We often forget how deeply connected we could be with nature. Yet it often doesn’t take more than a bike ride across an empty place, where some exposure to the elements with a pinch of solitude will give birth to deep-rooted feelings and missed senses, usually locked away by everyday’s overload.
Follow Gian on one of his trips across Iceland where he finds mental purity.
Finally, this early afternoon I leave the huge caldera of Askja after kind of sorting my badly torn and worn tyre and try to cover as much ground as possible. I want to flee back into the nothingness. Having spent the last 1.5 days hitchhiking out from the Dreki huts at Askja to Akureyri – the town in the north I visited 4 days prior – and then back again, I couldn’t wait to get engulfed in the emptiness of Iceland’s interior again.
Unbound happiness flushes my body and translates into spinning the single gear as natural as breathing, seemingly flying over the soft and often dreaded section of the F910 across the Dyngjusandur with low pressure in the tyres.
Sometimes we ought to get away, to seek that big bike adventure
But how about many hundred little ones?
Those little every day off-road rides, those that take you to the local brewery dirty and wet, those that take you and your friends home after an evening out, those that take you home sweating hard from summer heat but also shivering from deep winters cold after a day at work, those that shake the groceries in the bags.
Finding ways to skip the roads and traffic, no matter how little it may be, is likely going to take you longer to get from A to B, but the time in between will be of a quality which may surprise you.
Leave the cars behind.
Leave your car behind.
Live life behind bars.
The new lava field of Holuhraun is still warm and invites for a stop, then another one induced by a flat tyre.
There is no swearing to be heard that late afternoon end of August. Whilst cold winds howl southwards, I ride due north and start to feel the onset of dissolving. Only a few hours after leaving Askja my mind starts to become volatile.
My shadow swings around as my route heads due west. I see my dark image on the ground and remember this familiar figure. “Hey, it’s you… well me”. I had sketched a route only roughly at home, thus my GPS says “off course” on a regular basis.
“A horse is a horse of course, of course…” echoes from the otherworldly hyaloclastite cliffs of Dyngjufjöll Ytri whilst I rodeo the little horse across sandy-soft spots and sharp rocks. The web of rhythm thickens as I’ve been riding swiftly for the last few hours now and have been constantly focused to stay rubber side down on the by times tricky surface, yet singing a song involuntarily.
Flow? Hyperfocus? Meditation?
I stop. I feel weird.
Displaced, yet completely welcome.
Like a psychedelic trip from which you thought you had come down, but are actually still pretty much in the middle of it, I stand still and breathe the thickness of my surroundings. I feel extremely at ease, yet my pulse is high, breathing intense and my senses enhanced, as if I was alert, visually picking up even the smallest and uncountable strange lava formations, smooth hues of the rocks and auditory sensing the next approaching gust and the sand being blown across the bleak ground.
A landscape of a seemingly static state is opening itself, like a flower in full bloom; one you can suddenly smell and it smells intensely and good.
The static has always been dynamic. I bathe in this deep connection for a while, still watching my back – at ease. “Are ghosts moving about me?” “Where’s my companion?” “Where has my shadow gone?”
It goes dark very, very slowly at 65° North. Automatically, I start to keep an eye out for a place to camp. Soon the track is less sandy and I float across eroded pillow lava, pumping through the thick onto the pillows and ever swimming in true presence, whilst my past slips away and future evaporates.
My mind is separated from my body.
One becomes crystal clear, the other a machine.
Clear and empty like my surroundings. The little world within has merged with the world outside. Not even stopping for the view, a sip, a pee or a photo would lift me out of that state.
My rhythm beats with mother Earth’s.
Some years ago, when sea kayaking in the Firth of Lorn in a stiff breeze with a large, breaking swell, I sensed the feeling to lay my head on mother nature’s chest to listen to her breathing. Her chest lifting at once, dropping afterwards, lifting again… What would’ve been a perfect rhythm just scared me. Too scared of letting go, I couldn’t put all my trust into my actions, no matter what it was going to be. What could have been the right place to trip out, may have been beyond my threshold. I don’t master sea kayaking.
I’m in a state of flow on a weekly basis e.g. when riding, something (I believe) I master. Yet in an exposed environment, doing the same thing for hours, days, weeks can lift you to other-worldly spheres, matching the preternatural landscape you may be travelling through. Different activities may push you over the edge, I found this happen during winter mountaineering in the high Alpine, trying to dance with forceful winds, severe cold and technical demanding terrain, or hiking through the wilderness, across mountain ranges and vast landscapes, not talking to anybody for days.
Exposure may be key.
Key to a door, which once opened, puts you in a room filled with intuition.
Slowly dripping, high viscous intuition. I grow into it, rest here time blinded and softly slither out again. All action seems absolutely natural. No questioning, no thinking – just doing. Feeling what’s right from within. Going about a tricky river ford like an animal. Travelling from one water hole to the next like an animal. Moving effortlessly and beautifully through nature. Like an animal. An animal or even a polar willow, completely connected.
Some places hold easy accessible exposure. One that tapers by each pedal stroke.
Here and now.
It’s a dry place; despite the amount of precipitation it receives, the porous land makes the water disappear. I ride with 6L of water and can only guess where to find a source. It will have to do for 160 km max.
It’s a cold season; Yesterday it snowed, today the sun’s out and it’ll be a clear night. It’s going to be below freezing and chances for a camp spot sheltered from the wind are very little.
It’s an empty place; I can’t remember seeing the last plant. Must have been 50 km ago. Perhaps 40? It may be about 150 km until I meet other humans.
This exposure also tapers off gradually.
I talk to myself as I ride into the low sun, blinded by it’s warm light, still pumping on the pillow lava, as if I had been doing it for all my life and will be doing it for the rest of it.
At this latitude the sun leaves you dead slow and the cold approaches you quick.
I find a spot to make camp. Rocks are carefully relocated and I picture their original place. I sneak inside the shelter and slowly touch down again within an hour or so. Calmer, deeply relaxed and not disintegrated anymore, my mind reconnects with my physical needs; to rest, to eat and to drink. To settle and stay out of the cold wind, which has picked up some speed in the growing dark. Shadows are still moving about. They have first visited me as a teenager after a risky trip in winter and have ever since made irregular appearances.
After supper, a desert and a hot chocolate, mother nature puts on a show. Feeling lucky to be in that spot at that very moment I get out into the wind and watch the show until my body revolts due to the cold. From inside the quilt I watch more of the northern lights dance through the opened tent door, beating in the rhythm with the wind.