Editor’s Note: The Fossavatnsgangan, a member of the Worldloppet series of marathon ski races, was held May 4, 2019.
The six-hour flight from Minneapolis to Reykjavik wasn’t that costly. But once we got there, the money seemed to disappear in a hurry. We couldn’t do anything about the $7.50 a gallon gas, but a $50 (per person) evening meal was something we needed to work around.
Our second flight, from Reykjavik to Isafjorour, the race site, was interesting. Isafjorour’s airport is one of the most extreme, being tucked between fjord walls. Planes fly close to the walls and make a 180-degree turn before landing. Yikes!
Once on the ground we learned that the race had been moved up into the mountains due to a lack of snow. When I went to pick up my rental skis, I learned that a Japanese group lost their skis on their flight and rented all the good skis, leaving me with a pair of old, waxless, fishscale-type skis. It seems reservations don’t mean much there.
Next, on a quiet, sunny, 40-degree Friday afternoon, I tried out my fishscale rentals at the new race site. Saturday, race day, would be quite different. After Denise and I had a pasta and fish prerace dinner at the Isafjorour Hotel, we headed through the mountains in a four-mile tunnel to Flateyri, a fishing village and our home for the next couple of days.
This small village has had a difficult history. Ocean fishing is always dangerous, but this community of about 500 lost 52 fishermen one day in 1812. Then not that long ago (Oct. 26, 1995), heavy, wet snow built up on the fjord cliffs above Flateyri until one-half million tons came roaring down, leaving 32 houses damaged or destroyed and 20 dead.
Nature makes itself known in other powerful ways on this island country about the size of Ohio, just south of the Arctic Circle. A volcano erupts about every four years. There are waterfalls like Gullfoss Falls that make Niagara Falls look tame. There are also thermal pools and geysers, which contrast with the glaciers. Lastly the weather is always changing. According to Icelanders, there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.
Saturday morning meant an early drive back to Isafjorour and a 20-minute bus ride up the mountain to the start line of the 42km Fossavatnsgangan Classic Cross-Country Ski Race. It was raining at lower elevations but snowing up at the start area. The snow gave way to a cloudy sky and strong wind when the elite racers took off at 8 a.m. We all had timing chips so we could choose our start time after the elites took off, and I started right on their tails.
We had two loops of 21 kilometers to complete. It remained above freezing the night before so the ski tracks quickly started to break down. The wind picked up to the point it would push me along when behind me and stop me cold when I faced it. My waxless skis made their vibrating sound against the snow that increased to a high whine on the larger downhill runs.
The aid stations were well stocked with energy drinks, water, bananas, oranges, biscuits and chocolate. I took full advantage and finished the first loop in two hours and 18 minutes. Even though the ski tracks were turning to mush, the wind kept coming, and my fishscale skis kept singing, and I was able to finish in four hours and 53 minutes. I got my Worldloppet Passport signed down in Isafjorour for my fifth Worldloppet Race. Five more to become a Master.
Next, Denise and I were off to find puffins, traveling as far west as we could on the West Fjords, then to the cliffs over the Atlantic at Latrabjarg, Iceland. That meant gravel highways, potholes, ruts and wondering where we could get gas. In Iceland, cars make a clicking sound because studded tires are still used. Roundabouts and yield signs are everywhere, but stops signs are rare if nonexistent, as are trees.
We found puffins in large numbers. They didn’t disappoint. The same can be said about all of Iceland. It may often be a challenge to get to special places, but worth the effort, whether it be a ski race, fishing village or coastal cliffs with puffins. Iceland is a place where nature’s presence is always near.