oh," they said. "We are hot. We live on the glacier, so this is very warm to us."

Of course. Of course you live on the glacier. How silly of me to think the people we were sharing a room with for one night wouldn't, obviously, be on a brief stay from their campground on the Snuffeluffegus Glacier. And one of them was pregnant (we think Bojo did it).

Today we head due east to a cabin in the middle of nowhere. According to the map, it's roughly, "Umm, well, just kinda go this way for a while and maybe curve left at that little church on the edge of that melting glacial morrain."

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