South of France

 

Mini trip to sunny France. Hot sand, warm water, plastic canoes, dark cave and cheesy cheese!

 

 

 

 

Part 8

Day 12

All night I’ve been thinking about hot dogs in Myvatn so I get up super early and swiftly cover remaining 50 kilometers. Icelanders are very proud of their hot dogs and rightly so… I eat three :) I would easily swallow some more but was too embarrassed to queue up for the fourth time…

The place is swarmed by little flies, I’ve never seen a plague like this before. See below for a romantic dinner – me, noodles and flies at the back of the tourist information center:

I’m soon joined by two gentlemen – Gili from Israel and The Man With The Wolf Flag from Ireland. Gili (short bloke behind his huge backpack) is an extreme solo hiker, having just finished his month long walk in Greenland he is preparing for some more walking (North to South) in Iceland. Once again I’m surprised how small this place is – Gili met Toby (German hiker I met in Nydyilur) who couple of days ago was shopping for a new tent in Akureyri.  The Man With The Wolf Flag was a bit more complicated affair and neither Gili nor myself could quite figure out why is he walking on the asphalt road West to South whith big heavy flag with a wolf painted on it.

Man with the flag grabs his flag says good bye and walks away. Gili and I agree to meet for a beer in the evening. Now all I need to do is to go to the local swimming pool (they have one in every village here) and relax in the sauna.

 Day 13

I open my eyes just to close them shut immediately blinded by the sun. My brain trying to figure out why there is no usual redness of my tent sheet between me and the sky above. I look down at my body – it is lying neatly in the cocoon of my sleeping bag, mild headache unable to kill the beauty of the spot. Looks like few beers made me too lazy to pitch a tent last night so I just walked away from the road in search of a grassy spot. To my horror surprise I woke up right next to this pretty little canyon :)

Yesterday in the information center I was recommended a hike so I am catching a bus which takes me to the top of a nearby volcanic formations. 

From here I slowly walk down back to the village… Look closely at the image below, perhaps you can find one shy bird there.

Back in the village I find this:

It’s a 1976 Ford Bronco as seen in the ‘Into The Wild’ movie.

Speaking of cars… Since off road driving in Iceland is forbidden during summer months people try to enjoy winter driving as much as they can. Hence subtle tire/suspension modifications like seen on this Ford van: 

or this nearly standard Jeep Grand Cherokee:

 

I will come back to cars later but now I say hello to my bike and goodbye to Myvatn.. Having walked whole day I’m very keen to do some proper mountain biking so I take a small path that runs roughly in the right direction…

After a bit of a struggle with loaded bike (3 fences to cross) I arrive at Grottagia:

It’s a cave filled with super hot water. Feels like more than 50 deg celsius (guidebook) and transition from 7 deg windy air is quite a shock so I only take a short dip.

I come back to the ring road and after few kilometers turn left to visit Dimmu Borgir (Icelandic for Dark Castles), weird lava towers formed 2300 years ago. And because I hate when such a lovely grim place is turned into a touristic attraction with cafes, little wooden fences and hundreds of information boards, I pull out my weapon and play ukulele cover of Devil’s Path from the band called, yes you’ve guessed it – Dimmu Borgir!

Note devilish chord progression captured on the photo above. In appreciation of my performance German family together with elderly Swiss couple briefly form a mosh pit in front of me. After I’m done I pack my instrument and head back to my bike… I cycle for an hour or so an set a camp behind big rock.

Day 14

 

It’s the last cycling day so despite pouring rain I make the most out of it.

I drop down to 10 km/h on the uphill just to reach 65.8km/h on the downhill LOL

To my surprise I got to Akureiri (100km) in about 5 hours and managed to catch evening bus to Reykjavik. After a beautiful 5 hours bus ride I arrive at the heart of the famous Reykjavik Friday party night. I check into Salvation Army hostel and then walk around city center till 3 am.

Day 15

In the morning I make a series of interesting discoveries. First the city is cleaned up after all night party mess.

Second: there is pleasant lack of gold in a local church…

And third one needs some introduction. You see I was cycling across Iceland and saw many signs and information boards in different languages. Most of them in Icelandic, English and German but occasionally there were some cultural adjustments. For example signs forbidding off-road driving were mostly in Italian and Germans were never reminded about keeping places clean etc. Well in my hostel kitchen I found one in Polish: 

 

All packed I go for a last stroll around town…

 

In a dock warehouse I find this:

Small Land Cruiser under construction. Chris – mechanic engineer has been working on his toy for 2 years. Widened rims ready for huge tires, electronic controlled pneumatic suspension all around and 4.2 turbo diesel swap!

 

I catch a bus to the airport with a stop at the Blue Lagoon along the way…

 

So sadly the trip is over but wait …. Snare roll!!!!!! Time has come to prove that apart from all the self portraying there was actually some cycling done as well :)

 

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Part 7

Day 10

..or first day of coming back :( I start the morning with a little bit of bike wrenching wielding my cone spanners around rear hub that came loose recently. I get on a bike and retrace my footsteps to the junction where red road meets small ‘I shall shake you to pieces’ road. I turn. This alternative route north isn’t very popular but while it lacks spectacular features it is home to one of the wildest stories from Icelandic history. Bad road soon turns into gravel highway allowing me steady 25km/h for almost an hour! Makes me think about a day when after 8 hours in the saddle I barely covered 45km. It is, however, most lonely and isolated day on the road with no cars to wave to… apart of one: I meet a biology student in a pickup truck, she drove here all the way from Reykjavik (8 hours one way) to count eggs of wild geese… now that’s what I call a summer job! She seems to be quite good at history as well so I’m enjoying a free lecture about Fjalla Eyvindur.

Fjalla-Eyvindur was an Icelandic outlaw who together with his wife Halla has fled into the remote highlands of Iceland around 1760. The panorama below shows their oasis.

This thin strip of green grass which back then was permanently cut off by glaciers and two big rivers, fed Fjalla’s family and all the stolen sheep for hardly believable 20 years!

Lava field in the background still shows some traces of primitive shelters for people and animals…

Congratulations – you’ve made through the second and last history lesson!

By the abandoned rangers post I cross a rather weird river. It’s wide and not very deep but its dark and almost still water doesn’t look particularly inviting. Yes it is raining again :)

Before day comes to an end I’m back to familiar sand & lava desert near Askja. Weather is getting better so I stop for early dinner on the rocks… I dig deep into my front left pannier in search for the last pancetta box and a bag of my backup pasta – it’s all wet. Looks like my water bladder leaked some water into the panniers some days ago and now meat is rotten and pasta looks like one big white ball of dough. I’m trying to cook sth decent out of it but although I’m super hungry it does taste a bit funny. I throw the rest of spoiled meet and pasta to my bin bag and get back on the bike trying to ride out some of the disappointment. I make a mental note to spend more than £4 on a water bladder next time… Later that day I pitch the tent and play long ukulele session, sunset sets everything on fire but I don’t take any pictures…

Day 11

In the morning I’m doing my food accounts. One noodle soup, small bag of nuts and protein bar. The nearest food store is in Myvatn, 120km or almost two days of pedaling. Water in the glacial river is white with sediment so I’m using my left woolly sock as an improvised filter, I’m only using these socks for sleeping so I’m happy to find an alternative use for them…

It’s funny how sometimes Iceland seems to have bridges without roads leading to them… Scenery reminds me of California seen on my parents slides as a kid.. so I filtered the photo to match colours in my memory:

For a moment I contemplate climbing the mountain in the background but it would be a 50 km detour, 8 hours climb, no food and little motivation left – I leave it for the next time.

With no wind, no rain and a few clouds it soon gets quite hot!

ME + XR = LOVE

My tires are taking punishment with a huge grin. Wish I could say the same about my wrists.  Sadly this expedition standard has been discontinued and replaced with more modern lighter tires. I managed to snatch the last pair lying lonely in a forgotten bicycle shop in Austria.

 

 

Shy signs of civilization ahead!

Soon enough I get onto a narrow asphalt road. Its dinner time so I eat half of the protein bar and slowly move on.

I get to the main circular road that runs around Island. It’s getting dark, 60km left to Myvatn, lots of traffic. After 10km and a couple of huge mountain passes I set a rough camp behind sheep shed and eat all my remaining nuts for supper…

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Ground Effect Body Bag

I actually want to talk about flying with bicycle :)

There is plenty of bike boxes available on the market today and I’m sure they are all great but none of them is actually aimed at bicycle tourist. They are big, heavy and only make sense if you have a car waiting for you at the airport. So for years bike tourers were using a cheap cardboard bicycle boxes that you can get for free in any bike store. Great, secure and cheap solution but with a few drawbacks:

  1. Those boxes are a chore to carry around for one person unless you make an effort of fabricating some sort of handles and straps.
  2. You usually have to dispose your box and obtain a new box for the return journey which is not always possible or convenient.
  3. On some airports you may be asked to open the box which will ruin all your duck taping.

I wanted a bag, something without padding – sturdy but light. When I was almost ready to make a bag myself I came across an interesting product.

It is a Body Bag from Ground Effect (New Zealand).

It’s roughly 1650x750mm and allows you to keep the rear wheel and rack (!) on while the front wheel is tucked next to the frame’s main triangle. Zombie model on the left gives you an impression of the scale (bear in mind that this zombie is extra tall an dwarfs any bag). Bag weights 1.15kg and is made of heavy duty cordura and when not in use folds down to a size of a fat A4 book (in the photo below strapped at the front of the rear rack).

My 29er XL Salsa Fargo (shortish ETT=600mm) just about fits and I can keep rear rack and mudguard on. Front wheel goes next to the frame and so does front rack, front mudguard and two small front panniers with clothes and food inside them. I also need to remove handlebars (zip tied to the fork leg) and saddle. Stem stays in place. If you have smaller frame you might get away with just turning handlebars and dropping the saddle. Conversely if your bike frame is more than 10mm longer than mine than probably it will not fit in this configuration, at least not with a 29 inch wheel at the back.

Now because bag isn’t padded I use my Thermarest Ridgerest on one side and my small panniers and cardboard on the other. Also coming with the bag is spacer for the front fork protecting from squashing during transport.

I pack all my other gear in two big rear panniers, tape them together and check them in as my main luggage.

This strategy worked well during my latest trip to Iceland. The bag has shoulder strap for lugging around (hard work with 30kg of bike and food) and doubles as a robust footprint for the tent.

 

I would only change two things in this design:

  1. Make the bag unzip fully so it can serve its tent footprint duties more efficiently.
  2. Make the bag 50mm longer to accommodate standard XL 29er frames with effective top tubes lenghts around 640mm.

The bag has to be ordered from NZ as there is no distributor in UK (or Europe for that matter) and with shipping ended up around £60 which is not bad considering great quality and that there is not a single similar product on the market.

 

Part 6

Day 9

Today I enter Mordor:I follow the red road…I talk to the rock…I can’t get any closer to the ice cave filled with boiling water…and I love the glacier…

I also need to confess something – I can’t relax. For some reason I’ve been racing through all this gorgeous landscape like a horse with mustard stuck up its buttock. Perhaps too much of a mountaineering style trickled down to my cycling – this constant need for movement because otherwise you will be hungry, cold or worse…

So here I am, sitting before the mighty Vatnajökull glacier emerging from beneath the ground. Its grey, curved surface plays funny planet within a planet game and all the highlands of Iceland now seem to be drowning in the sea of dirty ice. I would like to stay here for two days but it’s not possible. I got as far south as possible on a bike and now I need all the days I have left to get out of here…

By the way – I officially rename the color of my bicycle from ‘Puke’ to ‘Icelandic Moss’!Bed time with a nice view and relentless roar of thousand rivers under the ice!Back <> Next

Part 5

Day 8

Mild evening deceived me … how could I think that it won’t be windy here is beyond me ;)

During my morning ukulele session by the road, I meet very friendly German couple in their cute orange VW bus. They run around me in circles asking where is my car and why I’m standing here with nothing but ukulele… I just keep playing and smile, snap a photo, they leave laughing…

I start cycling and immediately I’m stunned by the change of scenery.

It is almost like, while I was sleeping, sneeky Iceland secretly shifted from highly featured ash and lava fields to desolate sandy flatlands…

It is kind of warm but I keep all my clothes on, as if I’m waiting for sth to happen this morning…Soon enough I realize that following yellow posts marking the trail isn’t the quickest way to Askja and since I’m pushing the bike through the sand most of the time I might be just as well pushing it straight to the point.

So I target Askja volcano and start walking…After two hours I don’t seem to get any closer, I constantly look back to check if my line is straight. It takes me about 5 hours of pushing to reach the mountain. I stop by the hut, unload the bike and, feeling weightless, I literally fly 10km uphill to see the volcanic lake on the top.. Main prehistoric caldera is huge at 50km² and the lake that fills most of it – Oskjuvatn is 220m deep. The small caldera – Viti, filled with hot turquoise water was formed more recently in 1875.

First explorers of the lake vanished without a trace in 1907. Later the whole area became proving ground for Apollo lunar mission. They discovered weird red, gargoyle like lava formation you can see below…

I cycle back down to the hut and go to see the warden to ask about conditions in Kverkfjoll which is my next destination. She asks me about my name so I’m introducing myself and than weird thing happens… she looks at the map on the wall and asks – Where is Alan?

I feel confused and surprised, I check my pockets and scan my bike like I could have lost sth in the desert. Then I look at the red pin on the map, there is yellow note hanging of it. Slowly my tired brain is starting to put facts together… Two days ago Alan and myself talked to the warden in Nyidylur hut, we left our names and information about the route we are taking. It looks like wardens communicate and really are tracking our progress here. I explain why we split and that Alan should get here 1 day later. She scribbles on the yellow paper.

I get a bag of chocolate muesli and a fresh orange … wardens here are very nice :)

It’s getting dark and I have some more cycling to do.

Road is very good and goes mostly downhill so I do 25km before pitching a tent somewhere in the far background of the image above.

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