Iceland 2015, 1338 Km (831 miles), 30 days’ riding, 5 days’ rest

1338 Km (831 miles)
less than 250 Km on pavement!
July 24 – August 27, 2015
30 days’ riding, 5 days’ rest

Iceland day 17

24 hours on Pluto. from coming over the summit, climbing from Akureyri into the clouds, what a surprise. i had read that around the hotsprings of Laugafell it’s green meadows, but what greeted me was a landscape of rocks and gravel, ground fine by the wind.

the first night i rode a lot further than i wanted, looking for a place to camp out of the wind. there was little shelter to find, everything having been ground down to these dunes. it’s a desert, and in a fog, there are only two directions, up and down. fortunately only one road so no way to get lost.

9km the next day, i made it to the hotsprings at Laugafell. there i had a long talk with the warden, we called the rangers at the next park over and they called some other rangers, called back. finally we figured out, one way is still possible, to get to Askja volcanoe and the new lava flows…it’s a dotted line on the map, and a thinner dashed line on my gps device. these tracks dont have numbers, they have names.

after a soak in the springs (not really hot enough, but nice) i cooked up a big mashed mass of rehydrated camp food yumm, and drank a buncha coffee…and then off. i think i left at 4 and ‘just wanted to knock off some km from the total…’ and eventually got a second wind, or a second set of legs, and pounded out 45km through the evening.

it was a good ride, coming off the high of 940m, down to about 600 or so..more rocks, gravel, big stones, then i got on the Sprengisandur route. that is, the most part, a highway. problem with having such a badass bike, it makes me search for more of a challenge. i camped at the second river ford, where it was indeed a bit more green, thankful after so much Plutoscape.

tomorrow i cross the bridge, and head off into the lava fields. an Israely couple camping here said that the rangers told them my chosen road wasnt passable..but then again, they are driving a mini family car, and i got, well, the badass bike.












lava tube caves!!

just the other day, i was riding along a glacier in iceland, and came upon these lava tube caves!
helmet: check!
headlamp: check!
let’s go have a look…
inside there was this weird black carbon flowstone, and the rock was bubbly and fluid, but hard of course…such a strange place, under the earth.
i felt at home, down there under the earth.





David Francis Willis

my father, sculptor and painter David Francis Willis, has a new art site showing his acrylic paintings…

I was working on a print, and my mother wrote me, “oh you know, max, your father is working on a series of prints…” it turns out he is doing color wash plate impression on canvas, and brush painting portraits as an overlay. he calls them Moments In Time, they’re pretty cool, hybrid print-portraits.

check out David Francis Willis art website

skateboarder magazine’s vietnam skate trip

i found this video while researching my next journey, it’s kinda cool, a skate trip in a very different sense, and in it is some valuable information for this long distance skater, some slick skating as well.

of course, i would do it very differently, and in fact, i fly into saigon jan 6. i’ll be with my girl, and we’ll be tote’n two longboards. we’ve got a month to check out vietnam, and to make it across the border in the north back to china. we’re gonna do some power relaxing.

one main piece of information this video offers is that at least one of these guys on a bike was struck by the danger of it all. he was on a creaky two-stroke, which is a different kind of danger, but it seemed he was contrasting vietnam with his own, perhaps safer world. perception of danger is, of course, relative. i often say, when people ask me that my skating or romping around in developing countries is perhaps dangerous, that living a life without adventure is dangerous. all of us who skate fast or long accept a certain element of calculated risk to life and limb in order to navigate that particular space, and travelling rough to remote places is no different, managing risks and returns. on this journey, however, i dont want to drag my girl into some difficult situation when she is hoping for a more leisurely jaunt about vietnam. so the plan is, to take it easy.

since i have been skate trekking in china and tibet, it’s difficult to imagine going somewhere and not taking the longboard. for me riding the skateboard is simply the most awesome way to visit a place…

as long as the road surface is ok,
the traffic’s not too crazy,
the sun isn’t too blazing hot,
nor the wind blowing up a gale,
and the dogs aren’t snarling from all directions,
and the police not making hassles…

to be honest, none of these things make skating a place less awesome, but they are things to think about if one is looking for leisure and not a slalom through the seven hells. i watched some of the longtreks morocco videos and now i think skating is not the most awesome way to visit morocco. my girl likes to skate, but she shakes her head, and worries a bit, while i do my hundreds of km. plus, it’s gonna be hot, really hot, 35 degrees hot. i dont even know if i am going to want to skate…haha…not want to skate…ha…

we definately wouldn’t want to do the motorbike thing. in the video i saw them on their bikes in the mountains, and imagined how way much more awesome it would be to skate through there, up and down through there. they remarked that they went barrelling from place to place, not connecting and missing a lot, and they found [not many places to skate]. i saw some nice roads in the video, hey! they spoke several times of mountain passes. not mountain passes like my beloved himalayas, but the terrain goes up to 2000m, i’ll bet there’s some nicenice slow uphills, meandering jungle mountain roads, and crazy water-buffalo strewn downhill runs along the way. in places the road surface looks broken, in other places, not bad at all – but just because it’s black on video (or in a satellite image) doesn’t mean it’s smooth blacktop, i know that. i also know that with 85mm speedvents, if the road is even halfway decent we can make some grand skating days.

it looks like from this video, the a1 coastal highway might have heavy traffic, in the north at least, and around the end of our stay in vietnam is the tet festival, when there might be more drunken drivers on the road. yes, i saw the weather they were biking through, it didn’t look so great untill they hit the south. i did watch another video of some kids scootering about on the coast road in the south, and that actually looked like super skating: flat, direct by the sea, not much traffic, beaches, palm trees.

so, we decide to stick to the south, and have come up with a plan of action: after we spend most of our limited funds on diving and tequila sunrises, lounging on a tropical island for a week or so, we will head back to the mainland and slowly skate north, in no haste, from beach to beach. if we are enjoying the skating, and can camp and save some of the money we would spend in hotels and on busses or trains, then we can maybe afford some more diving and tropical island time as we travel north along the coast. just before our visas run out, we’ll pop back into china, into yunnan, where we are home free with sweet roads, easy camping, and good friends to go and visit. once back in china, i expect we’ll need to relax and recuperate for a couple of weeks

right now it’s -12 C in beijing. i haven’t skated for a number of days. i am stoked, nonetheless, dreaming about the beach, about long distance skating, imagining the best way to make a hybrid push-push-adventure x relax-n-chill vacation. In doing my research, i learn something from watching online videos.

now skate video is a lot to do with narcissism, so is blogging and posting reams of text to a forum. at least, in this video, the cool skaters aren’t me, they are not riding longboards, and the text is about something i haven’t even done yet. i just think it’s cool to share how a video of some skaters on an adventure can inspire, educate, entertain, even an old rat in another world, like me.

banned in the free world

after about 1200km, my footbrake pad wore out. it seems my original fat radial tyre ausschnitt weathered better than the moped tyre cutout. the moped model was easier to wear, thinner, lighter, and as a result, shorter-lived.

the columbia shasta trekking shoes turned out to be super comfortable, relatively waterproof, lightweight – and therefore quick-drying, good skate shoes. however, the nice-nice grip of the soles also translated to tasty-tasty, and the road ate my sole in due course.

so, i bought a vial of superglue, the really cheap, stinky, likely very poisonous, banned in the free world kind of superglue, and i carved up the remains of my footbrake pad to make a repair.

functional, practical, it was all death-fumes and glue down my pants, on the floor, doing the diy, but in the end, i fixed up my shoe and was on the road, footbraking as usual! not bad.

this trip i experienced my first pain ever from skate trekking. after two days skating without the footbrakepad, and one major downhill, my left shoe sole was ground down to the soft bits. pushing all afternoon without the hard formed support of the original sole, caused a pain in the arch/ball of my left foot. doing this sole repair took care of the problem, but it was another three days on the road before my foot was back to normal and didn’t hurt anymore.

so it’s back to the beginning, trying to find the better shoe for skate trekking.

footbrake pad #3

after some cutting and carving and one intermediate design (footbrake pad #2) i have arrived at a workable model for my next trek. this one is cut from a moped tyre, which was a lot easier than hack-sawing through the steel radials of the car tyre i used for the first prototype. the moped tyre has enough tread to function well as a brake shoe, but is a lot lighter in weight. bonus.

i use this contraption for long long downhills (30km +) when i cannot use the drogue chute to air brake, and in places where the road is too narrow, with sharp blind turns. there i cannot carve off speed and have to take a straight line.

my first footbrake pad was quite heavy, and ultimately became unwieldy. i couldn’t push well with it, and carving while wearing the blocky shoe addition wasn’t so smooth, so it was either footbrake only, or end up going like a bat outta hell. this new version should be less intrusive but still practical.

sometimes the bat scene is cool, especially with the wind brake/drogue chute. it’s not quite a cape (check out super cycling man! but kinda…

sometimes the bat scene is bad, riding with a backpack, going way too fast without the option to carve. then it’s down to footbraking to descend safely. excessive footbraking means trashed shoes, and though i expect to kill my current trekking shoes in the next six weeks of skating, having one shoe totally worn down and the other relatively intact, makes for strange balance while walking and skating. i try to put that off as long as possible.

route rundown

‘coffee high’ is about to take off! my route follows a simple plan – head for the mountains. but these mountains are a bit different…

1] train to lanzhou – 20 grueling hours in a hard sleeper coach
2] bus to the hydroelectric dam near linxia, try and find a hotel, if not, camp
3] boat to the bingling buddhist art grottoes – a day of acclimatization
4] bus through the badlands to linxia – shouldn’t start skating at 2000m right away
5] expensive hotel in linxia – not all hotels accept foreigners, maybe i’ll be lucky and find a cheap one
rest day in linxia – not expecting much of this town on the edge of the desert
6] skate south! 40 km flat, then up up up
first week of skating 2000m to 3000m, rolling hills and grasslands – this will be my breaking in period, no need to push too hard

7] find the musicians on the grasslands – really, the middle of nowhere
chill for a bit, we’ll see what this place offers up
8] week two, skate the grasslands and along a river 3500m
9] week three – higher into the mountains, climbing, several 4000m+ passes, and a few short, fast downhill runs
10] week four – skate the grasslands around litang, 4500m! high in the mountains, but flat, open, rolling countryside!
11] week five – down to lugu lake, more 4000m+ passes and some major downhills, descent to 1800m
12] depending on my time and energy, skate or bus to lijiang, to shaxi
13] week six – chill in shaxi a few days, bus to dali, to kunming, train back to beijing…

plenty of time to relax, i have six weeks to do this, and if it’s really really cold, i might do it faster, it’s about 4 weeks’ skating distance, but i plan to take it easy. ok, skating 2000km isn’t really taking it easy, but everything is relative!

subsonic GT foam core Buzzed precision trucks speedvents 85mm awesome!

thanks subsonic scott! the board is in the post, not yet in my hot little hands…soon as it arrives, i will be on the train to lanzhou. stoked on the board and the v2 buzzed trucks, stoked to get out on the road, just stoked in general!

change of plans and route

i’ve shifted my route north, added a couple hundred kilometers, cut a couple hundred kilometers, but it’s still a month or so of skating plus a week or so of foolin around up there.

originally i planned to skate from chengdu, altitude 400m, straight up into the mountains. this would have been a 250km slog, uphill, from day one, and i would have been ascending pretty fast. actually i am ok at 2000m, dont anticipate and haven’t experienced any problems at this relatively low ‘high altitude.’ but, huffing it on my first days out, that i thought, was pushing my luck.

now i have the chance to meet one musician in the north of sichuan, a place called zoige. when i have a direct contact, arranged through friends, i can get a lot more information and experience than when i go stumbling about on my own, so it makes sense to compensate, to make that contact happen.

this place zoige, is somewhat remote. and i find it interesting, when i looked at the maps and found it, i realized if i were going to bus it to this place, it would be a long, uncomfortable journey in multiple minivans and 4×4 trucks, it would take at least 24 hours to get there from the nearest train. no fun.

skating, however, the place becomes infinitely more accessable! its out on the one road through the grasslands, and arriving form the north, though it will take days longer than the bus rides, it looks like a lovely journey to zoige. i never thought skating would seem easier than bus and truck, but in some ways it is. after a day on the bus, my back and body hurts, after a day skating, i am exhausted, sure, but my body and mind feel great! so, skating it is, to zoige.

my new route is on roads i have much researched, looking at the xining route i first discussed with rob thompson. in fact, our co-conspirator adam colton might well be out on that xining route by the time i get to my start, in linxia. i am hoping we will meet, though its a long shot.

a photo from an excellent, informative website

linxia has one main advantage besides being more directly connected to zoige, and that’s its altitude. linxia is up around 2000m, i will hang around there for two days. i can go visit the nearby buddha statues (i kinda got a thing for stones carved in caves, and especially stones carved in caves carved in mountains in desert places. i always wondered, what possessed the artists to settle manifest their lives’ works, sculpting buddhas in these places?) in the towns near these buddhas i will find hotels and foods and the buddhas themselves will entertain me for a day, i can grab a bus from there to linxia, and plan to have been up at 2000m for two days before i get on my skate.

chilling for the first few days out, say 40 or 50km skating, i’ll get out of the desert and into the prairies, and can give myself a good five days acclimitization before i start pushing it. i’ll be on it at least a week before i hit 3000m, and i will skate around 3-3500 for a week or more before dropping down to 2000 for a bit. afterwards i push up to 3500m, then 4500m. at the high point i have maybe 5 days skating the grasslands before coming down the last 400Km to 1800m, around lugu lake. somewhere in there is an awesome 100Km downhill! yeah!

this new route has a number of high passes on the way, pushing up through the mornings, and riding down again to sleep at relatively lower altitude, which helps acclimatize for going higher and staying there. the new route also lazes a lot further through rolling grasslands at 3000m, maybe 400km further, which is very attractive.

another photo from

as well, i should pass through an area where both mongolian and tibetan nomads herd their sheep and yaks, and i am very curious to check out their various dwellings. tents and yurts are a much more fluid architecture in the landscape, but architecture nonetheless, and if i could even catch some mongolian horse-head fiddling, that would be the cat’s meow, or, the horse’s fiddle, whatever.

the route has changed somewhat, starting from farther north and higher up, but it should be a healthier plan for me. it gives me time to work it to the really high altitude roads, south of litang, were there’ll be less oxygen, more cold, and likely a good wind (it always seems to blow in my face, and never at my back.) by the time i get there, i should be fit and in my stride.

one would think, after some days doing this ‘skate all day, every day’ thang, one would start to get exhausted and slow down. suprise, suprise! i have found i am only really skating at my peak once i have been out on the road for nearly 2 weeks, then i can push 80km+ per day, the ups and downs have become routine. after really getting adjusted to the altitude, my on-the-road diet, the rythm of mornings, afternoons, evenings and nights out in the middle of nowhere with my skateboard and my camp gear, i am good to go.

out in the middle of nowhere, that’s really where this route will take me. awesome!