18th March 2018
The week before we arrived in Iceland there was snow banked high against houses and fences in Reykjavik, but over the last few days it has been above freezing with some rain in and around the capital city. This has affected our plans. In the east, where we arrived, the land was blanketed with snow and sculpted by a fierce north-westerly wind, but the western side was reduced to snow-capped mountains, some slushy snow remnants and melting waterways.
We’ve been unlucky so far with the weather – it is certainly not ideal for testing my polar bike – but we are still making the most of opportunities.
In Reykjavik we met with Emil Grimsson, founder and chairman of Arctic Trucks, the premier company that provides vehicle support in Antarctica. I have been in touch with Emil since I began this venture five years ago, so it was great to finally meet him and discuss our project. Not only was Emil very generous with his time and expert advice, he invited us to stay at his place while in Reykjavik. We’ve really fallen on our feet and have a base as we decide how to adapt our plans to the rapidly changing conditions.
On Wednesday we collected Sarah Allen, Director of Photography at In the Dark Productions (London) at the airport, who has joined us for four days to shoot footage for a new promotional video.
The main aim for the first few days was to get quality video footage for In the Dark Productions. Our problem was the declining weather and the fact that our vehicle isn’t really equipped to get away from the gravel roads. On Day 1 we headed towards the Langjokull icecap just to the north east of Reykjavik. Turning off the asphalt road towards the mountains, the track was wet and icy, and within a couple of kilometres, as we approached a small lake, the surface was too soft for the heavy vehicle. The tyres were also too narrow for these conditions and the lack of flotation resulted in us becoming bogged.
Sarah and I still managed to find a small patch of snow to start filming, but much of the day was spent trying to dig out of the bog. Mike and Tristan worked particularly hard to manoeuvre the vehicle free without success. The rain did not help; beneath the sludge was water and a layer of ice. Eventually Mike phoned Emil and we were rescued by a powerful Arctic Trucks vehicle – the process of pulling our truck out took two skilled drivers about half an hour. Other than a lot of power and being relatively light weight, the tyres of the Arctic Trucks vehicles are extremely wide and run at very low pressure to maximise flotation and grip.
For the second and third days we headed to the southern end of the Sprengisandur Route, the road/track that traverses the central highlands. This was the route I had planned to use for the main part of the expedition, however the northern half was closed. Travelling to the highlands, Emil suggested, would give us the best chance to find the accessible snowy conditions that we needed to film the bike in action.
The weather remained above freezing with the threat of rain. We drove for three hours to reach the zone and were disappointed to find that much of the snow there, which was thick on the ground a few days previously, was melting fast. Ascending as far as we could, along the asphalt road, well-maintained by the several power stations (hydro and wind power), the snow conditions improved, but still weren’t great.
Eventually we spotted some sections and I was finally able to test the new bike. It was all about getting a range of shots from various locations. It was particularly windy, so flying the drone was more of a challenge, but we got there in the end.
Tristan has been taking some great images, some of which I’ve shared below (and some snaps I took). It was great to finally be testing the bike I will use in Antarctica, but I am looking forward to having more time on it during the second half of our time here.
Sarah leaves this afternoon. Tomorrow (Monday) morning I will present to students at the International School near Reykjavik, then after we will set off on a new adventure to make the most of the final eight days before we return to mainland Europe on the ferry.