In August 2007 Rudi and I cycle in the south-west part of Iceland. We pass through sizzling Kerlingarfjoll and overwhelming Landmannalaugar. We also cycle in the middle of nowhere on a deserted jeep track. In three weeks’ time we travel some 1,000 kilometers, about half of which on unpaved roads.
Day 1: Kevlavík > Grindavík (28 km)
Rudi and I exchange warm (28 °C) Netherlands for Iceland! At Schiphol Airport we are stuck in the slow queue. An arrogant American woman in front of us brings with her a pack of dogs. The plastic bicycle covers appear to be very handy. We can take the bicycles in the queue up to the desk and pack it just before we check-in. Although we are not charged for the few extra kilos we take with us in the bags, we have to pay 60 euros each for the bike transport. We are the last passengers to board. In the plane we have an excellent view of large parts of south Iceland. I have studied the map so often in the last year that I can recognize a lot of places. The men who take the luggage out of the plane don’t handle our bikes very carefully. Rudi’s bike is thrown on the car, and the cover of my bike has opened as well as my saddle bag. I am glad none of my tools are missing.
When we step out of the arrival hall it is definitely colder than back home: just 13 °C and a strong northern wind is blowing. We go to camping Alex in Kevlavík and dump the covers and the tape. After a few kilometers on road  we turn right to the . We cycle at high speed through desolate lava fields, which look like the result of a detonated nuclear bomb. We leave the heat power station and the tourist attraction of Bláa Iónid (“Blue Lagoon”) on the right side, and follow the red heat pipelines towards Grindavík.
We try to pitch the tent on the primitive camp site. As the wind blows fiercely we are lucky to find one sheltered place. Later that night more tents and camper arrive. This camp site is dull so we decide to explore the town center. First we head to the ATM and next to the local petrol station a.k.a. shop a.k.a. snack-bar a.k.a. N1. The air is full of fat, and the Icelandic bar maids look lazy and bored. There is nothing to do around here, so I can imagine their attitude. I can’t think of any good reason why people would want to live Grindavík. Then, a too large SUV stops at the door. Two fat Icelandic kids with their too fat parents enter and order ice cream. We also want fat food and order meat with baked vegetables, eggs and fries.
Day 2: Grindavík > Strandarkirkja (52 km)
Last night the wind was really fierce. The tent touched my sleeping bag all the time. According to the weather map this was only a moderate wind, so we have something to look forward to in the coming weeks. Shortly after 7 am we decide to get up. We eat noodles, drink coffee and tea, and pack the tent. Our neighbors are unfortunate: when packing their tent it slips out of their hands, and the wind blows it over the houses at the opposite side of the road in just ten seconds. As Grindavík is located just next to the south coast, our neighbors run after it as quickly as possible. They are lucky to find their tent undamaged. Next time be more careful!
Cycling along the south coast  is tougher than expected, especially the first seven kilometers. The headwind is so strong. Often we have to stop cycling and hold our bikes. My steer is not sufficiently tightened. I probably forgot to do so after the flight, and the hex key I bought with me is too short. Next time I need to prepare better… The road is reconstructed and all the sand next to the road blows right into our faces. We are overtaken by a Japanese who is going to do Iceland by himself. We all three push our bikes on the steep road where any protection from the wind is absent.
During the descent the road becomes unpaved, meaning: loose sand and rocks. After fifteen kilometers struggling there is another eight kilometers paved road and less headwind. On the  the landscape becomes more interesting: cliffs on the left, the sea on the right and lava fields all around us. Near Herdisarvíkurhraun the sky is so clear that we can even see the Mýrdalsjökull mountain range, at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers! We have also spot the lighthouse where the camp site and a church are located.
We eat chili-con-carne soup and drink 2.25% beer in the house of the camping bosses. They only speak Icelandic. Every time I try to ask them about the weather in German or English, they think I am talking about ‘water’. On the camp site there is also this sulky German couple not saying anything back, as well as a Dutch middle-aged couple. After dinner we walk to the scenic Strandarkirkja. Our path is in the middle of a breeding area. Seagulls are flying everywhere, coaching their little kids on the ground. The gulls are hostile, and they become even more hostile when I throw a stone in the air. It reminds me of the Hitchcock movie The Birds. In the meantime beautiful clouds are developing in the nearly windless sky. The wind direction changes from north to south for the next few days. This process will recur from now on.
Day 3: Strandarkirkja > Ulfljótsvatn (65 km)
We ride on the , a long-stretched, straight and somewhat monotone road right through a lava field. This road surface is much better than yesterday’s, even as the cars that drive by fill the air with dust. When we pause to take pictures, we notice the soil is very dry. It has been extraordinary good weather in Iceland in the last few months.
After twenty kilometers gravel road we suddenly arrive at the paved . With the wind in the back we race to Hveragerdi. The landscape here is not impressive at all: just some hills at our left, and a big plain at our right. We are not able to see as far as yesterday. In the town we eat the best hamburger of our holiday. The Dutch couple that was present on the camp site this morning drops by as well. They share their plan to cycle to Landmannalaugar, from there via the [F208] to the coast and return via the . When I tell them that the [F208] means that this means up to twenty-five river crossings they at first do not believe me and then look betrayed. They have not brought with them wading shoes.
We buy some food in the petrol station and next follow the ring road , a busy and quite annoying road to Selfoss. On top of a hill next to the road we see many white crosses and one baby cross, but it is not a graveyard. Strange… We take a picture of the big region information board, which presents all shops and official camp sites, so we do not have to write this down. Just before we reach the uninterestingly situated Selfoss we turn left, take the  and subsequently the  in the direction of Þingvellir.
The camp site in Ulfljótsvatn near the southern shore of Lake Þingvallavatn is nice and spacious, and its showers (sulfur smell!) are excellent. When we throw the frisbee we are attacked by midges that do not bite but do itch. In the kitchen are English and Italian scouts who make a lot of noise, but we don’t care. We eat rice with tuna in tomato sauce and asparagus: a weird combination but it tastes great.
Rudi and I study the route that we want to follow in the next days. We find out that we have to buy food for perhaps twelve days in the village where we will arrive tomorrow. Combining beautiful interior routes and supermarket locations in Iceland is a challenge.
Day 4: Ulfljótsvatn > Laugarvatn (60 km)
Despite the cloudy air the trip around Lake Þingvallavatn is okay. The first part from Ulfljótsvatn on the  is unpaved but not too bad. We can see beautiful mountains contour lines on the opposite side of the lake. In the west, we also notice the steam coming from the heat power station near Nesbúd, which provides Reykjavík with hot water through big pipes. Just thereafter we have to ascent quite a bit. We pass bizarre, multi-colored rock formations: pink, purple, ochre and graphite black.
Road  along the west shore continuously goes up and down. There are a lot of summer chalets under construction; it is a lovely place. From the moment we arrive at the broader , cycling gets boring due to the long straight stretches. We find a place to eat our three days’ old bread. But I can’t find the Leatherman, and after I’ve eventually found the knife, I can’t squeeze the Fred & Ed chocolate spread out of the tube. Once found, Iceland appears too cold for chocolate spread to get liquid.
Next is Þingvellir, one of the country’s most touristic hot spots. In this six kilometers’ wide valley one can see clearly how the earth plates of Eurasia and America have been driven apart for the last millions of years. There is a gorge with walls that are rising up to some fifteen meters. Entire busloads of tourists are being dropped here. They all want to make the one famous picture of the gorge. I want to get out of here.
On a footpath we cycle to the . This road meanders through the valley. We see breaches in the earth everywhere, and also lots of green and a nice view of the lake. There are hardly any cars around here. Taking the  to Laugarvatn implies that we have to climb two hundred meters. The air becomes greyer, it feels like it will start raining any minute now. This area reminds me of the North Pennines in England. Having arrived on the highest point the road stays flat for some time, followed by a steep descent into a beautiful valley (Laugarvatnsvellir) with interesting mountains on our left side. On the dull campsite of Laugarvatn we eat spaghetti with salmon, soup vegetables and sauce. Delicious! Next we go shopping.
Day 5: Laugarvatn > Gulfoss (40 km)
This morning we crushed the contents of 22 noodle bags and put these in one large bag. This will be less voluminous. We also pack all the other food. Although the bikes are heavily loaded now there is still room in the bags. So we go to the shop for the second time. Since there is no fresh bread left by the time we arrive, we buy soggy donut rolls (without donut) that will keep well, whole-wheat biscuits and muesli. Last night’s and this morning’s groceries taken together we spend 150 euros in this shop. Prices in Laugarvatn are three times higher than in Reykjavík. But, since the food is planned for twelve days, it is still reasonable. The cash desk is occupied by a fat all-American Icelandic boy with fat hair and a bored look. He wears a black T-shirt with the print ‘If you fear death – You can’t enjoy living’. The next moment, when two police officers enter the shop and ask the dude questions, reminds me of the ambiance in the TV series Twin Peaks. Living in Laugarvatn is relaxed…
After we have managed to get the groceries in our bags we head for Geysir. The road ( and ) is easy with just a few minor climbs. We take photos of a “cloud machine”. What the machine is exactly doing we don’t know; probably something useful with hot ground water. Far away we can see snow-covered mountains. At Geysir we buy additional Mars, Snickers and crisps; this will be a calorie-rich holiday. As expected this place is a tourist circus. On the right side of the road there are a restaurant, a kiosk, a hotel and numerous parking places. On the left there is only this meadow with small pools and brooks, some with blue-silver colored water and bubbling sounds. Big old Geysir used to hurl boiling water up to seventy meters into the air, but has not been potent for many years now. His little brother Strokkur still is: he erupts every five minutes and blows up to thirty meters. Spectators are positioned strategically so no one gets wet. Rudi takes subsequent pictures so that one can see the eruption grow.
Next we continue cycling over the  to Gulfoss. We see the mighty icecap of Langjökull, kept in place by pyramid-shaped mountains. Near Gulfoss it starts raining. There is no camping here but we manage to find a good spot behind the lavatory. At night we go to the restaurant and buy a coke and a beer for 10 euros. Rudi reads a funny book by Herman Brusselmans (Belgian writer) about an alcoholic. Rudi personifies so much with the main character that he goes berserk if he doesn’t get his daily beer. We also order lamb soup (15 euros per person) served with a tiny bread roll. The bombastic background music is misplaced as we can see only mist outside. Before we leave the restaurant Rudi begs for old bread rolls, and is successful.
Day 6: Gulfoss > Hvítárvatn (47 km)
This morning we visit the Gulfoss waterfall. This is a very wide and quite high one. It is really impressive how wild a river can become! We see the cycling Japanese guy here as well (as was the case the second day and yesterday at Geysir). After the visit we are ready for the [F35], a.k.a. the Kjölur, which leads northwards north. It is fairly warm, 16 °C, and the side wind is mild. The tarmac road goes up and down. Just before reaching a high hill we have to go down to cross a river first. What a waste of energy. After some twelve kilometers the tarmac turns into gravel. The remaining part of today’s 35 kilometers’ long trip the road surface varies between moderate and very bad (washboard and large stones). For drivers it is fairly easy in their car, van or jeep, sometimes with trailer. We have to work our way through this hell.
From the river it is a climb of 350 meters to the pass height (610 m) which lies right between the Geldingafell and the massive Bláfell (1,204 m). We have the big Langjökull ice mass in sight the whole time. From the pass height we can also see lake Hvítárvatn in the distance. After having crossed river Hvítá we are so tired of the bumpy Kjölur road that we decide to take the jeep track to the camp site at the lake. This track appears to be even worse during the first four kilometers: loose sand, rocks and wholes due to ponies. From time to time we even have to walk. Rudi keeps on racing, and as a result loses a bolt of his carrier.
At last we have the camp site in sight. Well, it is not really what one would call a camping. Actually it is a very beautifully located little house around which tents can be pitched. There is a toilet hut with closet paper. And there is also a clean water source. There are two Swiss hikers and a very friendly French cyclist with a trailer. Later that evening more guests arrive who will stay in the house. The view is extraordinary: mountains, water, glaciers and meadows all around us. We have chili-con-carne with rice and salami for dinner. My #1 advice to cook the rice and sauce together (‘Why don’t you understand this is efficient, Rudi?’) turns out worthless. As a result we use more fuel, the food is burned, and the rice is not cooked-through at all.
Day 7: Hvítárvatn > Hveravellir (53 km)
During our vacation it often drizzles at night and stops raining around 7 am. Also today. We get up at 7.30 am. First we have to take care of our bicycle chains. These rust tremendously, especially my cheap one. We say goodbye to this nice camp spot and take the jeep track in the direction of the Kjölur route. We wade through our first river, the Svartá. The water stays below our knees, so we do not have to take the luggage off the bikes.
The 49 kilometers on the [F35] are very bumpy. On a “regular” gravel road one can always find a narrow track, but that is hardly possible on the Kjölur. After Rudi’s lost carrier bolt we cycle downhill far more carefully, resulting in a low average speed. Since we have to keep our eyes on the road surface all the time, we really have to halt to enjoy the landscape. And that view keeps getting better: in front of us we can see several icecaps and further away lie the Kerlingarfjöll “peaks”.
It is remarkable that Kerlingarfjöll is bathing in the sun (just like yesterday) while anywhere else it is cloudy. It’s like an oasis over there. The river at our right hand, the Jökulfall, meanders nicely through the vast area. On top of the hill, at the junction with the road to Kerlingarfjöll, we encounter two Spanish cyclists. According to them there were no less than ten cyclists in their plane from Barcelona to Iceland. Cycling in Iceland must be very popular among Catalonians. In the days before we met seven other Spanish cyclists, resulting in the following ranking: Spain: 9, Netherlands: 6 (including us), Germany: 2, France and Japan: 1. How interesting…
At the moment the Kjölur transforms from a very bad into a modestly bad road, we turn left to the camping. Here at Hveravellir are hot spots, i.e. holes in the ground with boiling water. Near one hot spot a 4 x 4 meter wide hot tub is constructed. The water inside must be very hot. We have spaghetti Bolognese with salami for dinner, which tastes extraordinary. Rudi goes to the little shop of the friendly camping boss, and gets us yoghurt, coke, crisps and beer.
Day 8: Hveravellir (day off)
The weather on Iceland has two alternating settings: one week northern wind and the other week wind from the south. As from today there is a quite strong northern wind. We wanted to look for minerals in this area, but it is so cloudy, misty and cold (6 °C) that we decide to take a rest here.
First we are going to take some pictures. We do not go far, just the part behind the hot tub, where all kinds of sources are bubbling. We can see fluorescent yellow and orange stripes on the white limestone. Very funny is a white layered mini-volcano, about one meter in height, which continuously blows air under high pressure. We also notice a 1.5 by 1.5 meter wide crater filled with bright blue water. A wooden pathway was constructed to protect the powder stone. But then suddenly a bus delivers a group of noisy Italian tourists who make this sightseeing tour as quickly as possible, not using the path, and move into the hut. I must admit: I am freezing as well and give up. So I’m off to the tent to read a book. Rudi stays another hour in the cold to take pictures.
In the afternoon we try the hot tub. On both sides of it there are pipes, one with ice cold water and a second one with very hot water, which can be positioned above or alongside the bath. Changing clothes is done outside. Rudi puts one foot in the water but that feels too hot! He slowly gets used to the temperature, and finally gets in, followed by me. We wade a little, and find out that we had entered the tub at its hottest spot. One in it’s really delightful: outside the tub the weather is harsh, but in the water it is excellent. Some older British enter the tub as well. Even an extremely beautiful Swedish lady arrives. This is going to be fun. Unfortunately after some time our bodies can’t get rid of its warmth, resulting in a headache. It’s time to get out.
We stay a while in the tent until we get almost frozen. Time to get to the heated hut to drink “unlimited” coffee. We chat with the German students Eva and Susanne, who have just arrived by bus. After a cup of coffee and three refills they invite us to come along to their room for some “kniffeln”. Excuse me? Oh well, why not, this is a great opportunity. To our surprise, “kniffeln” appears to be the German word for “Yahzee”. We play this game until the camping boss kicks us out. The ladies have to break up because a lot of Spanish tourists are about to arrive and he wants them to stay in this room. We join them to the other hut, which is far better. We help them prepare the meal and next finish the kniffeln game. Next we play a few games of “arschlochen” and then it is time to take a second bath.
Until 11.30 pm we and some fifteen other people stay in the hot tub. The only true Icelander around acts like he is in charge and wants to keep the hot water tube out of the bath. He also explains that it has been extraordinary warm and dry in Iceland this June and July. As many other of his fellow countrymen, he is member of a 4 x 4 jeep club and regularly drives to the icecaps. That way he is able to measure how fast the caps melt due to global warming: 500 meters in ten years, and 90 meters last year! If this is to continue for another hundred years, Iceland can choose a new name.
Day 9: Hveravellir > Kerlingarfjöll (42 km)
We have got used to waiting to get out of the tent until it has stopped raining. Rudi buys bread and Snickers. We have breakfast, pack the tent, check the bike and lube its chain. How has the bicycle chain become so rusty? Also other bicycle parts started rusting. Lazy as we are we do not leave before it is 11 am. On the [F35] we follow the “ideal” track of three Italians who left half an hour before us. In the distance we see rain showers approaching. This looks awesome! Half an hour later we are in the middle of them. The temperature drops to 6° C and it will stay this cold for the next few hours. I try to put on my water resistant gloves, but with my already wet hands this is difficult. Rudi just wears his bicycle gloves, brrr…
We can see the sun shining in the Kerlingarfjöll region. We are really fed up with the Kjölur, especially the last ten kilometers until the Kerlingarfjöll exit, a rocky and sometimes steep (13%) part. The [F347] leading to Kerlingarfjöll is not a real improvement. We bounce a lot with our heavily loaded bikes without suspension. We cross a small stream and pass an airstrip – no more than a simple hut with a few markers on the ground. The Gýgjarfoss waterfall flows continuous via wild rapids to a canyon. Fortunately at the upper part there is a fordable place. As we continue the road is sometimes very steep and becomes even worse; we have to push a lot. But then, at last, there is this magnificent panorama in front of us, with sharp light-dark contrasts. We cycle this last stretch, higher and higher, between the mighty icecap of Hofsjökull and the Kerlingarfjöll mountains.
The ford near the campsite has recently been bridged. Finally we can see the camping and its beautifully situated holiday homes. The price is accordingly; this is going to be the most expensive stay of the vacation. In the youth hostel there is no shop, and the menu of the “restaurant” is not inviting. So we decide to cook “Bever” nasi with additional brown rice. It takes a long time for the rice to be ready, and I understand why (and am amazed) when I read the instruction on the box: 45 minutes cooking time. That is ridiculous! Just after 8 pm we go to the bathhouse. When we go in the building, we find out that the water has been heated two hours ago; it is lukewarm now. But no worries: the showers are hot. Outside the air is clear and it gets cold: at 10 pm it is 2 °C and little warmer in the tent.
Day 10: Kerlingarfjöll (day off)
Today the weather is excellent! We decide to have a relaxed start of this hiking day, as we expect photo shooting conditions to improve during the afternoon. So the only activity this morning is to drink a lot of coffee in the restaurant and meanwhile watch previously taken pictures. According to the waitresses the current weather condition ‘cold and crispy air’ is actually quite rare during the summertime. Back at the tent the clothes we had washed two hours before have already dried.
We can choose from several hiking trails in this striking area. We pick trail no. 7 and start climbing the steep hill behind the camp site. The view of the great open Kjölur area is really impressive. After a few hours wandering around we suddenly see steam. This is when we enter this beautiful valley that includes a meandering stream, lava rocks, pieces of green, small snow fields, and several hot spots. On that very moment the sun breaks through the clouds for the remaining part of the day. We walk on the edge of a hill along two three meter wide craters. In the first one mud is boiling, and the second one is too deep to see what’s inside. The sulfur smell is intense. The trail is very panoramic: it goes over hills, through small valleys and along little streams. We can see these little craters and steam coming from the ground everywhere. And lots of colors as well: chalk-white, light yellow, light green, purple… Around 6 pm the light is perfect for taking pictures – and we take a lot of them.
It is 7 pm when we reach the jeep track high on the plateau. We follow this bumpy road for about seven kilometers, meanwhile enjoying the beautiful views to the north and the west. Near the camp site we walk next to a deep canyon – too bad it is too dark now to capture it. Back at the tent it is not as cold as yesterday thanks to the lack of wind. After a quick shower we eat pasta Bolognese. What a perfect day!
Day 11: Kerlingarfjöll > Fjórdungssandur (38 km)
Despite our initial intentions we depart not before 10.30 am. Today a three-day tour starts on a cyclable jeep track I learned from via a Dutchman’s website. When we start the wind from the north almost blows us off the bikes when we cycle along the hill in front of the camp site. Next we go down eastwards, to the delta area between Kerlingarfjöll and the Hofsjökull icecap. The first five kilometers are diverse and intense, with many short climbs and some (easy) river crossings. We have adapted a new concept for river crossings: one person pushes both bikes, so the other does not have to put the wading shoes on.
After some ten kilometers the landscape suddenly changes from delta (water, grass, wet) to stone-stone-stone. We will experience stones in all sorts and sizes: large, small, round, rugged, lava, glossy, mat, sharp, soft… The road quality varies between reasonable well and very bad, and is just bad most of the time. One major advantage of this low-traffic road is the absence of a washboard surface. Once and a while the track is not clear or do we see several tracks next to each other, but in the distance there is always a pole visible to guide us further.
The soil is much dryer than we had expected. Our map shows all kinds of streams in this area, and this was also mentioned in a travel report on the internet, but all we can see are dry beds. After exactly 25 kilometers we arrive at the cabin of the 4 x 4 club: they should have water here. The cabin is brand new, but unfortunately it’s locked. Hmmm… We have to go on. The landscape is beautiful. One can look so far in the distance: the Hofsjökull icecap to the north, the snow-covered Kerlingarfjöll mountains in the west, the dead volcano cones Nyrdri-Háganga (1,278 m) and Sydri-Háganga (1,284 m) far away behind the Sprengisandur in the east, and some sixty-five kilometers southwards yet clearly visible the Hekla (1,491 m). And in between tens of kilometers stone desert. We see many small groups of geese flying and notice numerous geese tracks next to the jeep track.
About ten kilometers after the cabin we see a small lake at last. For the first time since we’ve arrived in Iceland I can use the Ortlieb water bag. Now that we’ve finally have found water, we quickly forget the many times we had to push our bikes in the loose sand. But where can we pitch our tent? The sand is too lose, there are big rocks everywhere and there is a fierce wind coming from the north. Even snow pegs will not make the tent stay put. Fortunately after yet a few kilometers we see a second small lake where we can pitch the tent on the moss. A nice sunset is our reward for this special cycling day during which we haven’t encountered anyone at all!
Day 12: Fjórdungssandur > Gljúfurá (42 km)
The night has been chilly. The moss on which we slept did not isolate very well. So we had to wear thermo underwear and socks in our down sleeping bags. We could hear geese in the air all night. In the morning, we quickly warm up, pack the tent and continue our journey with the help of a strong backwind. The condition of the jeep track is horrible given all the loose sand. And then, suddenly, two Unimags enter the scene: a German “expedition force”. One of the Germans looks like Dr Jekyll – scary! After a friendly ‘Auf Wiederschauen’ to each other they carefully proceed northwards.
After yet another few kilometers the stone desert transforms into a more diverse and friendly landscape, with a few bits of green in the far distance. The first tangible green we encounter is near the Kisa river. Rudi puts on his wading shoes and I my Teva sandals. Crossing the river is a piece of cake. The road improves and becomes more diverse; we do not have to struggle our way through the loose sand anymore. After fifty-eight kilometers we pass a stream that is so easy we do not even have to change shoes. Just after that spot we can see several sources of small streams coming from the ground. When we follow these streams we bump into a beautiful part of the Miklilaekur river, in the middle of which a funny overhanging rock is situated. Although this Miklilaekur river is wider and deeper than what we’ve up till now, crossing it is not difficult.
With the cabin of the 4 x 4 club at our left we continue our trip and quickly reach the Dalsá river. This river is some 80 meters wide and turns out to be the only “serious” river of our Iceland vacation. We take off the long trousers and explore the river first. Poles that are pitched in a wide bow steer us in the most optimal direction. The nicely colored stones in the water – some blue and orange – are slippery. First we bring the front bags to the other side, and next we return for our bikes. This is a slow operation, but we don’t care, because the water temperature is not so low.
After the river crossing we follow a road that is in quite good condition for several kilometers, only occasionally interrupted by rocky parts. We cross the Geldingaá river in two stages. Here we notice bicycle traces for the first time in three days. After a few more kilometers of bad road we see a cabin to our left, near the Pjorsá canyon. The hut is not locked and no one is around. The cabin has stables inside and is owned by a horse club. We decide to pamper ourselves and stay the night here. We turn on one of the gas heaters and eat moose stuff and lots of mashed potatoes for dinner. For the first time in twelve days we sleep on comfortable mattresses.
Day 13: Gljúfurá > Hrauneyjafoss (47 km)
In the morning the weather is lovely and we decide to explore the area between the cabin and Þjórsá canyon. Several small waterfalls separate the little Gljúfurá stream from the big river. We can’t get close to the Þjórsá, and also the big waterfall to the north, the Gljúfurleitarfoss, is not within reach. The distances are too great to go down and return within the limited time we have. After all, we are here to cycle. So we head back to the cabin.
It is not before noon before we leave. On the unpaved part we don’t see anyone today. We cross a few small rivers. Only one river is so deep we have to use the wading shoes. The road is a lot worse than yesterday, with lots of loose stones and shards on the road. But our bad mood is tempered by the magnificent view of majestic Hekla.
At some point we arrive at a junction: one road bends to the left, one to the right. According to the map turning right is correct, but the left one looks more ridable. We decide to follow the map. Wrong decision! It will prove to be the worst road of the holiday. For many kilometers we bump off the hill. We are glad that our bicycles do not break, at first sight… After the lake a quite demanding climb follows, and next a similarly long descent to the hydro power buildings. This is the end of the jeep track.
Jeep track (km):
000 Ásgardsfjall (starting point, camp site)
010 End of delta, stone landscape begins
025 Setur, junction with road to 4 x 4 club cabin (left 2 km)
038 Our camping place at the lake (left 300 m)
043 Junction near Nordlingaalda hill
051 River Kisa
058 River Miklilaekur
060 4 x 4 club cabin
062 Rivier Dálsa
072 Geldingaá stream
080 Horse club cabin (left 650 m)
106 Sultartangastöd (finish)
Rudi is so relieved after the bad road that he kisses the tarmac. Unfortunately we still have to cycle some additional twenty kilometers on the  and the  to the north east with the wind blowing in our faces. We take turns of one kilometer each at the front. Our average speed on this part is a poor twelve kilometers an hour.
When we finally arrive in Hrauneyjafoss there is no camp site, contrary to what our map says. And we are not allowed to pitch our tent next to the youth hostel or the hotel. We order an enormous and expensive (1,450 Kroner) hamburger with fries, buy some bread, milk, crisps and chocolate, and shave ourselves. Two Swiss cyclists that we meet here recommend us not to take the bad [F208] to Landmannalaugar tomorrow, but instead follow the [F26] and [F225]. We also meet the German guy we saw previously in Hveravellir. He will follow the recommendation by the Swiss couple. We won’t, and continue our journey to the north east.
Since the wind is still blowing, we are looking for a nice and calm spot. But where? On our right we see a perfect meadow, but hell no, it is a river overflow area. After a few kilometers we almost pitch our tent behind an elevation until Rudi finds out that this plateau is actually a helicopter landing place. Not so perfect either. Finally, our third attempt at the other side of the road, where we can shelter behind some of the very rare Icelandic mini trees. A perfect spot for the tent. We have a splendid view of the sunset and the Hekla. It is 10 °C, much warmer than in Iceland’s interior highlands. Excellent.
Day 14: Hrauneyjafoss > Landmannalaugar (39 km)
We get up when the weather is fairly sunny. After breakfast we play frisbee to loosen our muscles, get our stuff, pack the tent and hit the road. We pass all kinds of installations on our way up the hill and arrive at the junction where we take the road to Landmannalaugar. The condition of the [F208] is generally bad: much washboard, loose gravel and stones. Passing jeeps cover us in dust. We are glad we don’t have to push the bikes very often. We cycle along water reservoirs and see the Hekla further away. After a strenuous climb on a rocky slope we eat some bread with tuna.
The view to the south is spectacular: Landmannalaugar’s hills are in the distance, and in order to get there we have to cross a wide plain covered with lava dirt. It reminds me of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings trilogy – the only thing missing is Mount Doom spitting lava and fire. This ‘sacred’ moment is harshly interrupted by an Icelander who parks his van a few meters behind us and unloads a bunch of tourists. During their the stinking diesel engine keeps running, which is a genuine Icelandic habit by the way. Anyway, I ask him what the purpose of this is, but he doesn’t give a damn. I am glad when he eventually leaves for Mordor.
So we travel this seven kilometers long stretch that meanders below the electricity masts. This road leads us to the other side of the lava field, to the frontier of the National Park where we eat some chocolate. Next follow many kilometers of loose sand, sand and more sand. At those parts of the road that are cyclable my speed is just a meager five kilometers an hour. And to make things worse, it starts raining. But the good news is that due to the rain the moss on the hills become clearly visible, contrasting nicely with the non-colored background.
Then, after the loose sand part, there’s suddenly a junction, with Landmannalaugar just a few kilometers ahead. First we ride along a lake and climb steeply to a beautiful hill, and next we can see… Shangri-La! A landscape right from a fairy tale in front of us. We continue through a valley-wide gravel bed until we can see today’s destination. The camp site is tremendously well situated. However, the facilities are poor and are certainly not in balance with the high rate. To give an example, the camping offers just three showers for numerous guests, showers for which you also have to pay a lot, and to make it worse, showers which are either ice cold or boiling. There are sinks for those who don’t want to queue for the showers, but to make the signs state that in the sinks only the washing of faces and hands and teeth brushing are allowed. Weird…
Rudi finds out that there is a bruise on his rear wheel rim, but it looks like it will be able to hold for the next days. Later that evening we see the German guy arrive, the one who followed the alternative and longer route from Hrauneyjafoss to Landmannalaugar. He is complaining: the road has been so demanding. Sure dude, wrong decision! It is drizzling all the time and it gets cold. This makes us hungry, and the spaghetti is very much welcomed. We also eat the raisins, drink beer and read books.
Day 15: Landmannalaugar (day off)
Today we will be hiking. We are very lucky: it is sunny and there is almost no wind. We enter the lava field right behind the camp site. This labyrinth is huge, perhaps one square kilometer wide. Rudi and I discuss what direction to take; finally we decide to take a narrow, unmarked trail right through the lava field. The lava shapes rise up to ten meters above us, but at some spots we have a better overview and find our way through, otherwise we would easily get lost.
At the other side of the lava field we reach a small yellow and green colored plateau where a lot of steam comes from the ground. Behind this plateau we walk up a hill that has these beautifully colored lanes, as if a rainbow is projected on it. At the left of us we see yet another bizarre lava mass, and right at the center of the hill there is a lava “chimney”. On the summit of this “rainbow hill” we enjoy a magnificent view of the surrounding landscape. I notice my Teva sandals offer sufficient grip when walking on the loose stones. Next we go down again, cross a gravel bed and a few narrow streams, and ascent again, this time to the summit of the most visited hill of Landmannalaugar.
This summit offers a spectacular 360° view of the hills in the entire area. Deep down it looks like the camp site is on the verge of being swallowed by the lava mass. Further away we can see a delta area. And very far away Kerlingarfjöll’s mountains are visible. The landscape is rich of colors: we see yellow, orange, pink, mint green, dark grey, and brown. During the photo session the German students Eva and Susanne bump into us again. Toll! They took a day off at their vacation job and went to Landmannalaugar. We descent together, and buy some food in the little shop that is located in the old bus.
After a copious Bever meal, i.e. meatloaf with extra mashed potatoes, we shave ourselves. We are now ready for another four days of unpaved cycling. We have a very interesting route in mind, going to the south east on the [F208] and via the [F233] and [F210] back to the west. The fact that we have not found any reports by cyclists who did this before is an exciting thought.
Day 16: Landmannalaugar > Selfoss (132 km)
When we leave at 10 am we are very excited. The [F208] is excellent during the first few kilometers, but we have heard that this will change and up to 25 river crossings are ahead of us. After 4.4 km I stop to celebrate that we have managed to cycle 10% of today’s planned distance. But then… where is Rudi? We had an agreement: stay together or at least in sight, and wave if something is wrong. So when I look over my shoulder I see Rudi standing still far away. Is he taking pictures (as usual), or has something happened? I decide to go back. What seems to be the problem? Rudi’s butted rear wheel rim is completely broken. It is not possible to proceed, and our dream tour has to be called off. Damn! We decide that Rudi takes a bus from Landmannalaugar to the only bicycle (repair) shop of southern Iceland, in Selfoss. I will cycle to Selfoss by myself, which will probably take two days.
Rudi walks back to the camp site. There he will bump into Eva and Susanne again, hike a little bit, and take the 2.30 pm bus, for which he has to pay 3,700 kroner (bicycle for free). After arriving at Selfoss’ camp site at 5.30 pm he has dinner with two other German ladies.
I start right cycling the [F225], which brings me from Landmannalaugar to the [F26]. Except for a few bits of washboard and stones this gravel road is quite cyclable. In fact, I go like a comet. My average speed is much higher than in the previous days; this road is for pussies. On the dark hills the moss patterns are clearly visible. I cross a handful of streams, which are so shallow that I can keep on the Teva sandals and waterproof Sealskin socks, and some I can even cross without dismounting at all. During the next part the landscape becomes rougher, with volcano stones and large rocks. At exactly 37.5 kilometers I eat six slices of bread with sardines in tomato sauce. This is pure luxury after seven days of four slices per person a day. And it definitely provides energy to cycle faster!
During the last thirteen kilometers the [F225] deteriorates somewhat. Once on the [F26] the quality of the road surface is significantly better than what we experienced on the Kjölur, especially when after twelve kilometers the tarmac starts. I don’t notice Rudi in the coach passing by. At this moment only a few kilometers separate me from the envisaged camping. But it is far too early to stop, and it is just another 65 kilometers to Selfoss, i.e. three hours’ cycling. So okay, I carry on. Between 75 and 96 kilometers cycling becomes a bit more demanding due to the sidewind. What follows is the ring road . Behind me is the rain area, and in front of me I can see clouds and further away a blue hole in the sky: there must be Selfoss! What remains is a dull road that is of good quality. I see like a hundred jeeps and pick-up trucks with gigantic horse trailers passing by. Somehow I must have missed the news of the celebration of Iceland’s National Horse Day…
After 7.5 hours and 130 kilometers of cycling I arrive at the Selfoss camp site, where I see Rudi chatting with his German ladies. I order an instant spaghetti and join the conversation. Their cycling holiday is about to end. Although they have full-suspension bicycles they have ridden on tarmac only and skipped the unpaved parts by taking the bus. Furthermore in the two days available they will not cycle the last part from Selfoss to the airport. I do not understand why they’ve brought their cycles with them. Anyway, the shower is good and for free, and afterwards we drink tea in the canteen.
Day 17: Selfoss (day off)
This morning Rudi goes to the bicycle shop in Selfoss. But what a disappointment: he has no 28 inch wheels in stock. So Rudi calls a bicycle repair shop in Reykjavík (60 kilometers away). This shop sells 28 inch wheels designed for 8 speed gears, but Rudi has a ten year old STX 7 speed gear system. So this does not fit, unless all gear parts are replaced and that is expensive. But then, suddenly, Rudi has this brain wave: why not just replace the rim and re-spoke the wheel. Rudi calls another shop in Reykjavík and they can help him out with this solution. Rudi arranges a lift to Reykjavík with the camping owner, buys a new double-butted rim, has his wheel spoked, gets a lift back, and arrives at the camping halfway the afternoon.
I am just being lazy: read a book, wash clothes, drink tea, and play frisbee and chat with a Canadian couple. Their two-month tour around Island is almost complete. They spent $400 on two mountain bikes in Canada, totally “consumed” these and sold them at a good price. Their bikes and other equipment were very modest. They got wet once and a while, but they just didn’t care. I don’t dare to tell how expensive my gear is… The couple also recount their first day in Iceland. When cycling the main road from the airport to Reykjavík they got scared of the locals’ driving behavior. It was Saturday night, and apparently here it is cool to get drunk and drive. Cars were driving crisscross, and one driver even threw a bottle to the head of the Canadian lady. Welcome in Iceland! A few days later they were hit by a jeep on the road to Þingvellir, after which the chauffeur drove on as if nothing had happened. To Icelanders cyclists are worth less than sheep.
Rudi and I buy some groceries and a hamburger at the KFC. In the absence of a bar – the only bar in Selfoss and even the whole of southern Iceland was not viable and is closed now – we hang around in the camping’s canteen. We are not alone – also Germans and French, and a very noisy Spanish family are joining us. Oh my god, this Spanish woman is tittle-tattling all the time so loudly, and her smoky laugh is pretty annoying. She is a living example of the fact that Spanish women wear the trousers in the family, and for their pussy-husbands’, in order to compensate for their loss all that remains is driving in over-the-top jeeps with exhaust pipes on the front hoods through Iceland. Rudi and I escape to the tent and get some sleep. It starts raining.
Day 18: Selfoss > Tröllfossar (110 km)
We leave the camping and head for Þingvellir. Part of today’s route follows the same route as two weeks ago. But this time we take the  at the eastern shore of the lake. Just like most other days we have backwind; we cycle 47 kilometers of hilly road in just two hours’ time. The last fifteen minutes to the bar at the north side of Þingvellir the rain is really pouring down on us and we get quite soaked. In the bar we eat a little and put the wet trousers under a dryer. The weather deteriorates even more. Outside we are eating some more slices of bread with jam and Camembert while shivering.
We continue our trip and take the  northwards. After seven kilometers the tarmac ends. The road ahead is of reasonable quality, although the climbs are sometimes tough. We have to watch out for overtaking jeeps causing huge water splashes. We can hardly see any of the landscape. We encounter two cycling Swiss, who are even worse off, since they not only have to fight the rain but also the fierce wind. Near Biskupsbrekka we take the  to the west. We had planned to camp near Lake Uxavatn but the weather is just terrible. We really want to leave the hills that are covered in thick clouds. So we decide to continue and follow the road to the Reykjadalur valley. And yes, there the sky becomes a little bit clearer.
At Brautartunga we turn right and take the good gravel road  at the right side of the valley. We are lucky, as where at the other side of the valley it keeps raining we stay dry from now on. After some easy climbs, and passing cows and horses, we reach the tarmac road at Tröllfossar and see the camp site in front of us. The rain has not prevented us from cycling 110 kilometers today. The almost empty camping belongs to the “golden water tap” category: heating on everywhere in the toilet block, thermostatic showers, washing machine and dryer. We let our clothes dry, take a shower and have an enormous Bever pasta with walnuts, soup vegetables, salami and some more pasta. And apricots for desert.
Day 19: Tröllfossar > Medalfellsvatn (78 km)
Yesterday we read the weather forecast for today: ‘Strong wind and rain showers in the western part of Iceland’. Well, if the locals here say ‘strong wind’ then it must be serious. But it is not as bad as forecasted. And after a rainy morning the sun breaks through. So we start cycling. After following the  for some ten kilometers we take the  left and see many enthusiastic horses.
Next we take the  to the right, a road that squeezes itself along a waterfall. Just after the sun started shining again it starts raining… So we continue with the rain trousers on along the left bank of a lake and take a difficult climb over the hill. Up there we enjoy a magnificent view of Hvalfjördur fjord (=Icelandic for Whale fjord). In the distance, nearby the Grundartangi industrial port the sea glistens against dark clouds. We leave the , turn left to the , and drink coffee in Ferstikla’s gas station.
We follow the road eastwards along the fjord. It is actually quite nice here. We round the fjord and take the south shore to the west. We can see the location infamous for whale hunting (here they hoist the whales on shore), but right now there is no activity. Next we arrive at Hvammsvík’s camping… at least that is what we expect. But the map is not right: there is no camping. It starts raining. Hurray. So we continue our journey in search for a place to stay. After yet another few kilometers we read a sign saying that there is a supermarket nearby next to the . When we get there the owner appears to run a camping in the village at Lake Medalfellsvatn. This camping is new and not yet included on the road map. Ten more minutes and we arrive at his farm camping with a very luxury bathroom and a large barn where we can cook, and it is all ours!
Day 20: Medalfellsvatn > Reykjavík (51 km)
The  and next the  lead us through a lovely valley. That is, if the sun shines. The higher we climb, the more it rains, and the less we can enjoy the scenery. We are stalked by a low-hanging rainbow for a while. Rain clothes on-off, on-off; this weather makes us crazy. At a certain point we take the main road  that leads from Þingvellir toReykjavík. We have some serious head wind during the seventeen kilometers to ring road . Rudi wants us to take turns, but I rather cycle at a slow pace, alone.
Although it is allowed to cycle on the  we have to be cautious. Where do all these cars come from? Doh, Reykjavík is the only big town in Iceland: in the agglomeration live about 170,000 people. After twelve kilometers shoulder riding a cycling path starts. Once arrived in the capital we see this information board which shows the location of the camp site: just nearby, at the border of a park, next to the stadium and swimming pool (thirteen pools!). The camping is large, and most guests stay just for one or a few days. Many South-Europeans have a good time in the cooking area.
Day 21: Reykjavík (day off)
Reykjavík is on our program today. Obviously we are not particularly interested in this city, but we are here as we had planned a spare day at the end of the vacation. The “highlights”: the wooden villa in which Reagan and Gorbatsjov met in 1986; two car-friendly shopping streets; a concrete square on which several adolescents skate to kill time; Alpinggishúsid, a spacious house also known as Iceland’s parliament; Rádhus Reykjavíkur: the town hall with a relief map of Iceland; Hallgrímskirkja: a modern-Gothic church of monstrous proportions, built from high-uprising basalt blocks; in front of the church a statue of Leif Eriksson, who is said to have discovered America in the year 1000; a shabby quay where those ships that have not rusted away are used for whale hunting. We wander around, drink expensive coffee and visit the National Museum of Photography. The Automatos exposition shows only twenty pictures, some of which are definitely remarkable. We have dinner in the Chinese restaurant: we consume the entire meal within twenty minutes. Time to go back to the camping. All in all, Reykjavík has been a waste of time: an uninteresting and somewhat messy city in a prosperous country, at the time…
Day 22: Reykjavík > Kevlavík (59 km)
It is time for our final day of the vacation. During the first kilometers in Reykjavík we have some trouble finding the direction to the . When we finally get there the road appears to be very busy, and lacks a shoulder. So we take an alternative route south to Hafnarfjördur, by following all kinds of parallel roads, footpaths and cycling lines. Next we take a paved parallel road along the Alcan Iceland aluminum plant, a large industrial complex with three long production lines. The  to Kevlavík is not quite nice and full of busy traffic, but the shoulder is broad and doable. We hardly notice any glass on the road, contrary to what the Canadians in Selfoss told us.
After a while we take an alternative route, the  to Vogar. This small road follows the coast line and we face considerable headwind. We pass “abandoned farms”. Most farms in Iceland have a name and these appear on geographical maps, also the abandoned ones. We also pass a church, which looks like it was built from Lego blocks, as well as a yellow lighthouse and boring Vogar. After another ten kilometers, in Njardvík, we see a nice replica of a Viking ship: a quite long and relatively wide boat. The ship is located next to two typically Icelandic houses, dated 1855. People who used to live in such small houses were not allowed by the government to have pets nor cattle. It was not before 1930 that inhabitants got the right to keep a few sheep.
It takes a while before we find the camping in Kevlavík, but eventually, after 59 kilometers of headwind and a temperature of 9 °C, we have finally arrived. We pitch the tent in no time and prepare dinner in just a few minutes. Our last Bever meal, with left over Uncle Ben’s rice, is consumed at tremendously high speed, which horrifies a couple of neat Aussies sitting next to us. This couple makes a four week tour car through Scandinavia with a rental car, and has just completed their week in Iceland. They claim that Australia offers all what’s in Iceland. Sure… We notice that these Aussies are not quite experienced in camping. They cook in an enormous pan heated by a little petroleum stove: a very slow process. During the time we cook, have our meal and desert, and afterwards prepare and drink our tea, they still have not started eating.
Day 23: Travel home
We get up at 5 am, and after only forty minutes we are at the airport. The support personnel do not allow us to enter the building with our bicycles and gear. We sigh and neglect them. Inside the building we prepare the bicycles for the flight. We arrive in a very long queue meandering through the entire building. The German alpha male behind us behaves like the driver of a fat Audi on the Autobahn: evidently he is very annoyed with cyclists and probably with all people positioned better in the queue (and perhaps with all other people on this planet). He is tail-gating all the time. I feel sorry for his wife who is standing next to him. Just like the outward flight we are the last persons to enter the plane.
At Schiphol airport Marieke and the kids are waiting for us. Sara and Loes are completely ecstatic. Rudi and I drink a beer and say goodbye.
We have used information available on the website of Michiel Erens and the book Island per Rad by Ulf Hoffman. The map we used was the Landmaelingar Íslands – Ferdakort 2, scale 1:250.000, edition 2005/2006.