After two days in storm-bound Vík, where all hope and motivation were in danger of extinction, our salvation finally arrived and his name was Einar. He guided us across the Myrdalssandur and the Eldhraun (no, you’re not reading the Lord of the Rings), stopping only briefly at Kirkjubæjarklaustur before traversing the Brunasandur and the Skeidararsandur to a sun-drenched Skaftafell. We took the bus.
We couldn’t believe our eyes when we arrived at Skaftafell. Off came the layers of fleece and goretex. We had to dig through our kit for our sunglasses and sunscreen. We had arrived in Nirvana from the abyss that was Vík. We made camp, had lunch and set off to hike the hills above Skaftafell.
Southern Iceland is a tough place. Huge glaciers cover the landscape and under those glaciers are active volcanoes that have all erupted with regularity. Eyjafjalljökull erupted in 2010. Katla, hidden by Myrdalsjökull, has erupted in intervals of 40-80 years, melting the glacial cap and causing catastrophic floods that sweep blocks of ice across the entire sand. Some 16-20 eruptions have been recorded since settlement with the last one in 1918. It’s overdue.
And then there is Grimsvötn under Vatnajökull. It last erupted in 1996 causing a release of water that instantly made it the second largest river in the world (by volume). Only the Amazon had a higher flow rate. It washed out power lines and a large section of the Ring Road, the highway that connects eastern Iceland with the west and the capital, Reykjavík.
It turned out that this was not a place for us to cycle across. The wind and lack of places to camp and buy food on The Sands would have made this a foolish venture. A few days ago we did cycle from Seljalandsfoss to Skogar, where yet another big waterfall drops off Eyjafjallajökull. After a rest and a hike we set off for Vík, 30 km east, into an unrelenting head wind. We managed 8 km in 45 minutes and the wind seemed to be getting stronger. Realizing the futility of our actions, we took the hint and turned around, arriving back in Skogar in 15 minutes mostly just coasting with the wind. We took the 8 pm bus to Vík.
We managed to find a somewhat sheltered spot at the Vík campground (see previous video post) and hunkered down. The place was full of stranded, wet hitch hikers. We spent a long day watching the weather deteriorate. The men’s bathroom door got blown off its hinges in the night and some poor guy was trying to fix it in the wind and pissing rain. He managed it, though.
The next morning was not any better and that’s when we met our saviour, Einar the bus driver. One bike under the bus. Another on the bus and we were off across the land of Mordor in a couple of hours arriving in sunny Skaftafell.
Our afternoon and evening in Skaftafell were pure pleasure. We hiked up a hill overlooking glaciers spilling off Vatnajökull. Impressive scenery, to say the least. Glorious sunshine and very little wind. We bought some cheap (light) beers and a bag of chips at the campground store and enjoyed our bliss. For the first time in Iceland, we enjoyed a night’s sleep without the relentless flapping of the tent.
The next morning dawned cloudy with some wind which quickly strengthened and turned into another headwind. We beat into it for 3 hours until we got to Jokulsárlón, a lagoon full of icebergs off Vatnjökull. A bit of a tourist draw, complete with amphibious vehicles taking busloads of people for a quick spin around part of the lagoon between some bergy bits. Luckily, there is a small cafe where we had a break and a snack before going another 13 km to Gerdi where we camped at a guesthouse. All in all, not a bad day as we managed 73 km but we were dead tired. A hot shower and a dinner of whatever we had left to eat (quinoa, can of corn, can of peas, can of tuna, alfredo sauce, all mixed together. Yummmm!) and we were ready for bed.
Our next day to Höfn was one to remember. It was clear. The wind was in our favour or non-existent and the scenery unmatched. The road disappeared quickly under our wheels and we stopped many times to take photos of glaciers rolling off mountains.
Spring looked like it had finally arrived in southeast Iceland as the temperature was a comfortable 12-14 degrees. Tundra swans and eider ducks tended their new broods, only hatched days ago, and our spirits were high as a result. We glided by green meadows dotted with perfectly round moss campion domes, like so many pink cow pies.
It’s easy to be upbeat and happy when things go well and the weather is nice. The relentless head wind has the opposite effect. It saps everything from the body: strength, motivation, incentive to continue. But the worst part is the noise. The maddening rushing of air past my ears is a kind of white noise that is a motivation killer. I have to work hard at not letting it get to me. It doesn’t always work but I try to get into a kind of trance where the body just pushes and your mind tries to ignore what your body is going through. It’s impossible to shut out the noise but on some kind of sub-conscious level I manage to ignore it most of the time.
It can also motivate me to push on. It’s not that I’m thinking about beating the wind, or conquering it, or a “I’ll show you…” because, in the end, Nature always wins. It is completely egalitarian, does not play favourites and can sometimes, in our eyes, be cruel. It’s my personal battle with the wind that I find interesting. You would think that cycling is not something I would do as there will always be wind and not always a favourable one. It probably goes back to my days as a young teenager when I cycled about 25 KM from home to school and back every day and it seemed the wind was always against me. But that’s enough about wind, for now.
Höfn is situated right on the coast, a few kilometres off Highway 1, the Ring Road. It possibly has one of the most amazing panoramic views of anywhere in Iceland. To the northwest is Vatnajökull in all its grandeur with glaciers sweeping off Iceland’s highest peaks. The northeast is a ridge of mountains forming the beginning of the East Fiords, the jagged east coast that lies ahead for us.
We camped at the only campsite in town, had showers and did two loads of laundry at the exorbitant price of 700 KR each ($6). Most campsites have had free use of the washing machine and only charged for using the dryer. But we desperately needed to wash clothes so we grudgingly shelled out the dough. We hung the laundry in the wind and sun and it dried fairly quickly.
We also went shopping, splurging on some lamb ($20), potatoes, salad with tomatoes, red pepper and carrot, and a bottle of red wine as well as some staples for lunch the next two days. As there are no other stores or even a gas station for the next 100 KM, we had to make sure we had enough supplies to see us through.
After the glorious day we had riding into Höfn, we knew it wouldn’t last. Headwind again! However, there was enough variety in the wind to not drive us completely insane, yet again. We also rode through our first tunnel. Uphill all the way and 1.3 KM long. It was cold and noisy when cars zoomed past. Good light, and the lights on our bikes, and a fairly wide track made it safe for us to pedal through.
We broke for lunch at Stafafel, the only camping site between Höfn and Djupovogur, and considered staying but it was still early in the day and the conditions were not bad enough for us to throw in the towel. We did that about 25 KM further on, however, we are so glad we continued, despite the unrelenting headwind.
We rounded a very windy point where the land, and the road, start to head north and found an incredible spot to camp beside a river coming from the interior of Mordor. I will let the photos do the talking.
The morning was warm and calm as we rode out of Mordor into a gorgeous coastal landscape at the southern end of the East Fiords. The road and its setting reminded us a bit of The Cabot Trail in Cape Breton Island where we cycled in 2005. The road hugs the coast with mountains rising steeply from its other edge, and it has a gentle rolling quality to it, going up and down but never with very steep inclines.
The road slipped easily under our wheels on our way to Djúpivogur where we arrived by early afternoon and managed to get a few groceries before the supermarket closed at 4 PM. We cleaned up and walked about this little town before treating ourselves to a dinner at the one and only hotel: onion soup, a glass of red wine each, Halibut was the catch of the day, followed by coffee for me and tea for Jan. 12,000 ISK ($105). What the heck. We deserved it.