Thought it was farfetched to go on the trip
Last month, eleven adventurous men from Akranes went on a so-called enduro motorcycle trip to the Romanian city of Sibiu. In the group was Sveinbjörn Reyr Hjaltason, who was paralyzed below the chest in a motorcycle accident in the spring of 2020 at the foot of Akrafjall.
This was the second time the group visited the Romanian city, but the last trip was in 2019. The group has been cycling together for about ten years and have gone on the various trips in Iceland, including up to the highlands, as well as the area at Akrafjall, Skarðheiði and Hekla have been popular. During the trip to Romania, the youngest traveler was in his thirties, while the oldest was in his seventies.
There was no other option
When it was decided to go back to Romania, there was no other option than to have Sveinbjörn Reyr along, just like on the last trip, despite his disability. "We really wanted him to come along. He was very excited but worried that this would be a big problem for us," says Ólafur Páll Sölvason, Sveinbjörn's friend and part of the group of friends.
From the left: Þórður Guðnason, Jóhann Pétur Hilmarsson, Márus Líndal Hjartarson, Styrmir Þór Tómasson, Sveinbjörn Reyr Hjaltason, Ólafur Páll Sölvason, Björn Torfi Axelsson, Sigurður Axel Axelsson, Björn Valdimarsson, Hilmir Bjarki Auðunsson and Sigurbjörn Hafsteinsson, as well as two guides from the bike renting company EnduRoManiaTours. Photo/Sent to mbl.is
He says the group was unanimous in the decision that Sveinbjörn would go along. They knew that the trip would be a little different than the last one, but that everything went really well when they got to the Romanian city.
Four cycling days were organized and everyone were on motorbikes except for Sveinbjörn who traveled around on a quad bike. They had guides to assist them during the trip. On the first day, everyone rode together, but later the team was split up, as not all routes are suitable for four-wheelers.
A few of the group decided to take an extra day, including Sölvason and Hjaltason, and they drove along the mountain road Transfagarasan, which was named one of the best roads in the world by the TV presenters of the British program Top Gear.
Couldn't say no
Sölvason can't help but admire Hjaltason's energy and perseverance, which must be an encouragement to others who are in a similar situation. "He is absolutely amazing."
When asked about the trip, Hjaltason says that he thought it was far-fetched when the group started suggesting that he come along. "Fortunately, when they suggested this, I couldn't refuse," he says. Despite concerns in advance about various things in connection with the trip, i.a. regarding the quad bike and all the equipment, everything worked out great. Everyone has a great time in all kinds of conditions and off-road adventures.
One clumsy incident
Asked if he hasn't forgotten anything despite the fateful accident, Hjaltason says the driving technique is all in his head and luckily it wasn't damaged. The reaction is good and there have been no clumsy incidents in the Romanian mountains, except maybe when he hit the gas pedal once, sitting on the quad bike that was running and the bike jerked. "I think the guide was a bit shocked when I was lying there on the bike motionless and unable to get up. He had to take my shoulders and push me up and after that I could drive on all my off-road tracks. I think the guide realized there that I was very paralyzed," explains Hjaltason. "It was just a reminder that you can perhaps not do everything the same way you did before."
Hjaltason admits that driving like this is physically demanding. Since he has no stomach muscles, he had to rely entirely on his hands in the off-road areas. "I woke up in the night dying of sore muscles. I had to get up to get blood flow to them and shake them so I could continue sleeping," he says. However, the situation improved over time despite the heavy strain on the hands.
Although the trip went well, accessibility for wheelchairs was nevertheless lacking in Romania, and Hjaltason says that he experienced the situation as an "incredibly big setback" compared to this country. If there were wheelchair ramps, for example at restaurants, they were usually too steep and sometimes four or five people had to help him get in.
Has ticked a lot off the list
Asked if he had dreamed of going on a trip like this after being paralyzed in the motorcycle accident, Hjaltason says that he thought when he was in the hospital that a lot of things had gone from his life and would never come back, including motorsport.
"Then I have picked from that list an incredible number of things that I have done after this. You just have to be positive and give it a go," he says firmly and adds: "Life goes on and if you don't plan to take part in it, it disappears."
Here are a few of the 177 people who jumped into the sea at Akranes harbour to raise money for Hjaltason's bike. Photo/Sent to mbl.is
Valuable work in the workshop
Hjaltason works as a mechanic at Hjalti's car workshop in Akranes, just as he did before the accident. The working day is from 9 AM to 4 PM, and there he has plenty to do, like before, changing gearboxes, tires and doing various other jobs. "There are an incredible number of projects that I can solve," he says.
"It was similar with the trip and this job. Hjalti just told me to show up. We figured out what we could do. I thought it was far-fetched too, but it has worked out amazingly. It does wonders for the soul to have a fixed routine. This work is incredibly valuable."
In Akranes and elsewhere, Hjaltason travels around on a specially made bike that 177 kind-hearted and courageous people collected for by jumping into the sea at Akraneshöfn. In one year he has cycled almost 1,000 kilometers and it's great that he can attach his wheelchair to the bike. Now all roads are open to him.