2018-10-01 / ReBooted

Ice Ice Baby

Jill Gleeson

Iceland is pretty much the most badass place on Earth. It’s more developed than its neighbors, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, which means there’s a greater range of adventures travelers can choose from — not that Iceland is a tourist trap. Nearly 80 percent of it is uninhabited, and so much is still moonscape, treeless and bare and unbelievably lovely in that simplicity. Located atop two tectonic plates, this island about the size of Virginia is home to 30 active volcanoes, 170 geothermal pools and vast fields of volcanic rock. Glaciers cover even more of Iceland’s land mass than lava fields.

I only spent a few days in Iceland, but in that time I visited two geothermal pools: Krauma, which also features a cold bath that uses water from the Ok glacier, and the famous Blue Lagoon spa, the most popular destination in Iceland. It’s a massive basin surrounded by a lava field, where eerie steam rises in clouds from the milky blue water, which owes its strange color and relative opaqueness to its high mineral content. Blue Lagoon is like a gorgeous dream of what spa waters should be, ethereal, comforting and slightly sensual.

I also managed to stand on the place where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet (you can actually scuba dive in the underwater spot between them, though I didn’t have the chance) and visit an ice cave carved high on Iceland’s second largest glacier, Langjökull, with the company Into the Glacier. I’d never been on a glacier, much less inside one. It was warmer than I thought it would be inside and oddly beautiful, with small, echoing chambers branching off from the main tunnel. The whole trip made me feel like a kid on Christmas morning.

So did riding one of the famed Icelandic horses at Eldhestar farm, which sits prettily in a wide-ranging valley ringed by snow-capped volcanic mountains. About the size of a pony, the Icelandic horse is a tough little breed developed on the island from the equines the Vikings brought over with them around the 9th or 10th century. They’re short, about the size of a pony, but have powerful bodies. They’ve also got a fifth gait, the tölt, which is something between a trot and a cantor. I’m no expert horsewoman, but I could feel when my horse broke into a tölt — the ride is so much smoother, like gliding, than the jarring trot — and I sighed in gratitude.

After a long morning riding, the fierce wind whipping horse and human alike almost constantly, I almost wanted to pass on the afternoon’s adventure, driving an ATV with Black Beach Tours. Instead I sucked it up, stuffed myself into an enormous snowsuit that made me look and feel a lot like the Pillsbury doughboy, slid on an oversized pair of gloves and a big black helmet and did what I quickly realized would turn out to be one of the most purely fun experiences of my life.

The guide led our group out slowly, allowing us the opportunity to get familiar with our machines, to learn how to accelerate, and turn, slow down and, most of all, stop. We puttered through the little seaside warehouse district where the Black Beach office is located, but when we reached the beach the guide took off, checking over his shoulder to make sure we were keeping up. I hesitated for a minute or two, crawling along with the other two people in my group, but I couldn’t stand it for long.

That exquisite beach — I’d never seen black sand before — with the wild sea surging in under a cloudless blue sky called to me. It was deserted and, except for our guide’s tracks, utterly unblemished.

I hit the thumb throttle and accelerated fast, like I was being chased, like I meant it, soon leaving the other riders far behind. As the machine hit 50 miles per hour I began laughing out loud, suddenly and with perfect clarity aware of how happy I was, flying along atop the volcanic sand, Iceland utterly bewitching me. •SCM

For more information about Iceland, visit

Jill Gleeson is on the biggest adventure of her life. Follow her journey on her blog at and via her column at

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