Iceland (2011)

In July 2011 Rudi and I cycle in Iceland around Vatnajökull area. We cross beautiful green valleys, river deltas, gigantic stone deserts, and lava fields covered with moss, and ride along wild coasts. In three weeks’ time we travel over a thousand kilometers (and some additional hundreds by bus).

Day 1: Kevlavík > Hafnarfjordur (44 km)

Two years ago, when we flew to Scotland, Schiphol Airport’s check-in service was a mess, causing us to miss our flight. That is why this year we are queuing three hours before our plane’s departure time. And that appears to be necessary, because the airport is messing up things again. It is not clear what row is for Iceland Air, it takes twenty minutes before the first customers are being helped, and the procedure for checking-in bicycles is clumsy and different from the last time we flew with Iceland Air. Despite the fact that the plane is leaving half an hour late there is hardly spare time for a cup of coffee.

The flight itself is okay. At arrival, the bicycles are not broken, a big relief. Outside it is sunny, 18 °C and there is little wind. Nevertheless the trip to Reykjavík is not without problems: it has been early this morning that we had breakfast and we forgot to make or buy lunch. It will be added to the evaluation report. We end up on a camp site in the middle of a neighborhood of Hafnarfjordür, one of Reykjavík's suburbs. We eat at the Kentucky Fried Chicken, where we are being served by a waitress with an all-American smile (type: leader of the cheerleader team). The photo of the tasty Barbecue Burger with fries is tempting: Please give me one, now! But after one bite I almost throw up this disgusting burger and get instant diarrhea. Bah! We quickly return to the tent (and will never ever visit a KFC again).

Day 2: Hafnarfjordur > Hvolsvöllur (110 km)

We cycle on the wide [41] and next on the [1] in the direction of Selfoss. After some 10 km, with Reykjavík still visible behind us, the landscape changes and we enter lava land. It is nice here. Too bad that the ring road itself is so dull: wide and long straight parts. We also have to get used to the Icelandic driving style. Drivers keep sufficient distance when overhauling, but they also tend to pass, very close to us, when there is an oncoming vehicle. Apparently people here are afraid to lose a few seconds. Sad.

The fact that Iceland's economic situation has suffered so much in the past three years is not what you would conclude if you analyze the cars on and next to the ring road. Besides the hundreds of white Suzuki’s (rental cars), numerous jeeps are passing by, and not just "modest" Toyota Land Cruisers but also converted mega big Ford busses and Mitsubishi jeeps on high wheels. The award for the most ridiculous car goes to a Hella-located car with a turret, making it look like a bomber from WW-II (i.e., without wings). From Hella it is just a short ride to today's destination, the modest camping in Hvolsvollür.

Day 3: Hvolsvöllur > Hvangill (64 km)

At 7.30 am the sunlight is so intense that we decide to pack our stuff and leave. In the middle of the village we take the [261] to the left. The first 18 km of this tarmac road follow the border of a wide delta area that slowly narrows towards Thorsmörk. The north side of the valley, i.e. where we are cycling, is not exiting, but at the south of the Markarfjlót river the mountains are rougher and the more than 1,600 m high icecap of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano is clearly visible. Next to the local airfield and just before and an easy river crossing shows up, the road becomes unpaved. For a while the [F261] follows a dry riverbed filled with rocks as far as we can see. Close to Thorsmörk our road bends to the left. When we climb out of the long-stretched canyon the view behind us of the surrounding mountains, glaciers, icecaps and green hills is truly astonishing.

What follows is a long, 17% steep ascent with the peculiar Einhyrningur hill on our left. In order to recover we have some knäckebröd with prawn cheese. Next the road takes us even further in altitude, sometimes quite demanding due to the loose sand and stones. We arrive in yet another valley and keep on climbing. After a slope of 15% we finally reach the summit, followed by a very steep descent to a wild river, lovely named Innri-Emstruá, streaming in a deep canyon. We are lucky: there is a bridge. On the other side is, of course, a very steep ascent out of the valley. At a hut there is a group of Icelandic horse riders, where we ask for some fresh water. These people have a relaxed holiday since all they have to do is sitting on a horse, drinking beer afterwards and sleeping in a warm hut. We continue to struggle.

The camping is still some 14 km away. The road becomes less bumpy and stays relatively flat at this altitude of about 500 m. Sometimes we even manage to ride 20 km an hour. The landscape, which has been beautiful throughout the day, has now reached the level of ultimate beauty, partly thanks to the soft evening light. In particular the view of the green hills in front of an icecap are worthwhile. Not far from the junction of the [F261] and the [F210] we have to wade through a glacier river. Although the river is just knee deep, it is cold as ice. According to the map there should be a camp site here, but where ever we look we cannot trace it. By now it is 9.30 pm and freaking cold, so we decide to halt here. We have dinner at 11.15 pm.

Day 4: Hvangill > Alftavatn (38 km)

I still have to get used to living outdoors. In an attempt to wash myself in the river I manage, wearing my cycling shoes, to step in the mud in a rather clumsy way. As a result my shoes are completely wet and dirty. Fortunately I can also use my Teva’s and water proof Sealskin socks. At the very moment we want to start our trip, the horse club comes along. They cross the river elegantly in a long row. We will be following their track (and shit) for a while today. Our road, the [F210], leads to the east through the Maelfellsandur valley, a wide open space at an altitude of 550 m, completely covered with gravel and lava sand. From the icecap Mýrdalsjökull at our right hand the wind blows large quantities of sand to us. Often the road is so sandy that we get stuck in... the sand. Just besides the track cycling is a little bit easier; when we try hard we even develop a speed of 6 km an hour.

Near the peculiarly shaped green hill named Maelifell we cross a few little streams and next turn left to the north. We cross a second valley with a mini delta with numerous streams that are easy to take. Near the end of this valley the road improves: less loose sand and more variety, i.e. short climbs and bends. After a few kilometers we engage a serious river: the Hólmsá. Because it is just 20 m wide here we must go knee deep in quite strong currents. A short while after the crossing we turn left and continue on the [F233]. We enjoy this road of reasonable quality, with several demanding climbs between 10 to 20%. We also enjoy a nice view of a green plain and river beautifully laying in the sun with in the background dark clouds closing in.

After a few miles we descend to another green valley where Alftavatn is supposed to be. Just before the Syri Ófael river there is this exit without sign to the right. Does this road lead to Alftavatn? We give it a try. The jeep track is extremely steep for no purpose at all since it descends at the other side of the hill. The good news is that we have reached our destination. Despite the grey weather we can imagine that the Alftavatn lodge is extremely nice located. And it is comfortable: outside there are two taps and even a toilet. The house is packed with English hikers so we stay out of there. In the meantime it has started drizzling and the temperature dropped to 8 °C.

Day 5: Alftavatn > Landmannalaugar (48 km)

To leave Alftavatn means that we have to climb a 28% steep hill – with cold muscles. What a start of the day! It is not very motivating to know that after a few kilometers we see the “official” exit to Alftavatn; if only we had known this before… Anyway, just after that junction is the most difficult river crossing of our vacation: the Syri Ófael. It is not a particularly wide river, but we have to get in deep and the current is strong, making it hard to prevent the bicycle from floating. Right after the crossing follows yet another very steep climb after which we cycle in the clouds for a while. By now it has started raining again and it will continue to do so the remainder of the day. When we descent from the clouds we are offered a view of the broad valley that is dominated by the the river Skafta. At the junction with the [F208], that connects the south coast with Landmannalaugar, we turn left.

Right after the junction with the [F223] there is this big climb of 15-20%, sometimes even 25%. After the descend and the inevitable river crossing we meet a Dutch guy who cycles in the opposite direction. It is 7 °C and it has not stopped raining since we left, so it is not very convenient outside. To our surprise the man is cycling in his short pants, without gloves, without socks in his sandals, and without helmet or cap. Crazy. Right after we face a number of crossings that force us to take off the rain trousers and the wading shoes. I have read before on a website that in total there must be like 25 river crossings on this route, but that is exaggerated; I think there are only ten crossings in total with water reaching the knees or higher. At a certain moment I am tired with changing clothes and ride without socks, and keep the rain trousers on while crossing the river. Actually this is far easier and not as cold as I had imagined.

But why should I complain about this day? Despite the rain and low clouds, sometimes we can get a glimpse of the nature surrounding us, and that is very impressive. For instance, after we have struggled to get on top of a steep hill we have this view of a meandering river running in the midst of bright green moss, and surrounded by darker green hills and dark-grey hills with vertical lines, and behind those, even higher hills topped with ice. Incredible. I seriously doubt if there is any other such place in the world.

After some 40 km we do not longer have to “suffer”. Ahead of us lies a decent gravel road in a broad valley with lakes and rivers we do not have to cross. After 44 km we reach the exact location where we had to halt four years ago because Rudi's rear wheel broke. So now we have done the job, completed the mission, and the Wiedergutmachung is a fact. At Landmannalaugar's mega-camping we quickly pitch the tent, take a ridiculously expensive shower and eat couscous. Slowly we start warming-up.

Day 6: Landmannalaugar > Spordalda (42 km)

Rudi gets groceries at the Mountain Mall, the mini supermarket in an old school bus at the camp site. They sell a large variety of stuff, be it tremendously expensive. The bill for one plastic bag filled with simple products is 85 euros. As if to compensate for this loss the camping boss gives us three delicious meat cakes, for free.

There is not much to tell about today’s journey. We ride the same route we did four years ago, be it faster. In 2007 we had been struggling in loose sand for many kilometers, but now, the road being wet due to yesterday’s rain, and the road having been improved as we are told, we quickly move on. Also different from four years ago is the track between the hill behind the lava field (“Mordor country”) and the [F26]: this has been asphalted now. To summarize, in no time we arrive at our destination.

In Hrauneyjafossstöd we charge the cameras and order hamburgers (Iceland’s best!) with French fries. Just like four years ago we pitch our tent next to the road behind a hedge. Too bad that the millions of flies force us to go inside the tent. We study the route for the coming days. We would like to do the Sprengisandur and next to Askja and Mývatn. The feasibility of this plan will depend on the weather conditions and the availability of water. Fingers crossed.

Day 7: Spordalda > Bridge at Illugaverskvísl (52 km)

Yesterday, the lady at the reception back in Hrauneyjafossstöd’s hostel told me that today the wind direction would be from south-west to north-east. Perfect for our journey. Too bad that she was totally wrong: we will be fighting against a hard and cold wind for the whole day on a road without any protection from the wind whatsoever. On the first few tarmac kilometers it is doable. But then, after a few hundred meters gravel: 15% up-hill with the wind blowing in the face. What the hell are we doing here? To make things worse I find out that the camera’s memory card is broken. Al the pictures that I made in the first week are down the drain! I decide not to worry – I need the energy to push the pedals in the second lowest gear and find the right track.

The wide landscape is a huge, dry and stony desert, with icecaps in the far distance as well as several volcanoes. The only variation are the few rivers and little streams with moss. The surface is not so bad though, certainly compared with the terrible wash board of the Kjölur. Near the bridge over the river Illugaverskvísl is – quite unexpected, since it is not on the map – an abandoned petrol station. We call it a day. We pitch our tent right in front of the entrance of the building, i.e. sheltered from the wind. We wash our faces, which have become dark, a result of the use of fat sun cream, loose lava sand and full blowing wind. We pray for better wind circumstances tomorrow.

Day 8: Bridge at Illugaverskvísl (17 km)

Today we want to do a 56 km trip to the Nýidalur camp site. Home in the Netherlands we would be needing like two to three hours to get this done, but this is Iceland. And Iceland means: wind. Yesterday’s fierce wind has not stopped, on the contrary, it has become even more powerful. After two hours of cycling in the storm we have accomplished only 8.5 km. We cannot blame the breakfast – pasta with tuna in tomato sauce and olives – we just do not have the energy. This really sucks. Nýidalur is almost 50 km away and in between there is no location where we can pitch the tent in a descent way. So with regret I give up and suggest to return to the petrol station and wait for a car or bus to take us up north.

When we return in the opposite direction the wind pushes us so much that we can easily go 20 km an hour on the gravel road without pedaling. Back at the petrol station we call Reykjavík Excursions. They tell us that the first bus will be here tomorrow just before noon. That is a setback, but hopefully someone else picks us up. Well… not. Okay, every now and then we see a car coming but no one wants to transport two filthy shabby cyclists, two bikes and ten bags. And to be honest: why would they? So we give up again. We wait for the day to pass by and eat lots of cookies and read lots of book pages. And of course the unexpected happens in the evening: the wind stops blowing. Damn…

Day 9: Bridge at Illugaverskvisl > Mývatn

The weather is lovely today. The sun shines and there is no wind. At all. We pack our stuff and wait for the bus to come. The only thing we had not thought of was the presence of flies. We do not know where they come from, but what we know for sure is that all seven million of them make these two hours the worst of our Iceland holiday.

At last, the bus arrives. Actually there are two of them. The first one packed with passengers and the second one empty. We join the packed one. After only 5 km the driver parks the bus in the sand next to the road and shouts ‘Kaputt!’ The wheel at the front/right side seems broken. So we all move to the other bus. And we are lucky to be able to do so, because it is not a strict rule for Reykjavík Excursions to use a spare bus. Buses often break down on these bad interior roads. Especially the dust blowing through the air vents is killing for the oil that is supposed to let run the motor smoothly. If the only bus breaks down the passengers have to wait for many hours to be picked up by another one.

After half an hour we reach yesterday’s returning point. From here the road ascents, descends and bends endlessly through an enormous stone desert. The view hardly changes. We see Kerlingarfjöll a on our left and in front us, far away, the mountain Háhyrna near the camping is visible. When we arrive at Nýidalur the landscape suddenly changes: in becomes less rough, with little lakes and meadows. A good place to hang around and spend the night. In our original plan we wanted to cycle from here to the Askja crater, by taking the 120 km long [F910] road. We abandon this idea when we find out that “Iceland’s worst road” is officially not opened yet, meaning that if we get stuck there will be no one on the route to help us. We also bear in mind that according to the map a very large part of this track is without rivers, streams or lakes. And water is pretty crucial. We can do Askja on the next Iceland-trip…

Personally I do not regret taking the bus. To be honest: the landscape is quite boring: only sand, stones and moss. The drizzling rain makes the experience even sadder. So I will not elaborate on it any further. At around 8 pm we arrive at Mývatn. The bicycles were tightened on two hooks at the rear of the bus, and they are completely under the dust. The bus driver shows service excellence by cleaning them with a pressure washer. Too bad that there is damage. The biking lock is broken and, far worse, the coating has gone at the spots where the frames were tightened to the hooks. Oops. On a next occasion we will put foam protection on the packing list.

Day 10: Rest day Mývatn (cycled 22 km)

We take the ring road [1] to the east: a fairly steep road over the Námaskard, where steam clouds rise from tiny hot-water factories. Next we take the [863] to the north, to Krafla. A 20% climb brings us to the end of the road, near a crater filled with water that nicely reflects the blue sky. We take a walk around it, and I walk even further up the hill (illegally?) and make pictures of the broad landscape surrounding us. Nearby, at Leirhnjúkur, is a hike through a lava field that produces steam at various spots. The tour is not bad, but it is crowded and after a while we are done with lava.

So we cycle back to the ring road and pay a visit to the third star attraction of the day: the solfatara field veld at Hverir. A fumarole is an opening in the planet’s crust, in the neighborhood of volcanoes, which emits steam and gasses. The name solfatara is given to fumaroles that emit sulfurous gases. The result: nice colors, such as mint green, orange and white. But it is nothing compared to what we have seen before in Landmannalaugar and Kerlingarfjoll. So we call it a day and return to the numerous little tents at Reykjahlid’s main camping, lovely situated at the shore of the lake.

Day 11: Egilsstaddir > Djúpivogur (85 km)

The road between Mývatn and the east does not look very promising on the map. That is why we take the bus to Egilsstaddir. And yes, looking through the window the landscape is not spectacular, but it is greener than I had imagined it would be. Moreover, thanks to the good weather we have a good view of Askja, the crater at a distance of 70 km that dominates the plains south of us. We can even trace the Vatnajökull icecap that is almost 100 km away.

It is 2 pm when we leave Egilsstaddir and take the [1] to the south. The ring road is not busy at all here. We have tail wind, the temperature is 20 °C and the sun is burning on our skin. The valley is lovely situated, showing snow-topped hills behind which the eastern fjord coast must be. Every kilometer we pass a farm, but how the local farmers earn their money is a mystery to me. One farmer could have some more hay bale than his neighbor, probably to feed the cattle in the stable, but this way they will never become rich.

Near a lake at about 36 km from Egilsstaddir the tarmac road becomes a gravel road. Next we gently climb to 530 m along a mountain stream. On top of the Öxipas suddenly the weather changes. Now we are literally in the clouds. The temperature drops to 7 °C and it will remain cold for the rest of the day. Half-way the very steep descent at our right there is a beautiful waterfall and the hills behind have horizontal long grooves. Wonderful. In the snack bar in Djúpivogur we bump into Jan, the Dutch guy we met on our trip to Landmannalaugar. He is travelling the other way around. The local camp site is dull, but the good news is that there is this little house with a warm guest room, which is very welcome with the cold rain continuously ticking on the tent.

Day 12: Djúpivogur > Stafafell (73 km)

The east fjords are told to be very impressive. Too bad that we can only see low-hanging clouds, and it is cold (6-8 °C) and wet. What a relief to arrive at the camping at last. Here the toilet building is, in a masterly fashion, hidden in a container: a fine example of clumsy construction. But who cares: the shower is not broken, and in the tent it is even 10 °C. By the way, the tent leaks.

Day 13: Rest day (cycling in the Jökulsádal; 30 km)

In the original plan we wanted to go to the interior by taking the Jökulsarsandur [908] . According to the map this hilly route ends at Múlaskúli (a hut and camp site) after 25 km. The camping boss explains to us that the current of the Skyndidalsá is far too strong to cross by bicycle. It does not come as a surprise that next he offers his guests a lift in his muscle van – for 50 euros per person. I am not sure what to think of him, probably he wants to talk us into his car. But then he suggests an alternative route: the road at the north shore of the delta valley to the Eskifell where the river Jökulsa can be crossed safely over a brand new suspension bridge for hikers. From there it should be possible to catch the [908] half-way and continue cycling.

We decide to leave our tent and other stuff at the camping and see how far the suggested route will take us. The weather is excellent: an almost clear blue sky and 15 °C. Great! There are lots of cottages on the north shore, and I must admit that this is definitely a place where I would like one for myself too. It is absolutely wonderful here! Cycling is easy on the bumpy road during the first 6 km. Then we leave the delta area and climb a mega steep road completely covered with stones, followed by a similarly steep track down at the other side of the hill. Not very efficient. Back down at the river delta the jeep track has disappeared, there only a few vague tracks. Time to find our own track in this immense stone ocean, cut by narrow streams.

After a few kilometers we finally reach the suspension bridge at the Eskifell. On the other side we notice that we have cycled only 11 km in three hours; we realize that this way, we will never manage to get to the [F208] and also do the next 15 km up-and-down hill to the finish – and back. We are disappointed, but what can we do? We decide to hike a little bit on a trail with yellow signs. This route does not offer any new spectacular sceneries, so after one hour or so we return to the bikes.

On the way back to the camping we avoid the mega steep hill and instead follow the river delta longer. This is much faster. Still one has to realize that it is not very feasible to cycle with lots of luggage here. The light conditions are improving now, the hills beautifully exposed in the warm sun light. Back at the camp site we have dinner in the evening sun, with a fantastic view of the fjord coast and hills covered with snow. This is a top location for sure! (As long as it does not rain.)

Day 14: Stafafell > Jökulsárlón (114 km)

At great speed and loaded with pasta we leave early in the direction of Jökulsárlón ice lake. The first 20 minutes pass so swiftly that it feels like we have tail wind. But right after the moment Rudi shouts ‘Hey Willem, isn’t this relaxed cruising?’ suddenly the wind comes from the west. Very hard. And it will be this way for the rest of the day. We make a detour of some 10 km to get food at an acceptable price in Höfn, the former US navy harbor strategically located in a natural bay. From Höfn our route follows a gigantic curve to the west. The views on our right are magnificent: we pass various glaciers stretching their way down between sometimes peculiar shaped mountains from Vatnajökul’s ice cap. Near Skalafell we pause and eat salmon sandwiches. At this spot there is this big monument of an Icelander who made his career in Denmark – eventually becoming a high-ranked civil servant. Well done. Next we still continue our struggle against the wind: still 40 km to Jökulsárlón.

That ice lake pops up only at a late stage, when we arrive at the bridge at the river Jökulsá. It is a wonderful experience, watching all the shattered sheets of ice float calmly on top of the water, with high mountains and a gigantic glacier at the background. And bear in mind: this is for free when you do the ring road. And it is also exclusive: we are the only ones camping here tonight. We pitch the tent at the west shore which will prevent us from being crowded by tourists tomorrow morning. The water in the ice lake is salty, and we are lucky to get some water at the back of the restaurant at the east shore. It is not before 11 pm when we have dinner: boiled potatoes, delicious lamb and fresh salad from Holland. In the sleeping bags the only thing we hear are the many birds, vividly chatting with each other until some piece of ice breaks off causing them to fly away in panic, after which order is restored and chats resumed. We sleep very well.

Day 15: Jökulsárlón > Skaftafell (59 km)

What a great start of the day. We open the tent’s zipper and look at that: a breathtaking panorama. After the inevitable photo shoot we resume our journey westwards. We have been pedaling for only a few kilometers when we see an exit where a lot of cars are parked What could that be? To our surprise – we did not analyze the map that well – there is a second lake filled with ice breaking off a glacier: Fjallsárlón. Pretty cool. We continue our way, with on our left the sea and at our right rough mountain walls sometimes split by overhanging icecaps. Once we have rounded the cape at Fagurhólsmýri we have tail wind from the south and cruise very relaxed to Skaftafell. A few kilometers before we reach the camping we by food at a petrol station. They have a good range of products, but the prices they charge are ridiculously high. This could be related to the fact that they are a monopolist in the area between Höfn and Vík.

Skaftafell camping is huge and covered with hundreds of small tents. Touring cars unload lots of backpackers. Inside the toilet building are these silly posters saying that one is allowed to use the washbasin for tooth brushing and face and hand washing only. Keep in mind that this immense camp site has got just two showers without hot water. I really do not have a clue why Icelandic camping owners are so obsessed with hygiene. That evening we visit the famous Svartifoss waterfall, which is just an half an hour walk. The vertical basalt columns make the waterfall look special whereas the water itself is hardly present. Time to return to the tent.

Day 16: Skaftafell > Laufbali (80 km)

At 7 pm there is a lot going on at the camping. Tents are packed. Many people will probably be off to glacier walks or a trip to the Hvannadalshnjúkur, Iceland’s highest summit (2.119 m). We move westwards. First we have to cross the Skeidarársandur, a 30 km wide plain. There is nothing here, only sand and a few rivers. The view of the landscape is limited due to the rain. At Skaftafell’s information center we learned that this place can be dangerous. If, in the north, magma from the earth reaches the ice cap, huge quantities of water will flow under Skeidarárjökull to the south. Within 24 hours the open area will be flooded completely and bridges will be destroyed. Today the magma does not cause any trouble. Near Hvoll we stop at a hotel and drink coffee in the lobby. I ask the receptionist for the condition of the jeep track leading from here to Laki He says the road is very stony and totally unsuitable for cycling.

Of course we take the jeep track. The road is meandering through a vast lava field, with green hills and waterfalls at both sides. We cannot see much of Odulbúará river, and not much at all due to the low-hanging rain clouds. The road quality is surprisingly good: the rain has made the road consisting of loose lava sand and stones become more solid. There are only a few spots where we have to walk. Right after the junction at Miklafell the road is getting bad: steep parts with lots of big stones, sometimes extremely bumpy parts at dry river beds. Temperature drops to 6 °C and it starts to rain harder. Time to call it a day. We pitch the tent on a swampy place next to a spring. Everything is getting wet now.

Day 17: Laufbali > Hurdarbök (47 km)

When we wake up it has stopped raining allowing us to see a bit more of the landscape. The remaining 11 km to Laki are quite difficult: climbs that are so steep that even pushing the bicycle is hardly possible. No wonder that we have not engaged anyone on this jeep track. It is near Blaengur, at 650 m, that we reach the highest point of the route. The landscape is greening up now. We can even see Laki, i.e. the hill Laki and the series of craters to the south-west. We carefully descend to the [F207], which is a kind of ring road through Laki area. We are about to climb the hill to shoot photos, when at that very moment low-hanging rain clouds come in. Time to leave. And then, after a few minutes the sun comes through lights the landscape beautifully. Rudi hesitates: should we return to Laki? No, because other rain clouds are coming in. It has been today’s last sun beam.

Due to the weather we take the shortest part of the ring road to the south. A few times, when the mist is not so thick, we see glimpses of a beautiful canyon. But that is about all we see. The road surface is good in the first part of the road, but little by little it deteriorates, with lots of stones. The road, hopping from river to river, is also a lot hillier than yesterday’s jeep track that followed one river. The river crossings are easy: not wide and a weak current. After a nice descent we arrive at the Stjórn river, where we pitch the tent near the river crossing. It is still raining.

Day 18: Hurdarbök > Vík (78 km)

We are not lucky with the weather. For the third day at a row there are low-hanging clouds and drizzle. So we cannot see the beauty of what is around us. The remaining 12 km to the ring road comprise a few nasty climbs and we come along a powerful waterfall. When we reach the tarmac we can inflate the tires to their maximum. On the ring road we have tail wind, it makes us cruise 20 to 25 km per hour to Vík. Near Vík the bridge over the Mulakvísl river is wiped away completely by the strong current. If something like that happened in the Netherlands. A new bridge had been constructed in a few days.

From the temporary bridge it is still 10 km cycling to Vík. The wind is such that we increase our speed to 35 to 40 km an hour on average. This feels great. After having arrived in the little town we go to the supermarket and head for the camping. Meanwhile it has started raining again and the wind has become even stronger, forcing the tent to test the flexibility of the tent poles. But we are lucky again: the camp site has this heated chalet with a large living room and kitchen (and Iceland’s best public shower!). In the course of the night many more hikers and cyclers drop in, everyone cooking his own meal. In short: a great atmosphere!

Dag 19: Vík > Hvolsvöllur (84 km)

Today it will be raining quite a lot. But the good news is: we can actually see the lower few hundred meters of the hills surrounding us. And the wind stays in the right direction: to the west. So is there anything interesting to mention about today? Not much. Or perhaps Skógafoss, a wide waterfall falling from a high hill. I must admit, it is impressive. Rain gear is highly recommendable if you wish to get close. Just a few kilometers further down the ring road a group of horses is impelled to another meadow. Behind the barbed-wire several happy cows run along. La vache qui rit.

At Núpakot we have a lunch break in front of the Steinafjall, an impressive 811 m high mountain. On an information sign there is a picture with of the same spot in the spring of 2010 when the ash cloud of the Eyjafjallajökull filled the air, causing European air transport to stop for several weeks. At the other side of the road there is a visitor’s center dedicated to this eruption. They show a movie about the impact of the eruption on the big farm nearby: floods destroying roads and bridges, a thick ash layer on the fields and days as dark as a winter’s night. Supported by bombastic music. Just before a large group of German tourists is about to enter we escape the small building.

In Hvolsvöllur we decide that the vacation is over. It is not that we are tired - not at all: we could have continued for much longer - but the road to Selfoss is so boring, and we did the same road three weeks ago. Time to pitch the tent. On the camp site we meet a Flemish couple riding Avaghon-bicycles – like us. The guy tells us that in Belgium, civil servants are allowed to go on a 6 year’s leave, being paid 400 euros a month. No wonder that this couple has been travelling for several months now. While we are chatting in the toilet building we find out by accident that we did not count the days correctly. Today it is Wednesday and not Thursday. We had completely lost track of time.

Day 20: Hvolsvöllur > Reykjavík (by bus)

In this part of Iceland the ring road is not really interesting, so we take the bus to Reykjavík. We feel sorry for the cyclists we see struggling in the wind and the rain on this boring road. After having arrived in the capital we pitch the tent and walk to the town’s center. After the disappointing experience four years ago I keep my expectations low this year. In size Reykjavík is comparable with Enschede (i.e. an unattractive Dutch town near the German border), but with a service level of Heerenveen (i.e. an even less attractive town in the northern part of the Netherlands). We dive into the photo museum and pay a visit to brand-new Harpa theatre. I like this building, with lots of grey and sun flower yellow every now and then in the interior, surrounded by numerous honeycomb-shaped windows-frames. We stroll for some more time in the small center and have a pizza.

Day 21: Reykjavík > Kevlavík (49 km)

From our 2007 trip we remember that the best way to get out of Reykjavík is to follow the main roads – otherwise we would get lost in the suburbs. It may look dangerous, especially on those parts of the road where a shoulder is missing, but the people drive relaxed and keep sufficient distance to us. From the aluminum production site at Hafnarfjördur it starts raining forcing us to take on the rain pants. The fierce side wind makes cycling difficult, so we are glad when we arrive in Kevlavík. Atr the camping we hurry to the sheltered cooking site. We are hungry! First we have a late lunch (ten fried eggs – the Bonus supermarket did not have smaller boxes) and next spaghetti for dinner. We are satisfied. I want to go to sleep early, but the monotone chatting of our Polish neighbors makes this impossible. Finally, after an hour or so I fall asleep. We get up at 4.45 hrs, arrive at the airport one hour later and have checked-in one hour prior to departure. At Schiphol we are welcomed, as usual, by Marieke, Sara and Loes. We are home again.