A couple of years ago, Rob called me up from Vancouver, Canada, and asked me if I did tours to Inuvik, in the Northern Territories of Canada. I said no, but would love to. And so, he flew into Anchorage and we rode together for a week as far north as possible in Canada and had a terrific time.
It had been years since Rob and I had ridden together, and we wanted to go somewhere new, but it seemed with each year new challenges emerged which put our next great adventure on the back burner. Then one day, it was decided: Why not Iceland? So, Rob invited some of his riding buddies, and I invited some riders I knew, and soon we had a collective group of 13 riders, from the USA, Canada and the United Kingdom, eager to explore Iceland!
As I looked out the window of the airplane as we landed in Reykjavic, I scanned the horizon for any familiar features. All I could think of as I saw miles of treeless tundra, rugged coastline and windswept ocean swells was: did I really leave Alaska?
Iceland has always been a kind of dream for me. This remote island in the North Atlantic is about the size of the state of Kentucky with a population of roughly 300,000. 60 percent of them live in the main town of Reykjavik. It’s people still use an ancient dialect that is out of the history books. The people are of Scandinavian descent with sharp features, clear blue eyes and some where out there a blond factory is working overtime.
I suppose the remoteness of the place is the first draw and I am not the only one. Iceland receives over 450,000 visitors a year, so all those ice fields and volcanoes don’t get lonely.
We landed early the first morning and went straight to our hotel. The airport is located 50 kilometers south of town, so it gave me a good chance to survey the landscape. Miles and miles of volcanic rock was stretched from the coastline to the distant hills. Mosses and lichens stubbornly clinged to this, giving the entire landscape a tundra moonscape. Off to the distance you could see large clouds of steam shooting into the air. Not a tree was in sight. The ocean crashed into the ragged coast and the wind was a constant reminder that you were in the middle of north Atlantic.
The temperature as we landed was a balmy 3 degrees C. Everyone in the group took turns wondering just how cold this ride would be. It seems that a hurricane from the week before was pulling all the cold air out of the north, and even though the skies were clear, the wind bit with cold fangs.
After checking into our hotel, we decided to spend part of the day to go out to the Blue Lagoon. This is probably the most visited of the hot springs on the island and was well worth the time.
The jet lag was catching up on me, but as soon as I entered the outdoor pool I felt invigorated. It may have been the extremely outlandish scene: dozens of people quietly soaking in a vast thermal pool. Steam whisped copiously off the water, lending to a dreamlike feel. The water was an impossible turquoise. As you made your way around the pool, you would come across delicious hot spots of water. The cold wind seemed to disappear. To top off the experience, we waded over to an open bar and ordered a Viking Beer. We then floated around sipping and soaking. Can this be so? It seemed surreal. Off in the distance, a thermal power plant hissed out steam. Many of the bathers drifted by with completely white faces, caked up with exfoliate minerals. Lord of the flies? Perhaps.
I have been to many baths in my time, but this one would always be at the top of the list!
After the Lagoon, we decided to check out our bikes and get all of the paperwork out of the way. We would be riding a combination of Triumph Tiger XC800s, BMW F650 GSs, and Kawasaki KLR 650s. After some signing and briefing, we rode our bikes back to our hotel.
Not all of our group had made it in yet, so I imaged it would be a bit busy the next day finalizing the bikes and getting on the road. We would be riding for ten days and circumnavigate the entire island. In all, there were 13 riders coming from the USA, Canada, and the UK. We had hired a support vehicle to aid us with luggage, direction and maintenance. Our goal would be simple: Explore Iceland!
September 9th, 2011
Our bikes ready and our group assembled, we headed out of windy Reykjavik. It was not long before the city was just a memory, and all we had in front of us was a windswept landscaped stacattoed by geothermic steam trails, shooting up from here and there. The road was paved and narrow and lined by puffy sheep and a geothermal pipeline. Indeed, they were pumping the hot water to Reykjavik to keep the lights on. The volcanic landscape was like riding the moon, save for the thin green film of hard headed lichens and mosses that were determined to survive without topsoil. We climbed into our first mountains – the continental divide- and at every turn you were gifted a stunning lunar/pastoral scene. We stopped at an overlook and took in the dozens of steam vents dotting the surrounding hills and a lake with impossibly clear water down below.
As we skirted the lake, the volcanic rock gave way to farmland and we passed more and more hay fields and even more puffy sheep.
Iceland, throughout this day, seemed to take a page out of South Africa, Patagonia, and Hawaii all at once. Don’t forget to crush Alaska and New Zealand and sprinkle on top!
As we pushed east, the natural world seemed to wrestle with the civilized. As we were crossing open farmland, a chilly crosswind straight from an enormous ice field in the distance smacked us. We made our way to a garden of geysers, and walked amongst them. Each boiling little caldron fascinated me. The largest geyser of them all randomly shot steam and water hundreds of feet into the air to the surprise and delight of the onlooking tourists.
We arrived at the Gullfoss -the Golden Waterfall – and I was reminded of a mini Niagara. The silty glacial water cascaded loudly down a rock staircase, and the cold wind held. Yep, this land was stunning and untamed!
A little further east along the coast and we came across another waterfall, which could be described as one of the most stunning natural wonders I have ever seen. Known as Seljalandsfoss, this waterfall featured single fountains of water pouring smoothly off a ledge and crashing softly below. The most stunning aspect of this all was the fact that you could walk all the way behind it!
Bill nailed it: “this place is congested with nature”.
As we cruised the final miles of the day along the coast, I just sat amazed as we passed steep cliffs, rookeries, glaciers, and coastline. Every corner seemed to have a live postcard set up in advance. It just would not stop! To add to the natural wonder of the place, as we pulled into our picturesque lodging, ash from a nearby erupting volcano lightly fell all around us.
After checking in I walked down to the nearby river and admired its glacial color. I said hi to some more puffball sheep. I looked and around and noticed how clean the low green grass made the surrounding cliffs and pastures look. Only a couple of houses dotted the scene. The sound of waves crashing against the shore could be heard.
I could not believe this place. Iceland, huh? It really is this beautiful. ..And this was just the first day!!
September 10th, 2011 Middle-lands to Morder
Our day started out with a bang. There was a dead-end dirt road which led inland which started right at our lodge. We decided to go explore. John, our support car driver, said it would take no more than an hour to up-and-back. When I turned onto the road and started along a glacial river, the view was already spectacular. Off into the distance you could see the hazy silhouette of an enormous ice field in the distance. The dirt road passed a sheep farm and then started to climb. Soon, we were in a garden of volcanic lava sculptures. The road dipped in and out of them. The ground consisted of volcanic rock with some vegetation. It felt like another world.
Then, as we crested the hill and descended down the other side, one of the most amazing scenes I have ever witnessed came to be: a sweeping view of the distant ice field drifted to a vast flood plane of a glacial river which featured hundreds of channels of rivers fanning out to the ocean. Sharp cliffs and volcanic pinnacles framed in the scene. All the while the dreamy filter brought on by volcanic ash seemed to make the whole thing surreal. We stood at the edge of a tall cliff taking it all in. I felt like I was on the cover of a sci-fi book. It just did not compare to anything I had ever seen before.
Looking up the valley and you noticed that it was devoid of any bright colors. Browns, grays and blacks dominated the flood plane and stretched out into infinity. I watched one of the riders make his way to the bottom of the valley in the distance, and ride through the lunar landscape. I tingled with excitement at the sight of this other world. All the while the ice field sat quiet and ominous above.
We followed the road a bit further to a box canyon where it cam to an abrupt end. There were hiking trails that continued to the ice field and a small camp ground with a few cabins for rent. A clear stream trickled out of the mini canyon.
We stopped as a group and decided to cross a stream and explore another branch of the road. Splashing and laughing, you could not ask for a better morning on a bike. Though the road ended abruptly, we turned back satisfied. Indeed, we were in a land that could only be described as Iceland.
Back at the tarmac, we headed east along the coast. The wind had stepped it up a notch as we crossed the immense flood plain we has seen from the cliff. Craggy rocks stretched out in all directions. Some portions of it was covered by the determined lichen, and some of it was not: obviously a new lava flow.
We road for some time and what seemed to be high clouds in the distance turned out to be the tallest mountain on the island. 6,600 feet high, Mt. Hvannadalshnukur was a spectacular sight. It was escorted by a pair of cascading glaciers which added to the impressive scene.
After that, it was glacier after glacier. The rock band we skirted for over an hour provided epic vistas of waterfall after waterfall, only to be broken up by a cascading glacier. Throughout it all, brilliant green grass highlighted the contours of the mountainsides. It was truly one of the more impressive natural scenes I had ever witnessed. I looked for the hobbit that would be jumping out at any moment.
By mid day, we were staring at a massive glacier across a broad lake. Turn the other way and the ocean was right there. The outlet of the lake had a traffic jam of icebergs and the strange site of the incoming tide pushing in from a half-kilometer away into the lake and the outgoing flow of the lake wrestling it was spectacular. The icebergs sat suspended between these two battling influences. All the while, seals popped their heads up from almost anywhere in the water, in search for Atlantic Salmon. This was our lunch spot for the day!
As if that was not enough, we arrived at the fjords at the east end of the island. The sky darkened and the wind picked up again. The dark rock of the mountains and lack of vegetation made me think we had just entered Morder. The road followed the coastline and the fresh air of the sea bathed us as we passed endless lines of swans feeding along the waters edge. Waterfalls could be seen at every moment. I started to play the game “where is the waterfall”. There was not a time that a waterfall was not in a scene!
By 6PM we had arrived at our destination. It was a small fishing town at the far end of eastern Iceland. Only a few houses and a couple of boats represented this lonely outpost. After miles of hugging the coastline on this amazing road, it was relieving to hang up the reigns for the day. Everyone had smiles pasted on their faces, but the idea of getting warmed was now the motivation.
That night, we enjoyed fresh fish and conversation revolving around motorcycle adventure. The night took over the day, and we drifted to bed, tired from the days events.
What could possibly be in store for us tomorrow? What did John mean by saying that we have not even started seeing the best yet? Wow.
Sunday, September 11th, 2011
I woke up at 4 AM, stepped outside to take in the windswept coastline and remembered that it was 10 years ago I was at a remote lodge posing as a Loon Guide when the whole world went scared. How did 10 years go by so fast and what has the world learned?
My body still was not accustomed to the time change, so I just pecked out this blog, and waited for breakfast. Walking around outside in the small port town of Djupivogur and one can not help but feel lonely nostalgia. Even until 9 AM, absolutely no one could be seen outside. A small walk past the harbor I came across the police station. The front plants were overgrown, the paint was chipped on the outside wall…it looked like it had been abandoned. Jonathan, our support truck driver, said that there have only been two stolen motorcycles in all of the history of Iceland.
When our bikes were being parked in front of our hotel in Reykjavik, the operators left the keys in them on a busy street. There is an absolute complacency to thievery here. It is refreshing and unknown to many in our group. However, this Alaska boy is at home because we do the same. After all, if somebody steals a bike, where are they to go?
The coast line in our little town looked unreal: tall volcanic cliffs rimmed the coastline. Again, waterfalls could be seen almost everywhere, doing their thing. On mountain in particular looked like a perfect pyramid. Rock and ocean dominated here.
We saddled up at 9:30AM and headed north along the coast. You could not drive slow enough to take in the epic scenery. The calm ocean greeted the steep volcanic mountains. The waterfalls adorned almost every possible crevice. Busy rookeries housed thousands of birds high above. I confirmed my first puffin.
More puffy sheep scattered in front of our bikes. Some lounged as we sped by. Some fled. Some just kept on eating. They were as prevalent at the waterfalls, and could be seen, their white on dark grey and green, dotting the entire valley. Only the odd farmhouse here and there reminded you that you were still on earth.
Our road turned to dirt and started to climb away from the ocean. Beauty is a word I would use here as the tall mountains, waterfalls and ocean all mixed to make this uniquely Iceland. We stopped higher up to take in a smaller waterfall pound its way into a clear blue pool. We had only been on the road 15 minutes and I could have stopped half a dozen times just to take in the scenery.
As we crested the top of the pass, the visibility shut down to nothing and a constant mist kept our face shields murky. The dirt road was hard packed and the wind turned up a notch, leaving the temperature nothing to do but plummet.
We rode for a while until we came to a small town on a long glacial lake. Hay fields, horses and more puff sheep decorated the surrounding area. We shivered our early lunch down, donned our heavy gear once more and headed once again into the winter weather. The road was paved and in good condition. It was cold.
We took a recommended alternative dirt road which climbed into an area of snow covered mountains and highlands. The beauty was not lost on us. The freezing temperatures were not either. After a while, my winter gloves were not doing the trick so we stopped at an oasis of a cafe in the middle of this expansive winter land. The warmth of the place was very inviting as we cupped our hot chocolates and coffees, nibbled on dough balls and watched the wind whip by from the inside of the hut. We got word that this road was closed two days previous due to snow fall. No wonder. However, talking to the local girl at the shop, there was much to explore in the highlands: ice fields and hot springs were out there! It was obvious we were too late in the season for that, but the imagination pulled me to come back earlier and with more time to explore.
Later that afternoon, we pulled off to the side of the road to explore some thermal vents. We walked among this garden for caldrons, steaming vents and other bad smelling delights. It was fascinating to see such accessible unstable nature. We played in the steam vents. We held our noses.
We pulled into our destination early in the afternoon, and no one complained about that! We warmed up inside our hotel and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. Some slept, some internetted, and some went to a local hot spring lagoon, which, they said, rivaled the Blue Lagoon.
Dinner that night at a local Bistro and the group broke apart and chatted. There were 15 of us in total and we came from 3 countries. Most of us did not know each other before the trip. But now, the bonding was happening and new friends were being made. For me, this is one of the best parts of the job, and it was a delight to see everyone laughing and telling stories late into the night.
Monday, September 12th, 2011
The sun poked through the clouds as misty rain strafed us. The wind held constant out of the north. We watched the road through the small town of Reykjahlio for any signs of traffic. None. Some horsed grazed along the lake in the distance. There was complete silence save for the occasional muffled roar of the thermal generating plant in the distance. It sounded like the ocean.
The night before, some of the group headed up the road to a thermal hot spring. They reported it to be almost as good as the Blue Lagoon, without the beer bar and the crowd of people.
Our goal for this day was to head north to the coast and ride west to the city of Akureyri. We backtracked for the first few kilometers before hooking up with a road which led us due north. The landscape was rather bleak and uninviting. We were surrounded by patches of snow and greeted by a chill headwind. Rain sporadically spattered us as we put our heads down and kept on. After about 20 minutes we came to a set of waterfalls which you could not see from the road. From the lonely parking lot, you could not see anything but the ragged leftover of a major ice flow. Hardly any vegetation could be seen. It was just an ocean of dark volcanic rock.
We walked for a few minuted down a trail and were rewarded by a spectacular scene. The water fall was called Dettifoss, and it was a raw version of Niagara. The silty glacial river the fed it tumbled violently over a long drop. The backlash of all this water pressure formed constant spray upwards. The crashing of the cascade resounded throughout the narrow valley. Sun cut the scene bringing a bright rainbow to our feet. Standing above it all, with the dark volcanic sea of rocks, the raging water the mist and the rainbow, one could only be in awe.
One of the most impressive features of Iceland is that you can’t go far without seeing something terrifically natural. The accessibility to these points of interest is easy. Not infrastructure is in place to take money. There is usually just a simple parking lot with a toilet. In Iceland, nature is there for you to freely take in at your own pace with no price tag and no rules.
We headed north on a dirt track full of mud puddles and lined by tundra. The wind and rain turned it up a notch. We lost elevation and the patches of snow turned to low trees and farmland. The riding was not particularly challenging, but it did warrant your full attention. Like most places we had been so far, you found yourself in complete solitude within minutes and it was nice. Being from Alaska I am used to this, and prefer a little challenging riding and the feeling of being alone in the wilderness. Most of the riders in the group were from Canada, and as I talked to them about the ride, I found them to be the same in thought. Iceland is definitely not for those who want perfect weather, perfect roads, and a cosmopolitan destination every night. It is more suited those who want to be surrounded by complete wilderness and don’t mind ruffing the elements.
We pulled up the the big horseshoe they called Asbyrgi. It was a deep curved gouge out of volcanic rock formed by glaciers and one massive flood. We entered the road into it and stared up at hundreds of feet of sheer volcanic cliff. At the bottom of this horseshoe, trees, flowers and blueberry plants thrived, sheltered from the wind. An impressive site and a welcome relief from the stinging wind.
Our lunch spot was still 50 kilometers away, and most of the group was getting wet, so we punched it on the tarmac road west towards the town of Husavik. The road was in great condition and hugged the impossibly rugged coastline. The wind tore at us and the rain pelted away. Through the mist you could see this dream like road stretch out before us, raised up from the flat volcanic vastness. At one point, you could see the coast where the force of the ocean collided with sheer volcanic cliffs. The forces of nature were at war, and would be for a long time to come in this far off outpost.
When we entered Husavik, I think most of us went through a little culture shock. It had been days since we had seen a town with moving traffic, shops and pedestrians. We found an elegant restaurant in the center of town and spent a good two hours drying out and enjoying a terrific meal.
We ended the day fighting the wind, but crossing some spectacular mountains as we made our way to our hotel in Akureyri. It is the second largest city in Iceland, with a population of some 15,000. Since we arrived rather early in the day, our support truck driver, Jonathan, arranged for us to go to the local motorcycle museum. This raised some eyebrows, as it seemed like the same as having a SkiDoo museum in Jamaica.
We assembled in the lobby of the hotel and followed Jonathan on a 15 minute walk through the old neighborhoods of the city to a fairly hidden concrete structure. Inside, we were met by the museum operator and taken on a delightful tour of the collection. It was a surprise and a delight for us to see such a collection in such an outlandish location. After the tour, the guide took us back to a room where he had prepared shark and a local schnapps for us. The shark was a challenge to choke down, but after a few schnapps, it kind of grew on you. Was this a museum or a bar? Iceland has a few new definitions of its own!
Tuesday, September 13th
We decided to rest the first part of the day in Akureyri. Some slept in, some shopped like mad, and some walked the town. At noon, we assembled at our bikes and got on the road. The wind had died somewhat and the rain stayed away.
As we headed north out of town along the coast, I could feel it was going to be a great day. The road hugged the coast passing farm after farm. Steep, snow covered mountains were to my right, and deep blue ocean to my left. The snow level was down to a couple of hundred feet and was the remanence of a storm last week.
For the entire 45 minutes up the coast, the panorama was the same: clean, snow covered mountains and open farmland.
The road suddenly made an elbow into the bowels of the mountain, and the next thing you know, we were on a one-lane road headed right into oncoming traffic. Every several hundred feet, there was a blue sign with a white “M” written on it. This was a pullout for us, as the oncoming traffic had the right of way. Kevin remarked that this was their national game of chicken!
We popped out the other side and were rewarded a gorgeous sweeping view of mountains, a small fishing town and fjords. The wind was still cold, but not biting and the air was incredibly clear and fresh. It smelled like Patagonia. Each town we passed seemed to be assembled the same way with few buildings with metal siding painted with industrial whites, with blue, orange and green roofs. The streets were very clean, and hardly anyone walked around outside. Function seemed to be the order of the day, with hardly any building with its own unique style.
After a couple more long tunnels, we arrived at the small port town of Siglufjorder, found a cafe, and ate lunch. The Cafe was right on the harbor and was a delight for us with its hand made wooden furniture, high ceilings and fresh soups and sandwiches. This place, as many others in Iceland, also offered crepes of all types. They were as popular as pizza is in the United States and with any kind of variety. Pineapple, cheese and bacon crepe? Why not?
We continued along the coast the the scenery changes a bit, showing us small pastures, more and more farmland, and prominent volcanic islands, which seemed to erupt straight out of the ocean.
We headed into a broad valley and it was strange not to be looking up at immediate mountains for a change. At about 7PM, we arrived at our lodge, which sat in the middle of tundra plane. Mountains were in the distance. As we pulled into the lodge, horses ran around in the front fields, playing.
On my way to the reception, I spied a small shack and thought it to be a hot tub, but on closer inspection I could see a guy in there grilling away. I went to investigate. He had three grills going at once with salmon, chicken, lamb, horse and mink whale. The smells were amazing. This would be our dinner for the evening.
We settled into our accommodations, and went downstairs for dinner. Large, plate glass windows gave us a panorama view of the surrounding fields and lakes. A large ring was right out in front, obviously for horse riding. Horses played with each other in the fading light. The wind let down. A full moon rose over a distant hill electrified by bright orange alpenglow. And, as we finished dinner, the skies cleared, and the aurora borealis splashed across the sky, dazzling us silently from above. Frost formed on the nearby grass.
Yep, it was one of those magical days. Our support driver had to leave, being relieved by the owner of the motorcycle rental company. It was sad to see Jonathan go, as he was such a good guide. Eythor, his replacement, assured us that tomorrow would be even more fantastic, as we would be headed to the wester fjords and the most beautiful part of the country. After all we had seen, it would be hard to beat….
Wednesday, September 14th
We woke to a moderate front and clear skies. The temperature hovered around 6 degrees celsius before climbing with the rising sun. Eythor, our new support truck driver, promised that we would now be entering what he called “the best of iceland”. He said everything would change and the next days would be unforgettable.
We started up the bikes, and headed north into a cloudless sky. The dirt back road we were on came to a prominate volcanic out cropping between a river and a lake, close to the ocean. It was there Bargarvirgi lay – the first fort of Iceland. As with all natural and historical sites in Iceland, there was a simple parking space and interpretive signs in both Icelandic and English. This natural defensible place gave sanctuary to the surrounding people. Why not use an old volcano as fort? Fishing and farming was plentiful in the area, and as we scrambled amongst the rock outcrop, you could imagine how harsh and demanding life back then was. With a 360 degree view, you took in broad lakes, snow covered mountains, open ocean and farmland.
We continued up and around a peninsula on a dirt road. There was absolutely no traffic and we could see without limits in all directions. The air was clear, cool and fresh.
At about noon, we found ourselves at the bay at the end of a tidal arm and stopped to gas and eat lunch.
The gas situation in Iceland is quite different than what I am used to. First, you have to purchase plastic cards inside the gas station with values of $30, $50 and $100. Then, you put them in the machine outside and use them up. Once they are expended, you throw them away. Gas is very expensive in Iceland, and I had to laugh at one point when I purchased gas for the group in the amount of $800!! For the 13 bikes, it took on average $450 to fill up the group!!
We were pooling our money in a kitty to pay for group purchase like gas and meals. It is something that we have been developing over the years to expedite paying at the gas pumps and restaurants as a group. It works pretty well, and saves a lot of time. Usually, the kitty is collected one, maybe two times during a trip. In this instance, since we had not run a tour in Iceland before, we did not know what to expect for kitty, and so we have been collecting throughout the tour. Since meals averaged $30 – $40 and gas was more expensive than gold, Bill proclaimed, “This Kitty is turning into a Tiger!” Indeed, if you come to Iceland, you will not be here for the saving of money!
After lunch we headed north once again and into the heart of the fjords. The tarmac turned once again to dirt as we hugged the coastline. The roads were empty and you could see for miles ahead of you. The mountains became more and more steep, and at one point you realize the road is the only thing between a steep mountain and the ocean.
The temperature was comfortable and the clear skies just would not stop. It was one of those unforgettable September days in the north country. We stopped at the small town of Holmavik, and went to the Museum of Witchcraft. Though the museum itself left much to be desired (It did feature a pair of pants made out of human skin that keeps being brought up), the town and atmosphere outside was warm, clean and pleasant. Some of us napped while some of us contemplated the pants.
We finished the day on a somewhat challenging dirt back road which took us up and over a mountains to ocean on the other side of a peninsula. We continued along a dirt road to an old farmhouse converted to a lodge. Though there was nothing fancy about the lodge, it did capture everyone. The food was excellent (that night we enjoyed family style cod and curry on rice), the rooms were clean and the outdoor hot spring pools were a big hit. So, as you made your way to the pools, you passed a pasture full of horses, framed in by steep mountains all around.
That night, we floated around in the sandy bottom natural hot springs underneath the northern lights. The entire scene was bathed in moonlight. Not bad for a farm! Once again, Iceland was having its way with us.
Thursday, September 15th
After a healthy breakfast of fresh baked bread, granola, fruit, hams and cheeses, we headed inexorably towards the fjords. The steepness of the mountains next to the ocean was just amazing. Again, empty roads invited us through this riders’ paradise. Though the sky was pasted gray the temperature held, making for a pleasant ride.
Before long, by Eythor’s consultation, we stopped at a non-decrypt farm house off the side of the road. There, we were met by an older couple, the man having been born and raised in this 19th century abode. When we went in, the ceilings were so low, that many of us could not stand up straight. It was like an Alice in Wonderland house. The man went on to explain over coffee that up to 20 people lived under that roof at one time. Our group was 14, and we all could not fit standing up…how on earth to you sleep 20??!!
We left the home and the couple with a greater appreciation for the harshness and remoteness of the lifestyle that the Icelanders lived just a few years ago. These people were tough, period.
We made our way west, epic fjord after jaw dropping fjord. The scenery just got better with each kilometer. At one point, the panorama view of ocean, small fishing village, fall colors, and sheer volcanic rock faces was almost overwhelming. You just had to stop to take it in. To drive the point home, a single ray of sunshine burst on the slope of distant mountain, making the entire scene postcard worthy. It was then that I realized there was no place like Iceland.
Lunch at a local fish place in the small town of Sudavik turned out not only to be good, but fantastic. Large frying pans full of potatoes, cod, and fresh salad were placed at the center of the tables for the free-for-all. Eythor had phoned ahead, so our tables had been set and were waiting for us. This was one of the best fish meals I had every had. It is times like this when you are eating local food with the locals and all reservations and logistics have been accounted for that you realize the value of having a local guide support your trip. It just makes the experience go better.
After lunch, we headed south through a tunnel to more fjords. The weather decided to kick in some wind and rain, which made the riding go from pleasant to challenging. Even still, the bikes handled the mud fine and the parts we could see were unforgettable. Waterfalls, steep fjords, calm ocean scenes and volcanic plateaus were the order of the day. We stopped at one particularly beautiful waterfall called Dynjandi. Though the flow of water was not that great, the elevation of it was astounding. It dropped hundreds of feet and spread out across the rock for almost a 100 meters. It took a few minutes to take it and all the other accompanying waterfalls in. It was a symphony of cascading water. We left it and all I could wonder was if Iceland had an equal to its natural beauty. It just did not stop.
We ended the day off the tourist track in the small town of Bildudalur. There were no hotels in the entire town, so Eythor arrange flats converted over to house tourists. The local tour operator also prepared an amazing lamb dinner. It was set in a public art gallery and came complete with set table with elegant glass plates, candles and open bar. On the menu was grilled lamb, baked potatoes and salad. The lamb was covered in a creamy red sauce. Let’s just say that is was quiet at the table for a while! At the end of the meal, we were served ice cream made in house. …Not a bad dinner at the end of the road.
Friday, September 16th
The wind and rain outside made us have a lethargic start. Breakfast was pushed back an hour…our clutch-out time was also pushed back in hopes the weather would cooperate. Regardless, we got on our bikes and headed south. Though we were being speckled with rain, the scenery and the road combined to make the ride excellent. We climbed steeply through a series of “S” turns until we could see our town far below. Then we ventured across a broad volcanic pass. It was flat on all sides save for a series of of rock piles, said to have been there for over a century to guide the sheep herders.
We descended rapidly to the town of Patreksfjordur to gas up and get more spending money from the local ATM.
Eythor looked south and pronounced that the weather was good enough to take a road which lead to the furthest western point of Iceland. Indeed, it would be the furthest west you could go in Europe.
The dirt track had a solid base and was easy to ride. The ribbon of dirt hugged the coast and edged precariously along steep mountains drop offs. As you passed, you could look far down to the clear watered ocean below. At times, we passed, to our surprise, white sand dunes and white sandy beaches. This was the first time during our entire trip we say such a sight. After about 30 minutes of riding we came to the end of the road: a simple lighthouse perched on a grassy cliff. Prominent signs warned us almost humorously the risks of the cliff: A stick figure was shown falling off the cliff. As I approached the cliff edge I was struck by how clear the water was. I could see sea birds far below swimming under water. I look out to the ocean. Only 100 Kilometers away was Greenland. The lighthouse was simple and vacant .
Eythor said that before the roads were put in, there were many more small villages along the coast. Boat and horse travel being the only way to get around. Now, with the roads, everyone has moved to the cities. What once used to be habited is now left uninhabited in Iceland.
We doubled back and rejoined the main road west along the Fjords. To say that you have seen one fjord you have seen them all is simply not true for as we road west the characteristics of the fjords highlighted by the change of plant life kept the ride interesting. The coast line became gradual. Sow lying shrubs began to take over the landscape. During this time of year, bright oranges and reds carpeted the valleys. Volcanic geography still dominated the land, but it was obvious that this was an older part of the country. Plants and grasses had had a chance to to get a foot hold. Every now and again ,we crossed an impossibly clear stream and cascading waterfall.
It was late in the day and the sunlights started to punch through the distant clouds making the colors of the surrounding hills even more striking.
We pulled into our lodge and as I turned off my key I looked around. Fall colors, a pristine lake, snow covering the distant mountains, swans and ptarmigan…if you would have told me I was in western Alaska, I would have believed you.
After checking in, we went down to the support truck where Eythor was busy fixing a couple of bike issues. The front tire on one of the KLRs needed to replaced and a wheel bearing had gone out of the the back wheel of one of the BMW F 650s. Eythor diligently worked as a cluster of canadian supervisors sipped beer and wine and cracked jokes.
There was some debate whether it was worth it to spend 10 days circumnavigating the island of Iceland was too much. But after today, we realized that this country always has a surprise up its sleeve. There is constant change in the landscape, which keeps the rider engaged. The roads have been completely empty since we started the trip. With the mix of dirt and paved, the rider must stay focused. The group as a whole is now coming to terms with the fact that Iceland was made for adventure motorcycling!
Saturday, September 17th
We woke to clear skies, no wind and fall colors. A flock of ptarmigan ruled the gravel parking lot, making awkward loud noises. So boisterous are those slow, delicious birds!
I walked down to the lake across the road. Swans leisurely floated by. Sheep cried out, walking down the middle of the highway. The air was fresh and the temperature was rising as it basked in the mornings sunlight.
We gassed up and headed out on the empty highway. As we worked through the gears to cruising speed, the coast opened up before me. Distant mountains could be seen across the calm water. Dozens of volcanic islands were scattered throughout the bay. “Sailor’ s nightmare” I thought to myself.
We turned west onto the the Snaefellsness Peninsula. The road turned to dirt. Sheep farms drifted by. Tall glacial mountains loomed into the distance. Something good was coming up!
I stopped at lookout point not far off from the town of Stykkisholmur. It was a while before you could take it all in. Small islands were into the distance. An abandoned boat lay stranded on the nearby shore. The white houses of the small town in the distance glistened. Behind us was a mountainous backdrop covered in velvety autumn colored moss. The ocean was as still mirror. The sun felt good and spirits in the group were high.
We continued on this road until lunch. We passed through a couple of lava flows. Sharp, twisted rock statues sat frozen in time. We edged around yet another picture-perfect fjord. At the back of the valley, a gushing white waterfall cascaded silently. Dozens of Swans decorated the calm bay. The dirt road was is great condition and still there was almost no traffic. We would pass another car once an hour.
Before we entered the town of Grundarfjordur the scene was again remarkable. I almost stopped, but didn’t. This scene would have to be just for memories. Mountains were the backdrop of this quaint fishing town. Waterfalls could be seen all along the them. The scenery just would not stop!
After lunch we took an “F” class road – a dirt road- up and over a pass near the Snoefellsjokull Glacier. There was some debate whether we should make this tour 7 or 10 days. Some in the group said that in 7 days, you could get the idea of Iceland and that it would be enough time. However, here we were on day 9 and the best was ahead of us. We climbed to the edge of the glacier and stopped at the divide. We looked down at the coast line to the south. The air was cold. Lava formations were all around us. A glacier spilled out from the nebulous cloud bank above us. Hawaii?
One of the riders pointed out a trail which led up to point near the glacier. I thought about going up there, but thought better of it, since it was steep and possible soft. It is trails like these that people get hurt.
Then, on a whim, I went for it and against better judgement, climbed to the top of it. The condition of the road was more solid than I thought and traction was good. I arrived at the top and was rewarded a gigantic glacier right in front of me. I looked back to the group, and already they were all on their way up. It was challenging but doable, and as each rider arrived at the top, smiles and laughter abounded. There is a point in every tour that defines it, and this was that moment. Rob, as he reached the top, smiled and said, “Some of the worst ideas are the best!”
We ended the day descending down through a volcanic dreamland to the coast far below. A short ride up the coast and we were at our hotel. The hotel was upscale, with full ocean views and as we checked in, we all agreed that we did not deserve this kind of luxury. But as they served fresh fish at candle light overlooking the crashing waves below, we accepted our fate.
Sunday, September 18th
The rain pelted the window the wind ripped at the roofing of the hotel. It was a grim change of weather and even though we did not have that far to go on our last day, the weather was going to be a factor.
We donned our rain gear and headed out into it. The wind ripped at us as we made our way south. At one point, a waterfall high on the cliff was spouting upward due to the updraft of the brutal wind.
We hunkered down and made it in all safely to Reykjavik to our hotel. Upon turning the engine off, there were hugs all around and smiles. Even though there was 13 of us, we traveled well together. I was worried about such a large group, but it seemed to go fluidly. Here we were, 4 Americans, 2 English, and 7 Canadians. We had not known each other before this trip, and had shared an unforgettable experience. together. We would be friends for life.
Thoughts on Iceland? There is not equal to the out-worldly beauty of this remote Island. It just does not stop. The riding is pleasant, with traffic being sparse and accessibility to sights being simple and easy. The Icelanders are friendly and helpful. You could leave the key in the motorcycle and walk away, knowing your valuables would not be threatened. The cost of living here is high, so plan on paying twice as much on all services. Gas, food, and lodging are just plain expensive.
Want to ride the same route we scouted in Iceland? Go to motoquest.com and join us. This is a winning tour and a world class experience. If Iceland is on your bucket list, save 10 days and join us on this incredible adventure!