From the moment the plane touched down in Iceland it was obvious that this trip was going to be unlike anything we’d done before. We’ve ridden our bikes in some pretty interesting places but this felt like we had landed on another planet altogether.
Despite the fact that it was well past midnight, the sun was still in the sky and I could just make out the lava fields and ice-covered volcanoes from my seat next to the window.
“Where the hell are we?” I asked Dave who had been lucky enough to stopover in Iceland once before. He gave me a reassuring nod as if to say “I told you so”.
Iceland really is a world of its own. Stranded at the top of the globe somewhere between the UK and the North Pole lies this under-populated island nation, spectacularly crafted by ancient geological forces and fiery volcanoes. It’s a land of extremes and it can be quite confronting when you first arrive, armed only with a bike and a backpack.
The howling winds, impossibly low summer temperatures and perpetual daylight make Iceland like nothing I have ever experienced. If you’re looking for a relaxing cycling holiday I honestly don’t think you could choose a less suitable destination. For us though, it was exactly what we were after.
Ever since we started our blog a couple of years ago Iceland has been on top of the ‘to do’ list. We didn’t know a whole lot about the country but from what we had seen on National Geographic documentaries it looked like the place was made for a cycling adventure. Empty coastal roads, giant snow-capped mountains, glaciers, volcanoes, bubbling hot springs to rest your legs in at the end of the day – what more could you possibly want?
For us, Iceland had always been the epitome of adventure. The only problem was that it was on the other side of the world but if anything, this just deepened our fascination with the wild land. All we needed was an excuse, and some money to make it happen.
“There was an air of nervous excitement when we arrived with absolutely no idea where we were going.”
Dave and I make films for a living so when a client from London contacted us about a job at the end of the month we were overly enthusiastic from the outset. Iceland is only a couple of hours flight from London and we could just tell everyone that it was a ‘work trip’ so it didn’t look like we were slacking off again.
In the space of a couple of hours, the job was locked in and our flights to Iceland were booked with a one-week stopover in London!
Compared with some of our previous trips Iceland was completely unplanned. Amidst finishing off all of the jobs at work and preparing for London we didn’t have a spare second to think about the trip. Admittedly there was an unusual air of nervous excitement when we finally arrived in the country with absolutely no idea where we were going.
It wasn’t until we got to our hostel in Reykjavik that we started going over maps and itineraries of fellow travellers who had been foolish enough to explore Iceland on their bikes.
Having skimmed over a few blogs there seemed to be some recurring sentiments from the writers, namely that “it was a once in a lifetime experience but they probably wouldn’t bring their bikes with them next time”. One cyclist’s appraisal was particularly reassuring:
“The country is mountainous, and often very windy. If it rains, cyclists get plastered with sludge. If it is dry, they choke on clouds of dust. Cycling around Iceland is strictly for masochists!”
Maybe this wasn’t going to be the wild and fun adventure that we had envisioned after all. Despite the uninspiring comments, we mapped out a 2,000 kilometre loop along Iceland’s circuitous coastal roads and in the morning we set off on our ‘once in a lifetime experience’.
“Whatever you do make sure you ride clockwise around Iceland. If you ride into the Easterlies you’ll never get back!” These words would come back to haunt us. It’s what the owner of the local bike shop told us just before we left Reykjavik on our two-week ride around the country.
We would have heeded his advice but we had already booked our first night’s accommodation to the east and to be completely honest, we weren’t that concerned about riding into a headwind for a couple of days. How bad could it be?
Four hours and only 40 kilometres later we were cursing ourselves for not listening to the man at the bike shop. “Why do we even ride bikes? What is wrong with this country? Why did we bring film gear and whose idea was it to bring these stupid backpacks!?” There were obviously a few expletives thrown in the mix as wellm but that’s what made up most of our conversations on that first day.
I should probably point out that the landscapes we were riding through at this point were absolutely phenomenal but regrettably, neither of us were in the mood to truly appreciate it.