I had so much fun volunteering for Racing the Planet: Jordan 2012 I knew I HAD to do it again. The experience is life changing and ultimate fun. And it is not always about being a runner, helping out on the other side is just as rewarding– until Iceland! hahahaha
Being on the volunteer staff for a Roving Race is not easy. Since it is a new location and first time for the race, a lot of things could come up. Weather being the issue in Iceland. Let me say that this place is COLD & WINDY!!!!! I know everyone is prolly laughing saying well it is called ICEland, however every single person that I know who had been to Iceland in August told me it was perfect weather. I even had two Icelandic girls renting my room earlier this summer and they both said it would be ideal temps. 23 hrs of daylight, chilly at night but glorious during the day. So yes I expected cold nights but didnt expect such extreme weather like we had. ….I land in Reykajvik early in the morning and immediately needed my sunglasses. Its a quick flight from NYC (5 hrs) and I of course didnt sleep, instead talked to my friend Avi the whole time. Avi is one of the medical directors who was on staff for the race. We had planned to get there a few days early to explore the magical weird land of Iceland. Weather was cold but sunny. We needed our puffy coats but with the sun out it felt great. Took us no time to explore Reykajvik, it is not very big. The whole country has a population of 300,000 and 200,000 live in Reykajvik. We walked up and down the main street a few times, I had to try their famous hot dogs (lamb dogs mixed with some crunch), tried to figure out their money system. The Krona or as we were saying ‘coronas’ ha ha ha… I still cant figure out the money , it didnt matter, Iceland is expensive!!! its better I am terrible at math.
Iceland is known for 24 hrs of daylight in the summer and about 22/23hrs in August. It was weird at 11pm the hostel bar closed, it was sunny outside and we didnt want to go to bed. so we didn’t! we looked for some hot springs and instead found the arctic ocean, which I of course jumped in! holy moly!! I thought my heart would stop it was cold, but hey you only live once, right?! Nothing like an ice bath to wake you up. I woke up the next day still cold………… the next day Zandy arrived (he was the official photographer again) and we all rented a car and headed down the southern coast of Iceland. We made stops along the way at places like Seljalandfoss, a very cool waterfall that you can walk behind- photo below.
you can see this waterfall from the highway, actually you see waterfalls everywhere. so many beautiful falls, they dont look real!! Our next stop was another giant waterfall ..Skogafoss you can not walk behind, but you can walk pretty close to it. you can see in that photo behind me how close you can get. you can hike up to the top, which we did, and its very green. we also saw a lot of sheep. oh yah, you dont see very much wildlife in Iceland. Sheep are the main animals, free range sheep! And obviously they use the sheep for sweaters that all the locals wear. You don’t really see trees. Whenever we saw trees we got pretty excited. I never saw a puffin but I did eat one, and i also ate mink whale.
Lots of sturdy short viking looking horses and 1 or 2 dogs, that was all the wildlife I saw— besides the runners! all right so after a couple waterfalls we made it to the southern most city in Iceland, Vik. Vik has a population of 300 and is the largest town outside of Reykajvik and has one of the top 10 most beautiful beaches on Earth (according to their sign). The black sand beach is the wettest in iceland. Apparently the trolls in Iceland (there are lots!) use to drag their boats out to sea here in Vik only to be caught by the violent sea & storms and drowned. Vik also lies directly beneath the Myrdalsjokull glacier, which itself is on top of the Katla volcano which hasnt erupted since 1918—and this is longer than typical so they speculate an eruption soon. If that happened Katla would melt the ice and flood the whole town of Vik….. good thing I didnt read of any this until AFTER I returned!!! And Vik is also the place that served us a fly in our Icelandic Lamb Stew. When we asked the waiter if that was a fly, he said yes, it sure is. Okay, so maybe we were lucky! The next day we made it to Jokulsarlon, home of the glacier lake.
It doesn’t look real. actually it looks like what you see on postcards. Just look at my photo! we took photos here and went to another black sand beach and enjoyed the warm sunshine. This is also the location from Chasing Ice …. everyone should see this movie. I saw it last year and remember seeing this lake about the melting icebergs from Global Warming. Go rent the movie now, or stream on netflix.
It is a powerful waterfall. the fury!!! WOW!!!! The sign said it was the largest waterfall in the UK. The Geysers were just as cool but I could never snap a photo at its highest. It erupted every 6 mins or so…… And after 2 days of road tripping we were back at the Sex Hostel (its actually called Kex but autocorrect on iPhone’s makes it Sex, so that is what we called it the whole time; I mean they did squeeze us into bunk bed rooms like one big orgy!)
Now lets get to the race. As soon as we boarded the bus heading north, to the highlands, the sun went away and the weather was getting worse. On the way to camp 1 we already heard the camp was being moved due to high winds and weather (this happened all week. only 2 of the camps were the original locations). Four or five hours later, i cant remember, we arrived to camp in WINDY COLD WET weather. I did not want to step off the bus. It was horrible and I kept thinking ‘ok this is prolly the worst it will be’ … 270 competitors quickly found their tents, ate dinner and went to bed…. the volunteers have to get things ready for the race. All kinds of jobs, like putting stickers on the trucks in the freezing cold rain, grabbing all the supplies that go to the checkpoints and putting those at the truck, carrying water to each truck, for each checkpoint, making sure the checkpoint tents were in each truck, getting our assignments for the next day etc………. these are things we did everyday, plus more! since the sun was still out it didn’t seem late but i think i got into my cold sleeping bag, cold tent, somewhere around midnight, got no sleep cuz i was freezing and up at 430am to begin the day. Its all a blur… day 1 ended at another cold windy camp. this time the volunteers & staff slept in a giant tube that someone thought would be warmer but it wasn’t. It was colder than the tents. The tubes were huge and there was a giant wind tunnel since the door didnt close. needless to say I got no sleep again and Day 2 i was sweeping.
YAY! I actually couldnt wait to sweep the course cuz I knew i would be moving, moving straight into WIND! you can look at this video of how windy it was: WIND, day 2, checkpoint 2
Sweeping is a lot of fun if you can handle a long day– 12+ hrs on your feet. The two sweepers stay behind the last competitor and pick up the course marking flags. the course was around 30+ Miles through all kinds of scenery, rocks and WIND. I swept in Jordan and had a blast doing this, its a fun way to see the whole course, and obviously I love the exercise. I swept with Gunnar, a badass dude from Norway who has done many 100 milers, a 4 Desert Club Member and all around active guy cool person to sweep with. We are at the start checking in competitors, scan their cards, race begins- so we thought everyone started—- and of course THE VIKINGS come strolling up about 10 mins later. The Vikings are two dudes from NJ. They did this at the start every morning but somehow picked up the pace and never finished back of the pack. These guys were hilarious! Everytime they came into a checkpoint they were smiling, laughing, making fun of each other and basically doing whatever they can to prolly get their minds off the race.Okay so the Vikings took off, now we can begin. Right away the start was an uphill climb, into the WIND. Me and Gunnar would take turns picking up flags, jogging, walking fast and before we knew it we saw two competitors struggling and we hadn’t even reached checkpoint 2 yet. Another job as sweeper to ensure the competitors are okay. If someone is hurt we are equipped with radios, blackberry, phone, satellite phone—– everything possible to reach staff if we needed. We caught up and both were suffering from blisters. Blisters can end a race. One of the competitors was Jaime. I had met her at competitor check-in before we left Reykajvik. I remember she was super friendly and was pretty organized with her gear. We started chatting, she told me she was in pain, and we kept chatting some more. I was hoping with all the talking she would forget about her pain– she didn’t- but it seemed like it. This girl was tough. She started telling me a little bit about her life and I found out she was part of the Run Well group. Jaime, a former alcoholic had been sober for 3 years. I have stayed friendly with Jaime and she told me I could talk about her in this blog. As she said to me “my life is an open book!” … the reason I bring this up is because I already feel like she won, getting over her disease is pretty amazing, and she runs ultras now, signed up for Iceland, got severe blisters on day 1 and still started day 2. This is AMAZING. Her attitude made me forget the steep climb and WIND, did i say GALE FORCE WINDS we were walking straight into. Here I was trying to help her and after hearing her story I felt like she was helping me. We finally made it into checkpoint 2 and after the doctors took a look at her feet she was pulled from the race. I knew this was very hard for Jaime. I wanted to see her go on but I also know she was in a lot of pain. I thought a lot about her the rest of the race and got to see her at camp ,at the end of the day. I hugged her and she said ‘She would be back for another race’ … THAT is the kind of thing I like to hear. Dont give up! This is just one of many incredible stories you hear during a RTP event. So many amazing people that come from all over the world…… Day 3 was the ONLY sunny day. It was crazy and sooooo nice. I couldnt believe the sun came out. I think i only had on 6 layers instead of 10……. the ‘warm’ didnt last long tho. by evening the cold/wind was back… .Oh i forgot to mention the only night i got a little sleep was after I swept. from being so exhausted and battling high winds, i passed out for a few hours…..Day 4 was more cold, ran into Day 5, 6 more cold, 24 hr rain, like side ways rain, horrible. and oh yah guess what- still WINDY. I was lucky on the long day my checkpoint had a Tunnel for the competitors to run thru. So they could be dry for a few mins. My checkpoint named it the TUNNEL OF LOVE.
since we could get out of the rain, we played music most of the day and tried to make it as fun as possible. we were the last checkpoint before the finish. It was ONLY a short 12k left but trying telling that to competitors who have been out in freezing cold windy rain. That night ‘camp’ was in a gym. I had never been so happy to sleep on a hardwood floor!
And it was warm and dry. I didnt care that I was up for almost 20 hours, this was luxury. We even had showers and a heated geothermal pool outside— which i swam laps the next day, then played on the slides with my friends. This was totally unexpected fun!!
Finally it was the last day—- the finish line at the BLUE LAGOON!!! I couldnt wait to strip off 10 layers, plus my 66North rain coat that saved my life the whole week, put on a swimsuit, and get in the warm lagoon.
This had been a very tough week for everyone, competitors, staff, volunteers!!! Weather can really throw a wrench into plans ha ha buts despite everything I would do it all over again…..ok maybe, def not in a cold place! I have volunteered twice and I am ready to be a competitor. I will see what is easier. just get up and run everyday or work behind the scenes?!
The other thing that is so great about these races are the friends & new friends you meet!!! yes it was cold but everyone was in the same conditions. Suffering is a lot more fun with friends ha ha ha. and then the stories we get to tell!!! Most of my friends think im crazy to vacation in Iceland for 2 weeks and all I did was freeze my ass off. you know— #YOLO
The Blue Lagoon felt so good. It was now time for the banquet/awards party, then more party that night….. and then say good bye to all my friends who live all over the world, and hopefully get some much needed sleep….until the next crazy adventure!
And to look at the professional photos by Zandy Mangold, check out the website. I forgot the beauty I was surrounded by because of the weather. He also worked loooong days shooting pretty epic stuff. check out the photos here: http://www.4deserts.com/beyond/iceland/photos-47-100