Escape: Cold Comfort

Renewing our vows on the back of a bike in Reykjavík, Iceland

By Joe Gresh, Photography by Joe Gresh

If you want to stay married to the same woman for a really long time, you've got to be willing to navigate a trackless emotional jungle. Part Indiana Jones, part Sigmund Freud, you blunder through the half-light, never finding firm footing and always on the alert for diabolical sensitivity traps laid with love and the best of intentions.

Take this year, when my wife Colleen told me not to make a big deal out of our 20th wedding anniversary. "Let's save the money instead," she said. Like a rookie on a snipe hunt, I made that No Big Deal. I made it such a No Big Deal, I forgot all about it, the importance of the day slipping my mind like an old Sachs six-speed transmission slips into neutral. Until, that is, she came home from work.

It was quite a scene. I begged; she snarled. Offers of dinner were rebuffed. I plied her with the traditional day-late-and-a-dollar-short long-stem roses. I tried to purchase a Mulligan from her but the damage was done. In the penal code of marriage crime, failing to properly celebrate the 20-year mark is equivalent to Murder One. "Book 'em, Danno!"

I haven't been dozing this past fifth of a century, though. Experience has taught me that the fastest way out of marital strife is to spend lavishly. Which explains how we ended up in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, in Reykjavík, Iceland. Nothing says "Happy anniversary, baby" like a nice motorcycle ride around a chilly fjord.

We pick up our Suzuki V-Strom 650 from Haddi at Riding Iceland ( The 'Strom rents for 118 euros a day. I work it into the conversation that I am the tiniest writer at Motorcyclist magazine and therefore won't tax the 'Strom's tires. The rental price plunges to 115 euros a day. That's the power of the press.

Haddi and I appear to be identical twins separated at birth, and we fight an unnerving desire to start doing the mime-looking-in-a-mirror shtick. With our luggage bungeed to the 650, my wife climbs onto the pillion. "It's the most comfortable motorcycle you've ever had," she says, tears running down her cheeks. This is true: My bikes have not been very passenger-friendly. She once did 2000 miles to Sturgis with a broken helmet and no backrest on the postage-stamp seat of a V-Max. Then there's my old Yamaha Enduro with no backseat at all; she sits on the rack. Still, I feel the water works are uncalled for. I've gone out of my way to set up this anniversary motorcycle trip just for her.

We're in a downtown Reykjavik bar, and I ask a group of local motorcyclists if they speak English. Stupid question; everybody here speaks English. I will never see any of these leather-clad Moto-Vikings again, so I ask them where a good place to ride is. They laugh and point at the ground. I get it: to the bar. "I mean twisty roads out in the country." The Vikings think everything I say is hilarious, which is good; you don't want Vikings upset with you. Finally, one of the Vikettes (Valkyries?) suggests the first fjord to the north. "Be careful," she says, "the wind will blow your motorcycle off the road."

Normal September weather in Iceland is breezy and overcast with a light dusting of rain, but for our ride up the coast, broken-glass sunshine litters the ground. We turn right onto Highway 47 just before the entrance to the Hvalfjorour tunnel and begin circumnavigating the sinuous road around Hvalfjorour-fjord.

Colleen is comfortable on the back of the V-Strom; too comfortable. Next she'll want me to buy one of these smooth-running Suzukis and take her riding with me all the time. Then she'll make me wear a European carry-all rakishly slung over my shoulder. A manicure, or worse, a pedicure can't be far behind. I better nip this metrosexual-rider action right now. We pull off onto a bumpy dirt road and drunkenly weave across a single-lane bridge, passing waterfalls and grassy fields lousy with shaggy horse. "What's that baby? Can't hear you!"

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