Superjeep picked us up right on time early in the morning before making two more stops to pick up 3 other passengers. The 6 of us made the tour intimate which was really nice because we were able to change and add on different stops throughout the day depending on how we all felt. My biggest draw to Superjeep was being able to go off-roading on Iceland’s rough terrain while enjoying the natural wonders along the Golden Circle. Bjourn was our funny and very enthusiastic tour guide who we spent the entire day with while providing us with great information on all the attractions we were seeing and the history behind them.
The Golden Circle tour is an absolute classic excursion that you can drive around yourself or opt to take a tour. I recommend taking a tour because the tour guides are all very informative and seem to know where the other tour buses are so not everyone is at the same place at the same time. SuperJeep made the experience that much more personal for us and because of our smaller group, we didn’t have 15-20 minute rest stops where we had to wait for a lot of people to get on and off a bus.
The first stop was Thingvellir National Park, an area of great historical importance for Icelanders as parliament was founded here over 1000 years ago. We were able to stand where Viking settlers stood centuries ago. Gently moving tectonic plates run across Thingvellir, pulling apart around 2cm a year making it possible to stand on two continents at once!
You can also choose the option to go snorkeling between these rifts in a dry suit!
Apparently Game of Thrones is being filmed in Iceland right now as opposed to the winter months and look we were at the exact same location! If we’ve only known, we might have pushed our trip back a few weeks.
Next we headed to the geothermal area at Haukadalur where we walked through hot springs, steaming streams and geysers. The most popular attraction was Strokkur which is one of the largest and most powerful geyser and you can expect an eruption roughly every 5 minutes.
We explored the area before heading down to watch the geyser erupt. You can tell an eruption is about to happen when the blue/green water bubbles up and suddenly spouting almost 30m into the air.
On our third stop of the day, we headed to the Gullfoss waterfalls, some say the queen of Icelandic waterfalls. We had a short hike down a narrow pathway to the waterfall where you can start to feel the spray of the water. The power of the water as it tumbles over two tiers before crashing 32m into a ravine is truly outstanding. It’s hard to describe how big and powerful this waterfall is by pictures. It was really stunning just standing there next to the roaring sounds of the water crashing below you and looking at what nature has given us to marvel at.
We made a detour to visit the Langjokull Glacier which is technically not part of the Golden Circle route. Because we were in a Superjeep, we were able to drive on the very rocky and steep terrain to the Glacier most tour buses aren’t able to drive on. He took us off-roading on the volcanic rocks and through deep stream crossings. Definitely felt like a roller coaster ride with the best views. We had two people in our jeep who had signed up to go snow snowmobiling so we dropped them off to get suited up before heading down to the glacier to meet them. Since the three of us hadn’t signed up for the snowmobile, Bjourn took us in the jeep up the glacier itself before getting stuck halfway in the snow. He was so persistent on getting us further and further up the glacier which was so funny (for us) to watch and get to ride along.
Since we still had some time to kill before the other two were back, we hiked along the glacier to the lake. We couldn’t get too close because we weren’t sure how sturdy the ice that had formed around the lake would hold up.
After the glacier, we drove to Faxi, a small yet beautiful waterfall before continuing to Kerid, an impressive 3000 year old explosion crater.
Apparently they hold summer concerts here where the band floats in the middle of the crater and people watch from the side. The blue-green lake in the middle is stunning contrasted with the green moss-clad and colorful rock walls.
Finally, after a long, but very fun day, we headed back to Reykjavik. Not before stopping off the side of the road to feed the horses. Iceland has a TON of wild horses. There is 1 horse to every 4 people (roughly 300,000 people in the country). Bjourn had a couple loaves of stale bread so we had a blast getting up close to these beautiful animals.
Superjeep kicked off our Iceland adventure in the best way possible. We saw and learned so much on this day trip, who knew you could cram in so many attractions all in one day! Riding the superjeep around Iceland was thrilling with surprising turns every moment of the day when Bjourn would suddenly just pull off the road and start driving across the volcanic terrain. Thanks for a great time and keeping us on our toes!
*Superjeep was kind enough to cover our costs for this tour in exchange for writing about this tour. As always, all opinions are my own.
And we’re back! It’s been a whirlwind of a trip, still catching up with work and other things, so these posts are a little delayed, but better late than never! All I can say is Iceland is a must visit for people who love excitement and nature, it’s the ultimate playground for adventurists and did not disappoint. It was probably the best trip we’ve ever been on, and we couldn’t have done it without the help of Visit Iceland and all the tour companies who made this the best trip yet. Here’s the first part of our Iceland Adventures…
The moment we got off the plane at Reykjavik, we immediately boarded a shuttle to the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa located in a lava field in Grindavik on the Reykjanes Peninsula. The warm waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulphur with temps between 98–102 °F. This man-made lagoon uses superheated water from the group near a lava flow. Even though it’s a total tourist attraction, the soothing therapeutic waters can’t be beat especially after a long red eye. The Blue Lagoon is actually on the way into the city from the airport so many travelers either visit after their flight or before. We were amazed by the ever-changing scenery on the drive to the Lagoon. Iceland feels very empty, which is something I loved about the country. You can see for miles the vast landscape all around you, from piles of volcanic rocks to mossy green fields to waterfalls around every corner. Despite the rain and overcast weather, the colors are so vibrant and dramatic here.
Once we arrived at the Blue Lagoon, we were able to check in our luggage for a small fee before buying our entrance ticket ($52/person in the summer) into the Lagoon. There are different packages or add-ons you can purchase in addition to your entrance ticket. There are women and men’s changing rooms with showers and full amenities where we changed into our bathing suit before heading into the lagoon. Once you exit the changing rooms, you are taken back by the color and size of the lagoon. It almost doesn’t look real how blue and pure the water is.
We soaked in the lagoon for a few hours, grabbing drinks at the swim-up bar where we could choose from a variety of fresh smoothies, slurpees or Icelandic beer on tap. It seemed appropriate to try some local beer while we were there.
In one of the corners of the lagoon was a place where you could put this volcano scrub or algae mask all over your body and face and just wash it off in the lagoon. There are also steam rooms and saunas surrounding the lagoons that are open for use, as well as spa treatments.
Inside the facilities, we rested a bit on the comfortable lounge chairs where we could look out at the lagoon below.
After we showered and dried off, we headed upstairs to the observatory deck where we got an incredible view of the entire lagoon. There is also a really nice restaurant on site serving a la carte items as well as a seafood buffet. Outside of the lagoon is a nice walkway where you can soak in more of the scenery while waiting for your shuttle to pick you up.
We spent a couple hours here relaxing after our long flight before boarding the same shuttle to Reykjavik where we got dropped off at our studio. Even though it’s a huge tourist attraction, it never felt very crowded since the lagoon and the facilities are so expansive. During the summer months, the lagoon is open until midnight where you can enjoy the midnight sun. It was the perfect excursion to do right after a flight and one not to be missed!
I am usually not one for airplane food, but it’s been a while since I’ve traveled so far where we were served meals on a plane. On the way back from Iceland, Delta served lunch with a choice of a chicken salad or chicken, great variety no? I choose the chicken salad praying it wouldn’t be a mayo-laden typical chicken salad and was pleasantly surprised at the amount of veggies we were given, no mayo! It was basically a cucumber, tomato and feta salad with a grilled chicken breast on top. I was so impressed by this meal (it doesn’t take much to impress me) and it tasted good to eat some fresh crisp veggies (after eating nothing but sandwiches, hot dogs and yogurt in Iceland), I decided to recreate it at home for a simple summer side dish. I made a red wine vinaigrette and let the salad marinate in it for a few hours, it only gets better the next day and makes for delicious leftovers. I served this salad with some stuffed chicken breast. Simply butterfly a chicken breast, spread a tablespoon of pesto in the middle and top with a cheese of your choice (mozzarella is favorite). Lightly pan fry both sides until you get a nice brown color and finish it off in the oven.
Chilled Cucumber, Tomato & Feta Salad
- 1 large cucumber
- 2 tomatoes, diced
- 1/4 C feta cheese
- 1 Tbs minced garlic
- 1 Tbs dijon mustard
- 1/4 C red wine vinegar
- 2-3 Tbs olive oil
- Italian seasoning, salt and pepper
1. Chop up the cucumber and tomatoes and add in the feta cheese
2. Whisk together the red wine vinegar, minced garlic, dijon mustard and olive oil. Season with Italian seasonings, salt and pepper.
3. Combine the cucumber mixture with the dressing and enjoy.
Over 4th of July weekend, we headed to Yosemite to climb the famous Half Dome. It wasn’t until the week of our trip that we started contemplating the idea of doing this hike. Everyone now needs a permit to climb the ropes and summit the peak, which is difficult if you didn’t reserve a permit far out in advance. Without a permit, you can hike only as far as the base of subdome, which is where a series of switchbacks begin about a quarter mile before the base of the cables. Luckily they are doing a daily lottery now where if you apply 2 days before the day you want to go, you are entered in the daily lottery. I knew our chances were slim of getting in since it was a long weekend and hundreds of people apply everyday. At midnight the night before we left, we lucked out and got confirmation that we were in, so we started scrambling around the house trying to pack for this 10+ hour hike. With the weather forecast in the 90′s we knew we need to bring A LOT of water since there would be no water stops along the way, except the first mile in. The hike itself is listed as 14 miles roundtrip via Mist trail and 16.5 via John Muir trail, but we somehow ended up with 20 miles for the day starting at Camp Curry Village and all the walking around we did at the top of Half Dome. The cables usually go up in May and come down October, so climbing Half Dome (safely with the cables) is only a possibility during this period.
Things to bring:
- 4 Liters of water per person (we carried a mixture of water, powdered coconut water (found these at REI) and Gatorade. We definitely could of used more especially the last 2-3 miles.
- Snacks (trail mix, Cliff bars, fruit)
- Lunch (we made some PB sandwiches to eat on top of sub dome)
- Grippy gloves (so glad we bought some at REI as we definitely needed them for the cables. We ended up buying climbing gloves, but I would imagine a good pair of gardening gloves would do fine too)
- Camera with a strap or GoPro (we used a combination of our iPhone for pictures throughout the trail and the GoPro headmount when climbing the cables)
- Sunscreen and bug spray
- Hat and sunglasses
- Headlamp or flashlight if you are starting early or plan on coming back after sunset
- Some first aid stuff
- Light windproof jacket (it can get very windy on top of Half Dome and it’s nice to have a lightweight jacket at the top)
- Trekking poles (we didn’t have any, but could be helpful for hiking up the steep rocky steps)
- Comfortable hiking clothes (I love my InknBurn denims for any sort of long run/hike as its lightweight and wicks away sweat)
- your permit and ID! they do check and you will get turned around from the ranger if you don’t have it with you
Our hike started at 5AM so we could get most of our uphill hiking done before the sun really starting beating down and to avoid the crowds. I brought a headlamp but didn’t really need it as it was already getting light out. We filled up our camelbaks and water bottles at Happy Isles where the trail starts and made our way onto the trail. I was worried about not finding our way to Half Dome, but everything was well marked and you just kept following the signs towards Half Dome. A mile in is the last water stop and they even have a sign telling you to fill up now because there won’t be anything in between, unless you have a filter and want to drink from the stream, but I don’t think that is advised.
I was surprised at how quickly the trail turned into a gradual uphill hike and not used to carrying so much on my back, it was definitely a workout right from the get-go! We decided to take the Mist Trail as opposed to the John Muir Trail even though it’s a lot steeper but shorter in length. We were not disappointed.
Boy those steps were so steep and slippery from all the mist.
After the steep ascent up the Mist Trail, we arrived at the top of the 317 ft Vernal Falls. They have railings to guard people from going in the water and possibly being swept over. Past the huge waterfall is the Emerald Pool, which is a large bulge in the river with an inviting, but deadly area that may seem like a fun place to swim, but is prohibited due to the cold water, the current and the proximity to the fall just around the corner. Though we did see a group swimming back and forth in the pool?
As we transitioned from a dirt trail and began to hike up granite slabs, we started our hike up to Nevada Fall where we got a great view of the 594 foot waterfall. After a long haul up, the trail came to a “T” with the John Muir Trail which is recommended to take on the way back since it is less steep and less crowded. We finally hit some level ground hiking into Little Yosemite Valley where the Merced river flowed to the right and we got out first glimpse of the backside of Half Dome in the distance, though you couldn’t see the cables.
After a mile of leveled ground, we started our gradual switchbacks up the trail again. While ascending this forested area, we were lucky enough to see a few mule deers. The switchbacks seemed to go on forever as it was a relentless climb up to the base of sub dome. The trail wasn’t as steep as the Mist trail, but it was just the constant persistent uphill that made this part of the hike particularly challenging, especially since there was no cover overhead and it was almost noon. We took a few rest breaks wherever we could find shade and a rock to sit on. As we headed towards sub dome, the trees got thinner and the views open up. At the base, there was a ranger checking for permits before you could make the ascent towards the top.
Sub dome is a 400 ft rise up a carved switchback granite staircase. I actually found this more challenging than climbing the cables itself. The staircase lies above the tree line and is very strenuous. I can see how hiking poles would be really helpful here to help stabilize you on these steps. Luckily we were still fairly early when we got here so we didn’t have to move out of the way too much for those that were descending. You can also start to see the cables going up Half Dome.
When we finally arrived at the top of Sub Dome, we came face-to-face with the infamous cables. Pictures from what I’ve seen online do little to convey just how massive the climb is. The people on the cables looked like little ants ascending a vertical wall. We stopped here for a little bit, got our gear together before making our way to the cables. We decided to dump our packs here so we wouldn’t have to carry the extra weight while climbing. It would have been nice to have some water at the top, but climbing the cables without all that weight was worth it.
Once we got to the cables, we stayed on the right side to let other descend on the left. Though sometimes, people end up gripping both cables so you had to get out of the way while still holding onto one cable. It was nice to not have the cables crowded because we weren’t stuck behind people while going up. I used the single cable rappel method which I found a lot easier than trying to hold onto both cables. There are wooden boards set into the granite which acted like a resting point where you could stand steady for a little bit. There are poles on both sides, but they are merely resting in holes so they come out if you pull up. Surprisingly, the climb wasn’t as hard as I expected. It definitely looked steeper from afar but wasn’t too bad once you were actually on the cables. I thought I would freak out being so high up, but I just kept focused on the next board ahead of me and steadily climbed to the top.
Once at the top, there are many view points to see, such as Cloud’s Rest, Glacier Point and El Capitan. I walked around the top for a bit, saw a few people taking pictures on the famous ‘diving board’ which is a rock ledge that juts out and caught a couple hats flying off on the camera. We didn’t spend too long at the top for fear of the cables getting more and more crowded while descending. I started the descent facing downhill, but found facing backwards and repelling down to be a lot easier. Unfortunately we were stuck behind a couple who were taking a really long time going down. Heading down was a blast as I just let my cable slide on my gloves and my shoes glide me down the mountain. It got a tricky when people were ascending as you had to move out of the way or let them come up first. At some point, we got stuck in the middle of a couple fighting. The woman wanted to go back down but the guy kept trying to push her back up. Finally at the base, we took a short rest break before heading down sub dome, which might be scarier than going up and retracing our steps all the way back to the village.
It got a lot more crowded on the trail close to the trailhead, especially near Vernal Falls and on the Mist Trail since this is only a 2-3 mile hike from the trailhead and a popular spot for tourist who don’t want to go as far. We ended up hiking 20 miles in a little over 10 hours which is not too bad considering the breaks we took and the time we spent up at the top of Half Dome. It was a great day on the trails and a nice warm-up for all our adventures ahead in Iceland. So glad to be able to check this hike off my bucket list and I can’t wait to come back someday and do it again.
B and I started planning this trip over a year ago when I stumbled across the Lagavegur marathon race site. After numerous e-mail exchanges back and forth with the race director, I found myself with a race entry and a race on my calendar that was still a year away in a completely foreign country. I worked with Visit Iceland to get myself more acquainted with the country and all the sights to see and do (there are too many!). They graciously connected me with a few tour companies who I will be working with throughout the trip in hopes of bringing a piece of Iceland back to the U.S to share with others.
Fast forward a year later, we are beyond grateful for all the tremendous help we have gotten in planning this whirl wind of a trip. This trip couldn’t have happened for us without the help of the generous race company and various Iceland tours.
Special thanks to:
I’ve been on a music downloading spree lately. Too many long road/plane trips coming up to be stuck with bad or no music so here are some of my recent favorites. All great tunes to jam to on your run as well.
Off to Yosemite to hopefully climb Half Dome & Iceland for the Laugavegur Marathon. Back with lots of updates!
I lied when I said I was only going to run one road marathon for the year at O.C. The opportunity to go on a weekend trip to Seattle, visit the North Cascade National Park and run Winthrop was too good to pass up. After my experience at Orcas and Gorges, I knew I had to come back and run another race from Rainshadow Running. The course profile didn’t hurt either.
Elevation profiles can be deceiving.
B and I spent the weekend visiting with his brother and fiancee in Seattle while making the 4 hour drive to Winthrop, not before stopping by the North Cascade National Park. The drive through the park on Hwy 20 was breathtaking. The mountains were covered in snow on both sides of the road with waterfalls cascading down to the road. We stopped at the Gorge waterfall overlook and Diablo lake before heading to Cutthroat trail for a 5 mile hike to the lake. Incredible. Pictures really don’t do justice to these views, you just have to take my word and go visit. There is something so amazing about standing at the base of all these huge mountains that make you feel so small and engulfed in nature and your surroundings.
Luckily the marathon started on a Sunday so we had time to drive to Winthrop and sight see on Saturday. Since it was a point to point race, we all boarded the bus early in the morning and took the 26 mile drive to the start. I met up with my friend Ather as we discussed our PR potential for this race. We were both stoked about the downhill course (ironically we met during the final downhill at Pine to Palm last year) and the gorgeous ever changing scenery on the drive just rallied up more excitement. The bus took us deep into the forest where the scenery changed from valley/farmland to lush trees and river crossings. We got dropped off at the edge of the Pasayten Wilderness in the Okanogan National Forest. Sitting at an altitude of 3100 ft, we would lose 1000ft in the first 10 miles as we followed the Chewuch River to the town of Winthrop. There was also a half marathon that day that started 2 hours after us from the middle point of the marathon course.
The R.D., James, kept stressing how important it was to pace yourself in the first half because the last 10k is the toughest. Downhill running is my forte and I had really high expectations of myself going into this race. There was also prize money on the line, but more than anything, I wanted to prove to myself that I could pull off a win if I really put my mind to it. My legs were as rested as they could be and I was pumped to run in this beautiful place. I continued my training after O.C. to prepare for this race by running Temescal down repeats over and over again, pounding the downs at Westridge and getting my quads ready for a beating. I had some really good runs leading up to Winthrop and felt confidant and ready toeing the line.
Ather and I lined up at the front, even though it was chip timing, and wished each other good luck, speedy legs and a nice fat PR at the end. Once the race started, I just took off. This was my race, my scenery, my people and my 26.2 miles to own. Even though it was supposed to be a hot day, the tree canopy covered the entire road and made for nice shade. We had the Chewuch river rushing alongside us to the left as different dirt trails tempted us on the other side.
I knew I was running faster than I should have been for a marathon, but I just felt so good and everything felt so right (famous last words). I didn’t dare look at my watch when it beeped mile splits fearing that I would freak out at the fast splits. (Ran the first mile in 6:25 *cue what was I thinking??*).
I decided then that I would cruise these 10 miles down, run based on how I felt, and hopefully create a nice lead for myself. The miles ticked by so quickly I couldn’t believe how far I had gone already. At O.C., I was so focused on hitting a time and had a whole race strategy planned out which forced me to take it easy in the beginning so I could hit those splits later in the race. At Winthrop, I abandoned everything I knew and was so focused on a win that I completely neglected common sense and made stupid mistakes in the beginning that only jeopardized my race at the end.
10K split 41:18:00 Pace 6:53
Hello 10K PR. Doomed from the very beginning.
Still riding on Cloud nine, I continued to pound it out mile by mile. James was driving a car along with a videographer who stopped every so often to catch us on video. I grew paranoid whenever I heard steps behind me and would try to guess by their footsteps and breathing if it was a girl or guy. Brennan, Nathan and Amanda were manning an aid station at Mile 10 so I had something to look forward to. It was so nice to see them as the roads were getting pretty empty and lonely. I always say I hate big road races because I don’t like the feeling of running in a crowd of people and getting elbowed in the beginning and trying to run through people. However, at Winthrop, it was so spread out and empty which made it hard to pace myself and gauge how fast I was going.
Half Marathon 1:33 Pace 7:10
This is only 2 minutes faster than my half marathon PR. Still doomed and awaiting death to come
Though the course profile might look like an easy 26 mile downhill cruise to the finish, the downhills were actually not as steep as I was expecting. It was more gradual with rollers. My quads were fine but I was having major cramping in my hamstrings. The scenery finally changed from the forest to open exposed valleys and meadows which was still beautiful. Unfortunately it was also getting really hot out and the dryness in the air was starting to take a toll on my energy. Miles 15-22 was a major bonkfest. Everything bad that could happen at a race happened during these miles. I was dry heaving like crazy and ran straight to a trashcan at an aid to vomit but nothing would come out. At the same time, I felt so dehydrated and wished the aids were a little closer (2-3 miles apart). My cramping was so bad I was barely shuffling up the hills. I just couldn’t shake the feeling and couldn’t believe this was happening to me on this day.
I passed a couple runners sitting on the side of the road and asked if they needed help. The rolling hills also started to appear and you could see far ahead of you the steep climb to the top. Close to Mile 20 at the top of a hill, I quickly looked behind me just to see if anyone was close and I saw a flash of pink compression socks. Oh crap. I quickly started to run again afraid the girl saw me walking and knew I was hurting. I tried to make it seem like I was doing just fine, but I knew I wasn’t and couldn’t fake going any faster. At Mile 20 she passed me and I told her to go get ‘em and finish strong. I knew I would never see her again and threw in the towel. Pissed off at how my race was going, I started to walk through the aid stations and take my time. Mentally defeated, I stopped trying to push myself and focused more on making myself feel better so I could enjoy these last few miles of the race without wanting to die. I walked through the aid, drank lots of water and Gatorade, thanked the volunteers before heading out again. It almost felt like an ultra where I used the aid stations as a resting break before tackling the next section.
Mile 22 split 2:46 Pace 7:33
With the stroke of luck and runner’s magic, I suddenly started to feel better. The cramping was still there but my energy was lifted and I was able to push through the cramping more than I was before. We had a 1.25 mile out and back before heading to the finish. It was then that I caught a glimpse of the girl in front of me. I couldn’t believe I would see her again after how badly I was feeling before. There was a small glimmer of hope that I would be able to catch her, but she was just far enough ahead that it would take some major work to even come close. As my spirits lifted and my legs were functioning again, I started closing in a little by little. Turnarounds are usually pretty defeating because you have to run back the same way, but it also gives you a competitive advantage to see where your competition is. This turnaround was nothing short of hills! I finally reached the turnaround and the volunteer who was there told me that if I could catch her, I would be the first woman. I told her I was going to try hard.
I didn’t want to start sprinting and blow it right before the finish so I stayed conservative. In my heart I already knew I didn’t have a chance of beating her. I was just happy to make up that time towards the end to come close. It wasn’t about winning today, it was about learning how to run a smart race (which I clearly didn’t do). It took a loss that day for me to learn from my mistakes. I went in expecting huge things, but I didn’t follow my usual race plan and in turn, couldn’t execute it. The race didn’t pan out the way I had hoped and I was far too miserable during those miles to really consider my finish a success. A success in my books is when I race smart and feel good from start to finish, no matter what time or place I come in.
Finish 3:21 Pace 7:40
I ended up finishing less than a minute after the first place woman which was a hard to swallow, but it was my own doing that costed me that win. Competitive racing is very new to me and something I want to get better at. Every race is another learning experience and even after 5 years of running, I am still learning. Something I will always remember is that winners rarely lead from start to finish, especially in long distance racing. Of course, the same thing happened at San Diego where I led for 29 miles before falling back to third place. Some lessons take longer to learn. Here’s to better races and smarter decisions next time.
Even though the day didn’t pan out like I had imagined, I tried my best at the end to salvage what was left of the race. Sometimes it takes a bad race to make you step back and analyze what went wrong and how things could have been different if only you had made better decisions. Nevertheless, it was a great weekend with family, checking out some of the most amazing trails and scenery in the Cascades and being able to run, which is always something to be grateful for.