It’s been so long since we finished our bike tour of Iceland, it seems like a distant dream. I’ve had this interview with Dori sitting in my recorder all that time, and listening to it immediately transported me back to one of the best experiences of my life. If you’re ever in Reykjavik, be sure to give him a smile and say hello – he’ll appreciate it.
When we first met Halldor (Dori) Hreinsson, Paul and I were purchasing the final few items we needed at an outdoor shop in Reykjavik, before setting off on a five week bicycle tour around Iceland.
Wielding a series of maps, a set of lightweight cutlery and a couple of midge-proof head nets, we were greeted at the counter by Dori – a larger than life Icelandic man with kind eyes and a ready smile. We placed down our purchases and chatted to him about our plans, to which his face immediately lit up. Having confirmed that we were definitely going to buy the maps, Dori spread them out on the counter between us, grabbed a pen and started marking off must-see spots.
Aware that we needed all the advice we could get, we were pleased with our good fortune at having met this enthusiastic and generous Reykjavik local – but we were also conscious of the growing queue of toe-tapping customers behind us, as well as Dori’s slightly flustered colleague who politely asked more than once if we might shift over so others could be served. It was clear Dori was an outdoor enthusiast first, a checkout clerk second – and we didn’t want him getting in trouble at work, even though Dori himself didn’t seem all that fazed.
As it turned out we were only half right – Dori wasn’t as we’d guessed a local guy funding his passion for adventure with a part-time job behind the counter at an outdoor store. He was a local guy funding and sharing his passion for adventure as the owner of a chain of three outdoor stores in Iceland called Fjallakofinn (literally ‘mountain hut’), along with the associated import business and a boutique European adventure travel agency. On that particular day, he had dropped by his Reykjavik store for a visit and to meet some fellow adventurers – including, thankfully, us.
A month later – with 1200 hard-earned kilometres under our belt, ridden through a spectacular country in an adventure that will stay with us forever – we again joined Dori, this time for a pint of lager at the pub across the road from his store on Reykjavik’s main street.
One of the first things Dori told us – in classic to-the-point Icelandic style that can sometimes seem cocky at first, but is in fact refreshingly honest – was that he expected there to be a lot of people at his funeral. “I have a simple philosophy of life, and that’s why I know the church will be packed when I pass away,” he said, eyes shining with the revelation. “I try to make people smile,” he went on. “To get a smile – whether it’s an Icelandic or English or an Australian smile, it’s the same – that gives me a lot in my heart. I am nourished by making people happy. People like you who are buying their stuff and they come back with their story about how marvellous their adventure was.”
That might sound like the line of a salesman eager to sell more gear to the waves of tourists arriving on Iceland’s shores – a million in the summer of 2014 alone, three times the country’s local population. However, Dori’s sincerity is underscored by his equal candour when it comes to the type of tourism that is less likely to elicit one of his contagious grins.
“I don’t want this precious diamond which Iceland is for me to be flooded by ‘ants’, which is what I call some of the tourists. The ones that are here with their scoreboard to match up with their neighbours,” he said. For example, Dori told us he finds visits to Iceland’s famous Geysir rather depressing nowadays. “For me, Geysir is like a fish factory. When I was younger, it was unbelievable, but I don’t enjoy it anymore. People pass through like fish being processed – they may as well just buy a postcard.”
But it’s not just the “carousel tourists” (another one of Dori’s phrases) – he also laments the growing caravanning culture among Icelanders. Dori says he is proud to call himself a “tent person”, even if he is part of a shrinking community. As an example, Dori told us a story about a recent camping trip he took with his family. They had set up camp early in the day and left to go hiking, only to return to find their tent flanked on all sides by enormous caravans; they had unwittingly erected it near the only power outlet. The worst part was when the caravan occupants all turned up the same TV show at 9pm. “I really don’t understand it, I’ve been trying to figure it out. Why do they bring their living room to the mountains? Why do they need TV?” Disappointed, Dori and his family shortened their stay at that particular site and moved on early. “The caravans are cutting the connection from the earth, from nature,” he said.
Dori’s love for the outdoors has been nurtured since childhood – he grew up skiing, hiking and camping in Iceland’s remote wilderness with his parents. Dori’s father was a member of the Reykjavik rescue team (part of a national volunteer organisation similar to Australia’s SES), which Dori himself has been involved with for over 40 years now – since he was old enough to join at age 16. This was also how Dori came to be working in the outdoor industry.
“The rescue team had the only serious outdoor shop in Iceland,” Dori explained. His father had been on the board of the rescue team, and Dori used to accompany him to outdoor exhibitions in Europe to select skis and outdoor gear for the store. Ten years later, Dori was on the board when the outdoor gear shop was up for sale – and the rest is history. Fjallakofinn has expanded to three stores across Iceland, and Dori also runs a small tour company in which he takes limited numbers of travellers on adventures around Europe. The latter business venture, however, is more for his personal fulfillment than anything else. “We have small groups, we don’t advertise – it’s like those micro farms, we just harvest what we need for ourselves,” he said.
It’s clear that the key to Dori’s success is his contagious enthusiasm and his generosity – his smile collecting philosophy. A great story-teller, he had plenty of anecdotes to share with us over beer. One was about the time he read a public notice in the local paper about a ten-year-old boy who’d lost his treasured Swiss Army Knife. Immediately sympathetic to the boy’s loss – and as the country’s only importer of Victorinox – Dori had contacted the family and replaced it. He then showed us a photo on his phone – it was of the boy, now grown up, on a recent heli-skiing trip they’d taken together. The pair became lifelong friends. Dori never asked for payment for the Swiss Army Knife – only a smile to add to his growing collection, and perhaps another friend to fill a space on a church pew when the time comes.