Published June 9, 2017
I have a problem. I can’t say no. It’s called #FOMO (fear of missing out) and its something that millennials deal with on the daily. It’s the reason I said yes when invited to go rafting down a glacial river on one of the sunniest days of the year. Ok, so it sounds amazing but there’s one slight issue – I’m terrified of water. Around 15 years ago I got stuck in a rubber ring and promised never to participate in water-based activities again. Mega lame right?
The weather really was something else. We were in the midst of a rare heat wave (that’s 16°C degrees to you and me), so I decided to skip the obligatory weekend beers to keep a clear head for the next day.
Another broken promise
The journey from Reykjavík to the Gullfoss canyon took around an hour and a half, but it’s fair to say that every minute spent travelling through this country is a pleasure (if you have the weather on your side). Through the windows we made our way south through what looked like Mordor, inland to moss-covered lava rocks.
“Are you going to jump off the cliff”, asked Micah, our bus driver from Arctic Rafting. FML, I didn’t know there was a cliff.
We pulled up to something I never expected to see in Iceland: a surf hut-cum-tiki-bar, laden with half naked men and women. I wasn’t complaining. The place had a good vibe, and finally I felt excited about the day’s activities.
I have Sigfús Ragnar Sigfússon to thank for that. A 23-year-old Nordic surfer-type with a laid back attitude. “Don’t look into his eyes”, exclaimed one of his pals (referring to Sigfús’s obvious good looks). All the guides were dripping with enthusiasm and managed to make the boring stuff sound kind of fun.
School of rock
After the safety demo, I squished myself into a wetsuit and jumped on to the “yellow limousine” (a retro American yellow school bus). The accompanying sound track could have been from the School of Rock. “TNT” by ACDC shook the bus, followed by “Black Betty” as we travelled down to the mouth of the river. Thank Odin I skipped those beers.
The lake looked extra special as the sun served as a huge Instagram filter enveloping the landscape. The Hvítá River is fed by one of Europe’s largest glaciers Langjökull, which rushes down to form the mighty Gullfoss waterfall. The canyon is an absolute thing of beauty, best viewed from the water.
Bumps in the road (lake)
Sigfús taught us how to raft in four easy steps. WTF was I doing? I don’t know, but suddenly I was on the water and didn’t even mind. In battle like fashion, my fellow rafters and I began to row blindly into the rapids. A few minutes in, I was the good kind of scared. After fighting the waves, we were allowed a moment to lap up the tranquil surroundings before making a quick pit stop. Yep, at the cliff.
Adrenaline-junkies ascended in anticipation, as the guides from Arctic Rafting advised us on how to ‘jump’ properly. Everyone did it, even the 16-year-old kids on a school trip. Even a tourist dressed head to toe in inappropriate clothing.
I asked my boat pals what they thought of the jump as my experience was somewhat jaded. “The water looks so milky down there, so welcoming and then its just not” – that’s because when you jump there’s enough time for you to realise you’re still falling.
Even for aquaphobes
The second half of the river was plain sailing, so we were allowed to have a bit of fun. We rowed standing up, fought like Vikings (sorry) and attempted to tip ourselves over as a joke.
Freezing from the jump, we made our way back to base camp where we were welcomed by a hot sauna and snacks. I rewarded myself with a beer and barbecued lamb, taking a few minutes to reflect on my personal achievement.
Gulfoss Canyon Rafting isn’t a team building exercise. It’s a great way to totally switch off (there’s no signal) and embrace adventure. If you’re lucky enough to be in Iceland over the summer, I’d say it’s a must. Even if you have aquaphobia after getting stuck in a rubber ring.