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I sit in my office & close my eyes; trail rolls out before me: Mist curls around the neck of the mountain as we pedal up an obsidian-black climb. Patches of bright green scrub punctuate the view, preventing it from looking like an image of the Mordor wasteland. My tires crunch along the lava rock trail. Occasional streams murmur in the inky distance . . .

It’s been a week since Brad, Dana, Randy & I came home from Iceland. Yet, still, we return to memories created by our experiences there. These images are multi-faceted. Sure, the trip was ostensibly about biking. But, it was about much more. After all, if we just wanted to ride our bikes, each of us could roll out of our garages & onto the NWA trails. So, why leave home? Why travel to Iceland for a week of riding that we could just as easily have done at home? The answer is easy.

Biking was a “door.” Cycling is the means. Learning & growing is the opportunity. We wanted to take a trip & explore new terrain, experience new culture & meet new people. Operation Bucket List accomplished these lofty goals. We witnessed a volcano . . . from up-close-&-personal distance. We watched as a long-standing valley took new shape as molten lava pushed, spread, grew & morphed the mountainscape into something new. Black mountains rise, mere miles from the island’s rocky beaches. We rode along peaks that were active volcanoes millennia ago. We pedaled through verdant valleys, replete with streams heated by continuing thermal activity. We soaked in one of these miraculous streams. Each of us looked out the windows of our car as we headed to a new trail. The ground along the road was lumpy, like sheets crumpled on a bed . . . evidence that every inch of the island is the remains of a volcanic lava flow.

Often, we’re tempted to believe that all people are similar. In some ways, they are. However, one of the great blessings of travelling is that we learn to appreciate the differences in each other. Certainly, some Icelandic traditions are different from ours: I was not excited by the prospect of eating Hakarl, a fermented shark dish. But, skur, a type of yogurt enjoyed on the island-nation is scrumptious. We have our founding fathers, where Icelandic folk harken back to their viking heritage. Icelandic citizens are proud of their nation’s incredible neutral carbon emissions. They also prize the skill of multilingualism or the ability to speak numerous languages. Everyone that we met in Iceland spoke at least three languages. Some, as many as six. Some differences in other cultures could be great examples for us.

Operation Bucket List would have been a failure without the guidance of the Icebike Adventures team. But Kati, Bergur, Asta & Antoine were not just guides. They became friends. We shared experiences, swapped stories, laughed & broke bread. This -- human contact -- is what helps us appreciate others & grow as individuals. In fact, I think that the human aspect of any ride is the most important element to its success. For me, the shared experiences that I generate with others is one of the preeminent reasons for cycling. (If not, I could just pedal on a machine while looking out a window.) So, we now have a new group of friends, another thread in our web of contact with the people who share this world with us.

Brad, Randy, Dana & I have talked about venturing out again. Do we visit our friends in Iceland, again? Or, do we strike out & meet new people & experience new terrain? Those are tough decisions. But, we’re excited to make them.

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