Do you need an insurance for sandstorms on your car?” “Sandstorms?” "Yeah". The rental car guy looks at me funny. “There are places on the south coast, where you suddenly might find yourself in a black cloud of sand with big rocks hitting the car. Afterwards your car will look like it has been sanded and the paint will be gone…It doesn't happen too often, its just really expensive when it does.” "No thanks - I'll run the risk" Iceland has made its first move…
Iceland is an island, situated where the North Atlantic meets the Arctic Ocean - right on the transatlantic ridge, that forms the basis for the island's 30 volcanos. A wild and unpredictable nature that constantly changes in colours and shapes. But one thing is the same no matter where on the island you are, the wind. The never ending icy wind that blows across the land, whilst tearing down and building up a constantly changing landscape.
Vain Dane Athletic’s owner, Tina Søgaard-Pedersen, went for a two week visit to Iceland to celebrate her 40th birthday, enjoy time off whilst surrounded by nature, and have a chat with the Danish singer Tina Dickow, who lives in Reykjavik, about natures influence on her music and everyday life.
The feeling when you are standing in the middle of Iceland's nature is impossible to describe in a just manner. Suddenly, you feel very insignificant and no matter how hard you try you cant quite capture the grandness and scale of the island through your camera lense. The nature demands your full attention and presence in order for your to grasp the scale of things.
With 364.000 inhabitants Iceland is Europe’s most sparsely populated country and more than 2/3 lives in and around the capital Reykjavik in the south west corner of Iceland. The island consists of a plateau of sand, lava, mountains and glaciers, which all frame one of the toughest, but most breathtaking landscapes in the world. A landscape that seems idyllic and peaceful, but within minutes will change character, so that gravel, wind, and snow threatens to send you flying al whilst the ground is shaking under your feet.
The same goes for the Icelandic people. They are polite, bordering shy and ackward when you first meet them, but suddenly its like the Devil possesses them and they drive off on Ring Road 1 in their huge super Jeeps, petrol tank full and sports gear stuffed into every part of the car along with an excess of alcohol. When chatting with Tina Dickow she stresses that "Icelandic people are very much like the nature. Right underneath the surface there is something we Danes cant quite understand. An unpredictability and head over heals that takes you by surprise."
It's also from Iceland that the strongest Crossfit women in the world live. What ever is in the water it has benefitted athletes like Annie Thorisdottir, Sara Sigmundsdóttir, and Katrin Tanja Davidsdóttir.
Photo: Tina Søgaard-Pedersen, Fjallsárlón
Two Tinas, introvert, almost same age, love the outdoors and both living with a fear of things being average, boring and too down to earth. But here the similarities stop. Tina Dickow is articulated, self-aware and one of Denmark’s best song writers. She lives in Iceland with her three children and her Icelandic husband, who she suddenly understood a whole lot better when she settled down in a quiet residential area in Reykjavik. Whilst she is drinking a proper cup of black coffee and elegantly picking away at a Danish cinnamon bun, Im sucking away on my chocolate milk box with my teeth covered in poppy seeds...but Tina has said yes to a talk about her relationship with the Iceland, she has come to love so much and what nature really means to her. I meet her on my last day in Iceland, full of new impressions, tired from climbing Eyafjällajökull and being on the road for 8 days. But here in the sun on a bench in front of a bakery Im first and foremost happy and grateful that she has said yes to meeting me.
Tina moved to Iceland in 2011 after having spent 15 years moving from city to city and always being on the move. Exhausted and tired of always having to perform the choice was Iceland. Immediately a calmness hit her. This was a place where she found peace, but where life would never get boring or ordinary, and maybe more importantly - she was here with the man she wanted to spend her life with and now suddenly understood so much better. A large tight knit family on her husbands side and the Volvo - parked in front of us screaming NORMAL, is now her safe-haven. She had never dreamed of living abroad as she is very Danish at heart - comfort seeking. After all, she is just a girl from Åbyhøj, but life wanted it differently.
Like probably hundreds before me, I ask her if her music has been influenced by the Icelandic nature's wilderness. To that she replies a stern no, but if it hadn't been for Iceland then she would never have written as much as she has done since moving here. Eventhough she dosnt sound like Björk, she is very inspired by the feeling of being insignificant in something bigger than herself. That feeling was easy to find in London, where she spent most days wandering around the city for hours and hours all the time feeling like a tiny dot on the map, totally insignificant to the rest of the world. Now the time for long walks are hard to find with three kids aged 4, 7, and 8, but instead she often finds herself walking around the neighbourhood on the small paths behind the houses. It is the life behind the hedges that leaves impressions. The gardens, the fences, children, dogs....the little things. In Copenhagen it was difficult walking along the inner city lakes for hours, cause she would constantly pass the same people in the cafes, who would look at her strangely and with eyes always resting on her she became very self aware. In Iceland both her and her husband, who is also a musician, try to life as anonymous as possible.
“My husband is very Icelandic in his music and way of thinking about music. Mine is more structured and it rimes and the rhythm is there." Tina beats a rhythm on the table whilst she quietly considers her words. “You see, Im Danish. It's an attempt to create structure in what some might think is an inner chaos. If the songs become to fluttering and loose then I get uncomfortable. If a song has any entitlement in my world it has to have a sense of meaning and structure and not just sound nice.”
“I was on the wilderness and outdoor team at my highschool”
"Not enough, but we do use it. We wake up overlooking the water and mountains as we live right on the water. When the kids are older, then I know we will use the nature more, I've been that way in the past. I was on the wilderness and outdoor team at my highschool, where we went hiking in Greenland and Northern part of Norway, so it's part of me. As the years went by I totally forgot about that part of me, because I lived in major cities and stayed at crazy hotels with amazing views and enjoyed that kind of grandness. When I moved up here and once again I felt the power of the nature. Our neighbours pack up all their sports equipment every time the sun is out whether its skis, MTB or kite surfing - they love it all. I think I will be the same when time permits it and the children are old enough. I really love this country. They have a huge appreciation for nature. They are nature people."
Photo: Tina Dickow
Iceland consists of 14.3% lakes and glaciers and that is only the water you can see. Below the surface run geothermal channels that in some places contain water that is 200 degrees hot - only 1 km below the earth's surface.
Our conversation quickly moves towards sustainability. I ask Tina if she aware of sustainability in her everyday life.
“There is one thing that is deeply rooted in me from Denmark since childhood and that is long baths. In Denmark we live with the feeling of having to be moderate with the water and the heat. Those conditions do not exist up here and there is a good reason for that. The hot water just exists and we have to cool it down to be able to use it in our houses. So to just fill a giant hot pot in the garden can feel completely insane. The water comes from boreholes in the ground outside the city and is 125 degrees hot. The water squeezes its way into Reykjavik and is still boiling, when it reaches the city. Here it is distributed to the houses, the roads, and the driveways and what is not used is let out into the sea. I use our neighbourhood's outdoor bathing establishment daily - the water culture, that's actually one of the reasons I've moved up here. You use the bathing establishment in all kinds of weather, in pitch-dark, in winter and in the morning with snow all over, and then you sit there in 43 degree hot water and chat with the elderly from the neighbourhood and the children they jump up and down even though it is -8 degrees. So this whole water thing, it actually matters. One could say that it has removed some of the guilty conscience of existing that I have occasionally felt."
Photo: Tina Søgaard-Pedersen, Seljavallalaug - geothermal pool
Iceland does not have many natural resources and up to 1970 they got 75% of their energy supply from fossil fuels like coal and oil. But with the oil crisis, imports became too expensive and the focus shifted to renewable energy sources; hydropower and geothermal heat. Today, 99.9% of all energy consists of renewable energy sources and Iceland has set itself the goal of eliminating all fossil fuels by 2050. Icelanders have the largest electricity consumption per capita in all of Europe. An Icelander's average electricity consumption is 53,832 kWh / inhabitant / year compared with the average EU citizen's consumption of 5,411 kWh / inhabitant / year.
Unfortunately, the introduction of renewable energy sources has not only been a positive development for the country and in particular two projects have led to major destruction of nature as environmental reports were ignored in favor of the promise of jobs and aid to the economy; Hellisheidi Geothermal plant and Karhnjukar hydroelectric power station in eastern Iceland. In both places, cleanly produced energy went to polluting industries owned by transnational companies, which got energy at low prices, destroyed surrounding nature, reduced fish stocks, damming rivers caused huge floods, locals got breathing problems and so forth. All whilst the transnational companies hid in tax havens on the continent and didnt pay taxes to the Icelandic state. The lesson was learned: Clean energy can easily be used to support dirty industries and as always, nature is the loser.
Photo: Tina Søgaard-Pedersen, Iceland 2021
The Icelandic author and poet, Andri Magnason, has repeatedly voiced his concerns in the media about the preservation of Icelandic nature and the negative aspects of, among other things, the aluminum extraction and taming of the rivers via dams to generate energy.
In 2019, he wrote "On Time and Water". Here he writes an obituary about a glacier and another small draft that deals with the climate crisis reads as follows:
How do you talk about something bigger than language? How do you weave into a book, scientific facts that seem to be bigger than all stories? We see headlines with terms like “global warming”, “climate change”, but these terms are rather new and vague, they don’t seem to stir emotion, action or policy change or urgency. The issue is like a black hole, they are so heavy they draw in all light. This issue is so large that language collapses. The only way to see a black hole and measure its size is by looking past it, to the surrounding galaxies. To understand climate change it can be good not to mention climate change, to look at the surroundings, to keep your grip on science while diving into mythology, family stories, personal memories, history of words and language. To understand the future and enhance our ability for long term thinking we need to connect to the past, to understand science we need mythology, to understand a global issue it must be understood locally and personally. The issue involves everything and everyone we know and love and it will be the fundamental challenge of this century. A race where everyone wins, or everyone looses.(On Time and Water, Andri Magnason)
Icelanders have a relatively low CO2 footprint from heating and electricity, but on the other hand, emissions from transport and consumption are very high. There is a fascination with speed and consumption in a country with a relatively young culture. It is not so long ago that life was a struggle for survival. There is a recklessness and profound joy in life when things are possible cause you don't have to go back many generations before there were more limitations than possibilities. It is not strange that a financial crash like the 2008 financial collapse happens in Iceland. The recklessness shines though in your dealings with them and comes a bit of a surprise after being met by initial shyness and ackwardness.
In Akureyri, Iceland's second largest city, a change has been initiated, which is a pioneering city for the rest of Iceland. Here, an infrastructure has been built that works with waste management and recycling of resources. All food waste is collected for compost used in agriculture as an alternative to fertilizer and old cooking oil becomes biodiesel, which the city buses run on. There is sorting in all households and the local waste sorting points are used diligently.
Illustration: Rakel Kristjansdottir & Henner Busch
In Iceland, a strategy has been drawn up for the reforestation of forest areas and an afforestation policy, which is to ensure an increase in forests by 5% by 2040 through state subsidies. For Iceland, afforestation is part of an attempt to reduce the problem of erosion, which makes the soil difficult to cultivate, whilst creating local jobs. Tina Dickow tells me that they have a 500 hectare area up north, corresponding to 700 football fields, where they plant trees. Her husband is very interested in plants and they have small cuttings in the nursery in Reykjavik, which they then take up north and plant. The trees in Iceland grow very slowly, but they hope that within the next 30 years they will have a large area up there - if the sheep don't eat them!
Tina is wearing a light knitted sweater with a poncho around her legs and we start taking about clothes and second hand stores. “In terms of sustainability and what I do in my life, I don't buy a lot of clothes. Almost everything you see me in on stage or in the press, if it's just a little bit colorful, then it's because they have some good second hand stores here. I buy everything in second hand stores and have a huge stach of weird and beautiful second hand stuff”
But where there is fishing, there are also ghost nets and Iceland's beautiful nature is another victim of nets lost, thrown or blown ashore on the beaches around the island. At Ytri Tunge, located on the peninsula Snæfell in western Iceland, large quantities of fishing nets from trawlers have been washed up on the beach. The beach is a favorite breeding ground for seals and attracts large numbers of common seals and gray seals every year. They lie on the beach and relax when it is low tide and are in great danger of being caught in the many nets. Skeletons from seals testify to this, when walking along the beach. These are nets that are so large and heavy that machines are needed to remove them. Fortunately, there are companies around Europe that regenerate the nylon from fishing nets so the solution to Iceland's stranded ghost nets is easily solved if deployed.
For Vain Dane Athletic, it is always interesting to see, where there is possibilities for a collaboration around the removal and regeneration of the ghost nets that our sportswear is made of. With our annual 2% donation policy, new projects could easily be initiated and with Iceland slowly starting to take small steps towards a greener future, it could be an opportunity to launch a collaboration here.
Photo: Tina Søgaard-Pedersen, Ytri Tonga, Iceland 2021
“Before Covid-19, this country was completely different. There were so many tourists we were drowning. After the crash in 2008, it became very cheap to get here. Before then, there probably have not been as many tourists, but then in 2009/10 it was estimated that there had been 500,000 tourists in one summer - it was absolutely wild! Before lockdown, we had about 2,000,000. Reykjavik was not a city, it was a tourist trap with Airbnb. There was no personality left.”
Tina and I start talking about tourism as I have been in Reykjavik for two Sundays and therefore havn't had the opportunity to browse in the local shops for sustainable brands. Tina Dickow says that in the past everything was open every day due to the many tourists. However, my trip around the island has been somewhat different with everything from visitor centers, toilets, shops, restaurants, campsites closed. I have been blessed with amazing images of nature without having to squeeze through queues of tourist and guided tours and it has been an absolute privilege, which I value very highly, to have the island to myself.
Photo: Tina Søgaard-Pedersen, Iceland 2021
It's the same picture I got after talking to people in both Seydisfjódur and Mývatn. The owner of the camp where I slept at Lake Mývatn told me that the break both nature and humans had been given by the Corona lockdown had been much needed. With the volcano in Reykjavik erupting, there has been a steady influx of volcanic tourists, despite Corona, but not at all the same as before. 6 days in quarantine caps the tourists' enthusiasm.
One thing puzzles me though. There are no rubbish bins in Iceland - roughly speaking. Getting rid of your waste is no easy task. There are no rubbish bins in the rest areas around the country. Not even on the big Ringroad, the main road No. 1, which goes around the island. There are no toilets either. How they expect to keep nature clean with 2 million annual tourists, who cant find bins or toilets, is a mystery to me.
Photo: Orri Gunnarsson, Fagradalsfjäll Volcano, Iceland 2021
2000 km around Iceland with treasured experiences stored in the memory that will give energy on days when things seem heavy and unmanageable. Like the wind and nature in Iceland, life as a start-up is constantly changing. From smoky plains where steam rises from the earth, raging glacial rivers and thundering waterfalls to barren plains where the earth is eroded away and life struggles to live. As an entrepreneur, you meet people who build you up, other times it is as if everything has to be done against the wind. A textile industry that adorns itself with borrowed feathers and lures with beautiful designs. An industry that enslaves people and makes life hard. It takes a lot of willpower to navigate, but it's those days where you succeed that drives the desire.
On my climb to the summit of the ice glacier Eyafjällajökull, I realized on several occasions how comical my situation was. I was in the middle of a 5 man rope and I had a major crisis with less than 500 m from the summit. The four other climbers on the robe did everything they could to support me with words of encouragement and energy bars. The irony wasnt lost on me and kind thoughts were sent to all those people who support me and my company, Vain Dane Athletic, on a daily basis. From an Advisory Board that advises and supports, to brand ambassadors, who expose the brand to my friends and family, who listens when I need to vent. Had I had the strength, I would have laughed or maybe cried, but the only thing that filled my head was to stay on my feet in a relentless wind that tried to sweep me off the mountain.
I have thought several times that Iceland reminds me of a person with multiple identity disorder - one moment you see the gentle stagnant lake that beautifully reflects the mountains around you just to be standing in a sandstorm with stones flying around your ears and major damage to the car minutes later. It's like the island cannot decide whether it welcomes you or not.
“Yeah, I think so. We have no other plans in that regard. Well, I wouldn't mind, but you cant have everything in life and now we're here and the place we live is ideal for raising children. Should our children decide to explore their Danish roots and move to Denmark then I won't rule out that we might be the annoying parents, who decides to move with them.”
We get up to say goodbye and then - the trash can issue! Despite several restaurants and bakery there is no trash can. Tina being a parent takes my chocolate milk box and tissue and says she will take it home and throw it away. Thanks Tina. Thank you for a nice informal chat and a better insight into the people I have come a lot closer to during my two weeks around Iceland.
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