Words and pictures really struggle to capture the experience of standing barefoot in a hot bubbling mud pool, watching mist slowly reveal a creaking glacier while you’re chewing on copious amounts of liquorice sticks! Iceland is a country of stunning raw beauty, beautiful contradictions and elves… apparently!
Death by Camper Van
Arriving in t-shirts and shorts ignoring the buses to Reykjavik, we stubournly cycled the 50kms from the airport to Reykjavik. A cycle we thought would be a casual introductory jaunt. Nothing could have been further from the truth! Faced with 20km/hr northernly headwinds that shaved at least 12 degrees off the ‘pleasantly balmy’ 15 degrees, as informed to us by our chirpy flight pilot. We hugged the battered hard-shoulder of a dual carriage-way hoping to god we wouldn’t be squished by massive camper vans rattling past, frugally dividing the last of our black pudding sandwich made before we left Ireland! It was a tough baptism of fire and on reflection was the most difficult day on the bikes!
Which way will the wind blow!?
Route One is the main road that circumnavigates the whole of Iceland and was the road we travelled on for the duration of the trip, apart from the occasional detour. Because wind is such a factor in Iceland, the direction it blew was important to cyclists like ourselves carrying heavy panniers. So the main decision while travelling Route One was whether to go clockwise or anti-clockwise. Which way will the wind blow?! From our research there seemed to be pros and cons for either directions. We went anti-clockwise, ie, south from Reykjavik. We’re not sure if it was the right decision. You tend to remember the struggles of the head winds more than the ease of the tail winds! The wind was particularly ferocious and unforgiving in the east and north east. On occasions we had to pedal hard in our granny-gear going down hill to avoid being blown back uphill! We found that winds generally died down at night, usually from 9pm until maybe 3 am. Also the roads were a lot quieter with less traffic travelling at night. So with pretty much 24 hours daylight we did most of our cycling at night.
The landscape really is a feast for the eyes. It is an otherworldly land of Arctic desert, volcanos, geysers, glaciers, waterfalls, hot springs and lava fields. It was first discovered by the Irish monk St. Brendan and a band of his followers in the 6th century. I can only imagine what was going through the monks’ minds as they witnessed the black sand beaches, spitting sulphurous hot rocks and gleaming icebergs as they set foot on the island. It was probably something like “holy sh*t Brendan, the ground is farting!” or something to that effect…
Shat on by militant terns
Iceland’s bold and dramatic scenery is complemented by its hardy, sometimes delicate flora. In a country of ice and fire it’s amazing to see plants survive in the most inhospitable of environments. For large stretches of road along the Eldhraun lava fields of South Iceland, the largest of it’s kind in the world, the roadside was fenced on either side. Initially I though it was a farmer with a compulsive fencing disorder but it’s actually a preventative measure by the road organisation of Iceland to stop people from standing or driving on the fragile moss that grows on the lava rock. Consequently, Eldhraun is a national park and it’s forbidden to camp on any national park in Iceland. Wild camping in Iceland is such that you can camp anywhere other than these parks or if in doubt ask the permission of the land owner… if you can find them in such a sparsely populated country! (for tips on wild camping visit here!) It felt slightly peculiar to be setting up tent in the middle of the night with the sun hovering on the horizon. Even more confused were the birds, I’d imagine! And on the subject of Icelandic birds, they’re a little… well… unhinged! I was shat on and pecked by militant arctic terns, chased and surely mocked by godwits and deprived of sleep by the noisy squeaking oystercatchers!
1500kms, 25 days, and two weather beaten but happy cycle tourers! Iceland was amazing!
Next blog post will be about Icelandic food, keeping costs down while on cycle tour in Iceland and general cycle touring advice for enjoying this beautiful country!
Typical campsites while wild camping.