I wanted an Osprey daypack to compliment my suitcase/backpack: the Osprey Farpoint 40. This would give me a total of 60 liters of carrying capacity.
I chose a 20 liter all-rounder, a pack suitable for travel as well as hiking and trekking. This pack needed to be versatile and able to be small enough to slide under an airplane seat but roomy enough to to carry my binoculars, camera, sketching kit, and a water bottle. This is the Osprey Daylite Plus.
When I got the pack home, I loaded it up when above said items and was happy to see that they all fit with room to spare.
I decided to take the pack out on a test hike on the Old Cove Landing Trail at Wilder Ranch State Park on the Santa Cruz County Coast. This is one of my favorite coastal hikes and it is also a great place to bird.
The Daylite Plus, loaded up, felt good on my back. I used the sternum straps but I didn’t need to use the waist belt. This pack will do nicely for my Icelandic rambles.
Spring was in the air on the Old Cove Landing Trail. Here are a few highlights.
In 1990, right after high school graduation, I headed over to Europe with my best friend Erik and his older brother Pete on a backpacking, hitchhiking, Eurorail adventure.
I was kitted out with a Eurorail Pass, a youth hostel card, and an REI black and red external framed backpack. This was the type of old school backpack you never see anymore. The pack where you would attach your sleeping bag to the bottom with bungee cords. The type of backpack that makes you look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, especially when you are wear a poncho to fend off the English rain.
I remember at SFO watching my checked pack get stuck on the roller belt and seeing the buckle of my hip belt rip off. This is the worst part of the pack to lose because you carry the weight of a pack not on your shoulders but your waist. (My dad had to send a replacement buckle to me in England).
Times have changed and materials have improved becoming lighter yet stronger. While I have used a backpack for, well, backpacking, I have favored a carry-on roller bag for airplane travel.
As the European travel guru Rick Steves notes, no one ever returns from a European trip and wishes they brought more. The same applies to my past travel experiences. I always wonder why I brought that shirt or sweater I never ended up using. I’m always fine tuning my travel kit to find the right balance.
Iceland was a time to return to backpacking. Could I do it after 30 years? I was not 18 anymore. But the packs, clothing, and packing accessories are so much better than when I first backpacked Europe three decades ago.
After some research, I decided on an Osprey pack. I have an Osprey daypack and it is one of the most comfortable packs I own. Osprey was founded in 1974 in Santa Cruz (nice local connection) and well, the osprey is a cool bird! The original business was called Santa Cruz Recreational Packs on River Street. The building now is Down Works.
The Osprey pack that I chose was the Farpoint 40 which is the company’s most popular travel backpack. This tics all the specs to fit in an overhead compartment while providing a large main compartment to hold together your life on the road. How is this done?
Because the main compartment has no dividers, compression packing cube are essential for organizing items and compressing them to fit. In one medium cube I can fit one pair of pants and six shirts. In a small cube I could fit one pair of thermal underwear, five pairs of socks, and five pairs of underwear.
Now how does this work on a 15 day trip? Most of my clothing is made of synthetic material which means they are quick drying. So every few days I wash clothes in the sink or bathtub and then dry them on my Sea to Summit travel clothesline and they’re dry in the morning. This saves a lot of space in my bag.
And it sure feels great to travel lightly and not be encumbered by a heavy, unwieldy roller bag.
Before going on any birding trip I like to sketch the avifauna I would be seeing. This helps me pre-visualize the birds I hoped to be seeing as well as putting my excitement onto paper.
Iceland straddles the line between North America and Europe and as such contains birds of the North Atlantic and Northern Europe as well as Arctic breeders. Some of these birds can be seen in the northeastern coast of Northern American but many of the European birds would be considered rarities on this side of the Atlantic.
For the featured spread I created circular icons of birds of Iceland; some of them I had seen but others would be lifers. I took inspiration from the beginning animation of the wonderful film Watership Down, where animals were stylized in an aboriginal form. I also created an Icelandic map that is also very stylized. The birds featured are: Arctic tern, northern gannet, gyrfalcon, snow bunting, think-billed murre, white-tailed eagle, razorbill, Atlantic puffin, common raven, rock ptarmigan, common redpoll, and the outline of a bird which I would never see.
The bird of Iceland that I would never see is the great auk. This large flightless alcid, the largest of the family, was once abundant around the northern Atlantic. This was the penguin of the Northern Hemisphere, although they are not closely related to the two toned flightless birds of the southern hemisphere.
The auk was a breeder to Iceland. The seabird was hunted for both it’s meat and warm down. This aggressive hunting dwindled the populations of a bird that could not fly away from it’s pursuers. It seemed like destiny that the largest alcid would be written into the pages of natural history oblivion.
Ironically enough when the last colony of about 50 auks was discovered in 1835, museums in Europe wanted skins to display which hastened the auk’s ultimate demise.
This happened on Eldey Island, 10 miles off the coast of Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula, where the last two existing auks where killed on June 3, 1844. In the struggle the capture the birds, the last great auk egg was stepped on and crushed. This is such a shameful chapter of human’s history in it’s interactions with the natural world. Shame on us that we will never see a great auk again.
I was planning where to go on my summer vacation and was leaning toward a domestic trip, but wasn’t sure I wanted to go on a lengthy South American birding tour. My pre-pandemic Peru trip was cancelled and I haven’t travelled with passport since.
I am limited by work for more of the desirable birding tours throughout the year, which limits my travel window to just two months during summer: June and July. (Yes I can hear the sound of the tiny violins).
There was a tour in the Northern Hemisphere that caught my eye: Iceland.
This was the land of puffins, razorbill, and murre. The white-tailed eagle, gyrfalcon, and snow bunting. Home to one of the largest seabird colonies on Earth.
Iceland: the land of fire and ice, home to the midnight sun and Nordic winds. Of the dancing Northern lights and Viking blood.
Sign me up!
And I did sign up with a ten day tour run by WINGS Birding Tours. Most of the tour will be focused on the western side of Iceland.
While this tour wouldn’t produce a treasure trove of lifers (I estimate between 20-25 lifers), I would have the opportunity to see many birds in breeding plumage because Iceland was their breeding grounds. I looked forward to seeing Harlequin and long-tailed duck, Barrow’s goldeneye, black-legged kittiwake, red-throated and common loons in their breeding finery. One bird I really looked forward to seeing on solid ground is the arctic tern. The only time I had seen this long distant migrant was on the deck of a pelagic tour boat. This tour really is about spending quality time with the amazing avian culture of Iceland!
Before going on any great saga, I must first obtain a watercolor journal. For Iceland, I chose two Stillman & Birn Beta Series journals. One is hardbound 5.5″ by 8″ journal and a soft bound pocket journal. On the first page I sketched a symbol of Iceland: the Atlantic puffin (featured sketch). Seeing this bird would be a lifer for me. The alcid can be seen in the northeastern part of North America but when I was in Maine in October, all the pelagic puffins were far out at sea (they come ashore in the summer to nest in large breeding colonies).
I like to start my travel journals with a map and drawing the outline of Iceland seemed to be like tracing the undulating lines of a Rorschach test. This map was really not to scale!
A trip is always an excuse to add some new gear to my travel set up, and then do a spread about it. In this case I wanted a new stuff daypack that could stuff down to almost nothing and then be used as a daypack to carry my sketching kit and rain gear. I chose the Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack. This stuffs down into a 4″ by 4″ bag yet has a capacity of 18 liters while weighing in at just 3 oz. The pack features zipper pulls, padded straps, a water bottle pocket, and an easy access top pocket with a key clip.
I just couldn’t resist drawing an Osprey on a puffin.