Book a camper van online. Do absolutely no subsequent planning if you are a Last Minute sort of person/ buy a detailed road map of Iceland and a copy of Hálldor Laxness's Independent People if you are an Organized Planny sort of person.
If you arrive through door number one (ahem), purchase items from door number two at the Reykjavík airport upon landing. Then gasp at how you just blew $50. Get over it. Iceland's expensive. This is why you are sleeping in a van and will subsist mostly on those curiously delicious Icelandic hot dogs and a lot of soup. And you will love it.
Not bragging, but if you won the edible plant identification award every year at nature camp, well then by golly go ahead and eat those wild bilberries. I do not recommend this course of action to most people (see McCandless, Christopher). But boy were they delicious.
Skip the guide book and ask locals for recommendations: hot springs, abandoned turf houses, waterfalls, puffin colonies. If you approach a stranger and say "Good day, Guðrún. Pray where might I ride a pony?" they will, without fail, give you a helpful answer.
[Note to self: for fun new game, try this tactic back to New York.]
We revisit past adventures as we drive: one moment the landscape is northwestern Montana, all glaciers and hardscrabble granite peaks, a herd of horses a dun-colored smudge against the electric green meadows below. Then it's flat, flat, everywhere flat: the grassy steppe of Mongolia. Then mossy outcroppings, salt air, a cacophony of gulls- we're in coastal Maine!- and then it's into the lava fields and igneous cones of another planet entirely. There is no continuity to the landscape here; it is all drama, all punctuation marks. The topography is a string of staccato notes on the bars of a river.
For some people, the idea of happiness is making bad instant soup on a camp stove in the mountains and reading aloud by the light of the midnight sun. For these people, Iceland is the happiest place on earth.
Rule of thumb: The smaller the village, the better the stew.
I buy skeins of undyed wool in all the colors of North Atlantic sheep, colors of North Atlantic rock: quartz, granite, gneiss, hornblende, coal. A rainbow for the colorblind. A knitting project in the passenger seat.
When the adorable punk rocker waitress gives you directions to an abandoned thermal pool deep in the mountains, you GO. You cannot believe things like this exist. How magical the world can be.
No matter how badly you want to blurt out "I TOLD YOU SO" when the van gets stuck in the mud you warned your spouse so lovingly did not look like a good place to pull over, do not say so. Because after trying to dig out in the driving rain for two hours you are then stuck sleeping next to this person in your steeply-inclined camper van for the night. Instead perhaps it is best just to laugh and hug him and say, "well isn't this an adventure!"
Wake up happy! Finally, a place where I can talk openly about elves and fairies!
Fog, rain, blinding sunshine, hail, wind that snaps the doors off cars (park into the wind). We happily submit to the whims of the gods; when in doubt, pull over and make camp.
You'd be amazed how much skyr two people can consume over the course of five days.
And how much we wished our otherwise perfect camper van had the dignity of an audio upgrade since the 1990s: friends, we had a TAPE DECK and three unplayable Sigur Rós albums for our entire journey.
There exists in the western peninsula of the great island of Iceland a radio station devoted entirely to the most obscure gems of early Nashville Sound. Which turns out to be a pretty swell soundtrack for the drive. We call this chapter Patsy Cline Was My Copilot Through Middle Earth.
We drive, windows down, awe-struck as the glacial valley unfurls before us. We stop and take in the view, start and sing Patsy Cline. We sip the morning coffee we brewed on our camp stove and let it last, for we have nowhere to rush off to, nowhere to be but in this marvelous little camper van, together, on this marvelous little island.
For once, we don't talk about the future, we don't draw up life plans, we don't enumerate expectations and analyze how to execute them. We just drive.
More to come. Stay tuned.