Day 13 – Laugarvatn (Tjaldsvæði) to Laugarvatn (hostel) around the Golden Circle – 60 miles
Grey and overcast today, in the low 50s, no wind. Dry, but there’s some condensation on the inside of the tent from overnight. As we’ve found near any lake in Iceland, the midges flock to us whenever we stand still. They don’t bite, just annoy. When we get fuel, I’ll ride around in circles in the parking lot to keep them away until the rest of the group is ready to go.
The weather’s been so bad this season the camp host asked us if we were here (Laugarvatn) last Saturday. It was a perfect summer day. One day.
Þingvellir today. It’s a site of both geologic and national importance and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Geologic because it – and a few other places along the Reykjanes peninsula – are the only dry-land places in the world where you can see two tectonic plates moving apart at about 2cm a year. Other faults, like the San Andreas or the Himalayas, are subduction zones, where one plate is moving under another. Only here can you stand with one foot on the European plate and the other on the North American plate. And the land looks like it, with jagged walls marking the split. The North American plate is much taller. We overheard a tour guide joking referring to it as Trump’s Wall. In some places, waterfalls are created as groundwater runs off. There are even diving expeditions in Þingvallavatn, the largest lake in Iceland, to explore the rift.
The national importance of Þingvellir can’t be overstated. It was the site of the Althing, the self-created national parliament of Iceland from the time of the Commonwealth, established in 930. It was here that once a year, all chieftains would gather in their booths (the foundations of which can still be seen) to socialize, trade, discuss Iceland’s management, adopt and revise laws, and settle disputes that could not be resolved at the regional level. The Althing would start when the Law Speaker, an elected position, would stand on a rock – also still present – and recite all of Iceland’s laws. From that, new laws and modifications proposed, and then settlements discussed. While the idea of self-rule was based in Norwegian law of the time (they even sent a representative back to Norway to learn their laws), important modifications were made by the Icelanders for their unique needs. I’m greatly simplifying a very complex and rich history and encourage you to read more. Jónsbók, mentioned before, is a codification of the laws of this period and is so well written it’s still used today in schools to teach children to read. It’s a pretty stirring place as the founding site of the world’s oldest existent democracy.
And the expansive rift valley between the continental plates is a beautiful, still place to wander around. We pick up some souvenirs for people back home at the visitor’s centre.
The roads up to and around Þingvallavatn were beautiful – winding, narrow blacktop following the lake’s shore, perfect for sight-seeing at low speeds.
Big sky today – huge. We see rain clouds on the horizon and rush back to camp to beat the only rainstorm in sight and pack up mostly dry gear. We check into the hostel early, spread out any remotely damp gear, do some laundry so our street clothes are clean, and spend the rest of the afternoon at the spa. We enjoyed hours soaking in the warm pools, hopping from cooler to warmer and back again, checking out the natural steam baths constructed over the geothermal vents, and cold draught beer from the bar.
Dinner was at the excellent Lindin (https://www.laugarvatn.is/) near the spa. The walls were covered in culinary competition awards.
We’re thinking of end stuff now – what to repack on the bike, what to take with us once the bikes are packed up for the containers, the logistics of swapping gear, what improvements to make to our gear for the next trip, etc. Fortunately, everything is dry.