Cycle Touring Maturing: Iceland Solo
Well here I am in Iceland, just past the northern town of Akureyri. It’s been 2 weeks since I cycled out of Reykjavik on a warm and unusually sunny day; petrified, excited and ready for an adventure…whatever that meant here.
But before I even began, I realized that my fully loaded bike was wayyy too heavy for me to make it up just one small hill in Reykjavik, trying to cycle from the center of town to my lovely hosts place in the rain. After pondering over the latest ‘Cycling Iceland 2017’ map with Unner I promptly started a cull of my gear to leave at her place. With no Tom to carry the 2-person tent and balance out the rest of our shared camping items and bike tools, I had to get pretty ruthless.
My first couple of days cycling north from Reykjavik were pretty magical and helped ease me into my solo adventure, if also giving me a slight false hope about the summer weather here. I decided to head into the highlands to avoid the busiest section of the ring road and all the tourists heading west. That’s when the real adventure and test began, on day 3 of cycling.
The landscape changed from gentle coastal plains with interesting basalt rock stacks to bigger and bigger hills. Tarmac became gravel became bumpy 4wd track, and then I was in the unworldly highlands of Iceland with the wind getting stronger the higher I climbed (of course going the opposite direction to me). After only 25km against strong wind on day 2, I stayed the night in an emergency shelter where the guest book indicated a large handful of adventure cyclists had rested for the night, all mentioning the wind and rain in their comments, with some alarming notes of dust storms. My plan was to reach the closest town and campground 40km away the next day and I knew it would be tough, but didn’t realize just how tough. It was 5 degrees with mild wind when I set out at 6am (Finland prepared me well) and started cycling up the rocky pass toward the 720m summit. The valley I was cycling through is called the Kaldidalur, which means “cold valley” and passes a shield volcano and the Porisjokull glacier volcano.
By 8am I already had a massive headwind and it took me hours to do the 20kms up to the summit before I could descend the final 20km. I had to walk and push against the wind that was so strong I fell over and had my bike fall on me numerous times bruising my legs all over. To make it more interesting it started raining which meant water and dirt were flying into my face as I stopped and panted deeply for minutes sometimes just to get 5 meters further up the road. Down hill was still an effort and only walking pace due to the sheer wind force against me. I don’t remember ever feeling so physically exhausted in my life and I felt at the point of collapse several times. Of course I could’ve opted out as there were a few 4wd’s passing me every half hour or so, some stopping to ask if I was ok or needed anything whilst questioning my sanity. The main problem was that I had wet shoes and was pretty cold all over! I didn’t sit down the whole 40km struggle, but somehow by 1pm I had made it to the campground surprising myself at how quickly I got there considering the extreme conditions. A 30 minute hot shower was enough to thaw me out and I was asleep by 6pm.
After that endeavor, the past week and a bit has been a mixture of rest days and leisurely cycling a 225km loop around a small section of the West Fjords. I met a great guy named Ed from Oregon who has cycled all over Iceland on numerous trips the past couple of decades. We caught a bus to the north together, almost losing all our panniers as the bus did 80kms/hr along the ring road before we realized the luggage compartment was open, but eventually we arrived in Akureyri where I have certainly had my fair share of waffles and hot chocolate. With Ed’s experience here we pondered over the map a lot and I changed my planned route at least 5 times, probably for the best.
It’s time for the second half of Iceland now. Cycling solo here has certainly brought many challenges but has also forced me to figure it all out on my own. I certainly miss Tom and have become apparently more homesick since he left, but I have also had a huge grin on my face most days, taking in the sheer beauty of this country and feeling fiercely independent with just myself, my bike and map in hand.