Project Horizon // A tectonic adventure
Getting away. Enjoying the beauty of nature and being intoxicated by breathtaking landscapes. Feeling the sensation of being alive. With these goals in mind, our Project Horizon athlete Pana Mogren and photographer Florian Bison set out on a very special backpacking adventure. In the summer of 2019, the two endeavored to bike 670 km along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, traversing Iceland from north to south. This unique landscape has been carved out over thousands of years from the tectonic shifting of the North American and Eurasian plates. It was a bike trip in a land that combines ice and fire and is known for its unpredictable 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 participated in similar tours, and Florian Bison, the German photographer with a passion for sports, portrait, and nature photography. The amazing thing is that while the planning of the Icelandic adventure was still in its infancy, Pana and Flo had never met. It was only after Pana communicated his plan via Instagram that Flo took notice and asked if he could be a part of the expedition. Pana agreed, and the joint preparations began.
Always one step ahead
While planning the trip, it was especially important to be aware of all the possible risks. In particular, weather conditions in Iceland can be very subject to change: sudden winds, snowstorms at higher elevations, and rivers with strong currents are just a few unpredictable features of the wild country. In order to be as well prepared as possible, the choice of the right clothing was particularly important. From base layers that warm the body, to water-repellent jackets, to overshoes, no detail could be spared to be sufficiently equipped, and yet moderation was necessary 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 (as well as the last day in the civilization) was all that was allowed for the preparation, and thus the fat bikes were packed with the bare essentials. In order to complete the expedition, the team calculated a journey of 11 days, 672 kilometers, and to an elevation of 9641 meters, all while traversing over 90% dirt roads along the North American and Eurasian tectonic divide.
After filling all the water bottles, rationing out the food, and making the last trip to a normal toilet, the two were ready to go.
The starting point was a small village in the north of Iceland, Rifstangi. The first few meters on the bike felt easy for them, as they commenced along a gravel track that was seamless to ride on. The only difficulty, at first, was the noise of their fat bikes. "The sound from the wide tires rushing through the gravel made the bikes feel like tanks,” Pana noted.
In the following days, their route took them through areas reminiscent of lunar landscapes, endless expanses, and mud and deep sand, forcing the two to push for hours &mdash a challenge for both the mind and body. An impressive scenery of lava rocks, mountains, and volcanoes defined their path. About halfway through the expedition, Pana and Flo were pitted against the "danger zone." This is the most remote and wild part of Iceland: treacherous cliffs and numerous river crossings. And no water resupply for at least two days.
This also where they went through the most exhausting day of the trip. When they opened the tent on the morning of day 6, the joy was still great upon seeing the blue sky and feeling the mild temperatures, but the initial euphoria soon gave way to great disillusionment. The subsoil of the track consisted purely of sand. Because the sand was not firm, it was nearly impossible to ride the bike even a few meters. After 15 km and four hours of pushing the 45 kg bike, spirit and strength were drained: "Pushing, biking, resting, laughing and cursing. And over again.”
Later that day they faced a second setback. The map showed that a large mountain had to be bypassed in order to reach the day's destination, but the pair had accidentally taken a wrong path and now had to face a strenuous climb. Every time they thought they reached the summit, another climb ensued and they had to push the heavy bike again. “Our legs were aching from all the biking, our arms were aching from all the pushing, and our minds were aching from trying to stay motivated. We had no clue at all how long this would take. Definitely a proper mindfuck.”
But the moment they finally reached the peak and took in the breathtaking panorama, they forgot all about their previous difficulties. Those are the moments: reaching your goal and pausing to 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 have we felt so far away from civilization as in this moment. Here we were alone on a completely different planet.”
There was also a pleasant surprise for Flo and Pana that day: a small hut appeared on the edge of the mountain as evening approached. After initial skepticism, the joy was enormous when they opened the door. Pana remembers exactly, “Inside we found bunk beds, blankets, stove, table, chairs, candles, an old transistor radio, and rescue gears. It looked like it had been untouched for decades. Already when entering, you could imagine all the stories being told in this shelter during the years. Even though it was spartan, it was the most beautiful and welcoming place we had ever stayed at.”
It was an evening the two would never forget: the atmosphere, the solitude, candlelight, the bottle of whiskey they took with them, and a few rounds of cards. “We just didn’t want that moment to end.”
This day is symbolic of the many exhausting hours, impressive nature experiences, and the chance surprises that Pana and Flo endured during their journey through Iceland. They will not only remember soothing baths in hot springs or exciting abandoned places, but also the friendly and helpful Icelanders. On one occasion, two young women appeared out of nowhere with candy bars just as Flo and Pana realized their food supplies were running low. Another time, a 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 fulfilling the goal of the trip: feeling alive.
"Out there, I was living every second to the fullest. All my senses were connected. I once again got reminded that this is what makes me feel alive." – Pana
"Not for a single second I felt like I should be somewhere 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.