So I dreamt up the idea of visiting Iceland and couldn’t get it out of my head for a few years. There were many factors keeping me from going. Money, COVID, and the fact that logistically I was making it hard by wanting to see this country by bicycle, staying in a tent.
But as it always does, things fell into place and the trip started taking shape. One spontaneous night I bought the airplane tickets knowing that the time was right as it would ever be and that I need a challenge at this point in my life. One that would push me physically and psychologically.
The route I chose is called the Westfjords Way. The Westfjords is the oldest area of Iceland where some rock formations date back 16 million years. The route was set by an adventurer and someone I look up to in the photography and adventure space, Chris Burkard. It follows a 1000km loop of the Westfjords area with around 15 000m of climbing in between. Chris Burkard says it should take around 8 days, but due to our wanting to camp and our bikes being much heavier (40-50kgs), we planned a few extra days. The route is about 60% tar and 40% offroad. We ended up riding between 100-130km per day with about 2000m of climbing, every day. That’s the Cape Town Cycle Tour, with double the climbing, and a 50kg bike every day for 10 days.
If you want more information on the route: here is the breakdown
My adventure partner, Casper, and I met up in Reykjavik and took a bus to a petrol station in Staorskali. Bicycles strapped to the back of the bus, we didn’t know what to expect, but one thing was for sure: this would be an adventure. So we put our phones off for a digital detox, clipped our cleats in, and headed into the unknown.
We had around 6-7 hours of riding time a day while being on the road with lunches, many hot spring dips, and coffees, for about 10-12 hours in total. We mostly wild camped next to rivers or
waterfalls, wherever we ended up after a long day. Sometimes we would end by a campsite and make this our base for the night. The warm showers in the campsites were always a treat after the melting ice waterfall showers we’d been having.
The days were long, 20 hours of sunlight long. So, we could ride till 9 pm at night and sometimes even reapply our sunblock after 7 pm. The sun then sets and rises immediately so there is never complete darkness. Our little luminous green tent was therefore not the best place to sleep if you need darkness, so we pulled our beanies over our eyes and passed out every night after a long day of riding.
Our biggest challenge was the weather, which gets horrible in Iceland. A wind that blows cars over, snow, and torrential rain. But we did specifically go in the summer for this reason. Summer means an average of 13 degrees celsius with lows of about 5 degrees, so summer is an optimistic word to use. We did, however, score big time here. We had minimal wind, and minimal rain and had the right gear to keep us warm on our bicycles.
Many stories can be told from the road but one that stood out is one of our biggest mechanical failures. My gears broke while riding up a massive hill on day 4. We had about 30kms to go for the day, and I was stuck in my biggest, hardest gear. I walked up hills and pedaled hard on the flats. I knew we were in trouble as we still had 700kms to go on our trip, we had essentially just gotten started. We got to a town called Pateksfjorour where we were told about a mechanic on the hill who fixes bicycles as a hobby. When arriving he thought we were Swedish and when telling him we were from South Africa his response was “Then what the f#&@ are you doing here?!” This just shows how far away from anything we were in a tiny town, looking for a very specific bicycle part. But, Palli, the biggest legend, got his dad to buy the part in Reykjavik, send it overnight to the town we were in on a car part truck, and by 10 am the next day we were heading out of town. The full day at a hot spring wasn’t the worst place to wait for the part either.
The cycle was tough, and many Myprodols were taken, but the experience was something that cannot be described in words. The volcanic landscape was something from a dream. The Westjords are very untouched, and a few roads were not suitable for cars, so we were in a very isolated area. It was magical. Disconnected from the real world and in this moonlike landscape we connected as friends, shared unforgettable moments, and worked through all of life’s problems, one pedal stroke at a time.
I hope this inspires you to pursue that dream or adventure you have in your mind because no one is going to pursue it for you.
Remember, it’s only impossible until it’s done.