Thursday, August 13, 2015

Surprises Await When Driving in Iceland

I will get it right out there. You will simply fall in love with Iceland. Rent a car and get out of Reykjavik. See the wonders this beautiful island has to offer. I guarantee you will be absolutely blown away. My first bit of advice is to rent the right car for what your plans are. If you are going to stay on the ring road the entire trip then an economy car fits the bill. Most cars in Iceland are of this type. However, if you really want to "get out there" you will need more. A high clearance vehicle is my recommendation. This will get you up over the mountain passes and allow you to see the sights most tourists completely miss.

For Americans it is nice that they drive on the right side of the road in Iceland not the left like in Europe. So at least feel comfortable with that fact. Otherwise the driving in Iceland is nothing like driving in the States. Can you do it? Most definitely. I found it fun most of the time to tell you the truth, but you had better be ready. Here are some first hand tips on surviving your Iceland driving experience.

There is little margin of error. You had better be paying attention all the time. I mean all the time. Three feet out of line and you are in big trouble here. Do not even think about trying to text or mess with your cell phone. Driving in Iceland takes concentration. Here is why.

One lane bridges are the norm
Why would anyone build a bridge with only a single lane? Well in Iceland I would venture a guess that 80% of all bridges are one lane and outside of Reykjavik I would bet that percentage is more like 95%. Whoever gets there first gets to go. Keep in mind a lot of these bridges are blind so you cannot see much until you are at the bridge entrance. You also have to make decisions at high speeds and sometimes in traffic. It's a mess and a little bit dangerous. Luckily I managed to survive easily 100+ of these one lane bridges!

Roundabouts instead of red lights
Let me go on record as saying roundabouts are pure greatness. We need more of these in the USA. Instead we get red lights where you sit there. A roundabout usually hardly inhibits your travel. A great alternative that keeps traffic moving. Did I mention they are fun as well?

Watch out for the one lane tunnels 
Nobody warned me about these at all. I had no idea that a one lane tunnel even existed. Well I am here to tell you they do. Several of them in fact in Iceland. We had a long tunnel to get thru in the Westfjords near Isafjordur. Easily 2-3 miles in length. So in we go with the lights on in the dark tunnel. I noticed right away it was very narrow. Alarm bells started going off in my head right away. Next thing i see are headlights coming right at me from about 500 yards away. What? I said out loud "Umm I think we have a problem here" Two cars heading right for each other at 50 mph each! I was starting to freak out and then there was an opening in the tunnel and the car coming at me pulled over and stopped. It seems about every 400 yards they built a small pullout area into the tunnel. One direction has right away and gets to keep going while the other direction has to yield and pull out. Would have been nice to know this before heading into the tunnel! It actually worked out, but it was still very disconcerting. Would it have been so hard to make the tunnel about 8 feet wider to fit two cars? I mean if you are going to go through the trouble of burrowing a hole completely through a mountain why not do it right? I think I had to navigate four more one lane tunnels during my trip and every single one was unnerving.

There are no shoulders
The good roads in Iceland are two lanes. One lane in each direction with a center stripe. Many more are barely wide enough for two with no center stripe at all. A lot of the dirt roads are even narrower than that. It would not be a big deal if ANY of the roads had a shoulder. The lane ends and that is that. 95% of the time you could not pull off the road if you wanted to. There is usually a minimum of an eight foot drop and most of the time it is more than that. I saw people changing flat tires on the main highway in Iceland in the road because there was nowhere else to go. We changed a tire on a mountain road where there was barely enough room for another car to get by us. I was lying under the car working with the jack and felt I needed to raise my legs as another car slipped past!

The dreaded Blindhaed
Once you get out into the more remote regions of Iceland you will see this sign often on the narrow roads. It means get ready for a blind hill where you cannot see if anyone is coming to meet you. Keep in mind on many of the roads meeting an oncoming car and passing each other can be an adventure. Meeting another car on a Blindhaed could be worse! Luckily I survived about 125 Blindhaeds during my visit.

Be ready to deal with flat tires
If you are really going to get into Iceland....I mean visit a lot of the cool places you are going to have to get off the main roads. And that means dirt roads that are in not the best shape. We got two flat tires. One high up on a mountain road at the awesome fortress of Borgarvirki. We had to change the tire on a narrow dirt road. Not an easy change but we did it and Borgarvirki is totally worth it! The second flat was out on the way to the Hoffellsjokull glacier. It seems flat tires are a very common occurrence in Iceland so get ready!

Well there you have it. Have I frightened you to death? Do not cancel your Iceland trip because of this! I drove for twelve magnificent days and survived just fine. As I said earlier, I enjoyed the driving. Pay attention and you will be just fine. Enjoy Iceland and all of its wonders!

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