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    Books Iceland  
 
Modified: 05.11.2003

Olaf & Silke travelling from 30.07.1998 until 31.08.1998.

In August of 1998 we travelled to Iceland. Members of our group were Silke and me, two selected bikes, a tent and a lot of thirst for adventure. The way to Iceland was more or less easy if one neglects the trip to Düsseldorf airport by train. Shortly before midnight one arrives in Kevlavik (the only international airport of Iceland). The late time is no problem at all because a bus from the local campsite is usually waiting for new backpackers to bring the crazy tentpeople to their place. A first small difficulty of the trip is to put up the tent in the dark night. The campsite of Kevlavik is very much recommended, the bikes can be reassembled there and it is possible to leave some things there for the duration of the whole trip (for example the boxes in which the bikes were taken into the planes).

Our route went along the southern coast of the peninsula to the east. On the first day we already had to notice what an exhausting trip this will be. The end of the stage was a gravel road, potholes and steep ascents everywhere, a flat tire, and on sunset it suddenly got very cold. In short words: We did not reach the goal of this day and therefore had to put up our tent in the mid of the nature reserve, which is not allowed. Accidently there was a campsite that was obviously not being used this year (except for us this night).

The weather in Iceland is the real challenge of a trip to Iceland as we had to notice during the following weeks. Visiting the interior of the island, the highlands, is only possible in Juli or August. Some passes are not opened until begin of July, before that time they are not passable because of the rain and thaw. There was rain on one third of our days in Iceland, drying of clothes tends to be a problem, especially when you are staying in the wild or on small campsites without spin-drier or even dry rooms. But whoever can live with that and does not despair at Beaufort 8 (depending on where you are in a stormy rain in the south or in a sand storm in the desert), he found THE one and only country.

Our journey went on in eastern direction, first to Þorlákshöfn. This is not the most beautiful town in Iceland, but there is a small campsite at the swimming pool, on which the wind blows directly from the nearby ocean. If you trust your tent then this is a very cosy place. We went on to Selfoss, Hella and Laugaland to the campsite of Galtalækjarskógur. If it's not the time of the gigantic rock concert on the first weekend of August then it's the right place to put up your tent in direct view of the Hekla, a very impressive vulcano. If you follow the shores of the river at the rim of the campsite you get to a place where some sedimentary rocks of interesting forms were formed by the wind and the weather.

From now on the road leads into Icelands highlands. That means untouched nature wherever you look: Only bad gravel roads, no bridges over the rivers, deserts and the lonely road. Not easy to do this by car (and especially not to be done with a normal car) and unbelievably exhausting and wondeful by bike. The landscape is getting more and more beautiful and after real hard work we reached  Landmannalaugar, a fairytale place on earth. Landmannalaugar means "the warm springs of the country men", here is a pool in wich a cold and a warm river unite. You can choose your bath temperature by the distance to the mouth of the warm or the cold river. The surroundings are colorful mountains of Ryolith stone, it's a fantastic landscape. If you are there you have to follow the old stream of the lava, a hard trail up to the hill where you can see the wet and warm sulfurous steam that comes out of the earth. The rocks are completely yellow and wear millions of small sulfur crystals on their surface. In your hair the water the water from the air condenses so you have thousands of very little drops on your head. From this place you have an overwhelming look and you can see the way of the lava stream that ran down the hill into the valley.

Leaving Landmannalaugar we went eastwards on the F22, a road that changes direction to the south after some kilometres. On this part of the road you have to cross some rivers (each time you feet are really dry again there is the next river) and to climb some steep ascents. But your work is paid by the spectacular views from the peaks. I guess you will miss something if you are just going by car. At the end of the day we reached the Eldgjá, the longest volcanic fissure on earth (40 kilometres in length). The fissure opened in the 18th century and still gives an impression of the mighty forces that build our earth. The most impressive view is from inside the fissure so that you can look along the huge crack in the earth that is extending endlessly to both sides. Well known is the Ófærufoss, a small waterfall that pours into the fissure. A few years ago there was a natural bridge over the fall that you will see on many photos but nowadays it vanished.

The farm Búland provides the only possibility to put up a tent because the area is part of a nature reservate. So camping here is very expensive (and having a shower is unbelievably expensive!). From here we started our most exhausting day (though we did not know in the morning). While camping in the valley we already were prepared to cycle through a nasty drizzling rain but when we left the valley a heavy wind got hold on us. It was very difficult to control the bikes (especially with all the luggage), the wind got hold on the bike panniers and pushed the rain hard in our faces. What we were told some days later a wind of 8 Beaufort made our live very hard. We did not want to go back to the farm so we fought the fight of our live. After 8 hours we were fully exhausted and we had only made 30 kilometres. We had to put up our tent at the roadside ditch and fall asleep immediately. On this day the rear carrier of my bike broke (because the bike fell down at a sudden blow of the wind) and we had to fix it with some clamps that we had taken with us following the advice of our bycling guide. Other fellows were not very lucky on this day either. A couple that we had met before was trying to cross the Sprengisandur, the desert of the higland this day. They had to turn back to Landmannalaugar and took the bus for some days...

The days ahead were much more friendly. Heading east along the south coast of Iceland we had to pass the Skeiðarásandur, a desert of black sand that the glacier deposited here. In the summer there can be dangerous sandstorms, off the road there are quicksands. So you have to observe the weather because in the sand it is nearly impossible to put up a tent. On this dry and sometimes even sunny day we crossed the desert in a single rush and arrived at another highlight of our journey: the Skaftafell national park. Here in the wind shadow of the gigantic glacier plateau of Vatnajökull is the paradise of the whole island: Here you can even see trees which are rare in the rest of Iceland). We went on a very nice hike to the lagoon of the western glacier in the park. On this trail there were only a few tourists (at least at this days, maybe because of the bad weather) and we could enjoy the lonely lagoon.

Another highlight of our journey followed on the next day: the glacier lagoon Jökulsárlón. On the way there you first come across another lagoon (Breiðárlón), wich is not as fantastic as Jökulsárlón but wich also is not as crowded. Many icebergs that broke of from the glacier rim are swimming on the lagoon Jökulsárlón until they melt and are washed into the ocean. Unfortunately every few minutes there are boats loaded with tourists on the lagoon so the still water of the lagoon is disturbed. The boat trips are very expensive, very short and does not bring you much closer to the icebergs than a walk along the lagoon. But it is getting wonderful at the lagoon around 17 o'clock when the last busses of tourists departed. Now the few individual travellers that put up their tents on the small grass area at the souvenir shop can enjoy the sunset on the lagoon. The icebergs reflect the colour of the sky wich turns into a firework of yellow, orange and red.

The next day we followed the south coast along the Vatnajökull to Höfn, a small town in the southeast of Iceland. On a sunny day we passed many of the tongues of the glaciers from wich always came a very cold wind. So each time we reached a glacier we had to wear our wind breakers, when we passed the glacier, it was immediately warm again, so we had to take them of. This day we had to cycle more than hundred kilometres but because of the flat country here and the wonderful weather it was easy. In Höfn we took the bus because we wanted to see as much as possible on this one-month-trip.

The bus took us to the lake Mývatn, wich means midget lake. The lake is famous for its many birds that stay here for the summer. And the reason for the birds to come and stay is the huge amount of insects buzzing thorugh the air. They are a real plague, even if they obviously do not have a sting. Keep you mouth shut if you are riding your bike... Near the lake there is a very active volcanic area. Here you can see fissures, craters, boiling pots and solfatares (sulfur springs). We celebrated Silkes 30th birthday on the rim of the Krafla. There she had to clean two doorhandles (an old German tradition for women that are not already married on their 30th birthday) that I took with me all the journey. Next to the Krafla there is a quite new field of lava dating from 1984. The lava here is still completely black, even mosses or litchens are missing here, hot steam rises into the air. The warmth of the lava fields here is one of the energie sources of Iceland, sometimes there are guided tours through the power station here. After a few trips hiking and cycling thorugh this unreal region we took the bus to Akureyri, the capital of the north of Iceland. Here we stayed once in a hotel (I could not take the camping any longer) and visited the botanical garden (!!!) before our journey proceeded. Again we took the bus, this time it should bring us to the western coast of Iceland.

We left the bus at Dalsmynni where the road to the Snæfellsnes peninsula leave the ring road. Snæfellsnes is often said to be "Iceland in a nutshell" because many of the typical Icelandic sights (as lava fields, glaciers, fjords and craters) can be found here in such a small area. Near the western end of the peninsula is the glacier Snæfellsjökull, a relatively small glacier on top of a vulcano. Jules Verne chose this vulcano as the entrance to his Journey to the center of the earth from wich his heroes go straight down into the earth. There is nothing mystical about Snæfellsnes, but it is a beautiful landscape. On our way along the northern shore to Stykkishólmur we found some blueberries (very large ones from wich we tasted until we were filled up) and in the town we could watch a wonderful sunset. At the branch of the road that leads to Stykkishólmur we collected some very nice shells but we did not solve the mystery how they got there kilometres away from the shore).

Stykkishólmur is a nice town with a picturesque harbour, a beautiful view on the many islands in the surrounding fjord Breiðafjörður and a very strange modern church. It has a good campsite and a hostel wich provides a note board full of tips for outdoor activities. We booked a trip through the fjord with one of the inhabitants on which we took the opportunity to explore one of the islands and had a closer look on the birdlife of the sea. It was end of August so we could see only a few puffins. Most of them were already on their way back to the south. But there were many cormorants and even some seals were posing for our photos. And the landscape of these hundreds of islands is really scenic. The islands are made of basalt that oftenly takes the form of sexangular pillars. These columns can best be seen on the shore of the islands. They can be seen in some places on Iceland, in Ireland they form the Giant's Causeway at the northern coast, even on Hawaii you can find some basal sexangles. Our guide showed us how to take advantage of the many fish in the fjord: He just put a raw fish hook into the water and catched a fish after just one minute.

From Stykkishólmur we went on a day trip across the fjord. The ferry stops at the island Flatey and proceeds to the northern shore to Brjánslækur. This town is good starting point to explore the western fjords of Iceland (the most remote area of the island). But we were heading for another target: Suturbrandsgil. This is the name of a small canyon that is special in one regard: It is one of the few places where there is sedimentary rock and it is the only place where petrified plants were found. The findings of Suturbrandsgil enabled scientists to get a picture of the flora of the past millions years. This place is a nature conservation area and taking away of fossiles is strictly forbidden. We searched for some pieces of petrified leaves and followed the good example of previous visitors: We placed the stones visible on some rocks, took some pictures of them and left them there for future visitors.

Suturbrandsgil lies on private ground so that you have to ask the owner of the farm that it belongs to for a permission. We went to the farm and managed to find the grandpa of the family who did not speak any english word. After we showed him the name "Suturbrandsgil" in our travel guide he answered with a very deep, comfortable voice "Uppa" (what obviously means "up there") while he pointed into the direction of the canyon. We interpreted this friendly gesture as permission to go there and started our hike. The trail leads along a small creek thorugh rocky meadows, always climbing upwards. On our way we found some remarkably beautiful, large litchens that amazed me (Silke having a masters degree in microbiology knew these already from some expeditions to Siberia and could asnwer all my questions for hours).

Atfer little more than half an hour we reached the canyon which is very beautiful and quite lonesome (we were alone there the whole day) and it was one of the few sunny days of our trip. After some first explorations Silke obviously enjoyed the silence of this place (see photo). Meanwhile I took some more photos of this place. What a wonderful place, what a wonderful day. The pictures tell a story about that. On the same day we took the ferry back to Stykkishólmur were we could watch another gorgeous sunset. This day alone was worth the whole trip to Iceland.

The next day we cycled on, surrounding the western point of the peninsula. The road circles around Snæfellsjökull with its icy peak. On this part of the way one finds many small vulcanoes (in the form of cones) and some very strange shaped mountains. One of these is the Kirkjufell (church rock), which really give the impression of a tall gothic cathedral with its buttresses. At the westernmost point direclty next to the lighthouse there are some more strange rocks called Lóndrangar, two needles at the coast. Heavy rain accompanied us now so we left out some roads leading to beautiful bays. The strong wind got even stronger, my speedometer had some dropout because of the rain (and showed at some moment a speed of 247km per hour) and hour mood went dull. Exhausted we arrived in Buðir, a very elegant hotel with a tiny campsite where we put up our tent with highspeed and felt asleep even faster. The next day compensated for the bad weather wehad before and the street changed soon from a bad track to a smooth road. After the first 50km Silke had some trouble with her wrists so we exchanged bikes. On the handle bar of my racing bike she could try some other positions to relieve her wrists. That worked really good and it was some serious work for me to keep up with her speed. After more than hundred kilometres we stopped at Borganes.

Borganes is a picturesque city at a fjord but the weather was bad so we left early at the next day. We had to take the bus because the tunnel under the fjord is closed for cyclists and we did not want to surround the fjord (at least 100 kilometres) in the rain. So we went directly to Reykjavík though the weather was not any better here. In the Reykjavík area live about two thirds of the inhabitants of Iceland, so it's about 200.000 people and a little bit crowded. Because no at least half-way prudential Icelander would even think of going somewhere by bike, it seems unusual for them to show respect for cyclists in the traffic. We were drowned more than once by some motorists that drove through large puddles with unrelieved speed. After only one day we were fed up with this (though Reykjavík is a nice town for shopping) and visited the geysires and the waterfall Gulfoss. This time we took the public bus. Gulfoss is huge, it falls over two steeps in a 70 meter deep canyon and wherever you look you see white steam of whater. The canyon was cutted by the Gulfoss itself into the basal rock over thousands of years. On the edge of the canyon one can see the typical sixangular basal pillars again. A kind of natural terrace is the place to watch this spectacle standing on the heigth level of the water and see the water falling into the depth.

Only a short bustrip away is the most famous sight of Iceland: the Geysir from wich all the other geysers have their name. The Geysir itself is not too spectacular any more but some meters aside there is another one, the Strokkur (wich translates to butter barrel), that squirts its fountain every 10 minutes up to 25m into the air. It is very interesting to have a close look at this eruption. First a large deep blue bulb of water rises from the little puddle of the Strokkur. Then in the middle of the bulb the fountain of the geyser breaks through. The bulb of water is much more bizar and spectacular than the well-known white fountain of the geysers as you might imagine looking at the pictures. Some pools with hot boiling water invite you to a further exploration of this area so that you can avoid the crowd of tourists.

After another rainy day in Reykjavík we started to our last destination, the airport. An easy stage lead us a last time through the lava fields of Iceland, but this time along a busy road. At our arrival at Keflavík airport we had to prepare our bikes for the transport. This time we even had to wrap our bikes in a large plastic sac and had some trouble with the check-in because of our many pieces of luggage and the bikes. But even this problem could be solved so that we left this land again in the middle of the night. This wonderful land in wich we stayed for 32 days, traveling everywhere, riding more than 1700 kilometres on hour bikes. I lost 7kg of my weight in this month and after so many unforgettable experiences we were nevertheless happy to come back into the civilized world. I have never ever felt so happy when I first entered my own bed and I had never enjoyed wearing a clean, ironed shirt so much. ;-)

 

 
 
Literature:
 

Literature for this journey:

Island per Rad. Ein Fahrrad-Reiseführer. Ulf Hoffmann. Verlag Wolfgang Kettler, Neuenhagen, 1995. ISBN: 3-921939-88-7. German only...

Geology of Iceland. Rocks and Landscapes. Þorleifur Einarsson. Publisher: Mál og menning, Reykjavík, 1994. ISBN: 9979-3-0689-0.

 

 
 
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