Iceland Hikers

By Cheryl Conway 

Denise Washington

Imagine unplugging from cell phones, social media and the ordinary daily routine to hike with other women through Iceland and visit the Blue Lagoon, one of the earth’s most awesome places.

Two local women plan to hike this adventure next month when they join Viking Women on the Women’s Laugavegur Hiking Tour with 57 Hours. Denise Washington of Hackettstown and her good friend JoAnn Spilman of Long Valley will join up to 16 other women for the six-day hike.

The ladies will fly to Iceland on July 8 and their hike starts Monday, July 10, returning to Reykjavik on Saturday, July 15.

“That morning we go to the Blue Lagoon, then two days in Reykjavik,” says Spilman, retired as a former Information and Cyber Security manager. 

The hike is “Professionally mapped out by 57-hours,” explains Washington, a medical coder/auditor, spin instructor, personal trainer and health and wellness coach. “It is a beautiful route and will take in some of the more memorable parts of Iceland going through diverse terrains.”

Spilman and Washington have been friends since 2010 when they met while working out at Peak Performance gym in Chester.

“We joined a contest together and have been fast friends ever since,” says Washington.

Exercising for years — as a marathon runner, winner of the Mt. Olive Biggest Loser Contest through Mt. Olive Recreation Exercise program, and spin instructor — Washington began hiking more than a year ago. The 26 year former Mt. Olive resident went on her first hike in February 2022.  

“I took a solo trip to Sedona and hiked for four days and I was hooked,” says Washington, 68. “I hike with various hiking groups on Meetup. Hikeolution, NJ Single 50+, NJ Forty Plus Hiking.”

Her most challenging hike was BearFort Ridge, West Ridge Loop in West Milford. “A steep elevation (1,400 feet) with many areas which required that I had to use my hands to scramble up rock formations,” says Washington. “There were many scenic overlooks and the feeling of accomplishment I felt once I completed this hike was amazing.”

When she returned from her Sedona trip, she explored other hiking ideas and discovered the Iceland adventure.

“The thought of hiking with a group of women of various ages was intriguing,” says Washington. “Unfortunately, the trip for July 2022 was sold out. I sent a 20-minute video about the trip to three of my friends; JoAnn responded, “yes” 10 minutes after I sent the email!”

It was in April 2022 when Spilman learned of Washington’s idea. “Denise had wanted to do this hike last year, but it was filled.  She sent a few of us an email, seeing if there was any interest.  I said, ‘I’m in!’

“The Laugavegur Trail is one of the most spectacular thru-hikes in the world,” she says. We will start at Landmannalaugar ending in Thorsmork.”

Spilman has not done any official hiking trips, she says, but has “been out hiking or walking locally and in Vermont for years.”

Her favorite was “An evening/night hike with Denise this past February on Pyramid Mountain. It was minus 10 degrees F. Challenging, cold, dark, but so much fun!”

To prepare for the trip, Washington says “I have been hiking at least once every week since May 2022. Additionally, I am increasing my sessions of weight training, walking, spin classes and yoga sessions to assist with endurance and flexibility.”

Her other forms of exercise come into play to ensure her body is in tip-top shape. “I teach spin and am a personal trainer,” she says. “I also walk, work out with a heavy bag, battle ropes and weight train.”

Same story for Spilman: “I am always cross-training including alpine skiing, golfing, hiking, spinning, gym and yoga,” she says. “I will hike more when nearer to the departure.” 

Out of all the exercise Washington has explored, she enjoys hiking. 

“Connecting with nature, particularly the first 10 minutes of a hike are the best,” says Washington. “I am disconnecting with all the insanity that may have happened all week and I can just “be.” I look forward to this time every time I go hiking.”

The weather will most likely be in the 50s, and probably will include sun, clouds, rain and snow.

“There is approximately 21 hours of daylight that time of year!” Spilman says.

The ladies are prepared for any surprises.

“The thought of all the unexpected things which could happen during this hike is exciting!” says Washington.

This is what they expect: “Each day we will wake up in a different environment, but we will start each day with breakfast, pack our backpacks and hike 5 – 10 miles per day,” says Washington. “Our backpacks will contain lunch which we will eat while out on the trail. I expect to see some amazing sights. At the end of the day, we will make dinner and have the choice of either doing a session of yoga or going on a short hike.       

“We will carry our backpacks with everything we will need for the day while the rest of our belongings will be transported by van to the next town that we will be sleeping at for the night,” she adds.   

“We will hike from mountain hut to mountain hut for our overnight accommodations,” adds Spilman, Long Valley resident since 1985. For food, Spilman says she will eat a lot of sea-fish, Icelandic lamb and salmon and her peanut butter and granola bars as a backup!

She expects to be “living off the grid while on the Laugavegur trail. The mountain huts do not have electricity, thus no means of charging cell phones or cameras. Cell phone connections, if found, may be unstable.”

Their goal is to have fun and come home with amazing memories. 

“My goal is to have an unforgettable experience with Denise and the others on the hike,” says Spilman. “Denise and I have been planning this for over a year!  We are expecting to return home with many interesting memories!”    

Washington’s goal is “to complete the hike, enjoy the terrain and enjoy the company of the new people who I will meet. I am looking forward to how this trip will change me because after each one of my adventures I am forever changed and how it will lead me to my next big adventure.”


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