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An Icelandic tour

By Tom Gibb

Intro

This trip was a mixed trip, including a four day stint with a rental car and a bus ride back from the destination city of Akureyri through the interior.

A few insights from the rental car travels

Thingvellír, the site of the first parliament in the world is worth the visit. It is situated at a place where the rift that divides the new world from the old is visible. There is camping available at the site and along the lake, but it appeared to be the most primitive that we saw.

Geysir: the site of the world's second highest geyser, Geysir. Also the site of Strokkur, a geyser with an excellent and regular performance. The campground here was very nice, hot and cold running water and flush toilets. Compared to American campgrounds this was luxurious and inexpensive as well.

Gullfoss: a spectacular water fall ("foss" indicates a waterfall in Icelandic). No campground but not far from Geysir.

Vik: a site on the south coast with black beaches.

The church in Vik
The church in Vik

Strandarkirkja: a well funded small church in a remote location on the south west coast with no congregation.

Grindavik: a small fishing village on the southwest coast. Free camping and close to the Blue Lagoon.

Blue Lagoon: (Blaa Laonið) a small lake of waste hot water from a geothermal electric plant. Thought to have curative powers for skin diseases. Murky blue hot water.

Detailed bicycling route:

The Akraborg ferry is running no more, the day we rode it was it's last day because it has been supplanted by a tunnel under the harbor. The 55 minute trip across the harbor to Akranes cut off about 50 miles of roads that tend to be busy, especially on Friday afternoon. We did not catch the early ferry, but left at 1230 PM. It was well worth the 700 Islandic Kroner ($10 US). From Akranes Route 1 (also known as the "Ring Road") was gently rolling for the rest of the day. It was cool and rainy with a moderate head wind. We had a stop in Borgarnes for a meal in a Philippino restaurant. Thus fortified we traveled on for the rest of our 44 miles for the day, arriving at the campground at 2215 (1015 PM). Traffic was fairly heavy throughout the afternoon due to people leaving Reykjavík for the weekend. Should I have the privilege of doing this again I would avoid travel on Friday afternoon. Route 1 is a well maintained two lane road without a lot of room for bicyclers. Most of the time there was no problem as Icelanders are a law-abiding and polite people.

Leaving the campground on day 2 presented a small problem. We had a Black Labrador mix that decided to follow us. After we covered the four miles back to Route 1 the dog was still with us. At this point we became concerned about a car attempting to avoid hitting the dog and hitting one of us instead. Our choices were to try to tie the dog up somewhere or try to drive it away. Although it seemed likely it would be able to chew through anything we used to tied it up the possibility of having the animal die of dehydration ruled this out. We resorted to driving it off with a few rocks, after which "air rocks" were sufficient to keep it away. It still followed us for a total of 9 miles, after which it attached itself to a group of hikers near a resort hotel. This dog probably is responsible for chewing up one of our helmets, eating three of it's pads and chewing through one of the helmet straps (hence our thought that it would be able to free itself it we tied it).

The road on this day climbed steadily for about 35 miles. This was followed by a 10 mile descent into the village of Brú. At the top of the climb there was a mountain rescue hut. These are provided for emergencies and have provisions inside that people leave alone unless they have a real need. They are frequently found on the highest spots and, I suspect, are intended especially for winter travelers. We had a beautiful sunshiny day with a north wind that was to be our constant companion for the whole ride.

Brú was comprised of a gas station that included a cafe and small grocery store and a separate post office. Upon arrival I asked where the nearest camp ground was and was invited to set up camp in the back yard of the gas station. This was free, and I made an effort to pay.

Day three was a wonderful ride, 54 miles of gentle hills with that north (head) wind. At the half was point there was another small gas station with groceries. A brunch break of yoghurt (jógúrt) and a pastry made for a comfortable 5.5 hour ride into Blönduós. This stop was on Sunday and the regular grocery stores were closed. The gas stations had enough food to keep us happy until Monday morning. The campground fee included a shower at the local swimming pool, dish washing sinks, flush toilets and a nice level grassy spot with good protection from the wind.

Day four was a short day of 34 miles, a good climb prior to the long push into Akureyri. The day started with 18 miles of gentle climbing along the river and then about 2 miles of a climb that was reputed to be 16%. I don't think it was quite that steep but it was steep enough for a loaded touring bike. After the steep part there was still 2 miles of 3-5% grade before the top. The run down into Varmahlíð was glorious. This village had a very nice gas station/cafe/grocery store along with several resort hotels, a swimming pool and a bank. There were a few other shops around as well. The camp ground was run by a father and son team that featured horse riding. The camping sites were level and there were free hot showers, all for 350 Kroner. If one took the minimum horse ride for 1500 Kroner the camping site was free.

Day five dawned cold, windy and overcast. A road side temperature sign indicated +1°C. The day was fairly evenly split between climb and descent. The descent was a trial due to the cold north wind and the speed of the descent. Akureyri was a welcome sight after 60 miles. The campground was very well done, close to the swimming pool and had showers for 50 Kroner. The city of Akureyri is the second largest in Iceland, has nice restaurants, a grocery store right across from the campground (with "Supermarket" painted on the side facing the campground) and provides access to Grímsey.

Grimsey
Grímsey

Grímsey is an island on the Arctic circle, well known for it's bird life and a certain sign post pointing to various prominent cities around the world, like London, New York City and Tokyo, among others. Our trip to Grímsey was marked by rough seas, sea sickness, cold wind and mist. It was worth it however, especially while sitting snug and warm in the guest house with a hot beverage in my hands. This after crossing the Arctic circle and doing some bird watching. There were plenty of Puffins putting on their "flying rock" act. Puffins make ducks look graceful in the air.

At this point the weather became cold and rainy. Instead of pushing on to Lake Mývatn I took the overland bus through the interior to Reykjavík. Most buses in Iceland will take bicycles on a space available basis.

The Skogafoss
The Skogafoss - south Iceland

Notes about food, language and bicycles

The Skogafoss
The Skogafoss - south Iceland
Most Americans (and, I assume, people from other countries) will find the food in Iceland to be quite palatable. The only exception would be a serving of well aged shark meat called hákarl (prounounced something like "howkut"). It would be possible to eat American food the entire time, but why? Cod and pickled herring are both very good and I intend to spend some time trying to find a source of "skyr" in this country. Skyr is a milk product that has been described as a "very young cheese" and is closest to yoghurt in taste among the milk products I've eaten. Food was part of the adventure. The Icelanders have icecream that is better than any icecream I've ever eaten except for our homemade stuff.

The language was very difficult for me. Fortunately most people (the younger ones especially) speak English, and many of those speak it very well. People from Europe were using English to communicate with Icelanders and each other if they came from different countries. With the low crime rate, the substantial politeness of the Icelanders, and the widespread knowledge of English it made an ideal country for this inexperienced international traveler to "cut his teeth" on. Perhaps the only bit of Icelandic the the visitor needs to know is "takk", the equivalent of "thanks" in English.

My bike was a modified Raleigh Supercourse Mk II. It was a bit flexy under load but otherwise suitable. Next time I'll take a mountain bike though, there are many good rides that almost require an MTB. The Icelanders in general don't tour but many do use bicycles on an every day basis. The typical Icelandic bicycle seem to my eyes to be an MTB with fenders, a kick stand and a rear rack. The fenders were almost universal. An English woman told me that when Icelanders see a cycle tourist between cities they say, "They're either crazy or Danish!" I assume the Danish part refers to their high rate of bicycle use rather than to any mental imbalance (note: a couple of Danes took exception to that interpretation).

Panniers and other equipment. I had a pair of REI panniers on the rear. They never fell off, but with sleeping bag and tent tied across the back they would have had a hard time doing so. They aren't fully water proof but allowed some water in but were water proof enough to maintain nice puddles in the bottom. The Ortlieb panniers I had on the front were dreams. The were extremely easy to install and take off and never allowed any water in . . . I'm sold on them. My tent was too small for the climate, it did keep me dry but it was just a little above the size of a bivy sack. It wasn't suitable for rainy spells. Many of the tents in use around there were essentially two tents, while most of those that I'm used to simply have a rain fly draped over the frame. Double tents look like a very good idea for that rainy climate.

Transporting a bike by air. I'll avoid cardboard boxes next time. Mine was almost ruined by water upon arrival and required a lot of tape to make it usable for the return trip. I was carrying some of my camping equipment inside the box with the bike so I needed to use the box for the return trip. If I have to use cardboard to go to a climate like that I'll wrap it in shrink wrap or something first. I'll also make sure all nuts and bolts are tight. My stem jam nut loosened during transit and fell off. It found it's way out of the hand holds (which I'll tape up next time) and disapeared. It's not easy finding a Cinelli compatible part in Reykjavík.

From my diary notes for future trips

That's all the relevant stuff I can think of for now. When my riding companion chimes in there may be more said but for now that's all folks.

Tom Gibb : TBGibb@aol.com



(Originally posted as a Usenet article on 28 july 1998)