Highs & lows in the land of fire and ice
Cycling in Iceland turns out to be anything but a walk in the park. A bike ride through this beautiful country makes you bump into limits, highs & lows follow each other in quick succession. "Things will get better before they get worse again!", another cycling couple told us. And they were right!
In our other blog about Iceland you can find more practical information about the route, accommodation and climate. In this blog we will go into detail about our highs and lows, you can read the most memorable moments from our diary here.
Cycling in Iceland is not a walk in the park
June 16, 2022 - At 6am we stumble out of our little cabin, in about two hours the boat will arrive in Seydisfjordur after a 15 hour journey. We go to the top deck and take a seat in the café. The sky is blue, the sun is shining and in a distance we can see Iceland coming towards us. Snowy mountain peaks and a rugged landscape, it seems unreal that we will be cycling here. When we arrive at the fjord we cycle off the boat in no time. The first waterfalls are spotted in the distance. The fact that we will be spending more than three weeks here feels like an enormous privilege.
The next morning we wake up in the pouring rain, views are hidden under a thick layer of fog and the temperature measures only 5 degrees C. We cycle over the first mountain pass to Egilsstadir, 30km with a climb of 700 meters. Others warned us about this climb, but we found it very doable in terms of difficulty, although the cold and rain doesn't make it any easier on us. The views at the top are completely blocked, we can hardly see each other due to the fog bank and the descent to the village is freezing cold. Suddenly we feel like those tough cyclists whose videos you see on YouTube, riding through the rough elements of nature. It feels amazing, but the wind cuts through our gloves and we can hardly feel our finger tops. At the first gas station we come across we warm up with a coffee and chocolate milk. We pay €10 and hope we don't have to warm up too much in this expensive way.
We talk to some locals to find a place to sleep: a short stop at a museum and the local sports club turns out not to be a success. The locals even look at us funny and we immediately feel that in this region it will be difficult to find a place for our tent at people's homes. Shivering from the rain we go to the campsite, we can pitch our tent on a small lawn but we can sit dry and warm in the common room of the campsite, it feels like heaven. When we check the weather forecast for the next day we see it predicts strong gusts of rain and storms, we realize that cycling in Iceland will not be easy.
We spend the next few days in the East Fjords, definitely still one of our highlights during our cycling trip in Iceland. You leave the busier ring road to welcome off road trails, the road to Mjóifjördur and the waterfall Klifbrekufossar are so worth it that we even cycle the way there and back (there is no other option of course :p). At times you feel alone in the world and it's unreal to cycle in these landscapes. Once we leave the East Fjords, we mainly follow the busier ring road 1.
Iceland is the first destination where we feel unsafe on the road. The crowds and speed on the Ring Road is not to be underestimated, add to this the wind and you regularly end up in dangerous situations. Stefanie, for example, was simply blown off her bike by a passing truck. In this Instagram Post we ask for more awareness from the drivers, because as a cyclist you are very vulnerable and that becomes painfully proven in Iceland.
After a slightly traumatic experience due to the truck incident, we bravely jump on our bikes again the next morning. We want to take it easy today and evaluate how safe we feel. If necessary we will take a bus to avoid the busiest parts. The next campsite is 20 km away but the wind blows in our favour for the first day so we decide to add another 20 km to another campsite in Djúpivogur.
When there is tailwind in Iceland, you should just keep on cycling. Unfortunately we had more days of headwind during the first week, but we met cyclists who had cycled 70km in 2 hours without any effort. The wind is definitely the main consideration when cycling in Iceland.
Light as a feather
June 25, 2022 - we crawl out of the tent early after a sleepless night. The wind has been blowing through our tent mercilessly all night. When the wind is blowing through the tent like that, a lot of thoughts run through your head. Will our tent remain standing, what if the tent poles break, what if something heavy flies onto the tent? All are fears and not all are realistic. Fortunately, our fears are overcome by our experiences and we trust our tent 200%.
After Niels is offered a coffee by the owner of the campsite and we made a video call to our new godchild, we have renewed energy to face the wind. The first fifteen minutes start promising with some tail wind, but soon our fears take over. A long "stretch" of almost 4km awaits us with a powerful crosswind averaging 54km/h and gusting to 130km/h. The power of nature shows itself never before and with moments we are nailed to the ground, or even worse, suddenly with our snouts on the other side of the road. These 4km take an hour and a half and at moments we are forced to push a bike in pairs. All our strength and perseverance is needed to bring this to a safe end, when the adrenaline is used up we feel the energy leaving our bodies step by step.
Even with the wind in our backs today, we often have to put our feet to the ground to stay straight. In the end, it takes us almost 4h to "cycle" 27km before we recharge our batteries with a nice lunch in Höfn. The next campsite we want to reach today is only 13km away, but after 3km we give up. Niels is completely exhausted and frankly we are really scared on the bike. We return to Höfn disappointed and book a hostel where we soon meet another cyclist who is also fed up (moreover, he decides to book a car from the next day). We end up in a room with 10 people full of snorers, wind really is the theme of the day!
A bicycle trip is often described as a type 2 fun activity. You first make an effort, afterwards you can look back and that effort is more than worth it, you have fun. The first week in Iceland, the lack of sleep piles up and we are confronted more than we would like with gusts of wind that are too strong to cycle safely... the fun disappears. Automatically, the question arises, "What are we doing and why?" Doubts and negative thoughts take over and we realize we have no choice but to allow them. Over time, we realize that it's totally okay to feel this way and it makes us grow a bit again, getting to know ourselves and each other better. These fears and doubts turn into a powerful feeling, the realization that we should be incredibly lucky to have this experience and let's face it, Iceland presents the most impressive landscapes you will ever encounter.
Just when our mindset is full of positivity
It's the end of June and our mindset has shifted, positively that is. We are braving the Icelandic rain, pausing when the wind forces us to (just a few days without gusts, juijj!!) and enjoying the views. We feel like nothing can stop us and encounter many highlights. The Ice Lagoon, Diamond Beach, the views of the country's largest volcano Vatnajökull we can admire from our bikes. We are proud that we persevere and that we not only see this country but experience it to the bone. We wild camp (as cyclists or hikers this is allowed if the campgrounds are too far apart) on the most beautiful spots and are eager to experience Iceland for the last two weeks. Until Niels' bike thinks differently about this...
About 11km before Kirkjubaejarklaustur (try saying that after three beers) his chain suddenly breaks, an easy fix and soon we are jumping back on the bike. Everything seems to be fine, or not? Shifting gears doesn't go smoothly anymore, there's some kind of blow in his crankset and after a thorough inspection we can't identify the problem ourselves. A local advises us to go to "bike farm", but when Niels jumps back on his bike we hear a loud crack. The sound that means the end of our cycling trip in Iceland. Set screw broken, derailleur broken. Travelling 400 km on a single speed is a no-go, finding a new derailleur is an impossible task where we are.
We are cursing and our minds changes thoughts every minute. "Do we head to Canada sooner or do we still make the best of Iceland?", we can't make a decision and once again drive ourselves crazy. The bikes make it harder to move around, because we have to take them with us every time. We finally decide to be grateful to be here and make the most of this beautiful country. And a good decision this turns out to be!
(Hitch)hiking we steadily move forward
July 01, 2022 - We are still stranded where Niels' bike has broken down and spend time at the gas station for a nice lunch. One of the employees has a chat with us, turns out, he has lived in Brussels for a long time and suddenly starts speaking Flemish to us. Yavor is from Bulgaria, has a love for Belgium and also speaks perfect French. He has been working in Iceland for two years and, without us realizing it, he becomes on of our trail angels. He reassures us in a very relaxed way and time and time again he assures us that a solution will arrive. Together with his wife, Hsiu, he gives Stefanie a ride to Vík. Even more, they take her on a day trip to waterfalls, show her the churche where they got married and brought her to all kinds of beautiful nature. This while Niels waits for a ride with the bicycles at the gas station...
We meet again at the end of the day when Niels arrives in Vïk with Logi, a truck driver who was more than willing to transport our bikes. A fun experience to accompany a truck driver through Iceland and Niels and Logi exchange stories about travels and views upon the world. Logi turns out to be an avid hiker and is planning to hike all the way from West to East across Iceland with two friends next summer, a crazy plan if you ask us. He suggests that we store our bikes safely in his workplace in Vík, so that we can explore the area with peace of mind. What a luxury all of a sudden, we feel free and go hitchhiking through this southern part of Iceland. A Polish group of friends takes us to a glacier, a German family squeezes together to help us out and two Swiss friends take us as far as Thakgil, probably the most beautiful place we have visited in Iceland.
Encounters make our journey
July 08, 2022 - There is one more big distance we have to cover, hitchhiking with our bicycles to Reykjavik. We need to get to the capital but the bikes make it harder than expected, so we decide to spend some money on a public bus after all. When we are waiting in the heavy wind and rain, we hear from people around us that the bus has been cancelled because of the bad weather. There are road shifts more to the east of us causing the bus to be stuck, and this bus only runs once a day... It is already 5pm and we instinctively have to look for a solution, postponing the trip is not really an option as there is a dentist visit in Reykjavik planned for Niels for the next day.
Niels speaks to a tour guide who is exploring the South of Iceland with a tourist bus. The bus is not full and the bus driver is more than willing to put our bikes in the trunk, with a big smile he helps us out. On the way we stop at Seljalandsfoss and we arrive late in Reyjavik where Hjalti is waiting for us. He would normally take us to a campsite but last minute he sends us a message that we can sleep in their son's room. Ultimate hospitality awaits us and we spend a few wonderful days with this unique family. They take us hiking, Selja (Hjalti's wife) cooks a delicious meal for us, Hjalti drives us around for groceries and to pick up the bike boxes, takes Niels to the dentist and much, much more. The last evening with we play board games together with their sweet children Benjamin and Helena, it turns out to be the perfect end to our tumultuous journey through Iceland.
Other people we want to thank are Carla and Harrie, our trail angels, who delivered a package with food for us in Iceland. Also Justin and Anik from Canada we want to say thanks for treating us to a nice dinner, but most of all a pleasant evening.