It was time to leave the Westfjords and move east to Akureyri,
though one question remained: How?
In my experience, the one problem with hitchhiking is how often it forces you to make decisions that can make or break a trip. On this particular morning I was sitting in one of Isafjordur’s three bakeries, staring intently at a map and wondering with a tinge of desperation how the bloody hell I would get out of the Westfjords. Getting here was anything but easy, as I had been forced to march 100km in less than 24 hours due to both a lack of traffic and a lack of food. As much as I had been impressed with myself for walking such a distance, I didn’t care to repeat the process.
After some consideration, I concluded that getting out of Isafjordur wouldn’t be so difficult. There were two main roads out of the city and only one pointed in the direction I wished to travel. The real issue came at a junction 200 kilometres down the way, in Holmavik. From here the road would split into two highways, presenting me with a choice. I could take route 68 and risk walking the same stretch of coastline I had on my way up, or I could remain on highway 61 (towards Reykjavik) and end up in Snaefellsness, placing me right back where I had been nearly a week prior.
It took a few more pastries and another cup of tea, but I eventually made up my mind. I would bite the bullet and try my luck with highway 61.
As it turned out, the hardest part of the trip, surprisingly, was leaving Isafjordur. Because the region is so far removed from the tourist trail, the majority of drivers on these roads seem to be locals, who, friendly as they may be, don’t tend to be driving very far. This meant that despite being picked up 16 times, it still took me an entire day to travel the 200 kilometres southeast from Isafjordur to Holmavik.
I actually ended up staying slightly beyond Holmavik in a town called Drangnes, roughly twenty kilometres off of route 61. Though it was out of the way, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to steep my calloused and cold body in Drangnes’ seaside thermal baths–some of the prettiest hotsprings in all of Iceland.
I rose early the following morning and stuck with the prior day’s decision to remain on route 61. This proved to be the right choice, as I was quickly picked up by a group of French rappers, who, apart from forcing their mixtapes upon me, left me unscathed at my desired destination. I began walking east and within thirty minutes I had been picked up once more. This time by an American couple.
Rachel and Sean were very kind, and immensely fun to talk to. Every now and then we would pause to look at a waterfall, or take a small walk out to a viewpoint. Best of all (and very much unlike my last ride), we had similar tastes in music. After an hour or two of rolling through the Icelandic countryside while Joanna Newsom played over the sound system, I was deposited by a bakery somewhere along the west bank of Skagafjord’s estuarial plain. I had yet to eat dinner, and so as a thank-you to the kind Americans who had taken me within reach of Akureyri (now only one fjord away), I offered to buy everyone some pastry and bread.
With a loaf in hand and heightened morale, I trudged out through the delta towards the opposing mountains (on whose opposite side laid Akureyri). The road was narrow and in some places the shoulder was unconsolidated, so many cars were reluctant to pull over and pick me up. It took some time before I had crossed the delta but eventually I found myself back on a wide, main highway. At this point evening was beginning to set upon me, and though the sun would still hang in the sky for a further six hours, I knew that the frequency of cars on the road would begin to dwindle. Growing tired of walking, I planted my feet on the edge of a pull-out, and stuck out my thumb with the hope that someone would soon stop for me. As luck would have it, only a few minutes passed before a car pulled up alongside and asked where I was headed. I happily answered and hopped in the vehicle, not realising this would quickly become one of my more unforgettable moments of the trip.
The car was a luxury sedan of some sort, perhaps a Lexus or an Audi, though that detail is not important. The windows were tinted darker than average, as was the woman inside, having just returned from a Mediterranean holiday. As we spoke, I began to learn more and more about this tanned lady, who, at forty years old, had recently separated with her husband and was now enjoying all the benefits that come with being single. The drive into Akureyri lasted about forty minutes and flaunted spectacular views of the region’s most prominent mountains. Euphemisms aside, the scenery was also nice.
Upon our arrival in Akureyri, I was offered to join the woman for dinner at her place. I politely declined, claiming that I was meeting a friend on the other end of town. This was not untrue, as Eydis, whom I had met a week earlier, had offered me her family’s guestroom. Reluctant to take no for an answer, however, the woman took me to a drive-through in order to get a quick bite to eat. Here in Canada, the fast food item of choice is likely a tie between burgers or poutine but in Iceland, fast food is synonymous with hot dogs. I requested a sausage with everything on it (which included items such as french fries and shaved beets), while she ordered one with ketchup and mustard. Since I was really quite hungry I turned to thank her, but before having even opened my mouth, my train of thought was completely and utterly derailed. Eyes wide with surprise, I looked onwards as this woman, whom I can only describe as saucy, proceeded to look me in the eye and aggressively suck the sausage. I suppose it was a last-ditch attempt to entice me into her home, but unfortunately I had commitments elsewhere.
I arrived that night at Eydis’ with a shocked expression, a buxom divorcee’s phone number and a very odd story.
A big thanks to Catharine and Asros, who helped me out with some of the photos for this article, including the one used for the cover.