Get out. Enjoy the beauty of nature and being intoxicated by breathtaking landscapes. Feel the sensation of vitality. With these goals in mind, our Project Horizon athlete, Pana Mogren, and photographer, Florian Bison, embarked on a very special backpacking adventure in the summer of 2019: Iceland from north to south, about 670 km along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. An area of great plate tectonic activity -- where the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate continuously drift apart, creating a unique landscape over millennia. A bike trip in a country that combines ice and fire. And is known for its incalculable forces of nature.
"This project is about feeling alive." -- Pana Mogren
An unequal duo
The team of adventurers consisted of two very different personalities: the Swede, Pana Mogren, who had already planned and completed similar tours, and Florian Bison, a German photographer with a passion for sports, portrait, and nature photography. The amazing thing: before the planning for the Iceland adventure became concrete, Pana and Flo didn't even know each other. It wasn't until Pana communicated his plan via Instagram that Flo became aware and asked if he could be a part of it. Pana agreed and the joint planning began.
Always one step ahead
During the preparations, it was especially important for Pana to be aware of all the possible risks of the trip. Especially the weather conditions can be very fickle in Iceland. Sudden winds, snowstorms at higher altitudes, and rivers with strong currents that have to be crossed are just a few unpredictable events. In order to be as well prepared as possible, the choice of the right clothing was particularly important here: starting with baselayers that warm the body, through water-repellent jackets to overshoes. No detail could be forgotten in order to be prepared for all eventualities. At the same time, minimalism was required when packing in order to be on the move with as little weight as possible in the rough terrain.
From north to south
The first day on the island and, simultaneously the last day in civilization, served only the preparation. On this day, the fatbikes were packed with the essentials as planned in advance. For eleven days with 672 kilometers, 9641 meters of altitude, and 90% dirt roads along the ridge that separates the North American and the Eurasian plate.
After all bottles were filled with water, the food was rationed into small portions, and the last passage to a normal toilet was completed, we could start.
The starting point was in a small village in the north of Iceland: Rifstangi. The first meters on the bike felt easy for the two as the path led them over an easily passable track. The only thing the two had to get used to at first was the riding noise of their fatbikes. "With the sound of the wide tires rushing through the gravel, the bikes felt like tanks," Pana recounts.
In the following days, their route took them through areas reminiscent of lunar landscapes, through endless expanses, mud and deep sand that forced them to push for hours -- a physical and mental challenge. An impressive scenery of lava rocks, mountains, and volcanoes defined their path. About halfway through, Pana and Flo had to cross what they called the "danger zone:" The most remote and wild part of Iceland. Scary cliffs and numerous river crossings with no supply of water for at least two days.
Here they also spent the most exhausting day of the trip. While on the morning of day 6 the joy was still great when they saw the blue sky and felt the mild temperatures when they opened the tent in the morning, the early initial euphoria gave way to great disillusionment. The subsoil of the track consisted only of sand. Because the sand was not firm due to the lack of humidity, it was hardly possible to ride the bike even a few meters. After 15 km in four hours, pushing the 45 kg bike, strength and mood were at rock bottom: "Push, ride, rest, laugh and curse. And again from the beginning."
Later in the day, the second setback followed. The map showed that a large mountain had to be bypassed in order to reach the day's destination. The two had inadvertently taken the wrong path and now had to face a strenuous climb. The problem: every time they both thought they had reached the top, another climb came into view and they had to push the heavy bike again. "Our legs hurt from all the cycling, our arms hurt from all the pushing, and our minds hurt from trying to stay motivated. We had absolutely no idea how long this was going to take. Definitely a real mindfuck."
But the moment when I finally reached the top and saw the breathtaking panorama in front of me, made me forget every effort. These are the moments for which the effort is worth it. To have reached the goal, to pause and let the indescribable nature take effect on you. "What we saw in this area and the silence we experienced we will carry with us for the rest of our lives. Nowhere else did we feel as far away from civilization as we did at that moment. Here we were alone on a completely different planet."
This already special day also held a positive surprise for Flo and Pana at the end: completely unexpectedly, a small hut appeared at the edge of the mountain towards evening. After initial scepticism, the joy was enormous when they opened the door. Pana remembers exactly: "Inside we found bunk beds, blankets, a stove, a table, chairs, candles, an old transistor radio and rescue equipment. It looked like it had been untouched for decades. As soon as you entered, you could imagine the histories that must have taken place in this shelter over the years. Although it was simple, it was the most beautiful and welcoming place we had ever stayed."
This was an evening the two would never forget. The mood, in the midst of solitude, by candlelight, the bottle of whiskey they took with them and a few rounds of cards: "We just didn't want this moment to end."
This day stands out symbolically for the many exhausting hours, impressive nature experiences, and the couple positive surprises that Pana and Flo experienced on their journey through Iceland. They will not only remember soothing baths in hot springs or exciting, abandoned places for a very long time. They will also remember the friendly and helpful Icelanders. Among other things, two young women appeared out of nowhere with candy bars when Flo and Pana realized their food supplies were running low. Another time, a female ranger helped locate Flo's cell phone, which he had lost in the middle of a huge lava field.
All of these experiences ultimately contributed to more than fulfilling the goal of the trip:
"Out there, I lived every second to the fullest. All my senses were connected. I was reminded once again that this is what makes me feel alive." -- Pana
"Not for a second did I feel like I was supposed to be anywhere else; I was right where I belonged." - Flo
After 11, days they finally reached their destination Kötlutangi in the south of Iceland, exhausted and happy.