Iceland 2009: The West

Monday 1st June: KeflavÝk - Borgarnes (155 km)

You know you are cycling in Iceland when ... you get lost in the capital city and you can't find anyone to ask directions.

Approximately two thirds of the 319000 people living in Iceland live in the southwest corner of the country in the Greater ReykjavÝk area, which comprises the capital city ReykjavÝk and the surrounding urban areas - Kˇpavogur, Gar­abŠr, Hafnarfj÷r­ur, MosfellsbŠr and a few smaller places.

ReykjavÝk has restaurants, bars, museums, art galleries, universities, a beautiful church, a couple of bicycle shops and many swimming pools. It has clean air, beautiful views and minimal traffic congestion. It has big city amenities together with small town convenience.

The rest of the country is sparsely populated. Akureyri, the largest settlement outside the Greater ReykjavÝk area, has a population of 17000.

Alex Camping courtesy vehicle

Our bicycles were loaded onto a trailer for the short journey from the Airport to Alex Motel and Camping

Route 1 north of MossfellsbŠr

View from Route 1 north of MossfellsbŠr


A rest stop at the head of Hvalfj÷r­ur (Whale fjord)


Cyclists must take the 62 km road around Hvalfj÷r­ur (Whale fjord) to avoid a banned undersea tunnel

Karen's diary:

31st May: Arriving in Iceland

Reykjavik airport is very pleasant compared to CDG. It's a manageable size, everyone is multi-lingual and it's a low-stress environment. Our aim was to get to Alex Camping for the evening (5km from the terminal) and as advertised, they have a booth at the airport where we could organise a pick-up with the shuttle-bus. There were two German boys there, also with bikes. The shuttle-bus has a large trailer so all our bikes fitted on easily. Any cyclist who spends their first and last nights at Alex Camping is allowed to leave their bike box in storage free of charge. It is a very civilised arrangement. There is an Italian cycling couple already here at the campground (the fellow is very friendly and has come to chat but we have not met his girlfriend). The weather is very sunny and fine and we are all in good spirits. We plan to head off tomorrow (clockwise around Iceland) but the others are going anti-clockwise.

1st June: On the road

We slept very soundly until 3.00am and then pretended to sleep until 4.30am - when we got up the sky was clear, blue and lovely. The air was cool as we set off on the infamous road to ReykjavÝk. For the most part it was a magnificent, velvet-smooth dual carriageway with a generous shoulder (two to three metres wide). There was no wind. As far as we could see Reykjanes Peninsula was a lava field; rocks and stones everywhere and nothing growing but moss and lupins. In the distance we could see snow-topped hills and mountains.

A big bank of clouds rolled in from the southwest and the light became dull. As we drew closer to ReykjavÝk the good shoulder narrowed and finally dwindled almost to nothing, leaving us teetering on the edge of the bitumen. However, today is Whit Monday, a public holiday, and the main road into town was eerily quiet. We didn't want to go right into the centre and decided to bypass it but we misunderstood the road-signs and missed our correct turnoff. Brian referred to his photocopied maps and decided to improvise on a bike-path which miraculously took us where we wanted to go! Northeast of ReykjavÝk it wasn't far to MossfellsbŠr, a dormitory town where we found a supermarket open. We stocked up for the day.

I had intentions of going to Ůingvellir that day but it wasn't far enough for Brian - he wanted to take advantage of the holiday and get as far from ReykjavÝk as possible. So we decided to aim for Borgarnes, a coastal village north of the capital. The main road passes through an undersea tunnel. Cyclists, tractors and horses are banned from using it so we went the long way round Hvalfj÷r­ur (Whale Fjord) on the old road. We had left the suburbs far behind. There was a good tailwind and we moved fast, and the fjord got more scenic the further we went. Above us were steep, stony hills; below us lay rolling, green pasture, speckled with flowers. There were buttercups, dandelions and lupins, and occasionally daffodils or tulips. We saw plenty of waterfowl, too.

Sadly, a tailwind into the fjord means a headwind out of the fjord so the return was much harder. When we rejoined Route 1 north of the tunnel it was a hell-hole. The road was narrow with a terrible, crumbly shoulder, a cold headwind was blowing and the traffic was unbelievable.

Now we knew why ReykjavÝk had been so empty this morning - everybody was up north for the long weekend and was returning on Route 1. It was quite scary but the motorists gave us as much space as they could and nobody was rude to us. Eventually the wind swung around and became a gentle tailwind and the traffic began to calm down. We were crossing another lava field, thick with lupins, and looming above us was a row of mountains - low but steep and composed entirely of scree.

Exhausted, we decided to take a room at the Venus Motel rather than camping. They offer cheaper rates if you use your own sleeping bags instead of the motel bedlinen. There were no kitchen facilities so we wandered down into the coastal scrub to cook our dinner. Our room is small but cosy and has views of the giant scree-slopes. I am very tired and rather sore - fairly normal for the first day.