Iceland (2007)

In August 2007 Rudi and I cycle in the south-west part of Iceland. We pass through sizzling Kerlingarfjoll and overwhelming Landmannalaugar. We cycle in the middle of nowhere over a deserted jeep track. In three weeks' time we travel thousand kilometers, half of which on gravel, or worse.

Day 1: Kevlavík > Grindavík (28 km)

Rudi and I exchange warm (28 °C) Netherlands for Iceland! At Schiphol Airport we find ourselves in the slow queue. An arrogant American woman in front of us takes a pack of dogs with her. The plastic bike cover appears to be very handy. We can take the bike along in the queue up to the desk and pack it just before we check-in. Although we are not charged for the few extra kilo's we take with us in the bags, for the bike transport we have to pay an additional 120 euro. We are the last passengers to board. In the plane we have an excellent view of large parts of south Iceland. I have studied the map so often in the last year that I can recognize a lot of places. The men who take the luggage out of the plane are not very gentle to our bikes. Rudi's bike is thrown on the car, and the cover of my bike has opened as has my saddle bag. I am glad none of my tools are missing.

When we step out of the arrival hall it is definitely colder than back home: 13 °C and a strong northern wind. We go to camping Alex in Kevlavík and dump the covers and the tape. A few miles on road [41] and then turn right on the [43]. We cycle with great speed through desolate lava fields. The landscape looks like the aftermath of a nuclear explosion. We leave the heat power station and the tourist attraction of Bláa Iónid ("Blue Lagoon") on the right side, and follow the red heat pipelines towards Grindavík.

We try to pitch the tent on the primitive camp site. The wind flows fiercely, we are lucky to find one sheltered place. Two German girls are having some difficulty pitching their tent right in the wind. Later that night more tents and camper arrive. This camp site is dull so we decide to investigate the town centre. First to the ATM and next to the local petrol station a.k.a. shop a.k.a. snack-bar a.k.a. N1. The air is full of fat, and the Icelandic bar maids look lazy and bored. Of course there is nothing to do here so I can imagine their attitude. I cannot think of any good reason why people would want to live Grindavík. Then, a too large SUV stops at the door. Too fat Icelandic kids with their too fat parents come in and order ice cream. We also want some fat and order meat with baked vegetables, eggs and fries.

Day 2: Grindavík > Strandarkirkja (52 km)

Last night the wind was really fierce. The tent touched my sleeping bag all the time. According to the weather map this was only a moderate wind, so there is something to look forward to in the weeks to come. Shortly after 7 am we decide to get up. We eat noodles, drink tea and pack the tent. Our neighbors are less lucky. When packing their tent the wind takes it away, and blows it over the houses at the opposite side of the road in just 10 seconds. Baring in mind Grindavík is located just next to the south coast, one can imagine our neighbors run after it as quickly as possible. They are lucky to find their tent undamaged. Next time take care. We buy two breads in the N1 snack-bar.

Cycling along the south coast [427] is tougher than expected, especially the first 7 km. The headwind is so strong. Often we have to stop cycling and hold our bikes. My steer is loose, probably I did not tighten it well after the flight, and the hex key I bought with me is too short. Next time prepare better... The road is reconstructed and all the sand next to the road blows right into our faces. We are overtaken by a Japanese who is going to do Iceland by himself. We all three push our bikes on the steep road where any protection from the wind is absent.

During the descent the road becomes unpaved, meaning loose sand and rocks. After 15 km wresting there is another 8 km paved road and less head wind. On the [42] the landscape becomes more interesting: cliffs on the left, the sea on the right and lava fields all around us. Near Herdisarvíkurhraun the sky is so clear that we can see Mýrdalsjökull's mountains, more than 100 km's away! We have also spot the lighthouse where the camp site and a church are located.

We eat chili-con-carne soup and drink 2.25% beer in the house of the camping bosses. They only speak Icelandic. Every time I try to ask them about the weather in German or English, they think I am talking about water. On the camp site there is also this sulky German couple not saying anything back, as well as a Dutch middle-aged couple. After dinner we walk to scenic Strandarkirkja. Our path goes right through a breeding area. Seagulls are flying everywhere, coaching their kids on the ground. The gulls are hostile, and they become even more hostile after I throw a stone in the air. It reminds me of the Hitchcock movie The Birds. In the meantime beautiful clouds have developed in the nearly windless sky. The wind direction changes from north to south for the next few days. This process will repeat itself from now on.

Day 3: Strandarkirkja > Ulfljótsvatn (65 km)

We are on the [42], a long-stretched, straight and somewhat monotone road right through a lava field. The road is so much better than yesterday's. The cars that drive by fill the air with dust. When we pause to shoot photographs we notice the soil is very dry. It has been extraordinary good weather in Iceland in the last few months.

After 20 km of unpaved road we suddenly arrive at the paved [38]. With the wind in the back we race to Hveragerdi. The landscape here is not impressive at all: some hills on our left, and a big plain on our right. We cannot see as far as yesterday. In the town we eat the best hamburger of our holiday. The Dutch couple that was present on the camp site this morning drops by as well. They let us know they plan to cycle to Landmannalaugar, from there by the [F208] to the coast and return by the [1]. When I tell them that the [F208] means that they have to do 25 river crossings they at first do not believe me and then look betrayed. They have not brought with them wading shoes.

We buy some food at the petrol station and follow the ring road [1], a busy and quite annoying road, to Selfoss. On top of a hill next to the road we see many white crosses and one baby cross, but it is not a graveyard. Strange. We make a picture of the big region information board, which presents all shops and campings, so we do not have to write this down. Just before we reach uninterestingly situated Selfoss we turn left and take the [35] and subsequently the [36] in the direction of Pingvellir.

The camp site in Ulfljótsvatn near the southern shore of Lake Pingvallavatn is nice and spacious, and its showers (sulfur smell!) are excellent. We relax a while by throwing the frisbee although there is a strange breeze. We are attacked by midges that do not bite but do itch. In the kitchen are English and Italian scouts who make a lot of noise but we don't care. We have rice with tuna in tomato sauce and asparagus: a weird combination but it tastes great.

Rudi and I study on the route that we want to follow in the next days. We find out that we have to buy food for twelve days in the village where we will arrive tomorrow. Combining beautiful interior routes and supermarket locations in Iceland is a puzzle.

Day 4: Ulfljótsvatn > Laugarvatn (60 km)

Despite the cloudy air the trip around Lake Pingvallavatn is okay. The first part from Ulfljótsvatn over the [360] is unpaved but not too bad. We can see beautiful mountains contour lines on the opposite side of the lake. In the west, we can also see the steam coming from the heat power station near Nesbúd which provides Reykjavík with hot water through big pipes. Just thereafter we have to ascent quite a bit. We pass bizarre rock formations: pink, purple, ochre and graphite black.

The road [360] along the west shore goes up and down all the time. There are a lot of summer chalets under construction; it is a lovely place. From the moment we arrive at the broader [36], cycling gets boring due to the long straight stretches. We find a place to eat our three days old bread. But I cannot find the Leatherman and when I have found the knife, I cannot squeeze the Fred & Ed chocolate spread out of the tube. Iceland is too cold for chocolate spread to get liquid.

Next is Pingvellir, one of the country's most touristic hot spots. In this 6 km wide valley one can see clearly how the earth plates of Eurasia and America have been driven apart for the last millions of years. There is a gorge with 15 m high walls. Complete bus loads are dropped here. They all want to make the famous picture of the gorge. I want to get out of here.

On a footpath we cycle to the [361]. The road meanders through the valley. We see breaches in the earth everywhere, also lots of green and a nice view of the lake. There are hardly any cars around here. Taking the [365] to Laugarvatn means that we have to climb for some 200 m. The air becomes more grey, as of it will start raining any minute now. It reminds me of the North Pennines in England. Having arrived at the top the road stays flat for some time followed by a steep descent into a beautiful valley (Laugarvatnsvellir) with interesting mountains on our left side. On the dull camp site of Laugarvatn we eat spaghetti with salmon, soup vegetables and sauce. Delicious! Next we go shopping.

Day 5: Laugarvatn > Gulfoss (40 km)

This morning we have crushed the contents of 22 noodle bags and put these in one large one. This is less voluminous and more safe. We also pack all the other food. Although the bikes are heavily loaded now there is still room in the bags. So we go to the shop for the second time. Since there is no fresh bread left by the time we arrive, we buy soggy, long-time preservable donut rolls (without donut), whole-wheat biscuits and muesli. We spend 150 Euro in this shop. Prices in Laugarvatn are three times higher than in Reykjavík. But, since the food is planned for twelve days, it is still reasonable. The cash desk is occupied by a fat all-American Icelandic boy with fat hair and a bored look. He wears a black T-shirt on which the following text is printed: 'If you fear death – You can’t enjoy living'. The next moment, when two police officers enter the shop and interrogate the dude, reminds me of the ambiance in Twin Peaks. Living in Laugarvatn is relaxed...

After we have managed to get the new stuff in our bags we head for Geysir. The road ([37] and [35]) is easy with just a few elevations. We make pictures of a cloud machine. What the machine exactly does we do not know, probably something useful with hot ground water. Far away we can see snow-covered mountains. At Geysir we get ourselves additional mars, snickers and crisps. This will be a calorie-rich holiday. As expected this is a tourist circus. On the right side of the road there are a restaurant, a kiosk, a hotel and numerous parking places. On the left there is only this meadow with small pools and brooks, some with blue-silver colored water. We can hear bubbling sounds. Big old Geysir used to hurl boiling water up to 70 m into the air, but has not been potent for many years now. His little brother Strokkur still is. It erupts every five minutes and blows up to 30 m. Spectators are positioned strategically so no one gets wet. Rudi makes subsequent photographs on which you can see the eruption grow.

Next we continue cycling over the [35] to Gulfoss. We can see the mighty icecap of Langjökull, kept safe at distance by pyramid-shaped mountains. Near Gulfoss it starts raining so we pitch the tent in just a few minutes. There is no camping here but we manage to find a good spot behind the lavatory. At night we go to the restaurant and buy a coke and a beer for 10 Euro. Rudi reads a funny book by Herman Brusselmans about a alcoholic guy. Rudi personifies so much with the main character that he goes berserk if he doesn't get his daily beer. We also order lamb soup (15 Euro per person) served with a tiny bread roll. The bombastic background music adds value to the misty view (not). Before we leave the restaurant Rudi begs for old bread rolls, and is successful.

Day 6: Gulfoss > Hvítárvatn (47 km)

This morning we visited Gulfoss' waterfall. This is a very wide and quite high one. Very impressive how wild a river can be. We see the cycling Japanese guy here as well (as was the case the second day and yesterday at Geysir). After the visit we are ready for the [F35], aka the Kjölur, which leads to the north. It is fairly warm, 16 °C, with a mild side wind. The paved road goes up and down. Just before reaching a high hill we have to go down to a river first. What a waste of energy.

After some 12 km the gravel road starts. The remaining part of our 35 km trip today reasonable surface (i.e. narrow track) and very bad (washboard and large stones). The locals drive here easily in their car, van or jeep, sometimes with trailer). We have to work our way through this hell.

From the river it is 350 m climbing to the pass height (610 m) which lies between the Geldingafell and the massive Bláfell (1,204 m). The whole trip today we have the big Langjökull ice mass in the picture. We can also see lake Hvítárvatn in the distance now. After having crossed river Hvítá we are so tired of the Kjölur road that we decide to take the jeep track to the camping at the lake. This track appears to be even worse in the first 4 km: loose sand, rocks, wholes due to ponies. Once and a while we have to walk. Rudi keeps on racing, and as a way of punishment, loses a bolt of his carrier.

Finally we have the camping in sight. Well, it is not really what one would call a camping. Actually it is a very beautifully located little house around which one can pitch tents. There is a toilet hut with closet paper. And there is also a clean water source. There are two Swiss hikers and a very friendly French cyclist with a trailer. Later that evening guests arrive who will stay in the house. The view is extraordinary: mountains, water, glaciers and meadows all around us. We have chili-con-carne with rice and salami for dinner. My #1 advice to cook the rice and sauce together ('Don't you understand that's efficient, Rudi?') is bloody worthless. As a result we use more fuel, the food is burned, and the rice is not cooked-through at all.

Day 7: Hvítárvatn > Hveravellir (53 km)

During our vacation it drizzles at night and it stops raining around 7 am. Also today. We get up at 7.30 am. First we have to take care of our bicycle chains. These rust tremendously, especially my cheap one. We say goodbye to this nice camp spot and take the jeep track in the direction of the Kjölur route. We wade through our first river, the Svartá. The water stays below our knees, we do not have to take the luggage off the bikes.

The 49 km on the [F35] are very bumpy. On a "regular" gravel road one can always find a narrow track, but that is hardly possible on the Kjölur. After Rudi's lost carrier bolt we cycle far more careful downhill, resulting in a average low speed. Since we have to focus on the road surface all the time, we have to halt to have a good view of the landscape. And that view is promising: in front of us we can see several icecaps and further away the Kerlingarfjöll "peaks".

It is remarkable that Kerlingarfjöll is bathing in the sun (just like yesterday) while anywhere else it is cloudy. Must be oasis there. The river at our right hand, the Jökulfall, meanders nicely through the vast area. On top of the hill and junction with the road to Kerlingarfjöll we engage two Spanish cyclists. According to them there were no less than ten cyclists in their plane from Barcelona to Iceland. Cycling Iceland must be very popular in Catalonia. In the days before we met seven other Spanish cyclists, which results in the following ranking. Spain: 9, Netherlands: 6 (including us), Germany: 2, France and Japan: 1. How interesting...

Just at the moment the Kjölur transforms from a very bad in a modest bad road, we take the road to the camping. At Hveravellir there are hot spots, i.e. holes in the grounds with boiling water. Near one hot spot a 4 x 4 m hot tub been constructed. The water in it must be very hot. We have spaghetti Bolognese with salami for dinner. That tastes extraordinary. Rudi goes to the little shop of the friendly camping boss, and gets us yoghurt, coke, crisps and beer. What a luxury way to survive!

Day 8: Hveravellir (day off)

The weather on Iceland has two options: one week northern wind and the other week wind from the south. As from today there is a quite strong northern wind. We wanted to look for minerals in this area, but it is so cloudy, misty and cold (6 °C) that we decide to take a rest here.

First we are going to make some pictures. We do not go far, just the part behind the hot tub, where all kinds of sources are bubbling. We can see fluorescent yellow and orange stripes on the white limestone. Very funny is a white layered mini-volcano, about 1 m in height, which blows air under high pressure. We also notice a 1.5 by 1.5 m wide crater filled with bright blue water. A wooden path has been constructed to protect the powder stone. Then suddenly a bus delivers a group of noisy Italian tourists who do their best to not use the path and escape the cold within just five minutes. I must admit: I am freezing as well and give up. So off to the tent to read a book. Rudi stays another hour or so in the cold with his Canon.

In the afternoon we decide to try the hot tub. On both sides there are pipes, one with very hot water and one with ice cold water, which you can position above or alongside of the bath. Changing clothes is done outside. Rudi puts one feet in the water and awrgh, it is hot! He gets used to the temperature slowly, and finally he gets in, followed by me. We wade a little, and find out that we had entered the tub at its hottest spot. It is really delightful: outside the weather is harsh, but in the water it is excellent. Some British covered in winter jackets drop by and enter the tub as well. Even an extremely beautiful Swedish lady arrives. This is going to be fun. Unfortunately after some time our bodies cannot get rid of its warmth, resulting in a headache. Time to get out.

We stay a while in the tent and get frozen. Time to get to the heated hut to drink unlimited coffee. We chat with the German students Eva and Susanne, who have just arrived by bus. After a cup of coffee and three refills they invite us to come along to their room for some "kniffeln". Excuse me? Oh well, this is a great opportunity. Unfortunately "kniffeln" appears to be the German word for "Yahzee". We play this game until the camping boss kicks us out. The ladies have to break up because a lot of Spanish tourists will arrive and he wants them to stay in their room. We join them to the other hut, which is far better. We help then with preparing the meal and finish the kniffeln. Next we play a few games of "arschlochen" and then it is time to take a second bath.

Until 11.30 pm we and some fifteen other people (including the Finnish guy who helps the camping boss) stay in the hot tub. The only true Icelander around acts like he is in charge and wants to keep the hot water tube out of the bath. He also explains that it has been extraordinary warm in Iceland in June and July. As many other of his countrymen, he is with a 4 x 4 jeep club and regularly drives to the icecaps. That way he is able to measure how fast the caps melt due to global warming: 500 m in ten years, and 90 m last year! If this is to continue for another 100 years, Iceland can choose a new name.

Day 9: Hveravellir > Kerlingarfjöll (42 km)

We have got used to wait for getting out of the tent until it has stopped raining. Rudi buys bread and snickers. Have breakfast, pull down the tent, check the bike and lube its chain. How do these chains become so rusty? Also other bicycle parts start to rust. Lazy as we are we do not leave before it is 11 am. On the [F35] we follow the 'ideal’ track of three Italians who left 30 minutes earlier. In the distance we see rain showers coming. This looks awesome! Half an hour later we are in the middle of it. The temperature drops to 6°C and it will stay this cold for the next few hours. I try to put on my water resistant gloves, but that is difficult because I have wet hands and the gloves are very tight. Rudi just wears his bicycle gloves, brrr...

We can see the sun shining in the Kerlingarfjöll region. We are really fed up with the Kjölur, especially the last 10 km up to the Kerlingarfjöll exit, a rocky and sometimes steep (13%) part. The [F347] leading to Kerlingarfjöll is not a real improvement. We bounce al lot with our non-suspension and heavily loaded bikes. We have to cross a small stream, next along the airfield - no more than a simple hut with a few markers on the ground. Gýgjarfoss waterfall is nice, its rapids wild, the river continues through a narrow canyon. Fortunately there is a fordable place. The road becomes worse and worse as we continue, and is sometimes very steep. We have to push a lot. But then, at last, there is this magnificent panorama in front of us. Light and dark alternate at great speed. We cycle this last stretch, higher and higher, between the mighty icecap of Hofsjökull and the Kerlingarfjöll mountains.

The ford near the campsite has recently been bridged. Finally we can see the camping and its splendidly situated holiday homes. The prices is less splendid; it is going to be the most expensive stay this vacation. In the youth hostel there is no shop, and the menu of the "restaurant" is far from attractive. So we decide to cook "Bever" nasi with additional brown rice. It takes quite some time for the rice to be ready, and I understand why (and am amazed) when I read the instruction on the box: 45 minutes cooking time. That is ridiculous! Just after 8 pm we go to the bathhouse. When we go in the building, we find out that the water has been heated two hours ago; it is lukewarm now. But no worries: the showers are hot. Outside the air is clear and it gets cold: at 10 pm it is 2 °C and hardly warmer in the tent.

Day 10: Kerlingarfjöll (day off)

The weather is excellent today! We decide to have a relaxed start of this hiking day. After all, photo shooting conditions improve during the afternoon. So the only activity this morning is to drink a lot of coffee in the restaurant and meanwhile watch previously made photos. According to the waitresses the good weather condition is rare during summer: 'cold and crispy air'. Back at the tent the clothes we had washed two hours before are already dry.

We can choose from several hiking trails in this striking area. We pick path no. 7 and start climbing the steep hill behind the camping. The views of the great open Kjölur area are impressive. After a few hours we suddenly see steam. And next we enter this really beautiful valley that includes a little meandering stream, lava rocks, pieces of green, small snow fields and a number of hot spots. At the same moment the sun breaks through the clouds for the remaining part of the day. We walk on the edge of a hill along two 3 m craters. The first one mud is boiling, and the second one is too deep to see what is inside. The sulfur smell is intense. The path is very panoramic: over hills, through small valleys and along little streams. We can see these little craters and steam coming from the ground everywhere. Lots of colors: chalk-white, light yellow, light green, purple... Around 6 pm the light is perfect for making pictures. We make a lot of them.

It is 7 pm when we reach the jeep track high on the plateau. We follow this bumpy road for about 7 km until we reach the camping. Meanwhile we enjoy the beautiful views to the north and the west. Near the camp site we walk next to a deep canyon. Too bad it is too dark now to make pictures of it. Back at the tent it is not as cold as yesterday, when there was a northern wind. After a quick shower we eat pasta Bolognese. What a perfect day!

Day 11: Kerlingarfjöll > Fjórdungssandur (38 km)

Despite good intentions we depart not before 10.30 am. Today a three day tour starts on a cyclable jeep track the existence of which came to me via a Dutchman's website. The north wind almost blows us of the hill in front of the camping. Next we go down to the east, the delta area between Kerlingarfjöll and the Hofsjökull icecap. The first 5 km are varied but also intense: many short climbs, some (easy) river crossings. We have developed a new concept for river crossings: one person pushes both bikes, so the other does not have to put the wading shoes on.

After some 10 km the landscape suddenly changes from delta (water, grass, wet) to stone-stone-stone. Today we face stone in all sorts and sizes: large, small, round, rugged, lava, glossy, mat, sharp, soft. The road quality is sometimes reasonable well, sometimes very bad, and most of the time just bad. Once and a while the track is not clear or there are several tracks, but in the distance there is always a pole visible to guide us further. One advantage of this low-traffic road is the absence of a washboard surface.

The soil is much dryer than we had expected. Our map shows all kinds of streams in this area, and this was also mentioned in a travel report on the internet, but all we can see are dry beds. After exactly 25 km we arrive at the cabin of the 4 x 4 club: they must have water here. The cabin is brand new, but unfortunately it is locked. Hmmm… We have to go on. The landscape is beautiful. One can look so far in the distance: the Hofsjökull icecap to the north, the snow-covered Kerlingarfjöll mountains in the west, far away behind the Sprengisandur the dead volcano cones Nyrdri-Háganga (1,278 m) and Sydri-Háganga (1,284 m) in the east, and 65 km to the south and clearly visible the Hekla (1,491 m). And in between tens of kilometers stone desert. We see many small groups of geese flying and notice a lot of geese tracks next to the "road".

About 10 km after the cabin we at last we see a small lake. For the first time since we arrived in Iceland I can use the 10 liter water bag. Now that we finally have found water we are happy again. We forget the many times we had to push our bikes in the loose sand. But where can we pitch our tent? The sand is way too lose, big rocks everywhere and there is a fierce wind coming from the north. Even our special snow pegs will not make the tent stay put. Fortunately after yet a few miles we see a second small lake where we can pitch the tent on the moss. A nice sunset is our reward for this special cycling day during which we have encountered nobody at all!

Day 12: Fjórdungssandur > Gljúfurá (42 km)

The night has been chilly. The moss on which we slept did not isolate too well. So we had to wear thermo underwear and socks in our down sleeping bags. We could hear geese in the air all night. In the morning, we pack the tent and continue our journey with the help of a strong wind in the back. The condition of the jeep track is horrible with all this loose sand. Then, suddenly, two Unimags enter the scene, what appears to be a German "expedition force". One of the Germans looks like Dr Jekyll - scary! After a friendly 'Auf Wiederschauen' to each other they carefully proceed to the north.

After yet another few miles the stone desert changes into a more varied and friendly landscape, with a few bits of green in the far distance. The first real green we encounter is near Kisa river. Rudi puts on his wading shoes and I my Teva's. Crossing the river is a piece of cake. The road improves and becomes more varied; we do not have to push our bikes through the loose sand any more. After 58 km we pass a stream that is so easy we do not even have to change shoes. Just after that spot we can see several sources of small streams. When we follow these streams we bump into a beautiful part of Miklilaekur river, in the middle of which a funny overhanging rock is situated. Although this Miklilaekur river is wider and deeper than what we have done so far, crossing it is not difficult whatsoever.

With the cabin of the 4 x 4 club at our left we continue our trip and quickly reach Dalsá river. The Dalsá river is some 80 m wide and will be the only "serious" river of our Iceland vacation. Poles that have been pitched in a wide bow steer us in the most optimal direction. We take off the long trousers and explore the river. The nicely colored stones in the water - some blue and orange - are slippery. First we bring the front bags to the other side. Next we return for our bikes. This is a slow operation, but we do not care, because surprisingly the water temperature is fine (as is the water in other places during our holiday).

Next we follow a road that is quite good condition for several miles, only sometimes interrupted by rocky parts. This is one of the few moments I take the lead. River Geldingaá needs to be crossed in two stages. Here we notice traces of cycles for the first time in three days. After a few miles of bad road we can see a cabin to our left, near the Pjorsá canyon. We decide to pamper ourselves and stay the night here. The hut is not locked and no one is around. The cabin has stables inside and is owned by a horse/pony club. We turn on one of the gas heaters and have moose stuff and lots of mashed potatoes for dinner. For the first time in twelve days we sleep on a comfortable mattress.

Day 13: Gljúfurá > Hrauneyjafoss (47 km)

We have slept very well in the cabin. In the morning the weather is lovely and we decide to go outside. We explore the area between the cabin and Pjorsá canyon. Several small waterfalls separate the little Gljúfurá stream from the big river. We cannot get close to the Pjorsá, and also the big waterfall to the north, the Gljúfurleitarfoss, is not within reach. The distances are too great to go down and return within the limited time we have. We are here to cycle. So back to the cabin.

It is not before noon before we leave. On the unpaved bit we will not encounter anyone today. We cross a few small rivers. There is only one river so deep we have to use the wading shoes. The road however starts to deteriorate. Lots of loose stones on the road. Our temper is tempered by the magnificent view of majestic Hekla.

At some point we arrive at a junction: one road bends to the left, one to the right. According to the map the right one is the one we should take, but the left one looks more cyclable. We decide to follow the map. Wrong decision. It will prove to be the worst road of the holiday. For many km's we bump off the hill. We are glad that our bicycles do not break, at first sight... After the lake quite a heavy climb awaits us, followed by a similarly long descent to the hydro power buildings. This is the end of the jeep track.

Jeep track (km):

000 Ásgardsfjall (starting point, camping)
010 End of delta, stone landscape begins
025 Setur, junction with road to 4 x 4 club cabin (left 2 km)
038 Our camping place at the lake (left 300 m)
043 Junction near Nordlingaalda hill
051 River Kisa
058 River Miklilaekur
060 4 x 4 club cabin
062 Rivier Dálsa
072 Geldingaá stream
080 Horse club cabin (left 650 m)
093 River
098 Lake
106 Sultartangastöd (finish)

Rudi is so relieved to leave behind the bad road that he kisses the tarmac. Unfortunately we still have to cycle some 20 km on the [32] and the [26] to the north east with the wind blowing in our faces. Our average speed on this part is a poor 12 km per hour.

When we finally arrive at Hrauneyjafoss there is no camping, contrary to what our map says. We are not allowed to pitch our tent next to the youth hostel or the hotel. Two Swiss cyclists recommend us not to take the bad [F208] to Landmannalaugar tomorrow, but instead use the [F26] and [F225]. We also meet the German guy who we say at Hveravellir. He will do as recommended by the Swiss couple, we will not. After we have had an enormous and expensive (1,450 Kroner) hamburger with fries, have bought bread, milk,crisps and chocolate, and have shaved, we are ready to continue our journey to the north east.

Since the wind is still blowing, we are looking for a nice and calm spot. But where? On our right we see a perfect meadow, but hell no, it is a river overflow area. After a few km on our left we almost pitch our tent behind an elevation until Rudi finds out that this elevation is a helicopter landing place. Not perfect either. Finally our third attempt at the other side of the road, where we can shelter behind some of the very rare Icelandic mini trees. A perfect spot for the tent. We have a splendid view of the sunset, the Hekla and the electricity masts. It is 10 °C, much warmer than in Iceland's interior highlands. Excellent.

Day 14: Hrauneyjafoss > Landmannalaugar (39 km)

We slept well last night and got up when the weather was fairly sunny. After breakfast we play frisbee to loosen our muscles, got our stuff, packed the tent and hot the road. We pass all kinds of installations on our way up the hill and arrive at the junction where we take the road to Landmannalaugar. The condition of the [F208] is generally bad: much washboard, lose gravel and stones. Passing by jeeps cover us in dust. We are glad we do not have to push the bikes too often. We cycle along water reservoirs with at the background the Hekla. After a strenuous climb on a rock slope we eat bread with tuna.

The view to the south is spectacular: Landmannalaugar's hills far away, and in order to get there, we have to cross a wide plain of lava dirt. It reminds me of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. the only thing missing perhaps is Mount Doom in action. This sacred moment is harshly disturbed by this Icelander who parks his van a few yards behind us and unloads a bunch of tourists. During their stop he keeps on running the stinking diesel engine, which is in fact a truly Icelandic habit. Anyway, I ask him what the purpose of this is, but he does not give a damn. I am glad when he eventually decides to leave for Mordor.

So we travel the 7 km long road which meanders under the electricity masts. This road brings us to the other side of the lava field, to the frontier of the National Park, where we eat chocolate. Next follow many miles of lose sand, sand and sand. At those parts of the road that are cyclable my speed is just 5 km an hour. And to make it worse, it starts raining. But the good news is that due to the rain the moss on the hills become clearly visible and give a nice contrast to the non-colored background. And we are also happy to experience the road to become less sandy. The road becomes acceptable meaning we can cycle all the time.

Then suddenly a junction, with Landmannalaugar just a few miles ahead. First we have along a lake and a steep climb up a beautiful hill, and then we can see... Shangri-La! A landscape right from a fairy tale is in front of us. We continue through a valley-wide gravel bed until we can see our destination. The camping is tremendously well situated. However, the facilities are poor and do certainly not meet expectations of the high tariff. To give an example, the camping offers just three showers in total for loads of guests, showers for which you have to pay, and to make it worse, showers which are either ice cold or broiling. There are sinks for those who do not want to queue for the showers, but to make things more complicated the camping management allows only the washing of faces and hands and teeth brushing in the sinks. Weird...

Rudi finds out that there is a bruise on his rear wheel rim, but it looks like it will be able to hold for the next days. Later that evening we see the German guy arriving who followed the alternative and longer route from Hrauneyjafoss to Landmannalaugar. He is complaining: the road has been so demanding. Sure, wrong decision dude. It drizzles all the time and it is cold, this makes us hungry and the spaghetti is very much welcomed. We also eat the raisins, drink beer and read books.

Day 15: Landmannalaugar (day off)

Today we will be hiking. We are very lucky: it is sunny and the wind is almost absent. We enter the lava field right behind the camping. This labyrinth is enormous, it could be 1 square km wide. Rudi and I discuss what direction to take, finally we decide to take a small, unmarked path right through the lava. The lava shapes rising up to 10 m above us, we sometimes can see over it and find our way through, otherwise we would have get lost.

At the other side of the lava field we reach a small yellow/green plateau where a lot of steam is generated. Behind the plateau we climb a hill which has beautiful colored lanes, as if a rainbow were projected on it. On the left of us another bizarre lava mass, and on the middle of the hill a lava chimney. On the summit of the "rainbow hill" we enjoy a magnificent view of the surrounding landscape. I notice my Teva's are doing their job well, and offer sufficient grip when walking on the loose stones. Next we go down again, cross a gravel bed and a few narrow streams, and ascent again, to the top of the most visited hill of Landmannalaugar.

And indeed, I must admit, the top offers a spectacular 360° view of the entire area. Deep down the camp site is waiting to be swallowed by the lava mass. Far away we can see a delta area. And far, far away Kerlingarfjöll's mountains are visible. The landscape is rich of colors: we see yellow, orange, pink, mint green, dark grey, and brown. During the photo session the German students Eva and Susanne bump into us again. Toll! They took a day off at their vacation job and went to Landmannalaugar. We descent together, and get some food in the little shop that is located in the old bus.

After a copious Bever meal, meatloaf with extra mashed potatoes, we shave ourselves. We are now ready for another four days of unpaved cycling. We have a very interesting route in mind, going to the south east on the [F208] and via the [F233] and [F210] back to the west. The fact that we have not found any reports by cyclists who did this before is an exciting thought.

Day 16: Landmannalaugar > Selfoss (132 km)

Today's route is very promising, so when we leave at 10 am we are very excited. The [F208] is excellent during the first few miles, but according to other travel reports this will change and will we encounter some 25 river crossings. After 4.4 km I stop to celebrate that we have managed to cycle 10% of the planned distance of the day. But... where is Rudi? We had an agreement: stay together or at least in sight, and wave if something is wrong. So when I look over my shoulder I see Rudi standing next to the road. Is he making pictures (as usual), or has something happened? I have not got a clue. So I decide to go back. What seems to be the problem? Rudi's butted rear wheel is broken now. It is not possible to proceed. Our dream tour has to be called off. Damned! We discuss the situation and decide that Rudi takes a bus from Landmannalaugar to the only bicycle (repair) shop of southern Iceland, in Selfoss. I will cycle to Selfoss on my own, which will probably take two days.

Rudi walks back to the camping. He will bump into Eva and Susanne again, hike a little bit, and take the 2.30 pm bus, for which does not have to pay an extra fare for the bike, just 3,700 kroner. Having arrived at Selfoss' camp site he shares dinner with two other German ladies.

I start right away cycling the [F225], that brings me from Landmannalaugar to the [F26]. Except for a few bits of washboard and stones this gravel road is quite cyclable. I go like a comet. The average speed is much higher than in the previous days; this road is for pussies. On the dark hills the moss patterns are clearly visible. I cross a handful of streams, but these are so shallow that I can keep on the Teva's and waterproof Sealskin socks, and some I can cross without dismounting. Next the environment becomes rougher, with volcano stones and large rocks. At exactly 37.5 km I eat six slices of bread with sardines in tomato sauce. This is pure luxury after seven days of four slices per person a day. And it definitely provides energy to cycle faster!

During the last 13 km the [F225] deteriorates somewhat. Having arrived at the [F26] the road quality of this stretch is so much better than what we experienced on the Kjölur, there is even tarmac after 12 km. I do not notice Rudi in the coach passing by. At this moment only a few miles separate me from the envisaged camping. But it is far too early to stop, and it is just another 65 km to Selfoss, i.e. 3 hours cycling. Okay, I carry on. Between 75 and 96 km it is more difficult with the wind blowing from the side. What follows is the ring road [1]. Behind me the rain area, in front of me some clouds and further away a blue hole in the sky: there must be Selfoss! What remains is a dull but good quality road. I see like a hundred jeeps and pick-up trucks with gigantic horse trailers passing by. Somehow I must have missed the news of Iceland's National Horse day.

After 7.5 hours and 130 km of cycling I am looking for the Selfoss camp site. Having arrived there I see Rudi and his German ladies. I order an instant spaghetti and chat with them. Their cycling holiday is about to end. Although they have full-suspension bicycles they did not try travel roads unless supported by coaches. Furthermore in the two days available they will not cycle the last part from Selfoss to the airport. I do not understand why they brought their cycles with them. Anyway, the shower is good and for free, and afterwards we drink tea in the canteen.

Day 17: Selfoss (day off)

This morning Rudi is off for the bicycle shop in Selfoss. But what a disappointment: he has no 28 inch wheels in stock. So Rudi calls a bicycle repair shop in Reykjavík (60 km away). This shop sells 28 inch wheels designed for 8 speed gears, but Rudi has a ten year old STX 7 speed gear system. So this does not fit, unless all gear parts are replaced and that is expensive. But then, suddenly, Rudi has this brain wave: why not just replace the rim and re-spoke the wheel. Rudi calls another shop in Reykjavík and they can help him out with his solution. Rudi gets a lift in Reykjavík from the camping owner, buys a new double butted rim and have his wheel spoked, gets a lift back, and is back at the camping halfway the afternoon.

I am being lazy: read a book, wash clothes for both, drink tea. I play frisbee and chat with a Canadian couple. Their two month tour around Island has almost finished. They spent 400 dollar on two mountain bikes in Canada, totally "consumed" these and sold them at a good price. Their bikes and other equipment were very modest. They got wet once and a while, but they just did not care. I do not dare to tell how expensive my gear is... The couple recount their first day in Iceland. Cycling the main road from the airport to Reykjavík they kind of got scared of the locals' driving behavior. It was Saturday night, and apparently it is cool to get drunk and drive. Cars were driving criss-cross, and one driver even threw a bottle to the head of the Canadian lady. Welcome in Iceland! A few days later they were hit by a jeep on the road to Pingvellir, after which the chauffeur drove as if nothing had happened. Icelanders consider cyclists less than sheep.

Rudi and I get some groceries and buy a hamburger at the KFC. In the absence of a bar - the only bar in Selfoss and even the whole of southern Iceland was not viable and is closed now - we hang around in the camping's canteen. We are not alone, also Germans and French, and a very noisy Spanish family are with us. Oh my god, this Spanish woman is tittle-tattling all the time with such a volume, and her smoky laugh is pretty annoying. She is a living example of the fact that Spanish women wear the trousers in the family, and in order to compensate for their loss, for their pussy-husbands all that remains is driving in over-the-top jeeps with exhaust pipes on the front hoods through Iceland. Rudi and I escape to the tent and go sleeping. It starts raining.

Day 18: Selfoss > Tröllfossar (110 km)

We leave the camping and head for Pingvellir. Part of today's route follows the same route as two weeks ago. But this time we take the [36] at the east side of the lake. As most other days we have the wind in the back; we cycle 47 km of hilly road in just two hours. The last 15 minutes to the bar at the north side of Pingvellir there is serious rain coming down and we get quite soaked. We eat a little and put the wet trousers under a dryer. The weather deteriorates even more now. Outside the bar we are shivering while eating some more slices of bread with jam and Camembert.

We continue our trip and take the [52] to the north. After 7 km's the tarmac ends. The road ahead is of reasonable quality, although the climbs are sometimes quite tough. We have to watch  out for passing jeeps: with all the puddles these cars cause huge waterfalls. We can hardly see any of the landscape. We encounter two cycling Swiss, who are even worse off, since they not only have to fight the rain but also the fierce wind. Near Biskupsbrekka we take the [52] to the west. We had planned to stay the night near Lake Uxavatn but the weather is terrible. We really want to leave the hills that are covered in thick clouds. So we decide to continue and follow the road to the Reykjadalur valley. And yes, the sky becomes a little bit clearer.

At Brautartunga we turn right and take the good gravel road [512] at the right side of the valley. We are lucky: whereas at the other side of the valley it keeps raining we keep it dry from now on. After passing easy climbs, cows and horses, we reach the tarmac road at Tröllfossar and see the camp site in front of us. The rain has not prevented us from cycling 110 km today. The almost empty camping belongs to the "golden water tap" category: heating on everywhere in the toilet block, thermostatic showers, washing machine and dryer. We let our clothes dry, take a shower and have a enormous Bever pasta with walnuts met, soup vegetables, salami and some more pasta. And apricots for desert.

Day 19: Tröllfossar > Medalfellsvatn (78 km)

Yesterday we read the weather forecast for today: 'Strong wind and rain showers in the western part of Iceland'. Well, if the locals here say 'strong wind' then it must be serious. But it is not as bad as predicted. And after a rainy morning the sun breaks through. So we are off. After following the [52] for some 10 km we take the [518] left and see many happy horses.

Next we take the [520] to the right, a road that squeezes itself along a waterfall. At the moment the sun is shining again it starts raining in the descent. So we continue with the rain trousers on along the left bank of a lake and take a difficult climb over the hill. Up there we have a magnificent view of Hvalfjördur fjord (Icelandic for Whale fjord). In the distance nearby Grundartangi harbor the sea sparkles against dark clouds. We leave the [520] en take the [47] to the left, and buy coffee and refill at Ferstikla's gas station.

We follow the road along the fjord to the east. To be honest it is quite pretty here. We round the fjord and take the south shore to the west. We can see the location that is famous for whale hunting, but there seems no activity today. Then we are at Hvammsvík's camping, at least that is what we expect. But the map is not right: there is no camping. It starts raining. Hurray. So we continue our journey in search for a place to stay. After yet another few km's there is this sign saying that there is a supermarket nearby next to the [461]. When we get there the owner appears to run a camping in the village at Lake Medalfellsvatn. This camping is new and not yet included on the road map. Ten more minutes and we arrive at a farm camping with a very luxury bathroom and a large barn where we can cook, and it is all ours! Tomorrow we will visit Reykjavík.

Day 20: Medalfellsvatn > Reykjavík (51 km)

The [461] and next the [48] bring us through a lovely valley. If the sun shines. The higher we come, the more it rains, and the less we can enjoy the scenery. We are stalked by a low-hanging rainbow for a while. Rain clothes on-off, on-off; this weather makes us crazy. At a certain point we take the main road [36] that leads from Pingvellir toReykjavík. We have some serious head wind during the 17 km to ring  road [1]. Rudi wants us to take turns, but I rather cycle at a slow pace, alone.

Although it is allowed to cycle on the [1] we have to be cautious. Where do all these cars come from? Doh, Reykjavík is the only big town in Iceland: in the agglomeration live about 170,000 people. After 12 km of shoulder there is a cycling path. Once arrived in the capital we see this information board which shows the location of the camp site: just nearby, at the border of a park, next to the stadium and swimming pool (thirteen pools!). The camping is large, guests stay just for one or a few days. Many South-Europeans have a good time in the cooking area.

Day 21: Reykjavík (day off)

Reykjavík is on our menu today. We are not particularly interested in this city of course, we had planned a spare day at the end of the vacation after all. The "highlights": the wooden villa in which Reagan and Gorbatsjov met in 1986; two car-friendly shopping streets; a concrete square on which several adolescents skate to kill time; Alpinggishúsid: a spacious house also known as Iceland's parliament; Rádhus Reykjavíkur: the town hall with a relief map of Iceland; Hallgrímskirkja: a modern-Gothic church of monstrous proportions, built from high-uprising basalt blocks and a gigantic organ; in front of the church a statue of Leif Eriksson, discoverer of America in the year 1000; a shabby quay where the ships that not rust away are used for whale hunting. We wander around, drink expensive coffee and visit the National Museum of Photography. The Automatos exposition shows only twenty pictures, some of which are definitely special. We have dinner at the Chinese restaurant: we consume the entire meal within twenty minutes. Time to go back to the camping. All in all, Reykjavík has been a waste of time: an uninteresting and somewhat messy city of a prosperous country, at the time...

Day 22: Reykjavík > Kevlavík (59 km)

It is time for our final day of the vacation. We have some trouble to find our way to the right direction to the [40]. When we get there the road appears to be very busy, and it has no shoulder. So we take an alternative route south to Hafnarfjördur, by following all kinds of parallel roads, footpaths and cycling lines. Next is a paved parallel road along the Alcan Iceland aluminum plant, a large industrial complex with three long production lines. The [41] to Kevlavík is not quite nice and there is busy traffic, but the shoulder is broad and doable. We hardly notice any glass on the road, contrary to what the Canadians in Selfoss insinuated.

After a while we take an alternative route, the [420] to Vogar. This small road follows the coast line and there is considerable head wind. We pass "abandoned farms". Most farms in Iceland have a name and these appear on geographical maps, also the abandoned ones. We pass a church, looking like it was built from Lego blocks, a yellow lighthouse and boring Vogar. After another 10 km, at Njardvík, we see a nice replica of a Viking ship: a long and relatively wide boat. The ship is located next to two typically Icelandic houses, dated 1855. People who lived in such small houses were not allowed by the government to have pets nor cattle. It was not before 1930 that the inhabitants got the right to keep a few sheep.

It takes a while before we find the camping in Kevlavík, but eventually, after 59 km head wind and meanwhile 9 °C, we have arrived. The tent is pitched in no time and dinner is ready in just a few minutes. Our last Bever meal, with left over Uncle Ben’s rice, is consumed at tremendously high speed, horrifying a couple of neat Aussies next to us. The couple is making a four week tour car through Scandinavia with a rental car, and are just about to finish Iceland. They claim that Australia offers all what is in Iceland. Sure... We notice that the Aussies are not quite experienced in camping. They cook in an enormous pan heated by a little petroleum stove. A very slow process. In the same time that we have cooked, had our meal and desert, and drank our tea afterwards, they still have to start eating.

Day 23: Travel home

We get up at 5 am, and after 40 minutes we are at the airport. The support personnel do not allow us to enter the building with the bikes and the gear. We sigh and do not as told. Inside the building we unpack the bikes and make them fly-ready. We are in a very long queue meandering through the whole building. The German alpha male behind us behaves like the driver of a fat Audi on the Autobahn: evidently he is very annoyed by cyclists and probably by all people positioned better in the queue (and perhaps by all other people on this planet). He is tail-gating all the time. I feel sorry for his wife. Just like the outward flight we are the last persons to enter the plane.

At Schiphol airport Marieke and the kids are awaiting us. Sara and Loes are completely ecstatic. Rudi and I take a beer and say goodbye.

Final word

We have used information available on the websites of Michiel Erens (the best route descriptions), René Maassen (information on Iceland's inner part) and De Wereldfietser. Also the book Island per Rad by Ulf Hoffman was very helpful. The map we used was the Landmaelingar Íslands - Ferdakort 2, scale 1:250.000, edition 2005/2006.