Text: Emanda Percival
A friend in Stöðvarfjörður took us for a day out at the pool in Neskaupstaður. The sun shone and the sky was blue as we wound our way up from Eskifjörður. Hairpin bends switched our view from ocean mouth to river valley. We climbed higher and higher, I grew more and more uncomfortable with not being in the driver’s seat – not that I would have been very comfortable there either. The snow shifted from icing sugar dust, to blanket, to down filled jacket.
The tunnel mouth when we reached it was small and more than black against the white snow lapping across the road. It arched like an old railway tunnel, the hole just big enough for a train to slip through; no trains in Iceland though, only cars. We slowed, hesitant before entering, as if we were afraid of what might lurk inside. “It’s nothing like that,” my friend said when I voiced this thought.
“It’s only wide enough for one car and you can’t see another one coming the other direction; I’m looking for lights.” She accelerated, the tunnel swallowed us, I swallowed as it did, leaning forward from the back seat as if by being closer to the windscreen I’d be able to see better. The walls shone with water. Behind us the snow and blue sky glared like a diminished flashlight. I felt a thrill, like I was on a roller coaster in the dark.
The year after I first drove the tunnel it was closed. The new tunnel, eight kilometres in length, broke the last barriers to this lonely eastern fjord. It is now part of the world all year round.
Very few cars come up to the old tunnel now it is closed and locked, its one lane road through the mountain protected by steel doors on either end. The tunnel may be locked but the roads on either side leading to Oddskarðsgöng have become accidental access points to hiking, blueberry picking, and dog walking. In early summer when the fjords are emptied of snow and filling with fresh grass, flowers and frolicking lamps, a short drive towards the tunnel is enough to remind you that winter is not long past. Snow still fills the dips and thick ice flows across the tarmac.
At first you think it’s passable and slowly edge over the ice-edge but the wheels start to drift and you decide it is too soon to reach the tunnel. A delicate three-point turn ensues and you return to spring on the valley floor, leaving the winter behind for a few more weeks.
Oddskarðsgöng may be closed but two years ago artists were called to create rock art for the 21st century. I visited one of the artists at work. Late June and the snow was still piled high on either side of the tunnel mouth, though no longer across the road. Fog obfuscated the mountain peaks.
Leaving my car to walk inside felt like entering a haunted place. It was abnormally cold, and hollow of any feeling. The endlessly sound of water running down the walls made me turn my head expecting a group of hikers to appear from the black. A part of me, the daring adventurer, wanted to walk through to the other side, to be surrounded by all that dark. But, if the other door was locked…the thought of walking back made me shiver in an illogical way; surely if I had walked through once, twice would be no more difficult?
I felt for the artist set up in this concrete freezer painting alone for days at a time.
Two eyes of sodium yellow appear as we drive through the dark. The roar of the two cars echoes off the tunnel walls like monstrous beasts staking their territory. We lose the fight, pulling into a passing-pocket carved out of the mountain. The other car passes and we drive on. A spot of light grows until we’re spat out into another world of blue and white. The roller coaster tension releases, leaving behind the thrill of the conquered. Ahead the road is clear of ice and below the green of spring beckons.