We decided to go back to the Kjölur. In the interest of saving some time – “the devourer and destroyer of all things,” (Cervantes, Don Quixote) – and thus having the time to hike, we hopped a bus from Akureyri to take us right into Kerlingarfjöll (pronounced: Kert-linger-fju-tle) I know! A tongue twister. Here’s some explanation of the Icelandic alphabet and pronunciation:
Kerling means woman, and in the name Kerlingarfjöll (woman´s mountains), it is believed to have been a troll woman, according to ancient folk tales. Kerlingarfjöll is a volcanic mountain range about 10 KM east of the Kjölur. It has something in common with British Columbia: Tuyas, which are flat-topped, steep-sided volcanos formed when lava erupts through a thick glacier. For more information, talk to a geologist.
The bikes were hung on a rack on the back of the bus and the panniers in the luggage compartment underneath the bus. We left downtown Akureyri at 8 a.m. traveling at great speed west on the Ring Road through Oxnaldsheidi, a road that would have been beautiful to cycle but we did not regret the choice to take the bus, especially once we got up on the Highlands and the F35, the Kjölur. The wind was blowing at 30 to 40 KPH with rain going sideways. It would have been a nasty ride. We cycled the entire Kjölur in 2010 so the need to repeat that bone-jarring, wind-swept ride through the dark heart of Mordor was not something we had a great desire to do.
By 1.30 p.m. we arrived at Kerlingarfjöll which was somewhat protected from the gale because of its setting but it was not a day for hiking. It was cold and raining with poor visibility. Instead, we spent time inside the guesthouse’s dining room and in the campers’ cooking shed which, unfortunately, was not heated so even though we were inside, we wore down jackets while cooking.
We met other cyclists at Kerlingarfjöll: Graydon and Terri, a Canuck and Kiwi, who live in Switzerland, and Amy and Sandi, from New Brunswick (apologies if I spelled your names incorrectly). We had met Graydon and Terri a week earlier at Myvatn and it was nice to catch up with them again. They headed south down the Kjölur while the New Brunswickers headed north and we stayed for a day of hiking in the mountains around Kerlingarfjöll.
We were lucky, as it was a stellar day for hiking. Overnight, the sky had cleared and the visibility was amazing. We could see both Langjökull and Hofsjökull Glaciers and the surrounding mountains. Great views of both ice fields, and in between, Mordor of the Kjalvegur, the ancient track the Kjölur follows.
As we followed the road up from camp, more of the surrounding mountains came into view. Still lots of snow on the peaks, a testament to the above average snowfall of this past winter.
As we climbed higher, the reds and greens of what is an active thermal area came into view. Soon, plumes of steam were visible all over the mountain sides. After about 5 kilometres, we descended into an area with boiling mud pools, fumaroles and hot water springs. Unfortunately, the hot pool that was there has dried up and no effort has been made to pipe water in from another spring nearby. A MAJOR disappointment for us but the scenery more than made up for it.
The following day, we set out down the Kjölur, a bone-rattler of a road we traveled three years ago from north to south. We remember the northern portion to be the worst part of it with very bleak landscapes. (see here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulvanpeenen/5115378261/in/set-72157625117484311/) Thankfully, that portion was behind us and only the final 60 kilometres of the gravel part of the road lay ahead.
It was slow slogging trying to avoid rocks, potholes and washboard. A light wind was against us but we were cycling too slowly for that to make much difference. It was everything I remembered it to be with one exception: the sky was absolutely clear and the view of the surrounding glaciers simply stunning.
We stopped at Arbúdir, a hut just off the road and along a tributary of the Hvitá River. We had lunch and contemplated spending the night. But the fee for camping was even higher than at Kerlingarfjöll, 2100 ISK ($18.50) per person if you wanted to have use of the campers’ dining room and a shower. Kerlingarfjöll was 1600 ISK ($14) including use of all the facilities. Instead, we filled up all our water containers and moved on with the idea of perhaps wild-camping somewhere off the road.
In the end, we made hay while the sun shined and rode all the way down the Kjölur, past Gullfoss to Geysir. It was a long 82-kilometre day with 58 of those on gravel. Tired from the pounding the road gave us, we boiled water for tea while setting up the tent, made dinner and choked it down before going for a short walk up the road to the restaurant/gift shop where Jan bought an ice cream (650 ISK) and I bought a beer (950 ISK). Shortly after that we crashed for the night tired but happy we revisited the Kjölur and what it has to offer. Truly one of Iceland’s highlights.
The Whip Cream Incident
To prepare for our days on the Kjölur we had to buy food in Akureyri, as there is little to be had in Mordor. We could have eaten at Kerlingarfjöll but that would have been pretty expensive so we bought about five days worth of food prior to our departure.
Powdered milk is not available in Iceland. We’ve looked for it everywhere but to no avail. Only baby formula and breast milk substitute is available but despite my love of a good breast, that did not appeal to us. So, to save weight and bulk we decided to buy two 500 mL containers of whip cream instead of 2 litres of milk for our breakfasts. The whip cream containers came with a handy screw-top cap so they could be resealed and would not spill their contents in our panniers.
To have whip cream for breakfast is somewhat of a dream come true for me. Those of you who know me, are aware that food can sometimes be a bit of a focus in my life. Who are we kidding? I think about it every day. I’ve been lucky over the years to be able to pretty much eat with impunity as my miraculous metabolism seems to burn off whatever food finds its way down the hatch. Blood and cholesterol tests recently have also shown that my body seems to be able to deal with my sometimes fatty, meat-rich diet. And to go cycling, especially here in Iceland where it’s cold, gives me even more license to pack in the calories because no matter how much I eat, I’ve been losing weight.
- We had no idea if this would work but logic seems to dictate that if you take half a cup of whip cream, with 36 per cent butter fat content, and add 4 cups of water, one ends up with something resembling whole milk with about 4 per cent butter fat content. It worked like a charm. Our first morning at Kerlingarfjöll we tried out this theory and I have to say, that morning’s porridge (muesli mixed with oatmeal) was heavenly. It was creamy and rich tasting and luckily we made a big pot so I could have a healthy second helping.
With our minds at ease, knowing that we had a milk supply for the next few days, we went hiking. We used the same theory again at dinner time to make a curry which called for milk. Again, a lovely creamy curry was created by adding whip cream.
So, with one full and one partial container of whip cream safely stowed in the panniers we left Kerlingarfjöll and headed south down the Kjölur. By day’s end, at the camp site in Geysir, the one and only flaw in our plan became apparent when I pulled out the partial container to add to our pasta meal (you know, to make it extra creamy). The whip cream was cream no longer. And if you had been there, you would have seen a huge flashing light bulb go off over my head at that very instant.
Of course! The 60 kilometres of bone-rattling gravel of the Kjölur acted like a slow-motion, strung out like a ribbon, cycling mixer which turned my precious whip cream into solid clumps of butter. But, despair not, as butter is just as good to add to a sauce as is whip cream. Our meal was creamy and delicious.
- The second, unopened container of whip cream had also changed but not to a severe degree. It had just become a bit thicker, like partially whipped cream. It still functioned as milk when water was added the next morning and the day after that.
- So, remember, whip cream with water is just as good, if not better than milk on your cereal. Just don’t pack it on your bike when cycling gravel for several hours.