iceland: round i

I’m calling it a round because it was a battle.

I lingered long enough in Reykjavík to eat half my weight in world-famous hot dogs, which took about two days and two hot dogs. I then set out southeast, had a grand old time on a freeway trying to get to Route 1.

By the time I got to Hveragerði, about 50 km away, I was cold (I understand I will probably be a popsicle by June) and spent an hour pushing my bike around on dirt roads, trying to find a spot to camp. This is what I came up with:

I washed my hair in a little stream next door (COLD). The next day I was at Bonus (cheapo grocery store) and pulled up to lock my bike up outside… only to see a second touring bike there. I spent 2 minutes examining it, trying to figure out what this person must be like: frame much bigger than mine (must be a guy), Ortlieb panniers (pricey and supposedly pretty good) and 30 gears (well done). Meet Daniel from Tasmania, Australia who’s currently doing a Ph.D in astrophysics in Nice, France while living on a boat.

We biked together to Urridafoss and had lunch, thanks for the pasta! Then we biked to Hella (mostly I just hid in his windshadow), where I stopped and he continued onwards. Iceland has tons of waterfalls, and one by one I passed Seljalandsfoss, Gljúfrabúi and Skogafoss.

I arrived in Vík and found a little spot, hidden in black sand dunes to set my tent up in, right next to the beach. I pushed my bike about 500m in fine sand to get there, with no regard as to what it might do to my cassette; I covered it in a rain cover once I set up to protect it.

Then Iceland unveiled its baby teeth. As I cycled out of Vík, it started hailing on me, the size of peppercorns, coming down thick and fast. Then it changed to thick fat snowflakes. Out came “emergency poncho number 1” (last minute purchase). I realized, once I put this yellow bag over my head, that it was massive. So, innovative as I am, I took one of my bungee cords and used it as a belt. Yeah, attractive. I felt like a homeless person. I swung one leg over my bike to get going again, snow coming down hard and then (I am not making this part up), “Let it Go” from Disney’s “Frozen” started playing on my iPod, which seemed like a final, undeserved insult. The cold never bothered me anyway… YES IT DOES, ELSA.

Onwards I went, with my yellow poncho flapping in the wind behind me like a failed superhero. I woke up at 4:00 am and punched two inches of snow off my tent from the insideseething that it was snowing on me in southern Iceland. But still, I kept going forward. Across a dusty bowl of volcanic ash, 70 km to Skaftafell, where I did a tiny hike (urgh) to see Svartifoss.

And then, the day that broke me. It was a terrible cross headwind, one that the people in cars were whining about when I finally made it to the glacier lagoon. It whistled in my helmet (that alone drove me insane) and gusted so sudden and strongly that at one point it blew me right off the road. I was biking hard just to maintain 8 kph, all the while doing the math in my head, staring at my bike computer: 48 km to go… 6 hours left. There was nowhere to hide out. No gas stations, no farms, nothing. Just a straight road skirting an ice cap.

I’ve woken up to ice: my water bottles have gone solid, my knockoff-Nutella unspreadable. I’ve pitched my tent in sand, moss, beside hotels (I hid in bushes), at the snouts of glaciers and alongside rivers. I stay warm in my downy yellow cocoon of a sleeping bag, with a balaclava, a neck warmer, two thermal layers, wool socks, a sweater and a down vest. To say that every moment is sunshine and rainbows (although I’ve seen both here) would be a blatant lie. The majority of my time is spent quite alone, pedalling through cold wind with my teeth gritted, my nose freezing and my jaw clenched.

I reached Höfn, with over 500 km down, on schedule for my original “circumnavigate Iceland” pace. I hadn’t seen a single other person on a bike for 450 km. Everyone in cars road tripping around coming from the north told me: “Snow. Lots of snow. Really windy”. The webcams confirmed about 2 ft, but for the most part, I could see the road… ish. The camp manager in Höfn was very excited about the first person camping “in a tent” at his campsite and was very encouraging, pulling up the Iceland road webcam site (my Bible, basically), exclaiming, “Look, it’s thawed a bit! You might be able to bike past the bus gap and then bus to Akureyri!”. I went to my tent, contemplating options. And then, tch tch tch tchtchtch. I didn’t need to open my eyes, I knew what snow falling on my tent sounded like.

So, with an air of utter defeat, I hefted my bike onto a bus (they only go south from Höfn) and watched all my hard work fly by me backwards in 7 brief hours, the flags all stiff straight with wind, pointing toward Reykjavík. It was then that I realized where the other bike tourists were: on the bus with me.

The tentative new plan is to head north to The Snæfellsnes peninsula. Improv mode.

Written on the bus in Höfn, Iceland.

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