Stormy Weather

Not every road trip in Iceland is fun.

I took this picture while driving around the Snæfellsnes peninsula for the first time during my first Airwaves festival, in November 2015.

I thought it would be a good idea to nip up and see Kirkjufell for the first time, with plenty of time to get there and back again in daylight, before the evening gigs kicked off.

Error.

I’d already made the mistake of slavishly following Route 54 clockwise, assuming that road would be better than the “thinner” 574 coastal route.
Instead, it became my first experience of driving on a rocky gravel road over an Icelandic mountain pass, which was then made much worse by suddenly wild weather, as an Atlantic storm crossed the peninsula.

That was my second mistake. I hadn’t looked at the weather forecast before I left a sunny Reykjavík in a tiny Nissan.

By the time I made it back onto a nice “normal” road again, my fingers were dug deep into the steering wheel, as gale-strength gusts took turns to tug at the tin can I was driving, pulling me one way and then the other.

It felt like my little Nissan just wasn’t heavy enough to stay glued to the road through the maelstrom, and I even wondered if I should actually get out and heave some rocks into the boot to help.

I crawled along the 54 for what seemed an eternity, with no passing cars on either side of the road to give me confidence, until at last I saw a smattering of houses and realised that I’d already arrived at Grundarfjörður.

Just as I turned in for a rest, another car pulled in at the oasis of Kaffi Emil.

Four burly figures spilled out of its doors, one of which was then instantly buckled back against its hinge by the raging gale.

I remembered being advised to park “into the wind”, to prevent that sort of thing happening to me. I made sure not to repeat the expensive error that had just happened to the other car.

Once we’d all battled our way inside for refreshments and recuperation, we compared notes.

They were Americans, also here for Airwaves and also looking to see Kirkjufell. But they’d gone anti-clockwise, so we’d “met in the middle” here.

Given that they’d just suffered an insurance disaster, they were all remarkably cheerful about it – but we all realised that none of us would see Kirkjufell today, as the stormy weather was completely obscuring it. I’d driven past without even knowing it was there.

Then it was a matter of discussing the road ahead. The cafe owner explained to the Americans that the coastal road was much easier to drive (I strongly confirmed that), while the Americans spoke in hushed tones of a causeway bridge they’d crossed not long before.

Neither driver was much relieved by the information exchange.

We bade farewell and wished good luck to each other.

When I saw the bridge that had been described by the Americans, and saw the white-capped waves that were furiously cresting its pontoons, I had a bit of a wobble.

An SUV filled with four enormous Americans had made it across without being blown into the Atlantic. Would a Nissan with one chunky Brit make it too? I wasn’t sure.

So, I took this pic and sent it to a few people, so they would know where to start the search, in case I didn’t get to the other side.

Obviously, I did. But I was a changed man by the time I made it back to the bright lights of Reykjavík.

Bring on the Brennivín.

I never saw the Americans again. I hope they made it.

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