Iceland: Land of Fire, Ice & Fatbike Dreams
Part Two: A Continual State of Dampness
My body was cold; a damp, bone-chilling type of cold. One that left unchecked could easily lead to hypothermia. I could see Joey just ahead and the bright orange emergency shelter just beyond. Thank goodness. We were going to get a respite from the drenching rain we had been riding in for the past five hours. Entering the small hut we stood dripping, taking in our dreary surroundings. Of the huts we had encountered, this one was the most run down and neglected. The drabness did little to warm us. Needing to stoke the internal fires, we made the decision to eat some lunch and shed our damp clothes for a little while before riding the final 12 miles to our stopping point for the day and our second rustic hot spring of the trip. Joey and I were nearly a week into our trip and had yet to have a day free of rain.
Joey finding solace in escaping the cold and rain for a brief lunch…
We finally rode away from the city at 4:15 PM. Joey had arrived after midnight so we took a slow morning to let him recover from the late night and allow him time build his bike and ready his gear. With 24 hours of daylight, we had no real constraints due to darkness. We left under threatening skies, but didn’t care, as our enthusiasm for beginning our adventure could not be curbed. Making quick work of the city bike paths, we were soon riding the buffed out singletrack of the recreation area of Heidmork. Before long we were climbing into a lava field where our fatbikes got their first taste of what we had come here to experience. The riding was technical, demanding our complete attention in order to ride without dabbing. So focused were we that we took little notice of the light rain that had begun to fall. Our path wound ever upwards through a landscape void of all vegetation except for a deep spongy moss that acted as a carpet on top of the lava.
Searching for the pot of gold between raindrops on day 1…Photo courtesy of Joey Parent
After a short stint of pavement with a 16% grade climb, we were into the volcanic mountains just east of the city. It was now 9:30 PM and the rain was still falling softly. With hunger and dampness beginning to set in, we made a decision to continue on to our planned camp for the night. Two hours later, as I picked myself up out of the mud after my first crash of the trip, I wondered about the intelligence of our decision. I was now deep into my reserves and worried about injuring myself or damaging my Mukluk bike. We had been on the go for almost eight hours navigating and riding wet, technical trails in low visibility.
Closing in on camp one after eight hours on the move…Photo courtesy of Joey Parent
Fifteen minutes later our perseverance paid off as we descended down a steep, muddy trail to an amazing geothermal hotspot. Crossing a creek to a flat spot where our camp for the evening would be, I stopped in wonder in the middle of the creek; I was standing in a river of hot water. Before long I was enjoying dinner while soaking the day’s worries away. What an amazing first day!
Cooking dinner at 1 AM while standing in a river of hot water…Photo courtesy of Joey Parent
The rain hit the metal roof tapping out a Morse code of “Do you boys really want to ride in the rain for a third day in a row?” The answer was no, but after a dry night in the emergency shelter, we were energized to face another day of dampness. Our shelter was essentially a metal shipping container that was bolted to a concrete foundation. It was situated on top of a hill where those in dire need could see it. When we came upon it the previous evening, we definitely were not in a precarious situation, but after being wet for the majority of the past two days we weren’t going to pass up the opportunity for a dry night indoors.
A chance to sleep warm and dry for a night…heck yeah!
Soon after leaving our dry confines we were riding a gravel road, lowering our heads so as to avoid the stinging wind and rain. Soon we were at the top of a pass and preparing to descend into the Kaldidalur Valley—a barren expanse of volcanic sand and rock. As we descended off of the pass, the rain tapered down and we were actually treated to a few moments of sunshine. Looking to the east we received our first glimpse of Iceland’s second largest glacier, Langjokull. We were heading north with the goal of finding a route around the northern end of this mass of moving ice.
Who needs a dog sled when you have a Mukluk!
After a brief stop at the hamlet of Husafell we began our journey into a more remote part of the highlands. The dirt road we were on deteriorated into a bumpy four-wheel drive road. The dry weather was holding and we found ourselves exhilarated to have dried out from the morning’s soaking. Our dry feeling didn’t last long though, as we soon came to our first major river crossing of the trip. There is no lack of water in the highlands. Rivers and streams tumble from the recesses of the massive glaciers and cut through the landscape in virtually every direction. Prior to the trip we had read that these streams might be impossible to cross on foot. Early in our trip preparations we discussed possibly bringing a packraft along in order to ensure our ability to safely make the stream crossings. In the end though, we decided to forego the extra weight of the packraft and rely on our years of experience of paddling whitewater and teaching river rescue courses.
River crossing #1 with many more to follow…Photo courtesy Joey Parent
Upon seeing our first crossing, we were validated in our decision. The stream was slow moving and no more than knee deep. The crossing was easy and we were soon on our bikes with only wet feet to remind us of the crossing. Looking to push our mileage further than the previous two days under dry skies, we continued on towards the next river crossing indicated on our maps. At 8 PM we rounded a small hill and came to our second stream crossing. The view was beautiful, as the stream fell away in a waterfall onto a broad grassy plain before spilling into a lake. Immediately after the crossing we came upon the most unique shelter of the trip—a small wooden door was seemingly built into the hillside. Curious, I opened the unlocked door and stepped into a small room that was lined top to bottom by wood. We had just found a hobbit home. Upon further investigation, we found that the shelter was a standalone structure that has existed and been rebuilt numerous times since the 1800’s. It was built for wayward travelers such as ourselves. It would be our home for the evening. What a great find! To top it all off, we experienced a stunning sunset (if you can have such a thing in a land of 24 hours of daylight).
Joey taking in some fleeting rays to end the day…
Yo, Joey. It’s socked in out there and raining hard. Let’s wait it out for a while and stay in our sleeping bags. Maybe it will do what it did yesterday and clear up in the afternoon.
Okay. Sounds good to me.
Retreating back into the warmth of our bags, we caught some more shuteye. At noon I rolled over to look out the open door, a steady rain was still falling.
Still raining steadily.
A grunt emerged from Joey’s sleeping bag and he rolled over.
Checking for rain…still pouring…Photo courtesy of Joey Parent
It was more of the same at 3 PM, 5 PM, and 7 PM. Our day became one of moving in and out of consciousness. Occasionally, we were coherent enough to laugh and reminisce about passed shared adventures. We enjoyed the fact that we weren’t riding or lying under our shelter in the downpour. This was an exploratory mission after all and we didn’t have any place to be, so we could afford to take a day off due to the weather. Hopefully, the system stuck over us would move on and we would wake up to sunshine the next day.
Our own cozy “Hobbit Hole” for two nights…Photo courtesy of Joey Parent
At 5 AM I did a weather check…the steady rain had subsided to a drizzle. Feeling anxious from a day of lying around, we decide to vacate the warmth of the “Hobbit Hole” and brave the elements. Our objective for the day was to find a route around the top of the glacier. We were entering some of the most remote terrain of the highlands that was rarely travelled. One of our maps indicated that a track existed across the top. Other maps made no mention of such a route. We were heading into the unknown.
After a quick breakfast of oatmeal we were loaded and back on the bikes. It was 7 AM. Within five minutes we came upon our first stream crossing of the day. ‘So much for having dry feet.’ Our road was muddy from the past 24 hours of nonstop rain so the riding was sloppy. Continuously consulting the GPS, we followed a rocky road/path that roughly went in the direction that we aimed to go. The drizzle soon intensified back to a steady downpour and our visibility decreased. The landscape and sky were an unending shade of grey. ‘We have truly found Mordor.’ Following painted wooden markers we made our way across the rocky terrain stopping every once in awhile to shake our hands and stomp our feet to generate some warmth. ‘What are we doing out here?’
Joey travelling from trail marker to trail marker in a sea of grey…
Nearing lunchtime we caught site of the well-travelled Kjolur Road, a popular north/south route in the interior of the highlands. Being cold and wet, we mustered little enthusiasm for accomplishing our goal of traversing across the top of the glacier. All we could think about was getting to the emergency shelter that was a mile or so away. Cold was permeating everything and escaping the elements was paramount. Hopefully the hut was unlocked.
Finding the line across a barren expanse…Photo courtesy of Joey Parent
TO BE CONTINUED…
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I grew up in a military family where we moved 13 times before I left for college. Consequently, I have the continual urge to explore and travel having climbed, kayaked, and biked all over our amazing planet. My passion for the outdoors drives me to seek out adventures which often times combine multiple modes of travel or activities (i.e. biking to a wilderness area and then backpacking in to climb a high peak). "Keeping life simple" is a guiding motto of my life and for me, bike travel epitomizes simplicity.