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Posts Tagged ‘Bicycle touring’

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Especially in the Fall* (that we didn’t see on anyone else’s list):

In addition to the usual lists- here are links to a couple good ones- above and beyond the waterproof rain pants and coats, credit cards, a presentable “out” outfit, blah blah:

1. Gaiters for over the rain pants and gore-tex boots are non-negotiable for cycling, and debatably if you want to get out of your car anywhere in the fall.

2. Waterproof panniers- don’t even think about liners, or garbage bags, at least not in the fall.  Your stuff will get wet.  Riding and camping, day after day, everything will get wet.

3. Twice as many dry bags as you think you’ll need.  I had four, plus my waterproof panniers.  I had the cheap ones, not the eVents, and I still had no problem compressing them quite adequately.

4. Waterproof camera

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5. Waterproof ziploc bag for cell phone (there are lots of kinds).  This was an impulse REI purchase the day we left, and H.W. envied it the whole trip.  My phone almost never came out of it. There are Otter boxes, too, and “guaranteed” waterproof phones, but H.W. has had one of those that turned out not to be, so I still recommend the fancy phone ziploc.

Notice a theme?  Rain, rain, rain.  If you’re cycling, rain is a concern.

6.  At the same time I bought Tenacious Tape , and that was really clutch.  Iceland is full of lava that rips up synthetic stuff, and wind that breaks your tent, etc.  We patched up everything with it.  Speaking of which, you need a strong tent.

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7. A Click-Stand.  There are no branches lying around in Iceland to prop your loaded bike up with, and even fewer parking meters.  It’s no fun laying a loaded bike down, and picking it up.  We loved our Click-stands, and they proved worth the price, although H.W. was initially skeptical.

Also in the lead photo there’s included my tiny stove and the box that it packs into, to show its scale.  I just think this tiny stove (the Snow Peak Gigapower) is so awesome.  Really its only downside is that it’s darn easy to lose in the rest of your stuff, since it compares to a deck of cards.  The first time I saw it I was asking my brother if he had the stove and he said, “Why yes, right here in my pocket,” and pulled it out of his jeans, like Steve Jobs pulling the MB Air out of the manila envelope.  It screws onto the can of fuel that forms the base, and that kind of fuel can is easy to find in Iceland.  In fact, the HI hostel/campground in Reykjavík had heaps of partial cans discarded by departing travelers, for free.

*rain is not nearly the same concern touring in July and August.  But come September, watch out!

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Days: 60

Meals out: 16

Hot pools:  36

Ice creams:  Selka 29, H.W. 26

Nights paid for: 26

Nights indoors: 23

Nights outdoors: 37

Km on bicycle:  Selka 910, HW 1124

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11 Northern lights over Skaftafell

Determined to make it to Skaftafell, we were riding (our bikes) late at night across the sandar. The great expanse of grey sandar, a thousand square kilometers of volcanic ash and gravel coughed up by the eruption of Öræfi, is eerie and beautiful in the dark, silent and glittery with the numberless rivulets of water finding their way to the sea.  There is no option to camp in the sandar, so once we entered it, we knew we had to make it the whole way.   There was no traffic but the big trucks that haul after dark, and they were few and far between.   My brother was far ahead of us in his truck, and we were riding hypnotically side by side and talking, comfortable knowing we could see traffic in either direction ten miles away.  There are long wooden bridges with grated metal decks crossing the rivers.  Some seemed a half mile long.   The last one was mangled and tossed aside by the water in 1996 when Grímsvötn erupted, and there are some twisted steel beams like modern art on the side of the road there as memorial.

Just as we passed there, the indigo sky opened up in Northern lights, and we overtook my brother, who was parked taking pictures.  He said he could hear us coming by our excited whooping and shrieking at the sky.  Over and over the waves of lights flickered through the sky, brighter than moonlight, gorgeous.  We were cold from riding hot and stopping, but we couldn’t stop watching the lights, and we posed for some pictures with our bikes.  Late in the night, we rode the final miles to Skaftafell, looking forward to the flat camping and hot showers we knew to expect there, and the thunderous cracking of the glacier next to the park.

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12 Invited upstairs for tea at the herring factory museum in Siglufjörður

The town of Siglufjörður was wet and cold when we got there, but when we were looking around the herring factory museum, a man came out, said it was closed for the day and he was tired, but he would open it up in the morning around 8.  Interested, we decided to bed down early and visit the museum in the morning.  It was a good choice.  We soaked at the pool, the hostel was wonderful and we had it to ourselves in the off season.  In the morning we went around to the museum again.  A young woman turned on all the lights for us and left us to our own devices.  An hour or so later, the man from the previous day came downstairs, talked with us and then invited us upstairs for tea.  There were a couple of other men there, directors, or sponsors?, and the young woman. They shared tea and cookies and talked about the administration of the museum,  the history of saving the property, and scrounging up the parts of other abandoned herring factories that were being scrapped to reassemble the museum as it is now, housed in multiple buildings with the multiple functions the factory had.  About three hours passed before we’d seen it all, and I left with a children’s book written and illustrated in exquisite watercolours by the same man who invited us for tea- the museum director and driving force of the whole project.  I wasn’t able to find him again to have my book signed, though.

13 Bowling in Akureyri

There’s a very prominent bowling alley on the strip of museums of all sorts that have sprung up on the road to the airport.  Since we were resting up in Akureyri and enjoying the sundlaug and buffet at Bautinn, we thought we’d try out some bowling.  Nothing prepared us for Friday night at the lanes.  It was crowded with young people, but not just young people.  There were ladies dressed to the nines and eyeballing the boys two lanes over, the booze was flying (literally- glasses of beer smashed on the hardwood), there were catastrophic drunks, we got invited to a party, a scuffle broke out, and there was some majestically abysmal bowling.  Clearly it wasn’t about the bowling skills at all, since it didn’t seem to matter if a ball even made it down the lane it was meant to or any lane at all.  It was pretty typical style for nearly everyone to hurl the ball out and release it at eye level, where it would smash down painfully onto the lane and possibly make it down to the pins.  More than once someone wiped out and hurtled themselves into the gutter.  It was a mesmerizing spectacle.  It was also the first time I’d bowled tenpin, so I thought that was pretty cool.  It was so totally fun we came back with my brother the next night, and that’s how we missed the significant earthquake that knocked plates off of shelves and shook the earth all around us in the north of Iceland.  Everything was shaking and rumbling already in the bowling alley, and we had no idea.  In retrospect though, there was one patch of time where half the lanes malfunctioned at the same time, resetting pins inappropriately or not resetting, and not counting the scores or returning balls.  That was probably the moment of the earthquake.

14 Jolaöl and Jolaskyr

Besides the off season perks of having special attention as the only tourists or else empty hostels to ourselves, the best thing about being in Iceland so late in the year was the Jolaöl, and the hilarity of trying to pronounce it.  Already knocking back the familiar Egil’s Malts like nobody’s business (tall cans of non-alcoholic orange flavoured stout-esque non-beer), one day in Mývatn there were these blue cans that we hadn’t seen before.  Wow!  Jolaöl was the tall blonde version of Egil’s Malt, perfectly sweet and bubbly and orangey-beery.  Technically a soda, although it tastes more like a beer, this blew away every soft drink I’ve ever had (except OOgave is pretty darn good too).  It’s a special holiday beverage, appearing just shortly before Christmas.  We promptly started buying it 12 at a time and freaking out when there were no cans left in the back seat.  Especially incredible had cold with a hot pool. Likewise for specialty Christmas products was Jolaskyr- skyr, which we were eating pounds of daily, packaged with Santa Claus on it, and flavoured with candied apples!

IMGP395415 Vík in the sunshine

Vík, or more specifically the famously recognizable rock formations at Reynisfjara and nearby Dyrhólaey, is notorious for being socked in, grey and overcast and rainy.  In 2010 we passed through a total of four times and had the same weather every time.

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This time, the sun was out in full force, warm on the black rocks and black sand beach, and the stacks were bright and formidable in the sea, haloed with swirling birds.  My brother and I  climbed over the piles of huge black rocks, farther and farther from the main beach in the low tide, finding little coves of pebbled beaches strewn with bones and bird bodies, until I could see Vík and was sure I could get all the way around the point by the beach.  My better sense prevailed – my bike was at the parking lot, and by the time we got back out to it, the weather had changed, surprise, surprise.

IMGP137616 The amazing proprietor of a hotel in the Westfjords

who told me No he couldn’t rent me a room, they were all closed for the year, and the restaurant was closed too.  He called a restaurant in the next town to see if they were open and could feed us, and when they were not, then said Well maybe I could feed you some bread, and salad, and maybe there’s some soup.  He produced a wonderful meal, then told us we could sleep in the gymnasium if we wanted, and by the way there was a ping pong table.  Best night ever!

IMGP363617  Derek learning to drive a gas vehicle.

He’s only ever driven a diesel before, with the ultra-slow accelerator response, so his first time in a gasoline vehicle was like the Formula 500, and it was a pretty large truck.  The first two days were full of peeling away with a screech from green lights (Ooops, sorry.  I hardly pushed it!) and very abrupt halts (Ooops, sorry.  Wow, these brakes really brake).  It was pretty funny, especially when I was coaching him on the drive out of the parking lot from the people we just rented it from:  Okay, just barrrrely touch it.  Errrrk!  Whoa!!  I barely touched it!  Are all gas vehicles like this?  This is what people are driving in all the time?   Uh, yeah, it is!  Watch out for the sidewalk there-  Errrk!   Did they see that?  Ummm, yep.  They’re watching.  I wanted to email a week later- your truck’s still intact!  I just about died laughing.  But he got used to it and no one and nothing got hurt.   I wanted to email a week later- your truck’s still intact!

Also very special was:

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Sleeping in caves.  There was one big enough to set up two tents in, right next to the road, dry and open, and another half full of snow that we threw down sleeping bags in the bottom of.

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The solar powered drink dispenser in the middle of nowhere- wonderful!

Hotel Hellisandur and the fancy buffet of exotic foods and meats.
IMGP3545Walking on the beach by Hvítserker, where 24 seals bobbed in the water watching us and following us along the beach, popping under the water if you made eye contact.  Psst, we’re being watched.

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Current structures

We went to Iceland for two months in 2012.  I didn’t saddle myself with any grand expectations of how much I might blog about it, considering how the last time worked out (took over a year to write about it).   I posted a smattering of pictures like these, but it’s probably high time to report on the overall trip.

Don’t plan to cycle in Iceland after September 15.  When the fall, haust season is described as being “beautiful, getting windy and rainy”, it’s not “a little bit of wind, picturesquely causing the grasses to wave”.  It’s gales and gusts of wind blasting down the fjörds that can blow motorcycles off the road (saw it happen), and shake a vehicle like you’re in a riot.  Wind you can’t walk in, that beats a tent up badly.  It’s rain, all right, hammering sheets of it.  Then in the beginning of October, the rain switches to snow.  Blizzards, since the wind doesn’t abate.  Late October and November, we had some serious run-ins with road closures.  Not only do some storms close half the roads in the country for a day or two, but some roads permanently close after the first good snow, cutting off lots of fascinating places (forget the highlands).   Plus the days are getting shorter.  So if you’re considering cycling in the shoulder season, don’t.  Iceland is trying to extend the accepted “tourist season” with marketing, because the numbers of tourists pouring in are rapidly escalating, meaning higher volumes and greater impact on their natural sites.  They want to spread out the visiting, but the weather- jeez.  They call it tourist season for a reason.  I’m Canadian, and I found it daunting.  It bears repeating: Don’t plan to cycle in Iceland after September 15.

Iceland is still stunning, breathtaking, and elemental.  There are still lots of cats. Apparently, they grow bananas in Iceland.  During movies at the theatre, they turn it off halfway – just hit pause mid-movie, mid-action sequence, mid-sentence – for intermission.  Everyone mills about, stretches, gets more popcorn, and uses the rest room.  This is the most fabulous thing ever, and I so so wish that some bold North American theatres would try such a thing.

There is a much, much greater variety of foods in the grocery stores – markedly different even from 2010.  Cell service is complete, with nearly no service-free zones in the whole country, and just unbelievably cheap.  We spent less than $50 total on sim cards and plans for all three of our cell phones for two months, all the text and data and talking we could need.

Gas is ridiculously expensive, in contrast.  There was an odd trend in effect of US flags, and stars and stripes being used all over clothing.  I didn’t get a satisfying explanation – only a guess that it was about the cultural difference where Americans spray and wave their flag on absolutely anything and everything, while in Iceland there are super strict rules about any reproduction and use of the flag.  Rules which are followed.  In October, we almost never even saw a flag outdoors, because the days were so short it seemed to not be worth their while to put one out and take it down mere hours later.

There are still thousands of gorgeous, stocky horses, and hundreds of thousands of sheep.  Those were mostly behind fences this time, though, which was much less exciting.  It was so fun in 2010 to see them popping up everywhere.   Any still at large this time were hastily being collected, after the major storm around Akureyri that killed so many sheep so early this year.  Seeing wagons jammed with fleecy lumps was a regular sight our first weeks on the road.

There are more guardrails and ropes now.  Iceland has noticeably suffered from the impact of tourism, and it made me much much more aware of my impact.  In the same places where there were no barriers and I ran unrestricted around on the grass in 2010, now I saw worn paths, erosion, and bare compacted areas flawing the landscape.  I got very angry at my husband when he stepped over ropes, and livid at groups of photographers in the hot destinations (Vík) who stepped en masse over ropes marking nesting areas.  Photographers, of course, are above rules when it comes to getting the perfect shot.  That really made me laugh, too.  Ten side-by-side nest-trampling jerks with fat lenses on tripods, all pointing at the same rocks, all waiting for the same sunset, all about to capture minor variations of the same picture.  And this was off season!

On the plus side of going late season, there were fewer tourists cluttering up the place, and once we got out of the hot zones (the southwest, Akureyri), we saw nearly no tourists at all.  Campsites were nearly all shut down, but then, most of them were free.  So if you want to camp in the snow, with no facilities, it’s generally free, and we saved a great deal of money this way still having the convenience of flat, private, hassle-free mid-town camping.  Because of the inclement weather, we opted far more often (vs. only once last time) this time to pay for a room, and guesthouses are abundant.  However, lots of them are closed after Sep 15 or 30, and that meant a lot more advance phone calls.  They were somewhat cheaper for being off-season.  Iceland doesn’t rely too much on “indoor attractions”, but almost all of the museums also closed after late Sep.  Don’t fret, though, the Phallological museum, the Museum of Witchcraft and Sorcery, and I think Skogasafn, are open year round.

We were there a long time, and encountered a lot of people.   There were lots of friendly Icelanders still, proud of their country and happy to share it, but to make a general statement, the natives are sick of tourists.  I thought it might be because we were there late, everyone who has to interact with tourists has had a full three months of dealing with idiots and is ready to have a peaceful winter speaking only Íslensk, but I fear it’s a deeper fatigue of the invasion of útlendingers (outsiders).  Iceland’s tourist industry is not that old, a welcome upsurge and new infusion of money after their much-publicized crash.  Lots of people are capitalizing on all the people and foreign money discovering Iceland’s incredible nature, but this is coming at a price.  At any rate, it made me very sad to see the changes happening.

Also sad for me, I didn’t get much practice with my Icelandic, that I’d spent a lot of time working on.  Naturally spoken it’s about a thousand times faster and sounds different than it does on a CD, but I still could understand much more than anyone assumed, and I very often could have said what I meant in Icelandic but chose English instead, because it was vulnerable to try, and I was very rarely indulged or encouraged.  In retrospect, I feel great kindness and gratitude to the native speakers who did exchange a couple sentences with me at the beginning of our trip.  Not too much later, I’d given up, and settled into using my Icelandic only for avid eavesdropping, reading, and translating.  I got the weary “Oh great, you learned ten Icelandic words  from a book and you’re using them badly” expression paired with the response to my question in disgustingly perfect English so often it crushed my desire to try, and I started conversations always in English.  That made me sad and frustrated when I knew enough to have said it all in Icelandic, albeit imperfectly pronounced.  That was easy to think afterwards, when someone had been sweet and open, but in the split second of deciding which language to begin in, without knowing if the topic would go outside of my range or if I’d get that withering look, it was too scary, and I reverted to English only.

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After an oddly even 800 km, I’m off the bike.  My knees are in agony and I’m exhausted so it’s time for a break.

Day after day, the winds have been 40-75km/h, and powerful enough at times that I just get thrown off the bike, down the bank.  Not just when riding, but even when standing there the wind would strike like a body check.  H.W. saw a motorcycle get blown into the ditch.

H.W. says only Canadians would travel on vacation to somewhere colder than where they live.

So, about cycling around Iceland in the fall- don’t do it.

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Freezing rain, sleet, and prevailing headwind. Pretty comfortable; far better than rain and 75 kmh gusts.

 

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Although my brother and I were smitten with Iceland the first time and planned to go again in 2012, time trundled right along and 2012 showed up without us having produced any concrete plans, like tickets.  The pressure built; if we’re going to go, we have to start making it real… Then all this unexpected upheaval happened, which made Iceland recede into the distance and off the priority list so the likelihood waxed and waned.  Just when we’re getting back on our feet, H.W. and I got some welcome fall work that lands right when it would be ideal to be in Iceland.  So it seemed to be on the outer edge of possibility.

I wanted the relief of saying, Oh, let’s just go next year, but when I thought about waiting until next year, I got a knot of sadness in my chest.  Besides, if things go according to our plan B or C, we’ll have animals and gardens to care for, so now is the time to travel.  Even though it’s neither ideal timing nor convenient, I figured I’d rather just go while the going was possible.  My brother concurred, H.W. shrugged (he doesn’t know what there is to get excited about yet), and so we’re going.  It’s on!

Just when I surrendered all planning, because nothing, ever, at all, went according to plans, the probability field seemed to tighten up and now plans seem to be working again. We get things done, less falls through, it’s safer to have an expectation… I think it’s safe to make plans again.

Here’s hoping!

We’re going late in the year, in the rainy season, possibly well into the cold weather.  Oh well.  We’re cycling around the island, hopefully doing the ring road, plus all the good stuff that isn’t on the perimeter.  We’ll be camping all the time, like last time, and this time we’ll know all the things that we can miss and many that we must do.  And we’ll have more time, not be racing around everywhere to “fit it in”.

Bicycle travel will do that for you.  Slow things right down.

This time, I’m taking my little Rite in the Rain journal, and I am NOT making grand plans to write an illustrated diary of our every moment there.  No way.

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