Jason holding Sam back from the ledge

An Icelandic Story

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In July of 2014 I hopped on a plane to Iceland to meet up with my childhood best friend, Sam, who was guiding for Borea Adventures in the West Fjords. As we approached the town of Ísafjörður in a small prop plane, I had my face glued to the window admiring the beautiful barren landscape from above. Whatever thought of admiration I was lost in was soon replaced with mild panic when I realized that we were quickly descending directly into a fjord. After I realized the landing runway was inside the fjord, my panic was once again replaced with admiration of one the coolest places I've ever flown into.


Iceland through a plane window


As the plane was consumed by the mountains on either side, we finally touched down on a tiny sliver of land that separated the bay from the mountain side. I was immediately struck by the uniqueness of where I was and became envious of the place that Sam got to call home for the past couple summers.

Sam met me at the airport and we hurried around to the other side of the fjord so that he could guide a sea kayaking tour. Unfortunately for those tourists, a storm rolled in and the sea became too rough to go out on. Fortunately for me, Sam suggested he and I still go out in our drysuits to play around and practice self rescues which, spoiler alert, would come in handy later. After we got tired of playing around in 46ºF water, we headed back to town to prep for Sam's 3 day guided expedition in Hornstrandir.


Jason wearing his Dry suit

 Jason hanging out with some birds

We stopped off at the grocery store on the way to pick up supplies for ourselves and his clients. I always enjoy going to grocery stores in other countries. It's a fun peek behind the curtain that tells you a lot about the culture, eating habits, and values of a region. A couple things that stood out to me were all the fresh fish and that seemingly every Icelandic brand had some sort of reference to vikings (and trolls which are definitely real).

After loading up on food and supplies, we headed back to Sam's place to pack up for the adventure, but not before making one last stop at Heimabyggð Cafe. This mandatory stop was to pick up enough of Sam's favorite handmade rhubarb granola bars to last us the next few days. He didn't go anywhere without these things. They had the perfect balance of nutrition for long, grueling days hiking or casual days hanging out. They weren't too sweet, they had all natural ingredients, and most importantly, they were friggin' delicious! If you're familiar with BAR-U-EAT's story, these are the bars that lived rent free in the back of Sam's mind for years. When he finally settled down in Colorado, he was driven to devise a recipe of his own (our Original flavor) to fill the gapping hole in his heart that not having them left.


House in Hornstandir


The next morning we loaded up the boat with granola bars and Sam's clients and then set sail for Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. Once we landed, we hiked to Borea's old farm house which is one of very few that still occupy the reserve and set up our beds for the night. Meanwhile, a father and son from Germany who were in our group, walked down the hillside to the ocean to go catch some fish for dinner. Fortunately for us, they were successful and we all shared the Icelandic Haddock over good wine and good conversation until our eyes grew heavy and we went to sleep. 

We all woke up the next day bright eyed and bushy tailed. We made our way down to the ocean where Sam had sea kayaks lined up for us to paddle over to a massive glacier as well as a seal cove. The glacier was massive and the cove indeed had seals, but by far the highlight of the trip was when I capsized my kayak on flat water. You see, I was taking a short break from paddling and laying over the rear end of my boat soaking in the unobscured Icelandic sun. When I decided to sit up, my weight shifted to one side and I flipped. 


Waterfall in Iceland


Lucky for me, Sam and I had practiced for this exact situation just the day before. Unfortunately for me, I was only wearing a paddling jacket and shorts which meant when I ejected from my kayak, I didn't have anything between my skin and the freezing cold water. Sam, being the good friend that he is, was laughing his ass off and made me self rescue without help. Fair enough, I thought. So I flipped my boat back over, flipped Sam off, and crawled back into my no longer sinking ship, sopping wet. I got back to paddling to try to warm myself back up which worked... until we stopped.

We had pulled off into a cove and come ashore to eat, but by then there was a mild breeze and that fireball in the sky had decided to hide behind the clouds. Still wet and now cold, I started to show early signs of hypothermia. Being the good friend that he is, Sam recognized me struggling almost immediately so we both stripped down and he gave me the dry clothes off his back. Now clothed and paddling again, I was able to get my body temperature back up while a shirtless and unfazed Sam guided us back to our temporary homestead. 


Arctic Fox in Iceland


That night an arctic fox came to hang out with us while we shared more food, more conversation, and a lot more wine before we went to bed. The next day Sam and I decided to not go back with his clients on the boat. We wanted to stay for another day in the nature reserve to hike over a mountain pass to see Hornvik. After we said our goodbyes, we started our trek around 2:00 pm.

The journey from where we were was about a 6 hour trek to camp and another 6 hour trek to climb up the mountains to the bird cliffs — a 12 hour hike for you math wizzes out there. Long day, but Sam assured me that it was worth it and as usual, he was right. Now you might be wondering at this point about sunlight. Because Iceland is so far north, the sun just barely arcs below the horizon in late July, so it never truly got dark. This was an encouraging phenomenon for a couple of fools trying to do 3 days worth of trekking in 24 hours.


Sam standing on a cliff


We climbed over the boulder laden mountain pass, dipped into the valley, forded a stream, and then climbed 1,500 ft back up to see the bird cliffs. Since we hadn't planned to stay this extra day, we didn't have a ton of food with us. What we did have were Sam's favorite granola bars. These things along with a well-timed PB&J are probably the only reason why we were able to hike as far as we did, for as long as we did. The bomb nutrition that they packed afforded us some of the most stunning views I've ever seen in my life. Without them, I'm convinced we would have had to turn back.

After hiking till 2:00 in the morning and never having once seen another soul in the entire 220 square mile nature reserve, we went to sleep, feet throbbing, exhausted, and still in awe.


Bird Cliffs in Iceland


When we woke up, we knew we had to get back on the other side of the mountain for a 4:00 boat pickup. If we missed it, then we would be stuck there for another couple days with no way of summoning help. So naturally we were in no rush and decided to go check out another beautifully imposing cliff — the type that only Iceland has to offer. By the time we decided to turn around, we only had 6 hours before pickup which meant no margin for error.


Waterfall in the Icelandic marshes


As we crested the mountain pass into the boulder field, we could see our boat off in the distance barreling into the fjord. Problem was, we still had about a 1 hour hike to the pickup location. Crap. Things were not looking good and then they started looking even worse when my old knee injuries decided that now was a good time to start flaring up. With a fairly heavy backpacking pack on my back, I was going as fast as I could, but it wasn't going to be fast enough. So yet again, Sam being the good friend that he is, took my pack and started sprinting down the mountain in hopes of catching the boat while my gimpy self hobbled down the mountain trying to keep up.




Sam successfully met the boat just as some fresh bodies were being dropped off to hopefully have a lot more casual hike than us. I soon joined him and we boarded the boat. We laid down on the bench seat exhausted from our efforts. We laughed about what a hilarious liability I was over the past couple days and couldn't help but to smile thinking about what we had just accomplished.

I often reflect on this whole experience and think about how I had so many ups and downs in just a few short days, and yet, we still turned this trip into one of my favorite memories. Something I never realized until writing this, though, was just how central granola bars were to making this story happen. I find it serendipitous that 10 years later Sam and I now own a granola bar company together and are continuing to turn the many ups and downs we have as business owners into more of my favorite memories.

- Jason Friday, BAR-U-EAT Co-Founder

Sam and Jason Breaking for Lunch
Sam (left) and Jason (right) taking a snack break for that well timed PB&J ontop of Hornvik.
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