By Tom Gibb
Why Iceland? It is a land of great contrasts; waterfalls, deserts, green
coastal plains, hot springs, mountains, mighty rivers and it's all lightly
populated. That population turns out to be literate, polite, law abiding and
most of them speak English.
We almost started but the flight was scrubbed due to a sensor problem. After
Northwest re-booked our flights to Minneapolis and Keflavík we went home. We
could have stiffed Northwest by demanding that they fly us to Minneapolis and
put us up in a hotel, but we couldn't get to Minneapolis in time to catch our
Icelandic Air flight so we called our son Michael and asked him to come and get
us. Northwest did give us some coupon packets to say "sorry" but they were
pretty meager unless we planned to fly in the near future. Each had a calling
card good for six minutes (for our calls they were only good for five minutes),
two $10 coupons, and two $5 coupons for airport food. We eventually bought
cinnamon rolls for ourselves and the children with them.
Keflavík to Reykjavík. 34.7 miles. Route: Airport to the town of Keflavík
where we got on Route 420, then when that ran out back to Route 41. Mikilbraut
My intent was for us to take the "Fly Bus" to Reykjavík since we would have
been on the airplane for an entire night and would probably not sleep well. We
could be delivered directly to the campground so we could reasonably expect to
have the tent set up by 0900 for a jet lag recovery nap. We indeed did not
sleep well on the flight, partly because of the vivid red sunset sunrise
combination we could see for hours above northern Canada, but the bus drivers
were on strike so there was no "Fly Bus." Our only choices were to pay a taxi
driver $88 to take us to Reykjavík or put the bikes together and ride the 35
miles between Keflavík and Reykjavík. We considered camping a few miles away
from the airport at the actual town of Keflavík for the day to get some sleep
but Susan thought she would be able to handle the distance, so after stopping
briefly in Keflavík in a futile bid to find groceries at that early hour we
began pedaling toward Reykjavík. The ride was a little windy but the rain
held off and traffic was relatively light, much lighter than the last time I
rode this route.
This trip is through terrain that is compared to the moon. Much of it is lava
flow that is sometimes covered with moss. I got somewhat lost as we got to the
edge of the Reykjavík area, we were lured off of the road we were on by a sign
indicating a campground and wound up in Hafnarfjörður, a suburb of Reykjavík,
where I resorted to the distinctly "unmanly" expedient of asking for
directions. Since most Icelanders speak English and are quite polite this was
something I approached with confidence. We shortly found ourselves following a
man on a bike that had a child in a child seat on the back. After getting us
to a hopefully foolproof location (it was) he indicated our best route and sent
us on our way. My pronunciation of "Takk Fyrir" (the equivalent of "thank you
very much") must have been fairly good or at least comical but recognizable
for it brought a surprised smile to his face.
Once the tent was set up so Susan could get a nap I headed out to get
groceries and a good map. I had decided to leave for Þingvellir on Sunday to
avoid the heaviest outbound weekend traffic or the weekday commuting traffic,
so the map and groceries had to be done that afternoon. If the airline hadn't
had a problem and the bus drivers hadn't been on strike we would have had most
of Friday to catch up on our sleep and start resetting our biological clocks
and have all day Saturday to carefully consider the grocery and map purchases
and do a little sightseeing.
I also had some sticker shock. The campground had real Coleman fuel for sale.
Our stove prefers Coleman fuel to automobile gasoline (Bensín up there) so I
bought some. Then I figured out what I really payed for it. 550 ISK = $7.23
per liter or about $28.94 per gallon! The poor stove went on a gasoline diet
at the mere cost of $5.15 per gallon after that was gone.
Reykjavik to Þingvellir. 31.9 miles. Mikilbraut to Route 1, change to Route 36
at Mosfellbær. Continue on Route 36 to Þingvellir.
My idea of avoiding the heaviest traffic by leaving when most of the weekend
travelers would be heading the other direction may have actually worked, but
there was still plenty of traffic going our way. This was probably due to
people using the beautiful day for day trips. We rode part of the way with
David and Christine, two very experienced bicycle tourists from England.
Although they are stronger riders than we are we arrived at Þingvellir before
they did, they had tired of the traffic and stopped to rest their nerves for a
while. We were not racing. We had a tail wind all day, but Susan was still
quite tired upon arrival.
This location is marked by the rift that notes the division of the European
and North American tectonic plates. It is important to the Icelanders as the
place where the early Icelanders held their national parliament, the Althing.
We toured the actual park area after setting up camp and resting a little.
If someone had been watching my first bit of riding on the now un-encumbered
bicycle would have been very amusing. I think I was compensating for weight on
the front that was no longer there and so I was wobbling back and forth.
Þingvellir to Geysir 34.7 miles. Route 36 to Route 365 to Laugarvatn, then
Route 37 and Route 35 to Geysir.
This ride was enhanced by a tail wind and lighter traffic than the day before.
We still had very nice weather. We started on smooth paved road along the
lake but later we had some distance on gravel roads and some steep hills to
deal with, all of which helped prepare us for the next few days. This included
a 16% paved downhill that ended in gravel.
Laugarvatn was the last stop at which to purchase groceries before entering the
interior. There is a small grocery store attached to the first (it's also
probably the only gasoline station in town too) gasoline station one comes to
from the south. The camping at Geysir is nice and the hotel across the road
has a swimming pool and the showers required before you can swim. The swimming
pools in Iceland are a very good value. Where the showers cost between 50 ISK
to 150 ISK for limited hot water the swimming pools usually cost 200 ISK for
unlimited hot water in the shower and all the shampoo you need to make yourself
clean enough to swim (exchange rate: 76 ISK = $1.00 US). The pools are heated
and most of them have hot tubs ("hot pots") for additional stress and muscle
pain relief. The larger swimming pools often have a cooler pool for swimming
laps and a "wading" pool that is distinctly warmer along with the "hot pots."
The pool at Geysir lacked the lap pool, but it was still a wonderful swim and
Route was entirely on Route 35
Geysir to a nameless but comfortable bed of moss in the interior north of
Gullfoss. 39.5 miles.
Now the weather was overcast and breezy. We started the day's ride with a
north wind and the threat of rain. The trip north to Gullfoss, which is
Iceland's most famous waterfall, was a little damp but the rain was just
getting "warmed up" for the afternoon. At the falls we met a bicycling couple
from France that were spending three years circling the globe via various
conveyances, see http://perso.club-internet.fr/ltnco/ for more information if
you can read French. To our mutual surprise they had ended the bicycling
segment of their time in America in our home town of Colorado Springs.
The falls named Gullfoss are Iceland's most famous and consist of a broad
cataract that is followed a few meters from the bottom of the cataract with a
straight plunge into a deep gorge.
Once past the falls the road and the weather deteriorated with the road
beating the weather by several hours. Leaving Geysir we had a nice paved two
lane road. A short distance north the paving was reduced to one lane with
broad gravel shoulders. Then it became two lanes but of good gravel. After
Gullfoss the road surface became loose, sandy and gravely with larger rocks
scattered about for variety. Initially this road had at least had three
tracks, but soon it was only two tracks. Then came the big hill. It is on the
side of Blue Mountain, over a mile long, probably in excess of 15% and is
loose gravel. This climb took us up onto Iceland's central plateau, from which
we would not descend until 7/14. From here on there were plenty of hills to
climb but we got to go down the other side of these. Indeed, the road seemed
to go over the middle of most of the hills in it's route. We suspect that the
ones that cut into the hill side require more maintenance than the ones that
go over the top. After this the rain and wind began in earnest.
We hit our first ford. This route, F35, has bridges over the rivers, but the
smaller streams are the responsibility of the traveler. After some casting
about to determine the easiest way across we settled on the ford itself. The
passage of many cars has left a shallow pool at that point but the gravel
pushed up by them had formed a shallow dam on the down stream side of the pool.
This I deemed best for the transport of laden bicycles. With my Gortex socks
on I rolled my bike across and deposited it on the other side. Then when I was
about to tackle Susan's bike a car came along and offered help. Since my shoes
were already wet I went ahead and waded the other bike across while Susan rode
over in style accompanied by several giggling Icelandic children in the back
seat with her.
Some miles later we huddled and checked our water supply and began to wonder
how far we would have to ride to find another stream. We wished to camp near a
water source or at least with full water bottles. Most of our evening meals
required cooking and some clean up but we knew that we had to put the priority
on drinking water. I was unwilling to get a map out because of the wind and
rain so we rode on for a while. The next time a car came from the other
direction we flagged it down and asked how far back they had last noted a
stream. The couple inside were from England and couldn't remember how far back
it was but they filled our water bottles. They also offered us another full
water bottle, a map and food. The renewed water supply was really all we
needed, we could eat cold food and maintain our hydration easily now.
It wasn't long after this that we encountered David and Christine, who had
spotted a nice camping site along the road and were preparing to use it. The
site was a delightful bed of moss that would have been nice for sleeping even
without a Thermarest sleeping pad, with one it was better than a water bed.
The small irregularities that, in other mediums were trouble, became spots to
wiggle about on a little to position oneself so those spots would fill personal
David had an Ortlieb water bag that held about two liters that they had
filled, so there was plenty of water in the camp. Since our tent had a back
door, out of which we could use the stove despite the wind driven rain, and
David and Christine's did not we were able to return the favor by giving them
some hot water. We had a delightful meal of a local flat bread called
"Flatkökur", a delicious cheese (called Havarti), and hot soup in a rain
lashed tent. There aren't many things more cozy than that.
Nameless bed of moss to Hveravellir (Kjölur). 25.4 miles on route F35.
It had rained all night and was still raining in the morning. We struck camp
and headed north. We were looking forward to the comfort of the soaking pool
that is filled with runoff water from a small geyser basin. Most of the day
was riding across stony plains with rolling hills. There were occasional large
rocks along the road, welcome as wind and rain breaks for food and rest stops.
The final approach to Hveravellir had a very steep, narrow bit of road, the
sort of thing where a bicyclist fears incautious drivers coming from the other
We arrived at this outpost of civilization without incident. This place has
always been a stop over point for people traveling through the interior and now
has simple bathrooms and a hut that has bunks for people to use with their own
sleeping bags. It also has nice camping spots.
Hveravellir is in the Kjölur region between two glaciers. It has one
traditional building, built of sod, rocks and the minimum of wood, which is
mostly in the roof. I don't know if this is a reconstruction or a preserved
building but it is not being used. The materials used reflect the shortage of
wood and the abundance of rock and sod when such buildings were put up.
Hveravellir to a lake side camp spot in the interior. 33 miles on Route 35
It was still cool and overcast this morning, but a few kilometers past
Hveravellir the road improved vastly. It wasn't paved but the surface was much
better, described by the English tourists in the auto as being "a proper road."
The route was gently hilly with light traffic. We often stopped by the side
of the road when being passed by autos and especially buses.
We made a stop at a Mountain Rescue hut and prepared a meal. We were preceded
by David and Christine who had just cooked a meal inside on their stove, an
activity that saturated the air inside with water vapor. Because of this, when
Susan took her helmet off the brimmed nylon hat she was wearing underneath
began steaming to the merriment of all. It took us a moment to regain our
composure sufficiently to explain why we were laughing.
At about mile 23 we arrived at Afangli, a guest house in the interior. We
didn't stay the night but we did purchase a round of hot chocolate. This was
one of the better food values we encountered in Iceland. We got a nice sized,
insulated, pitcher of it, a small pitcher of cream and a can of a whipped cream
product to add as we wished, all for 300 ISK ($3.95 US). This really restored
us after fighting headwinds and rain for most of the day.
David and Christine stayed the night there in the sleeping bag accommodation
while we elected to push on and gain another 10 miles. The weather had cleared
somewhat and the riding was much more enjoyable than it had been. We found a
beautiful level spot next to a small lake, made camp and cooked a meal.
Lake side camp spot to Varmalið. 37.4 miles Route 35 to Route 1.
This morning was one of the magic moments we shall always remember. The sky
was blue with a rim of clouds around at the horizon. There was complete
stillness in the air, with an occasional distant bird call. We made an early
start so we could rest as often as we needed. There was a serious climb coming
I wanted us both to be as strong as possible for it.
The interior is an area where people graze their sheep in the summer time. In
the Western USA we would say it was "open range" since it had no fences. This
means that autos have to watch out for sheep in the road. There is even a
cartoon post card depicting the saying "The grass is always greener in the
middle of the street!" The sheep were little trouble for us, but on one
occasion we were a little concerned. Several of them got into the road ahead
of us and, instead of veering off to the side as they usually did, these
continued running down the road ahead of us. Since sheep are not known for
their intelligence we were concerned about the possibility of running them
until they died or were injured. After considering the distinctly "unmanly"
option of stopping for a while (I had used up my "unmanly" option for the month
by asking for directions back in Hafnarfjörður) I tried speeding up. At about
17 mph I was closing rapidly on them and they finally veered off the road. If
this had failed we would indeed have stopped long enough for the sheep to get
interested in the grass that was hopefully greener along the side of the road
The first part of the day's ride took us past a large reservoir that are used
for power generation. Once we got to the power station we hit a long section
of paved road, all downhill and very steep. If only we didn't have that sharp
turn at the bottom . . .! But even after that we were still heading down the
valley, although more gently.
We soon met two riders from Norway that were going in the opposite direction
as we were. Then there was Etienne from France. He was crossing the interior
on foot! He was using a cart to transport about 40 kg of food and camping
equipment and planning on taking eight days. As we talked he began explaining
that he was from the portion of France that was once part of Germany but was
now once again part of France as it was originally. I thought it might be of
interest to him that there was a Roman Catholic priest in Reykjavík that I had
met two years ago that was from that same region. To our mutual surprise
Etienne knew Father Jaques and was there in part to compose some music for him
to use in Masses.
On our way again we soon confronted that daunting climb. I had ridden it two
years ago and the memory was still strong. It starts with two miles of 10%
grade (my estimate) and finishes with two and a half miles of 3-5% grade. The
first part is psychologically daunting as well since you can see most of it
well before you actually start it.
Upon arrival at Varmalið we had the first of what we called a "bike wreck."
Susan was spent, I hauled her bicycle up the hill to our camp site and she
followed on foot, slowly. With some of the luggage off the bikes, Susan
sitting on the ground, some of the panniers open and the bikes dumped on the
ground it looked for all the world like the immediate outcome of a bicycle
wreck. Usually we set the tent up promptly upon arrival, but this day it
wasn't to happen that way. The weather was anything but threatening, it was
beautiful, so off to the grocery store I went with orders to bring back ice
cream and skyr (a popular dairy product in Iceland, and with us) along with
anything else I thought we might need.
Part of Susan's problem was our breakfast selection. We had cooked a package
of ramen noodles that was "Chicken with Chilie Bits" and she couldn't eat as
much of it as she should. It was a little hot, especially for breakfast.
Rest and ride the horses day.
This was a planned rest day. I knew it might be tiring getting through the
interior and also knew that the big hill of yesterday would take something out
of both of us, so we planned an extra day here. We did really need it and the
weather closed in on us to make sure we indeed stayed there. We had high winds
and rain most of the day. This same storm was a lot worse on the south coast.
The French couple we had met at Gullfoss told us, when we met again, of wet
sleeping bags and tents to the degree that they had to stay at
Kirkjubæjarklaustur on the south coast an extra day just to dry things out.
One of our more enjoyable pursuits that rainy day was to go over to the store,
make a purchase of something we could eat there at one of the inside tables and
write post cards or work on the diary. Of course we did have to keep ourselves
actively eating something to ward off the displeasure of those that cleaned the
tables, but eating was a something we did not have to be driven to do after the
last four days.
Another of my reasons for staying an extra day here was the horses that were
available for tourist horse rides. The Icelandic horse is famous for it's
qualities and Susan was able to enjoy those qualities while I tried to learn
to keep my seat on a slightly contrary horse that trotted most of the time and
tried to bite other riders. This horse had recently been added to the herd and
wasn't fully accepted by the other horses. It had to be chased down and
cornered to get the bridle on it. Toward the end of the hour I began to be
more comfortable in the saddle and stopped coming down on the saddle at the
precise moment the horse was coming up, but for now I think I'll stay with
Varmalið to Hofsós. 30.8 miles. Route 1 to Route 76.
Yesterday's rain storm ended in the afternoon but the wind did not. It was to
be with us for close to a week. Our start on Route One was quite nerve racking
as we had about one mile of a strong cross wind that was trying to push us into
the traffic. After that it was a tail wind and a gently rolling road all the
way to the small town of Hofsós.
Right before we got there we stopped at a reconstructed church. It was
another of the old method of construction using rocks, sod and some timber and
planks on the roof. The top of the beams across at the base of the roof
trusses were level with my nose. The preacher (Lutheran priest) stood on a
pulpit that put his head above the beams where he could see, and be seen by,
everyone. The pews have very narrow benches and would have been very hard to
fall asleep on but very easy to fall off of should one do so.
Hofsós is a pleasant little town that is trying to develop some tourist
attractions. There is a reconstructed "Greenland Trading Company" cabin with
displays about how people obtained a living in the years past along with a
building devoted to Icelandic immigration to North America. The town may lack
the fishing boat that most prosperous small towns in Iceland have. It was here
that we ate our first restaurant meal in Iceland. The Sigtún Restaurant has
nice meals at decent prices. We finished the job by heading down to the coffee
house called Sólvík in Hofsós and had traditionally prepared serving of
pancakes that were like crepes with preserves and whipped cream folded inside.
Our campsite was in the school yard. It was converted to a campground by
adding four portable toilets and a cold water sink. Nothing fancy but it was
free and a very nice place to pitch a tent. The local children were prominent
in the area, mostly bicycle mounted. For a while the game seemed to be "let's
see how many of us we can cram into one portable toilet and still close the
door." Then, later at night, the older kids seemed to be using the same
facilities in a noisy manner, we ignored this one, not really wanting to know.
To our surprise the toilets were unharmed in the morning. They were still
upright, and all four still had toilet paper. The only act of "vandalism" that
we could see was a ten foot streamer of paper towel that was flapping in the
wind having been been pulled out of the dispenser at the sink. So much for
crime in Hofsós. I also had a couple of kids playing "Chicken" with me using
the car wash hose. One would spray some water at me while I was working on the
bicycles but always avoid actually hitting me. Then he came a little toward
me and placed the hose on the ground with the nozzle pointed at me and left the
faucet handle to his friend (evidently the designated "fall guy"). At that
point I jumped forward and grabbed the nozzle and pointed it back at them.
This was repeated several times and everyone stayed dry. Car washes in Iceland
(at least rural Iceland) are free. No soap but long handled brushes with water
hoses attached and all the water one could need.
Hofsós to Olafsfórður. 46.2 miles Route 76 to Route 82.
This was a difficult ride. We started out with our friend the tail wind, but
soon the road curved to the east and we had a cross wind. Due to the mountains
and hills to the south of us the wind became unpredictable and at one point we
were blown across the road, finally stopping just short of the other shoulder.
We were quite grateful there was no other traffic present. At the point where
the road turned south there was a small grocery store with a few indoor tables.
We spent some time there eating and drinking in preparation for the uphill and
upwind segment of the ride. This was difficult, but I'd much rather face the
wind than have it pushing me from the side. There were some steep climbs but
those usually blocked the wind. We rode up into spectacular valleys dotted
with farms and vacation homes and finally high valleys with just sheep.
After all the work of uphill and upwind riding the downhill was almost
frightening because we were north along the next fjord to the east and had the
wind behind us now. We had a long downhill with a strong tail wind on a
strange but good gravel road. We found ourselves coasting over substantial
rises in the road at 20 mph. As we neared Olafsfórður we noted two dogs along
the road a short way ahead. Since dogs will reflexively chase something like a
bicycle we were a little apprehensive. We need not have worried. As best we
can figure we became a training stimulus for a mother Icelandic Sheepdog that
was teaching her puppy not to chase things like automobiles or bicyclers. As
we approached the puppy took an interest in us and began moving our way. The
older dog immediately began a high pitched barking in the puppy's face and
interposed herself between us and the puppy. The puppy was very effectively
herded away from us. Three cheers for "Mom." I just hope the AKC in breeders
never hear about this breed.
We were both quite tired when we arrived at Olafsfórður and checked for the
nearest restaurant. The one we found was part of a (the?) local hotel, was
reasonably priced and had generous portions of good food. We had been talking
about heading on from there that day to Dalvík, but the wind conditions which
would be head winds again, and our condition after all that climbing suggested
we stay there. The campground was, free, close by, and right next to the local
swimming pool. If we hadn't stopped for the meal I think our arrival in the
campground would have been another "bike wreck."
After setting up our tent in the wind shadow of the swimming pool building we
hit the pool. There were no showers available at the campground but, as
always, the 200 ISK swimming pool was a very good value. I got in a few laps,
we both soaked in a regular "hot pot," we spent some time in the "whirlpool"
and Susan got into her first ever sauna.
For Americans the Icelandic grocery stores take a little, but just a little,
getting used to. They are clean and they usually have what we need although
without the variety we are used to. But the rule is you bag your own groceries
and once you've paid the checker they start on the next order, requiring some
alertness to avoid taking someone else's food. The bags are also on a
different basis. There are small plastic bags available on a roll at the end
of each cash register but the nicer bags, which are made of heavy duty plastic,
you have to purchase for 10 ISK (about $0.13). This is just the reverse of the
American "we'll refund you a nickle a bag for each one you bring back and we
use for your order." It took me a while to get the hang of getting those small
(free) bags open, but I finally observed someone licking their fingers just
prior to attempting it and found success in imitating them. But at Olafsfórður
while I was putting my wallet away the checker went ahead and bagged our
groceries for us in one of the free bags. That was a nice surprise and was
Olafsfórður to Akureryi. 39.7 miles. Route 82 to Route 1
This was a difficult day. When we didn't have a head wind we had a cross wind
or were in a tunnel. We started with the tunnel. The signs indicated it was
3,400 meters long and one lane! When we started it looked like two lanes in a
nice concrete walled tunnel, but it wasn't to last. Within a 100 meters or so
the concrete was gone, the whole thing was rock and what light came from the
overhead lighting seemed to be absorbed by the black volcanic rock . . . wait a
minute here, how about taking the sunglasses off Mr. Eienstein? Ah, that's
much better. Well, it still wasn't very bright, but my visibility improved a
great deal. Now we are wondering how we deal with an auto sharing the tunnel
with us. This was soon answered when we noticed that there were pull outs
about every 100 meters. We think that the autos traveling toward north toward
Olafsfórður are required to pull off and allow the southbound traffic to pass.
Although we were southbound we acted like a pair of mice, hiding whenever we
detected a vehicle from either direction. There weren't many, none of them
were trucks with their higher noise level and there came a time when the light
we thought was from headlights was the literal "light at the end of the
Now began my most taxing day. We had a very strong headwind except where the
road changed to a more easterly direction and then it was a side wind.
Fortunately that wasn't often. Unfortunately that was on Route #1, which is a
lot busier than Route #82. We walked the bikes for portions of Rt # 1.
We had a long food and rest break in Dalvik, a medium sized town (for Iceland,
a small town most places) that is the port for the ferry to Grimsey. When we
arrived at Akureryi I was close to the "bike wreck" stage, Susan having drafted
me most of the way. She told me she felt guilty using her brakes to keep from
running into me as I pedaled down the hills. Before setting up the tent I made
a trip to the grocery store which is on the edge of the campground and made a
substantial purchase. I then proceeded to eat most of it.
To our joy we found that the bus driver's strike had been suspended. Now we
could continue on using our general plans and use the bus system if we found
ourselves running out of time, which we were sure we would.
Rest and sightsee day.
Akureryi is the second largest city in Iceland with 15,000 inhabitants. I
prefer it to Reykjavík. They have a nice botanical garden that is quite
refreshing after all those miles of almost no trees, a small museum of natural
history that costs 100 ISK per person. The museum is especially nice for those
that are wondering about the local birds. There are a number of stuffed birds
on display and bird books to help with those that aren't.
Bus to Mývatn
We deemed this prudent because of the wind which was still quite strong. It
was out of the south which would have meant more cross wind.
Mývtan to Mt. Krafla and back. 22 miles on Route 1 and Route 863.
The wind was still quite strong, but it was more of a head and tail wind. Mt
Krafla last erupted in 1984 and some of those lava flows are still too hot to
sit on. There is also a geothermal plant that I think produces hot water for
Reykjahlið, the village on the shore of lake Mývtan and possibly electricity.
The wind continued during our stay, suppressing the midges for which the lake
is named. Anytime the wind died briefly the midges rose out of the grass in
modest numbers. From all the stories we've read they can darken the air.
Mývtan to Grimstunga. 26.2 miles. Route 1 to Route 864.
As we left Reykjahlið I decided to employee a chain lubricating trick. Using
an empty oil bottle from a gas station trash can, I tried to dribble a small
amount of oil on my chain. I was hoping to put an end to the infernal
squeaking that all the rain we'd been through caused by washing the oil off of
my chain. All went well until two things happened, first more oil came out
than I expected and second, a gust of wind came along and blew the oil onto my
tire and rim. With the aid of a paper napkin and a bit of stove fuel (which
was plain old gasoline by now) I cleaned the rim and (without the petrol) wiped
the tire off too. I did much better on Susan's chain. So, with heavily oiled
chains we entered a windy volcanic desert. When I looked at our chains in
Grimstunga I was appalled by the amount of grit adhering to the outside. We
both spent some time with small portions of paper towel fastidiously cleaning
grit and excess oil off of and out of our chains.
Grimstunga is a farm that has a camp ground. It was a nice quiet place with
cold water sinks and toilets. It was an easy ride since most of the time we
had the wind behind us but we still decided to put off the trip to Dettifoss
until the next day.
We created a new food today. I had purchased a candy bar that was new to us
and, fortunately, sealed in a foil pouch. The sun got to it in the dark green
pannier and it melted. The silly thing acted for all the world like a tiny
water bed. We each took a handful of sunflower seeds in our cups and poured
the melted chocolate bar over them. It was quite good.
Grimstunga to Dettifoss and back. 37.6 miles on Route 864.
Dettifoss is Europe's most powerful waterfall, and it lived up to it's
billing. Vast quantities of chalky water which is already moving very fast is
suddenly squeezed closer together yet by the canyon walls and then plunges over
a 44 meter high cliff. I think I can call Dettifoss a furious water fall.
There had been several warm days so the glaciers that feed it would have been
making more than their regular contribution, but it didn't take much
observation to note that the water level had recently been even higher.
The road up there was among the worst we rode on, and we had left most of our
gear in camp. It was mostly washboard with deep, loose sand thrown in for good
measure. The whole trip was through a volcanic desert with only two streams of
water which were close to Grimstunga. The toilets at Dettifoss had non-potable
water for hand washing only.
Back at Grimstunga we were shortly joined by a couple of bicycle tourists from
Germany, who where in turn joined by several friends traveling the same way.
Then a lone bicycle tourist from Germany turned up to make the total of bicycle
tourists in the campground eleven. After the lone rider (who we shall meet
again) arrived there was a rearrangement in the group with several riders going
with him to see Dettifoss with the intention of camping at a campground north
Grimstunga to roadside camping spot. 53.6 miles Route 864 to Route 1
This was, in my opinion, our hardest day. The conditioning Susan had gained
in the previous days showed in the ease with which she managed climb after
On this day we met the couple from France that we had first met at Gullfoss.
They had gone down to Sellfoss and then headed east along the south coast. Now
they were heading in the reverse of our direction of travel. We also met a New
Zealander. If he is at all typical of New Zealanders that must be a wonderful
country to travel in. When we mentioned that we were looking forward to
hitting the next grocery store he immediately asked if we had enough food. He
was heading away from the nearest store while we were less than a full day's
travel from it.
We had been hearing from other cyclists about a camping spot near the head of
a valley that we were coming to. Several had told us of this and a guide book
also listed camping at this location. We were disappointed in this however,
there was nothing. A couple from Switzerland that were touring on a tandem
told us there was no camping in the area others had indicated. These people
were "hanging out" at the top of the descent into the valley. We found out why
they were doing nothing when we found a sign warning motorists of a 2.5
kilometer 10% descent which this couple had just come up. While talking to
this couple we noticed a sheep that was spending all the time it could in the
middle of the road. It appeared to have found some salts that it wanted to
lick. We joked about getting a mutton dinner if an unobservant driver came
along. Fortunately the sheep lost interest in the middle of the road soon.
Once down this hill we found a house close to a now closed swimming pool where
the owner's children had set their tents up in the house's garden, this is very
likely what was observed and interpreted as a campground. We had to resort to
camping by the road side for the night, the only time we had to resort to this
outside the interior. We were between the road and the fence in a little rocky
alcove that had it's own little waterfall and water source. We each had a sort
of wash in the tent's vestibule, wiping off most of the day's grit and grime
but still going to bed rather sticky. It was a pleasant spot with the
exception of a road sweeping operation at about 2300 that was part of a
re-paving operation. We rose early and got on our way.
Road side camping spot to Fellabær. 28.6 miles. Route 1 to Route 924 and back
to Route 1
We made, without knowing the implications of it, a very good routing choice.
There was paving work on Route #1 so we tried a parallel route that had been
recommended by other riders. Instead of the long downhill trip down the valley
followed by a very steep climb back up to the ridge top this route stayed up on
the opposite valley wall and gradually climbed up to Route #1. The route was
gravel, but the traffic was light so there was little washboard. We only
encountered one motor vehicle on this route and that was a tractor that passed
while we were having a rest stop.
Fellabær has a nice camping spot with free showers and a hot tub. It is part
of a farm that also offers horse rides. It is right across the river from the
bustling Egilsstaðir where I found the nicest grocery store I encountered in
Iceland. There are many nice grocery stores there but many of them are sized
for a smaller selection of food than now prevails and are hence rather crowded
with shelves. This one was new and had plenty of room to maneuver and a high
ceiling and a lot of windows giving the whole thing a very spacious feeling.
It was here that I met our lone rider from Germany again. He was alone once
again and, even though it was late in the day, intending to ride on south since
the wind was favorable.
It was at Fellabær that we first met a couple from Switzerland that were
touring on a tandem and pulling a BOB trailer. We were destined to cross paths
with them again too.
Our neighbors when we arrived were a couple from the Netherlands (as those
that live there call it, rather than Holland). They were there in part to
visit a daughter that was living in Iceland and also to vacation. Although
they were traveling by auto, they also had a pair of bicycles along.
Bus from Egilsstaðir to Höfn.
We took this bus to cut off about three days of travel. We really wanted to
ride it but our time was running out and we wished to spend some time at some
of the up coming stops, specifically Skaftafell and Vík. The scenery on this
entire ride kept us enthralled for the full five hours. At first there were
deep mountain valleys and then deep cut fjords with saw-toothed ridges etching
the sky. Finally there was our first full sight of Vatnajökull, Iceland's
largest ice sheet. We also passed our lone German cycling friend which is the
only way we would be passing him.
It was here at Höfn that we had a magnificent sunset. Since many of the days
were cloudy we didn't see many of these. The somewhat overused description of
the "sky being on fire" applied well here. I wish we could have declared the
next day a rest day so we could have stayed up to see if the sunset would
simply grade into an equally fiery sunrise.
Höfn to Hrollaugsstaður. 36.3 miles. Route 1
This was a fairly level day to get us to within striking distance of
Skaftafell national park. We think Hrollaugsstaður is the site of a school
run by the Lutheran Church in the winter and a campground and "Farm Holiday"
site in the summer. We think it operates like a hostel and provides meals for
the guests. The campground guests have access to the showers and may use the
kitchen for their personal cooking. We cooked a hot meal upon arrival in the
middle of the afternoon and another in the early evening.
Hrollaugsstaður to Skaftafell.. 52.6 miles. Route 1
This was an exhausting day for Susan, but we did have a long and enjoyable
stop at the "Glacial Lagoon," where a tongue of the Vatnajökull ice cap
produces a glacial lake with ice floes or small icebergs. It is easy to find
this on postcards. We almost missed this spot, as we got closer to it the air
became colder and foggier until it became difficult to see more than about 100
meters. Then we came to a fog shrouded bridge. Bridges in rural Iceland are
frequently single lane, requiring motorists to "take turns." This system seems
to work well, but we always looked carefully in both directions before starting
over one of these, even if they were short as most of them were. In this case
the bridge was a long, one lane, suspension bridge, so long that we couldn't
see the other side in the fog. When we stopped to evaluate this situation we
barely noticed the fog shrouded ice floes to our right, signaling that we had
not only achieved our intermediate goal for the day, but we had ridden right
past it in the fog.
The lagoon it self is a quite surrealistic, especially in the fog. It is full
of floating ice ranging in size from small floes to larger pieces that might be
classed as small icebergs. There are tourist rides in an amphibious vehicle
and a rather expensive coffee shop serving sweets, soup and coffee. It was so
cold that before venturing out to see the lagoon I stopped and put my nylon
riding pants on under the rain pants I'd been wearing all morning. We hiked
along the shore line enjoying the water sculpted ice and also observed the
local Arctic Terns picking on one person. She was wearing a red jacket, but
others were too, so we had no idea why these birds decided to harass her. But
when they do harass you, you really know it. These birds are the avian
equivalent of the F16, aggressive, and very aerobatic. "Tern" would be a good
name for a fighter aircraft. A short way past the lagoon we had to stop and
shed our extra clothing.
Our next stop was an impulsive one, we could see cars parked close to the
terminus of another glacier. We rode a few kilometers off the main to join
them and found a "glacial lake" with ice floes floating on it similar to the
"Glacial Lagoon," but more distant from the sea. At this stop our lone German
cyclist caught up to us.
Rest and hiking day.
We had a bit of humor in a leaflet about the park. A translator must have
gone on "autopilot" for a moment and substituted the Icelandic word for "and"
("og") in it's proper context in an English language leaflet. "Damage to
vegetation, such as breaking branches or uprooting plants, is prohibited, as is
disturbing animal life, tampering with basalt og other geological formations or
This park is a novel one for an American. If you wish to see of the things
that make it a park you have to walk. The only exception is the preserved
farm. It was abandoned in 1947 and was the most remote place in Iceland. They
got the mail three or four times a year. The local river and the glacial
floods that come down it from time to time discouraged bridge building until
Skaftafell to Kirkjubæjarklaustur. 44.3 miles. Route 1
This was our fastest ride. We had fairly level ground and no wind. The first
20 or so miles was over the flood plain called Skeiðarársandur that is a
desolation of sand because of glacial floods emanating from the "Water Glacier"
(Vatnajökull). These floods are caused when volcanos erupt under the glacier,
there is a reward out for the apprehension of the committee that came up with
this arrangement We had one long bridge, another one lane bridge that was
equipped with regular wide spots to allow autos to get past each other. This
bridge is the replacement for the one that was washed out in 1996.
Kirkjubæjarklaustur has the nicest campground we found in all of Iceland.
Everything was very clean, the showers had plenty of room for dressing and the
kitchen was quite nice. The showers were expensive at 150 ISK but perhaps that
is the price one has to pay for having a spacious dressing room all to one's
self with a chair and a dry floor.
Kirkjubæjarklaustur to Vík. 45.8 miles Route 1
This, sadly, was the end of our bicycle touring. The cliffs and their Puffins
as well as the wool shop were destinations and our stay was running out. We
wanted to have some time in Reykjavík for the sightseeing that the sensor
malfunction on the Northwest Air flight denied us. Susan loved the Puffins,
they fly as if they are bricks with stubby wings attached. Since there are
plenty of pictures of these birds with several small fish in their beaks we
assume they are expert swimmers.
Bus to Reykjavík.
We did this mostly because of the heavier traffic but also because of the
time. We would have had a head wind all the way back. In the campground we
met the bicycling couple from the Netherlands that we met in Akureryi, the
Swiss couple that were riding tandem and pulling a BOB trailer, and an English
couple that we met in Reykjahlið, the village on the shore of lake Mývtan.
8/2/00 to 8/4/00
Sight see and shop in Reykjavík, 54.5 miles on bikes and about 20 miles on
We went to the big swimming pool next to the campground while here. Susan
decided to try the three story water slide and I went along. I told her to get
out of the way after she hit the bottom since I would probably be moving pretty
fast. There was no one behind me so I waited to give her some time only to
find that I was too heavy to go fast on the slide and had to resort to pulling
myself along with my hands! I got a lot more speed when a group of little
girls came flying down behind me and shoved me along! The girls thought this
hilarious and Susan is still laughing about it. I later observed fully grown
"children" making high speed starts and lying flat on their backs so they would
"float" better in the water that was running down the slide.
Bus to Keflavík, then fly home. When the airline re-booked our flight to
Keflavík I had asked if they had cancelled our flight to Keflavík for that day
since we would not be there. I was assured they had. Icelandic Air had us
down as "no shows" and our return flight was cancelled. But, when we bought
the tickets in the first place I had declined the "electronic ticketing" option
and now I was glad I had. The ticket agent told us that since we had paper
tickets they would have to give us seats. He had to call his supervisor to
clear it, but we got on the airplane.
Bicycles: Cannondale M700 and a Diamondback Sorento, both from 1992. The
Cannondale had a pair of Bruce Gordon Racks and the Diamondback had a Tubus
rack. Susan used Power grips and I used toe clips.
Things that were great:
Pit zips!!!!!!!! Very nice for fine tuning the comfort level and the only way
to get any moisture out when it was raining hard.
Gortex socks, but Sealskinz socks kept Susan's feet just as dry, cost less and
are lined, so I think they are a better value. Both adapt regular riding shoes
for wet conditions. Since most riding shoes now have those SPD cutouts in the
soles even a muddy spot can get your socks wet.
Ortlieb back rollers. Fully waterproof panniers with attachment system out of
a bicycle tourer's day dreams. .
Bungee cord hold downs on the top of my Jaand panniers. Intended for jackets
and the like, but they also saw service in holding tent bags and riding gloves
while we set the tent up in the wind. We really came to appreciate those calm
days when we could simply drop bags and gloves on the ground as we set our camp
Small belt pack for passport, money and other important things.
Knit wool hat with a brim, it would fold up for storage and keep the rain out
of my eyes and off of my head when I wasn't wearing my helmet. Being wool it
was water repellent and breathable, somewhat like Gortex but at a fraction of
the cost :-).
Pearl Izumi "Attack" pants. Nylon and a looser fit than some cycling
clothing, used for riding and as slacks. Appropriately wind proof but not
water resistant. Dried very quickly after washing.
Things that worked well:
REI "Elements" cycling jacket. The material is an imitation Gortex. I used
it daily as a wind breaker and often as a rain jacket. Mesh lined so what
moisture condensed inside wasn't against my skin. The mesh liner probably
makes it difficult to install more pockets in it, but I would have liked them.
Otherwise it was perfect for what we were doing. I got one that was a size
larger than I usually wear so I could put more layers under it.
Primus stove. Dependable, burnt gasoline readily, noisy and was difficult to
get to simmer. (Stove speaking: "SIMMER??? I COME FROM A LONG LINE OF SVEDISH
BURNERS DESIGNED TO MELT SOVIET SUBMARINES, AND YOU VANT SIMMER????") Please
note: this is not a comment on the Kursk disaster in the Barents sea which is
still unfolding as I write, but a little joke originating in the grounding of a
Soviet sub on an island well within Swedish territorial waters back in the
early 80's I think.
A three man tent for the two of us. The extra room was a real help in bad
Packtowels. These are synthetic towels that wring out and so you can keep on
drying. We first tried one from Wal-mart but Susan wasn't very happy with it.
So we got one from REI and it was better. It was a large one so we cut it in
half. The halves did the job easily for each of us. The Wal-mart towel was
cut up and turned into washcloths. If we had taken cotton towels we would have
had a lot of mildew to deal with. The washcloths saw service in drying the
tent before we packed it. They would soak up a lot of water after which I
would simply squeeze the water out of them and go on drying.
Cannondale cycling shoes. These were like a pair of low top hiking boots that
were surprisingly good at both hiking and cycling. But note that I have an
easy time finding shoes that are comfortable. Susan has a pair of similar
Cannondale shoes that she cannot ride in comfortably.
Things I will change:
Never again will I tour with "Mountain" handle bars, I don't like rider's
palsy. Drop bars for me. And yes, I did have bar ends, good gloves and I even
had "Lizard Skins" on the bar end (since I first wrote that others on the
newsgroup have suggested that better bike fit would stop the rider's palsy).
I will get a handle bar bag for easy access to my camera and the day's food.
I will never use Coghlan's waterproof safety matches again. The waterproofing
clogs the striking surface quickly. I'll use Bic lighters instead with some
waterproof, wind proof, fiery matches as a back up.
I forgot this one and thought everyone would enjoy it. It gives you a look at
a very outgoing Icelander with the underlying courtesy intact:
Most camp grounds, except for the free ones, had a "camp warden," and Akureryi
was no exception. Most of the wardens were college age kids that were prepared
to deal with the public and usually enjoyable people to talk to. My favorite
warden was here in Akureyri. She could be described as "slender as a rail" and
somewhat tart tongued. When I went to try to wash our clothing at the
campground's washer it was to this one that I applied. The dialog went as
Me: Hi, I would like to use the washer and dryer, but I noticed that there is a
bag of what looks like laundry on top of the washer . . . do you have a
SARCGW (Slender As a Rail Campground Warden): (in a sing-song voice) Well
we're not doing it for them! (Normal voice): Do you need some washing powder?
Me : Yes I do.
SARCGW : Do you read German?
Me : No.
SARCGW : Neither do we, but we had to figure it out anyway. Come on, let me
show you how to work the washer.
Tom Gibb : TBGibb@aol.com
Originally posted on Usenet on 25 august 2000
(You can find the report of his 1998 tour