Dan's Sing Around Iceland cycle tour – Halfway through the Tour
Time for another rest stop and a sarnie break – here's my latest update on progress round Iceland, musings on life, geology and everything Icelandic – and maybe a paragraph or two about cycling, singing or both! Coming to you LIVE from Akureyri, cultural hotspot and capital of the north, and home to some truly wonderful genuine Icelandic folks.
Groa's summerhouse in Skorradalur, Wednesday 10 August
Time has passed. It is now September and quite possibly autumn in Iceland – though there can still be bright sunshine during the day and mid-teens temperatures (that's my kinda summer, folks!), there's more likely to be cloud-covered skies (and mountains), winds and rain – fortunately not a given, but I'm glad I've taken a couple of days off in Akureyri to regroup, give my legs a chance to rebuild, repair and recondition themselves – and frankly, to have a chance to meet people, look around a bit, relax, and not feel guilty about not managing only 45 km on a day when I've had other things to do than just cycle. Like check emails, contact the media or potential hosts, check or clean the bike, take photos, air the tent, wash clothes, buy, prepare or eat meals.. but the blog is calling, and I find the best way to be productive on a 'cycling day' (which actually all but three of the last twenty-eight have been) is to allow myself a day to get these things out of the way and attack a day with preparations already made. Funny, I thought this was just a cycle trip..
So how am I doing? One month, 1650km (over 1000 miles, people), and the Westfjords now long behind me – on Thursday I got out the map which said East Iceland! All good, and over halfway on my projected route and schedule, but on the clockface of Iceland I'm now at around 12pm, when I started at 8am (Reykjavik).. there's a lot of distance to cover in the next three weeks. That's what going off-piste and exploring Snæfellsnes and the Westfjords do for you – though I wouldn't have missed them for the world. How's the cycling? Great! Averaging towards 20kph (11mph and over, generally), which with all that luggage, clothing and food is no mean feat (especially with wind from ahead, unforgiving gradients that do tax me when I'm touring with twice the luggage as normal (tent, cooking supplies and other paraphernalia), and gravel roads for up to 20km at a stretch.) Gravel roads that are in fact mostly clay – generally smooth to ride on but slower, both through increased rolling resistance and the requirement to limit absolute speed so as to be able to avoid potholes and rocks – but certainly requiring more focus on purely making progress. This however is in the dry. I've not yet cycled on gravel (clay) in the rain, but I have a short time later, and found the most treacherous conditions yet in Iceland. Not unsafe – even with a heavily laden, road-based tourer on chunky but practically slick Marathon Supreme tyres, though I'd worry about going downhill and risking locking up the brakes in a skid – but the clay and tiniest gravel tends to get sucked up by the tyres as Dulux gets sucked up by the paint roller. Result: if you've ever mixed cement you´ll be able to imagine the half-inch-thick, SOLID slab of aggregate I had to peel/prise/smear out of my mudguards (they don't have half an inch's clearance. They'd popped their stays by this stage) which otherwise would have stopped the wheels from turning. And it weighed a chunk, as well. Fingers couldn't shift it – a pointy stick was required.
The Road From Hell
It liked me so much, it wanted to all come with me..
You try pedalling that bad boy.
Clearing the splattered gravel inevitably meant I'd end up with some on the chain and cogs as well – and they don't like it up'em, sir. Not when they've got another 1200km to do in Iceland and hopefully then some. I've got into some better habits of cleaning my chain (petrol, nailbrush, relube) far more often than I would do at home! Gravel grinds your chain and cogs (wet roads); the dry roads I'd encountered in my first week were so dry that the dust that got everywhere had a similar effect.
This is a B-road in Iceland.
Passable? Well, I wrote this, at a computer, after taking this photo. It's fine.
The roads generally? Very rare that I see a metalled road which isn't at least the equal of a British A-road. Not all roads are tarmac, true – and even major routes can turn to gravel/clay without an obvious reason. But the investment in these roads is incredible given the comparable usage of an arterial route in the UK to the traffic rate here. Granted, I'm not around during the morning rush hour (and since Icelanders work 8-4 compared to our 9-5, the afternoon rush hour is much diluted), but one vehicle passing every ten minutes, 30 minutes even, is not uncommon. Do they need these roads? Of course – they are as entitled to the same standard of living and lifestyles as is anyone else on the planet, and that means being able to get between places directly without paying for a flight or knowing a man with a boat. Do they need to be this good? Well, I for one am glad they are. But any motorbike, any vehicle with more wheels than two even, would be fine on the gravel roads that make up the rest of the road network (and the gaps between the tarmac stages are being plugged), and though I might be happier on a fat-tyred mountain bike with or without some suspension (and some tread on the tyres), a decent tourer is tough enough to cope with pretty much anything you'd ever throw at it, as long as you're not stupid. Hell, you could do this tour on a race bike if you had backup with left luggage facilities. Maybe I'm making it out to be tougher than it is. Well I'm not even carrying a razor and my bike plus luggage is still going to be 60-70% of my weight..
Top of the world..
Out and About in Þorskafjarðaheiði.
..I just cycled up that. Yup, with two month's worth of kit..
The route crossing the backbone of the Westfjords. Þorskafjarðaheiði.
So why don't you see posher cars on the roads? When the banking bubble burst, many Icelanders (as well as all the rest of us) had been sold the idea of taking out large, cheap loans even if they didn't need them – or increasing the amount they wanted to borrow because it was such a safe way to make money.. and the aspirational vehicle in Iceland has always been the Big Shiny New 4×4. Not the Porsche, let alone the Ferrari – if you spend money on your wheels in Iceland then it's a truck. The poshest cars I've seen are in the cities – the odd older Mercedes, some newer Audis, I think I saw a Boxster in Reykjavik last year.. but though the roads here are divine (and speed cameras are rare, though not nonexistent – don't bother speeding through tunnels), not all your driving is going to be on them. Low ground clearance and Icelandic roads don't mix because when you're off the main routes (as you will be at the start or end of your journey), you'll be on the rough. People don't spend a lot of money on cars in Iceland – if it goes, it's fine, and the stones flicking up at the bodywork won't cost you much if the car isn't worth much anyways. Where they spend their wonga is on the go-anywhere beast that will cross the interior roads – ha, 'roads' – in safety and without getting stuck when you're crossing a river. No bridges in the interior. The only bigger-wheeled 4x4s you´ll see than in Iceland will be the Nitro Circus stunt trucks that are bigger than your house. And could drive over it.
This is hardcore
So what does that make me if I cycled up it?
Carry on to find out more about Iceland and my ride... (next page)