Thursday, April 24, 2008


Dust storm as I headed back to the capital

Cycling on a walking track was not such a good idea

It was best to wait for a lift over this one
One of the few bridged rivers

Lava flow from a recent eruption


Is it a road, or is it a river?
Quality Icelandic roads, 23 river crossings in 20 km.
This is a natural feature known as "the church floor"
70 km in a straight line...
The results of a subglacial volcanic eruption on a bridge

Happy hay!

The east coast
This used to be the main road!

Sunset over the glacier
Ice cave at the foot of the glacier
Icelandic transport

Luckily there was a bridge!
A rare splash of colour in the desert

Thermal lake, small speck is a person in the water.

The bike has many uses.

Where are we?

Don't think it actually was that hot?
Emergency shelter in the interior

Click the photos to enlarge

The final tally, 2300 km

By Ben King

With global warming nudging Earth towards destruction, ‘responsible travel’ are the latest buzz words around the travel world. On a five-week cycling expedition through Iceland, Ben King took this philosophy to heart and discovered both the beauty (and brutality) of our extraordinary planet. 

If ever you decide to take up a career in being a hermit, I suggest that you move to Iceland. It might come as a surprise to many that, contrary to its name, this island country is predominantly desert rather than ice. Harsh climate conditions have prevented the existence of plant life in many areas and the only signs of civilisation are a few emergency shelters (sometimes five days of cycling apart), 4WD club huts and hot springs inviting the stray passerby to stop and enjoy the leisurely pace of the wilderness. 

Though this may be one of the more difficult countries to traverse by bike, there are many natural jewels glistening throughout Iceland that make my choice of transportation worth the effort. It is as if Iceland was the experimental ground for our planet’s creator – the contrasting landscape covers every form of earth, every type of texture, colour and design. In the space of five weeks I see geysirs, glaciers, mountains, waterfalls, volcanoes and lava that, cooled over time, looks like a huge pile of bed pillows, just to name a few of the natural phenomena that cover this country.

Using my own bike as transportation also doesn’t hurt the hip pocket, as Iceland prices equate to prices in most extortionist Scandinavian countries (a kilo of cheese costs A$20). But more importantly, I have become the self-appointed poster boy for ‘responsible travel’. Sure, I’ll have to put up with everything from dust and wind to rain and hail, but being forced into full contact with the elements provides an unrivaled way of experiencing this unknown land. 

I arrive in Iceland’s capital of Rejkyavik with my trusty transporter in tow. After stocking up on Extra Value Chocolate Covered Digestives, dried Icelandic fish and three days worth of water, the first stop is Geysir and Gullfoss. For good reason, all tourists to Iceland visit these two natural wonders. The Great Geysir (the name says it all) is a sight to behold with enormous bubbles rising out of a large hole in the ground and shooting a plume of scolding water 15m into the air. Only 10km away, the might of Gullfoss, said to be the most formidable waterfall in Europe, roars into the gully with incomprehensible power. 

It is at this point that the tourist buses turn around and head back to Rejkyavik, and the sealed road ends. But my journey continues and I pedal my way up to Myvatn in Iceland’s north. My lakeside campsite introduces me to a host of characters attempting similar travel feats, some more prepared than others. There’s Peter from Belgium, a 43-year-old that still has to call his mother to reassure her that he won’t die; a German man on his third walking trip across the country (and I thought cycling was pretty out there); several German families driving army-style Unimogs; and three Swiss guys travelling with more spare parts than the average bike shop on very expensive bikes (they asked where all my stuff is and I asked them why they have so much stuff).

The next morning, I also meet Chris, the only one there that has crossed Europe’s largest desert and my next destination: Askja. He estimates that it will take me three days to get there, and writes down camping spots and areas of deep sand. But to my surprise, he can’t help me with places to find water. It turns out that Chris is addicted to Coca Cola and opts for the more difficult option of lugging 11lt of Coke with him on his bike.

Heading out of town on the sealed ring road that circumnavigates Iceland, the only sound I hear is a huge plume of high-pressure steam escaping from the volatile landscape a few kilometres away. But when I turn off the main road, I discover that the side road has just been resurfaced by a grader, and I cruise quickly to Askja, arriving the morning after leaving Myvatn.

Askja is a large, active caldera, whose major eruption in 1875 left a small, thermally heated crater lake called Viti (hell) and Oskjuvatn, another enormous, 217m-deep lake. Leaving my bike, I hitchhike the 8km to the crater with a German man on his sixteenth trip to Iceland. He tells me that on his first trip, the black lava we are driving over was still molten. We reach the crater and stare down into Viti’s blue pupil of water and the surrounding rock and ice. 

A three-hour hike over the steaming, moon-like landscape takes me back to my bike and my camp for the night. The trip that I had planned to take five days has taken just two! However, my luck runs out further inland, as the sand takes over and I am forced to drag my bike for several kilometres before crossing a very large, angry glacial river. 

My next destination is Vatnajokull, the largest glacier in Europe. I weave through sand, lava formations, and black, red and yellow hills. Large, round river rocks toss me around in every direction until I finally arrive at the camp and leave my bags to cycle the final, tooth-rattling 5km to the ice caves at the edge. Perhaps a little foolishly, I ride past a French couple in a 4WD only discover a deep river crossing. I plunge in up to my thighs, with my bike on my shoulder, and carefully make my way across. My feat is rewarded with the incredible blue and pink swirling image of the Vatnajokull glacier [can you see the blue and pink from the ground or only from up high?].

Not wishing to repeat my triumphant river crossing, I hitch back to the camp where an elderly man and his wife invite me to join them for dinner. The menu: whale steak and potatoes. Real Icelandic food, I’m told, as I waste no time sampling the local delicacy along with a few beers supplied by two guys from the Reykjavik Search and Rescue. 

I wash dishes for a tour group in exchange for a lift back out to the first junction. Waving goodbye, I soon realise what I an idiot I am for not accepting a longer ride after 4km of pushing on my bike pedals in deep sand. It feels more like a grueling spinning class in a gym when I was actually hoping to get somewhere. I am forced to spend the next few hours deflating my tires when it gets soft, pumping them up again every time it gets hard (even for a short distances to avoid punctures), and reassuring every vehicle that stops to ask if I need help that, yes, in fact I am here at my own free will and not crazy, and no, I do not need any help, but thanks very much for asking.

I pass Skaftafell National Park and reach the stunning lake Jokulsarlon, an unusual natural ice playground for seals and other sea creatures. The glacier calves directly into the lake leaving icebergs of every size, colour and shape floating in the water. It looks like a stunning pool of diamonds, but is still alive with the bergs continuously groaning and cracking, as well as the cacophony of sound from the thousands of birds flying around. The last day of riding turns into a whole new adventure as the heavy rain gives way to 140km/hr winds that blow me – without pedaling – at a speed of over 60km/hr. My worn and wet brakes refuse to slow my progress, and I am forced to slow down by putting my foot onto the road. 

Something about other formations seen like the Svartifoss and the ‘church floor’.

Having made 40km in less than half an hour, I warm up at the local hot springs before dialing the number of an Icelandic cyclist I met two days earlier. She warmly invites me to spend my last days relaxing in her living room. Though I welcome these creature comforts after days of getting a little too well acquainted with the elements, it doesn’t compare to what I have seen in the last five weeks.

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At 6:49 pm, Blogger Meerkata said...


At 12:27 pm, Blogger Agent Angel said...

this is BEAUTIFUL!

At 7:29 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ben, I just checked out the pictures of your Iceland trip and just realized that we have covered very much the same terrain and that I remember a lot of the crossing of rivers and the valleys ... these are great pictures.

All the best,


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Good luck!

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