Iceland 2009: The North

Thursday 11th June: ReykjahlÝ­ (Mřvatn) - Egilssta­ir (168 km)

You know you are cycling in Iceland when ... there is nowhere to hide.

Route 1, also known as The Ring Road, is the main road around Iceland. East of Mřvatn there is a stretch of over 100 kilometres where there are no shops, no houses, no buildings of any sort. There are a few road signs, a couple of rest areas with no facilities, and lines of cairns that mark the old postal route. There are no trees, there is not much drinking water and in really bad weather there is nowhere to hide.

There are plenty of roads through the interior that are more difficult than this section of Route 1. They are unsealed roads with even fewer services, often snowbound and punctuated by difficult river crossings. Every year, adventurous cyclists seek out these roads to fulfill their own personal challenges.

Route 1 east of Mřvatn

Mřvatns÷rŠfi - The dry plateau east of Mřvatn

Junction of Routes 1 and 901

M÷­rudals÷rŠfi. We are near the highest point on Route 1, about 800 metres above sea level.

A road sign battered by storms

Beware of sandstorms: they can strip the paint off anything

Route 1

A horrid descent near Skj÷ldˇlfssta­ir. The new road is under construction on the other side of the valley.

Karen's diary:

Well, it was long. At 6.00am the road was very quiet and we made good progress. We passed the places that weĺd visited yesterday; once weĺd passed the Krafla turnoff the road was straight and level. It was easy cycling and when the gentle crosswind swung in behind us and gathered strength we were almost flying. Yesterdayĺs blue sky was all gone, but who wants a sunburn anyway? Wind-eroded grass gave way to gravel and stony hillsides and then we were in the desert. Most cyclists avoid this section by riding on the bus and we couldnĺt really understand it. It was quite atmospheric and the calm solitude of the place was very enjoyable. After the Dettifoss turnoff (route 864) we began to see more signs of water ľ small streams and ponds. Gradually the water got more plentiful. Long stretches of the roadside have been planted with grass in an attempt to curtail erosion and sandstorms. There are surprising numbers of birds up here, mainly geese and swans. There are some very handsome, large, creamy-coloured ones, with a golden-brown head and neck. Although the sky was overcast we could see lots of snowy peaks around us. To the south lay a striking mountain, Her­ubrei­ ľ it looked like a giant, snowy wedding cake. We climbed gradually, crossing ranges of low hills, and reached a high point of about 800m.

After about 100kms we began to descend down the Gilsß river valley. We were looking forward to a rest at Skj÷ldˇlfssta­ir where we expected to find a cafÚ (and accommodation if necessary). It wasn't easy to get there!

'Malbik Endar', the road sign we all dread - 'Bitumen Ends'. Roadworks were underway to create a new road on the north side of the river. It was not yet complete so we (and everyone else) continued on the old road - a horrible, narrow, steep, soft and muddy goat-track. The only place to ride was in the wheel-ruts of a large truck. At the bottom of the hill it changed from mud to soft gravel and stones, almost unrideable but thankfully it only went for 300m.

At Skj÷ldˇlfssta­ir we found the cafÚ and went inside to eat - lovely, hot, nourishing soup with bread and butter. After riding for 115kms we didn't feel too tired but when we went back outside the weather had deteriorated and a cold rain was falling. We put on more waterproof clothing and plugged down yet another 'Icelandic downhill', a descent down a near-flat river valley into a strong, cold headwind - more strenuous than the climb. The surrounding countryside was actually very nice; above us lots of small waterfalls ran down the steep hillsides and below us the river ran through lush farmland and intermittent rocky gorges.

After 33kms of punishment it was a relief to cross the river and climb up the other side of the valley. The wind was behind us again and the climb (about 200m) warmed us up. We then enjoyed a very fast 20km descent into Egilssta­ir. We had outrun the rain! The last few kilometres were tricky and unpleasant owing to road re-surfacing. Loose stones were piled up in mounds and ridges along the sides of the road, a real hazard which continued all the way through town. One pathetic little sweeping-machine was engaged in trying to clear the stones from the roadside but surely this would take weeks! It was a relief to get to the supermarket; it was 6.00pm and we were cold, hungry and very tired. Our panniers bulged with food as we set off for the campground. It is a relief to be here at last. Our tent is a cosy haven and the inside of my sleeping bag seems like paradise.