There’s little less inviting to facing the outside world than waking up warmly cocooned in a gore-tex bivvy bag listening to rain pattering down on the fabric which is resting just millimeters above your face.
I was warm and dry but I lay contemplating why I didn’t bring a tent. Eventually the call of nature was too great and I had to unzip the bag and escape into the grotty weather. In my panic to get out quickly disaster struck, the zip was caught in the sleeping bag fabric and wouldn’t shift. I was getting desperate. Other campers must have looked on in wonder at the green gore-tex caterpillar thrashing about on the ground. Water spraying off the bivvy bag in all directions. Finally I got the zip to move and in the nick of time I emerged like a butterfly in my stripey thermals. More like a stick insect in reality, I ran into the toilet block! This was day two and I was already wet through (from the rain I did make it in time)!
It was too wet to take my camera out but the skies were pretty dark around the campsite. Here’s a waterfall I saw later to symbolize the rain:
I had considered a dip in the hot springs by the campsite, but instead cooked up 3 sachets of Oat so Simple porridge in the shelter. Today would be another 200km and this rain was forecast until noon. I had read there were 20 river crossing on route F208 I assumed that was wrong (it was sadly to be proven true). Then I would hit the paved ring road number 1 for 130km. This is the view back to the campsite after first stream crossing of the day. Unsurprisingly it was raining hard at this point.
The advantage of a bivvy bag is that a) it’s ridiculously small and light and b) it packs up in seconds, but on reflection when the forecast is rain a tent is sensible.
My Apidura bags were all loaded and strapped up tight so I rode off to face the day. Just 50 metres later was my first river crossing. It was ankle freezingly cold. The scenery here is epic, even though the cloud covered half, it was still a remarkable place to start riding. The first big climb brought me up to patches of snow, as the picture below shows it looks a lot like meringue on the top of a baked Alaska desert (was I hungry at this point? maybe). Sadly it wasn’t meringue I tested it just in case, however it was still the most snow I’d seen in the northern hemisphere in August for a long time I thought to myself.
So far four or five river crossings completed and my feet had lost feeling for the day but the scenery was so dramatic. The rock turned blacker and the greens brighter. This was looking down on the road running next to the river it liked to criss cross to give me wet feet, the pciture was taken after a brutal steep climb:
In the other direction the views to tall peaks shrouded in mist caught my eye. Snap snap snap, I couldn’t stop taking pictures it was so cool here, despite it still raining, that only adds to the dark theme in the pictures though! Riding fast on the loose volcanic gravel was fast and a lot of fun. It’s not too deep that you struggle to tide but loose enough to drift the corners at speed!
The first signs of life appeared with three inquisitive sheep. I used my new telephoto lens to take some cool shots. This new lens is super fast but at 1.4kg it had to be used a fair bit to justify bringing it along! I was also testing a new 100% dry camera backpack for the trip too, so I will review that at some point because given the conditions it got a good test.
The road continued going up and down the steep loose black gravel tracks while fording numerous streams. A few patches of sand, but mostly still a good surface to ride with my 37mm tyres. After a few hours I began to feel almost claustrophobic in the surreal landscape, the fluoro green hills were never ending. Was I stuck in some alien land? Was I simply going around in circles? I then really did panic as I saw a sign saying welcome to Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður national park. The park I can’t pronounce should be 50km in the opposite direction? Where the heck was I? The phone battery was dying so no GPS, I relied on my map. I assumed the park had moved, this seemed unlikely but I had certainly turned left not right at that junction.
I carried on riding. More of the same mmm this is a bit concerning I thought, how much food do I have left?
Then finally a road sign showing I was on the right track. I relaxed and the rain died off, the hills were still rolling but never huge and generally it was a lot of fun to ride along the F208. I was gradually getting onto better road surface as the ring road beckoned. The sheep were still there though!
The weather was improving with cloud blowing away to reveal sunshine and also the icecaps for the first time as you can see behind the Sheep.
Then it was back on the ring road and a huge relief that I might see Marion again at some point today.
Reaching civilisation was relative, with miles of cliff like scenery and little else.
The sun did shine a bit:
The rain was never far away despite the sun shining, those dark clouds were always threatening behind me.
The glaciers were dramatic as they tumbled down the mountains to sea level, amazingly even here they had receded vast distances in the last century. A picture comparison like that seen in Chamonix was pretty telling.
I clocked up the miles quickly now on the paved road and just a light headwind, while the traffic was busier than expected I enjoyed the views, if not a few near misses from huge monster trucks, buses, campers etc.
Finally I was close to reaching my destination the Iceberg lagoon past Hof on the east coast. The short diversions signposted to waterfalls often persuaded me to detour off the main road like this track:
Then there it was; the first Iceberg lagoon a smaller one with stunning reflections. It was incredibly photogenic and reminded me of similar sights I’d seen in Patagonia a couple of years back.
Finally I heard the beep of a car horn and Marion had caught me up in the tiny Hyundai. My riding was pretty much done done. We camped in a small spot near a Glacier and it rained again overnight. Marion kindly took some shots of me at the Iceberg Lagoon on the Sunday when the sunshine was better, they came out pretty cool:
The sun was picking out individual ice chunks like this one, while seals were bobbing about in between:
Then finally I touched the sea for a symbolic photo to end the trip.
There also time to take some pictures on Saturday evening and on Sunday as Marion headed off running but she is going to blog about her parallel trip to Iceland so I won’t ruin it!
Then disaster almost struck as we got the flight time wrong. In Iceland the speed limit is a firm 90kph maximum with $500 fines for speeding, all strictly enforced apparently. We got close to 91kph a few times it’s safe to say hoping to avoid missing the flight. After much stressing, running and the quickest ever bike box packing, we made it on board and the plane even left early! A penalty for not refilling the car of £20 the only cost…..hopefully.
We were back in Edinburgh at 11pm after the busiest long weekend I think I’ve ever had! I highly recommend a trip to Iceland but there’s so much to see and do I’ll go for a week or two next time.
What a great blog! I’m a solo female with having 2 weeks in Iceland coming up and am trying to figure out an off the beaten path route. I have a range of plus 3.0 tires to 40mm that I could go with. I have extensive bikepacking experience and feel pretty confident in going long distances solo, especially with all the water there. Did you wish you had fat tires on your trip? How much traffic did you see/how long did you go without seeing traffic? Where were your resupplies for food? How sketchy were the river crossings? Also, how was catching a bus? Did you find you had to plan ahead? Almost everywhere I’ve been reading about bikepacking Iceland people seem discouraging and make it sound terribly hard to bikepack the interior, but it’s the most appealing and looking st maps it doesn’t seem too bad, even if the terrain is sort of rough. I’ve been looking up a very similar route to yours that looks pretty doable and after seeing your lightweight setup and skinny tires I’m inspired to just go for it. I definitely want to make sure I have a somewhat of a good idea of what to expect since I’m traveling solo. With that said, any advice and words of wisdom would be great.
Hi Thanks and glad the blog is useful and interesting. My Trip to Iceland was fantastic but pretty short I covered 550km in 3.5 days. Marion was injured so had a hire car to pick me up in so no buses, however they do take bikes I was told. I met a German guy taking 10 days for the same route!
I took food with me, food options are limited as soon as you leave the ring road so be prepared and double check any huts/campsites are open and have food rather than relying on them. I’d take basics for every day you’re away and top up with few bits as find them.
I don’t use GPS to save weight and batteries so can’t help with GPX file. I think the Scribble map in the blog gives good idea of the route. Never totally isolated 4×4’s use most of the tracks in the summer so will see a vehicle everyday at least.
On my trip and in my experience the 40mm tyres were perfect on all but one short section of sand, however others seem to disagree and say you need fat bikes so maybe I was lucky!
The head winds can be impossible and the weather never very warm so it is a harsh environment for bike packing. I took a bivvy bag so I could camp in strong winds and where there was nothing to peg tent down with. It was good idea, but for two weeks might be too much! Hope that helps.
Also, would you be willing to share a downloadable gps track?