Iceland 2016

The trip was almost a disaster before it even started, the bike I was due to take was damaged beyond being rideable the week prior to flying. I ordered a new frame( something I had been looking at for a while) as it was on sale, and the amount was what I had in my PP account, a sign I felt! I was pretty sure it would be tight, time wise, so just in case I rebuilt the CX bike with more appropriate gearing, tyres etc, just in case. Fortunate it was too, as the bike arrived 3 days before leaving, and although I could have built it up I would prefer to give it a good long day ride, at the least, before taking it abroad. So I left it in it’s box and packed the Tricross, which was renamed “planB” by a whitty friend!

I had booked a bus ticket to the airport, after reading the small print re bike carriage. I use the Citylink Gold service bus to Glasgow fairly regularly, and even when its really full there is usually plenty of spare space in the luggage bay, so I was reasonably confident.  Still, a bit of a risk as, if i couldn’t get it on, the whole trip would be over as I wouldn’t make it to the airport in time. As it turned out, on all 4 legs of the bus journey( 2 each way)the driver/host never once questioned size of the box, which was quite large. So that hurdle jumped.

I flew with Easyjet: and as with other small carriers, they charge extra for sports equipment, £70 return in the case of bikes. 32kg limit. I was unsure if they were happy for other stuff going in the bag, which there was plenty of room for, as some airlines don’t like it, possibly to hope to get more money out of you, if you want to take a cynical view. Well, I have to say they lived up the their name. When checking in at the outsize baggage desk, I asked the staff if they were ok me putting my bike luggage in the bag(I knew it was well under the max allowance) No problem at all, he even sat patiently as I pulled it out of my carry on bag and organised it into the bike bag. 10/10 so far. They let me check it in 4 hours before flying, as the way the buses worked meant I got to the airport really early. This one does go up to 11!!

So having divested myself of the larger bits of luggage I went in search of a spot to watch the wimbledon final and grab coffee/food, come on Andy….. I have flown with Ryanair quite a lot in the past, and while I have had good experiences with them too, one thing I would say is Easyjet has a far more streamlined checking in approach, online checking in and boarding cards that you can download to Apple’s wallet or the App, which means you just swipe the reader with your phone/tablet/ipod thing. With Ryanair you have to print a hardcopy pass, despite EVERYTHING ELSE being done online! (don’t get me started on the payment supplement for booking/paying online, despite there being no other way to do so!!!)

Anyway, Flight etc went without incident, and the approach to Keflavik airport was absolutely stunning, the aircraft slowing gliding in, along the south coast and lava fields of the Reykjenes peninsular. The cloud was pretty low, so we got a great “reveal” as we dropped below the cloud, the moonscape of the lava fields and hot springs suddenly coming into view. Touch down! cleared passport control in about 2 mins, my bike bag was even sat in the arrivals hall when I got through, presumably it was too big for the belt. No damage and everything still in the bag, when I got around to putting it together the next day.

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So a quick ride into town for some maps and fuel for the stove(red spirit) and we are all ready to get the show on the road, quite literally! Found this mural on a community building wall just off the high street, which basically started a theme of images of the bike leaning against random stuff….

A bit of a fraught run along he main road to Reykjavik for a few kms had me deciding to turn down the Grindavik road, the traffic was pretty busy, and despite a very wide shoulder I didn’t fancy about 45km of dual carriageway. turned out to be a good choice, effectively going downtime road I had planned to return tho Keflavik on, the road through the lava fields was amazing.

_DSF6591Bike leaning against a post, on the southern road around the Reykjenes peninsular.

_DSF6595Though it looks a bit like cowshit, it is in fact lava from the last eruption, as the whole area is effectively a giant volcano it’s apparently not unusual for there to be small lava flows!!

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I camped the first night next to this old bridge, crossing the main river flowing from Porsmork. One of the sources for this river is the now infamous Eyjafjallajökull. The road heads right, along the valley in the background.

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_DSF6642The track out was pretty rough in places, quite an effort on 35mm cx tyres, lots of concentration to pick a good line required! There were plenty of river crossings along the way, varying in depth and width etc. I had planned to go to a campsite/cabin park in the end of a small valley but the river to there was entirely uncrossable, over waist deep and really fast moving. The map suggested there was another site a few kilometres further along the main route, another crossing but hopefully I would get over that one. again to deep to cross on foot (though was drivable with a large enough vehicle, see photo of bus crossing). speaking to a bus driver he suggested that there was a series of mobile bridges for walkers, placed at suitable locations based on prevailing water levels.

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Though it is hard to tell in the photo, its about 8ft from the top of the steps. lots of fun with a loaded bike and not enough width to stand next to it to lift/lower said bike! oh what fun, especially for the amused onlookers. The site was at the end of the Landmannalaugar trails, and was ver busy with folks finishing the 4-5 day route. Bizarrely, there is a bus service all the way to the airport right at the moraine beach by the campsite!

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_DSF6636The bus is on a small gravel bank mid flow, having just crossed a channel that covered the wheels, and is just about to do so again. This is where I wanted to cross myself, before being redirected. this is the service between Keflavik and Porsmork, £40 each way…pretty good value I would say. The forecast was for a storm to pass through during the following day and night, with winds of 30-40mph. I decided I would head back down the road I had come and find a sheltered camp spot somewhere on the ring road around Skogafoss. The previous day had been really hard on the bike, especially the drivetrain and tyres. I live in the Cairngorms, which being made up of granite, can be quite hard on pads, chains etc. But it is nothing like the black sand/grit around the lava fields. Consequently; about 4km along the track I had a puncture, the kind that just deflates instantly, never a good sign. The rear tyre had a long slash in it, maybe 2 in long. A tyre boot kit was the one thing I had failed to bring too!! Fortunately a German couple in a 4×4 camper stopped to offer me a lift after a few kms of walking(amazing how many drivers just passed without checking if a walking cyclist needed a hand) They were heading around to Vatnajokull, which would take them through Vik, which was the largest settlement along the south coast there, must be able to get a new tyre etc there surely? A nice drive along the coast, with stunning scenery and interesting conversation had me in Vik in around an hour. Passing Skogafoss along the way, was looking forward to stopping there on the way back.

As it happens Vik isn’t that big at all, and certainly has nowhere to repair or replace bicycle parts of any kind. FYI, Iceland has very few cycle shops once out of the bigger towns/cities. Most locals can’t imagine going anywhere other than by car or bus, bikes are for kids it seems. Chatting to a guy in a gas station he rather randomly mentioned he had found a great offline mapping app for his phone. Actually it was very useful; not so much for the mapping, though that is good, but for the embedded info on services such as accommodate, fuel stations and stores etc. It was obvious that I would need to go to Reykjavik to buy a tyre, but the next bus wasn’t until 20:30, about 8 hours wait. Also it would get me into town in the middle of the night meaning finding somewhere to stay etc. I decided to have a coffee and have a think.

The fuel station was absolutely chaos, being the only fuel and cafe stop for miles it was rammed, with folks queueing in all directions. I came up with a plan to try and make a tyre boot using a soda bottle, and ride out of town to camp somewhere quiet, and get a bus in the morning. By now the storm was getting going properly, pouring rain and strong winds. But, they were tailwinds so would be pretty useful if I could get the bike sorted. I managed to get it patched and holding air by mid afternoon, and decided to set off and see how I got on. All was going well, so well in fact that after about 10km I decided I would try and get to Skogafoss, which is where the next stop for the bus was, and there is a campsite. Game on! The wind was amazing, I was humming along at around 20kmh, didn’t want to go any faster, what with the tyre and all. Figured I would be there by early eve at the latest.

Maybe 2km further along the front tyre goes flat too, another tear in the tyre right on the rim strip. When I took the tyre of to check it there was loads of grit in there and had just rubbed the tyre casing until it gave up. So now I was walking. The picture below is in the morning, but gives you an idea of how featureless it was, and how little cover it provided! not even a bush to hide behind for a pee…..

A long walk ensued that involved the wind now being a hinderance rather than a help, driving rain straight into my back. It was also strong enough to make the bike a real struggle to push, as it was constantly trying to blow the bike over! I walked for a few hours, hoping for somewhere to pitch the tent behind, and finally gave up after about 15-20km only to find some cable drums, the kind communication companies use, in a small park spot. An hour of pure comedy gold followed, trying various combinations of pitching, to get as much shelter as possible. In reality it wasn’t much, and I lay(cowered) in my tent for several hours. Bye about 0700 the wind had all but died, and the rain more or less stopped. The march to Skogafoss continued, I estimated about 15km, which was more or less accurate.

_DSF6644Picture taken on the walk to Skogafoss the following morning. The snow covered mountain is the back of Eyjafjallajökull.  Finally the bus came and I got a ride into the outskirts, managed to find a bike shop and all they had was a pair of Kenda 35mm road/tourer tyres, which were more like 32 or 33 maybe. About £90!. Still, I needed them and I was on holiday, so that was that. I found a coffee shop and got some lunch, after which I popped over the road and fitted the new tyres behind a fuel station, to very confused looks from the locals. Job done, finally back on the road. I hemmed for a while as to wether to stay in Reykjavik for the night, but as it was still only mid afternoon, and it doesn’t really get dark I decided to push on along rt1 and then down rt435 and on the road that goes around Pinvellirvatnvatn, and on to Pinvellir( pronounced “thinvetlir”)itself.

img_0205The turn off for Rt435, looking east along the ring road.

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following the route out to Pingvellirvatn was a pipeline, which at the time I wasn’t sure if it was an oil pipe( didn’t think they had oil inland?!) or maybe a water supply of some sort, which in fact it was, kinda. A bit of googling later on, and it is in fact a steam pipe from the geothermal plant along the road. Picture above is looking back toward Reykjavik. I reckon that the pipe was well over 50km long. Supplies heating etc for The capital and its satellite communities I believe…

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The road was pretty steep in places, this short rise was around 20%, fortunately it was just 80 or so metres long. Even the smaller back roads were in good condition, very ridable and often with a wide shoulder too. Though I have/had heard that the drivers were not particularly cycle friendly, I found the opposite to be true. The only close calls I had were hire cars, and even they were few. Speaking to a local he suggested that as drivers still aren’t that used to bikes on the roads, they are generally over cautious, giving cyclists a wide berth more often than not. I certainly had no issues, drivers and locals generally were incredibly friendly and helpful. Somewhat puzzled, though usually interested in ones exploits.

_DSF6665Pingvellir, considered the worlds first Parliament, was one of the places I most wanted to visit on the trip. As well as an interesting historic site, it is also the site where two tectonic plates meet. A quick google will furnish you with all the info you could want, so I won’t give you a lecture here. From a personal perspective, It was something of a moment realising that one was stood in a crack, between the two moving plates of the earths crust….. cliche maybe, but true non the less!!

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As with most of the popular destinations, if you are happy to wander a few hundred metres from the main attraction, or go early/ late rather than 9to5 it is amazing how much less populated it can be. Everyone has a wander along the viewing platform, as you would given that it affords a great overview of the fracture and the site as a parliament. But having walked the path that leads to the far side of the site, I took a turn onto a path that goes through the actual fault, and once about 50mtr in there was no one until I got to the other end, maybe a kilometre or so! I could see up to the platform above with its crowds, but as the path wasn’t paved and/or signposted no one was going down to see what it was….amazing. By far the most interesting part of the site for me too.

Next destination was Geyser, I planned to ride along rte36 and rte365 stopping in Laugervatn for the eve. Having camped the night before I was in need of a shower given the heat. I had been led to believe that it would be pretty cool for the most part, a little like a Scottish summer. Most days had been in the mid 20s if not warmer on occasion! What they lacked in midges they made up for in black flies, incredibly persistent. It’s not often that as a cyclist you hope for a head or cross wind, but if you had a following wind they could keep up with you as you rode, and would just fly around your head landing on your face at every opportunity!! very frustrating. Great hostel, surprisingly quiet and the breakfast was good value too.

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Geysir was a short visit, Staggering amount of coach parties and camper vans. While quite interesting it was hard to get too excited given how busy it was. Having read a few books since coming home there are certainly many other sites that would be more worth a visit, and given their locations would be considerably less attended. From here on to Gullfoss.

The ride to Gullfoss is a lovely section of road, with a short gravel diversion to avoid traffic I got to the falls around mid afternoon. Again the place was pretty busy.

_dsf6685 View back to the visitors centre, from the viewing platform

img_0202View from the platform. As you can see, an absolute sea of people.

A quick visit to the coffee shop, and a filling of water bottles had me heading up rte35, one of the roads that had been the original intention of the trip. I planned to ride up it for a while to have a look and get a feel for what the riding would be like for a future trip. I had spotted a small shelter just prior to the start of the gravel section, so intended to stay there for the night having gone as far up as I felt able/necessary.

_DSF6695The road looking north, just after the Gullfoss visitors centre. The route goes through the two main mountains, just left of centre.

_DSF6699The shelter, I was planning to come back here and stay for the night before heading back south tomorrow. Empty here when I looked in on the way past, when I got back a few hours later there were about 20 saddles in there, ready for a pony trek the following morning I guessed. I was awoken at about midnight by the sound of hooves, when I looked out of the window there was a couple of folks riding ponies, with a small herd of about 12-15 being driven into a small paddock about 1km up the track. Small van appeared shortly after and everyone clambered in and drove off. Again I guessed they were for the following days trek.

_DSF6701Start of the gravel section. It wasn’t has rough as I had thought it would be, I only rode about 10km of to but that was fine, even on the relatively narrow tyres I was running. I had planned to ride on nano 2.1s on the other bike, which will be perfect I think. You could get away with 40mm gravel tyres too, maybe a little less cushioning but fine non the less I imagine.

_DSF6702PlanB leaning against a sign suggesting not to drive the next section in a standard car, especially a hire car! While stood on the small hill taking these pics at least 5 hatchbacks went past. I could just imagine the conversation should one need to call the Icelandic equivalent of the AA/RAC!

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Quite the moonscape. From this small vantage point it was like standing on mars, in all directions. I can see why they filmed large parts of it here.  I headed back to the shelter and made myself comfortable, and made coffee and food. The inside of the hut was covered in graffiti, clearly a popular spot for folks coming of the route from the north. When I say graffiti I mean it in the positive sense, there were some great sketches, cartoons and writing, including a few from as far back as the 60s! really interesting wandering around the inside reading all the trip accounts etc. I was just getting ready to get my head down when a couple of Dutch cyclists appeared outside, looking in to serif it was habitable. figured it would be rude not to spend the eve chatting with them, and of course they were heading up rte35 all the way to Akureyri. They were certainly well loaded too, effectively the king to my yang, packing wise. They had fresh veg, bottles of whiskey and even a 3-4 cup Italian stove top coffee maker! Gotta love the European approach to cycle touring.

Leaving early the next day saw me at the Gullfoss visitors centre well before it opened. I had set my alarm for about 0600 in order to be out before the pony trekkers turned up, setting off about 0700. I figured about an hour of riding and taking photos, and I would be happy to hang around the car park for an hour or so, go down to see the falls without the crowds, fill up with water and use the loos etc. 2 problems, my iPod was still on uk time which meant it waist fact 0600 when I set off, and the toilet block was closed and no outside water supply on the outside of the building. Bugger.

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Walking down to the bottom track, it is possible to go right to the edge of the waterfall. A small rope barrier the only deterrent to going over the edge. Have to say that it was refreshing to be in a country where the government assume the population is capable of making sensible decisions. The lack of safety signage and “don’t” messaging really apparent when coming from the UK. Given that we don’t constantly read of another Icelandic citizen walking under a bus/of a cliff/waterfall you have to wonder if theres something in it?! Anyhow, stunning spot made more so with a perfect waterfall bow as the sky was clear and the sun rising as I was wandering about.

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The roar of the fall this close was pretty impressive. The viewing platform can be seen on the clifftop skyline. Breakfast was a sandwich of ham/chicken/salad and pepper (the sandwiches are somewhat odd by our standard, but very tasty) and some cheesecake. Given I was covering about 100km a day I wasn’t inclined to feeling guilty. By 0830 the coaches and campers had started showing up and by 0930 when I left, the place was heaving again.

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Having made my way down some of Rte35, I decided to take a detour east to pick up the bottom of Rte26. This would take me up the Pjorsa valley along Rte32, and then under Hekla, Iceland’s most active volcano. The ride along the Pjorsa was lovely, no traffic and very scenic. The road follows the river for most of the way, with a nice little climb out of the valley into the plain that the Sprenginsandur route runs through.

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The climb out of the Pjorsa valley, the road cuts back from the left side and climbs diagonally to the right of the saddle. Doesn’t look much now but at it is a steady 2km of 5-7% from memory( which may be flawed!) I stayed at a hostel a few kilometres down the road, as usual down a long track off the road. I had originally just headed down for coffee, but as it was about 3km down the track, and was a really nice wooden hut/lodge building I decided to stay the night. Surprisingly, even here in the middle of nowhere I was able to pay with a card!!! The view from the hostel was pretty cool, looking straight across the valley to Hekla, the road/track I would be riding tomorrow cutting under the range of hills, left to right. I was surprised by the amount of snow still on the summit, given it was late July. The summit is more or less the same height as Cairngorm.

_dsf6748The hostel at Bjarnaleakjer.

img_1908The view over to Hekla, the Rt26 basically runs under the volcano, left to right.

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After a night in the hostel I was off down the road to pick up Rte26 back to the ring road in the south. Again this road was part of the original plan, so I was keen to ride some of it ti get a feel for the conditions. I had watched a few vehicles form the hostel, which had a great view of the route, and had a rough idea where the road went, which was basically under Hekla itself. The road started fine, but soon deteriorated into a hell of washboard. Often the tyre tracks were the place to be, but once the washboard started it was the last place to be! I tried to ride down the middle but that was often where all the small rocks anded up so that had it’s own challenges. It was certainly more of an issue that I was on 35mm tyres that needed to be run at pretty high pressures, I imagine that 40mm would be a lot better, a 2inch or 2.2 mtb tyre would be even better. I wasn’t overly worried however given that most of the tour was on gravel or sealed roads. I figured it was a compromise that worked for this trip at least. I had heard from a few vehicles that the road was being resurfaced further along, and the road was quite a bit rougher where they were working. Given the current conditions I figured I would be ok, how much worse could it be? Yeh, lots it turned out!!

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Some of the washboard, not that bad here. Plan-B having a bit of a sulk at a small bridge!

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Hekla in the background, and the road here is where they are doing the work. They basically scrape the road into a level/even surface, and then cover it in hardcore(imagine what a railway line looks like). They then roll it flat and firm, then apply the sealed surface(tarmac). The section that was scraped and awaiting the hardcore was great, basically like the rest of the road with the rocks and washboard removed. However, once the hardcore was applied I couldn’t ride the road at all. Something like a Fatbike or plus bike would have been ok, but that was about it. I asked one  of the work men how far this section went on for, and was told about 5km or so……. Damn. That was going to put a dent in my plans for getting to the campsite at the other end of the road! I finally arrived at a campsite about 20.00. Decided to have a coffee in the bar at the reception, and saw some Caol Isla on the top shelf. What the hell, I am on holiday. I got a 1000kr note out to pay(about £8), to be asked for 1500….. About £13 for a single measure!!!!! last dram I was having on this trip I can tell you.

Following day was spent riding back to the ring road, and then heading to Sellfos. It was still pretty early when I got into town, and having had lunch at a bakery I found on the way east I decided to head on to Eyribakki, where I knew there was a really nice hostel. That would have me within a days ride of Keflavik for my overnight, ready to fly out the day after that. I had spent some time on the Reykjanes peninsular on the way out, but wanted to explore the coastal route through the lava fields, which for me was the highlight of this trip.

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The road along this section of coast was pretty quite, with very few settlements of any kind really. Some interesting black sand beaches, including some tidal inlets such as the one above. The sand was such a contrast to the vivid greens of the grass and the hillsides in the background. Pretty flat light helped with the rendering of the colour, too much sun would have made it too contrasty for my tastes. So I spent a lot of time pulling over and “doodling” with the camera.

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The Gunnuhver hotsprings was an interesting spot. A standing spout close to the parking area and a generating site in the background. The colours were amazing, such vivid ochres and red/browns.

The legend goes that a local woman, Gudrun Onundardottir, known also as Gunna, became enraged and sought revenge when her landlord took her only possession, a cooking pot, as she had failed to pay the rent. Dying shortly after, she was taken to the local cemetery for burial, and whilst carrying her coffin the bearers noticed that it became suspiciously light. While the grave was being dug the locals heard „No need deep to dig, no plans long to lie.” The following night, the body of the landlord was found on the heath, blue and with broken bones. The revenge of Gunna. Her ghost caused a great commotion in the area until a local priest set a trap which caused her to fall into the hot spring, where she is said to remain, to this day. It is said that if you listen you can hear her scream in the dead of night. The spring is certainly quite noisy and it’s not hard to imagine the more superstitious of us believing the noise to be that of Gunna!

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A little further along the road is the famous Atlantic bridge, built across the fault line that travels all the way from the SW corner of the island, along the peninsular and through into the highlands. Along this line is the hot springs at Gunnuhver, the Blue Lagoon and Pingvellir are all features. The rest of the day is spent slowly cruising along the road toward Keflavik, taking photos and generally just sitting by the roadside enjoying the view.

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I am suddenly aware that the trip is coming to an end, and my pace slows somewhat. Finally arriving in Keflavik at around 19.00 I head to the Burger/Pizza place on the road into town to hide from the rain that has started. A chance to reflect on the trip and dry out, the staff were pretty good about me dripping on their nice shiny floor!

The flight the following day was uneventful, as was the night sleeping on the airport floor before my bus back home. Gotta say that Easyjet continued their stellar service on the way back. No dramas at all, which is all you can ask for, right? It has taken me an age to write up this trip report, not particularly savvy at this stuff, or that driven to share every little adventure. But It has been great reliving the trip through writing it, and also trawling through the pictures to post up here. There have been times when I have scratched my head a little remembering details, using my small notebook would have helped there of course! Next time, and yeh I have booked flights for May next year. West coast maybe, those Highlands though…..

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