Iceland 2009: The North

Tuesday 9th June: Akureyri - ReykjahlÝ­ (Mřvatn) (106 km)

You know you are cycling in Iceland when ... the temperature is always ten degrees.

During our stay the temperature ranged from 4 to 17 degrees Celsius but most daily maximum temperatures were about ten degrees. How cold is ten degrees? Despite the relatively constant temperature, some days were pleasant, some were cool and some were downright cold and miserable. The 'shade temperature', which is what you see in weather forecasts, does not tell the whole story. This is our assessment of what ten degrees feels like in Iceland:

Our friend and fellow adventurer Brian Cunningham says, 'Of the three factors: wind, rain and cold, you can cope with any two of these factors at the same time but you cannot easily cope with all three at the same time.' This idea is well known among fell runners but we call it 'Cunningham's Rule'.




Icelandic Horses near Mřvatn


The pseudocraters near Sk˙tusta­ir were formed by steam explosions when lava flowed over marshland


Our warm and cosy hut at ReykjahlÝ­ (Mřvatn)

Karen's diary:

No blue sky this morning, just low clouds and cold, drizzly fog. We are starting to wonder whether the 'warm, dry north' is just a myth invented by the tourist industry. Warmly dressed, we coasted down through the town centre to the waterfront. It's a nice looking place... but we don't crave cafÚ life - just sunshine. Akureyri seems to be built entirely on the western side of the fjord. We crossed the N˙pß river on a causeway and began to climb. The road was very narrow but there was little traffic. It was a very pretty ride amongst masses of purple lupins and little conifers. Small streams and waterfalls ran down the hillside. Across the fjord the views of the city got better as we climbed higher.

After the initial climb the road undulated for a while, then climbed sharply as it turned inland to the east. The drizzle had stopped and we removed a layer of clothing. An illuminated sign informed us that the temperature at the top of the pass was four degrees. We got very warm climbing up but felt very cold as we hurtled down the other side. Down amongst rolling, grassy hills we could have been back in Australia... except that we haven't seen any rabbits. The wind got more challenging as we approached Fosshˇll.

The main attraction at Fosshˇll is a lovely waterfall called Go­afoss. It is not very high but the volume of water is tremendous. If you go near it you have to wear a raincoat. Across the river is a combined gas station, supermarket and cafÚ. There was no hot food but we bought snacks in the supermarket and sat in the cafÚ to eat. The big windows looked out over the waterfall.

After Fosshˇll there was a stiff climb up and over a windswept plateau. A fast descent brought us down to Laugar, a prosperous looking spa town. One of the rules of cycling in Iceland is that when you see a shop and it's open, you must go in and buy some food. So we had another snack. The sun had come out. A local teenage girl walked by wearing a skimpy summer dress. She looked cute but if I dressed like that I'd have hypothermia.

From Laugar we had a roaring tailwind all the way to Mřvatn. There were some hills but they were easy. We laughed at them. The lake of Mřvatn is surrounded by fascinating geological features that result from volcanic activity. We rode past lumpy, contorted lava fields, strange caves and clusters of cinder cones, all curious. In amongst it all were tiny sheep pastures fenced in by delicate, lacy drystone walls. We saw plenty of horses, too, and they don't mind having their photos taken. For the very first time since KeflavÝk we have seen some other cyclists. We passed a group of five along the lake (and exchanged greetings but didn't stop). At Gar­ur the road turned to the north and for the last 13 kms we struggled against a cold headwind. On our right was Hverfell, a low, wide volcano, completely barren and grey. Further ahead we could see steam rising from vents in the hillsides.

When at last we reached ReykjahlÝ­ we went straight to the supermarket. The first people we saw there were the two German boys we'd met in KeflavÝk on our first day. They were going to the pool to relax and warm up. Then we met two more German cyclists (closer to our age) who'd been touring further north. They'd been on the Dettifoss road and found it very slow going.

We found our campground (HlÝ­) remarkably situated on edge of a lava flow. It had nice views of the town, the lake and the surrounding mountains. We have rented a cabin for two nights - we will have a day off tomorrow for sleeping, eating, swimming and laundry. It is nice to be indoors. Although the afternoon has been fine and the sky is half blue, the wind is ice cold.