Iceland 2009: The East

Friday 12th June: Egilsstağir - Breiğdalsvík (83 km)


You know you are cycling in Iceland when ... the downhill is harder than the uphill.

In northern Iceland the wind seemed to blow up the valleys in the afternoon. Riding up to the passes was easy and fun, but strong, cold headwinds made the descents quite arduous.

The wind is the single biggest factor influencing the happiness or unhappiness of the bicycle tourist in Iceland. It seems to be always there, pushing you along from behind or impeding your progress from the front. The prevailing wind is easterly, particularly on the south and east coasts. When the wind blows from the south it will be wet and cloudy in the south and dry in the north. When the wind blows from the north it will be very cold in the north and sunny in the south.

In theory you should cycle around Route 1 in a clockwise direction for the most favorable winds, although most cyclists seem to go in the opposite direction. A word of warning about Icelandic weather forecasts: the wind speeds are usually given in metres per second. We had to multiply the wind speeds by 3.6 to convert to kilometres per hour.


Breiğdalsheiği

We were grateful for the summit shelter on Breiğdalsheiği


Breiğdalsheiği

Route 1, on the descent of Breiğdalsheiği


Höskuldsstağir

Route 1, near Höskuldsstağir


Mud

Mud: Difficult conditions for the bicycles.


Breiğdalur

Breiğdalur, looking back towards Breiğdalsheiği



Karen's diary:

We didn't have far to go today and we had two choices, (i) Route 92, the 'coast road' to Reyğarfjörğur or (ii) Route 1 to Breiğdalsvík which was mostly inland. We chose Route 1 (although I don't really know why) and hoped that the watery, grey clouds over the mountains would have blown away by the time we got there. Wrong! After an easy cruise along the east shore of Lagarflót, a long, narrow lake, we began to climb. The road alternated between bitumen and gravel as we left the lake and followed the Suğurdalur valley. When we had gained some height the wind changed direction and blew the rain straight at us. We could see it coming and managed to eat something and put waterproofs on before it really hit us. The valley was very beautiful, with lots of small waterfalls coming down the hillsides and plenty of trees. The river got steeper and wilder, with waterfalls tumbling through gorges.

A fine, cold rain was blowing straight into our faces. I couldn't take any photos in such weather. At last the angle of the road steepened sharply up to 12%. I scrambled madly to get up the muddy, stony road (and almost couldn't do it!). Just after the highest point on the pass was an emergency refuge and it was open. We scrambled inside the tiny building to eat something and warm up; we were grateful to escape from the cold wind and rain for a little while. The refuge was set by a beautiful little lake and ringed by snow-topped mountains.

It was time to leave and begin the descent. The road hairpinned steeply down the eastern side of the plateau. We admired the views of Breiğdalur, a big, wide valley lined with pointed, snowy mountains, countless waterfalls and a lush, green valley floor patterned with looping streams and rivers. The descent was over very quickly and then we spent ages plugging along the flat on a very muddy road. Soon the bikes were plastered with mud and so were we. The gears stopped functioning so Brian fetched water from a stream to wash the chains, cogs and brakes. It was a relief to get back onto a sealed road but we suffered through another 'Icelandic downhill', a 15km struggle into a very chilly wind. We arrived in Breiğdalsvík at 4.15pm, just in time for shopping, and then went to find the campground nearby. It is maintained by the hotel and is free of charge. There are no showers but there is plenty of hot water and the site is level and sheltered. The village is small, quiet and pretty and there are nice views of mountains.

Two more cyclists have arrived, a friendly couple from Belgium. We chatted for a while and then set to work, washing our muddy bikes, panniers and clothing. My beautiful yellow raincoat will never look clean again!