Categories
2011 Iceland

Around the Vatnajökull

In July 2011 Rudi and I cycle in Iceland around Vatnajökull area. We ride through beautiful green valleys with river deltas, cross vast stone deserts, find our way through moss-covered lava fields and cycle along rugged coasts. In three weeks’ time we travel over a 1,000 kilometers (and some additional hundreds by bus).

Day 1: Kevlavík > Hafnarfjordur (44 km)

Two years ago, when we flew to Scotland, there was an enormous chaos at Schiphol Airport, which caused us to miss our flight. That’s why this time we start queuing three hours before our plane’s departure time. And that is necessary, as it turns out, because they are making a mess of it again. It is not clear in which queue you should be, it takes twenty minutes before the first customers are helped, and the procedure for checking in the bikes is clumsy and different from previous times. Despite the fact that the plane leaves half an hour late, we hardly have time for a cup of coffee in between. Luckily the flight itself is going well. The bikes arrive intact, which is always a relief when flying.

When we come out it is sunny, 18 °C and there is little wind. Yet cycling to Reykjavík is still a challenge, as it is after 4 pm by now, and we forgot to bring lunch. Eventually we arrive at a campsite in the middle of a residential area of Hafnarfjordür, a suburb of Reykjavík. We have dinner at the Kentucky Fried Chicken, where a girl with an all-American smile (type: leader of the cheerleader team) helps us. The tasty picture above the counter makes me order a Barbecue Burger with fries. After one bite however, I almost vomit the burger and get instant diarrhea. How disgusting! We quickly return to the tent (and never visit a KFC again).

Day 2: Hafnarfjordur > Hvolsvöllur (110 km)

We cycle gemütlich over the wide highway [41] and then the [1] in the direction of Selfoss. After about ten kilometers, with Reykjavík still in sight, we arrive Lava Land and the landscape changes a lot. It’s quite beautiful here. Only it’s a pity that the ring road is so boring: wide and with long straight stretches. We also have to get used to the driving behavior of the Icelanders. Although they keep much distance from us when passing, they also overtake when there’s oncoming traffic at the same time. Apparently, drivers don’t want to lose a single second. Sad.

When we were here in 2007, the government and companies got involved in risky banking adventures and citizens were living on credit or at least above their means. This was corrected after the global financial meltdown. Yet the cars on and along the ring road don’t show this correction: besides the hundreds of white Suzuki’s (rental cars), countless jeeps pass by, from ordinary Toyota Land Cruisers to converted, mega-sized Ford buses and ditto Mitsubishi off-road vehicles on ridiculously high tires. The award for the most bizarre car goes to one in Hella: it has a dome on top that makes it look like a bomber from the Second World War (but without wings). From Hella it’s only a short distance to the modest campsite in Hvolsvollür, which is also our destination for today.

Day 3: Hvolsvöllur > Hvangill (64 km)

At 7.30 am the sunlight is so intense that we decide to pack our stuff and leave. So it’s time to take action! In the middle of the village we turn left to the [261]. The first eighteen kilometers are asphalted and go along the edge of a wide delta valley that slowly narrows the closer we get to Thorsmörk. The north side of the valley, where we cycle, is a bit boring, but south of the Markarfjlót the mountains are wild and the more than 1,600 m high icecap of the Eyjafjallajökull is clearly visible. At the tiny airport the road becomes unpaved, and a little further on there is a river that is easy to wade through. The [F261] then continues for a while along a dry riverbed filled with rocks as far as we can see. At 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 phenomenal.

What follows is a long, 17% steep slope with the peculiar Einhyrningur hill on our left. On top of that we eat knäckebröd with prawn cheese. But we’re not there yet: the road goes up even further, and sometimes it’s quite difficult because of the loose sand and stones. Next we arrive in a completely different valley and continue our climb here. We reach the highest point via a 15% steep slope. Then follows a very steep descent to the river with the fairytale-like name Innri-Emstruá, which squeezes through a gorge in the depths. On the other side of the bridge we go up steeply again, out of the valley. At the top of the hill we ask for water at the hut. A group of horse riders on Icelandic horses also stops here. They have a relaxed holiday, because all they have to do is sit down on horses during the day, afterwards drink beer and eat chips and sleep in a hut. And we keep on struggling on our bikes…

It’s another fourteen kilometers to the campsite. The track becomes less bumpy and stays reasonably flat at an altitude of about 500 m. Sometimes we even reach a speed of 20 km/h. The surroundings, which were already very beautiful, now reach the superlative of beauty, also thanks to the soft evening light. Especially the view of the green hills to our right with an ice cap behind it is really worth the journey. Not far from the connection of the [F261] to the [F210] we have to cross a glacier river. The water is only knee-deep but icy cold. According to the map there should be a campsite somewhere near here. Yet wherever we look, we don’t see it. It is now 9.30 pm and cold, and we decide to pitch our tent here. We dine at 22.45 pm.

The camping is still some fourteen kilometers 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 campsite 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)

It takes some getting used to being outdoors. In an attempt to wash myself in the river, with my cycling shoes on, I sink into the mud in a rather clumsy way. The result: two large clogs of mud at my feet. Luckily I can use my Teva sandals and waterproof Sealskin socks as well. Just when we want to leave, the horse-riding club passes us. They cross the river in an elegant, long-stretched row. We will be following their trail (and shit) for a large part of the day. Our road leads eastwards over the [F210] through the Maelfellsandur: a vast plain at an altitude of about 550 m, with only gravel and lava sand. From the Mýrdalsjökull icecap on our right hand there is a strong wind, which sometimes blows large amounts of sand towards us. The road is often so sandy that we get stuck. Next to the road cycling goes a little bit better – at great effort we reach six kilometers per hour.

At the striking green hill Maelifell we wade through a few streams and then turn left towards the north. We cross a second plain, with a mini-delta at the end, where we easily cross the many little streams. At the end of the plain the road becomes less sandy and we have to do some climbing. After a few kilometers we arrive at a serious river: the Hólmsá. This one may be only 20 meters wide, but it rises to well above the knees, and the current is quite strong. Just after the crossing we turn left to the [F233]. This is a varied track of reasonable quality, with the occasional steep slopes (10 to 20%). At a certain moment we have a view on a green plain with a river that bathes in the sun, while in the background dark clouds appear – like in a fairytale. Wonderful!

After a few more kilometers we descend to another green valley where Alftavatn is supposed to be. Just before we reach the river Syri Ófael there is a turn to the right, but a sign is missing. Could this be the road to Alftavatn? We take the risk. The jeep track goes bizarrely steep over the hill and then all the way down (why?). But then we arrive at Alftavatn. Despite the now gloomy weather we can see that the house is very beautifully located. And what a comfort: there are two outside water taps and a shit house as well. Inside there is a British walking club, so we stay outside and pitch the tent. It is now 8 °C and it is raining.

Day 5: Alftavatn > Landmannalaugar (48 km)

In order to leave Alftavatn we have to climb a 28% hill right away – without warming up. What a start of the day! It’s a bit sour when we see, a few kilometers further on, the official exit to Alftavatn – if we’d known that we wouldn’t have used the super steep shortcut. Anyway, just after this junction we arrive at the most difficult river crossing of this holiday: the Syri Ófael. It’s not wide, but deep (water far above the knees) and the current is strong. Controlling the bike is not an easy task, but we’ll manage.

Immediately after the crossing there’s a very steep climb, after which we cycle in the clouds for a while. It has started to rain again and it will do so for the rest of the day. As we descend from the clouds we look out over the wide valley where the Skafta river is dominantly present. We turn off to the [F208], which runs from the south coast all the way to Landmannalaugar.

After the junction with the [F223] follows a heavy climb of 15 to 20% with a peak of 25%. After the descent and the inevitable river crossing we meet a Dutch cyclist. The actual temperature is 7 °C but it feels much colder due to the rain. To our great surprise he cycles in shorts, without gloves, without socks in his sandals and without a helmet or hood. I’ve read in a travel report that there would be 25 serious river crossings this stage, but in reality that’s a gross exaggeration. On a day like today, when the weather is really bad and there is a lot of water in the rivers, we have to wade through knee-deep water only about ten times. But the thing is, changing clothes ten times in the cold is still a hassle. At a certain moment, I also start cycling without socks and leave the rain trousers on when crossing rivers; why didn’t I figure that out before?

Despite the continuous rain and low-hanging clouds we see a glimpse of the surroundings every now and then. And that is impressive. At a certain moment, when we have once again conquered a steep slope, we look out on a beautiful valley with a meandering river between bright green moss, flanked by green hills, with next to them dark grey hills with vertical stripes, and in the background white snowy peaks. I wonder if one can find such variation in a compact area elsewhere in the world.

After about 40 kilometers we arrive at an excellent road through a wide valley with lakes and rivers that we don’t have to cross anymore. After 44 kilometers we reach the point where four years ago we couldn’t go any further because a rim of Rudi’s bike broke. Now that we’re back here, the circle is complete, and the Wiedergutmachung is a fact. At Landmannalaugar’s large campsite we pitch our tent quickly, take a ridiculously expensive shower and eat couscous. Slowly but steadily we warm up.

Day 6: Landmannalaugar > Spordalda (42 km)

Rudi goes shopping at the Mountain Mall: the mini-market in an old school bus on the campsite. They have quite a few things there, but sell them at exorbitant prices. For one plastic bag of provisions we pay 85 euro. To compensate for this financial loss the camping boss gives us three delicious meat cakes.

There’s not much to tell about today’s ride. We cycle the same part as we did four years ago, but much faster than back then, when we had to cycle many more kilometers through loose sand. Today the sand is still a bit wet due to the rain, making it more solid to ride on. Also different from four years ago is the stretch after the crossing through the lava field (‘Mordor’) up to the [F26]: that is now asphalted. In short, we are flying to our final destination today.

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 wind drops and 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 go 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)

The lady at the reception of the hostel in Hrauneyjafossstöd told me yesterday that today there would be a moderate south-westerly wind: perfect for our trip. Unfortunately she was completely wrong. All day long we will be fighting against the cold northeast wind on a road without any shelter. On the first few kilometers of asphalt this is still doable. But after that, already during the first few hundred meters of unpaved roads, 15% up against the wind, I ask myself what the hell I’m doing.

To make things worse I find out that the memory card I used the last few days is broken: all my photos of the first week are destroyed! Yet, I shouldn’t spend energy on negative thoughts right now. I need all the energy to move forward in the second-lightest gear while keeping the right track on the gravel road. The vast landscape is one big, barren stone desert, with icecaps and a few volcanic cones in the distance. The few rivers and brooks with pieces of moss provide some variety. By the way, the road surface is not too bad; at least this is much more doable than the Kjölur washboard road.

At the bridge over the Illugaverskvísl there is – unexpectedly, because it’s not on the map – an abandoned petrol station. Given the strong wind we’re done for today. We pitch the tent out of the wind right in front of the entrance of the building. We wash our faces. They have turned completely black: the result of fat sunburn, strong wind and loose lava sand. We hope that the wind will be a bit more gentle for us tomorrow.

Day 8: Bridge at Illugaverskvísl (17 km)

Today we want to ride 56 kilometers to the campsite in Nýidalur. In the Netherlands that would take a couple of hours… but this is Iceland! Yesterday’s strong wind didn’t stop, but rather started to blow harder. After almost two hours of struggling we have covered just eight and a half kilometers. According to the map there’s not a single shelter on the way to Nýidalur to pitch our tent properly. I throw in the towel, and suggest to go back to the abandoned petrol station, and hitchhike from there or take a bus.

When we cycle back we easily reach 20 km/h on the unpaved road without pedaling – the wind is that strong. Back at the gas station we call the bus company Reykjavík Excursions. The next bus doesn’t arrive until 12 pm tomorrow. This is a real setback – but maybe someone else will take us with them? Well, they won’t. There are cars passing by from time to time, but nobody wants to take two dirty cyclists, two dirty bikes and ten dirty bags with them. And why should they? We decide to choose our battles and instead eat a lot of cookies and read books, while we patiently sit out the day. The inevitable happens in the evening: the wind dies down…

Day 9: Bridge at Illugaverskvisl > Mývatn

The weather is great today: the sun is shining and there is not a breath of wind. We pack the tent and our other stuff, walk to the road and wait for the bus. But then: flies! I have no clue where they come from, but there must be at least seven million of those nasty creatures, and they make sure that we experience the two least pleasant hours of this holiday.

By noon the bus is finally be in sight. Or actually there are two of them: one is almost full and the other one is empty. Why would that be? After less than five kilometers the driver of Bus 1 parks the vehicle in the sand next to the road and shouts “Kaputt!”. There is something wrong with the right front wheel. Car troubles regularly occur on these bad roads. Especially the dust that enters through the ventilation holes is disastrous for the lubrication of the rotating parts. If something breaks down, you normally have to wait for hours for a replacement bus. If that bus doesn’t get a breakdown… We’re lucky, and get into Bus 2.

After half an hour we reach the point where we turned around yesterday. From here follows a long and endless stretch of climbing and descending and turning through a huge stone desert. The view hardly changes: always Kerlingarfjöll on the left and in front of us in the distance the mountain Háhyrna.

When we arrive at Nýidalur the landscape is suddenly lovely, with lakes and a lot of grass: a beautiful place to stay and spend the night. In our original plan we wanted to take from here the 120 km long [F910] to the volcano Askja. However, we abandon this idea: officially, “Iceland’s worst road” is still closed, and if we get into trouble there’s no one to help us. Moreover, according to the map after 25 kilometers there’s hardly any water. We’ll save Askja for another trip to Iceland….

I don’t regret taking the bus, by the way. The landscape is very boring, with only sand, stones and moss. The drizzle makes it even sadder. So there is not much to tell about the bus trip. We reach Mývatn around 8 pm. The bicycles, which were attached to two hooks on the back of the bus, look terrible: totally covered with mud and sticky sand. Unfortunately, there is damage: my ring lock is broken, and the cable doesn’t come out anymore. Furthermore, at the places where the top tube hang on the hooks, the paint on the bike has gone off. Oops… Next time we will bring a few pieces of foam with us.

Day 10: Rest day Mývatn (cycled 22 km)

We cycle over the [1] eastbound to Námaskard, where steam clouds come out of tiny hot-water “factories”. Then we take the [863] to Krafla. After a 20% climb we reach the end of the road. Here we see a crater filled with water that reflects the blue sky. Nearby is a longer walk around Leirhnjúkur. This is a hill on the edge of a large lava field, where steam puffs come out of the ground at various places. The marked hike is quite nice, but there are quite a lot of people, and at a certain moment we’ve had it with that the lava.

We cycle back to the ring road and visit the third must see on the Mývatn bucket list: the solfatara (sulfur) field near Hverir. Solfatars are openings in the earth’s crust through which sulfurous vapors pass, resulting in mud blobs. There are also funny steam towers, and we see colors like mint green, orange, and white. It’s all quite nice, but compared to Landmannalaugar or Kerlingarfjoll it’s less impressive. And thus it has been enough for today. We return to the campsite in Reykjahlid, which is beautifully situated with all those little colored tents at the lake.

Day 11: Egilsstaddir > Djúpivogur (85 km)

On our map, the road from Mývatn to Egilsstaddir on the east coast looks so boring that we decide to take the bus. From our bus seats we notice that the surroundings are indeed not spectacular, although it’s greener than expected. Thanks to the nice weather we have a good view of the Askja crater, 70 kilometers away, which dominates the plains south of us. We can even see the Vatnajökull ice cap, at a distance of some 100 kilometers.

In Egilsstaddir we take the [1] to the south. Here the ring road is not busy at all. We have tailwind, it’s 20 °C and the sun is burning. The valley is quite beautiful, with on our left snowy peaks behind which the eastern fjord coast lies. Almost once every kilometer we see a farm. How those farmers make a living is a mystery to me, as I can only see hay bales and no cattle.

At a lake after about 35 kilometers riding the road becomes unpaved. From here we easily climb along a mountain stream to the Öxipas (530 m), where we suddenly end up in the clouds. The temperature drops to 7 °C, and it stays that cold for the rest of the day. Halfway the very steep descent we pass a beautiful waterfall and we see long-stretched horizontal grooves in the south wall.

In the local snack bar of Djúpivogur we meet Jan: the guy who rode in shorts in the ice-cold pouring rain near Landmannalaugar on day 5. He cycles Iceland counterclockwise. On the boring campsite there is a small house with a kind of living room where we can shelter from the persistent rain

Day 12: Djúpivogur > Stafafell (73 km)

The eastern fjord coast must be very impressive. Unfortunately, today we see mostly low hanging clouds. It is also cold (6-8 °C) and wet. So we are relieved when we finally reach the campsite. The toilet building is magisterially hidden in a container and the person who has arranged the interior must be clumsy. Fortunately the shower works.

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

Originally, we planned to cycle over the Jökulsarsandur [908]: a rather hilly route according to the map, ending after 25 kilometers at Múlaskúli (a hut and camping place). But the camping boss tells us that due to the current it is absolutely impossible to cross the Skyndidalsá by bike. By coincidence he also has this powerful car to take tourists to Múlaskúli for 50 euros per person… Probably he scares us to earn money. But then he suggests an alternative route: via the north bank of the delta valley to the Eskifell, where we can cross the Jökulsa River via a new footbridge.

We leave our belongings at the campsite and see how far we can get via the suggested route. The weather is not too bad today: mostly blue sky and about 15 °C. On the bumpy road we cycle along the north bank of the delta, where we see a lot of holiday homes – in this beautiful surroundings I’d like to live as well! After six kilometers we climb a super steep road covered with boulders after which we descent just as steeply a bit later. Back down at the delta the jeep track has disappeared. In the immense sea of stones, interspersed with brooks here and there, we sometimes see a vague trail.

After a few kilometers of struggling to find the right direction we arrive at the suspension bridge over the Eskifell. On the other side of the road we notice that it has already taken three hours to complete the first eleven kilometers, so we’ll never manage to get to the [908] via this detour and then another fifteen kilometers to the final destination – and back again. Disillusioned we take a one-hour walk from here along a path marked by yellow poles.

On our way back we avoid the steep hill, and instead follow the river delta for as long as possible, which goes much faster. At the end of the afternoon the light conditions improve and the hills light up beautifully. Back at the campsite we dine in the evening sun with an impressive view of the fjord coast and the snowy hinterland. This is a top location! (As long as it doesn’t rain).

Day 14: Stafafell > Jökulsárlón (114 km)

After a copious pasta breakfast we leave early for the ice lake Jökulsárlón. When Rudi shouts After twenty minutes riding, Rudi shouts ‘Hey Willem, this is really nice relaxed cruising!’ Just after that, we suddenly get a strong headwind. And that wind lasts for the rest of the day.

We ride an extra ten kilometers to do affordable shopping in Höfn, the former American naval base that is strategically located in a natural bay. From Höfn we cycle to the west. The views on our right side are beautiful: we ride along several glaciers that stretch from the ice cap Vatnajökul between the sometimes striking mountains. At Skalafell we stop to have lunch. Here we see an impressive monument of an Icelander who once made it to the rank of senior civil servant in Denmark. Well done! After this we struggle another 40 kilometers against the wind to Jökulsárlón.

The ice lake only reveals itself at the bridge over the Jökulsá. It is a beautiful sight to see all the floating ice in the soft evening light with in the background several high mountains and an enormous glacier. In the course of the evening all the tourists disappear, and we are the only ones camping here. We pitch our tent on the west side, so we don’t have to deal with busloads of tourists in the morning. We get water at the back of the restaurant, because the water in the ice lake itself is brackish. We dine at 23 pm: boiled potatoes with delicious lamb and fresh salad from Holland. In our sleeping bags the only sounds we hear are the gulls, which fly away in all directions every time a piece of ice breaks off.

Day 15: Jökulsárlón > Skaftafell (59 km)

After we wake up we unzip the tent and look out over ‘our’ ice lake. After taking pictures we go on our way. Soon we pass Fjallsárlón: another lake with pieces of ice that have broken off from a glacier. Beautiful as well. We continue westwards on a road that goes through a rather rugged landscape, with on the left side the sea and on the right steep mountain walls with in between pieces of ice cap. Once near Fagurhólsmýri we have a southerly tailwind and we cruise to the Skaftafell in a relaxed way. A few kilometers before the campsite we do our shopping at a petrol station. It is the only shop between Höfn and Vík. They have a lot of stuff here, but the prices are absurdly high.

Skaftafell’s campsite is very large, and is dotted with single and double tents. Quite a few busloads of backpackers are being dropped. Inside the toilet building we see ridiculous posters stating that guests can only brush their teeth and wash their face and hands in the washbasin. And there are only two showers (lukewarm). Shame on you, camp site. In the evening we walk in about half an hour to the famous Svartifoss waterfall. The vertical basalt rods are really special. Unfortunately not much water comes down.

Day 16: Skaftafell > Laufbali (80 km)

Already at 7 am a lot of tents are being packed. Many people are getting ready for glacier walks or a trip to the Hvannadalshnjúkur (2,119 m), Iceland’s highest peak. We cycle further to the west. The first 30 kilometers we cross the Skeidarársandur. This enormous plain consists of sand and an occasional river. It is a pity that it starts to rain, because we see so little of the surroundings. By the way, it can be quite dangerous here, as we’ve read in the visitors’ center in Skaftafell. When the magma under the icecap in the north rises, the water melts there, which then flows below the Skeidarárjökull to the south. Within 24 hours the vast plain will be flooded, and bridges destroyed. Fortunately the magma keeps quiet today.

Near Hvoll there is a hotel where we drink some coffee in the lobby. I ask the hotel guy about the condition of the jeep track we want to take from here to Laki. He answers that the road is very stony and unsuitable for cycling. Sounds great, we’ll take that jeep track! For many kilometers this road winds playfully through a vast lava field, with green hills with waterfalls on both sides, of which we see less and less because of the low hanging clouds. The road quality in the first part isn’t that bad: the loose lava sand has gotten wet and quite solid, while also the loose stones stay in place. After the junction at Miklafell this changes: we have to ride steep parts with lots of boulders followed by very bumpy, dry riverbeds. When the temperature drops to 6 °C and it starts to rain harder and harder, we give up. We pitch our tent on a soggy spot near a stream.

Day 17: Laufbali > Hurdarbök (47 km)

This morning it no longer rains and we can see something more of the surroundings. The remaining eleven kilometers to Laki are quite demanding, with climbs so steep that even pushing them is impossible. It’s not surprising that we don’t meet anyone on this jeep track. At Blaengur (650 m) we reach the highest point of the route. The landscape suddenly becomes a lot greener. And we even see Laki: the big hill and the series of lower craters towards the southwest. We make a descend with difficulty to the [F207], a kind of ring road through the Laki area. We were actually planning to climb the hill to take pictures, but just at that moment lower rain clouds are moving in. So we continue cycling. But then of course the sun starts to shine again, and the surroundings even light up completely. We’re in doubt: should we to go back? No, because there we can see even more rain clouds coming in.

We take the short variant of the Laki ring to the south on the [F206]. Once in a while, when the patches of fog are gone, we catch a glimpse of a beautiful canyon. But other than that we don’t see much. The road surface is very good during the first part, but after that there are often bad stretches with lots of boulders. The road is also much more hilly than yesterday’s jeep track. That’s because yesterday we followed the course of one river, while today we are hopping from river to river and have to climb the hills in between. The rivers are not too wide and have little current; only twice we have to raise the trouser legs. After a nice descent we arrive at the Stjórn river, where we pitch our tent at the crossing point. It’s still raining.

Day 18: Hurdarbök > Vík (78 km)

When we get up, the weather gods are still not in a good mood. For the third day in a row we experience low hanging clouds and drizzle, and can hardly see anything of the surroundings all day. The remaining twelve kilometers to the asphalt road contain some vicious climbs and we pass a wild waterfall. Back on the ring road we have a lot of backwind when we cruise westward to Vík. We cycle over the emergency bridge over the Mulakvísl. The previous bridge has been demolished by the strong current in the river.

From the bridge it’s another ten kilometers riding to Vík, and the wind is so favorable that we can cycle whole stretches of 35 to 40 kilometers per hour. When we arrive in the town we do some shopping and go to the campsite. The wind is getting stronger and stronger, and it starts raining more and more. The tent is almost blown flat. Fortunately we can take shelter in the heated cottage, which not only has a large sitting and cooking area, but also the best shower in southern Iceland! In the course of the evening more and more cyclists and backpackers arrive. Everyone cooks their own meals. The atmosphere inside here is great!

Dag 19: Vík > Hvolsvöllur (84 km)

Even today it rains regularly. But at least we can see the lower few hundred meters of the surrounding hills, and the wind is favorable. So what do we experience? Not much. Maybe the Skógafoss, a wide waterfall that plunges from a high hill into the depths in a rather brutal way. Wear a rain suit if you want to get close! A bit further along the ring road a herd of horses is driven to another meadow. Behind the barbed wire cows enjoy running with us.

At Núpakot we have lunch at the striking Steinafjall (811 m). On the information board is a picture with the view of the landscape in the spring of 2010, when the ashes that Eyjafjallajökull sprayed in the air stopped air traffic for a long time. On the other side of the road there is a visitor center dedicated to this eruption. The film they show there explains the impact of the eruption on the farm a bit further away: floods that washed away roads and bridges, a thick layer of ash on the meadows and days as dark as a winter’s night.

In Hvolsvöllur we’re not tired yet, but the road to Selfoss is boring and we’ve ridden it before. So it’s time to pitch our tent. At the campsite we meet a Flemish couple on Avaghon bicycles. The Flemish man tells us that he –a Belgian civil servant– has the right to get a sabbatical for a maximum of six years, with an additional 400 euros for each month of leave. No wonder they’ve been travelling around for months… While we have a nice chat in the sanitary building in the evening, Rudi and I find out more or less coincidentally that we were wrong one day: today is not Thursday but Wednesday. Due to our holiday state-of-mind we’ve completely lost track of time.

Day 20: Hvolsvöllur > Reykjavík (by bus)

Because in this part of Iceland the ring road isn’t very interesting, we take the bus to Reykjavík. We feel sorry for the cyclists that we see struggling through the rain and against the wind on this boring road. When we arrive in the capital, we pitch the tent and walk towards the city center. After the disappointing experience four years ago, I have lowered my expectations of Reykjavík to such an extent that today the city turns out better than expected. After a visit to the Photo Museum we visit the brand new Harpa Theatre. I like that building, with a lot of grey and an occasional tuft of sunflower yellow in the interior, surrounded by countless windows in an ever-changing honeycomb structure. We stroll around the small center a bit bored, and end the day with pizza.

Day 21: Reykjavík > Kevlavík (49 km)

We know from last time on Iceland that the best way to get out of Reykjavík is to follow the main, through roads; at least we won’t get lost in the residential areas. Cycling on the main road may seem dangerous, especially where emergency lanes are missing, but people drive behaved and keep their distance. From the aluminum factory near Hafnarfjördur it starts raining harder and the rain trousers have to be put on again. Because of the strong crosswind we have a hard time until Kevlavík. When we arrive at the campground we dive into the covered cooking area. First we prepare a late lunch (ten fried eggs – they didn’t have smaller ones at the Bonus supermarket) and then we cook spaghetti for dinner. I want to sleep early, but I can’t sleep for a long time because of the monotonous chatter of our Polish neighbors. We get up at 4.45 am, arrive an hour later at the airport and are checked in one hour before departure. Our beautiful and wet holiday has come to an end!