Cycle touring Iceland is something that’s always been in the back of my mind, the desolate empty interior captures my imagination with its volcanoes, ice caps, hot springs, geysers and miles of gravel roads. It is certainly a place that needs exploring by bikepacking on my Tripster and there’s no time like the present!
I booked surprisingly cheap Easyjet tickets and was quickly packed taking my large Apidura saddle pack, large frame bag and bar bag, the bike was tweaked with 37mm tyres and serviced for the trip, I was all set to go.
With a big adventure planned in October I only had limited time off work, so I booked the ultimate long weekend: Easyjet flights from Edinburgh leaving Thursday returning Sunday and covering as much of Iceland as possible. I initially thought of riding south to north along the Kjolur or F35 road. This is a well maintained gravel route with bridges over the rivers. However it felt too short and was maybe not the most fascinating area to ride through. I decided on west to east detouring into the Landmannalaugavegur area (the iconic nature reserve famous for hiking), then along the edge of Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður national park past the glaciated Skaftafell and Hvannadalshnukur peaks. The volcanic gravel roads here were to be more basic but far more rewarding although gravel still only made up about 35% of the route.
As an overview I would start in Reykjavik heading out east along the ring road before turning north on the F26 road, until I head east on the gravel F225 track. I should reach the junction with the F208 south, before bivvying for the night and riding back to the ring road to cover the remaining miles on tarmac. I would finally end with meeting Marion at the Iceberg Lagoon past Hof. A route of 420km into the prevailing winds in just 2 days seemed a good challenge.
It was a weeks worth of adventure crammed into those few days, hence to share all the pictures I have split the blog into two parts. As if to prove this was a bigger adventure, while I was riding along the F26 road I met a German tourer, and as normal for Germans he was carrying his own body weight of kit “we Germans say just in case” as he joked! He was taking 8 days to do the same route on a fatter bike laden down with so much stuff.
Our Easyjet flight was delayed (as ever) so it was after 10pm when Marion got the keys to our hire car. We drove to Reykjavik and on the outskirts next to a 24hr supermarket I jumped out, built my bike and said goodbye before I rode off into the dark. She had trips planned to visit hot springs and a selection of other sights, because unfortunately she’s still not allowed back on the bike yet by her surgeon. Therefore granted it was not the most sociable trip I could have planned.
The roads around the city were a bit confusing in the dark and I used my phone GPS to navigate a couple of times. Finally I cut across and reached Route 1 the famous Iceland ring road. Given it was midnight the traffic was light and I headed off eastwards in the dark. I then realised my rear light was missing. I cautiously carried on along
the wide shoulder feeling safe given so little traffic. Then as I climbed higher through moss covered lava fields the mist descended in the already pitch black night, with no rear light it was just plain dangerous. I pulled off to bivvy for the night on the softest section of moss I could find, not easy between sharp chunks of black lava all the time with literally no idea where I was.
Next morning it was damp from the mist but my bivvy bag was dry inside and I had a good nights sleep. There was still a light mist but I took in my surroundings in daylight. It seemed I had camped not far from the steam outlets of a Geothermal power plant, I had missed the warning signs in the dark, well at least it was warm! Setting off on the ring road the scenery was stunning with cloud flowing over the hills and steam vents visible in the valleys
I headed towards Selfoss and picked up some camping gas and two days lunches as well as chocolate covered liquorice men…better than they sound, well if you like liquorice that is! The ring road was still very busy even past Selfoss. I knew there would be lots of tourists and there were even more than I expected, buses, campervans, other rental cars it was like the M25! Seriously though it was actually one of the more unpleasant roads I’ve cycled on in a while, hire car drivers and locals seemed intent on not pulling out making it quite sketchy, I can’t imagine riding the entire ring road with drivers like this, despite it taking in world class views all the way.
Luckily I soon hit road F26 and turned off north towards the highlands and Mt Hekla. A peaceful paved road I enjoyed covering distance quickly with sheep and horses for company.
There are so many horses in the fields here. I can only assume they are used for horse riding trips for tourists? Clearly in the picture below it’s not horses, but instead sheep but I like this picture.
The road was starting to get more lonely as I passed through the green fields back to the lava fields and flanks of volcanoes.
Gaining height I hit F225 the rough gravel road that would carry me into the real highlands of Iceland. The warning signs said rough route for serious 4x4s only.
It was actually very good riding, rough in places and steep ups and downs but a lot of fun.
I reached the junction with a route for hikers climbing Mt Hekla, there’s a sign saying Hekla is overdue for eruption so be careful and download the app to see when it will erupt via text, that’s not a text many climbers would like to see while on the mountain. As an aside point mobile coverage is very good across more of this route than you might imagine.
Next up a barrier was across the road saying rally race in progress 2pm to 3pm, I had no watch and figured it was much later than this so I carried on. It seems I was wrong it was 2pm and the rally race was in progress. A jeep sped towards me to announce the race was oncoming. I heard the roar of engines miles off and was very lucky to reach my junction in the nick of time. I never did see a rally car but could hear the engines for miles as they drifted on the loose volcanic dusty tracks.
There were a couple of river crossings on the route but nothing above mid calf depth (little did I know what day 2 had in store!), my progress was only slowed by stopping to take so many pictures!
It’s a pretty unique and amazing part of the world:
The black volcanic dirt was contrasted by bright green moss and grass that was so sharp in contrast it was breathtaking. The constant threat of rain made the sky dramatic. It seemed I was on the brink of getting wet all day but managed to ride fast enough to stay ahead, when I stopped it caught up so I figured I was doing 15mph and the rain 10mph!
At the top of one small pass the view of a stunning lake in one direction then a train of horses were herded from nowhere up the track I was riding:
After many scenic miles in the natural reserve I reached the sign post for Landmannalaugavegur (No idea on pronunciation!) this is one of the best hiking spots on the planet and I could see why, the lakes, green hills and volcanoes suited days waking. The paths and vegetation are incredibly fragile and tyre tracks off the track would quickly be an eyesore. It’s not often I say this but I just hope any mountain bikers here are thinking about what they’re doing before shredding trails that will take a generation to re-vegetate, I spotted a few black lines in the moss that didn’t look all that sustainable….gravel riding is maybe a better bet.
The rain was going to start soon so I opted for the campsite, mostly due to the hot spring river that I could sit in until it was dark enough to sleep. I only had a less than welcoming gore-tex bivvy bag! I had covered over 200km and felt fresh but it was foolish to carry on with steady rain forecast. There was also drying space and a shelter to cook under which had sold it to me for the £9 fee.
There was also about 40 tents already here! Iceland’s not a secret and if you can drive there, even in a 4×4 it will be busy it seems.
After hours soaking my legs which were now feeling the 200km+ day, it was time to sleep and hope the bivvy bag stayed dry! The next two days were to be even more spectacular and the sun even made an appearance…..
Nice one Ed!
Thanks Will, and thanks for the map!