Iceland, a land of ice and fire, of changing landscape, black ashes and raging rivers. Of savage storms, both sand and rain and vast emptiness. And all just an easy jet flight from Edinburgh. How better to experience it than by bike! The plan was hatched to ride from Keflavic heading east, we would do the first part on road, and then head into the interior on the gravel roads and get into the more remote areas. We both took our mountain bikes, mine with a mixture of pannier and revelate bikepacking gear, Huw went with just the revelate kit. Of course this meant that my bike, even with careful packing was by far the heavier which lead to a few minor disagreements on the way 😉 The first few days we pedalled through the mad lunar lavascapes. Very open and exposed there seemed little vegetation apart from moss and lichen. We were also subjected to the typical weather patterns. Deep gloomy drizzle, heavy downpours and by far the worst, the sweeping winds that threatened to push us and our bikes right off the road, or blow us backward. Funnily enough the entire time we were there, no matter our direction, i think i only remember a tail wind twice. You have been warned!
Camping was never really a problem, wild camping is legal as long as you are not within a km of a campsite or obviously on someone’s land. As the road is so sparsely populated its easy enough. The main issue is water, as the volcanic landscape is very well drained. We would fill up our bottles an hour or more before we wanted to set camp. We headed along the ring road for about a week, stopping at all the standard spots, i mean it would be rude not to.
Then as we prepared to head into the interior we had some bad news. Iceland had decided to spring a leak and they had to close off most of the F910 which we had hoped to take. A days rest at a lovely campsite on Lagarfjlot (no we didnt see the giant worms) and we decided to ride to Eglistadir to see what do. A major difference in buses between scotland and iceland is that the icelandic busses take bikes and at no extra cost! we decided that more tarmac trundling was out of the question so hoped on a bus to myvatn. True to its name, the air was thick with flies, the only place where we were bothered by insects. However, it being autumn, the colours were stunning and i think the landscape here was one of my favourite.
Now trucking west we wheeled our way to Godafoss waterfall, so called after statues of Norse gods were said to have been thrown in the waterfall after Christianity the official religion. Here we finally turned inland, excited and apprehensive to see the interior. The only concern being rumours of the tail end of a cyclone passing over, threatening to ruin our fun. The F26 became our home for the next few days, our weary tyres bumbling on the washboarding and skipping out on loose pebbles. Deciding we were both quite smelly we chose to add on a bit extra and cut across to the hot spring at laugafell. Not as steaming and delicious as we had hoped, but a nice enough stop. As the winds picked up overnight the wardens told us the storm was due to arrive late the next day. We decided to hop to it and get to the next mountain hut at Nydalur before it broke. And break it did, early in the morning we were hurried out of the tent to get it strapped away before it took off on a new adventure of its own. We were lucky to get away with one bent and one cracked pole. Such a frustrating day, we sat in the hut trying to look inconspicuous to the other guests as the wind howled and the dust turned the sky orange. Several tourists who underestimating the storm, were trying to drive, took shelter as well. Finally as dusk came, the winds dropped and we were able to put our tent up again. The price of the huts being a bit much for us, we had discussed barricading ourselves in the toilet cubical for the night if the wind had not dropped.
Although lower, we were still peddaling into 40mph winds as we set off and had one of our worst days, 12 hours travelling at no more than 4mph. To make matters worse, my rear derailier had snapped, leaving me singlespeed (thanks Huw for carrying about the surly singleator). It was all I could do just to turn the peddles on the flat. We supposedly lost 600m of height but are both convinced we rode up more like a thousand. Our saviour came in the form of an unlocked barn as the wind was again too strong for the tent (next time we will buy an expensive tent) and it was pissing with rain. Huddled in the dark shed I have never felt more grateful for human construction. The only water being a raging, angry glacial torrent we got to test our water filter and ponder how on earth people crossed before the bridge was built, as it looked like even a rib would get swept down. Finally the storm passed and we pootled the last stretch of the dirt road to Hrauneyjar. Falling into the hotel we ordered the greasiest most disgusting burgers with eggs and cheese and feasted happily. Huw enjoyed a rest day while I hitch hiked into Hella to get us more food, having run out with the delay. We had also failed to send a food parcel to landmannlauger, our next destination and it was sat in the post office in Hella waiting. Top tip, don’t trust icelands postal service, they don’t even know where they can and cant deliver. We discovered sending parcels on the buses was the best way. At least i got to meet the rare animal that is a local Icelander. So outnumbered by the tourists they are hard to find. And got a lift in a monster truck, although the driver did insist on taking me on a tour around the hydroelectric plants and then to have coffee with his mates. But it was nice to be able to ask him all the questions we had been storing up about the winter and how the rescue teams operate.
The ride to Landmannulauger was great, beautiful scenery and interesting lava formations. Unfortunately we both lost it with some tourists. Since we had been in iceland we had become a secondary tourist attraction. There must be hundreds of photo albums with us in them. Or crappy video clips of us riding. All taken while people drove by uncomfortably close. And never once asking permission or just saying hi. Even out in the interior in the horrible wind, the motorists took our pictures, one even telling us to smile as she took a photo out of her chauffeured and expensive 4×4. But never asking if we were ok, or how things were. The very basic human contact with others, the sharing of stories and experiences was lacking, and made us very frustrated. Anyway, after nearly getting pushed off the road by a tourist bus, we sweated to the top of a summit only to be confronted by the contents of said bus all aiming their viewfinders, not at the view, but at us. Now im sure if id popped up as they were panting away on a sunday morning jog and said smile please, they wouldn’t have been too happy. And we definitely were not. Choice words and hand gestures were displayed as we tried to ride away as fast as we could. If anything ruined our experience in iceland it was the other tourists. And having travelled and cycle toured in various parts of the world it makes me sad to say, as they normally enhance ones time. It certainly made me think about how i interact with others and hope im never as rude or ignorant! Landmannulaugar however was worth it, the scenery outdid the photos and it now being mid September, the campsite was relatively quiet.
We spent an amazing, if soaking few days exploring the area and surrounding hills. Baby hot springs, billowing steam and all the possible colours of rock around every corner. Its an incredible and special place. Finally, having eaten all our food bar some oats, and spent all our money in the small, bus converted shop, we packed up and headed for Reykjavik. Once again the wind conspired against us, what should have been an easy 100km downhill all the way turned into a nightmare slog into a headwind. Huw hit his wall big time and had to stick in behind me and my one geared machine as we painfully cranked back to the ring road. Enough was enough and we jumped on a bus the the city. Several days of rain in the lovely Reykjavik campsite with one clear night and the aurora. Finally we had enough of stuffed puffins, trolls and every manner of woolly garment imaginable and set course to keflavic for our flight home. Iceland was everything I thought it would be and more. I now have so many different trips planned to go back that ill be a hundred before I do them all. Its a crazy, desolate, inspirational land. Farmed and worked by tough and friendly people. And they sell ice cream at every petrol station. Go ride your bike there! Go now.