Book: Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism

Through the whole book you keep going back to one question: whom is this book for? A book that discusses strategies to reduce the mindless consumption of apps and websites can be directed at people who are already convinced that this is needed and are looking for a recipe. The same book can also be trying to convince people that are not convinced that this is the right thing to do.

If the book is directed at the choir then it is a good summary of very practical tactics to achieve the goal of minimizing digital disruption in one’s life. But all too often the book is preachy and in those moments you think “Nope. Not going to happen. A Facebook addict will simply not even pick up this book.”

There are very good ideas in the book and if you already buy into the notion that facebook is largely a waste of time and that mindlessly scrolling through click-bait websites is possibly not the best way to spend your evenings, you will enjoy this book. Some of the ideas that particularly resonate well with you are:

    Spend time off line. Here your joy of fixing bicycles certainly shines. Cal provides an example of a person who quit his impressive job to build motorcycles which sounds way too close to home. Yes, if you sit on your ass all day working in Tech then stopping at some point, going into a workshop (or the yard) and cleaning, tuning, mending, patching your bike certainly seems like a very good idea. One could argue that this is still tactile work, but we are evolved monkeys and most of what we do involves our hands so lets get on with it.
    Turn off alerts. YES! This one drives everyone you know crazy. Why? Because a while back you turned off all forms of notifications on all apps on your iPhone. This means that you have to actually want to check messages or email or…wait that’s pretty much it, in order to see if someone is trying to communicate with you. You find it especially amazing that making phones calls is simply something that people no longer do. You recall how making phones calls was very expensive and that the telecommunication industry used to make most of its revenue from “services” around telephony. These days, calls in land are free. In Germany we even had different rates for calling from land line to mobile, calling from mobile in network to calling to mobile out of network. As far as you know, none of these still exist! Yet, people will text first to see if they can call you and generally prefer to text and not voice. Texting is a very low grade form of communication.
    Spend time away from tech. This is one of the wonderful benefits of cycling. Sure, you can try and check your Twitter feed while cycling, but good luck with that in a forest road in Brandenburg. The encouragement to “join something” and “get outside” seems to be wide spread amongst those who try to get control over their lives and escape their own inability to control their actions in the face of the Internet Pocket Device terrorizing their lives.

The book does provide useful ideas, but you wonder if these ideas could be implemented by those who can not control themselves. Cal could have written the book on a few Post It notes with the first note being “Self Discipline” ending with “Delete Facebook”.

Mud Festival on Three Steeds

All pictures are by the talented Mr Stefan Hähnel who also has more great pictures here.

It’s snowing lightly, but you don’t feel cold.  Excitement and joy are everywhere you look.  You’re on the old path that was used to deliver mail between Berlin and Hamburg.  With you, two of your crew mates, smiling ear to ear as the mud flies everywhere and the bikes are getting progressively heavier by the sticky earth.

It’s Saturday in early February and winter is still not coming.  Instead of temperatures well below freezing the weather is just cold, hoovering around the 2-4 degrees with loads of very grey days and the occasional beautiful sky.  To balance a hellish week of 12-14 hours days on the computer, you plan a nice all-roads adventure starting from the central train station in Berlin and ending in the train station in the town of Brandenburg an Der Havel – some 90 km West.  Riding West in the morning, in Northern Germany or maybe elsewhere, means that you’re riding against the wind, but since the ride will take you deep in the forest, you’re not too bothered.

As you leave the city and get into the woods, the asphalt turns to nicely dry and packed gravel.  The wheels spin as fast here as they did the previous 10km leading to this forest highway.  Soon, the so called Reichgravel turns into much rougher and very wild path, if you can call it a path given the amount of fallen trees criss crossing the way.  Here you get the first flat tire which just, as the whole crew decide, does not make sense.

The three bikes are prime examples of the new bike segment baring the term Gravel Bikes.  The term is silly so you prefer to think about your steed and those of your two mates as all-road bikes.  When you finally get out of the mud and into the street, realising that the train you should be taking leaves in less than an hour and the distance to the train station is around 22km, all three bikes ride at 30km/h without a problem on the road.  The same is true when you’re deep in the forest riding the forest paths that are somehow identified on the map as “forest roads”.  The three bikes have zero problems traversing deep Brandenburg sand and are certainly complaining a lot less than the riders do when the path turns to puddle.

So we establish, these bikes  can take on any kind of road.  The three bikes are prime examples of how much fun can be had on two wheels.  They also represent exactly the three options on the market.  One of the bikes is the beautiful Open UP.  This carbon bike is loaded with a SRAM 1×11 setup, hydraulic breaks, fairly light components and 2.1 inch WTB Nano tires on 650B DT Swiss rims.  The next example is a locally made steel bike, from cicli bonanno, with roughly the same group set, but a more “rando” setup with generator hub, lights and plenty of space for full fenders.  This one is also rocking a set of 650B hoops, with WTB Ranger 2.0 rubber.  The last bike represents the versatility of titanium and is made by Seven.  It was originally setup as 700c with 44mm Compass tires, but recently it has been converted to 650B with Terrene Elwood tires.  Ironically, these tires look at beefy as the 2.1 inch WTBs since they are mounted on the very wide Velocity Blunt SS rims.  This is also the non-tubeless wheel set which is the only one to get a flat tire, in the middle of the forest, so go figure.  This steed is also setup with a full Campagnolo group with a rather traditional 50/34 cranks and 11-32 cassette.

All three steeds perform beautifully.  The mud collected can always be washed off and the clothes thrown to the washer.  There will be another weekend in 7 days where these road bikes, all rad, all fun, will take you on the next adventure.  That’s what they are for.

Tech Clothes are Just Tech

During the last 10 months or so I sensed a change in my approach to clothes. I could not get my finger on it exactly until I read an article, in GQ Magazin of all places, that described one of my favorite labels: outlier. The article poised that certain segment of the “tech people” were looking at their clothes as a piece of tech more than a piece of fashion or a trend.

It clicked. With all the bikes in a state that’s more or less “done”, I was inevitably pulled into another tech fetish. This time, it’s clothes.

I’ve also been following a two step process that started from minimizing the wardrobe and ended in only buying clothes that I believe will be in the closet for a long time and have specific purpose. This little piece is about the process and its results.

The joy of space

Opening my closet these days is pure joy. The closet is mostly empty with many hangers just sitting there, unused, collecting dust. It makes picking up the outfit in the morning easy, doing laundry a breeze, and feeling a sense of relief. Yes, less cutter is the way to go.

When cleaning up the closet I used a very easy rule and the helping hands and encouragement of my significant other. The rule was easy: did you wear it in the last year? If the answer was no, the item of clothing had to end up in a plastic bag that was later donated to the Red Cross. Given that this rule is going to be explored again next spring, it helps develop a sense of “only buy what you’re really going to wear.” That pair of boots you may wear one day, but did not since 2007, it had to go. That super nice suit that cost a fortune at the time, but was just hanging in the closet since 2008, it ended up in the bag. My only hope was that the Red Cross will provide these items to those who will appreciate them more than I did.

The closet ended up with loads of space and pieces of clothing that had purpose. It stopped being the resting place for old items that were just stored, but not used. A mostly empty closet also meant that someone else was getting newish clothes so everyone wins.

How to Not Buy Too Much

How to dress is a very personal thing. I will never dream of telling anyone how to dress for two simple reasons: I am not qualified in any way, shape, or form, to tell anyone how to dress and, people should dress how they want.

My style has been described by various friends as “monochromatic” and as “techwear”. I only own one pair of jeans, for example, while the rest of my pants are made from various space-age materials. This gets us right back to the GQ article I mentioned above. The article quotes one of my favorite writers, William Gibson, who, as it turns out, also loves the Outlier brand. The interesting bit of thinking in the article, however, is the description of these clothes as futuristic, as something that will fit perfectly in a William Gibson book, and as the last piece of clothing one needs for a time in history that may be described as “the end of the world”.

My interests in these type of clothes came, not surprisingly, from the same drive that got Outlier started: I was looking for pants that will not break when riding my bike to work. Once these were identified, I started looking for pants that will dry quickly in the rain showers we often get in Berlin, pants that will allow me to ride in January and jackets that will keep me warm, but not over-heat. These cycling-oriented clothes had a few additional requirements:

  • Have as little labeling as possible.
  • Look like normal clothes when not riding a bike.
  • Be extremely well made.

Ironically, it’s very hard to find clothes that will fit the above list well. Loads of companies try to address this market, but dependent on their orientation, they either include way too many labels (I’m looking at you Rapha), look too technical (because you need 15 pockets right?), or are not very well made.

So which companies are worth looking at? Here is a list, by far not complete, of labels that are interesting and are also pragmatic, use more or less muted color palate and have a good online presence. Some labels, such as my home-town based Acronym, are simply too out there which is why they are not listed.

  • Outlier. Obviously.
  • Mission workshop. Mostly made in the U.S. (some in Peru or Canada) and based in the Bay Area. These guys occupy the other half of my closet. Their threads are simply exactly what the list above is all about.
  • Seagale. No personal experience there, but their shirts are made from Merino and their pants from breathable, durable, water resistance material so they could be worth checking out.
  • Descente Allterrain. Japanese cycling brand that started a sub-label to meet the more high-tech, every day, clothing. They are made in China which really is not so surprising since for these high-tech fabrics, China has some of the best factories in the world.
  • Reigning Champ. Seem like a Canadian label which a few garments that are exceptionally well made (in Canada no less) and are super high tech. Their Stow-Away Hood Jacket hits the nail on the head.
  • Loow.  Swedish.  Merino.  Do I need to say anything else?
  • Western Rise.  No personal experience, but looks interesting.

I’m pretty sure that the list will grow with time, but for now, it’s a good starting point. The other good thing about these labels, and I say it tongue in cheek, is that once you buy one of their items of clothes, you will not have money left for more clothes hence, your closet will not get packed again.

333 Fab Air Land Sea

It’s a beautiful project. Go support them.

What the Muck?

  • Oil Treatment

It’s February and it’s 9 degrees.  It’s been raining a little, but the weather, for this time of the year, could only be described as nice.

It was time to get the crew together and loop around in the forests north of the city.

After collecting 5 rascals at Nils’s house we headed out into the wet and slippery outdoors.  4 out of the 5 riders were using at least 2″ tires.

The loop (see below) is somewhat technical since it takes you around several lakes, very close to the water, where the tree roots are all sticking out.  As always, it’s flat, mostly, and at times runs by other humans (Liepnizsee has loads of hikers around it).

This time around the loop was still covered in ice in many places which called for extra caution.  It makes no difference how wide one’s tires are, when the dirt path turns to ice, just keep going straight and do not try to break.

File Under: Highly recommended.

GPS Track:

What the Fork?

Hunter at Lubars

I miss this setup.  I would love to be able to add a nice mini-rack on my Seven Mudxium, attach my Bailey Work D-Rack Bag and have my coffee kit with me on all rounds.

In essence the dream fork will be:

  • Tapered
  • Disk brakes
  • Fender tabs
  • Crown hole
  • Mid-fork screws for rack mounting
  • Room for 45mm tires, possibly

With the recent announcements of the Specialized Sequoia I was reminded that there isn’t really a reason not to have rack bosses on carbon forks.  So I started looking for options in the market.  So, what do we have on the table?

  • Seven Max 45 Tapered Disc Fork – this fork has room for loads of rubber and fender tabs.  Sadly, I can’t figure out how to add a rack to this.
  • Whisky Parts No. 9 Carbon Thru Axle Cross Fork – This one has loads of room, fits the bill pretty well but does not have any way that I could find to add a rack.
  • Rodeo Labs Spork – This looks like the absolute winner.  It has everything on my list.  The price point is much lower than the rest ($380) and it looks super sexy.  This may end up on the Mudxium very soon.  Stay tuned.

Favourite Bikes in 2015

2015 was certainly a good year for different kind of bikes.  The most exciting bikes for my taste were, as probably expected, the mutant bike category.  Disk brakes, wider axels, geometry that’s right in between road and cyclocross and very colourful paint choices.  Of course there are loads of bike “TOP” lists so there is really no point to replicate them.  So I reached into my own personal resources and here they are, in no apparent order.

Interestingly to me, each one of these bikes will be a bike I’d love to have.  The problem is, each of these bikes is already a bike I have, in some form or another, which is why I lust over these, but am not chasing after them.  Well…other than one.  Now that we have a nice collection to commemorate 2015, lets see what 2016 bring.

  • 44 Bikes – Huntsman “Super Trail”  The bike and the blog post (linked) just scream adventure!  I love how it manages to look clean and organised even though there are so many moving parts.  Bikes with thick tires and drop bar just do it for me.

  • Stinner Frameworks – Ti Grinder This one came through on the excellent Cycleexif.  It is based on the Bruce Gordon Rock’n’Road tires (43mm) which have been around for a few years now in combination with SRAM 1×11 groupset.  It’s clean and tidy and even without riding it, it seems like a confident ride.

  • Igleheart – Painted Hills Bike.  This came up much earlier in 2015 as a competition to explore the hidden treasures of the state of Oregon, U.S.A.  Even though the bike is very small (for me) I could not stop staring at it.  Why?  Again, adventure on two wheels.  In addition, Chris Igleheart is someone whose bike building skills I admire since years.  That fork is amazing and the paint job is stellar.  What’s not to like here?

  • L’espérance – Disc Randonnee. This sweet 650B belongs to a fellow cycling fanatic from Seattle.  It’s a one of a kind since he basically had it built by a local shop and man does this rig look like it will be fun to ride.  I can imagine this being the only bike one really needs to explore, do grocery shopping, go camping, what-have-you.  I’ve been staring at this bike since February and still get excited at every new picture John posts of it.

  • Elephant Bikes – National Forest Explorer. This one is probably the most exciting bike of the year for me.  Why?  Because it is actually attainable.  Sure, there is a waiting list of about 8 months for one, but the price is in the “affordable” range (compared to the above bikes) and it has everything a bike that could be “The One” is – grocery shopping, check.  Brevets, check.  Trail riding, check.  I pretty much like everything about it and am waiting patiently for my turn.  A great article about the creation of this bike is here.  Other than the Radavist post about it you can also find one here.

  • Mosaic – GS1 All Road.  This would be the ultimate road bike in my book.  A bike you can keep up with a fast group, but still take on a detour in the forest should you feel so inclined.  I absolutely love the look of the baby blue with those HED wheels as well as pretty much everything Mosaic produced this year.

So you need new rims

Velocity Rims-1050116After only one year of riding the Velocity Blunt SLs they developed cracks.  At close investigation the cranks are only on the drive-side.  It’s never boring in Bike Land.

It’s time to replace the hoops and reconsider weight, stiffness and satisfaction.  A quick call with one of most respected wheel builders in Germany, brought forward a few options:

The big difference between the rims above and the Velocity Blunt SL I was using is a mere 40-50 gram as the SLs are advertised at 420 g.  I had to scratch my head and ask myself can 40 gram makes such a difference?  I also thought that an interesting option, in the same price range, would be Kirk Pacenti’s SL25.  The rims weight 450 gram, are 24.5mm wide and measure 26.0mm high.  So I contacted Kirk and asked for his opinion.  Within a few hours Kirk responded recommending the use of different spokes than the ones I used so far (Sapim CX-Ray) and pretty much assuring me that even with the style of riding the wheels endure, I should have no problems.  After all, these rims were used by Mark Beaumont to ride clear across Africa – these roads could not have been better maintained than the paths I take around here.

Kirk’s note also sent me to the Sapim website to check out some data points.  It turns out that the CX-Ray weight 272 gram for 64 pieces at 260 mm.  They are rated for strength at 1600 N/mm2.  The D-Lights come in at 307 gram while the Race model weights 363 gram.  Both D-Light and Race, however, allow for “only” 1300 N/mm2 of tension.  As the good folks at Sapim write on their web site, “high tension is always better.  The higher the tension the stiffer the wheel.”  So back to said wheel builder we go and entrust him with making the right decision on building a wheel that’s stiff, light and robust enough to cary my rather large skeleton.

So here we have it, loads of data, but the real question is still open – what wheels to build.  The discussions seems like a rabbit hole, especially since one can easily find articles such as these that dissect at great length the concept of wheel stiffness.  Decisions?  Since Kirk is such a nice guy and I am interested in trying his SL25 rims out, I’ll go with these.  This is by no mean a statement about the rest of the options.  I rode H Plus Son for a while, but they are not Tubeless compatible and suffer from the “been there” syndrome.  I rode a lot of Velocity rims and managed to kill all of them.  So it’s really time for something new.  And new, as we know…is always…better.

The Vicious Circle: Around Berlin in 4 Days

You wake up around 3 o’clock at night to the sound of your fellow rider chocking.  Within a few short seconds you realize that the sounds emanating from the other side of the room are actually very prominently the sounds of a cyclist snoring.  There are risks to touring with a group of guys you don’t know all too well and they are all more than worth it.

The whole adventure, later to be named The Vicious Circle, started with an email in which a friend asked if you’re interested in an off-road tour around the city.  A full loop he promised, with almost no paved roads what so ever.  It nearly sounded too good to be true which is why you immediately expressed interest and secured a spot.  As is often in life, things got hectic, travel was involved and you almost forgot about it, until the email with the GPS tracks and the road sheet arrived.  The plan was a 4 day ride, each day ending in a different corner of the surrounding land: east, north, south and then west.  On paper it looked sublime.

The tour started on Thursday morning, not too early and not too late, in a small town just south of Berlin.  Both groups, the Berlin crew and the Leipzig crew, met at the train station and after a quick round of introductions and a coffee you were on the way.  18.5 kilometer later, while riding on a nice forest road just south of Potsdam, a tree branch decided to jump into the rear triangle of the Hunter taking with him the derailleur hanger and breaking a spoke in the middle.  Making hardware-related decisions on the trail is never a good sign, but the crew put on their thinking caps, turned a few screwed and within 15 minutes Hunter was turned into a single speed off-road touring machine.  This helped releasing the crew from their desire to leave no man behind and you ride to the train station, head straight to the local bike shop, change the broken spoke, replace the derailleur hanger and ride out to the overnight location planned for day 1. Someone once said “yes we can” and he was right.

The next three days are spent enjoying the great outdoors in the lovely state of Brandenburg – the German state that surrounds the capital.  You ride on nicely packed gravel roads, single tracks, forest dirt, military plates that are probably there since the days our country was split into two, thick sea sand that’s nearly impassable, a few proper cycling paths and probably a few more paved roads than were planned.  You are often tempted by the silence in the woods and tend to let the group plow ahead while you hang back, taking pictures and trust that at some point a cafe or country-side bakery will stop the pace of the team.  This system never fails.

The tour manages to find the most exciting and interesting non-roads in the backyard of the capital.  The whole crew is elated as you realize, on day three, that somehow you managed to climb 1,000 meters in an area that’s well known for his flatness while also discovering beautiful lakes and fall foliage.  Each accommodations are an improvement on the previous night which turns the whole adventure into almost luxury touring, but that just means that the crew is more energetic the next day and is rolling with gusto onto the next track.  By day 4 discussions about the next tour, planned for next year, are already underway and as you roll into the same train station the tour started off, you feel a sense of nostalgia before you even dismount the bike.  Such tours, with minimal yet epic mechanical failures (two derailleur!), with a solid crew, with enough time for snacks and photography, a rag-tag collection of off-road steel rigs (and one aluminum bike), and beautiful nature are after all exactly why we ride.

Adventures in the Land of the Clouds, Volcanos and Hot-pots

You wake up in Borgarnes, western Iceland.  The wind is pounding the camper and the tent that was pitched the night before right by your camper is now gone, its inhabitants curled up in their car.  Gashes of wind manage to shake the camper so much that you both agree to stay in your PJs and drive about 25 kilometers to a much more civilized camping area you accidentally found the night before.  The wind in Iceland is an element to be taken into serious consideration.

Only 6 days have gone by and you are already attached to the Cozy Camper highlander you rented in Reykjavik.  It has been christened Claus Camper and is commonly referred to as Claus.  Claus is a Hyundai Starex 4WD van that has been converted into a very cozy and comfortable camper while keeping its ability to roam the highlands and various F-roads without fearing for one’s life or invalidating the rental insurance.  In fact, after a few nights in Claus, you both agree that Claus is really the only viable way to explore this beautiful country.  Claus took some getting used to as the only rental cars you’ve ever driven were in the U.S. of A where cars are automatic and Claus is one of those manual transmission vehicles, but given the 1780 km you drove, getting used to manual was no biggie.

After landing at Keflavik airport with Iceland’s “cheap” (nothing is cheap in Iceland) and friendly airline – WOW Air you take the Fly Bus to Reykjavik where the owner of Cozy Camper awaits with Claus and hands over the keys and instructions.  The final payment is done on site using one of many mobile credit card readers you will meet in Iceland and you take off.  Looking at the map, the nearest and largest body of water that is not the ocean seems to be Þingvallavatan and since it’s already early afternoon and you practically have no plan, you purchase some provisions to stock up Claus’ refrigerator and head out of town.  You arrive to Þingvellir a short hour later and camp at the first camp ground of many.  Every evening follows the same ritual – you arrive at a camp site, pay the ranger about 1,200 Icelandic Krone per head and park Claus.

Leading up to this amazing adventure you discussed the idea and suggestion of a friend to rent a 4WD car and sleep in a tent.  The lady injected some sense into the misguided and mostly romantic notion that you are someone who could build a tent and enjoy sleeping in it, which is how you came to rent Claus and leave such things as tents and cooking utensils behind (Claus came with everything one needs to cook).  As you set up camp in Þingvellir, an act that involved parking the Claus somewhere basically, you realize just how much this was the correct decision.  By the time you wake up the next day, counting a few tents less in your surrounding and seeing other road warriors sleeping in their car seats, you really appreciate that decision making process that took place all these weeks ago.

The first day on the road therefore starts in Þingvellir, a fascinating location both geographically and historically.  You literally park Claus in a valley that lies between the two continental plates – the North Atlantic and the Euro-Asia.  Þingvellir is also the location where the Alþing general assembly (i.e. a parliament) was established around 930.  Pretty much every historical event of any political significance to Iceland took place in this general assembly.  The location is as mesmerizing as it is powerful.  Being able to actually see the North American continental plate ends and the Euro-Asian begins is a nice way to understand a little more about our little planet.  At the same time, seeing the place where the vikings used to gather and democratically make decisions is a powerful reminder of the foundations of Northern Europe.  Democracy and community are ingrained into the European continental fabric.  Taking all these in and snapping loads of pictures, you jointly decide to head to the highlands while stopping on the way by two popular locations: Geysir and Gullfoss, the first is probably the world’s most famous geyser – all other geysers on the planet are named after that one, and the second is a picturesque waterfall, one of many to be seen in Iceland.

And just like this you leave civilization behind and start the drive up the highlands.  This is where the road gets…interesting.  Iceland, with a population of 320,000 inhabitants, harsh weather and a great deal of active volcanos, approaches roads in a slightly different manner than the rest of Europe.  There is one road the circulates the whole country.  It is called The 1 and is almost continuously asphalted.  Then there are local roads which are often packed gravel and then there are the F-roads.  The roads to the highlands are the latter.  Here one could expect anything – rivers crossing the road, streams flowing inside the road, huge boulders, puddles that could cross the whole path and many areas where you have no chance to spot the driver coming across from you.  These were our preferred roads.

After some 90km up the F-road you get to the camp ground you intended to reach and are excited to see that the location has a small restaurant that serves fish soup, probably the best one you tasted during the whole trip, as well as set dinner.  Menus are for civilization.  You park the Claus and set your priorities straight – get into a  bathing suit and hit the hot-pot.  Hot-pots are a bad translation which you assume comes from Icelandic and are referred to by the locals everywhere.  The term is similar to the word Handy in German which actually means mobile phone, but somehow takes on an English word that has no direct relationship to what it actually describes.  Since hot-pots are, for all intended purpose, a dish served in Chinese restaurants, you have a hard time referring to heated bodies of water as such.  The natural pool at Hveravellir has three large plastic pipes leaning into it.  One pipe brings in water at almost boiling temperature while the other two spill colder water.  All water sources are natural and as we quickly learn, all water, hot and cold, is brought directly from the earth on this magical island.

So you spring into the water, push the colder pipe away and let the pool heat up and enjoy a beautiful evening in an outdoor! heated! natural pool!  After about an hour you are joined by a few more travelers and discover that you are surrounded by other Europeans.  You take your leave from the first hot-pot, change, stroll through a steamy and very active volcano area, grab some food and loosely plan the coming day.  You know that you still have about 100km to get out of the highlands and into the Northern part of Iceland, but after that the plan is cloudy.  You decide to postpone the decision and just agree to see how you feel when you get to the end of the F-road.

The next day starts with a 100km drive through the highlands on F-road 35.  The northern part of the road is much better than the southern part so you make good time and stop for a few photo opportunities.  Right before the road reaches the ring road, you spot a massive power station and a plaque that explains that Landsvirkjun is responsible for 75% of the power produced in Iceland!  After a short drive you reach the northern part of the ring road and start heading east.  You pass Iceland’s second largest city – Akureyri, a city of some 18,000 inhabitants and continue eastwards.  Since a day without a waterfall seems like a wasted day, you stop at Goðafoss (waterfall of the gods) and take the “other” route to the waterfall.  As in pretty much every waterfall in Iceland the power of the water is palpable by just standing across the fall and the almost green color of the water is breathtaking.  Further east you drive until you reach the shores of lake Myvatn and the tiny settlement Reykjahlíð.  Even though the town is smaller than petit there are several camping sites to choose from and you settle on the one with the lake front view and the lush green grass (Bjarg Campsite).  Once the location for the night is identified, you move on to the next essential aspect of your stay – finding the nearest hot-pot.  As it turns out, and this was entirely unknown to you, the Myvatn Natural Baths are the northern version of the world-famous Icelandic Blue Lagoon.  As you drive to the baths you can close your eyes and let your nose do the navigating.  The area smells of sulfur and clouds of steams raise everywhere in the area.  The bath is huge and as opposed to the previous night, is not so private. You endure the crowd and look for the source of the hot water.  In the east corner of the bath you find the source and enjoy a good area in this beautiful location, watching the sun set over the lake.

Now what could make a hot-pot experience even better?  A great dinner post the hot-pot.  Again, as if by accident, you let the Internet recommend a location for dinner and end up in a farm house called Vogafjos Cowshed Cafe.  The restaurant shares the same building in which the cows are housed.  You can watch the cows eat while they can watch you.  The food is practically the best example of farm to table you have ever experienced and the fish and local cheese is delicious.  After such an exciting day you have no problems falling asleep back in the campground and sleep in pretty late on Sunday.

When you wake up on Sunday you realize that you need to spend a day in the area, not a bad realization to be had on a sunny Sunday morning.  The reason being that you managed to forget one of the most important elements of a great adventure at home – a charger for the digital camera!  Since the only possibility of finding a charger is in Akureyri, and since it is Sunday, a day on which the shops are closed, you just have to hang out in the area.  And so, the day turns into an awesome combination of things that you could only really do in Iceland: a walk up a volcano, a quick photoshot in the cave in which Jon Snow, one of the heroes in HBO’s Game of Thrones, looses his virginity to Ygritte (the place is called Grjótagjá, good luck spelling that in google maps), a walk to the most powerful waterfall in Europe (Dettifoss) and a magical nature stroll in Asbyrgi canyon.  The beauty and power of nature, all in a single day, were almost overwhelming.  The day also included a nice F-road trek from Dettifoss to Asbyrgi following the rule of “if the road ends, you just continue driving”.  Evening rolls in and so is the Claus.  You park in the Husavik camp ground which is organized and friendly, but is somewhat disappointing as it is right at the end of the town.  The town is clearly focused on tourism and its tiny harbor is housing at least 3 different whale watching companies which is impressive for a town of 2,237 inhabitants.

You get out of town on Monday morning and head back to Akureyri, find a charger for the camera, and align the stars back to their natural order.  Over fish and chips lunch, you decide to drive across the north to the western Fjords and camp in the town of Holmavik.  The distance between Akureyri and Holmavik is some 350km and after you leave the ring road behind and turn into road 61 and 68, some of which were just gravel roads, you start enjoying the beautiful scenery of the western fjords.  The land is immense and is constantly spilling into the fjords.  A few farm houses dot the coast line and the occasional church impresses a sense that this isolated community is indeed a community.  Here and there you spot tiny harbors one of which is your final destination of the day – the lovely town of Holmavik.

By the time you arrive, you are exhausted and the peace in the Claus is at stake – you just drove over 400 kilometers and the only thing to do is to hit the hot-pot that just happens to be build into the community pool, that’s just happened to be 20 meters away from the camp ground where you and Claus are parked.  You enjoy a dip in the three heated pools and observe some of the locals socialize.  The hot-pots, practically available to every community, are really where it seems that Iceland’s citizens come together.  Folks sit in the hot-pot, chat, change tubs (there seem to always be three different heat levels) together and leave around the same time.  You leave the pool shortly before closing time and are too exhausted to eat anything more than a few crackers with cheese.

Tuesday starts with coffee outside.  Someone, even though by the time you arrive to the camp ground the previous night you were practically delirious, you managed to park right by one of the picnic tables in the grounds so breakfast and coffee is served outside.  You then march into the center of the 15-houses community and explore the museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft.  You learn that in Iceland, almost no women were burned at the stake for being witches, but that men were the subject of prosecution.  You also learn that there is a thing called Necropants, that’s actually on display at the museum and is pretty disturbing.  After this little culture shock and a stroll through the harbor, you head to the next stop – a hot-pot that’s said to be on the side of the road and is free. And indeed, the guidebook did not lie. The three blue tubs are kissing the Atlantic and are also positioned about 2 meters from the only “road” (which services about 2 cars per hour). You hop in and spend a good hour before changing back and heading inland. The ride takes you on an F-road up the huge mountain that’s looming over the fjord. As you climb up you notice that the temperature drops significantly and the scene becomes bigger than life, covered in patches of snow as well as plenty of  waterfalls. Cars are nowhere to be seen which suits you just fine as you can just stop everywhere and take pictures. The wind is harsh and the weather is kissing the freezing zone.  You are therefore pretty happy when you get to the paved road that leads to the legendary Laugar in Western Iceland. You camp here for the night, failing to find anywhere to pay for the stay, but finding the outdoors hotpot and a very windy camping area.

Laugar is deeply rooted in the nordic sagas and has a lovely outdoors hot-pot that’s just too inviting.  So the lady spends her morning dipping while you trek up the mountain to get some exercise and photograph the waterfalls.  By the time you leave you realize that Claus is the last vehicle in the camp ground.  The next stop is further west along F-road 54, which runs parallel to the Hvammsfjord, destination: the lovely fisherman town of Stykkisholmur where Walter Mitty takes off in a helicopter!  The town is indeed as lovely as the film makes it seem and lunch there turns out to be another great Icelandic meal.  You then walk up to the orange lighthouse and enjoy the view of the fjord and the ocean before getting back to Claus and heading south.  You cross the peninsula on the 56 which turn into the 54 and then go looking for a hot-pot in nature.  The instructions you find on the Internet are somewhat vague and include basically a turn off, a distance, and the fact that one has to go through two gates.  You find the first gate realizing that this is likely to be the gate to a property of a farmer living in this remote and obviously volcanic part of the world.  You take your chances, drive through the property and cross the second gate.  The road ends at what seems to be the slopes of a volcano and you go looking for the hot-pot on foot.  After a few wrong turns you find the pool, submerged into the ground, clearly marked by a primitive step ladder leading into it.  Your excitement is somewhat subdued when you see that the water is green with some algae and that another car is approaching.  The second car, packed with a group of Belgians, is determined to experience this wonder of nature, but you decide that getting sick on the last days in Iceland might be ill-advised so you turned the Claus around and drive back out to the road.

Your compensation comes in the form of Borgarnes public pool which includes, of course, three heated hot-pots and some water slides!  A day that ends with hot-pots is always a better day, however, the camp ground does not seem appealing and after a quick consultation with the lonely planet guidebook you are on the way to a location some 15 km out of town.  You arrive in darkness and are told that the camp ground does not exist anymore, but that another camp ground exist some 10 kilometers up the road.  You continue the drive and find a very nice looking camp ground, with heated bathrooms no less and one small hiccup – there are no other folks in the area, no campers and no obvious owner.  You take the joint decision to drive back to Borgarnes and sleep there.  Sleeping alone, without any other travelers in sight seems too risky in a land that hosts trolls and Necropants.

And on the last day?  More waterfalls and a long drive through an F-road crossing a huge mountain range at close to zero degrees weather brings you back to where you started.  You descend into Þingvellir from the North leaving the gravel road behind and returning to civilization.  You drive into Reykjavik in the early hours of the afternoon and meet the owner of the Cozy Camper who collects Claus and is happy to hear that you enjoyed the adventure so much.  The adventure is one for the books and you both admit that this one, with its nature, hot-pots and freedom, will be hard to beat.  But you’re going to have to try.