cycle touring

Iceland -Part 2

Selfjalandsfoss was the first of many breathtaking sights I would come across during my trip. From that moment forward every time I turned a corner, there would be a new natural phenomenon to behold. Of course something like this does not stay secret and there were plenty of other visitors ogling the falls with me. I have come to the realisation that there really isnt anywhere in the world untouched by tourism these days, although package holidays to Pyongyang haven’t quite taken off yet. If something is worth seeing, the crowds follow. There are of course ways you can improve your chances of a more intimate visit and in my case one of those was to pitch my tent in the campsite right next door to the floors. Taking advantage of the long Arctic days, I was able to venture out in the early hours and wander around without rubbing shoulders with the masses.

Cycling along route 1 you realise just how green Iceland is. It is almost luminous. It is hard to capture the vividness with a camera, but i tried my best! Skogafoss was another waterfall just off the main road. This fall felt even more powerful and you could see the spray from a few kilometres away. I was able to get a glimpse of these falls from both the bottom and the top.

As I was in Iceland I thought it was about time I saw some ice and so I decided to visit the Solheimajokull glacier. I had never see a glacier up close before, so I was particularly excited about this visit. It was truly remarkable. A gargantuan tongue of ice, squirming down the mountain side, destroying all in its path. You could hear the groans of the ice as it squeezed its way through the valley on its way to the sea. There are guided ice climbs available, however they are as expensive as you can imagine and i had ice climbed before. Just seeing the destructive beauty was enough for this guy. Large chunks of the glacier were broken off at the bottom and according to the signs, the glacier is melting at an alarming rate. I’m not going to preach about global warming, however it did give me lots to think about as I cycle on.

I checked out the Solheimsandur plane wreck. A popular location for tourists. This was an American plane that crash landed on this black sand beach in 1973. Some parts have been scavenged but the fuselage is mainly intact. It is an eerie sight, and something that would have been fairly underwhelming if it werent for the mars-like landscape it sits upon.

I absolutely love wildlife and many activities and locations on my travels have been chosen in order to get the best possible chance of seeing some exotic creatures. Apart from the elusive Arctic Fox, Iceland isn’t blessed with ‘large’ mammals (a polar bear managed to float over from Greenland on an iceberg a few years back but was instantly caught) however Iceland has a huge variety of birdlife. The most famous of all is of course, the Arctic Puffin. I had to see one! I cycled to a famous cliff not far from the town of Vik, as I had been told that many bird colonies nest here in the summer. I walked around for hours looking for a glimpse of those colourful beaks. I saw numerous other species and the view from the lighthouse was spectacular. I was about to give up and hit the road when I saw a crowd gathering. It could mean only one thing. There he was, a solitary little Puffin on the cliffside. I tried to take a decent photo but couldnt quite get the shot, but just seeing one meant I pedalled away happy. Cycling away from the cliffs I encountered a far more ferocious beast. It is the most dangerous animal in Iceland and strikes fear in to the hearts of cyclists and hikers. It was the Arctic Tern. Not much bigger than a swift, these fellas have a classic case of Napoleon complex. They are extremely and aggressively territorial and if you go any where near a nest site they will dive bomb you relentlessly until you retreat. I was so glad for my cycle helmet! They even nested near campsites and on a few occasions I had to run to the shower block with my wash bag and spare undercrackers shielding  my head.

After spending a lot of time on the coast it was time to head in to the volcanic interior of the island. I passed by Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that famously made you have to cancel your Easyjet flight to Tenerife back in 2010 due to the massive ash cloud it spewed out. My ride in to Fludir was unique in that I had my first tailwind. Some serious speeds were clocked that day! Gulfoss is a series of huge rampaging falls that could surely give Niagra and Victoria a run for their money. Each fall I had been too had been more impressive than the last. It was time to visit Geysir, the famous plume of boiling water that lends its name to all the others. I was shocked when I arrived to realise that Geysir was in fact dormant and that the real star of the show was Strokkur (this is the one you actually picture in your head when you think of Geysir) Surrounded by bubbling mud pools and stinking sulphurous fumes, it shoots water 20 meters in to the air every 6-10 minutes, or whenever I put my phone away for a second! I got it eventually. I find it difficult to comprehend what is going on beneath the surface of the earth and Geysir national park left me thinking about how volatile nature can be, and their is not much we can do about it.

I spent a few days within Thingvellir national park, and saw some cool things like the fissure where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet. I stayed in a great site with a hot tub overlooking the vast volcanic plains. It was a special moment.

The time had come to hit the capital. The footy had started! I spent 3 nights in Reykjavik and it rained the entire time of course. But I found it to be a lovely city and I would love to come back someday with some more money and my wife. Due to the size it feels more like a town than a capital city. I visited the famous cathedral of Hallgrimskirkja, designed to look like it was hewn from the massive basalt columns found on the coast. On matchday I made my way to the park where a big screen had been erected. There was an eager and soggy crowd. I joined in the famous viking thunderclap which became a tad tiresome after the 23rd time. It was a cracking atmosphere and a famous result, 1-1 against Argentina on Icelands world cup debut.

The following days I slowly cranked my way back towards Keflavik. My final few nights were based in Grindavik a lovely little fishing town. I was in Grindavik for Icelands independence day. A viking festival was taking place and this involved lots of scary looking blokes drunk on mead armed with swords and battle axes. I kept my distance.

I was in Iceland for just under 3 weeks and I only scratched the surface. I would love to return and head up north and to the western fjords. I could fill another 4 blog posts with the details of my journey I have left out, however I will ony bore you with one more. Join me for part 3 where I will be providing hints and tips and offering my final thoughts and feelings on cycling in this incredible country.

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