August 31st 2018. That is where the real adventure begins.
First morning in Iceland. We wake up at 6:20 in Reykjavík camping – alarm clock was set up at 6:00 but somehow we did not hear it, but luckily the internal “get up and go to the office” internal body clock helped us – after a first quick night of something like 4 hours. Temperature was not so cold, wind not so strong, the new Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XTherm is really comfortable, the Cumulus Lite Line 400 sleeping bag with the extra silk liner really cosy. We get out, fold the tent, decide what we will leave in the bikebag (some tools, extra spare parts, extra clothes, spare beers and snacks mainly), pack everything else on the bike or in the backpack and check how everything fits. We reach the camping kitchen at about 7:30 where I salvage a leftover of cereal that I snack while Ike is looking everywhere for his charger until the reception open at 8:00 so we can leave the bike bags. Most of 3 beers go from the glass bottles to my inox bottle as it is somehow safer to ride, and what does not fit in will finish as breakfast, that’s about as much coffee as I take!
Once packed, we take the direction of the Mjódd bus terminal – and believe me, over the next 2 weeks, the 5kms will start to feel like this is the road we take to commute to work, as we will ride it again and again. Funny thing on the way, you pass by a field full of the mighty Reykjavík wildish bunnies. Probably a hundred of the fluffy beast live freely over there, mostly with wet fur, next to the duck gang and the seagull gang. First sight was really impressive, and every other time we passed by we could not help to wonder how the life of a bunny in Iceland must be hard, being always damp and full of duck shit. Ike notes as well that selling rain jacket must be a good job opportunity in Iceland as today there is a nice drizzle – luckily our Iceland trip will be mainly sunny, but cold.
Anyway, we reach the Mjódd terminal early enough that we have time to do a quick jump in the next door Netto supermarket to buy some fresh food we could not bring over with us in the plane, appreciating the nice price tag of everything over there – some 3.400ISK for bit of dread, donuts, yogurt, cheese and apple juice. Skyr will remain the all-time favorite over the trip, proteins are always welcome when you spend most of your time pedaling or trying to lure bunnies.
Bus is already there when we go out of the supermarket and we are somehow just on time – bus driver remind us that we need to be in advance to load the bikes at the back – and we relax on the journey to Akureyri where we will take a connection bus to reach Mývatn. Most bus in Iceland are quite comfortable, warm, with power sockets and most of all an amazing view to the scenery outside – we get to enjoy quite a lot this nice mixture of black stone/soil and green moss. Another thing is that buses are mostly on time, and connection between buses are well made and usually wait, so we get to hop off the bus at Akureyri and hop on straight after to our next bus to Mývatin. Surprise surprise, there is no bike rack at the back of this second bus, but the driver just say to us that we can stack them in the bus next to the rear door, which is good news. It will take us a few tries to set everything properly after removing the front wheel and using voile straps, but we are grateful to be on the way.
Thanks to the good bus connections, we arrive early than we initially though, shortening our 10 hours planned bus journey. Sun is shining, view over the lake is amazing from the camping and after setting up the tent next to the water, we realize that it is only something like 17:00 – 17:30 and that well, we have time to go riding! We leave most of the gear in the tent as we only go for a short ride and we want to enjoy riding without the heavy loaded bikes, put on some sunglasses and rain jackets – it might be sunny but well it is Iceland, the air is cold and rain is never far – before hitting the road.
I had already identified some tracks to ride north east of the camping, going down from Krafla back to the camp, and we headed this way. We are quite happy to be cruising in the sun, playing quickly on a small pump track in middle of nowhere, stopping to enjoy the view around the Blue Lake and the geothermal area on our way to the start of the trail. Initial plan was to take the road all the way there, but at the level of Namaskard we notice a small trail going in the right direction and after quickly checking the map, we decide that we might as well hit the trail to there instead of doing some road cycling.
Excitement is already at its maximum, view is totally stunning, a mix of blue and red, flat and relief, everything is clear so we can enjoy the view on all sides to the horizon, sun is warming us (as much as it can), light at this time is just amazing, and we already enjoy some great up and down trails! Conditions in Iceland for biking are mainly amazing, the soil has a good grip, are interesting to ride, easy to follow most of the time, the view is never short of breath taking… but one thing we noticed quite fast is that all the trail are deep and narrow, making it often just wide enough – or just not wide enough – for you to pedal. You have to keep your pedals in check at all time or risk to catch them up while riding. Tried and tested. Many times. By yours truly.
After a great time, we reach the touristy Krafla, quite empty at this time, and we have the chance to look more closely to the huge lava fields that we saw during all the ride earlier. It was really impressive to see it from higher up, and trust me we enjoyed looking at it way more than riding it. After our quick touristic enjoyment, we decide to turn around and take the trail originally planned to ride back.
First thing we realized, it is already late and it is becoming dark way faster than it was in Norway the year before. To add to that, riding a lava field with a mountain bike require a lot of skill, the kind that we are definitely lacking. It is mainly going up and down at all time you always need to turn and while it is ultra grippy, it is full of obstacles. Time pass and it is now clear that we will most likely not make it back to the camping before night, which is kind of great since Ike only has his corrective sunglasses, and that I left my headlamp and second layer in the tent.
Anyway, we are quite familiar with this kind of trouble, or we go around happily. Following the track is not really easy, you have to look for a small wood stakes to follow the trail – lava is quite resilient to foot print somehow – but GPS and a good map on the phone is a great help as well, especially since Ike manage to go off track nearly instantaneously as soon as he ride first – a rare skill that he worked hard on perfecting for many years! All is going great, I gaffer tape my mobile phone to my handle bar with the torch on as to be able see where to ride, I have the rain trousers over my shorts so at least my legs are warm, Ike is improving is riding in low light, and we are finally lost. Not a single stake in view, crevasses everywhere all around us, a road that is easy to see but definitely does not go in the right direction, and we seem to be stupid to follow the GPS trail on the phone. Situation will last about 30 minutes – maybe more, who knows – and after a lot of back and forth, trials and errors – mainly errors – we somehow see – thanks GOD – a stake.
The merry riding is back on track! We are tired (yeah, 4h sleep, not always sufficient), hungry, COLD, and we don’t see sh*t. So much for enjoying the view that was supposed to be a highlight of this trail. We keep riding, it goes actually quite well now, we even go fast! We make just a couple of stop along the way. One for Ike to stop, turn and say “oh, looks, northern lights”. I turned around, looked at the greenish track in the sky over Hlíðarfjall quickly, said “oh, yeah, northern lights”, and rode one – that was my first contact with one of the most though after natural phenomena. Could not be bothered to stop to make a photo, or to even looked properly at it actually. Second stop was to take my phone out as the battery was empty and tape Ike’s phone on the handlebar instead.
We kept riding until we finally see the lights from Reykjahlíð, the village next to the camping. We congratulates each other one last time before riding the last bit of trail down. Once we reach the road, we forget about all the problems from the evening and cruise back to the camping. We reach it at 0:30, so much for the “quick ride”.
We are definitely too tired to cook anything, so we snack some cheese, Maryland cookies (one of the cheapest stuff to get in Iceland, reminding me of my time as an intern in London), and BEERS! We laugh about how we stupidly left with only half the stuff, and are grateful to be reminded that we need to be prepared at all time for cold, night, rain… or anything else. We enjoy a nice shower smelling of rotten egg (yup, better get used to it, sulfur is big in Iceland) and at 2:00 in the morning we finally slip inside our sleeping bag.