Categories
2013 Iceland

Road to Askja

In the summer of 2013 Rudi and cycle in Iceland for the third time. This time our route follows the F210/208 (Fjallabaksvegur) to Skaelingar and Landmannalaugar, the F910 to Askja and Snaefell and the F206/207 to Lakagigar. On the Sprengisandsleið (F26) and from Egilsstadir to Reykjavík we take the bus. In three weeks’ time we cover some 1,800 kilometers, of which 1,000 on our bikes.

Day 1: Airplane to Iceland & Kevlavík > Hafnarfjördur (43 km)

We go to Iceland again: the land of rain, wind, volcanoes, lava, moss, and numerous stones. For cyclists who like unpaved roads and variety in nature, Iceland is the place to be. From the airport, we first go to Alex in Kevlavík to drop our bag with the bike covers and bike protection stuff and make a reservation for the last night. At the reception it turns out they have closed down the campsite (where we pitched our tent in 2007 and 2011), so we book a cabin instead.

The boring trip on the [41] is going surprisingly well. The weather is fine for cycling: 20 °C and there is hardly any wind. Only the bikes themselves are not exactly in shape: my wide rear tire is a bit egg-shaped and Rudi has stretched the leather of his Brooks saddle so often that the adjustment screw has come loose. We pitch our tent at the fine camping site of Hafnarfjordür. We order a Giant Bucket from the KFC, which in fact they only fill half with chicken snacks – what a bunch of crooks!

Day 2: Hafnarfjördur > Hella (102 km)

Today’s first priority is to find a saddle for Rudi. According to the internet just a few sports shops in Reykjavík are open on Sundays, and only at 1 pm. Luckily, at a mall we find a shop selling suitable saddles. By then we have already done a lot of shopping: enough for almost two weeks in the inlands where there are no supermarkets. With our extra Ortieb dry bags we can pack everything quite easily.

The [1] to the east is as always super boring. It’s busy and people drive fast, although they keep a good distance. And it’s starting to rain as well. So why are we cycling here again? Anyway, we are happy when we arrive in Hella at 9 pm. At the big campsite, we meet Miha, a Slovenian cyclist who enthusiastically lists all kinds of technology brands from his country and expects us to know them (not).

Day 3: Hella > Launfitjarsandur (66 km)

From Hella we take the [264] for a few kilometers before we arrive at the unpaved [F210]. We soon ride through lava fields of the Skógshraun plain, and gradually climb to the small but striking volcanic cone Hafrafell. After that, the landscape suddenly becomes a lot more varied.

It gets even more beautiful near the Laufafell, a valley with beautiful green moss-covered hills on both sides. Occasionally, we get a glimpse of the impressive Tindfjallajökull. The whole time we keep the river Eystri-Ranga on our right side. By now, the road has become easier, and sometimes we even cycle faster than 20 kilometers per hour.

Next to the Laufafell (1,164 m) there’s a watershed: on our left is Reykjadalir, which is said to be uniquely situated, but we turn right. A beautiful valley immediately reveals itself: really one of the most remarkable places in Iceland! We cross a meandering brook several times easily before we descend to the wide valley of Launfit. Unfortunately, the current of the river Markarfljót is too strong. Tomorrow morning we will try to wade through it.

Day 4: Launfitjarsandur > Skaftárdalur (80 km)

The Markarfljót is not yet at full power in the morning, so we can safely wade to the other side. However, the panniers have to be carried in several stages. On our bikes again, we climb to the next valley. There we have beautiful views of a fairy-tale landscape: especially towards Faxi and Totfatindar in the southwest. Somewhere behind the snowy peaks in the northeast must be Landmannalaugar. The whole area up to Hvangill is beautiful!

After the footbridge over a river, we arrive at the connection with the [F261]. The mountain named Stórasúla looks tough. Just like two years ago, we continue the [F210] over the Maelfellsandur plain. A man with a cute dog in a basket is cycling towards us at high speed over the jeep track – I am too amazed to take a picture. With a light backwind, cycling through the lava sand goes remarkably easy.

Meanwhile this little baby cloud behind us has grown into a gigantic thundercloud that slowly swallows us up. Just before the striking green Maelifell volcano (~800 m), which rises majestically above the dark lava sand, the rain suddenly starts pouring down on us and the temperature drops by no less than ten degrees. After the Maelifell we go left to a plain covered with lava sand and many small streams. A herd of horses with some riders approaches us with great speed. What a cool sight! The downside is that the horse hooves mess up the jeep track that we have to cycle.

A bit further on, the Hólmsá turns out to be difficult to overcome. The current is moderate, but the river is quite deep today – probably because of the combination of high temperature, rain and time of the day. Near our destination Skaftádalur I ride fast on a trench in the road, with a puncture as a result. This is my first flat tire ever during a cycling holiday. We camp on the banks of the Skaftá, one of Iceland’s largest rivers, with mighty rapids lying right in front of us.

Day 5: Skaftárdalur > Skaelingar (39 km)

The more than twenty kilometers on the [F208] we ride on a good road surface with few loose boulders and no river crossings. Occasionally there is a steep climb up to 18%. Unfortunately, my lower back hurts so I take it easy. This first part of the road to Landmannalaugar is quite boring, although we are glad to see something at all, contrary to two years ago. The surroundings become beautiful from the exit to the [F223], where we will be cycling a loop to the northeast.

After that exit, there is a double river crossing and next the road climbs steeply all the way up to the top of the hill Eldgja. Here is a viewpoint where you can see a canyon and the waterfall Ofaerufoss. We take the jeep track to Skaelingar and descend all the way down to the Skaftá. Unfortunately, we see less of the river than we had expected looking at the map. After the umpteenth climb over loose stones, we finally see in the distance the beautifully located Skaelingar campsite.

Day 6: Skaelingar > Landmannalaugar (54 km)

Directly from the campsite we climb more than 300 meters on a very steep road. It is impossible to get up here without pushing the bikes. On top of the hill the 180-degree view is beautiful. We arrive at the ridge through a funny “lava gorge” and then slowly descend to Blautulón. The jeep track goes partly through the shallow part of the lake, but we just walk past it. Thanks to the sunny weather, the blue lake stands out sharply against the fresh green hills.

Via the easy to cycle [F235] we quickly return to the [F208] and head for Landmannalaugar. Especially the part between the hills Graenafjall and Tindafjall is very beautiful. Two years ago, this was a difficult stage, because it was raining all day and it was cold, and some of the river crossings were difficult to cross. Today the slopes are still just as steep and long, but the weather is fine and I only have to take off the Sealskinz socks at one river. We arrive in Landmannalaugar on time.

Day 7: Landmannalaugar > Hrauneyjafoss (41 km)

We are in Landmannalaugar for the third time, after 2007 and 2011. I wash some clothes and check my bike, while Rudi heads to a lava field to take photos. I still think the camping site is a busy and unpleasant place to be. There are many backpackers who ‘do’ the famous trail that is on their bucket list, and many day-trippers are brought in by large buses. Yet I have to admit: it is damned beautiful out here.

In the afternoon we cycle north on a very annoying washboard road with lots of loose sand. To make things worse, the wind is getting stronger and stronger. Near the lake Hrauneyjarlón it is even difficult to stay upright. Those are the moments when you think: “Really cool, Iceland (not).” We are relieved therefore when we arrive at ‘our’ wild camping site behind the trees at the Hrauneyjafoss. At the guesthouse we order Iceland’s tastiest hamburger.

Day 8: Rest day Hrauneyjafoss

The plan for today was to cycle the monotonous Sprengisandsleið, but the wind is blowing hard from the northeast. We know from experience –two years ago we got stuck on the [F26] because of the wind– that cycling in these conditions is pointless. We prefer to take the bus right away, but the next possibility is tomorrow. So we have a rest day in the tent while hoping that meanwhile the weather conditions will improve.

Day 9: Hrauneyjafoss > Nýidalur (bus) & Nýidalur > Langadrag (26 km)

Well, that was wishful thinking: the wind has started blowing even faster. The flagpole at the gas station bends completely. Decision made: we take the bus. We carefully mount the bikes on the back rack of the bus. After the experience of 2011, this time we put insulation foam between the top tubes and the hooks to prevent the paint from wearing off. At the deserted petrol station halfway through a cyclist arrives in the bus who got stuck there because of the storm – just like us two years ago.

The bumpy ride to Nyídalur takes three hours and is boring. When we get there it’s only 6 °C. The [F910] –also known as “the road to Askja” or “Iceland’s worst road”– was officially opened only yesterday (August 7!). The warden is not able to inform us about the status of the route. Anyway, we just start. Right at the campsite, we have to cross a river and five kilometers further on another one. Both times knee-deep, resulting in cold feet. The temperature drops to 3 °C.

Shortly after follows the exit to Askja, which we have been looking forward to for so long. We ask a passing ranger for information about water along the route, but he doesn’t know. The road quality is good at the beginning, but gradually it gets quite bad. After a few more river crossings, we find a nice camping spot at the river Langadrag. Meanwhile it’s only just above freezing point – inside the tent. At night it starts to snow.

Day 10: Langadrag > Fjallsendi (54 km)

We don’t know for sure if the streams drawn on our map do actually exist. And according to the same map we won’t find any water after about 40 kilometers. We take no risk: Rudi takes the Ortlieb water pouch with about six liters of water on the back of his bike. (For no purpose, it turns out later, because today we encounter countless streams and lakes. What a lousy ranger that he couldn’t inform us properly!)

Soon we reach the river Skjálfandafljot where a bridge connects the steep banks. We take the official northern route of the [F910] and not the southern variant after a warning for quicksand. Unfortunately, we don’t see much of the area because of the low-hanging clouds. The volcanic cone Trölladyngja (1,460 m), which we cycle around all day, remains completely invisible.

The road leads us through stone and lava fields. There is more variation than the map suggests. Especially at Efribotnar cycling is fun: a fairly good road going crisscross through high lava structures. Near the mountain Thrihyrningur we see wonderful ‘blob lava’ with all kinds of ripples. After struggling for a long time, we finally find a perfect camping spot on the parking lot near the striking rocks of the steep Fjallsendi.

Day 11: Fjallsendi > Askja (45 km)

Last night it was freezing mildly again. The cold came right through the ground sheet, tent sheet and mattress. I kept it warm by wearing the down jacket in my sleeping bag. When we go outside the tent is covered with a bit of snow. Luckily, the temperature quickly rises to 6 °C. Today we can see a lot more of our surroundings, like the icecap in the south, the Trölladyngja bathing in the sun, and the mighty mountains of Askja. It is a beautiful route with wide views!

The first part to where the southern route joins the [F910] is easy, but on the stretch up to the Holuhraun plain we encounter a lot of loose sand. After a bit of ‘normal’ road there’s again loose sand – this time even fifteen kilometers long. It is impossible to cycle on, so we ride parallel to the road, where the sand is a bit more solid. The road surface of the last six kilometers to Dreki, where the hut and camping site are located, is very rocky with lots of loose boulders. Just like elsewhere in Iceland, in Dreki most of the tourists come from France, Spain, Italy, Germany and Russia.

Day 12: Askja > Kreppa (54 km)

Today we visit the Askja crater first. To get there we cycle up a fine road for about eight kilometers. On the way we have a beautiful view of “king” Snaefell in the east and “queen” Herdubreid in the northeast. At the end of the road we park our bicycles and walk to the crater lake. Note that one needs to be here early – around noon, there is one long-stretched caravan of day-trippers who are brought in from Mývatn by bus.

Askja is impressive. The prehistoric crater ring is no less than 50 km2 in size. The highest point Thorvaldstindur (1,510 m) rises very steeply above lake Öskjuvatn. Askja is not a traditional volcanic cone. There is a large magma chamber underneath the mountains and it has regularly collapsed over time. Because of the eruptions, the large lake Öskjuvatn and the small, warm crater lake Vítí were created. The last big eruption was in 1875, when the volcano in East Iceland caused death and destruction. Part of the population decided to emigrate.

We slither down over a steep snowfield to the crater lake Vítí. High on top of the crater rim people are watching as we are –the only ones– glide into the water. To our surprise (or: disappointment), the water isn’t hot at all, but just lukewarm (22 °C). Nevertheless, it is a special experience.

In the afternoon, we go east again. After Midfell the decent gravel road transforms into a terrible loose sand track (and later also washboard). We pass the light brown colored hill Upptyppingar (1,084 m), which looks like a giant turd. We pitch our tent a stone’s throw away from the Kreppa canyon, in a bizarre landscape with upright stone ‘walls’. With the help of Rudi’s pants we sieve the sandy water we collected from a lake on the way.

Day 13: Kreppa > Thórisstadir (57 km)

We leave our wonderful camping spot and cycle with backwind northwards to the bridge over the river Kreppa. The first kilometer after the bridge is very nice, but after that, fun is over. Ahead of us are 40 kilometers of very bad road (loose sand, 80% washboard, numerous loose stones) and headwind. Despite the sunny weather, panoramic views are absent in this monotonous landscape. This part of the [F910] is definitely not recommended!

On such a day, I’d almost give up. I lack motivation and my back hurts. However, after warming up a little and eating an extra ‘Bever’ (=a store in NL) breakfast, I’m completely refreshed. It’s remarkable how much better I can cope with the wind and bad road afterwards. At Brú we enter the long stretched Hrafnkelsdalur valley. We find a nice camping spot right next to the road.

Day 14: Thórisstadir > Snaefell (39 km)

The road surface is good until the gas station of Adalból. Then suddenly, we see that the road continues from the valley almost straight up to the top of the hill. This will be the most strenuous part of our Icelandic holiday. Gaining more than 300 meters over a very steep and very bad road. I have to push 80% of the time, and even Rudi is walking a large part of the time, which is highly unusual. What a ridiculous road, even worse than those in England!

On top of the hill we cycle further on, while the clouds prevent us from seeing much of the surroundings. Fortunately, the road on this plateau is not so hilly anymore. I do have very cold hands. Those expensive waterproof Sealskinz gloves appear not waterproof at all when used intensively in the rain. After a stream, where we I have to put on the Teva’s (and Rudi his surf shoes), we cross the asphalt road and take the [F909] to Snaefell.

After about thirteen kilometers on a fairly simple road we arrive at the hut. Here it clears up a bit, so we can see the lower part of the Snaefelll mountain. Even though we will be sleeping in the tent, for a few euros per person we make use of the facilities of the cozy and warm hut. This is highly recommended! Orri –warden and ranger– welcomes us cordially.

In the evening Orri takes us in his Land Rover to the Saudahnjúkar. During the walk to the top, he tells us about the Hálslón reservoir. The construction of the dam (2003-2006) was controversial. The energy helped to create a thousand jobs for the new Alcoa aluminum smelting plant in Reydarfjördur, however this was at the expense of the unique breeding area. Already 85% of the country’s energy production goes to aluminum smelters, and how much more nature needs to be sacrificed?

Day 15: Rest day Snaefell

Today we will enjoy a rest day in this beautiful environment. We will walk to the Snaefell via the ‘standard route’. I stop halfway at a viewpoint, but Rudi continues through the snow on his cycling shoes to the summit (1,833 m). Thanks to the good weather we can see up to more than 100 kilometers in the distance: Asjufjöll in the southwest, “queen” Herdubreid in the northwest and Kverkjökull, Askja, the Trölladyngja and even the Tungnafellsjökull in the far west.

Back down at the hut we chat with an assistant-ranger, who is an Icelandic teacher during the remainder of the year, and her sister. They teach us some Icelandic. This is an interesting language, especially considering that the writing has not changed for more than a thousand years. Icelandic linguists keep inventing new Icelandic words for new foreign words like coffee, banana and computer; in practice, however, they still use those foreign words. In the evening Orri and the ladies prepare a festive meal –coq au vin– in honor of the annual Gay Pride.

Day 16: Snaefell > Egilsstadir (94 km)

We say goodbye to Orri and the ladies and return to the [F909] through the rain. From there we quickly reach the tarmac road. On paper the next 50 kilometers over the plateau looks simple, but the road is monotonous and the wind is not favorable. I get cold hands and my back hurts again. I recover only after the descent to the Lagarfljöt and eating a 600-calorie ‘Bever’ breakfast at Hallormstadt.

We pitch our tent at the Egilsstadir campsite, which is well-equipped but not cozy. As the shops are closed, we go to the N1 for diner. This is really the place to be: half of the town population is gathered here. After a hamburger with fries, we eat an additional pizza. And also one liter of soda per person. We feel very bad after this fast fat salt & sugar food experience. When you consider that in the U.S. many people do this every day….

Day 17: Egilsstadir > Höfn (bus)

From Egilsstadir we take the bus all the way back to Reykjavík, but in stages, with a stop tomorrow to visit Laki. Two years ago, due to the low-hanging clouds, we hardly saw anything of the east coast. Now that we take the bus, the weather is excellent. The entire road from Egilsstadir to Höfn is very beautiful, and certainly the first part near Reydarfjordur. We see many mountains, created by lava erosion. After we arrive at the campsite in Höfn, we have crumbed lamb meatballs for dinner.

Day 18: Höfn > Hunkubakkan (bus) & Hunkubakkan > Blágil (37 km)

At 10 am we take the bus to the west. We stop for another hour at the ice lake Jökullsárlón. Two years ago, we arrived in the evening when it was peaceful here. Today, in the middle of the day this location turns out to be one big tourist hotspot with many buses and rental cars. The same goes for Skaftafell where we make a short stop a bit later. Why is it so busy here while there are so few people in other beautiful places inland?

Halfway through the afternoon the bus driver drops us off at the exit to the [F206] to Laki. After a day and a half of sunshine, it starts to rain again. That’s why, just like two years ago, we hardly see anything of the landscape. Fortunately, today it’s not cold (8 to 11 °C) and after less than 40 kilometers we already reach our destination. With the cozy and well-equipped hut of Snaefell in our mind, we feel that Blágil’s hut and camping site are quite miserable.

Day 19: Lakagigar tour (44 km)

At 4.30 am the babbling sheep wake us up. However, right now we don’t feel like getting up, because it keeps raining. By the end of the morning, we’re completely fed up with the weather conditions: we put on our rain suit and ride into the fog! The plan is to cycle around Laki [F207] in a clockwise direction. After about fifteen kilometers we start to see some of the surroundings, and after the information point halfway through the circle the weather even clears up.

To our right the craters are lined up all the way to the ‘mother crater’ Laki. To our left we see mossy hills, situated behind the lake Lambavatn. Shortly after this, we enjoy the most spectacular view of the loop’s most northwestern part. Now and then the sun breaks through and shines beautifully on the lava plain of Lakagigar, which stretches to the northwest, with behind it the Skaftá and the green hills of Fögruufjöll, which stand out against the intensely dark clouds.

Next we ride to the Laki volcano. In 1783 and 1784, in the whole area of Lakagigar, Grímsvötn and Thordarhyrna there were several eruptions. Besides 14 km3 of basaltic lava, large amounts of hydrofluoric acid and sulfur dioxide were released. In Iceland, half of the cattle and a quarter of the population died. The lava dust and acid rain led to a global dip in temperature, crop failures in Europe and drought elsewhere. Laki is claimed to have as many as six million victims: a volcano eruption world record. Today, Laki is keeping quiet.

Day 20: Blágil > Kirkjubaejarklaustur (44 km)

Since last night it has been raining continuously. The area between Kirkjubaejarklaustur (‘Kurkyousomething’), Laki, Landmannalaugar and Vík is perhaps Iceland’s wettest place. That’s why it’s so beautiful green everywhere. But you can’t see that because of the fog… Anyway, we haven’t experienced such a wet weather in Iceland before. All the tire tracks on the [F702] are filled with water and on hoping for the best we ride into ten meter long puddles. After this very rainy day, the campsite in Kurkyousomething is a relief. We eat lamb meatballs and pommes parisienne.

Day 21: Kirkjubaejarklaustur > Reykjavík (bus) & Reykjavík > Hafnarfjördur (14 km)

For the fourth and last time this vacation we cheat by taking the bus. The driver is out of his mind: all the time he shouts things about touristic places to us and a German couple – in Icelandic, because he can’t speak English. He drives too fast, doesn’t handle bikes carefully and constantly makes unpleasant noises. We are therefore glad when we get off at the city camping in Reykjavík, from where we immediately continue onto the better camping in Hafnarfjördur.

Day 22: Hafnarfjördur > Kevlavík (82 km)

We avoid the boring [41] and take an alternative route via Grindavík. The [42] leads us to Sveifluháls: one of the active volcanic areas on the southwestern peninsula. We visit Krýsuvíkur, where we see boiling mud surrounded by weird colors, and where steam hisses between the lava rocks. It looks a bit like Hverir near lake Myvatn. After this, we take a new road along the south coast to Grindavík, and after taking a hamburger at the N1 we struggle against the strong headwind on the last twenty kilometers to Kevlavík.

Day 23: Airplane to the Netherlands

After an excellent stay in a one-room cabin at Alex, we leave for the airport at a 5.15 am. An hour later we have packed the bikes and bags, start queueing in a very long and slow row because most of the flights depart early in the morning. After another hour, we have finally checked in – only just in time for boarding. At Schiphol Rudi and I drink a beer and toast to the successful holiday!

Epilogue

After three cycling holidays in Iceland, I summarize my findings. I am most impressed by the area between the Hekla, Eyjafjallajökull, Mýrdalsjökull, Lándmannahellir and Laki. So much variation –green mossy hills, lava fields, ice caps, canyons and meandering rivers– can’t be found anywhere else in Iceland, and perhaps nowhere else on this planet. Askja, Lónsörafi, Kerlingarfjöll and the east coast are beautiful as well, as is the ice lake Jökullsárlón – as long as you know how to avoid the tourist crowds. On the other hand, the main unpaved routes Kjolur, Sprengissandur and F26 east of Askja are monotonous, while the roads in the southwest are wide and busy; taking the bus is recommended here.

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 ride over a 1,100 kilometers (and some 500 kilometers 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 in 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 ride the Sprengisandsleið 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 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.