The Tao of Iceland


It was the adventure of a lifetime that got its start from a typo, a fateful slip of the finger.

I had been researching a trip to my ancestral homeland of the Emerald Isle, but instead of typing I-R-E-L-A-N-D, I tapped out I-C-E-L-A-N-D, and that one misplaced consonant  opened up the door for a memorable journey to a land I knew next to nothing about.

“Iceland? Huh…what about it?” I spent a few hours ogling gorgeous landscape photographs, reading trip reports, browsing Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor and swooping around the island via Google Earth.

Here. Here is where I need to go!

Finding a round-trip ticket from Seattle for under $600—and receiving a thumbs-up from my long-time adventure companion Torsten—sealed the deal.

Soon after landing, we picked up our pre-arranged camping van, stocked up on groceries and were off for two weeks of road-tripping freedom. Like most other travelers with a desire to explore the country beyond Reykjavík, we set out on Route 1, otherwise known as the Ring Road, a 1,332-km highway that encircles the island. Driving clockwise, we would use the Ring Road as our organizing principle, but utilize the many off-shoot routes to explore the far-flung peninsulas, beaches and lonely hinterlands of Iceland.

Within hours of leaving the cosmopolitan bustle of the capital, we were swallowed up by the rugged, raw, astonishingly beautiful country. Every bend in the road revealed a new mind-blowing vista. Over the course of two weeks, we would see more sheep than humans, soak in a dozen different hot springs, stand in the mist of countless waterfalls and have front row seats to nearly-nightly shows of the Northern Lights.

Since we didn’t know much about the country, we had no agenda beyond an open attitude of exploration, and each day arrived with the promise of new discoveries, unburdened by expectations.

The Snæfellsnes Peninsula, for example, offered black sand beaches, fishing villages and centuries-old wooden churches, odd geological formations and the impressive Snæfellsjökull volcano, Iceland’s highest peak at 1,446 meters and widely acknowledged as an “energy vortex.” The area’s long history of magic kept us alert for sightings of the huldufolk—Iceland’s “hidden people” including elves, trolls and sprites.

Winding along a sinuous gravel road into the Westfjords region, remote and austere, hours would go by without seeing another vehicle or human, and we were free to explore oddities like an abandoned fish processing factory, a rocky outcropping where wizards were executed in the 1800s, beaches with Russian flotsam tangled in the driftwood and the most stunningly-situated hot spring we’ve ever experienced, embedded in an offshore sea stack.

Every few days we would stop in a secluded town for a bakery visit, fresh vegetables and a peek in to a museum, but soon enough were back on the Ring Road, imagining what wonders lay ahead of us.

On the final night of our trip, Torsten and I made one last cocktail with a chunk of iceberg we picked up off the beach near Vatnajökull National Park and shared a toast while watching the sunset: “To going with the flow, to loose plans and looser expectations. Not all who wander are lost!”

This journey to Iceland reminded me, from the synchronicity of the initial misspelling to the daily choices we made in honoring intuition, of the power of No Plans and the blessings of the Open Road. Like the Taoist master Lao Tzu instructs, “Stop thinking and end your problems.”


Christian Martin is a freelance writer and photographer who writes about natural history, travel and environmental issues. He also serves as the Communication Manager for North Cascades Institute. Christian lives on the outskirts of Bellingham.

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