Bikepacking Iceland: The Whispering Volcano

In the youngest landscape on earth, every feature is temporary.

Before we get into our last few days in Iceland, I want to take a second to welcome all my new followers. I am very humbled to have been a WordPress feature this week, and there are a lot of new faces on my subscriber list. I really appreciate being a part of your inbox.

So, welcome, enjoy, and please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions about my trips. I love chatting!

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With the mountains of South Iceland fading away behind us, Kelley and I found ourselves with some time to kill. We had a little under a week to finish three days of riding (backtracking) along the southwest coast of Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula. That gave us plenty of time to be tourists.

Since the suggestions from the Italians we met in Grindavik had been so wonderful thus far, we beelined for the Hot River in Hveragerði.

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Hveragerði is just southeast of Reykjavik, about 25km from the coast, north of Þorlákshöfn. The town is one of the most geothermally active in all of Iceland, and is built above a very active volcanic plain. Even the towns name bears the root word hver, meaning hot spring.

The number one must-see geothermal feature in Hveragerði is the Hot River Hike. It’s an amazing 3.5km hike through steep, winding mountainside switchbacks, up and into the heart of the hot spring activity in the Reykjanes peninsula. The higher you climb on the twisting mountain route, the warmer the tumbling river becomes.

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Kelley and I didn’t want to leave our bikes behind in our campsite, so we brought them with us. The route was very steep, and that meant a lot of hike-a-bike. We pushed and pulled the half-loaded touring bikes over sections that were difficult just to walk on.

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Kelley and I were exhausted by the end; the only thing that kept us going was the promise of a natural hot spring bath at the top. Lucky for us, the Hot River delivered.

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We found a small sheep path off of the main hiking route, and took it for about a kilometer to a secret spot along the hot river, further down from the main tourist dip. The boiling water that pours from the steam vents and mud pools up above mixes with an icy stream partway up the mountain; by the time it got to us, the water was about 38ºC, a toasty jacuzzi temperature. It was beyond perfect.

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We spent an hour floating in mineral water. Every muscle unknotted after the steep hike. From where we were, all we could see in all directions was the beautiful Icelandic countryside. You’d think we were the only people in the country.

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Eventually, we made our way back into town. Hveragerði is also a bustling artist’s community, with gardens and museums and shops. It’s a beautiful place, and doesn’t feel as haphazard as Grindavik. It felt like a community, which is something often lost when so many of Iceland’s “cities” are only a decade or two past being remote villages.

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Feeling refreshed, we got back on the bikes that same afternoon and biked back to Þorlákshöfn. We were glad to have made the pilgrimage; it felt like we were a lot more ready to retrace our steps along the coast, back to Sandgerði and our bike boxes.

In Þorlákshöfn, we met Noah, a bike tourist from California with a wakeboard attached to his trailer. He found a weird metal disc on the beach, coated in rust and about seven inches across.

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I googled it on a hunch, and found that it looked dangerously similar to a WWII-era anti-personnel mine. They come in a lot of shapes, but one matched this perfectly. Whoa. At 7AM, I snuck over to Noah’s tent (he wasn’t shy) and grabbed the mine, carefully moving it away from the camping area. “Huh. Well, thanks dude. I probably shouldn’t have banged it against those rocks to get the rust off,” said Noah.

We told the campsite manager, and she got the police to remove it. Phew!

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We were back on the road again, trying to pour down as many miles as we could while the weather was nice. Rain was looming; dark skies added to the urgency a little bit. We have rain gear, but riding in a downpour isn’t that much fun, especially when you have to dry everything out for two days afterwards.

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The road to Grindavik was great. It’s nice and flat, since it weaves between the coast and a ridge, but there’s a big climb near the end. We made it to the next campground, but it was only 2PM and we were feeling spry, so we kept pushing and had a nice 70km day, despite the headwind.

There’s one major climb on this road, the biggest we’d seen the entire trip, and I decided I was going to mash on my bigger gear and try to singlespeed up and over it. Easily the hardest climb of my life, but I did it. I am really noticing a big chance in my power output now that I’ve been exclusively singlespeed for a few months, and I love it. I don’t know if I’ll put gears back on the bike until my knees give out.

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To celebrate the last “big” day of riding, we made burritos in Grindavik. I added Italian seasoning to the beans and chick-peas, and Kelley was really grumpy. It tasted terrible. I tried to salvage mine with some thai sweet chili sauce, but that made things much worse… I’m thinking a backpacker’s spice kit with some cumin and pepper is probably not a bad future purchase.

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And then, it was back across the lava fields, back to where we started. We couldn’t resist a second visit to Gunnuhver and the lighthouse along the coast, and I was glad we stopped by. I took some new pictures from new perspectives.

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Gunnuhver was roaring, and so was the wind. I took a video to give you an idea of the power here. It’s way cooler to watch than Geysir, though Geysir gets thousands more tourists over the course of the season. I took a video, though it’s about 25 seconds longer than it needs to be:

 

Someone else was nabbing footage there, too. near the cliff, I graced someone’s drone-cam, which was fun. They almost lost it in the wind. It went tumbling over the edge of the cliff, but with 100ft of free-fall, the pilot saved it. They ended up having to pluck it from midair. With a view like this, I’d say it was worth the risk.

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We saw a baby seabird nestled in the cliff, too. It’s the little grey puff-ball, right in the middle.

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I shot a lot of new pictures here.

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I kind of forgot how steep the cliff was and walked right up to the edge, with the wind gusting at my back. After I peered over the edge for this shot, I kind of came to my senses and backed off. Amazing how a repeat visit felt so much less scary than the first visit, or maybe I’ve just become more accustomed to the size and scope of landscape features here.

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Beautiful spot! From the road, you can see a brand new baby island off on the horizon. Those are some steep cliffs out there.

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After that, it was back to more endless lava fields for the final push home. The wind was absolutely whipping, keeping us at a crawl for all 50km’s. Our “easy ride” home was actually harder than almost any other section on the trip, thanks to that relentless headwind. But, that’s Iceland; even when it’s sunny and bright, the weather can still be hell!

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We stopped by the bird sanctuary. Unfortunately, the roadkill totals tripled over the course of the month. More tourists, more dead birds. You can see them scattered in the road there.

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The miles fell off, one after another. Our last pedal strokes in Iceland, and the end of a 30-day journey. It’s hard to describe how it felt. On the one hand, there’s the bittersweet pine for more. So much more Iceland out there to discover… we met someone who talked to an Englishman on his 16th visit. “There’s still more to see!” he proclaimed.

On the other, the weather and riding in Iceland is hard, and we were longing for our bed, our cat, and some of the comforts of home. I’ll probably still stay in the tent for half the remaining summer, but it’ll be nice to ride my other bike again.

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Before we knew it, we were back in Sandgerði. A quick picture to mark the end of the tour, and that’s all she wrote!

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I hope you’ve enjoyed the last month of our adventure. If you missed a post, click back onto my home page by tapping the gear at the top of the page, and you can scroll back in time for the whole trip.

I’ll be posting some gear reviews and post-trip reflections this next month, along with my new gear list after experiencing Iceland in person (hint: I drop 10 pounds of gear). Until then, keep exploring! New England trips are in my future!

Max

Bonus Pictures:

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Photo Credit: Kelley

 

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4 thoughts on “Bikepacking Iceland: The Whispering Volcano

  1. Beautiful pictures! When I saw the title on WordPress reader, I knew I had to check it out. Love reading about your journey in my hone country, you’ve descriped it beautifully yet accurately

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