going out Enjoy the beauty of nature and be intoxicated by breathtaking landscapes. Feel the feeling of being alive. With these goals, our Project Horizon athlete Pana Mogren and the photographer Florian Bison embarked on a very special backpacking adventure in summer 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 are continuously drifting apart, creating a unique landscape over thousands of years. 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 unlikely duo
The team of adventurers consisted of two very different personalities: the Swede Pana Mogren, who had already planned and contested similar tours, and Florian Bison, a German photographer with a passion for sports, portrait and nature photography. The amazing thing: Before the plans 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 noticed 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 particularly important for Pana to be aware of all the possible risks of the trip. Weather conditions in particular can be very changeable in Iceland. Sudden winds, snow storms in the higher elevations, and strong current rivers to cross are just a few unpredictable events. In order to be as well prepared as possible, choosing the right clothing was particularly important here: starting with base layers that warm the body, through water-repellent jackets to overshoes. No detail had to be forgotten in order to be prepared for all eventualities. At the same time, minimalism was required when packing in order to travel with as little weight as possible in rough terrain.
From North to south
The first day on the island and at the same time the last day in civilization was all about preparation. On this day, the fat bikes were packed with the essentials as planned in advance. For eleven days with 672 kilometers, 9641 meters in altitude and 90% unpaved paths along the mountain ridge that separates the North American and Eurasian plates from each other.
After all the bottles were filled with water, the food was rationed into small portions and the last trip to a normal toilet was completed, we could start.
The starting point was in a small village in northern Iceland, Rifstangi. The first few meters on the bike felt easy for both of them, as the path led them over a gravel route that was easy to ride on. The only thing they both had to get used to was the noise of their fat bikes. “The bikes felt like tanks with the sound of the wide tires smashing through the gravel,” reports Pana.
In the days that followed, their route led them through areas reminiscent of lunar landscapes, through endless expanses, mud and deep sand, which forced them to push for hours - a physical and mental challenge. An impressive scenery of lava rocks, mountains and volcanoes determined their way. About halfway through, Pana and Flo had to traverse what they called the "danger zone." The most remote and wildest part of Iceland. Scary cliffs and numerous river crossings, no replenishment of water for at least two days.
Here they also spent the most strenuous day of the trip. While the joy was still great on the morning of day 6 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 route consisted only of sand. Since the sand was not firm due to the lack of moisture, it was hardly possible to cycle a few meters at all. After 15 km in four hours, pushing the 45 kg bike, the strength and the mood were at their lowest point: "Push, ride, rest, laugh and swear. And start again."
The second disappointment followed later in the day. The map showed that a large mountain had to be bypassed in order to reach the daily goal. The two had accidentally taken the wrong path and now had to face a strenuous climb. The problem: every time both thought they had reached the top, there was a new climb and they had to push the heavy bike again. "Our legs ached from all the cycling, our arms ached from all the walking and our minds ached from trying to stay motivated. We had no idea how long that was going to take. Definitely a real mindfuck."
But the moment of finally reaching the top and having the breathtaking panorama in front of you made all effort forgotten. Those are the moments that make the effort worthwhile. To have reached the goal, to pause and let the indescribable nature work on you. "What we saw in this area and the stillness we experienced will stay with us for the rest of our lives. Nowhere else have we felt so removed from civilization as at that moment. Here we were alone - on a completely different planets."
This already special day finally had a positive surprise in store for Flo and Pana: Completely unexpectedly, a small hut appeared on the edge of the mountain towards evening. After initial skepticism, the joy was huge when they opened the door. Pana remembers it well: "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 walked in, you could imagine what stories must have happened in this refuge over the years. Although spartan, it was the most beautiful and welcoming place we had ever stayed."
The two of them would never forget this evening. The mood, in the midst of solitude, with candlelight, the bottle of whiskey we took away and a few rounds of card games: "We just didn't want this moment to end".
This day symbolizes the many strenuous hours, impressive nature experiences and one or two positive surprises that Pana and Flo experienced on their journey through Iceland. Not only will you think back to soothing baths in hot springs or exciting abandoned places for a very long time. You will also remember the friendly and helpful Icelanders. Among other things, two young women appeared out of nowhere with chocolate bars when Flo and Pana realized that their food supplies were running low. Another time, a ranger helped locate Flo's cell phone, which he lost in the middle of a huge lava field.
All these experiences ultimately contributed to the fact that the goal of the trip was more than fulfilled:
"I lived every second out there to the fullest. All my senses were connected. I was once again reminded that this is what makes me feel alive." - Pana
"Not for a second did I feel like I should be somewhere else, I was exactly where I belonged." - Flo
After 11 days they finally reached their destination Kötlutangi in the south of Iceland, exhausted and happy.