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Day to day travelogue
cycling across Iceland

Day to day travelogue
cycling across Iceland

Day to day travelogue cycling across Iceland

Travel Diary


The clouds make way and unveil the rough uncontrollable nature of Iceland. No longer do I see the dissected landscape of Holland, which feels like a smothering quilt of even-sized squares of green grass, red-tiled roofs, and grey industry patches, woven together by roads and channels. As I look down and watch how the plane slowly sinks closer to Iceland I can’t help but smile, a great adventure is awaiting me! My trip is about to start, cycling around Iceland in 50 days.

What does it take for a normal, non-sportive guy, to come to the conclusion that cycling around Iceland might be a good way to spend a vacation? It is naively simple; since I don’t have a driver’s license we can rule out going by car. My knees are in a somewhat horrible state, not suited for long walks, so also a hiking vacation is not an option. Leaving only one solution… the bike! Any person with half a brain would then decide to take things slow, and opt for an easy route, why not cycle through Holland, or go to Belgium if you want? You have to know, I am not much of a cyclist. My bike collects more dust than kilometers. But my mind was set on Iceland, the country I already have visited twice and now really wanted to explore on my own, solo. I threw away all the good meant advice and set out the course, 50 days it should take, to get from Reykjavik to Reykjavik.

And here I am, impatiently waiting for my luggage. The transport bag holding my bike is already standing next to me, while I see for the third time the same blue bag roll by. Luckily the airport is small and only has two luggage carrousels so the mistake is quickly spotted as I see how my bright yellow bags happily go for an extra round on the other carrousel, wiggling on their round bellies. I still need to shake off my impatience and restlessness, we are in Iceland, and nobody is in a rush here. And what does it matter, In some way or another the luggage always finds the owner.

I have decided to not start my trip at the airport, instead, I take the bus to Reykjavik, and there, after a night in a hotel, I will start my day. Sitting in the bus I enjoy the landscape that rolls by, unaware that this landscape is going to devour me and strip me from my arrogance. How can I even for a second think that this creature would allow me to cycle across its wrinkles?

Reykjavík to Snæfellsness

Reykjavík to

Chapter 1: Reykjavík to Snæfellsness


 0 km



day 1 — June 13, 2003

It is June 13th, Friday. In other words, it is Friday the 13th, and it is raining… the signs are not good. As I climb for the first time on my bike my legs and arms are trying to get used to the heavy load that seems to pull my bike from side to side. Two bags on the front wheel, two bags on the back wheel, one little bag on the handlebars, and finally a big bag on the back of the bike are battling it out for balance as I roll down the street towards the ocean side.

I try to make sense of the street names that all seem to sound like mothered words spoken by a drunken fisher. Zigzagging through residential areas I am already standing face to face with my shortcomings, annoyed am I pushing my bike up a steep road that for my untrained legs is impossible to cycle up, what was I thinking, how can I ever cycle around Iceland if I can’t even cycle out of Reykjavik in a decent manner? I try not to think about everything that is to come; 49 days worth of mountain passes as I finally manage to leave the residential area behind me. The first 11km are gone, in a bus shelter I take a small rest from the rain, already tired, and with more than 80 km still to go, I better get up.

Each drop of rain that hits me in the face feels like a slap, what was I thinking.

A little bit later I find the connection to road number one, the ring road that like me is circling Iceland and thus for a number of days will be my route. By cycling on the little strip of tarmac behind the white line I do my best to not bother the heavy traffic too much, but in their opinion, I am not doing a very good job. Wild honking their horns they race past me, splashing the water on the road up in a perfectly targeted little bow, directed at my left shoe. The kilometers are heavy and each drop of rain that hits me in the face feels like a slap, what was I thinking? My eyes stare at my front wheel as it spits the raindrops out in a wave of useless anger. As a ghost of my lost cycling ideals, I go forward, my legs push the pedals around but my mind is not here. Each bus shelter on the road forms an excuse to stop and sit down. How am I ever going to be able to cycle around Iceland? I honestly think about turning around and spending 50 days in Reykjavik. I look at the map; the part that is behind me is in no comparison to what still lies in front. I split up the route into little markers, when I am here I can get out of the saddle and rest a bit, when I am there I will drink a bit and there I can take an energy bar, trying to push the panic that is rising inside me away. I realize that the trip as I had planned, will be impossible to complete. At home, in flat Holland, 150 km in a day is nothing, here 50 km is already difficult.

Road number one dives in a tunnel under the water of Hvalfjordur, a tunnel that is not fitted for cyclists, I am forced to cycle an extra 48 km around the fjord. As numbing that notion might be, the absence of traffic gives me new energy. All alone and speeded up by the tailwind I regain the trust in myself and in this ridiculous plan of mine. Only to find it crushed into smithereens a few minutes later. The road goes up, and I see one hill, that lets it self be easily beaten. To be followed by another hill, slightly more steep. It forces me to take a few pauses in between the climb but nevertheless, I do manage to reach the top. But what started as one hill seems now to be a tag team of 6 Italian street-fighting brothers, after you have managed to survive the beating of the smaller one, the next brother is right there to take over. I am beaten after the third brother. I push my bike uphill; all the re-found strength is gone.

On the sixth hill a cyclist comes next to me. He stops and looks at my bike and me: “Is there anything wrong with your bike?” he asks. “No”, I reply, “not with my bike, there is something wrong with me”. I do my best to joke the embarrassments away. He is a real vacation cyclist, this is his seventh time in Iceland, he tells me. Just what I need, when I feel totally worthless I am faced with all that I am not. He keeps on cycling next to me as I continue to walk, forcing me to get back upon the saddle and stop this display of self-pity. When a short but so much-needed downhill part is followed by another climb I once again can do nothing more than give up. He is cycling in front of me peddling at a rapid pace in the lowest gear, climbing higher and higher. I try to do the same but my tired legs can’t keep up with the rhythm. Cursing at myself, I ones again am pushing the heavy kilos uphill. Every ten steps I have to stop to catch my breath, this must be the most pathetic sight this guy has ever seen. With the last energy that is left inside my body, I manage to reach the top. Here I say goodbye to my one-man audience and I watch as he takes his reward for cycling uphill, with both his arms wide he dives down the hill taking all the applause the gushing by road can give him. Me? I only see the next hill, smirking at me. As I go down I let my bike roll out, there where we stop… I stop. I have had enough; the planned 96 kilometers for today have not been more than 60. The remaining 36 will wait for tomorrow. It is still raining.


+60 km



day 2 — June 14, 2003

With the sun warming up the tent I wake up in a good mood. After a quick breakfast, I stuff everything back into my bags and strap it onto my bike. I am far from a trained professional as my bike bares a close resemblance to a shopping trolley of a homeless person. Besides the six bike bags have I also three plastic bags hanging on the bike, one with the stuff for lunch, the other with my swimming gear, and the final bag holding the benzene burner. When I finally manage to get everything in a half-decent way loaded it is already 11, time to finish what could not be finished yesterday. My good mood managed to stick with me and makes me forget yesterday’s hardship, what looked impossible high then now is over won with relative ease.  When I reach the end of the fjord I meet up with yesterday's fellow cyclist. He just visited Glymur, the highest waterfall in Iceland, and a good 2,5 hours walking away from here. I turn into the road that leads to it, wondering what to do: shall I go for the walk or not? When I have reached the end of the road and thus the beginning of the walk I step off my bike to go in debate with myself. What to do? What is the wise thing to do? It is a long walk and without any doubt a tiring one. I have no idea what lies in front of me, don’t know how many hills I still have to climb before I reach the campsite. The choice had to be made, it is best to leave the waterfall for what it is and peddle onwards. After all… it is only water that falls.

It is remarkable how today’s good weather is influencing my spirit, where yesterday I would have walked uphill I now cycle onwards and don’t even get up from the saddle. Okay, I have to admit, I still come up with excuses to take small breaks to catch my breath; I stop to eat an apple, take a sip, make a picture, you name it. But still, it goes much better and I feel much stronger than yesterday. After passing by the abandoned NATO basis at Midsandur the road is being pulled vertically, I cycle to the base of the mountain and come up with yet another wonderful excuse… lunch! Sitting in the grass I unravel my plastic lunch bag. I take out the slices of bread, open up the lid of the peanut butter jar and start to smear it on the bread. Oh, how different life is when the sun is shining, today no cold bus shelter but a wonderful green soft patch of grassland with a view over the fjord. I take my time and calmly eat the freshly prepared sandwiches.

When all excuses are gone, there is nothing left to do but face the unavoidable. The mountain is like a bullying classmate waiting for the opportunity to strike. But I am going to fight back; with my eyes locked upon the tarmac, I do my best to picture the road as flat as I can. I am climbing, slowly. I switch to a lower gear and regain the rhythm of the pedals, round, round. Another gear lower. Round, round, round. I switch to the lowest gear, onwards. Round… round… more, higher… one more… round. Over, done… can’t go on. I have to stop to catch my breath and find new energy. When my breath comes back into a more human pace it is time to saddle up again. I switch back to a higher gear; eyes back on the tarmac and off we go. Two Icelandic cyclists pass me by commenting that it is heavy. Between two breaths I manage to agree with them. While I am thinking: “You lucky bastards, try to do it with 25 kilos of luggage strapped onto your bikes”. If the fun of a sport lies in the challenge then why make it easy on yourself?

A few meters further on I once again am forced to stop for some moments of heavy breathing. But no giving up today. And with the result, what must be a few minutes later, but feels like an hour or two, I have concurred my mountain, ready to plant the flag. I look back at the road that lies behind me like a king who looks at his kingdom. So this is how it must feel to enjoy physical endurance. I have a great hatred for sports, something I can thank my P.E. teachers for. As soon as something can be qualified as a sport I suck at it, and this includes shuffleboard and checkers. Besides I don’t feel any need to compare my own strength to anybody else’s. But to be stronger than myself… now that is a different story altogether. I have pulled myself forward up on this hill and now the moment has come that also I can claim my victory as I hurdle down the hill. Be it not with both arms wide, certain things are better left to the experienced ones.

Each little swimming pool is precious, and should certainly not be passed by. At least not by me!

I reach Saurbaer, a must make a stop. It is a small insignificant little village of not more than 10 houses. I get off my bike and grab one of the three plastic bags, my swimming gear. In slow motion, I sink myself down into the hotpot. The 40°C hot water makes my tired muscles tingle with pleasure. This is a pure orgasm of sudden relaxation. Surrounded by Icelandic talk I close my eyes and let the foreign sounds glide into my ears and nestle into my mind.

An Icelandic swimming pool can’t be compared to any other swimming pool wherever in the world. Here in the country where the water is being heated by the earth, there is no reason for saving energy. A hotpot is out in the open air steaming away. The water is also free from chlorine. It is as if you bathe in Mother Nature her warm chest. Each little swimming pool is more precious than the most overpriced spa, and should certainly not be passed by. At least not by me!

One and a half hours later I am back at my bike, to find it surrounded by a group of locals. Oh how I wish I could speak Icelandic, the conversations now don’t get any further than a few polite sentences. “We were admiring your bike.” “Yes, he is beautiful. But the cycling is very heavy, with all those mountains”, I reply. “Yes, I can imagine. Have a safe trip!” “Thank you.” It is far from an intriguing conversation. With the admiring looks of what must be the entire village, I try to cycle away as smoothly as possible, uphill. I don’t want to disappoint the good people of Saurbaer, so I bite my lip as my legs go slowly around. Luckily the wind sees my good intention and decides to help out, with a nice extra push in the back I manage to reach the top.

After one more little hill I reached the side road that leads to the campsite. It is a dirt road that turns straight into the wind. Instead of blocking the wind the high mountain range on the horizon is blowing it back, right into my face. Even going downhill I have to stand up to go forward.  With today's last bit of strength, I manage to reach the campsite. I put up the tent and head to the just-discovered hotpot, yes… it is a must, even if it looks like this one has gone through more than one war, my legs still know how to appreciate it. While an Icelandic campers play on the accordion I close my eyes and dream the tiredness away.


+37 km



day 3 — June 15, 2003

With yesterday's wind in my back I jump-start the day, I am flying over the rough road jumping from bump to bump, doing my best not to let go of the handlebars as the bike brutally lands on the next big rock on the road. Sadly this pleasurable battle is only short-lived. When I meet up with road number one I have to say goodbye to the fatherly hand on my shoulder that has been pushing me forward.

When I reach Borgarnes, it is time to stock up on goods since the next big town is many cycle days away from here. With yet another plastic bag hanging on my bike, the need for some serious repacking is painfully clear. But it will have to wait till tonight because now it is time for the unavoidable visit to the swimming pool. An hour later and as soft as a prune I cycle in slow motion out of town, to shortly after that also leave road number one, I will see it back in 22 days. As I leave the traffic that races onwards to Akureyri behind, I realize what a great relief it is to not be cycling on road one anymore. Now I am in different surroundings, this is where the bike and its rider can breathe calmly. Here nobody is in a rush, the clock even ticks slower. The road remains as flat as a postcard, and a soft breeze blows in my face. The slowness of time and the flat landscape seems to play tricks on me. My legs go round but my bike feels motionless. Time goes by and still, the mountains ahead haven’t gotten any closer.

On the horizon I see where today is supposed to end, volcano Eldborg. It should be not more than 15 kilometers away, but it has been lying motionless on the same spot on the horizon for the entire day already. It shall have to wait for tomorrow. I decide to put up my tent on the side of the road, which turned out to be a good decision; the moment the tent is erected, it starts to rain.

In the comfort of the rhythmic acoustics of the raindrops I open up the 6 bike bags to see what can be done about my collection of dangling plastic bags. Packing is a not to be underestimated skill for the cyclist. Not only is the distribution of weight a concern, but you also want ideally the same weight on the left side as on the right side. Also an order of what is needed most needs to be taken into account. Add to that certain logic of what goes together in the same bag and your puzzle is complete. The easiest one is the bag on the handlebars, which is for immediate needs while cycling, the ideal place for a camera, sunglasses, maps, and a notebook. Then the two bags on the front wheel. Ideally should these not be too heavy, because that will make it harder to steer. I decided to see my bike as my traveling house with each bag as a different room. The front left side is the bathroom, with things like towels, toothbrush, medicine cabinet, and toilet paper. On the front right we have the bedroom, with the wardrobe, so all my clothes are in here. Then we go to the back of the bike, with on the left the kitchen: one pan, one plate, and a bunch of food in boxes and bags. The right side is the storage room; here I put everything that is left, like my hiking shoes, guidebooks, spare parts for the bike and other lost and found stuff including the just-bought groceries. Finally, there is the big cigar-shaped bag that goes on top of the backside of the bike. This is the bedroom, with the tent, sleeping mat, sleeping bag, and my sweater/pillow in it. How great it feels to have everything in order. The four plastic bags have been diminished to only one, which is holding the benzene burner, something that is too smelly to be wrapped in anything else than the open air.


+59 km



day 4 — June 16, 2003

It is going to be a short cycling day today. Only 13 very flat kilometers rest me to the next stop, Snorrastadir, a small farmers' campsite. When I have made my quarters I take out my hiking shoes (right bag on the back) and start the walk up to the Eldborg volcano. It is a small friendly little volcano that looks a bit sad there, all alone in its spotless surroundings, like Cindy Crawford her mole. The farmer owns the volcano and he maintains a small trail that leads towards it. How would it be to own a volcano? Is the owner responsible for its eruptions, like a parent is responsible for their kid’s adolescent behavior? These idiotic questions form jokes in my mind as I struggle my way through the birch bushes that are cut low by the strong winds that can torment this island. You will not easily find a tall tree here, let alone a forest. The trees that once populated this now bare land have all been cut down, to either be used to build houses or for heating long before the people found a way to harvest the earth's own heath.

It is a short but intensive walk, after 45 minutes I crawl the last meters up to the edge of the volcano. My eyes are being treated to a magnificent view across the lava fields. The flows of lava have etched the earth and rippled it in a million streams of flowing rocks; they form rivers that have magically turned into stone.

The Snaefelsjokull is lying in the countryside as a goodhearted giant, overseeing it all and enhancing my view. In the next couple of days will I cycle around this magical white powder-dusted mountain. Many spiritual people flock to this mountain to lie down in its snow and feel his power, not for nothing is this mountain the start of Jules Verne’s travel in A Journey to the center of the Earth.

Back on the campsite I decide to use the rest of the day to adapt my day-to-day routes to my slower pace. I am on the fourth day already two days behind on the original schedule. Armed with maps, a guidebook, and the bus schedule I battle with the limited bus services that range from once a week to three times a week, the ferry times, and the fixed arrival date for Akureyri. On day 26 will this town be my halfway point, where a hotel reservation is welcoming my tired bones.

Several hours later I am looking with a big sense of relief to the new schedule. The next 5 days will I spend cycling, then there will be three nights in Stykkisholmur before I can take the ferry across to the oldest part of Iceland, the West Fjords. Here I will continue my travels by bus, the West fjords are full of tedious roads that wind around fjords for hours and when they don’t trace a fjord they go across steep mountain ridges. In my mind perfect terrain for the bus, and luckily is it no problem to take the bike with me. After these fjords, there will be two cycling days and one bus trip across a not-interesting part before I reach the luxury of a soft hotel bed in Akureyri.

It has been a real puzzle but with some waiting days in the right places, the irregular bus times seem to fit the schedule, giving me plenty of opportunity to explore the area and relieving me from the stress of having to cycle to many kilometers per day.


+13 km



day 5 — June 17, 2003

It is perfect! A strong wind is blowing in my back; pushing me forward and making the kilometers glide away. The little mirror on my handlebar is reflecting deep dark blue clouds, which slowly drift towards me. They can’t hurt me, I am cycling in the sun and am not going to fear anything today, my sky is full of smiles. Steep mountains flatten themselves out under my wheels as the wind races me onwards. The dark skies have caught up with me as it begins to rain, two, three drops. The sun still colors the road in front of me, and when I look back I see the shadows from the rain clouds. Like an angry cartoon figure with its own personal rain cloud, I cycle on. Not sure what is wise, should I stop for 5 or 10 minutes to let the rain cloud drift over? Probably… but then, who does that? I decide to cycle onwards, be it slightly slower than before. The road makes a little turn to the left and then another little turn to the right, to end up going in the same direction but only 2 meters more to the left. It seems to be enough to shake off my moody rain cloud. As if made out of thick black apple syrup it sticks to the mountain range on the right side of me. Icelandic weather, it has its peculiarities.

Am I halfway, or only one-third? Luckily there is only one road so we can hardly call this being lost.

Despite that I am cycling in the best weather conditions and with an ocean view it seems that the road is endless. This is mainly caused by the million little pools that are dotting the landscape and have made me feel completely lost. Each farm is shown by name and with a little black dot on the map but all names are too familiar to make me remember them for more than the time it takes to read the name signs. Am I halfway, or only one-third? Luckily there is only one road so we can hardly call this being lost, and the side road to the campsite is thus automatically reached. At Lysuholl farm I spot a few cabins and a little further I hear the splashes of the swimming pool, the reason for me picking this spot. I park my bike and go looking for the owner of the cabins. Their dog finds me first, and after some serious sniffing, he figures out that I must be a friend. To illustrate this newfound friendship he lies down on his back with all four legs up in the air, impatiently waiting for a belly rub.  After satisfying her dog the owner pops up from behind a cabin. “No, there is no campsite here” she answers my inquiry. “There used to be one at the school, but that is a while ago.” Numbed by this new reality I turn my bike around and cycle back to the main road. Then, a few kilometers further on, it suddenly hit me! The swimming pool. I forgot to go to the swimming pool. To go back is too stupid, even for me. Cursing myself for my stupidity I cycle onwards.

I have set my new target on Budir, a bit of a luxurious place with a fancy hotel so there might be a chance that they have a hotpot on the campsite. Fifteen kilometers further on I reached Budir, the road in front of me makes a steep climb and another road bending off to the right makes an even steeper climb, up over the mountain range. A perfect spot to put up camp. I cycle up on the dirt road leading to the hotel and campsite, it tests my bike and its suspension. Big potholes and loose boulders have turned the road into a survival trail. I don’t spot the campsite; instead, I walk into the majestic Hotel Budir in my sweat-soaked t-shirt and bicycle shorts. To make me feel even more out of place is it today the Icelandic Independence Day, so even more than usual is everybody dressed up in his or her Sunday best. At the reception I ask the directions to the campsite, “Budir is now a national park and for that reason, it is no longer allowed to camp here.” Is the answer, ones again I seem to have been badly informed by my trusty guidebook. I quickly inform: “Is there maybe still a room available in the hotel?” Luckily, because it is ridiculously expensive as I find out later, is it fully booked. I cycle back towards the edge of the nature reserve and put up my tent on the side of the road. Today my odometer tells me I cycled 80 kilometers, a new personal record.

Before the sun is set I make a walk through the nature reserve. According to my not-so-trustworthy guidebook, there should be a special yellow beach. Mainly special because almost all beaches here have black volcanic sand. On closer inspection it seems to be more pink than yellow, making it in my mind a bit more special. But the beach is not what is so important here; the lava field behind it is what makes this worthy to be a nature reserve. Budaraun harvests the most diverse collection of ferns within Iceland. The bright almost glowing patches of green fern leaves surrounded by the pitch-black lava rocks form a mystical scenery. Behind each rock you expect to see some creature running away, scared to be seen. In a country with scenery like this, it is no wonder that most Icelanders believe in trolls and elves.


+80 km



day 6 — June 18, 2003

Thanks to yesterday's hunt for a campsite is there only a short piece of traveling left for today. I continue my trip by following the road that leads around this peninsula. The main road takes a shortcut across the mountains to Olafsvik, a town that is for me 3 days away. With the car this is the obvious route to take, why would you spend more time on the road than is strictly needed? With the bike it makes more sense to drive around the mountain range, for a cyclist there is no need to hurry along. On the bike, it is all about the trip and not about the arrival.

However if the reason had been to avoid a steep climb, I would have had no options, both roads go up with 8 to 10%. I have to stop 6 times to catch my breath, but I reach the top. Satisfied with the conquest I let myself roll down, in my mind I scream “Wheeeeeheeeeeeeeeeee!” But only in my mind because for screaming is it here to peaceful. The little traffic that was still passing me by on the main road has now become even less. If it is one car every two hours it is a lot. Calmly I let my bike roll till my feet feel the resistance on the pedals again. While the road keeps on going up and down, gliding over the toes of the mountain range on my right, I cycle past a triangular yellow street sign with under it the text “malbik endar”. There is little time for wondering what that means, the explanations follow almost immediately. End of tarmac. With a small bump, I enter the world of the lesser-traveled dirt roads. I don’t know why, but it makes me happy. I am looking around me as if I just discovered a new continent, let the adventure commence!

I have to say that the road is far from bad, the soil is firm and there are not many potholes. There is nothing to complain about, and that is more than I can say from my bike. It seems that the many climbs have worn down the chain. As soon as I put pressure on the pedals I hear a crack and the gearwheel jumps forward. All the extra power I put on the pedals is going to waste. Only day six and already my bike is breaking down, producing horrible sounds of metal grinding over metal. Then in the middle of another climb, all of a sudden am I cycling in outer space, as a wind still moment in the middle of a storm. My legs shoot around desperately searching for friction to make them stop, but there is nothing. When I look a few meters behind me, I see a black snake lying on the dirt road, it is the chain of my bike.

Luckily before I took this trip my bicycle repair guy explained to me how to fix a broken chain, and he gave me the tools for it. I have 3 pins, because as he said: “you are not going to break your chain more than 3 times”. A truth that I trusted him with. I grab my bike, throw the luggage to the side of the road and turn the bike around. Now let's see. To repair it is easy: you grab the two ends of the chain, put them together, push a pin through it, pinch off the end of the pin and you’re ready. But how the hell does a chain go around all the little cogwheels? I have never seen a bike without its chain; it gives a totally new perspective on the functioning of this, at first glance, pretty straightforward mechanism. At the first attempt I end up with a bike that can only cycle backward, that can’t be right. Looking at the bike standing back on its wheels it is pretty clear what went wrong. Nothing to do then flip over the bike one more time and push out the pin. This time I let the chain go the other way around the little wheels. It looks much better. Satisfied with my own handiness I put pin number two in place. Done! I make a test drive before hanging all the bags on the bike again. Wrong, all wrong! Now it doesn’t even go backward anymore. I sit down on the side of the road, to have a long and good look at this bike. It has never looked more alien to me than now. I don’t see what I am doing wrong, and I don’t see how it can even go differently around all the bits and bumps. With only 1 pin left, there is no room for error. There is nothing to do, then to walk the few kilometers that are left between here and the campsite, hoping that on the campsite there will be somebody with more brains than me. I curse my own clumsy stupidity. It is two mountains up but luckily also two long stretches that go down. Half disabled I glide downhill and onto the campsite. In the grass, two or three meters away from me see I two bikes. I sneak over to have a peek. The reality is as simple as I imagined, all that I needed to do was to push the derailleur all the way to the back, so it will tighten the chain once it is back in place… that is all. Shamefully logic, when you know it. I quickly fix the chain and make a happy little victory lap around the tent. Perfect! Now I only hope that the chain will not brake again before I reach a cycle repair shop… 20 days from now. I quickly forget that realization and instead, go for a walk.

The coastline is amazingly beautiful here. Many storms have shaped the volcanic rocks into a million and one ideal spot for seagulls to lay their eggs, the Seagulls play a game of catch with the waves as they cheer down to rapidly fly up again when the wave reaches out to them. The coast is littered with black basalt islands, standing alone, while the ocean dances around it in white foam circles. There is something special about a rock standing in the ocean, it is simply breathtaking and I can look at it forever. Seeing how wave after wave is hitting it, shaping it. It is one of the monuments of nature’s power that humbles me and at the same time shows how wonderful the power of nature is, so much more wonderful than the power of mankind. It uses the power of destruction to create instead of to destroy. I sit down in the grass and feel calmer than ever before in my life. I close my eyes as the shrieking of the birds unifies with the beating of the waves and the rushing of the wind.

When I return to my tent I meet up with the owners of the two bikes. It turns out that they are two young Swedish boys that are equally “tough” bikers as me. With the agreed point of view that 60 kilometers per day is more than enough we form a friendship. They have cycled the same distance as me, only in more days. My damaged ego is all too happy to hear that. We laugh about each other's misfortune and weaknesses, it is good to find two people that share my experiences and that are not too proud to admit their weaknesses. When nighttime sets in the boys pack their bags and gear up. They do most of their cycling at night because the low midnight sun gives the landscape that extra amount of magic. It is true, the days have been getting longer, and soon it will be June 22nd, the longest day of the year. Chances are that tomorrow our paths will cross again as we both are planning to cycle to the same campsite, 45 kilometers away from here.


+17 km



day 7 — June 19, 2003

The day starts once again with a nice amount of climbing, and as I get closer to the top the road gets steeper. So steep even that the front wheel lifts up from the dirt road, only for a few centimeters, but enough to force me to walk the last bit uphill. The 15 kilometers that follow would fit perfectly into the tracks of a roller-coaster. One hill is not done or the next one is already lined up to test my strength, luckily, with a week in the saddle, have my legs already grown considerably stronger and even more important so has my mind. I switch off my brain and lock my eyes on the dirt road that slides rock by rock under my wheels. As I cycle into the Snaefellsjokull National Park the massive Snaefellsjokull Mountain makes way for a strong wind from the northeast, right from me. Leaning on the wind, with my bike at a 15° angle, I do my best to keep the front wheel in the tire tracks of the road. With each gust of wind, my steer gets jerked and I land on the loose gravel. My knuckles turn white as my hands tighten their grip on the handlebars. The wheel gets pushed around by the loose gravel, and I swagger from side to side, desperately trying to get back into the flattened-out tire tracks. Only to be blown out of them in a wink of an eye. Like that I cycle past the Lóndrangar rock pillars, they are too far off the road and the way back will be hard with this wind hitting me full in the face. I do however decide, to give my arms some rest, to take the short detour to an absolute must-see for everybody that ever travels this road: Djupalonsandur. A beautiful pebble beach surrounded by marvelous bizarre rocks that can only be trolls that have turned to stone by the upcoming Sun. I am clearly on an A-location, as the tourists come and go in busloads at a time. Calmly I wait for a moment to be in silence and watch the volunteers that are working on the path here. A young guy walks around with boulders as if they are made out of Styrofoam, new steps for the soft feet of the tourists. A slender girl is also helping out, her white shirt is grey from all the times that she has tried to wipe her hands clean, her hair looks as if a hurricane has just passed by, and her combat survival pants do their best to create a tougher image for her then she really is.

On the pebble beach lies rusty iron bits careless scattered around, a shame, the perfectly polished pebbles form such a beautiful sight. I kick annoyed against one of the metal sheets, that jumps a few centimeters away. “Why doesn’t anybody clear this up?” A small sign on the side of the beach gives an explanation. Apparently, we are dealing here with the remainders of a shipwreck of some importance. The sign states in big capital letters to not touch or move the pieces. I quickly look around me as I put the piece of rusty metal back in its original spot; still not sure what is so special about it.

Everywhere there are loose boulders, and in between them, my wheels sink down to the rims into the loose dirt.

As I reach the main road again I see how just a few meters in front of me a truck sprays water on the road behind him. It seems a useless activity, apart from that it transforms the road into a thick slush that sticks to my tires and makes every track invisible, blind I travel onwards carefully letting my front wheel find its way. A different vehicle is now slowly driving towards me. It is a strange contraption of a road-workers car; between the front and back wheels, there is a huge metal object, like a snow plow on steroids. It scrapes the top layer of the road and dumps it, very happily, on the other side of the road, more specifically my side of the road! I can now officially announce this road as impassable. Everywhere there are loose boulders, and in between them, my wheels sink down to the rims into the loose dirt. I do my best to avoid the big rocks, while at the same time not to end up in the loose dirt, and this all while the strong winds are still pushing my bike to the middle of the road. It takes all my strength to keep the front wheel under control. It is as if Snaefellsjokull is trying to make it clear to me that he is not this goodhearted giant as I thought he was, a few days back. And he is not done with me yet. The road makes a strong turn into the wind and the road is flattening itself out for five straight kilometres. Every movement is a battle; I need to stop after each 300 meters. But I don’t give up. I count the roadside poles, 3 more have passed. I rest, onwards to the next three. These five kilometers take me more than an hour when finally the road bends to the right and Snaefellsjokull shakes my hand, I've passed his test. The road jumps over small hills like a merry-go-round, I whistle a happy tune that seems to fit as I cycle into Hellisandur.

Sadly due to the new 200+ inhabitants rule is there no longer a swimming pool here. However, a different treat is awaiting me; I will spend the night in a guesthouse! Tonight not the two centimeters sleeping mat beneath me, but a good old thick mattress.


+43 km



day 8 — June 20, 2003

Today’s trip starts, as has become customary, with a climb. These early-day uphill parts are always a bit of a rude awakening to the muscles, today even more so than usual. The soft mattress made it hard for me to convince myself to get up. And with the added excuse that I didn’t need to fold up the tent I managed to steal an extra hour of sleep. Now, halfway up this first hill, it seems that my legs are still sleeping. Luckily the next town is already beckoning me closer.

I stop here for two reasons; the first one is the church. Most of Iceland’s architectural churches are references to the surrounding landscape, mimicking mountains, glaciers, basalt columns, or even waterfalls. And the church of Olafsvik is no exception; here four triangular shapes artistically hooked together form the translation of the mountain range behind it. As strange as linking modern architecture with churches sounds to me, it can create stunning structures that are worthy to be God’s house.

The second reason for my stop is, needless to say, the local swimming pool. Even if it is an indoor pool, I am not going to let it pass by. Therefore I have had too many days without a pool behind me. As I sink down into the 40 degrees warm bliss, I forget about the kilometers and hills that are awaiting me.

A good hour later I continue my route. Against my expectation does the road stay low, clinging on to the strip of land in between the fjord and the steep mountains. But of course the unavoidable is never far away, it takes a good 10 kilometers before I see Mount Doom. The closer I get the steeper the road seems to curl up against it. To make things worse do I feel as if I have just accidentally walked into a family argument. Arctic Terns are flying up from their unprotected nest on the ground, attacking me. Screeching they do their best to scare me away. When that seems to have little effect on their enemy they switch over to battle tactic number two. One by one they dive down to my head, and when they are about a centimeter above my head: “SCREEEEEEEEK!!!!” Followed by a pick with their pointy beaks or a well-aimed pooh dropping. One of them even managed to take the next step in evolution; he is dropping little pebbles on me. Luckily am I wearing a bicycle helmed so not much harm is done, as I mumble a calm: “Yeah, yeah, calm down I am only passing through”. Pok!

When I have climbed the first rippling of the mountain that is looking down on me, and the birds have left me alone, it is the perfect opportunity to postpone the real climb and sit down in the grass for lunch. Here, sitting at the edge of the hill, the mountain looks even more imposing than before. I chew my bread as slowly as humanly possible, till I have reached the point where it has become impossible to postpone it any longer… it is time to face the giant.

I stare down at the tarmac and count in Icelandic the broken white line in the middle of the road. Einn, tveir, thrir, fjorir, fimm… At tuttuguogfimm (25) I stop, pant, drawl, and go on. Einn, tveir, thrir… Before I know it the road gets flatter and when I look up I am standing on the top. Mountains are unpredictable creatures. One can look as big as a giant but is easily tamed while another is nothing more but a pimple in the field but is the hardest fighter of the bunch.

All the other hills on my route are carefully left alone as the road curls around them like a ballerina. Already at three am I am at the campsite in Grundarfjordur. A free campsite that lies on the most ideal location, right next to the swimming pool.

Since yesterday I realize how lucky I am with the weather. As I was peeking into the guestbook, of the guesthouse where I was staying, I ended up reading one disappointing vacation story after the other. Many people travel to this place for only one reason, to see the Snaefellsjokull Mountain, but he only rarely shows its face as most of the time he is hiding in the clouds. One saga that was written down told the adventures of a couple that even had to be rescued, in the middle of the summer! In the past four days have I been seeing the Snaefellsjokull, from top to toe, basking in the sun. I don’t want to imagine how this trip could have been if the weather had not been like this. But as it is today, the sun is still shining, so there is nothing stopping me from another hotpot visit while being treated to a glorious view of the magnificent mountain.


+38 km



day 9 — June 21, 2003

The sun is bringing the tent to boiling point, time to get up and cycle the last stretch on this peninsula. For the first time during this trip, I have the feeling, as I cycle out of Grundarfjordur, that I am leaving something behind. Must be the sentimental notion that today will be for a while the last cycling day. Not until 14 days will I continue my travel by bike, the day distances until then will be done by boat and bus.

It is also the first time that it is warm enough to cycle without a coat. To feel the wind play with my t-shirt makes me whistle with joy, this is turning into a real summer vacation. After having cycled around the fjord and glanced at my last view of Grundarfjordur and its mountain, which looks like a fresh dollop of whipped cream floating in a cup of hot chocolate, the road goes over a small mountain pass to end up on the other side of the mountain range and into another fjord. Kolgrafafjord lies, hidden from winds, safely tucked away in between two wonderful steep mountain ranges. The view is picture-postcard perfect! The mirror-like water reflects the mountains and multiplies their beauty. As the road meanders around the feet of the mountains with each turn another new even more wondrous mountain peak is revealed. Castles of rocks in all the colors imaginable form a playfield for the sun as thin clouds cast their shadows over them. Ten breathtaking kilometers of unrealistic perfection. This is why I am cycling; this is the only traveling speed that does justice to the scenery.

At the end of the fjord the road turns and replaces this breathless by beauty with the other breathless, by exhaustion. After the bridge across the next fjord, the road takes a steep climb, over the shoulder of two neighborly mountains. Time to put some power in my somewhat spoiled legs of today. At a uniform pace, I climb higher, left foot down, small breath in, right foot down, another small breath in, left foot, right foot, breath out. That is my rhythm: huh, huh, puff, huh, huh, puff. Higher and higher I get. About halfway through the climb, the sun is inviting me to take a short break. I lay down in the long grass, my head resting on the helmet, eyes closed. When I open them again I see a big shadow flying straight above me. As my eyes get used to the sunlight the shadow becomes clearer. It is the majestic Fish Eagle, or American Eagle, a rare guest to the Icelandic skies. It soars above me for a minute or two and then glides away to disappear in the far distance. I am not sure if I would have noticed him above me if I were not lying down in the grass. A pleasant gift from above.

Every mountain, every creek has some fable or saga attached to it, and in many cases, their name refers to it.

With a big smile I finish today’s climb and let myself plummet down into the Berserkjahraun lava field. This is the place that has brought the world the saying “going berserk”. The story goes that two dwarfs from Norway, called Berserkers, were staying at a local farm. One of them fell in love with his daughter and asked the farmer for her hand in marriage. The farmer said yes, under one condition: the Berserkers have to cut a path right through the lava field. An impossible task for anybody but not for a Berserker! Today you can still clearly see this path running through the field. However, the farmer was not planning to keep his word and instead killed them both. A small hollow aside the path marks their graves. The Icelandic landscape is full of stories like this, every mountain and every creek has some fable or saga attached to it, and in many cases, their name refers to it, like here at Berserkjahraun.

For me Berserkjahraun is driving me berserk too. It is endless, I have already spotted the end point for today from far away and it doesn’t seem to get any closer. The crystal clear skies make everything appear as if it is within a hand's reach, especially on a day like today, when the sun is shining and everything is as crisp as if it is cut into glass. The bumpy road across the lava is starting to get to me, bored am I looking for points of recognition that I can find back on the map. I should be getting close to the exit to Stykkisholmur, the town where I will be staying for the next 3 nights. I am cursing this blasted turn to the left that doesn’t want to appear. How much longer can this maze of lava go on? Days?

Not a moment too soon do I see a street sign, pointing to the left, Stykkisholmur 10 kilometers. The last stretch of road goes over soft glowing grassy hills, I am happy to change from the sharp monochrome black and gray world of a minute before.

As I cycle onto the campsite I see all too familiar bikes lying in the grass, two Swedish bikes. It is a happy reunion. The curiosity about each other’s stories of hardship and heroic acts is equally big, but they win it by far. The reason why I haven’t bumped into them earlier is as simple as it is amazing. Instead of going around the Snaefellsjokull, they discovered what appeared to be a shortcut… going over the mountain! But what might clearly look like a shorter route on the map doesn’t always turn out that way. It led them over the glacier-topped mountain, into deep, deep, snow, in the middle of the night! They couldn’t stop to sleep, because they would have gotten hypothermia. Tired they had to plow onward through the, at points, 20 centimeters deep snow. Uphill they were walking because it was too steep to cycle, on the top they had to walk because of the snow, downhill they had to walk because it was so steep that they would have melted their brakes. When they ask about my adventures I mumble softly: ”I had over five kilometers of a very strong headwind.” Tomorrow they will cycle onwards, and our paths will sadly not cross anymore.

Tonight is the longest day of the year, and thus is it automatically the shortest night of the year as well. That means that the sun will disappear behind the horizon for about 15 minutes until it pops up again as if he was only joking.

I walk to the small lighthouse on a little hill at the harbor. The low sun makes its orange metal housing glow as if it is on fire. I nestle against it, shielded from the wind I wait for the sun to do its joke. The sunset is nothing out of the ordinary is my somewhat sobering realization. It is the same as any other sunset… it only is a bit later than normal, at one in the night. And for the sunset, it is also pretty much the same story. The sun comes up in pretty much the same way, only then a few meters further on from where it was a little bit earlier disappeared from view. A half-hour later I walk back to the tent, head deep in my jacket. From tomorrow onwards the days will slowly lose their light, till the unavoidable moment when the night wins it from the day and light becomes as rare as the night is now.


+48 km


day 10 — June 22, 2003

Stykkisholmur is a big town, with absolutely nothing in it. There is only one store, the supermarket. Thanks to the ferry to the Westfjorden it gets a regular flow of tourists that spend the night. They seem to be the only lively thing here and the reason for survival for the few restaurants at the harbor side. After the days of going from small villages to even smaller villages I had been looking forward to spending two days in a bigger town, but this is not what I had pictured.

Fast food in Iceland means not that the service is quick, it merely refers to that you eat it quickly.

I seek shelter in the swimming pool. I manage to kill two hours in it. Afterward, I walk towards the little booth that sells pylsur, the Icelandic word for a hotdog. It is the only fast food that Iceland has known for years, and to eat a hotdog is what French fries are to the Dutch and hamburgers for an American. There is a long line of people waiting patiently. Fast food in Iceland means not that the service is quick, it merely refers to that you eat it quickly. The boy in the SS Pylsur booth can only handle one order at a time. He takes the order, put the pylsur on the grill; stands there looking at it while it slowly gets its black markings. He then grabs the bread slides the sausage in, goes past the array of sauces with it, and hands it to the customer. “Next?” There are five people in front of me and it takes a good half hour before I finally get my say. But the taste of meat, regardless of its dubious consistency, does me good after all the days on pasta. Glowing outside from the swim and inside from the pylsur I dive into my sleeping bag.


+0 km


day 11 — June 23, 2003

The rumblings of my tummy wake me up. I feel sick. I fear that this is my reward for making fun of the Icelandic fast food culture. With some effort, I manage to eat a sandwich in the hope that it will dilute the mess the pylsur is causing to my stomach. I step outside the tent to face another day in this town and walk up to the cliff from which the local library thanks to its magnificent view. With its curved glass wall, the building reminds me of a lighthouse. Behind the glass glories the wondrous Breidafjordur with its thousand little islands. Inside the books are piled up in huge stacks reaching to the sealing, as if this is not a library but an antiquary of a mad collector. With my back to all these books of wisdom, I take in the view; the boring town behind me makes all this look even more spectacular.

Feasted my mind with the view, now it's time to also feast the inner me. My stomach seems to have recovered from yesterdays beating. When I sit down at the harbor and order a coffee, the hunger is slowly settling in. These days of rest are doing me a lot of good. It has its charm to travel each day to a new place, each day a new adventure, but to have some quiet time to register everything that has passed by you while traveling is needed too. I take a glance at the menu and decide to put my stomach to another test. I order fish soup, a dish that this restaurant is supposedly famous for. A little bit later I get treated to a huge bowl, filled to the rim. When I push my spoon in I see ten or twenty different pieces of fish all fighting for a place in this bowl. That is what I call soup! The unmistakable smell of fish soup is teasing me. My tongue slowly glides over the back of the spoon as I get the first taste of this magnificent rich soup. It is an orgy of flavor. My god this tastes so good! I don’t know how quickly I can dip my spoon back into the bowl to load up another spoonful. Softly moaning with each spoon, I easily finish this bowl. I dry the inside of the bowl till the very last drop with a piece of bread. This is divine! With a big sloshing tummy I walk back to my tent.

After these days of tranquility I am getting the feeling as if most of the vacation is behind me, something that is far from true. In fact, I am only on one-fifth of it. Tomorrow I take the ferry to Flatey and from there, my discovery of the West Fjords will start, where my ass can get some rest from the saddle and instead will be treated to the soft foam of bus seats.


+0 km



day 12 — June 24, 2003

Farewell to Stykkisholmur and thus to Snæfellsness takes place by boat. Namely, the ferry that sails to Brjánslækur via the island of Flatey. I am happy to leave Stykkisholmur behind. For what passes as the capital of Snæfellsness, the place is a hamlet. Every night I've seen a teenage couple here wasting their time listening to the car radio while romantically throwing a basketball through a worn-out basket. Every night from eight to eleven. I could set my clock to it. It reminded me strongly of disturbed zoo animals that endlessly walk back and forth in their cages. But I am a privileged person and I am allowed to leave this place today.

I spend the boat trip almost two hours in good company. On board is a Dutch boy who hitchhikes, walks, and by bus travels through Iceland. While enjoying a hot cup of coffee we talk about our different experiences. Hitchhiking turns out to be almost problem-free here, as long as you stay on the slightly busier roads. For the quieter parts, he takes the bus. I also have a chat on board with an English retired pleasure cyclist and a German avid mountain biker. The mountain biker says he has a lot of admiration for me. These words of praise do me good because I still experience the upcoming bus tours as a serious failure. These kinds of conversations confirm that the performance already achieved is respected. According to the German boy, riding a bicycle with so much heavy luggage is something that he would not be able to do just like that. The Englishman is very interested in my further plans. With glittering eyes, he hears my upcoming adventures. I sense in him the jealous enthusiasm of an unrealized boyhood dream. It's crazy that I just do things like that. Untrained I got on the bike as if I was going to do some shopping. Okay, I prepared well in terms of planning but physically I was completely unprepared. Despite the lack of any kind of condition, I'm still looking good here. Encounters like this make me realize the uniqueness of the journey.

I disembark at the stopover at Flatey, I will finish the rest of the boat trip tomorrow. I am surprised that, besides me, there is no one who grants this island a visit. My bike is lifted off the ship by ropes. There he hangs, between shore and ship. My little guy. Small in stature and a bit too thick. Sure of his case, but still a bit shaky. Like a puppy that you can already tell is going to be a broad Rothweiler one day. That's my bike with a full load. Without the pack, he most closely resembles a wet cat. No, you should see my bike with a full load, then it is at its happiest.
He's back on the ground. The people on board took pictures of it. My bike is not averse to a little extra attention. He poses willingly. With all its glory I almost forget to get off the boat myself. Just before the gangway is retracted again I run downstairs. Safely on the quay, I take my bicycle in my arm and we walk fraternally on the only road on the island.

Hoping for a good conversation about what it's like to live on a small rock, I opted for a guesthouse tonight. I'm tucked away high in the attic in a room where you can not help but bump into something every time you move. The world's smallest toilet is also at my disposal. It is so small that it is impossible to urinate standing up. But on a positive note, I do have a view from the attic window.

For a conversation with the hostess you have to dig deep. I am the only guest and I don't feel comfortable at all. It's like I'm an invasion of their privacy. I sit at the dining table where they want to eat, on the couch where they want to sit. I flee outside and take a walk to the nature reserve that covers two-thirds of the island. The Arctic terns show the same amount of hospitality. They swoop down like kamikaze pilots, hoping to scare me enough to make me run. They are small white birds with a black pointed swallowtail and they have a good command of the bluff game. Screaming loudly and clucking their beaks, they are afraid of nothing. The best defense is to hold a stick high above your head. They aim all their aggression at the highest point. On Arnarstappi I also saw a bunch of people in a fiery fight. They waved their sticks over their heads frantically. You shouldn't do that. You're supposed to distract them, not swat them to death in the air. You also have to walk slowly. But don't be too quiet either because then you run the risk of receiving the next step in their defense strategy: a very well-aimed discharge of the gut. Arctic Terns, you can't help but love them, right?

Unfortunately I can't finish my walk. Since it is now the middle of the breeding season, there are large signs that make it clear that walking further is absolutely forbidden. With the anxious feeling that there is nothing else to do but go back to my hostess, I secretly walk a bit further. To my left, an eider flies up from her nest. A clear signal. I know that the slightest disturbance can scare these birds so much that they leave their nests for good. When I look behind me, on the way back, I am happy to see that the female is back in her nest. Feeling guilty about the nature-destroying Dutchman that I am, I walk along the fence in the direction of the white church. There are supposed to be very nice murals here, but they are not granted to me either. When I knock on the door, it turns out to be closed. So I will not be able to confess the sin I had just committed.

When I'm tucked away again on the third floor, it becomes painfully clear to me what it's like to live in such a small community, stupidly boring. At seven o'clock I walk to the jetty to see the last boat leave. A melancholy event, partly because I can now officially, with a look at the abandoned campsite, determine that I am the only tourist on this island. With the departure of the last resort, something takes possession of me. Something I can only describe as 'island feeling'. “We can do without the world, we don't need them.” At least until tomorrow, tomorrow we'll be friends again. Tomorrow I need the bus, tomorrow we will be I again.

Tucked away on the third floor I go through the itinerary from Akureyri. I doubt whether I can handle the arduous journey along the Dettifoss to Grimsta∂ir. I've heard a lot of stories about how bad the road is. Loose stones, pits, sand. In short, no way. But although I have already been there on a group tour, independently by bike will be a new experience. I must try. I break the further long distances in half again and to gain days I plan a bus trip that will take me from Reyðarfjorður to Höfn. A trip that goes along many fjords and since day one I have developed an allergic reaction to the word fjord so the bus seems like a very good idea. As far as tomorrow is concerned, the big question is whether the bus is big enough to take my bike. It will fit in itself, but there should not be too many other passengers. A simple fact that can completely destroy a well-thought-out plan. There is nothing to do but hope for the best.

West Fjords

West Fjords

Chapter 2: The West Fjords


+41 km


ferrymini van

day 13 — June 25, 2003

At breakfast the hostess of this happy blue-painted guesthouse on Flatey deems it impossible to ignore me any longer. She asks where I'm from and after some questions it turns out that she only lives here in the summer. In winter she lives in Stykkisholmur. Stykkisholmur's dullness will no doubt reach a new low when she lives there.

Relieved to be able to leave this island of boredom, I step on board. My bike again prefers the crane. As nice as the boat trip was yesterday, it is so annoying now. I'm on a boat full of Germans. A huge tour group has completely annexed the boat as only the Germans can. There are glances at me and my bike, but no contact. In their eyes I see questions glistening but they are not asked. It's a long hour that even the television on board can't change.

Finally we arrive in Brjanslækur. This place is nothing more than a jetty and, no less important, a bus stop. It is a small white van that can accommodate no more than ten people. The friendly bus driver explains with hands and feet that the bicycle must be placed in the aisle via the tailgate. It turns out to fit perfectly. The first smuggling journey can begin. With my finger on the map, I try to keep track of where we are. I hope the road is steep so that I feel justified in my misdeed. The first kilometers are disappointing, a nice flat road along the water. But then we leave the coast and go uphill for miles. My ears are popping. Higher and higher we go. The road is relentless, not one flat stretch, not one stop. It would have made me dismount and walk without a doubt. The vertiginous descent that followed would have melted the rubber on my brakes. No, I'm sitting here, a happy person who has made a wise decision, enjoying the scenery. Of course, it must be great to conquer this cycling, but I simply couldn't have done it. Once back at sea level, the road winds along a fjord before creeping inland again to a beautiful stone plain. How wonderfully beautiful can death be?

The bus makes a brief stop at a collector gone out of control. The Egill Ólafsson Museum is a unique chain of collections ranging from LP covers to complete airplanes. Unfortunately, the stop is too short to be able to stroll through it properly, comfort has its price. We have to move on.

After a pleasant series of hills and valleys, the dazzling bay of Breiðavík shines far below us. I consider myself lucky to be able to stay here for three nights. When the tent is set up and I am performing my pasta show in the kitchen of the associated guesthouse, I am greeted by my new hostess. She introduces herself: “Birna”, with a hand on my shoulder she promises me that we will talk further later. Will I now get that contact that I missed so much yesterday? A few hours later I'm sitting in the restaurant enjoying a free cup of fresh coffee. Birna comes up to me with the most heartfelt smile. She talks endlessly about life here. “We live here all year round, without TV or mobile phone,” she says proudly. “I also have a farm down the road. If I go there I say I'm going to Iceland.” Reality hits me, this is not Iceland, this is Breiðavík. Now I am on an island. A beautiful piece of earth with meters-high mountains on one side and a beautiful turquoise ocean on the other side. “Two winters ago we were completely snowed in for eight weeks,” Birna continues her story. “I had converted the restaurant into a classroom. When the road was free of snow again, the children were happy to be allowed to go to a real school again. I am a strict teacher”. I ask how she does that with the food because from what I saw so quickly, this is a large family with at least five children. “Oh, that's no problem,” is her sobering reply. “I have three large freezers that are always full. One with fish and meat, one with vegetables and potatoes, and one with bread and milk. It doesn't matter whether it is summer or winter. After all, in the winter I don't know how long I'll be snowed in and in the summer I never know in advance how many guests I'll get in a day.” Life can be so simple if you take it as it comes. She gently touches my shoulder again. This is the long-hoped-for Icelandic contact, literally and figuratively. Life is good here in this bay as long as Birna watches over us.


+104 km


day 14 — June 26, 2003

It's windy and raining. But with the expectation that the weather will improve, I get on my bike and leave for Látrabjárg (Europe's largest bird cliff). I climb up the mountain that protects Breiðavík from the big bad world. It is very steep and I have to stop soon to regain strength. The higher I get, the stronger the wind. The thought of having to return the same way makes me realize that what is now a tailwind will soon be an inhuman headwind. At the top of the ridge, the wind whips my face with icy blasts of rainwater. Leaning diagonally on the wind, I kick myself forward. Just past the exit to Keflavík, the road drops at 10% to end up in a bay via a hairpin bend. I have to stand on the pedals to be able to push them around to go downhill, that's how strong the wind is. Beyond the hairpin bend, the situation worsens. I surrender and let the wind win this game. I turn around and go back to the hot coffee of Birna. Once back in the bay I crawl into the shower and let the warm water warm my body again.

The world can change during a nice shower. I open the door and see a clear blue sky. Sun, not a breath of wind. So I didn't have to go back but instead had to rely on the changeable weather. Now there is the doubt. Shall I leave again, there is still time. Up that mountain again... The weather is so beautiful. It's a shame to keep lounging around here. Damn, why didn't I just keep cycling.

I go and crawl up the mountain for the second time. Back to the road. Once on top it's a totally different story. The wind is still present here and as far as possible stronger than this morning. In order not to let this new climb be completely useless, I take pictures of the area. I put my bike on the side of the road and walk into the wide landscape. Behind a mountain of stones, I sit down on the soft moss, out of the wind, enjoying all the beauty. From the distant horizon (where the coast of Greenland can be seen) to the mossy stones directly in front of my feet. Here in this place, in this bay, I could live. Not on the island in such a small community, but here where you are your own community. Here I want to feel all seasons. Deeply snowed in in the winter, and sun-drenched in the summer.


+0 km



day 15 — June 27, 2003

The sun managed to beat the rain early today. Unfortunately, the wind has no natural enemy. Again I find myself using all my force to kick the peddles around. At the point where I gave up yesterday, I now park my bike on the side of the road. Some forces of nature are better fought with both feet on the ground. I walk the last few kilometers to Látrabjárg. Down in Látravík Bay the wind blows at its strongest, angry against the mountains that keep it trapped here. This bay is nothing like Breiðavík. There is a grey drabness here that settles on me like a suicidal depression. Hvallátur is the name of the place located in this bay and is therefore also the westernmost place in Europe. A fact that makes one expect some peculiarities, but what I find are abject poverty and lonely abandoned houses. I try to put it behind me as soon as possible.

Contrary to my expectations, the rest of the way remains fairly flat. The cliffs appear to start low. At the lighthouse, puffins welcome me from over the edge of the cliff. "Hello!" I walk along the cliffs and stretch out in the grass. I look at the puffins and they look at me. I shamelessly ignore the other birds present. I don't see auk or gull, only sweet, nice, little, funny divers. They walk quietly in front of me ten centimeters away. At the right point, they stop for a moment, pose patiently, snap a few photos, and continue walking. I could lie here forever enjoying these flying penguins with rainbow beaks.

The wind is shifting and big dark clouds are drifting this way. I go back and politely say goodbye to my flying friends. After a while, when I see my bike waiting patiently in the distance, I loudly greet him from afar. “Here I am again!” You get a bond with your bike, nothing you can do about it. Behind me, I see that Látrabjárg is now trapped in a curtain of rain. As I cycle back in a rain shower, Breiðavík is like an oasis of sunshine in my sights. As the wind was imprisoned in the "Bay of Poverty," the sun seems to be imprisoned in my bay.

At the campsite I was joined by a cycling neighbor. A Frenchman who speaks English with a German accent. The first impression is not good. But I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. I walk towards the kitchen with my bag of pasta. I don't want pasta, I crave a bloody piece of meat or a large piece of fish. The temptation to eat in the restaurant is great. But I must, because of the price, keep this form of luxury to a minimum and reduce it to very rare occasions... oh, forget it! I'm going to eat at the restaurant. While I glance at the menu, Birna walks over to me. “Have you eaten yet?” is the question. “No, that’s why…” I can't finish my sentence. “I'll prepare something for you.” Birna leaves me in despair. A little later her youngest daughter (I estimate her to be seven years old) arrives with an overflowing steaming plate of food. In perfect English, she says: "Please". I look with wide eyes at the gift of the Gods that has just been presented to me. In front of me is a plate with five large pieces of fried fish, a handful of boiled potatoes, a mound of white rice, lettuce, and all that surrounded by a fragrant cream sauce. Wow! Oh god what bliss. Hands trembling with excitement, I prick my fork into the succulent fish. Right before my mouth, I pause to increase the desire. The warm, fish-scented steam curls up my nose with pleasure. I open my mouth and let the fish settle gently on my tongue. I let a minute long “hmm...” slip out of my mouth. How much can a person desire to eat a dead animal?

Birna walks over to me. “Have you eaten yet? I'll prepare something for you.”

When I ate everything too fast, the mini-waiter comes back. “Do you want more?” Do I want more? Yes, I would like infinitely more. I am able to eat the entire contents of all three freezers. But I politely answer that this was delicious. I wouldn't dare ask for an impolite extra amount now. To top all the fun even further, the little girl returns a little later with a blueberry skir for dessert. A perfect end to my three-night stay here. When I have also spooned this down to the last drop, Birna appears on the scene. Smiling broadly as always, she politely asks if everything was okay. With the largest possible shining eyes, I thank her most heartily. When I tell my story to the English-with-a-German-accented-speaking-Frenchman (EDF) a little later, I get a cold reaction. Jealous?

When I'm having my last cup of coffee of the day, Birna comes over to me again. The conversation is about everything. She tricks me into trying to say something in Icelandic. With rosy cheeks, I venture to explain to her in Icelandic how wonderful it is here. “Et var altveg roselega.” She looks at me with eyes full of question marks. I repeat. “Et var altveg roselega.” Nothing. The eldest daughter is now also listening. “Et var altveg roselega.” No, no response. I say in English what I wanted to say. “Ah,” says the daughter; “rosella”. Turns out I just didn't pronounce it right. It seems like a minor thing, but it apparently makes a world of difference. However, Birna is still not sure if that was what I wanted to say. I give up and let go of the thoughts of ever learning Icelandic and limit myself to the basics of takk and bless. And even that often goes wrong. I say takk where bless should have been and bless where takk should have been better. But at least my pronunciation is understood.

I talk a bit with EDF, but it doesn't make it to the Swedish meeting from a few days back. No sense of humor at all, or the language barrier is too great for it. Irony translates poorly. He has plans to take the bus with me tomorrow. I realize how full the bus was with my bike on it and doubt if there is enough room for two bikes. I try to make it clear to him as nice as possible that my bike will come along anyway. The right of the former seems to me to be clearly valid here. He dismisses this coldly. I’ll have to watch tomorrow that he doesn't make sure his bike goes on board first.


+12 km


mini van

day 16 — June 28, 2003

The bus leaves at a quarter past four. He goes back largely the same way. Eight kilometers past Brjanslækur I will get off for a visit to the Vatnsdalsvatn bird lake. Unfortunately, the bus schedule forces me to stay there for two nights. It is mandatory to slow down in the Westfjords. Hereditarily burdened with the tendency to be ready for everything too early, I also now have everything on my bike before eleven o'clock.

The waves rustle their quiet calmness. Even the otherwise screaming terns are quiet now.

As a fitting farewell I take a last walk on the broad sandy beach. Silence creeps into me and forces me to stop. I bend my knees and sit cross-legged. I'm still too much present. Only when I lay flat in the sand am I small enough to let the silence blow over me? The wind blows clouds of sand over the large flat beach. The waves rustle their quiet calmness. Even the otherwise screaming terns are quiet now. Everything is in the service of silence. Me too, for a good hour I listen to nothing but the silence. I get up again and walk on, towards the ocean. There, half in the water, I see four sheep grazing on the seaweed. My unexpected presence startles them and makes them run away. Disturbed rest.

Walking back I let the ocean waves caress my shoes. I would like to take a dip, bend over and feel the water. The cold isn't too bad. I don't know why but instead of wiping the wet finger I put it in my mouth and taste it. Not as salty as the North Sea. It could be good, a swim, for a while, not too long. But I walk on, along the waves and on the beach. The sand gradually gives way to grass. Three cyclists have arrived at the campsite. It is an Italian man who came here by bicycle with his son and accompanying girlfriend. I feel insignificant. I estimate the children are around 12 years old. They did what I could never have done. They have climbed over all those huge mountains. I am full of respect and saunter back to Birna.

“The bus is not coming today. The driver just called to say he won't be back until Monday."

To be on the safe side, I ask if the bus doesn't accidentally drive on without coming down. “The bus is not coming today. The driver just called to say he won't be back until Monday." For a second, I believe her. Then she starts laughing and I realize she's kidding me. EDF is standing here too. All pleasant teasing goes completely past him. He still thinks the bus is not coming. It takes me the necessary explanation to convince him that the bus will come. And a little later the bus comes down the mountain. My bike is back in the aisle and the EDF's bike goes across behind the driver's seat. It just fits with five centimeters left. While the bus is waiting with a roaring engine, I quickly run to Birna. I hug her and give them a kiss. She hugs me back and gives me her email address. So it is not such an island here. I thank her for everything. I want to stay, one year, one life.

Fortunately, the annoying EDF is already getting off the bus in Patreksfjorður. The bus driver and I continue our way over the same mountains where I came from. After 90 kilometers I also get out. In Flókalundur (a campsite, gas station, hotel, and swimming pool).

The sun is shining and every square millimeter of air is inhabited by flies. Swearing loudly, I set up the tent. There are flies in my ears, my hair, my eyes, my nose, my mouth. It drives you crazy. Flies everywhere, everywhere! Once the tent is up I flee inside. Zip up, sleep. In all my haste, I didn't pay close attention to whether the ground was flat. I'm lying across on a bump. Stupid campsite. I miss Birna already.


+90 km



day 17 — June 29, 2003

Like so many previous nights I wake up to a bullying sound, fluweweweweweweh! By now I know who is to blame, the sound comes from an inconspicuous brown bird that produces the sound in a dive by letting the wind whistle along its wings. It sounds like an old man whistling in his sleep through his false teeth. I've been hearing this strange sound above me since day one. I therefore suspect that this is one single bird, which flies with me to bother me every evening.

When I wake up I see that it is already light. I guess it's 9:30 am, thinking I've had a good night's sleep I unzip my sleeping bag and reach for my bike clock to find out it's only two o'clock... The midsummer night sun is a jester that keeps tricking me.

Again I wake up and guess it's half past 9. But this time it's already 11 o'clock. Despite all the bumps under my sleeping mat, I slept wonderfully. High above my tent, I hear my travel companion, fluweweweweweweh. I wriggle out of my sleeping bag and poke my confused head out of the tent. The still-present flies seem to have been waiting for this moment. As if I have stuck my head in a black cloud. I'm right away wide awake. In one movement I pull my head back and zip the tent back up again. I get dressed and take a big breath of air. I shoot out of the tent with billowed-up cheeks. In a vague effort to stay ahead of the flies, I trot to the pool. Strangely enough, there are no flies around the pool. Flies don't seem to be big fans of swimming pools. That is the umpteenth plus point of an Icelandic swimming pool visit.

The still present flies seem to have been waiting for this moment. As if I have stuck my head in a black cloud. I'm right away wide awake.

Unfortunately, when I leave the pool after an hour, they quickly found me again. To prevent this day from being completely determined by them, I decide, armed with a beautiful green fly net on my head, to take a bike ride to Vatnsdalsvatn. According to Lonely Planet, the lake must be packed with ducks. After eight kilometers I reach the gravel road that runs west of the lake. It is a real country road with potholes and large loose stones. The water turns out to be no more than the shallow end of a fjord and what is worse I see, well counted, three ducks swimming. Three large saw-billed ducks. Okay, they are beautiful ducks with a long dull grey neck and white lines drawn like a pinstripe suit. But there are only three. Three! The rest of the lake is completely deserted. Only a fly spotter will enjoy this.

When I get to the end of the lake there is nothing to do but turn around and go back to my tent. I feel cheated. Would the hotel keep this duck myth alive in order to attract additional customers? It cannot be the season because it is now the end of June, so it is still the breeding season.

Still on the run from the flies, I duck into the restaurant and order a cup of coffee. Or as it goes in Iceland, I order a coffee pot. Here away from the buzz, safe behind glass, I really see how beautiful the surroundings are. I look out over Brei∂arfjörður with all its thousands of islands. The sun is shining and in the sky are beautiful white cotton candy clouds.

After a second swimming session I decide to go back to the restaurant for a forbidden snack. I tell myself that I can now eat a bit more luxurious because of yesterday's bread and the free food from the day before. I had planned to have an inexpensive burger, but the oven-baked trout with butter sauce is too much for me to ignore. As compensation, I drink a cheap glass of water. When I get the plate in front of me it turns out to be fearfully empty. Two pathetic pieces of fish, each with their own potato plus a dollop of lettuce. To explain the price, pine nuts have been sprinkled through the lettuce. It's really tasty, it must be said, but just enough to make you hungry. In the tent, I dine with a few thick sandwiches.


+16 km


mini van

day 18 — June 30, 2003

It's raining, I hear the drumming on my tent. However, when I open my eyes, the sun appears to illuminate my tent brightly. The reason behind the sound effect is the flies that ping pong back and forth between the tent cloth and the inner tent. Dozens of flies are trapped between the two layers of fabric. It's a quarter past eleven and I start packing. Every peg I pull out of the ground increases the volume of the buzzing in the tent. When all the pegs and the two sticks have been removed, there is no other option than to roll up the tent cloth together with the flies. The buzzing slowly dies.

When everything is back on the bike, the waiting can begin. The swimming pool opens at four o'clock, with more than three hours to go. This is the disadvantage of traveling by bus, waiting, waiting, and waiting again. It's a family tick from the father's side, we are always way too early everywhere. Always waiting. More than three hours, pom, pom, pom.

I decide to spend the waiting time usefully. I found a hiking trail to Helluvatn. No idea what it is but anything is better than hanging around here. The path leads up through a valley. After some scrambling I arrive at the top of a beautiful plateau covered with thick mossy stones. I sink up to my ankles away on this beautiful green carpet. As if I'm walk on springs. It is not a real path, I simply walk from signpost to signpost. When the beautiful new signposts stop halfway, I have to make do with weathered, once-painted white, boards. After each newly discovered board, it is time to look for the next one. To be able to find my way back, I regularly look back and imprint the image in my memory. It is easy to get lost in a landscape of gray stones and green moss bumps. When the destination finally emerges, a large lake, it forms a worthy endpoint for this extraordinarily beautiful walk. At the edge of this lake, again completely deserted by any kind of duck, I sit down for a while before walking back the same way. I'm glad I took this walk.

A beautiful plateau covered with thick mossy stones. I sink up to my ankles away in this beautiful green carpet. As if I'm walk on springs.

Although I have often looked behind me, after the third signpost I have completely lost my way. Where is the next sign? I walk up a hill hoping to get a better view. Balancing on rolling stones, I scan the landscape in search of the missing signpost. Damn, how all those stones look alike. I decide to keep walking. After five steps I see the fourth post about 50 meters to my right, fortunately, because I slowly but surely walked further and further away from the route. I can find all the other posts without too much trouble. And it is a few minutes before four when I stand next to my bike again. Time to go to the pool.

At five o'clock I cycle the last part to Brjánslækur. I cycle the six kilometers with a poorly loaded and therefore uncontrollable bicycle. For the third time, I am at the harbor. Sitting on the steps in front of the ticket shop, I wait for the bus and eat a few dry sandwiches. I had hoped to be able to buy something edible here, but unfortunately, there are only sweets and coffee. A little later I see the bus coming in the distance. On a rack in front are the three bicycles of the Italian man and the two children. Fortunately, they continue with the ferry and thus make room for my bike. The same bus driver who took me to Breiðavík on day 13 now takes me to the far north-west, Isafjörður, about 116 kilometers away. With the bicycle in the aisle, as usual, we start the journey. The first part of the route had not caused many problems for me on the bike. Up to Dynjandi the mountains are still manageable. We stop briefly at the waterfall to drop off a passenger here. I quickly snap a few photos before we continue down the road past Borgarfjöður. Up to the point where the road leaves the fjord to go to Þingeyri I would have managed just fine on my bike, but then there is a stretch that fully justifies this bus ride. The road ascends and makes hairpin bend after hairpin bend. At the highest point, after hairpin turn number five, the bus driver stops and looks at me. I look behind me and expect something to be wrong with my bike. Should it be straighter or more slanted? Then the bus driver forms a rectangle with his thumbs and forefingers. He moves the index finger. A camera, he mimics a camera. I get it, I can get out to take a picture of the road traveled. With this photo, I can nip any criticism about my bus trip in the bud. When they see this, everyone will understand why I didn't cycle this. I get out and enjoy this beautiful view. The bus driver also gets out and stands next to me brotherly. “Do you understand that there are people who cycle this?” I ask him. After some thought, he understands my question and gives a hard no. “Crazy”, is his obvious answer. After one last stop in Þingeyri, we start the final stage and enter a more than five kilometers long tunnel. The first few kilometers have a one-lane road and to add to the nerves are the walls of the tunnel nothing but the rough rock, blown to pieces by dynamite. Oncoming traffic must wait in alternate places. I wonder how you can get through this alive as a cyclist. The tube is too tight to be overtaken by cars, so there will be without any doubt a long queue forming behind you. No, I estimate that an average cyclist in this tunnel will not immediately get many fans.

A well-known bicycle is lying on the lawn. It is the steel steed of the holiday cyclist from day one!

Once back in the daylight we have arrived at the eponymous fjord on which Isafjörður is located. It's nine o'clock when the bus drops me at the Sumer Hotel. Here is also the campsite. A well-known bicycle is lying on the lawn. It is the steel steed of the holiday cyclist from day one! In the sleeping bag accommodation (a school building) that also serves as a toilet and washing room for the camping guests, I see him sitting on a bed. He is accompanied by two Austrian cyclists. The Austrians are just as impressed with his power as I was on day one. The holiday cyclist has completed a multi-day hike at the top of the Westfjords. He tells his story with a body odor that would envy a seasoned tramp. The Austrians open their mouths in awe when hearing his daily distances. He cycles a minimum of 120 kilometers per day. That is double my ideal day distance. When I tell them about my bus rides without shame, the Austrian couple sighs with relief. Happy with the appearance of a weaker cycling brother, they dare to feel a bit more powerful again. They joke about my genuine astonishment that the three of them endured those huge climbs along the way without apparently too much effort.

I let myself be mocked and know that my achievement has already been a huge experience that has made me look at myself in a different way. I feel more independent and more decisive than ever. I am convinced that I undeniably enjoy my 60 kilometers a day more than the holiday cyclist enjoys his 120 kilometers. With me, every kilometer is still viewed with new eyes and everything has the experience of the first time. Something he probably can't even recall. I'm not a holiday cyclist, I'm on vacation and do it by bike for the simple reason that I can't do it any other way. My knees are too weak to do everything on foot and I don't have a driver's license. So there is only one transport option left, the bicycle. It's that simple. And if you consider me to be the average vacationer that I am, then I'm not doing so badly. Although I must admit that today's trip felt a bit American with the five-minute photo stops. But today I have come 122 kilometers further. Tomorrow I'm going to enjoy the fact that I'm in a city. Shopping, swimming, and shopping. Tomorrow the fanatical cyclists will continue. Not me. I'm taking it easy. Happily.


+122 km


day 19 — July 1, 2003

When I zip open the tent, the holiday cyclist has already left. It's only nine o'clock. After having something to eat I walk over to the Austrians to wish them a good journey. Gregor stays talking to me while he is getting dressed and packing everything. It seems as if he now has to get rid of all the text he withheld during the trip. His girlfriend tries to keep order in his chaos. I can't imagine what it's like to do this journey with someone. How do you determine the pace? When does a day's ride end? How long are we staying here? All questions I don't have to ask myself right now. I am the king of my own kingdom. Before I wave them goodbye, we exchange our e‑mail addresses. Despite all the criticism I received from them yesterday, they also continue their journey by bus. There is a small chance that we will meet again near Blönduós.

When the peace has returned, it is time to explore the city. After the disappointment of Stykkisholmur, Isafjorður lives up to all expectations. Isafjorður is a real city with a real shopping street. I see several clothing and shoe stores, a bookstore, a bakery, a drugstore, and a DIY store. It is clear that this place is much more isolated than Stykkisholmur. This is the only big city in the area and everyone and everything comes here for the necessary shopping. To my great pleasure, there is also a very large supermarket with even a butcher's shop. I buy 250 grams of ground beef. In the salad bar, I fill a bowl with cold pieces of chicken and a tiny bit of salad. I also buy sausage for bread. Meat, meat, meat, finally. The spineless vegetarian that resided in me has been completely reduced to the thin, meaningless pathetic figure that he is.

My camera! Where's my camera?

The size of this city also makes me search. I'm trying to find the library. If it is correct then it should be on the second floor above the pool. I found it... at least I found the pool. The library now appears to have a nice home of its own. I sit down on a bench in front of the pool to reorient myself. I spin the Lonely Planet around three times before I get the city map to point in the correct direction. I have to go left. I put the backpack, loaded with groceries, back on my back and continue walking with my eyes fixed on the map. Isafjorður is built on a peninsula in the middle of a fjord. This completely surrounded by water-situation does little good to my sense of direction. When I'm at the crossroads at a horribly ugly church, the street signs give me new insights. I have to go straight.

I tighten the straps of the backpack and when I want to continue walking I realize that I am missing something. My camera! Where's my camera? The bench. He still has to lie on the bench in front of the pool. Has to be. Horribly stupid jerk that I am. What idiot leaves his camera behind? Big goddamn sucker! While I try to calm myself down with the thought that something is not just stolen in Iceland, I walk back to the bench at a marching pace. He'll still be there. Probably. It has to. I turn the last corner and see the bench. It's hard to see, still too far. As I approach the bench I see... nothing. He is gone. No camera. How is that possible? I must have left it here. When I inquire in the swimming pool, nothing has been handed in there either. I walk back to the campsite swearing to myself in a million languages. If I was flexible enough I would kick my head. Gone, it's gone. My digital camera is gone. I can't take pictures anymore. Nothing. What pictures were on it? The last day in Breiðavik, the walk-in Flókalundur, the view on top of the mountain where the bus stopped. Gone, all gone. Around eighty photos. Fortunately, I had already transferred more than 200 to a separate hard disk. I throw the groceries in my tent. Curse a few more times and then grab the bike and go to the tourist office. Hopefully, people took it there. God let it be true.

After some inquiries, they advise me to go to the police station and file a report. Again I find my way through the city. Once there, the declaration is done in no time. They will also inquire at the pool themselves. All very nice, of course, but I think the chance that it will yield anything is small. A swimming pool is frequented by tourists, probably one of them has taken it. My rock-solid faith in the Icelanders does not want to admit that it could also have been a resident.

I have no idea what to do. If they had stolen my bike it would have been less worse.

Documenting this journey is very important to me. I want to be able to capture what my eyes see. I make this journey not only for now but also for later. I want to be able to look back on this, enjoy it again, suffer it again. And it won't work without a visual reminder. Without a camera, this trip is useless. Why should I go cycle myself silly if I can't show it to anyone? Not even to myself. I am desperate. I have no idea what to do. If they had stolen my bike it would have been less worse. I prefer to dive in the first plane back home. I try to find hope again, thinking that I'll be here for another three days, who knows, it might turn up. In the meantime, I have to start thinking about possible solutions. I decided to call my friend Alexander. He has been a good customer in a photography store for many years, perhaps he can convince them to rent out a showroom model to me. Another option is to ask my parents' a camera, but it is not digital and not very good either. Then I'd better ask my brother's digital camera, but he's on vacation himself. Another possibility is to let the camera of my work fly over. I will first wait for the news from Alexander and will continue calling tomorrow.

To quiet my thoughts I go to the swimming pool. Up to my shoulders, I lie in the 40°C warm water of the hotpot. The lifeguard apparently sees my misery and as an extra medicine, he turns on the bubbles. Hmm. In the, by Icelandic standards, long swimming pool, a girl swims its lengths very fanatically. She flies back and forth like an Olympic champion. First with the breaststroke, then back, making an underwater turn, with the front crawl. It goes on like this endlessly. Then all of a sudden it's enough. She springs up from the pool in one smooth movement. With the build of a professional. Broad shoulders with thick cables of muscles over her shoulder blades, she walks to the changing rooms. Yet she has not lost her femininity. She is small in stature and has that typical Icelandic little pointy round nose that seems to be the epiphany of cute. It's an intriguing combination.

When I'm still lazing around in my 40°C bath, a loud singing voice comes from the ladies' changing room from underneath the shower. The girl is singing out loud, enjoying herself to the fullest. I am spontaneously in love. This indicates beautifully what I admire so much about these people, their total freedom of life. If you are happy, you sing. Life is that simple. And there is no one who thinks you are crazy for even one second. A good ten minutes later, the concert has ended and I pull myself up and walk to my dressing room full of warm feelings. I should actually start singing too, but I'm a Dutchman and Dutch people don't do that. Shrouded in silence, I let the shower condemn me. The girl is standing in the hallway, near the shoes. When she looks up to look at me she bumps her head. A smile. Sigh. I walk back to the tent in a daze. Oh yes, my camera was stolen. Totally forgotten.


+0 km


day 20 — July 2, 2003

It's three o'clock in the morning. Next to me, two Icelanders quietly try to unload their car and put up a tent. They don't succeed, the sticks clatter against each other on which the woman lets out a loud 'shhhh'. Then they whisper again. I'm awake and wonder why the hell they have to stand right next to me, there's plenty of room. When the tent is up and everything is unloaded, peace returns, and I fall asleep again to wake up a few hours later, in peace. The Icelanders apparently succeeded in breaking up quietly, they have already disappeared. As evidence of their existence, they littered the ground with their rubbish.

Today will be a day of arranging things. First I have to call the hotel in Akureyri for the address where I can send a replacement camera. At the phone booth in the post office, I can't get a connection. I pay with my credit card and hear the computer tones of a modem and that's it. No connection. I go to the tourist office width the same result. Then to the telephone in the Sumer Hotel. Again no contact. When I ask they let me call from their phone, since it's a local call. Finally, I get the hotel on the line. They spell out the address for me and I try to write it down as best as I can. With the help of a city map, I find the correct spelling of the street name. One problem less. All other contacts will be handled by email. This has to wait till two o'clock, when the library opens. Fortunately it's raining today, so I don't have to feel that I should have taken a long walk in the area. Instead, I now walk to the police station. The camera has not yet been found, but they will place a police report in the local newspaper. Hopefully, that will be successful.

After a few thick sandwiches with salmon and shrimp salad (long live the luxurious city life) I walk calmly to the library. I send a plea to my work asking for their camera. I have received an email from Alexander that the photography store does not have a loanable camera for me at the moment. In between the lines Alexander offers to send his compact camera. First I want to hear from my work. To bridge the intervening days I buy three disposable cameras.

Back at the tent, my great friend the English-with-a-German-accented-talking-Frenchman has arrived. He has now been joined by a German cyclist who has turned not speaking English into a new form of art. When I tell them that my camera has been stolen, their reaction appears to be that they lock their bicycles with a large chain lock. Thank you very much for your compassion. EDF struggles to squeeze out the following vaguely interest-smelling question: “Was it an expensive camera?” Damn, like that matters. I DON'T HAVE A CAMERA ANYMORE! The German says nothing at all. When, in an attempt to have a conversation, I ask them about the huge climb they have done, I get a lame answer. “It all went well.” Of course, it wasn't too bad… They just cycled up a mountain for five kilometers!

I decided to stop talking to them. I zip up the tent and when I unzip my tent later, they have left. Hopefully, they leave tomorrow with tents and everything, for good.

How much will I mind flying back after Akureyri? I hardly dare to ask myself this question. I won't mind it that much. At the moment I even prefer it. Why will I beat myself up for another 25 days, why all those miles? No, now I don't feel any need of having to do all that. I hope that I will feel up for it again (with a camera) in Akureyri. Myvatn, Asbyrgi, Dettifoss, Goðafoss are reasons enough to continue. All wonderful to be able to cycle to and take the most beautiful pictures. I sink into negative thoughts and feel all the energy drain out of me. I WANT MY CAMERA, NOW! It's raining and even the swimming pool can't lure me out of my tent. I will resist and decide to give myself one more hour of rage and then really go to the swimming pool. It's pouring, shit place.

Shower, sauna, cold shower, hot pot, swimming pool, hot pot, sauna, cold shower, swimming pool, shower, drying, new person.

It's Wednesday and then the men can use the sauna. And this man needs that. Unfortunately, the two mono-linguists are also in the pool. Ignoring is useless. I put on my friendly face and put on an extra wide smile. In the meantime, the seriousness of the lack of a camera appears to have dawned on them and they show a little more compassion. Once again, the conversation gets stuck on the language barrier. I decide to go my own way and start the extended version of my bathing ritual. Shower, sauna, cold shower, hot pot, swimming pool, hot pot, sauna, cold shower, swimming pool, shower, drying, new person. New neighbors have joined us at the campsite, two French girls. And also a man who walks four laps around the field in a neat suit before finding the ideal place to pitch a tent in all seriousness and with military precision. Without a doubt the first time he goes camping and most likely the last. The two French girls are now cooking with lit burners in the sleeping bag accommodation, while you are not even allowed to smoke there. I wonder if the building will still be there tomorrow.

As always, the pool visit has done my mood a lot of good. And to such an extent that even the weather has cleared up. I see a clear blue sky creeping out from between the clouds. The evenings here this far north are cold, dressed in a jacket and fleece vest I am still shivering. Clearly it's time to crawl into the sleeping bag in the hope that my leftover body heat will warm the tent.


0 km



day 21 — July 3, 2003

Fortunately, the good mood and beautiful weather have remained. Time to explore. I cycle out of town at about ten o'clock. It feels good to be back on the bike and on the road.

The road winds beautifully along the fjord. And even if I have the wind against me now and then, my mood remains good. The road looks like a test area for protection against falling rocks and avalanches. It starts with high poles between which large steel nets are stretched. A little further on, steel mesh cubes filled with stones must prove their service. A little further on, the big work begins. Here there are concrete roofs that protect you from whatever nature might throw at you.

After passing a graveyard perched on the edge of the cliffs, the smell of fish, especially roe, indicates that I must approach Bolungarvík. I have never smelled the scent of the fishing industry so strongly before. The whole city seems to be walled by it. Ignoring the smell, Bolungarvík is beautiful. Wedged in by high mountains in a valley that seems to have been specially designed for this city. The reason for my visit to this city and to a lesser extent also to Isafjorður is the film 'Noi albinoi', which was largely set in these two towns. Apart from the image on the film poster (view of the village), there is little to recognize from the film.

On the way to Bolungarvík

The strong fish smell makes me curious about the fish on offer in the supermarket. I go in and, like almost every other visit to any supermarket in Iceland, am amazed at the lack of fish. All I see here are some frozen fish heads. That must be an Icelandic delicacy, fish heads in blood sauce. There will undoubtedly be a fight over who gets to eat the eye. Maybe if you want to eat fish, you go out and catch it yourself?

Unfortunately, the swimming pool is still closed. Hoping to be able to dive into it later, I waste time with a visit to the nature museum. It's full of stuffed animals here. Among them is a polar bear of which the museum is very proud. However, what surprises me more is the presence of a flamingo. How did they get a flamingo here? He can never be caught here, can he? And there is no zoo in all of Iceland. It will remain a mystery. When I come out of the museum it will be another hour before the swimming pool opens. I give up and cycle back to Isafjorður.

Before I finally leave Bolungarvík behind me, I take a coffee break at the gas station. If I'm not mistaken, this is the gas station that plays an important role in the film. Noi Albinoi is about a boy (Noi) who lives in a small Icelandic town. Getting out of bed takes the greatest effort, but that is also the only activity he performs in a day. To follow the school lessons, he gives a tape recorder to a classmate. What keeps him going is the desire to leave this village. A new girl who works at the gas station seems to want to run off with him. And I'm sitting in that gas station, having a second cup before I continue cycling.

Back in Isafjorður there is nothing new to report from the police. And also the email offer little good. The camera of my work is not allowed to be borrowed, I was already afraid of it. Only one option remains, Alexander's camera. Not a digital one, but a Leica, so an extremely good camera. And if I'm honest, way too expensive to borrow. I'll try to call him tonight. For now, I will let him know by email how things are going.

I walk around the city and enjoy being here. Unlike Noi, I feel quite at peace. In Pizza 67 I order a cup of coffee and write the first cards. In a moment I will do the last shopping for tomorrow because then there will be a long day sitting on the bus to finally end up in Hvamstangi. From there I will cycle around the Vatnsnes peninsula the next day and, after an extra day at the youth hostel Ósar, continue cycling to Blönduós from where I will take the bus to Akureyri on day 26. Where hopefully a camera will be waiting for me by then. So I have to make sure I pack enough food for the next three days because I can only do my shopping again in Blönduós.

I will have a camera! I can continue my journey.

It's four o'clock when I take the last sip of coffee and put the cards in the mailbox at the post office. Once here I decide to call Alexander. He appears to have sent me another reply by email. He's going to take care of everything. Quite a hassle, it turns out, because how do you insure a camera that you are going to send by post? Not to mention the potential problems I could get with import duties. After he demands that I buy not 10 but 15 rolls (which he also sends because of the price difference) I hang up the phone, feeling blessed. Glad I have such a good friend who is willing to do all that for me. I WILL HAVE A CAMERA! I can continue my journey.

At the tent I cook a royal meal for myself. In the supermarket, I found the ideal answer to the eternal hunt for meat. Ravioli filled with minced meat and a jar of pasta cheese sauce with ham strips. Delicious! And it's enough for two evenings. After this plate-licking meal, I pay one last visit to the swimming pool. It's busy, fat muscled Icelanders, their slightly too-pretty wives, and a handful of kids filling it to the brim. The gym here must be doing good business. The girl from the day before yesterday is here again today. Ten, twenty times she flies back and forth. A friend who swims along takes it a bit easier, he's in the hotpot with me and EDF. After what has to be round 30, the girl also joins. First, she talks to her boyfriend and then focuses on us. "Where do you come from?" EDF replies: “France”. “You too”, she asks me. "No, Holland." Her eyes sparkle. She appears to have lived in Holland for four months. When I ask her what she thought of it, she says: “very flat.” She is right. She asks how long I will stay in Iceland: “A total of two months.” With which she concludes that I will see more of her country than she has ever seen. “I would really like to learn to speak Icelandic,” I continue, “but it is such a difficult language!” "Dutch too". And as proof of her efforts, she curls up in the corners of her mouth with pleasure and says: "Godverdomme." Clearly understandable and in perfect Dutch. “A word that always comes in handy”, is my encouraging response. Unfortunately, they leave soon after. “Bye, bye, bye” are her closing words. A very nice, sweet, and beautiful girl. The disastrous beginning in Isafjörður ends happily.


+35 km


mini van

day 22 — July 4, 2003

Quarter to 10, time to get up. Packing is a bit chaotic and I have a vague feeling that I have forgotten something. At exactly 11:30 everything is loaded and I walk to the police station with my bicycle at hand. It is needless to say that the camera was not found. I get a copy of the police report. The only legible thing is my name and the brand of the camera, that should be enough for the insurance. I find time for a cup of coffee before the bus calls me.

With 10 minutes to go I walk to the tourist office from where the bus leaves. The bus is already there. With a look of recognition, I greet my own loyal bus driver. "Here I am again." With the routine and dexterity of a comedian and his principal, we load the bicycle onto the bus. Ready for the last leg through the Westfjords. Today, using three buses, I will cover more than 370 kilometers, finally arriving late tonight in Hammstangi.

The first bus ride takes me to Holmavík and winds down one fjord after another. The road is great for cycling, but it is endlessly long. The repetitive landscape is boring even in the bus. The mountains are here no longer impressive. They are green all the way to the top. I prefer bare rock masses instead of these alpine meadows. On the bus, I suddenly realize what I forgot while packing... a tup of Skir is open in my bag. This would not be a problem on the bike, but now on the bus my bag is lying flat on the floor, and the Skir is flowing freely through the bag. This is going to be a mess.

At the place where we finally leave the last fjord, the bus goes up a steep road, to eventually arrive on top of a plateau. All height differences are gone. It is a strange sensation to suddenly drive over such a flat landscape.

Once on the other side of the plateau, we roll into a sad place. The weather doesn't really help either, it pours and the roads are no more than muddy paths. Here, in Hólmavík, I have to wait three hours before another bus takes us further. Carefully I open the bag with Skir, it's a warzone. All my kitchen stuff including what I have stocked up on food is covered in yogurt. I throw the cup of Skir in the trash and leave the mess for what it is. Tonight at the campsite I will clean everything, now first let's order a cup of coffee in the restaurant. After the coffee, I walk through this desolate port city. Everything is grey and exudes the atmosphere of an abandoned industrial estate. I decide to visit the mysterious witchcraft museum. Wearing headphones, I am led from one lurid display case after another. David Lynch could easily get thirty new movie ideas here. The pinnacle of the collection is the Necro pants. Pants made from the skin of a man's lower body. As long as a witch wore these trousers, with a coin stolen from a cleric in the scrotum, she will always remain rich. However, she had to wear this for the rest of her life, otherwise, happiness would turn into poverty. Pleasant. Highly recommended for the whole family.

Back in the restaurant I have a cup of tea and join a fellow bus passenger. A Frenchman, it turns out. He has only two weeks to see all of Iceland, a race against time. To make matters worse, he has been in the Westfjords for a week and a half. A wrong choice, he thinks. It's dinner time for me, I order a hamburger. Meat, meat, meat, and it's even a little red. The carnivore in me begins to salivate. A little later, the two French girls, the pyromaniacs of the campsite, join us. The language of the conversation suddenly appears to have switched from English to French, the seemingly boundless French rudeness amazes me. The Frenchman tells the girls what I just told him in English. The girls look at me and wish me a bon appetit in English. And the French gibberish continues. Unbelievable. Fortunately, when the food is finished, the bus has just arrived. This one will take me on to the last stopover, Staðarstari to be exact. This bus is slightly bigger than the previous one, but strangely enough, my bike can't fit in it. Instead, it dangles from two iron bars placed in front of the bus. A measly piece of string should keep the bike in place.

We have now really left the Westfjords and the landscape changes into a zen garden with beautifully stacked rocks in neat green valleys. The green mountains get more character and become rougher, and coarser. I prefer this landscape above the green pastures of the Westfjords. Yet I have set my sights on something else. I stare intently at a barely visible part of my bike. It swings in all directions and in my mind I can see it sliding off the rack and the bus driving directly over it. Two silly threads have to hold 20 kilos in place. The further course of my holiday depends on these two strings.

Fortunately the strings are stronger than they look and both my bike and I reach our last transfer point. Here it is only a fifteen minutes wait for the bus to Akureyri. Staðarstari is nothing more than a truckers' café. Apparently a good one because it is very busy here. A couple is also waiting for the bus. I analyze their relationship and it makes me sad just looking at it. The man turns out to be a crazy fan of the Simpsons. There is a Simpsons gumball machine here and the man manages to report this to his wife in an exaggerated enthusiasm. She plays along nicely and with a clearly acted “oh” she tries to meet his enthusiasm. Then the madness goes one step further when the man sees an episode of this cartoon series on a TV hanging from the ceiling of the crowded restaurant. He stares obsessively at the flickering TV like a complete idiot. The sound is in whispers strength and only the high notes rise above the murmurs of those present. Yet he manages to create a smile after every scene change. All I can come up with is that he should know the episode by heart and with it every joke. Only the image is enough for him to remember a smile. It's a pathetic sight that makes you ashamed of your gender.

Fortunately, the woman is temporarily put out of her misery by the arrival of the bus. This time it is a touring bus. My bike has to be stored in the trunk. There is not enough space. As I take my front wheel off I notice that the bigger the bus is, the less space there is for my bike. The driver nods affirmatively. If everything is in the cargo hold after a lot of pushing, we can leave. The Simpsons couple appears to be at a new relationship low. She sits down almost immediately after boarding, he walks on and only plops down on a chair at the back door. Cozy holiday together. How despondent do you have to be to call something like that a relationship?

Less than half an hour later I am at my destination. Before the gas station, I try to get my front wheel on the front fork again. It is a hassle to properly adjust the brakes. With two tiny adjusting screws I can push the brake slightly to the left or to the right. It's a millimeter job that I can't get a hold of. If the brake continues to rub against the wheel, the brake shoes will have to wear off slightly, it will be fine. I load up the bags and get on my bike.

The campsite is located just outside the town on top of a hill, near the swimming pool, and right next to a small church with an associated cemetery. I will be sleeping next to the cemetery while the Necro pants are still fresh in my mind. I greet my living neighbors to my left and pitch the tent in five minutes. It is a great tent that is set up with increasing ease. Now it's time for a gruesome task, cleaning out the Skir. I'll show the damage to the neighbors. A laughter-fuelled pity is the response. I hear a light accent, sounds like Dutch. I go to the washrooms, which fortunately have warm running water. During this cleaning job, the owner of the campsite comes by to collect the money. On her notepad I do indeed see two other Dutchmen, I had guessed the accent correctly. When everything is clean and dry again, I walk back to the tent and greet the neighbors: "So you are Dutch?". I clear things up and have a chat. For the sake of simplicity, I assume that they enjoy exchanging experiences just as much as I do. He turns out to be a birdwatcher. It is their first time in Iceland and they are enjoying themselves. We talk about the puffins, they also visited Latrabjarg. “What is that bird that makes that flying wewewe noise every night?” I ask him. “The snipe, isn't it beautiful!” he says enthusiastically. “Yes, very nice but it seems like he is chasing me. Every night I have that noise above my tent.” She also joins the conversation and says that it is nice to be surrounded by nature. “Yes, very nice. Just not when I'm trying to sleep." We complain like only Dutch people seem to be able to. Mainly about the quality of the campsites, which is sometimes really below par. We are used to luxurious washrooms with showers. I tell them how it works here. You shower at the pool. I immediately explain the importance of these pools within Icelandic culture. Swimming is a social affair: you go swimming to talk to each other and to relax.

The cold of the night sadly ends our conversation. Tomorrow is 'German Day' here, luckily I continue cycling.



Chapter 3: The North


+372 km



day 23 — July 5, 2003

Waking up in Hvammstangi I hear through the tent cloth the neighbor swears at the noise my loyal flying follower makes. The love for nature has its limitations. Her boyfriend, however, is an avid bird watcher and remains enthusiastic about the strange sound this bird manages to make with its wings. Time for me to wake up too. Before I tear down my tent, I first go to the supermarket for the inevitable purchase of a new cup of Skir. I love the stuff. It's too thick for yogurt, too creamy for cottage cheese, and too sour for custard. After an extensive taste test, I chose the peach Skir as the absolute winner. Unlike the strawberry Skir, it not only has the color of the fruit but also contains pieces of peach. It's delicious and the perfect ending to pasta meal number 200. It goes without saying that after yesterday's Skir disaster I urgently need to buy a new supply. The supermarket is easy to find and is right next to the harbor. Unfortunately, it is still closed. At the post office, I try to call Alexander to ask if the camera will be sent. No luck, he's not home. Then back to the campsite to pack the last things and break up the tent. When everything is on the bike I say goodbye to my Dutch neighbors and cycle towards the swimming pool. Of course, I don't leave before I've taken a nice morning bath. There is a strong fresh wind that makes bathing even more enjoyable. At half past eleven I jump up. I really must leave now.

The wind is strong and the road flows across the hills, but this new cycling day seems to smooth them out as if by a hot iron. The pedals seem to go around by themselves thanks to my saved-up energy. For the next 45 kilometers, the headwind is provide cooling. When the distance meter of my bike shows a total of 500 kilometers, a beautiful bird rock marks this point. There is also a group of horses to share this happy moment with me. After running ahead of me for miles on the run from a strange two-wheeled thing, curiosity eventually won out over fear. Just when I want to take a picture of them, a car, unfortunately, races by and the horses flee again. This time they decide to leave the road and flee into the meadow. As I continue my way, they continue to watch me from a safe distance. A little further on I get company again this time from stampeding sheep. They also keep running on the asphalt in front of me. Then a car comes towards me, and the sheep stop and look back. I see them thinking: “What now”. They calculate the fear. What is scarier that two-wheeled thing or the one with those four wheels that they have seen more often? Right... the sheep keep running ahead of me. The car has to stop to let the sheep dart past him in their mad flight. I say hello to the driver with a smile. When a second car arrives, the sheep give up and leave the road for what it is and finally run into the pasture.

I am now approaching the little church of Tjörn. The road becomes very narrow here, with a guesthouse on one side and a straight rock wall on the other. It also dives down into a zigzag bend that hides its destination, I decide to give it some extra force to be able to make the steep climb after the valley. Full speed I dive into the depths. My bike flips over a small bridge and digs itself into a large pit at the other end. My hands shoot off the handlebars and the bike flies to the right. My front wheel hits the roadside and I feel my rear wheel slide out from under me. My left leg searches for solid ground. As my bike clatters to the ground, my right leg also finds solid ground. I stand with my legs wide apart while my bike is stretched out on the ground between my legs. I walk up with only a few scratches. When I want to get on again I notice that the chain is coming off the sprockets. It's full of grit. After a few more tries, the teeth have pushed most of the dirt out of the chain and I can happily continue on my way as if nothing happened. I cycle on, feeling the shock of what could have happened in my legs.

A few kilometers further I am slowed down again. This time due to roadworks. Every few meters along the road there are wooden posts with a line of red spray paint on them. They indicate the height of the gravel to be deposited. A little further it has already been put down on the road, a road made of loose grey pebbles. Looks like no car has passed over it yet, my bike slides in all directions, and I need all my strength to keep the handlebars straight. The stones crunch and creak under my wheels. In the distance, I see the grey road slowly turning brown again. The end of the work is in sight. After seven hard kilometers, I cycle again on the old worn-out road. The wooden posts on the edge of the road indicate how much work still needs to be done. If I had been here a week later, this gravel road would undoubtedly have been twice as long.

I have arrived at the exit Hindisvík. The largest seal colony in Scandinavia can be found here. I park my bike at the edge of the road and walk up the footpath that leads to the colony. At the beginning is a sign discolored by the sun, the hiking trails that once were marked here are no longer visible. Only the path that used to be marked with blue is just visible. I'm walking in a certain direction on the gamble. The seals were nevertheless quickly found. They are sunbathing en masse on a small peninsula. Unfortunately, it is impossible to get closer to it. And to be honest, on closer inspection, there aren't even that many of them. Disappointed I walk back to my bike.

The road turns and takes me to the other side of the peninsula and the wind still present is now lovingly pushing against my back. I am blown up the hills. On the other side of the fjord, I see Blönduós, the place I will cycle to the day after tomorrow. With a view of the landscape on the other side of the pond, the kilometers fly by under my wheels. After the last kilometer, I see a beautiful, crisp white painted facade, the youth hostel Ósar. When I cycle onto the gravel path, a farmer approaches me. He turns out to be the owner and shows me calmly around. It is a beautiful old family house that has been completely refurbished to serve as a youth hostel. I sleep on the ground floor in a private room.

“Watch out for the low ceiling beams.” Donk! No sooner has he said it than I am already banging my head against it. There are two kitchens, four showers, and a large living room on the top floor with TV. Ah, the luxury. It feels good to get out of the tent for a while. After taking a shower I start preparing my portion of pasta. I hear two familiar voices outside. They are the two Austrians. They tease me by asking if I came cycling here, they really think I do everything by bus. We're talking about the road that leads us here, with the loose pebbles and the headwind. They also thought it was a tough piece of cycling. I've moved up a few places on their vacation biker rating list. They look with interest at what I am preparing. Ravioli with pasta cheese sauce, yummy. They have a vague bag with a mixture of beans and rice in a thick brown sauce. When my plate is empty I walk upstairs to plop down on the couch opposite the TV.

With the sound of the Icelandic presenter in my ears, I update my diary. With my mobile phone, I call Alexander to ask how arranging the shipment of the camera is doing. "Everything has been shipped and will arrive in Akureyri by Thursday at the latest." That's my last day there, so I hope it doesn't get later! Anyway, it's settled and after Akureyri, I can shoot plenty of pictures again. The question is whether I can stay here tomorrow as well. The youth hostel is fully booked for tomorrow, but there is a chance that there is still something to arrange. I hope so, because I want to go for a walk here tomorrow.


+52 km


day 24 — July 6, 2003

The Austrians leave as if time is endless. After first talking with me and the young farmer while packing their things, they go to the seals that lie on a sandbank here in the fjord. It is twelve when they leave. They are going to Blönduós today and so they make the same trip that I will make tomorrow. Then they take the Kjölur route, going south across the barren interior. After waving them goodbye for the second time, I am also going to take a look at the seals. Via a path that runs through the meadow, I reach the coastline. The beach consists of large pebbles. The seals are located on the other side of the water about 50 meters away. They lie sprawled with curled tails bathing in the warm sunlight. It is a beautiful sight. They are not really mobile due to the beautiful weather. The only movement that can be detected is of them rolling over to warm up the other side of the mud-fat body.

I sit down on the wet stones and while resting my head on my hands I enjoy their life, which is actually not that different from my current life here in Iceland. I look at them and no doubt there is also one of them, on the other side looking at me the same way. Hmm, the sun is stinging nicely. After an hour I get up and walk back to Ósar. Time for a sandwich and a cup of soup. To emphasize the luxurious life again, I switch on the radio. When it's past two o'clock I walk calmly to Hvitserkur, a rock pillar carved by the sea. A bit back on the road there is a turn that goes to the rock. I walk towards it thinking about walking across the beach back to the youth hostel.

Once at the parking lot at the end of the exit, it turns out to be a real tourist attraction. There are four buses in the parking lot. And when I walk on to get to a viewpoint on the rocks, eight people are crowding around it. What strikes me most is the neat wooden decking with ditto fencing on which I stand. It seems as if an overzealous carpenter has suddenly been busy here. You can walk to your death pretty much in any abyss just about anywhere in Iceland, but not here, here we got wooden fences keeping you safe. And I see that I can't walk the route I had in mind. There is no path leading down. The view of the rock is also not what I expected. The rock looks like a small upright piece of rock that could fall over at any moment without anyone shedding a tear.

I walk back without even reaching for my disposable camera. I'm going to try to get closer to the rock via the beach. I take the path through the meadow and past the seals. The large stones here on the beach do not make walking easy, I have to be careful not to fall on a rolling stone. And as if that wasn't enough, the terns are also here again, they skim close to my head. I walk on in a precarious balance, trying to keep my attention on the ground beneath my feet.

After walking a few kilometers along the water, I come face to face with Hvitserkur. Seen here from the ground, it is much more imposing. There are several legends associated with this rock, the most beautiful is that of a troll who stood in the sea here to throw stones at the monastery of Thingeyrar. At that moment, however, he was surprised by the rising daylight and (as is the case with trolls) immediately turned to stone. From this viewing point I shoot fill up the first disposable camera without any problems and a large part of the second one too.

Again in the homely surroundings of Ósar, an elderly couple is sitting in the living room. Australians, as their accent suggests. I was wondering how long it would take before I could add this nationality to my list. All the preconceptions I have about Australians come true. Nice, friendly, understanding, friendly people. We talk endlessly about everything and nothing. It's clearly a different kind of conversation. Normally you don't get much further than: where are you from and where are you going. Now we talk about Israel, Amsterdam and every other topic that comes up. When everyone has cooked their own meal, we eat it together as a happy family sitting at the dining table. I do the dishes and they dry off. The moment we slumped down on the couch, our host joins us.

Life in the Icelandic countryside turns out not to be easy. For this young single farmer, it was supposed to be his last winter here. “Actually, I was going to close the business last winter, but I couldn't do it yet and kept the farm for one more year. I run it alone, but it doesn't yield enough. I can no longer live from it.” When I ask whether running this hostel changes anything, I get a sobering answer. “This is my childhood home, I grew up here. Financially, the smartest thing to do is to wipe it all out, but I can't. By renting this out as a hostel, I'm just covering costs. But I want to keep it going, even if I don't live here anymore I will continue to run it as a hostel. I simply cannot destroy the house built by my great-grandfather.” They are still there, the people who hold on to their ideals against all reason. Even if he has to give up his farm for it. Our host says goodbye to us after this confrontation with the harsh reality, he still has to milk his 40 cows.

Not much later a huge group of Frenchmen arrives. Real French, because the first thing they do is dive into the kitchen to create the most delicious scents. Their Icelandic driver joins us on the couch. The French are bird watchers and have been able to see everything on their list so far. Only one bird remains the Great Skua. The driver translates the news for us and tells us about his group. It reminds me of my group trip here in Iceland. It is a strange sensation to suddenly be in such a group. All strange people that you have nothing to do with. A true cross-section of society, including the slightly dislocated people who watch the rushing society from the hard shoulder. In my group his name was Aad. He always sat in the back of the bus because he thought he had more legroom there. He was an avid bridge player, snored in front of the whole group, and walked up mountains with a straight back. I don't know what made him such an odd figure, but there was something about him that wasn't right. If an alien ever crawled into a human body, it should look something like that. There is also an Aad among the French. He does not want to share his room with anyone and as a result he usually sleeps in the hallway and in this case it becomes the living room for him. He is a small man with a beard, he has bags bigger than himself that are filled to the brim with lenses, binoculars, and telescopes. In other words, a completely crazy bird watcher.

The Australians call it a day and go to bed, they will continue driving early tomorrow morning. The Icelandic driver also leaves me, he is called for dinner. I'm alone again and put the videotape that's here on the VCR, 'Lord of the Rings', actually a much too long film to watch now (it's 10 o'clock), but well it's here. When the French's food is finished, I get company. First, their tour leader, followed by the driver. Then two more French join them who then lure two others here. All this is viewed with sorrow by the French Aad, who intended to sleep here. He will have to wait a while longer.

I make the decision to go to bed, it's half past one. I still have to pack and I want to leave fairly early tomorrow. At one o'clock I close my eyes. I can still hear the TV upstairs.


+0 km



day 25 — July 7, 2003

I wake up in an empty house. I take a shower, make my bread and grab the last things. A little before ten o'clock I say goodbye to Ósar.

In less than an hour, blown on by the strong winds, I arrived at the side road that takes me back to the opulence of asphalt, better known as ring road 1. But before that, I take a short trip to the martyrs' field (Þrístapar). The last death sentence was executed here on January 12, 1830. When I close the gate behind me with a bang, the grazing Icelandic horses look at me attentively. The noise I made proved to be enough to arouse their curiosity. Seven horses run towards me at full gallop. Knowing that the character of this horse breed is extremely friendly, I see them stop at a distance of one centimeter before my nose, without too much fear. The tallest blonde girl of the bunch takes the initiative. She sniffs and inspects me. The rest are now also showing their investigative side. It has degenerated into one big smell and touch orgy. With difficulty, I manage to pry myself free from the group of horses that are now completely encircling me. I walk onto the mount on which the last execution must have taken place. The horses are not giving up yet. They follow me, neatly one behind the other, the big blonde in the front. I walk on with a huge grin on my face. At the top of the mount, the procession comes to a halt. I try to decipher the Icelandic on the information sign but can't get much further than the name of the executed and the date. I walk down the other side and walk back to the bike. The horses watch me from the mountain. Even the curiosity of Icelandic horses seems to have its limits. I close the gate behind me and get on to get reacquainted with road number 1.

It was on day three that I said goodbye to the 1 and now on day 25 I am cycling on it again. And for now, I will continue to ride it for a long time. Only when I go towards Húsavík from Myvatn will I leave it again on day 31, if all goes to plan. But now first to Blönduós. And looks like to be a tough ride since the road makes a 180-degree turn and therefore has me cycling straight into the wind. I switch a few gears back, sit down again, and then set the pace. Headwind isn't that bad. It is a constant factor that I can handle by pedaling steadily at the same pace. Other than uphill and downhill.

At about one o'clock I stop at a large sign. An ideal place, sheltered from the wind, for a picnic. The sun also helps, it has driven away the grey clouds and now shines in full bliss. I take a big bite of my sandwich. Yeg! It tastes like soil. When I subject the sandwich to a closer inspection, I can't avoid the impression that it has a light blue haze over it. When I also take a good look at the underside, I see fluff, mold! I'm just sitting here eating a bunch of molded sandwiches! A French cheese would be jealous of it. I resort to eating an energy bar and console myself with the thought that I can happily buy fresh bread in Blönduós. I enjoy the warm rays of the sun on this wind-sheltered spot and stretch out in the soft grass before continuing the battle with the wind.

The road to Blönduós seems endless. The cars race past me and it feels like I'm standing still. Shouldn't I have seen Blönduós lying ahead of me a long time ago? Very far on the horizon, I see some orange roofs. It can't be that, can it? I need to be much closer. But between that distant place and myself, I see nothing. The road dips into a valley. And there it is, hidden from view tucked next to a river, Blönduós. Finally. The campsite is on the other side of this good sized town, near the swimming pool and the most beautiful modern church I have ever seen, which I absolutely must visit tomorrow. It is a large campsite that is packed with pop-up campers of the same size, meaning lots of Icelanders are camping here. There are only two toilets that you have to go to at the first urge because the queue is long. As an absolute plus, you will receive a discount voucher worth 100 ISK for the swimming pool. I'm going to make good use of that.

First to the supermarket. It is clear that I am back in civilization. All the shelves are overflowing and I have to restrain myself from stocking up on everything, because tomorrow I'll be in Akureyri, the capital of the north, and the supermarkets there are gonna be even bigger. I do buy my favorite meal of filled ravioli and ham cheese sauce and secretly a bag of cookies, before walking onwards to the swimming pool. As big as the supermarket is, the swimming pool is the total opposite. There is an indoor pool here and one hotpot, located outside on a lawn. Admittedly it remains a relief, but for such a fairly large place you would expect more.

When I walk back to the campsite I get a strange feeling of this city. It looks like a ghost town in the making. There are quite a few luxury houses, but the poorly maintained school building and community center plus the sad state of the cinema suggest a glorious past. Is this one of those places that has to deal with the growing unemployment in the countryside and as a result the residents are fleeing to Reykjavík? Outside in front of the tent, I cook my pasta, well watched by my Icelandic neighbors, and then quickly disappear into the tent. I have some sleep to catch up on from yesterday. Tomorrow the bus will leave for Akureyri at 12.35. To a hotel and to the camera.


+64 km



day 26 — July 8, 2003

Ready for today's bus ride, after a short visit to the swimming pool, I visit the church. It is a huge organic construction with thick sloping concrete walls. An old woman behind a table welcomes the visitors and encourages me with sign language to walk around quietly and take pictures. From the beautiful prayer room, I walk down some stairs and I enter a subterranean room. There are large transparent plastic spheres in the ceiling through which a beautiful light enters. Here too, all walls are curved and slope upwards. It is a truly beautiful building. I thank the woman warmly as I leave. I whisper. You will simply whisper of all this beauty. After taking another round of pictures of the outside of the church, I have to hurry so as not to miss the bus. Like everywhere, it also here departs from the Grill.

When I arrive so is the bus. It is again a large tour bus, but luckily there is now enough space for my bike. Here I am, on a bus again. It still gnaws at me, but from Akureyri, I will do more than enough biking to justify this ride. According to my own itinerary, even on the first day from Akureyri to Goðafoss there will be a mountain stage to be concurred. So let me enjoy this bus ride that will take me 154 kilometers in one day. Something that, for me, equals three days of cycling. It is a beautiful route through beautiful landscapes, but I can only think of one thing. Hotel, hotel, hotel, hotel!

After a two-hour drive we arrive in Akureyri. We are dropped at the tourist office. Fortunately, I am smart enough to ask the way to the hotel before heading off. It turns out to be in a completely different place than the Lonely Planet leads me to believe. I start the route uphill towards Edda Hotel. Akureyri is located against a deep fjord and therefore has very steep streets. I just hope I'm going the correct way.

At the church I put my bike aside and go do some fieldwork by foot. Further uphill I walk, following a curve in the road. Then even further up and see that luckily I did take the correct route. I turn around and walk back to my bike. There at the church, I see two old acquaintances, the Australians. We greet each other and have a short chat. I trump them with my luxury residence place. They are staying in a youth hostel. They proudly show me their Peugeot 505 rented in France. Once blue but now grey from all the dust from the dirt roads. They will move on tomorrow, luckily I have a little bit more time. I'll be back en route in three days. We say goodbye as I push my bike up the last meters.

The Edda Hotel is in the middle of renovation, after some searching, I find the entrance. Once inside I am overwhelmed by how neat everything looks. The Edda hotel chains are mostly student dorms that serve as a hotel in the summer, but not this one. In Akureyri, you are dealing with a real hotel and the price is accordingly.

The camera has already arrived and I can pick it up at the post office tomorrow. Perfect!

Immediately after checking in, the receptionist hands me a note from the parcel service. The camera has already arrived and I can pick it up at the post office tomorrow. Perfect!

I am assigned room 4216. It appears to be located on the fourth floor in the right wing. A wing that has only just been delivered. The left side is still under construction. The hallway smells of newly laid carpet and when I open the beautiful light oak door I smell the new furniture. I have to be the first guest here, there's no other way. So this is really true luxury. All furniture is made of light oak and the walls, bed linen, shower, and curtains are cream white. There is also a small kitchen with microwave and refrigerator. Oh boy oh boy, what a supreme indulgence. I really needed this. A hotel room with all you could wish for. After stupidly enjoying all this, it's time to explore the city.

I walk through the center of Akureyri and am happy. I'm back in a real city! In the internet café, I struggle through all my unread email messages. Lots of emails from Alexander and an encouraging response to my panic attack on my blog regarding the camera. Diana from America tries to reassure me by saying that traveling without a camera can be very liberating because you don't have to see everything in such a framed way. Very sweet, but she clearly doesn't know me.

In the café from behind a cup of coffee I ask for directions to a supermarket. The girl tries to explain the way to it as clearly as possible. “You walk out of the shopping street and then pass the stadium.” "It's more of a grass field really, but that's our stadium," she continues the description. “Then you walk along the road and come to a large supermarket.” “Well,” she puts her words into perspective again, “It's quite big.” I tell her not to be so disparaging, "this is my first big city in 25 days." She smiles happily. Something is only big when you know how small it can be. I can easily find the supermarket. And it is indeed big. Long lanes with overflowing shelves. I buy what I need plus some things to celebrate the hotel stay (a big bag of cinnamon cookies). Satisfied I walk back to my beautiful hotel room. No pool or anything tonight. I have a room and I'm going to enjoy it extensively. TV on and cookies within reach. Ah, enjoy.


+154 km


day 27 — July 9, 2003

With half an hour left before the breakfast room closes, I roll myself out of the wonderfully soft bed. After a quick shower, I hurry to the restaurant. A buffet table full of a thousand and one options. I keep it simple, some tea and a bowl of Skir with muesli. I don't really feel out of place among all the fancy people. Everyone is here having lunch. I'm wearing jeans full of green grass stains and the edges of my trouser legs are hard with dried-up mud. I think I should do some laundry tonight. After a second bowl of muesli, I go back to my room.

I grab my bicycle bag that I've converted into a backpack and am ready to collect the camera. Full of excitement I hand the receipt to the girl behind the counter of the post office. She searches first in a drawer, then in the warehouse. She comes back… without a package! She asks someone else. Then they come towards me together, still without a package. I fear the worst. The package is gone, untraceable, sent back to the Netherlands? “Where am I staying”, they want to know. After some more back-and-forth gibberish between the two women, they re-enter the warehouse. After an anxious seven minutes that feel like seven hours, the girl comes back, a smile on her clearly relieved face. In her right hand, she holds a small package that is covered with stickers and stamps from top to bottom. The box does not show any damage. I'm happy to sign the acknowledgment of receipt and hurry back to the hotel. With my coat still on, I begin to peel off the tape. It looks good. Hidden deep under the styrofoam chips, I dig up the loot. A beautiful, completely undamaged camera, a godsend. The box also contains a manual and five boxes, each with three film rolls. Phew, my vacation is saved. Long live Alexander and his camera, hooray, hooray, hooray! With the fresh loot in my backpack I go back to the city.

Time to call Alexander to thank him and to let him know that everything has arrived well. And I also have to make a very important purchase, new swimming trunks. The many wonderful Icelandic swimming pools have worn out my current one, it already has a small hole in it. So it's high time to buy a 'real' Icelandic one. I've got my mind set on a black Spido (sorry, but there's no Icelandic swimsuit brand as far as I know). In the shopping center where yesterday's supermarket is located, is a large sports store. I think I should be able to succeed here. There are two racks dedicated to men's swimming trunks, plenty of choice. Sadly non in my size. I'm afraid I'll have to continue with my current rag for a while. Till Egilsstaðir or I fear even all the way till Reykjavík. That's a lot of pools. What if my current ones really give up on me?

Walking to the center I keep my eyes open for a phone booth. I can't find one, after asking there appears to be one in the Siminn store, an Icelandic telephone company. I make my back extra wide so as not to be disturbed by the waiting people behind me. Thanks to being able to use a credit card, I talk with Alexander without having to throw in coins all the time. It feels good to be able to talk to someone at length again. After a good fifteen minutes, I hang up the phone and apologize to the crowd of people who are patiently waiting behind me. Satisfied, I walk out of the store.

In my hotel room I put dinner for tonight in the microwave. Twenty seconds. Ping! Not tasty, but so cheap. After this 'royal meal' I have to do the laundry, by hand. The beauty of a hotel room is underfloor heating in the bathroom. I lay the wet clothes on the floor. Jeans, three T-shirts, underwear, a bath towel and two pairs of socks. It's a bit of a puzzle but it just fits. Tomorrow they will be all fresh and dry.

Give me a city with a cinema and I'll feel at home.

The plan for tonight is to enjoy the fact that I am in a city, a city with two cinemas, so off to the movies I go. My eye has fallen on an absolutely trivial movie, Charlie's Angels. The right choice as it turns out. Give me a city with a cinema and I'll feel at home. I would never feel comfortable in small towns. Isafjorður is still just a little bit too small. Akureyri on the other hand, no problem. Just enough anonymity and at the same time small enough to recognize each other.

Satisfied after enjoying the film I walk back to my beautiful room. Plop down on the bed and zap across the TV channels. Tomorrow I'll sleep in. No breakfast but sleep. It's my last day of rest before I get back on the pedals.


+0 km


day 28 — July 10, 2003

It's half past eleven. Wonderfully rested I fold up the clean clothes from the bathroom floor and start repacking all the bags. Now that I see everything laid out like this I realize how much junk I'm carrying. It's high time to do be thorough and throw away unneeded ballast. One towel can go. Cup á soup, toilet rolls, garbage bags, T-shirts with long sleeves, rice, tea, cutting mat, are all completely useless. The gained room provides space for the stuff I had hanging off my bike in loose plastic bags. Only the burner remains in a loose plastic bag, because of the petrol smell. My swimming gear gets a place in one of the handlebar bags so that I can always reach it in case of a sudden swimming opportunity presents itself. It is now time to get dressed and go into town for the last time.

It's raining but I don't let that slow me down. I shoot the first pictures. Ah, the sweet sound of the soft click of the diaphragm. I do the last shopping, a new notebook, and some postcards. The postcards are of the area threatened by the Kárahnjúkar project. This is the construction of a huge dam to create energy with the result of creating a reservoir that will flood a massive part of nature. I hope that, from Egilsstaðir, I can join an organized tour of this area before it gets drowned and destroyed for good. During the shop tour, I actually run into another sports shop. The swimming trunks are in a corner. Spido, black, size 34... Yes, they have it. Bit pricey, but exactly what I wanted. Satisfied, I end up behind a delicious cup of cappuccino in a cafe that is much too crowded. I grab my diary and write these sentences in peace. Keeping this diary makes me live more from day to day. Enjoying the moment. Now for the second cup and then... it's time for the long-postponed visit to the Akureyri pool.

The swimming pool is big, I see two swimming pools, three hotpots, a bathtub with a water jet and also two steam cabins. Unfortunately, there is a lot of construction work going on and therefore it is quite a mess, one swimming pool is still under construction together with a hotpot. I'm doing the rounds. Hotpot, swimming pool, shower, steam cabin, shower hotpot, bathtub, water sprayer, shower, steam cabin, hotpot. Oh, oh, oh, how nice it is. With the corners of my mouth curled up from pleasure I walk back to the changing rooms. I do my last shopping in the supermarket at the campsite. To be able to meet the demand for meat again in the coming days, I buy a salami sausage (without garlic), which should help me to get by the next few days. I also walk past the tourist office and buy a walking map of Myvatn and Asbyrgi.

Once back at the hotel I slide the meal into the 'ping'. I also wash my last dirty clothes. Basically, I should be able to make it all the way to Reykjavik now. Everything is ready for tomorrow. The next rest day is scheduled for nine days from now, in Egilssta∂ir. Tomorrow a mountain pass awaits me.


+0 km



day 29 — July 11, 2003

I feel I have a lot to look forward to today. It is going to be a nice ride. When I look out the window I see a thick grey fog. It doesn't interest me. First I have for the last time my catered breakfast. Then I drag the bags to the lobby, in two goes. I squeeze through the other guests with my bags and walk to my bike. He's been locked up against a lantern post these past few days. It's actually a kind of sad sight. My tough friend who brought me everywhere, stood here day and night in the cold, while I was sitting in a wonderfully warm hotel room. Shame on me. I undo the lock and give him an encouraging pat on the saddle. “So, time to move.” I slide the bags onto the carrying racks and when the large round bag with the tent is safely anchored again under the tension straps, I walk back to the counter and hand in the key. The definitive end of my luxurious stay, the next few days I will have to make do with a sleeping mat again.

I get on and whiz down the hill towards the fjord. As I leave the city on a narrow road across the fjord, the seriousness of the grey weather begins to sink in. It takes all my strength to resist the wind's grip on my handlebars. He's yanking with all his might and seems determined to blow me off this road. With the cold water of the fjord on both sides, I better get to the other side as quickly as possible. The gusts of wind send me weaving from left to right. Fortunately, there is little traffic. After a frightening ten minutes, I reach the other side safely. Now I turn straight into the wind. My enemy for today. Wind force eight, if I have to believe this morning's weather report. I'm lost, uphill. When I take a breather at a viewpoint while enjoying an apple, Akureyri still seems frighteningly close. It mocks me from across the fjord. I'm cold and wet from the fog. Onward again.

With eleven kilometers on the clock, it seems as if I am not making any progress at all. I feel like I'm glued to the asphalt. When I look back in annoyance I see the problem. Puncture! It had to happen sometime. It must be my bike taking revenge for being chained up for so long. In the cold. I take the bags off my bike and turn them around, grumbling softly. This time I did remember to take the tools out of the saddlebag first. A quick learner. Once the flat tire is off the wheel, I try to find the leak. The high wind whistles in my ears, dispelling any possibility of feeling the tiny stream of air from my tire. I quickly decide to throw a new tire around it and repair the old one at a calmer moment in time. With thick blue fingers from the cold, I squeeze the tire back around the wheel. With chattering teeth, I put the bike upright again, bags on it, and then quickly cycle up a hill again. Soon the drops of sweat roll off my forehead again. The wind remains relentlessly cold. Every descent makes me shiver with cold. I think this is the first time that I enjoy the climbs more than the descents. After twenty very tough kilometers and more than two and a half hours later, I am faced with the impossible choice. Unfair, unreasonable, and so on. It's the moment of truth, am I a mouse or a man? Choice one: the mountain stage. Five kilometers uphill at 6% to an altitude of 334 meters. Or choice two: leading around the mountain. Which in this case means a 23-kilometer detour. Shit, I'm going into the mountains. Away from the wind, I look back at the road down. But no, the choice has been made. Up we go, onwards to what must be a very long descent. In my route description, it says that you can reach 80 kilometers per hour with the wind in your back... that sounds promising! But first I have to get to the top of that descent. At seven kilometers per hour, I crawl higher and higher. Every 500 meters I stop for a while to regain my strength. It's a slow track but I am getting higher! After stop number eight I can almost touch the top. The mountains make room. The road makes one last bend so that the wind is right at my back. And when my odometer has counted exactly five kilometers, the descent slowly begins.

Fifteen kilometers per hour, twenty, twenty-five, thirty, thirty-five. Oh, shit, shit, shit, this is really going too fast.

My bike rolls slowly forward. The descent is long and with every meter that glides away under my tires the speed increases. Faster, faster, faster. Fifteen kilometers per hour, twenty, twenty-five, thirty, thirty-five. If I get a blowout now then... forty, fifty. Or if suddenly there is a branch on the road... sixty kilometers per hour. Oh, shit, shit, shit, this is really going too fast. Damn, I'm only wearing a bike helmet. Furthermore, only fleece and cycling shorts. If I fall... god damn, this is going so fast. I try to forget what can happen. Faster, faster, faster. The kilometers roll away. I reach my top speed of 67 kilometers per hour. Zoef! A small hill comes up but without energy, I fly over it to end up in a descent again. I now cover the distance that took me all morning in a matter of minutes. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, ahhh. When I finally start to slow down and the road slowly evens out into matching the flat landscape, the wind is still present. But the enemy has surrendered and joined me. Like a father's hand on your back that pushes you forward on your first bike ride, it makes pedaling easy. Cycling is automatic and without any problems, there are 45 kilometers behind me.

Storutjarnir is in front of me. An Edda hotel with a swimming pool that is also open to non-guests. This day can't get any worse. The swimming pool is not much but, partly due to the lack of a clock, I manage to lose an hour in it without any problem. There are only a few kilometers left for me to reach the final destination for today, the waterfall Goðafoss. A tourist attraction as it turns out upon arrival. I park my bike at the Fossholl campsite and before I start setting up the tent I first go to the waterfall.

Beautiful dark clouds are gathering above the white foaming water. It looks like it has been cursed, which immediately makes you believe in trolls, ghosts, and the like. After my presumed triumph on the wind, nature here clearly shows its invincibility again. And the only thing to do is to be in awe. I watch the spectacle with my mouth wide open. It is a beautiful waterfall that, to emphasize its hastily designed beauty, has a beautiful rock right in the middle, which makes the waterfall even more beautiful. It's almost getting kitsch. A Bob Ross landscape.


When the dark clouds disappear as quickly as they came, I walk back to the campsite and put up the tent. Fossholl is more than just a campsite. There is a guesthouse, tourist shop, restaurant, and gas station including a small supermarket. In order not to make my transition from luxury hotel life too abrupt, the toilets have hot running water. The campsite is starting to get cozy. To my left, a German girl has pitched up her tent and to my right are three Englishmen, all fellow cyclists. The English tell of their perilous adventure. They have just returned from a planned route through Sprengisandur, a route similar to Kjölur going through the interior but way more difficult. Yesterday they left this campsite. The further inland they went, the worse the weather became. To best control the cold, the three of them crawled into one tent. There they experienced an ice-cold night in soaking-wet sleeping bags and a leaky tent. The next morning there appeared to be 40 centimeters of snow against their tent. That was the last straw for them. In order not to die of hypothermia, they packed their things and turned around. Back to Fossholl. They now take the bus to eventually enter the area from the other side. They also report that they have not had a single day of good weather. The German girl complains about the same thing, she looks very unhappy. I dare not tell them that I have had almost nothing but good weather. Even today I saw the sun for a while. I hope my luck stays that way.

After eating I walk to the restaurant for a nice cup of coffee. I'm starting to feel more and more like an Icelander. Icelanders drink coffee by the liter. I never drink coffee at home, but here I find it a wonderful moment of the evening. Nice to write my diary with a cup of coffee. And the habit of the free 're-fill' only increases the calm relaxed feeling. Today was a good day. Yesterday I was a bit apprehensive about having to leave luxury behind, gone soft bed, gone TV, gone city. But after the tough morning of cycling and the perfect cycling afternoon with that beautiful descent and wonderful tailwind, I am glad that I have moved on. And certainly proud of myself for conquering that mountain!

Tomorrow also starts with a big climb. From my tent I see the road curl up. Tomorrow I'm cycling to Myvatn, I'm looking forward to it. After three years I'll be back in Myvatn. The first time was my first real vacation trip, with a group.. And now three years later I'm going to be back at the same campsite. By bike, unbelievable. I could never have imagined that back then.


+55 km



day 30 — July 12, 2003

I get up early, but too late to say goodbye to the English. While packing, the German girl walks up to me. She asks if there is an alternative route to Akureyri, around the mountain. “Yes,” I say. And also manages to casually report between two words that I did take the road over the mountain. It feels good to be stronger than someone else for once, even if the other person is a little German girl. Yes, I know. But I'm happy with it nonetheless. I'm stronger than a little German girl in a yellow rain suit... I am a sad sad guy.

At half past nine I get up and wish the girl good luck (no teasing intended). Yesterday's wind has disappeared and on the distant horizon, where Myvatn lies, I see the clouds breaking open. It's going to be a beautiful day, if I ever get up this mountain here. It takes me five stops to get to the top. In anticipation of a descent as a reward, I curiously cycle around the corner. Nothing! At least not something that could pass for a descent, rather a small pit. Bewildered, I continue cycling. The road appears to be on the list of road workers again. If I estimate the work correctly, there will be asphalt here soon. All large stones have been removed and are now lying on the side of the road. And the entire road is covered with a nice layer of flattened soft powder. It cycles like over velvet. Better than on asphalt!

Myvatn shows its business card early. Mosquitoes (Myvatn is Icelandic for mosquito lake). When I cycle past the smaller town of Másvatn, they greet me in thousands. I quickly grab my mosquito net from the handlebar bag. Phew, that's better. Surrounded by the green haze of the net, I continue my way.

I'm at Myvatn already at half past one. The end of the journey seems deceptively close, but from my mileage, I see that Reykjahlið is still 20 kilometers away. I continue my route via the north side of the lake so that I cycle past Vindbergjarfjall, a mountain from where you have a nice view over the entire lake. Once there, I park my bike at the side of the road and walk up a steep zigzagging path that leads to the top of the mountain. It is more than two kilometers uphill. I come up dead tired. If you already have thirty kilometers in your legs, then such a climb is not nothing. I drop my walking stick and water bottle into the grass. Only now do I realize that I still have my bike helmet on. I take it off and put it in the grass, I also plop down. Stretched out in the traditional position (with my head resting on the helmet) I enjoy being here. The view is unbelievable. The beautiful weather extends the horizon for miles. The sun is shining and the water of the lake is mirror-smooth. The beautiful cloudy sky becomes twice as gorgeous. Each mountain is so sharply defined that it seems as if you are looking at a model. Everything shines razor-sharp in this beautiful northern light. I shoot roll after roll of film without any problem.

Satisfied, I walk back to my bike. I cycle the last long kilometres to the campsite. It all seems to have changed a lot here. The only thing I still recognize after three years is the electricity poles in the lava field. Reykjahlið has also changed. The tourists have now taken possession of this ones quiet place. A huge supermarket has been built and the swimming pool has also become larger. When I dive in I turn out to be surrounded by a busload of French people. I notice that Reykjahlið has more tourists than residents. The advantage of this is that the campsite overflows with facilities. There are no fewer than twelve showers! There is a cooking facility with three hotplates, each with three burners. There is also warm running water everywhere and the fields are the flattest I have ever seen. The only thing missing is a small cafe/restaurant.

When I come back from swimming it starts to rain lightly. The wind also appears to be back. This time he comes from the Northeast. The most favorable wind direction for tomorrow's ride should be from the Southeast, but I don't let that worry me right now. Tomorrow it all will have changed. Tomorrow I first cycle with a light unpacked bike to the South, to Hverarönd. This is a large geothermal field. I will have to get up early if I want to beat the tourists. Then back to the campsite, take down the tent, and cycle 54 kilometers to Husavík.

I'm going to take a shower now and then get into the sleeping bag, up at seven tomorrow.


+52 km



day 31 — July 13, 2003

It's seven o'clock. Get up, come on. Out. I try to convince myself that I have to get up on my feet. I don't listen to my own nagging and instead turn on my other side. That geothermal field will still be there in an hour's time. When it's eight o'clock I keep myself talking for another fifteen minutes before I finally see the necessity of getting up. There are many kilometers on today's schedule. Ten minutes later I step on my unpacked bicycle, first a short trip over the Námafjall.

Uncomfortable with the light bike, I swing from left to right, like a toddler on his first bicycle. Jesus, what is this? Once I get used to the light steering I cruise through Reykjahlið. At the local geothermal power station, I stop for a few photos. It looks like the 'Blue Lagoon' (a luxurious swimming pool/spa near Keflavik) in miniature. The plans to also realize a spa here has already started. But for now, there are no changing cabins here yet and it looks more like a chemical dump than a spa bath. I continue cycling and start the climb over the Námafjall. The road goes up by more than 10%, but thanks to the lack of luggage, this is no problem at all. I cycle up in one smooth movement. I never thought it would make such a difference whether or not you carry all that extra luggage.

Gliding downhill I soon see the beautiful plumes of smoke from the Hveraröndveld. There are two buses in the parking lot, this is why I should have been here sooner. I had hoped for a moment of being alone, alas! I park my bike and grab the camera. Moments later I find myself with my head in a large plume of steam that is being billowed out by a pile of stones. The warm fumes that smell so wonderfully of sulfur are synonymous with this country for me. This smell of rotten eggs gives me an indescribable feeling of bliss. Especially in this region, all the hot water smells unmistakably of sulfur. I first smelled it three years ago when I was in the shower. Of course, it smells terrible, but it is so beautiful that you are overwhelmed by the natural forces of Iceland. I can't explain it any better. Rotten Eggs is pure romance. When every pore on my head has been steamed wide open, I walk on. Pits filled with thick mud bubble a lazy rhythm. For a moment I close my eyes to let all these sounds sink in. Raging whistling steam holes, bubbling mud, hissing brimstone pits. It sounds like music to my ears. Plop, sissss, blop, fluwwwwww, cap, sop, blop, fwwwwrrrrr. A personal concert of nature in a rhythm like Björk's music. It's beautiful.

Mother natures love at Námafjall and Hveraröndveld

When I open my eyes, the two buses appear to have disappeared. Apart from the two people walking down the mountain, I am alone. Alone with Mother Earth. And she embraces me with her warmth. For a second time, I dig my head deep into her bosom of steam. I take a deep breath, wonderful. I walk one last lap before I am satisfied. Uphill again. At ten o'clock I ride back to the campsite and three-quarters of an hour later my bike has grown again into the 45-kilo heavy monster I know so well. I leave Myvatn behind and start the ride to Husavík. The road rises and falls. Uphill, downhill, up, down, up, down. It will be a tiring journey.

The green abundance of Myvatn is very gradually being swallowed up by the dead plains of Hólasandur. Dark bare powdery earth now dominates the landscape. The hills win out over the valleys, and a climb is followed by a humiliatingly silly little valley. The wind is also starting to gain strength. When pedaling up I don't feel any wind, but once at the top, it presents itself again. It is impossible to keep a steady pace. With every new hill, I have to find the rhythm on the pedals again.

But these hardships are nothing compared to the beauty of this barren dark brown desert. The duller the view, the more I enjoy it. This graveyard of fertility that extends beyond the horizon is overwhelming. In stark contrast to this seemingly barren soil, beautiful purple lupins grow here and there. They have been planted here to combat the problem of erosion, it seems to me an unfair battle that they have already lost in advance. At a rescue hut, which is strangely locked, I take shelter from the wind. I fully enjoy the view. My bike stands all alone in a godless landscape. Goosebumps. What good have I not done to deserve to be here?

The goosebumps on my arms will remain for the rest of the way through Hólasandur. Until suddenly I am surrounded by green hills again. The climbs keep going, but gradually the descents get the upper hand. With about 25 kilometers to go I arrive at Hveravellir, a little dot on the map. Against the mountains are a few buildings with greenhouses. The well-known steam clouds emerge from the ground. All good and well but this time I won't put my head into it. No, now it's time for another stimulant that benefits from this free heat... because next to this little dot on the map is a blue rectangle, a swimming pool.

Three-quarters of an hour later, at half past four, I cycle on again. The east wind has been waiting for me. And the hills also keep appearing, as if from an inexhaustible supply. I am convinced that if you drive too fast on this road you will definitely get seasick. There is no end to this undulating landscape.

With two kilometers to go, the billboards make it clear that I am approaching Húsavík. Húsavík is the whale-watching capital of Iceland. Hotel, restaurant, cruise, one sign after the other screams at me. It seems like this whole city runs on the tourist industry. At five o'clock I cycle to the campsite. The 'reception' is located in a caravan. The boy is watching a TV that takes up about half of the small space. He explains how it works here. To pitch your tent costs 750 ISK, regardless of how long you stay. Unfortunately, I only stay one night, so this is a very expensive campsite. But there is a shower, plenty of hot water, a washing machine and the swimming pool is within walking distance.

From the tent I look out over the football field with the city behind it. And the city attracts. I smell the restaurants. Armed with my diary I go on a raid. The amount of restaurants is disappointing, which means that the few that are there are packed. I end up on the top floor of a restaurant in the harbor. It is very hot, luckily a window is open. To keep an I on my budget I will have to order a simple bowl of soup. But I excuse myself like no one else can and read the menu carefully. Meat or fish, what will it be? I choose the salmon with gorgonzola sauce. That sounds wonderfully luxurious. 1950 ISK... shit that's 25 euros. When the waitress comes with the plate full of gold a little later, I feel the purchase is fully justified. It looks beautiful, smells delicious, and tastes even better. This time no Flokalundurse quantity but a true man's portion.

When this king's meal has been consumed with devotion, I order a cup of coffee and write down today's day. When the usual free second cup is also finished, I call it a day. I stroll through the city and return to the campsite with a full stomach. Another long day awaits me tomorrow, 40 kilometers, and I expect the usual bumps along the way. But I start the day with a visit to the pool.


+75 km



day 32 — July 14, 2003

I have just bought fresh bread from the supermarket and stuff one slice after the other into my mouth. And before I move onwards, first the swimming pool. Two girls next door from the campsite also just arrived. Once in the hotpot, they ask me about my journey. They come from Switzerland. You can tell from the language that they must have a much more sense of humor than the average German. It sounds like a Monty Python version of German. They themselves believe that it has a strange similarity with Icelandic here and there. They cross Iceland in two weeks and today they go to Akureyri, where they go shopping to their heart's content, they confess. Yesterday they traveled what awaits me today, in the opposite direction. “Don't you feel lonely, so alone?” asks the boldest of the bunch. “It takes a lot for me to feel lonely, even in these desolate landscapes.” I actually enjoy the solitude. I can't imagine cycling this trip with someone who when we cycle through such a beautiful empty country, says: "Gosh, it's empty." I think I would commit murder. “Well, that will change tomorrow, if you are going to take the road to Dettifoss”, she tells me, “then you must feel lonely, there is no other way.” I have my doubts about that. They also encourage me by saying that the road there is “really fucking bad”. “Even with the car it was quite difficult not to go off the road, we bounced in all directions. A terrible road.”

They know how to have fun. Also in my travel books, there is a lot of bad talk about this road, it will not be inferior to any inland road, is the warning. The roads in the interior are known for their poor condition. Pits that are often larger than the road itself. I'm curious, I still have the piece to Asbyrgi to do first.

High time. I greet the ladies and mumble while getting dressed. Why don't I ever have such encounters in Holland? How nice it is when people have such a spontaneous chat with you. Long live the swimming pool! The moment I cycle off the campsite, the girls just arrive. We wave to each other one last goodbye.

The road I'm cycling on appears to continue in the same wavy pattern as yesterday. Within a few minutes, I am equally tired again. Those goddamn hills. Two-holiday cyclists are coming from a farm path, on the left. I cycle in front of them and hope they don't overtake me and then continue cycling with me under the notion of keeping company... I want to feel the loneliness! This new threat makes me forget about the hills. I want to cycle everything alone. Without obligations and without having to adapt to anyone. I soon realize that I have nothing to fear. The distance between me and my two attackers widens with every turn of the pedals. In other words. I CYCLE FASTER! A new highlight in my short sporting career. After beating the German girl who cycled around the mountain towards Akureyri, I have now managed to cycle even faster than two-holiday cyclists. And it's not even two pathetic little girls, but two men... a real achievement! I step off to pat myself on the back. This new milestone gives me enough energy to reach the end of the land of Tjörnes at an unprecedented speed, which is also the northernmost point of this fifty-day tour. On the horizon, the island of Grimsey gleams, enticing, as it sits right on the Arctic Circle. Unfortunately, it is way too expensive to get there. To be honest, I prefer six restaurant visits to the ferry to Grimsey.

The hills seem to have finally disappeared and as an added bonus the wind gives me a push in the back. I cycle past a large construction site, on one of the containers is a large ISTAK written. At the same point, the road turns into a washing board. ISTAK is a road construction company. They must be busy somewhere around here, the trucks with the familiar gray fist-sized boulders drive back and forth. An activity that this poor road is absolutely not designed for. But I fear it will get even worse, somewhere in the near future a huge gravel pit awaits me, there is no other way. The trucks continue to terrorize me incessantly. They brush right past me and while I'm still busy avoiding the worst potholes in the road... a dangerous combination. Arriving on the east side of Tjörnes it becomes clear to me what all the fuss is about. A new road is being built that dips into the valley towards Asbyrgi in front of the mountains. This will undoubtedly ensure that this road can also be used in winter in the future. Very nice, for sure... but for now it's anything but pleasant. My wheels sink past the rims in the freshly laid pebble road. Not only my legs are suffering but also my arms. With white knuckles, I frantically try to keep the steering wheel in the desired direction. I leave a deep trail behind me on the road. Then I see a beautiful memory next to this hell, the old road! I get off and push my bike towards this Fata Morgana. This is much better. Unfortunately, after a few pleasant kilometers, the new road connects with the old route and suffocates it. There is nothing to do but submit to fate. Swearing, I push my bike against the high edge of loose boulders and continue my agony. After five kilometers filled with suffering, I pass the exit where the new road goes down into the valley. Fortunately, it is not yet open to traffic, so I can continue on the old road.

The view over the lowlands is magnificent. After the inevitable photos, I cycle into the mountains. A big climb, followed by a long deep descent, one kilometer of which even with 14%. Unfortunately, the quality of this old road forces me to squeeze the brakes. I almost rattle off my saddle. It's unbelievable what my bike endures. I hit big potholes that make my wrists fold backward, but my bike is indestructible. Even the bags stay neatly in place. After this heart-stopping descent, I roll into the quiet picturesque lowlands and start the last stretch.

Since this experience with the gravel pit I have been suffering from a muscle near my shin. Not muscle pain, it rather feels like I tore a muscle. The pain is getting worse by the minute. The last stretch weighs extra heavily. The road is almost flat and the landscape is meadowland, as far as the eye can see. When I read 67 kilometers on my counter I finally reach the side road to Asbyrgi. My face twisted in pain, I stumbled to the information office. Pay the price and ask if there is a bus going to my next overnight stop, Grimstaðir, just in case this pain doesn't go away. Of course, I pronounce it completely wrong again, but after pointing it out on a map she understands me. “No,” is the sobering answer. She does indicate that there is a doctor. A doctor, here? I ask, "Will he be there tomorrow?" “There is no doctor here, in Husavik.” I thank her for this useless information and crawl onwards. Leaning on my bicycle, I hop to a quiet place where I can seal my fate, cursing freely.

It feels like I tore a muscle. The pain is getting worse by the minute.

When the tent is up I go through my options. Today I will not make the planned walk over the rocky island in the middle of Asbyrgi. Tomorrow I will first tape up my foot with the sports tape I brought along. If I can't cycle then I can go to Dettifoss by bus. From there the bus goes all the way back to Akureyri. There I can go to the doctor and then continue by bus to Egilsstaðir. That is not at all what I want! I have to try something else. Walking is even worse than cycling.

What if I go to the Dettifoss by bus and then cycle the last bit to Grimsstaðir from there? That is 21 kilometers on the notoriously bad road. Such a day distance should still be okay, I tell myself. The next day, at Grimsstaðir, I can take the bus to Egilsstaðir. This plan has clearly my preference, but I won't really know until tomorrow how much trouble I'm in. The bus to Dettifoss leaves at 11.40, which gives me enough time to make the planned walk for today. A good test to find out how things are going.

Satisfied with the modified plan, I stumble to the showers. The warm water eases the pain. I also smear half a jar of extra hot tiger balm on my shin. The whole shower reeks of menthol. After eating mz pasta, it is already half past eight. I'm tired. Tomorrow I'll see what to do.


+68 km



day 33 — July 15, 2003

I unzip the sleeping bag. I slept with my clothes on, it was a cold night. When I open the tent I see a beautiful blue sky. My first thought is, I don't want to go by bus, the weather is so nice. I tape my ankle, a time-consuming job, and go for a walk. The tape gives my foot extra support and also ensures that the ankle joint can hardly move. With my high hiking boots on the movement of my painful joint kept to a minimum. Walking on the rock island is almost effortless. Only when I'm not paying attention and accidentally bump my foot, then a splintering shot of pain shoots through my leg.

Asbyrgi is a huge 90-meter-high u-shaped rock face. Legend has it that Odin's eight-footed horse left its hoof print here. Here on the island in the middle of the hoof print, I have a magnificent view. I sit on the edge and look straight down. It's a dizzying depth.

I have to go back, the bus is waiting. The way down is significantly more painful than up. I hop my way down, putting weight on one foot at a time. With an hour to go I'm at the tent and half an hour later I'm cycling towards the gas station from where the bus leaves. I buy some last provisions and wait outside for the bus. I tear open the roll of chocolate chip cookies I just bought. The bus is late. Inside I ask if he is still gonna come. After some misunderstandings, I conclude from the broken English that he is indeed still to come. I'm going out again. When it is almost 12 o'clock I start to doubt the shopkeeper's words, and I ask again. Now it is immediately clear. The bus left too early! In retrospect, it appears that the bus even drove passed me. It takes the western route, the bus runs from the shop via the campsite to Dettifoss, the completely opposite direction than I had in mind. I absolutely want to travel via the east side because then I see the most beautiful landscapes and also the best view of the three waterfalls that are on the route, so the bus ride would have been a huge disappointment.

It is now half past one and there is nothing else to do than to do the entire route, by bike. I calculate that I can be in Grímsstaðir at eight o'clock at the earliest. I get up and with a few cries of pain, I start to move. After the bridge, I exchange the realm of asphalt for the dusty unpaved world. After a few kilometers, I stop for lunch. Sitting in the grass I hear the sound of a roaring diesel coming from behind the hills. Moments later, a flashing light peeps above the hill, announcing bad news. An old enemy is riding towards me. The yellow monster vehicle of a road worker. The previous unpleasant encounter with this torture device in Snæfellsness makes me realize where I stand. He scrapes the comfortable, flattened solid part of the road and, as always, dumps the scrapings on my side of the road. After another sip from the water bottle, I enter the still-untrodden road. Almost the entire further route to the Dettifoss waterfall appears to have already been spoiled by the four-wheeled colossus. Only the last kilometers have already undergone the next stage of roadworks, loose boulders! This grey shaky cobblestone floor is even better than the road just traveled.

Just before the Dettifoss is a small waterfall, the Hafragilsfoss. Compared to the natural force of its big brother, it is little, almost not worth mentioning were it not for the fact that nearby clear blue spring water flows into the grey river, a beautiful sight. A little later I come face to face with the Dettifoss. The billowing water drops could be seen from afar. A worthy announcement of this colossal waterfall. The largest most powerful one in Europe. More than 500 cubic meters of water per second falls 44 meters down. My first meeting, three years ago, was crushing. Back then I found myself completely unprepared for this impressive force of nature. Now I feel like a veteran. And with the arrogance of a spoiled traveler, I put my bicycle helmet three feet from the edge of the abyss and rest my head. My legs dangle in the abyss and on my skin I feel the nurturing spray of the splashing water. I close my eyes and listen to the murmur of thousands of liters of water. If I had to have a mantra it would be this, this noise.

After this moment of calmness, in which the tourists present look at me with astonishment, I get up and walk to the third waterfall, Selfoss. I jump from one meter-high boulder to the next. The splashing water of the rushing river makes the rocks dangerously slippery. One wrong step and I'll slide straight into the wildly swirling drab grey river. After this slippery walk of several kilometers, today's third waterfall looms. It's another spectacular view. Selfoss is slanted in the river, so you can see the waterfall across its full width while the water flows towards you. It is a very wide waterfall that can only be seen from this bank. So glad I didn't take the bus. But not only the waterfall is beautiful, the lime-white stones that form the ground are even more beautiful than the waterfall. They lie like virgin islands in a milky white sea. What a beautiful day! I walk back, no idea what time it is. I toy with the idea of setting up the tent here, in the parking lot. There is a toilet with a sink, that's all I need.

It's half past six, I'm going on. The weather is still nice and my ankle is holding up. The next section, by all accounts, must be the infamous, bad, horrible, impassable, impossible stretch of road. I brace myself. It has been worked on and it has been given a nice layer of soft dark brown sand. The well-known velvety sand. To make the whole experience even more pleasant, a nice and strong wind pushes me onwards. I put my bike in the highest gear and I fly over the road at about 25 kilometers per hour. The area is wonderfully bare, beautifully empty. As far as the eye can see I see a beige deserted stone landscape, the single car that passes me drags a long veil of dust with it. I'm enjoying every second of being here. Not a lonely feeling, but rather a feeling of being together with the landscape. Everything is gorgeous! After ten kilometers the velvet sand becomes gravel again. The following kilometers will be old-fashioned slogging again. But how beautiful it is here. I look miles away and even see the Herdubreið (a striking mountain far away in the interior). Brilliant clouds. The ten kilometers of gravel road don't harm me, even if there were fifty kilometers. What a great day, unbelievable. Everything is so breathtakingly beautiful. All too soon I am in Grímsstaðir.

Tthe most wonderful horrible road ever to Grímsstaðir

The campsite looks a bit shabby. There is one laundry room and the field is no more than a piece of uncut grass. A small brook also ensures that it is swarmed with flies. But on the other hand, I am in good company. There are seven fellow cyclists. And the amazing thing is that this is not one group but two groups of two and one of three. And we all ended up at the same campsite at the same time. A surprising coincidence. I have direct contact with an American. He has now completed 22 days, of which only three have been dry. He had been advised (like most of the people I've met) to do the tour anti-clockwise. Rumour has it that you have more often tailwind… a fable of which there are so many in Iceland. To prevent him from making another mistake I give him some tips about the eastern or western path along the Dettifoss. When I tell him about the good condition of the road, he doesn't want to believe me. "You're kidding me," is his response. “No really, it was the most beautiful ride so far!” He still looks at me half smiling with disbelief in his eyes. I would like to mention that I had the wind in my back, but I'm afraid he will curse his choice of traveling anti-clockwise even more.

There is also a young couple from Enschede, at first my Dutch drivel puts them off. But after I give them my two maps of Asbyrgi and Myvatn as a peace offering, the ice thaws and I am stamped as 'good people'. They are real holiday cyclists. It once started out of student poverty, but now they don't want anything else. They are teachers, and because of the ample labor market, they have the power to enforce a long holiday. It's nice to be able to talk easily in my mother tongue. Although I have a few problems with English. It is more the faltering Germans and French that I occasionally encounter that frustrates me.

I discuss with the American what I should do tomorrow. He has cycled the road that lies ahead of me and therefore knows what I will miss if I go by bus. “Many wide views,” is his reply. Today I saw so many beautiful views that they will last me for tomorrow's bus ride too.


+64 km



day 34 — July 16, 2003

It's seven o'clock, the neighbors here on the campsite in Grímsstaðir are already packing. The sun shines brightly and turns my tent into a sauna. I crawl out of my sleeping bag and try to sleep lying on top of it. No chance, an hour later I surrender. My bus doesn't leave until 11 am. Enough time to venture into breaking the world endurance record slow packing. One by one I say hello to the departing cyclists. It's nine o'clock when everything is loaded on the bike... the world record remains in the name of Gregor (the Swiss in Isafjorður and Ósar).

In the fear of missing another bus, I decide to cycle the four kilometers to the ring road. The weather is still fantastic, I hate that I have to sit in a bus with this blue sky stuff going on. But I have to be sensible and give my ankle some rest. I absolutely want to do the south coast by bike, it's better to now do a 'boring' part by bus. I hope I can make a bus trip to Kárahjúkar in Egilsstaðir, otherwise, I have a lot of empty days. Maybe I can leave earlier to cycle part of the East Fjords before taking the scheduled bus to Höfn?

At a quarter past ten I am at the parking lot where the bus stops. This time I will not miss it. I fumble with the camera in a vague attempt to take a picture with the self-timer. Meanwhile, four people come walking out of the wide wilderness. Without a word, they walk right past me and then stand on the other side of the road. Two options: Germans or French... I hear them talking to each other, two Germans and two French. They try to get a lift to the Dettifoss. The two men stand at the beginning of the side road, the two women stand a little further on. I don't give them much chance. There is little traffic on this road, especially if you are looking for a car with two empty seats. Cycling is faster.

The fumbling with my camera succeeded, at least it clicked once, so in principle there must be something on it. Taking into account my handiness, chances are you can just see a small part of the steering wheel of the bike and nothing but blue sky. Time passes quickly with all this fiddling around, the bus arrives from over the bridge. To prevent him from driving straight past me, I stand in the middle of the road. He will stop! A flashing turn signal reassures me. After some wriggling, I manage to get the bike in its entirety into the loading compartment, and with the bags as cushions, it should be able to survive the ride. After a significant financial dip, the bus pulls up and zooms through the landscape.

Work is still underway on the road. A tens of centimeters thick layer of sand has been deposited. The bus driver has the greatest difficulty not to slide off the road. I couldn't have gotten through this on my bike and had to get off without a doubt. I had sunken down to the peddles in this sand. The environment remains deserted and bare, my favorite landscape.

After an hour and a half and not much spectacle we arrive in Egilsstaðir, the capital of the East. It is sobering to see how much faster you are when you take the bus. In my original planning, this 130-kilometer stretch would have taken me two days. Every now and then I wonder why I don't just do everything nice and easy by bus. These are thoughts whispered to me by the devil himself.

The bus stops right in front of the campsite. It is a real city campsite with a large shower block, washing machines, cooking facilities and of course hot water everywhere. I choose a nice spot for the next four evenings. A private place surrounded by trees where my tent can stand in the shade. It is most reminiscent of the neat little gardens that are always laid out around mobile homes. My own little paradise surrounded by trees. As a novelty, the fourth night here is free, strange but true. After a long and extensive research, it must have been proven that the fourth night is a kind of psychological barrier for many guests. And this financial lure should be just the right incentive to commit to staying an extra day. After all, it costs nothing extra...

In the information center I see an Icelandic notice on the bulletin board. If I'm not mistaken, it's about the excursion I want to make so badly. Inquiries show that my knowledge of Icelandic is not as bad as I think. It is indeed the excursion that goes via Snæfell to Kárahnjúkar, the area that will be flooded in 2007 and will therefore be permanently lost. With 6000 ISK it is a pricey trip (83 Euro), but an absolute must! It leaves on Wednesday and Saturday. Today is Wednesday so I reserve a seat on the bus for Saturday. Tomorrow and Friday I rest. Having arranged this I walk excitedly into Egilsstaðir. It turns out that everything that makes Egilsstaðir a city is on the edge of the ring road. Next to the campsite. Here we have the gas station with a grill restaurant, the Bonus supermarket, the Kauphal supermarket, an electronics store, a clothing store, a café, and a bank. All right on this road, with their backs to the city. It resembles more a truck stop than anything else. Only the post office, library and swimming pool are located in the town itself.

In the well-stocked supermarket I buy a new supply of my favourite pasta and cheese sauce and then I go to the library for the necessary email contact. Two old acquaintances occupy one of the two computers, the Australian couple from previous encounters in Ósar and Akureyri. It is an exuberant reunion despite their first sentence: “We are tired”. Tonight they leave by boat to the Shetland Islands, they tell me. They have been on the road since May, sleeping somewhere else almost every day. That means that they have been driving from sleeping place to sleeping place for three months. I don't think there is any other nation that is inhabited by people that have such a passionate urge to travel as Australia. As they embark on the last ride on Icelandic soil, I wish them a peaceful stay in the Shetland Islands. I settle behind the PC and post the latest news on my site and read the emails.

I can barely stand on my left leg. The seriousness of the injury is only now dawning upon me.

After this distant contact with the home front, I cycle past a pharmacy opposite the hospital and decide to go in for a new roll of sports tape. There is no tape, but something much more convenient, a support bandage especially for the ankle. Back in the tent, I pick the sticky sports tape off my left foot. My foot looks like it has been in a salt bath for six weeks. White, sticky, and half dead. When I walk towards the shower in an attempt to rinse off the worst glue residue, it becomes clear to me how useful that tape was. I can barely stand on my left leg. The seriousness of the injury is only now dawning upon me. I think I really need to pay a visit to the doctor before I move on! Leaning on a walking stick, I drag myself to the shower. There, sitting on a bench, I wash my sticky foot clean. After a generous amount of tiger balm, I put the support bandage on. Walking is immediately much better. The newfound confidence in my ankle leads me to believe that the doctor can wait a little longer. Cycling is not the problem anyway, only walking really bothers me. Don't whine, grit your teeth. The most, a doctor can say is that I am not allowed to travel any further, and that does not help me at all. Yes, yes, I like to fool myself.

In the tent I cook the pasta and around nine, when the dishes are done, I go armed with my diary to the grill for a cup of coffee. The menu is very extensive and cheap. I should come to eat here tomorrow. Only now, on day 34, do I see the potential lurking behind the grill. It's more than just five types of Pylsur. It's burger, pizza, and lots of steaming freshly brewed coffee with free refill. It promises to be four beautiful evenings.

The East Fjords and South Coast

The East Fjords and
South Coast

Chapter 4: The East Fjords and South Coast


+134 km


day 35 — July 17, 2003

Although my tent is in the shade, the heat prevents me from staying in it any longer. Anyway, it's already past ten, so it's okay. When I stick my head out of the tent, I see a confused-looking man lingering on my idyllic spot. A new neighbor, I'm afraid. It seems like he wants to ask me something, but doesn't know how. This can only mean one thing: a Frenchman trying to speak English. With some vague words in a completely incoherent sentence, he makes it clear to me that he is looking for a new place because last night his Icelandic neighbors were noisy until three in the morning. From some further words thrown at me, I gather that he travels by bus with his wife and rents bicycles on-site to explore the immediate area. And then comes the dreaded question, can they stand here next to me? Since it is not my own private place, I can hardly refuse them access. While they set up the tent I flee on my bike, the excuse is a short trip to the bridge over Lagarfljót.

The water is grey from all the mud it carries in its mighty current. As I sit and stare at it, the sun emerges from behind a lone cloud. The monotonous grey mixes with the blue sky to form a dazzling milky variant of Mediterranean turquoise. Even here, right next to the 'busy' ring road and with a relatively large town just a stone's throw away, nature still dominates. Full of this new view I cycle back to the campsite at a snail's pace. For today the swimming pool is on the schedule and also a sensible visit to the doctor. I don't want to risk a long-term injury by continuing to cycle. After all, you never know. But first the pool.

I'm in at two o'clock. It is nice and busy and there are some Icelandic girls walking around. Two counselors of a group of mentally handicapped people form a nice view. But the winner of the day, and by far the winner of all swimming pools ever, is a breathtaking girl. She's gorgeous. Dressed in a smaller-than-tiny pink bikini that can barely contain her curves. She is constantly fiddling with her top to tuck every bit of bare skin that popped out back behind the thin fabric. But what is pushed back on the left wriggles free on the right. And I'm only talking about the most eye-catching part of the female anatomy. But it doesn't matter which convex or concave shape I'm talking about. Take her nose. A nose for which the word cute seems to have been invented. Small, stubbornly pointed upwards. The kind of nose that makes those beautiful wrinkles between the eyes while laughing. Quirky is a word that comes to mind. Although I try very hard not to gaze too much, I can't take my eyes off her for more than five seconds. So beautiful. She lies down in the sunbath. The sunbath is about 20 centimeters deep. Just deep enough for her breasts and belly to protrude above the water like newly discovered islands. A force that is completely beyond my control has ensured that I have climbed out of the hotpot and am walking towards the sunbath as if in a trance. There's one open spot, right next to her. It's really the only place I can squeeze myself into. She turns around, resulting in a beautiful new island. When she has gone for a swim, I decide to return to the hotpot.

The water drips, undulating over the small hills of her abdomen, through her pink bikini bottom, and back into the hotpot. She teasingly repeated the act.

Sinking back into the warm water, I can't seem to get the stupid grin off my face. Sigh. And just when you think the day couldn't get any better, visitors arrive. The girl descends into my very own hotpot together with two friends. She's standing right in front of me, half leaning on the stone ledge. The water reaches just below her crotch. She still fiddles with her top and as an extra erotic effect, she regularly splashes a wave of warm water over her bare belly. The water drips, undulating over the small hills of her abdomen, through her pink bikini bottom, and back into the hotpot. She teasingly repeated the act. Is it just me or has the water suddenly become 20 degrees warmer? After the last wave of water and another corrective action, she turns. Oh my God. I already read the headline: “Tourist suffers a heart attack in hotpot. Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation only seemed to exacerbate the cause.” What a perfectly formed little butt! A butt can have many shapes. You have the side table butts, the drop-down butts, too wide, too small, too round. All these differences make the perfect butt a truly unique masterpiece. And she, this girl, has it. And what makes this perfect butt even more perfect? A beautiful hollow back. This is pure torture! She straightens her arms, lifts herself up, and leans forward on the concrete edge of the hotpot, lifting herself half out of the water. The drops of water caress her bikini bottom and slide drop by drop back into the hotpot. Excruciatingly slowly, she lowers herself millimeter by millimeter back into the warm water. Her full breasts roll over the hard edge of the pool. Then she lifts herself up again, I cling to the railing. If possible, she lowers herself even more slowly and again and again. Every minute seems like an hour. Of all the Icelandic views, this is the most beautiful! The rhythmically undulating water has now reached the boiling point. May this never end! So beautiful, so beautiful.

Of all Icelandic views, this is the most beautiful!

It's a little before four as she decides enough is enough. To check how tanned she is, she pulls down her bikini bottom and gives me a quick look at paradise. Just enough to be able to determine that she is indeed tanned. The tight elastic close back around her shape with a flirty lash. Then she puts both hands on the concrete round edge and smoothly pushes herself out of the hotpot in one go. With her hands still on the edge and her feet placed between them, she briefly pushed her ass into the air. Once upright on the edge, she puts a finger left and right under the thin fabric of her bikini bottom and, one by one, puts each buttock back in its assigned place. It's the last piece of white skin she shows me. Then she dives into the pool and swims diagonally to the changing room. There, on the shore, she lays down like an accomplished model. En-profile she rubs the water off her legs. She stands up, waves with her long blond hair goodbye, and is gone. I think I should get out...

When I put on my shoes a little later she walks by. Now fully dressed and returned to an ordinary girl. But, still, very beautiful. She smiles back. I'll be here again tomorrow, same time. Two to four. And if she's not there? Then again in the evening... Sigh.

Cycling on clouds of love I pedal towards the campsite. In all the excitement I completely forget to visit the doctor. We'll do that tomorrow. Back on Earth, I check with the tourist office to see if my plans for Sunday match the bus schedule. It is quite a puzzle, which is mainly caused by my hopelessly bad pronunciation of Reyðarfjorður, the place I want to cycle to take the bus to (it is also pronounced completely unintelligibly) Höfn. I pronounced it Hofn, a logical thought. But it turns out to be an exclamation from a Gill de La Tourette patient stuck in an epileptic fit. “Hop.” And then to really do it right, you have to get a good poke between your ribs while pronouncing. “Hop!” And Reyðarfjörður? Well, not as Raidarfjordur. But as Raitjharfjdr, stress on the ai and then as if you start the word full of energy but are already exhausted halfway through. This also applies to many Icelandic words. My explanation for this is that probably half of the people have no idea what case conjugation belongs to it and therefore rush to the end of the word as inaudibly as possible.

Höfn turns out to be pronounced as an exclamation from a Gill de La Tourette patient stuck in an epileptic fit. “Hop!”

Anyway, after pointing out the places on a map, the girl behind the counter understands exactly what my intentions are. Since the last edition of Lonely Planet, a number of things have changed. To my disadvantage. Of course, I can cycle to Reyðarfjörður, but there is no direct connection from there to Höfn. This ensures that I cannot cover this distance in one day. Unless I take the bus back to Egilsstaðir to take the bus to Höfn from here. Then why go to Reyðarfjörður? To be honest I don't really remember why I wanted to go to Reyðarfjörður. I decide on the spot to take the bus to Höfn on Sunday. Which gives me an extra rest day later on, or it gives me the opportunity to make an extra trip between Hveragerði and Reykjavík. I'm thinking Geysir, Gullfoss, or something else. I grab all my maps and travel books and walk over to the Grill. It's seven o'clock, time for a cheap meal. The extensive menu offers a deceptive variety. On closer inspection, it turns out to be countless variations on three things: hamburger, pizza, or chicken. I'll take the cheapest burger they have. While waiting for the girl to call my just given number, I walk to a table. 284. What is 284 again in Icelandic? Twohundradogaugtatiufjoris or something close to that. I believe.

I open the map book on the page between Hveragerði and Reykjavik. What is possible with one extra day? Geysir and Gullfoss appear to be too far away and besides, I've been there before. My eye drifts to the left, the Reykjaness Peninsula. What if I cycle from Hveragerði towards Grinðavík? I startle, twohundradogaugta-something. Augta-what? A man raises his arm, the girl approaches him with the plate. OK, where was I? Grinðavík. If I do that, I can visit the Blue Lagoon on the last cycling day. That would be a worthy ending to all my pool visits. A short hour of splashing in this spa bath. Not a bad idea, not a bad idea at all. Especially not because my very first day in Iceland, three years ago, also started with this. I count the kilometers, Grinðavík is 78 kilometers away from Hveragerði. And Reykjavik is located at a distance of about 60 kilometers via the Blue Lagoon.

“Tvohundradogaugtatiufjoris,” the restaurant blares. "YES!" a little too enthusiastic about my own numerical knowledge.

“Tvohundradogaugtatiufjoris,” the restaurant blares. "YES!" a little too enthusiastic about my own numerical knowledge, I wave to the girl. Ah, a nice piece of meat. Tasty. With way too big greedy bites I eat the hamburger in less than 5 minutes. Fortunately, some fries remain to give me some notion that I am still eating. Chip by chip I realize that I'm secretly already counting down the days to Reykjavik, 15 more. It's going fast now!

Based on the weather forecast, the next few days should give me a lot of rain. The south coast is notorious for bad weather and many storms. But on the other hand, Egilsstaðir is also known for its thick fog and heavy rainfall, and that is hardly the case. I'm guessing it's about 20 degrees during the day! I draw the roads of the past few days on a free map that I brought with me from the tourist office. Dotted lines for the bus and thick black lines for the bicycle. All in all, it is an impressive whole if I do say so myself. I look forward to closing the circle.

Sandstorm-ravaged black sand plains and countless glacier tongues still await me. When I made this plan a year or so ago, I said it would be the trip of a lifetime. The first day I thought it would be the end of my life. And now I think it's just the beginning.


+0 km


day 36 — July 18, 2003

An Icelandic man parades back and forth proudly showing off his big bell. He has just folded up his pop-up camper. Maybe it will be a bit quieter tonight. But there are still enough left, moreover, the weekend is approaching and the Icelander is crazy about camping. Don't blame them.

The long-delayed doctor's visit should finally happen today. With my insurance card in my pocket, I cycle to the hospital. As in many government buildings, shoes must be taken off at the door. Upon socks, I walk to the counter. "The doctor will be right there." He's a young guy, blond, blue eyes and a big confidence-inspiring smile. I tell him that I am cycling here and about the pain in my ankle. I must be the umpteenth person to come along with this complaint because he immediately knows what is wrong with it. Due to the many movements of the joint, it has become rough and inflamed. I receive a prescription for the purchase of a large jar of extra heavy Ibuprofen. I have to take them three times a day and always after meals otherwise they burn right through my stomach. If I continue to suffer a lot, I can also take them four times a day, but do I then also have to eat four times a day?

Due to the many movements of the joint, it has become rough and inflamed. I receive a prescription.

He does say that it's a good thing I didn't continue cycling because then the inflammation could indeed cause permanent injury. We shake hands and without further exchange of papers or money, I walk out of the hospital. I pick up the jar at the pharmacy, pay for the pills, and, relieved, cycle onto the swimming pool. It's almost two o'clock!

A quick look around the pool makes me realise she's not there. Only families. Disappointed I sink into the hotpot. Fortunately, a boy sitting next to me starts to chat. He is Danish, but originally Icelandic. It's strange how quickly you find yourself talking to some people here. And I'm not talking about conversations about the weather and where are you from and where are you going. No, you really get to know them. So through our professions (it turns out we both work in the graphic industry, I as a designer and he as a printer), we arrive at the fact that he is dyslexic. He used to be bullied a lot and was the dumbest in the class. It was not until puberty that they determined that he was word blind. And right now he's doing everything he can to fight it. He reads books and takes lessons. Like a maniac! Completely by accident and without any insistence on my part, the subject of 'Icelandic girls' suddenly comes up. I tell him about yesterday.

The door swings open and my girl walks up to me as if bathed in sunlight. "There she is, the pretty girl is here again!"

Exactly at that moment the door of the women's changing room swings open and my girl walks up to me as if bathed in sunlight. "There she is, the pretty girl is here again!" His sobering response is, "I think she's only just 20." So what. What does it matter? I don't care, she's pretty, period. Underwater she swims obliquely to the sunbath. Once there, she appears to be here with her mother. No open flirting this time, everything remains neatly hidden under the water. I get up at five o'clock.

When I arrive at the tent, my new French neighbor tries to strike up a conversation with me again. The sentences come at me in a disjointed jumble of English words. My answers in English proved to be too difficult to understand. He looks at his wife, who translates my answers into French. He asks a second question... God, I don't want to be a part of this. These kinds of conversations are not conversations, but rather a series of tiresome misunderstandings. He complains about everything. The bus to Snæfell is too expensive, the girls at the tourist office don't understand him (I wonder why that is), the showers are too expensive, the weather too hot, and the campsite too noisy.

This is already his sixth time here. Apparently, he comes back every year so he can complain about it.

When I conclude that he doesn't seem to like Iceland at all, he looks at me in surprise. This is already his sixth time here. Apparently, he comes back every year so he can complain about it. I grab my gas burner and head to the gas station to refuel. And also immediately spray the dust from the past few days off my bike with the high-pressure cleaner. So, we are ready for the remaining travel days. My bike is proudly shining and the burner, thanks to the fresh fuel, boils my pan of water within a few seconds. It's pasta time! When the food is gone and the dishes are done I stock up on a new supply of food that should last me through the next four or five days. After a little nap in my tent, I walk to the grill for a cup of coffee.

I am very curious about tomorrow's bus excursion. We will leave at 9:30 am and will not return until 8:00 pm. All the while we will travel through a landscape that will be completely destroyed in four years' time.


+0 km



day 37 — July 19, 2003

I am the only foreigner in a bus full of Icelanders, this also applies to the woman who provides commentary on this tour... Icelandic commentary! The urge to have to learn this language bubbles up in me once again. Our hostess apologizes profusely for her more than poor English but reassures me that if there's anything I want to know, "I should ask." She also mentions, through the universal gesture for photography (a bending index finger), that if someone wants to take a picture we can stop at any time. “You just have to ask.”

Our first stop is at the Landsvirkjun information center, the power plant responsible for the destruction. Kárahnjúkar is a complex project with many varying interests. It is clear that almost only the positive side is highlighted here. In 2007, this hydroelectric power station under construction will provide energy to a new aluminum smelter near Reyðarfjörður. Because Iceland can generate electricity fairly cheaply, it is an interesting country for these energy-guzzling factories. Bauxite, the raw material for aluminum, is even imported for it. And Iceland is eager to provide housing for these foreign factories, especially in the unemployment-ridden Eastfjords. Thousands of people are now finding work in the construction of the power station and soon thousands more will get a job in the factory, or at least that is the promise. For now, it appears that mainly cheap foreign workers work at the plant, only about 20% of the workforce is Icelandic.

In his Landsvirkjnun-colored reality, the disappearing land has little importance.

The construction of the power station has generated o lot of protest. Most of it comes from the city folks in Reykjavík. The water reservoir that will be created behind the dam will cover an area of 57 square kilometers over a length of 25 kilometers! This is Iceland's largest construction project ever. The dam will be 190 meters high and will have a total length of three kilometers. When asked, the information center guide tells us that in his Landsvirkjnun-colored reality, the disappearing land has little importance. When I talk about blocking the route the reindeer take on their way to the area where they calve every year, he already has his answer ready. "They'll probably just swim over." It is a possibility, be it a very slim one. When the group of Icelanders has had enough, he starts the English video presentation, especially for me. When I walk outside the Icelanders appear to have waited patiently in the sun for me. I thank them for their patience.

We get in and continue, that is we go back a little bit first. Here a new road leads us over the mountains. Our tour guide/driver starts the climb ambitiously, but after about 100 meters the van reverses faster than it moves forward. We turn around. The bus is being parked along the road and we transfer to a larger four-wheel drive bus driven by her husband. We drive up the mountain. The road is so new that it is actually still under construction. The trucks with gravel drive back and forth. The yellow roadwork monster that I hate so much is also present. There is only something now that makes him a lot more pleasant. The driver behind the wheel is a woman, turns out she is the daughter of our tour guides. The entire bus waves to her. A beautiful tough girl with a dusty dirty face waved back.

The bus drives through a beautiful landscape with beautiful volcanoes. We drive through the domain of Snæfell.

Further up the mountain we pass three cyclists. My alternative plan was once, in a naive past, to cycle here too. Fortunately, I was not tempted to do so. It is an impossible road. I see the three cyclists crawl up, fighting the steep climb and the clouds of dust. Full of admiration and at the same time declaring them completely crazy, the passengers look at them. Next to me, on the other side of the aisle, sits an Icelandic woman with her granddaughter. She asks if she should translate a few things for me. Excited by this offer, I say yes please, and nod vigorously. She says that she used to be a guide and in that capacity, she has also seen quite a bit of the world. Her English is perfect and she even translates the silly jokes that the tour guide makes. Out of courtesy for the translation, I laugh along. I noticed that the Icelanders have a corny sense of humor, where jokes at the expense of the opposite sex are not shunned. Meanwhile, the bus drives through a beautiful landscape with beautiful volcanoes. We drive through the domain of Snæfell. A beautiful snow-capped dormant volcano. The wise people who know Iceland's nature warns that all this building activity in Snæfell's realm might make her angry as if talking about a primeval mother. And when she's angry, she spews lava. A warned person counts for two.

I've been pinching for a photo stop for a few minutes now. If the bus has forded a river with the necessary caution, I can't hold it anymore. Photo stop? We'll stop right away. At first, I still feel guilty that I am so emphatically playing the tourist. But, when I see that one by one all the other passengers also grab their cameras, it turns out that everyone was waiting for that tourist to open his mouth. The cheeky Dutchman apparently has to take the initiative.

After driving for about five minutes, we see a large herd of reindeer passing by. According to our guide a rarity here, so far from the real interior. It is not unlikely that the current work has already affected the grazing routes of the herds. When all binoculars are put away we arrive at a cabin at the foot of the mighty mountain Snæfell. Our driving couple conjures up a packed lunch for everyone from the cool box. The flag is at half-mast on the flagpole here at the cabin. Inquiries tell me that it has been hanging here at half-mast since the work started. This hut was also the center of many demonstrations during the decision-making process of this damn project.

After lunch we drive on very bad roads into the Kárahnjúkar area. The roads are so bad that the bus even has a flat tire on it. While enjoying a cup of tea brought by the guide, we consider the fate of the driver. Lots of Icelandic words are thrown back and forth, which in turn leads to lots of laughter. The joke and the punchline elude me completely, but it's a pleasant sight. It looks as if this group has been on the road together for days. There is a real bond and people treat each other like good old friends. Long live the community mind of the Icelanders!

With a new wheel under the bus we drive on and after an hour we arrive at a mountain that will end up between two dams in a few years. To the left of the mountain, small yellow cars drive back and forth. A tiny plane also lands there. It all looks very innocent and reminds me of the sugar constructions of the Doers in Fraggle Rock. Nothing could be further from the truth. We're walking up a big mountain, Sandfell. Now a mountain, it will become an island that rises only a few meters above the water. With all my imagination I can't fathom the newly created landscape.

During the climb I ask my fellow passengers for their opinion. Almost everyone is in favor. The promise of employment appears to be the decisive point. One person really surprises me with his reasoning. He is happy with this project; “Now there are roads through this area before you could not come here.” Apparently the reason can't be stupid enough. Thanks to the roads that are here to be able to erase this landscape forever, we can see it. I guess it is okay if something gets destroyed, as long as you have seen it first." I give up, you can't fight against such logic. Only my interpreter maintains her position that the decisions were made much too quickly. My biggest fear is that this might open the door to more nature-destroying ventures. The beginning of the end! On top of the island in the making, dark storm clouds are drifting toward us. Thunderstorms are a rarity in Iceland, to be honest, I thought it never happened here. Mother Nature issues a warning. The Icelanders react somewhat unaccustomed to this violence. At first, they doubt whether it is the thunder or the dynamite that construction workers use to pulverize centuries-old rock walls. It's a bad sign if you can no longer tell the difference between natural force and the destructive force of mankind. When I look around I try to take in the greatness of this country. If one day I might be standing here again, it will be in a completely different landscape. I close my eyes. It hurts.

We walk back to the bus and drive on. Everywhere there are signs indicating that we are driving in prohibited areas and we are warned of the risk of explosion. We cross the river via a new bridge. A German camera crew is waiting for us on the other side. Here they make a documentary about the energy drive of the Icelanders. A few group members willingly speak to the interviewer. As a Dutchman, I understand all too well how proud people can be of conquering nature. We have driven the sea out of our country by means of dikes, dams, pumps, windmills, and locks. We are proud of the Delta works, proud of the Afsluitdijk. Our land, neatly divided by ditches, has little to do with nature. Isn't it wonderful, the way we managed to organize all that nature? The Netherlands is a neatly arranged catalog of nature simulations.

Our guide says that there is a mark further on to indicate how high the water will reach. The bus climbs up the crumbling road. Higher, higher, higher. Still no mark. We go higher and higher. I look to my right into the immeasurable depths. All this, all gone. Then, when we can hardly climb any further, there is a signpost. “Until here,” she says proudly. My stomach turns. This is not good! I turn white and feel tears burning in my eyes. Iceland claims its innocence.

We turn right and drive parallel to the battlefield. We stop a little past the point where the dam will come. From here we walk to Hafrahvammar. This is a meandering gorge carved by the river, meters deep. The work of thousands of years of continuous flow of water. Thousands of years, until 2007! Then there is a dam, that will block the flow of the river for good. The water level will drop drastically here until only a small stream will flow. The roughness of the rocks is magnificent. I am undeniably lucky to have seen all this, almost untouched. It is breathtaking and deeply moving. Where should I go if even here nature is already disappearing? We drive on in silence.

For refreshment we stop at a small warm waterfall. Our cheerful Icelandic guide tries to convince us to take off our clothes and take a waterfall shower. "Come on!" For some reason, she mainly thinks I can be persuaded. In fact, she's right, but an inhibiting amount of common sense and the approaching evening cold keep me from doing so. As a final point of persuasion, she herself sets a good example. She stripped down to her underwear. There she is. I estimate her to be 1.50 tall with a weight between 70 to 80 kilos, to put it tactfully, she does not have the ideal measurements. Dressed only in a white bra and ditto panties that almost completely disappear between the rolls of fat, she steps under the waterfall without hesitation. A passenger with apparently just as little gene records the whole story with a video camera for posterity. It is a far cry from the pool girl. I scramble back to the bus. The bus driver (her husband) runs past me, in swimming trunks. Apparently, he changed clothes very quickly in the bus. I find it difficult to reconcile, being able to enjoy beautiful nature so fully and at the same time have no objection to the large-scale destruction of it. After ten minutes, the couple returns from their hot bath, more in love than ever. Stupid Dutchman that I am, of course, I should have undressed immediately.

Before we arrive in Egilssatðir, one last stop awaits us. A shabby petting zoo has been set up near a small house. In a dilapidated barn, a reindeer with big brown eyes and eyelashes that are meters long is staring at us very sadly. The urban Reykjavik people love it, it only makes me feel more sad. During the last kilometers to Egilsstaðir the weather does its best to accommodate my mood, thick grey fog surrounds the bus. It's the only kind of weather we haven't had today.

At a little after eight we roll into the parking lot. After dumping my stuff at the tent I walk to the grill. Time for a burger and a nice hot cup of comfort. At half past ten, I waddle back to the tent, tired but satisfied. Packing up tomorrow, doing some shopping, and maybe one last visit to the swimming pool before catching the two o'clock bus to Höfn. Hop!


+215 km



day 38 — July 20, 2003

Ah, I slept very well. I get up at ten o'clock, have a shave, and ask what time the swimming pool opens today (Sunday). "Ten o'clock, he's fine." I walk back to the tent and grab some stuff, roll up the sleeping bag, and go to the swimming pool at half past 11. Until 12 o'clock I float around in this pool for the last time. The perfect farewell to four wonderful days at Egilsstaðir.

On the way to the campsite I quickly walk into the supermarket. I need to buy energy bars. The four boxes of six bars each that I brought from home are gone. These bars are an important source of perseverance for me. On a cycling day, I eat at least one, usually somewhere between lunch and noon, when I really need some extra energy. At home, I have done extensive testing of all the thousands of types of energy bars that are available. Soft fiber-rich, sweet sticky, biscuit-like, or bread-like. The chocolate versions were already dropped in advance due to the danger of melting. My preference fell for a firm, non-soggy bar full of hazelnuts. Very tasty and the nuts give you the idea that you really have something to eat. Whether it literally gives me energy remains to be seen, but it has given me enough courage to continue on bad days. In short, an important travel companion. I scan the shelves looking for a sensible alternative. It's not easy. The Icelanders have a clear preference for chocolate. All cookies are either dipped in chocolate or wrapped around a piece of chocolate. I have never seen such a huge variety of 'Pennie Waffles'. They are called Prince Polo here. They come in all shapes and sizes, but all are surrounded by a very sweet layer of milk chocolate. I can't find a good replacement for my bars, hopefully I'll have better luck in Höfn. It's time to pack my last things and roll up the tent. At one o'clock I drink a cup of coffee at the tourist office, the bus leaves in an hour.

First the minibus to Myvatn enters the parking lot. In a matter of seconds, it is completely full. It is clear that I am in the middle of peak season. It's a good thing I don't have to go there, there is absolutely no room for any bike. My bus has also arrived. It is twice the size of the one to Myvatn and only seven people are in it. A young French couple, two older Australians, and two Italian lesbians (I'm guessing, they could also be two Portuguese lesbians). The bus ride to Höfn costs an incredible 5300 kroner (€ 65) but it is a 246-kilometer ride and should also be my last distance by bus. The start of the last leg, the South Coast.

As a tourist service, the bus driver puts on a CD that explains the landscape we pass. It is important here that he must start and stop it at the right times. Something that already makes me giggle in advance. We leave Egilsstaðir on Road 1 towards the coast. Via a mountain pass, we drive into a beautiful valley with a perfect U-shape. It's impossible to pinpoint where the ground ends and the mountains begin, they merge so smoothly. I wanted to cycle here. Now we race past it and I can't even stop for a photo. But on the other hand, if I had cycled according to the original plan I would have come from Reyðarfjöður and would not have even seen a blade of grass of it. So this bus ride is not that bad.

Our first stop is Breiðavík, a town like so many. Harbor, church, school, and the inevitable multicolored corrugated iron houses. It does have a beautiful mountain range behind it, which clearly shows that it is being pushed up from the earth. Like the annual rings of a tree, you can see the veined layers of alternating material slanting up the entire length of the mountain wall. They represent billions of years of volcanic eruptions. Completely against any tourist trend, I think the East Fjords are more beautiful than the ones on the west side. Because they are still relatively young compared to the Westfjords, they are also rougher. The years of wind and rain have not yet worn away the sharp edges. But at the same time, I have to say that also here you have seen it after two or three fjords.

On the way to our next stop (Djúpivogur) the country begins to shroud itself in a blanket of fog. Beyond Djúpivogur, which is fully interchangeable with Breiðavík, the landscape changes. The mountain ranges that have been pushed out of the ground are now surrounded by mountains of gravel. As if a mythical figure has emptied his pockets full of dust and sand. Only at the very top is a single basalt column peeping out of the gravel. These gravel mountains look like they could collapse at any moment, it is a mystery, here halfway up the gravel hill, why the road does not slide down. on top viewpoint Hvalnes the bus stops for a photo opportunity. Or rather a moment for the bus driver to light up a cigarette. There is a large information board on which each mountain and each glacier tongue is indicated. I stare into the grey mist. Glacier tongues? I can't even see my own tongue.

When we drive on again, our faithful tour guide on CD gives up. The CD dances in an endless circle over one word. I already had a hard time holding in my laughter, but now I really can't contain it anymore. The bus driver tries with all his might, with one hand on the steering wheel and another on the buttons of the CD player, to free our stuttering tour guide from his misery. Meanwhile, I start to giggle incessantly. I try to hold it back, but as soon as the bus driver makes another attempt to start the CD, I'm lose it. Meanwhile, the bus swings dangerously from side to side on the dirt road. He doesn't seem to be able to choose between crashing into one of the gravel heaps on the right or making a long drop-down on the left. The French couple is now also starting to laugh. The bus driver is getting more and more annoyed. After one last attempt, he finally puts the stutterer out of its misery. He takes the CD out of the player, takes a good look at it, and decides to return his attention to the road. I wipe the tears of laughter from my eyes. Meanwhile, we turn left and drive the last kilometers to Höfn. This is the signal for the bus driver to try the CD one more time. Our beloved CD guide has conquered his nerves and is talking again. “I hope you had a pleasant journey and I wish you a pleasant stay in Höfn.” The bus driver looks proudly in his rear-view mirror. The entire bus gives him heartfelt applause.

We stop at the campsite, I check in and immediately ask the most important thing.
“What time does the pool close?”
"Half past seven."
“What time does it open tomorrow?”
"Seven o'clock."

Today I won't make it anymore, so tomorrow I'll have to take a splash before I leave. During dinner, I appear to be in the company of four Dutchmen at the campsite hotplates. Two young couples traveled through Þórsmörk together. They are still full of all the impressions of the past few days. When the well-known pasta has been eaten again, I walk into town. Looking for a supermarket and a pay phone. Höfn turns out not really to be 'the place to be'. All supermarkets are closed and the only telephone box I can find is destroyed. And to make matters worse, there is not even a grill at the gas station. Half past eight, what shall I do? For my evening ritual of coffee and writing, I resort to a restaurant. It takes a while for the waitress to notice me. Only when I start waving my arms like a possessed man does someone come up with the idea to ask if I might want something from them? There are Dutch people here too, apparently, there is no escaping it. When the day has been scribbled down again I walk back to my tent.

Tomorrow will be a nice cycling day. The moment I close the zipper of the tent behind me, it starts to rain. Wonderful, nothing lulls you to sleep like the rhythm of the rain on the tight canvas.


+185 km



day 39 — July 21, 2003

It is a very hectic morning, everyone is packing their tent. The early bus to Reykjavík or to Egilsstaðir awaits them. I have time and go to the pool first. It is surprisingly well supplied with three hotpots, a still one, one with bubbles, and one with a water jet. I give myself three-quarters of an hour. At about nine o'clock I am walking through the aisles of the local supermarket. Looking for energy bars. First I look at the cookie shelf. A thousand and one chocolate-dipped creations, but no bars. I look further, between the candy. No result. Then the breakfast products follow. Between the family packs of Cornflakes, I see the exact same bars as I brought from home! So far I haven't seen them anywhere and here in this hole of a town, just on the day I run out, they have them. Luck sure is on my side.

I'm not so lucky with the weather. The morning fog seems to have the ambition to stick around all day. I leave Höfn with my gaze fixed on the grey matter in front of me. I can't see anything of the bay in which Höfn is located, but I'm happy because I am cycling again! These past few days of rest have done me good and although my ankle may still be swollen, the cycling is going well and the pain is a lot less. I cycle past Nesjahverfi, what looks like a little town on the map, is in reality no more than a gas station with a supermarket and telephone box.

Road number 1 is nice and quiet. The straight road cuts through a Dutch-like landscape. A polder with puddles and many birds. There is a frightening silence. At any moment, a meter-tall troll could come trotting towards me at full speed from out of the grey sludge, ready to crush me with one swing of his wooden club. The bridge over Homafjarðarfljót enhances this sense of myths. The fast-flowing steaming water turns the surrounding small hills into islands that seem to float a meter above the water. The fog makes this ride truly enchanting.

My odometer rolls onto number 950. The magical 1000-kilometer point is approaching. The road continues through the lowlands. The ocean should be on the left and the mountains on the right, with one after the other glacier tongue in between. I see nothing, only fog. Left and right, fog.

Suddenly Deus seems to blow the mist aside and the sun sheds some rays on a glacier tongue. The Fláajökull exposes itself briefly. Like the white train of a silk wedding dress, it drapes itself between two mountains. A few meters further I cycle past the next glacier tongue, I can almost touch it. This time there is no kind god to push aside the grey curtain for me. The only thing I notice is an icy cold wind. The flat land is now making room for mountains. The place for the night has been reached, Vagnsstaðir. It's two o'clock and I've covered 55 kilometers. I am considering cycling onwards. If you had suggested this to me on day one I would have thought you were crazy. “Cycling on, just the thought!” But today I want to move on. On the information sign at a parking lot, I look for the next point of accommodation. Fifteen kilometers away is sleeping bag accommodation Gerði. That should bring my daily distance to 77 kilometers. Then tomorrow I do 69 kilometers to Skaftafell. And just like that I am suddenly one day ahead of schedule, in other words, this gives me one extra day in Skaftafell national park. Proud of my own almost inexhaustible source of energy I continue cycling. On to Gerði. The road continues sliding up and over small hills.

A negligible sign points to the left. A vague symbol makes me suspect that this is pointing to the guesthouse. I turn left and let myself roll down the mountain on a farm road. I ring the bell at the farm. “Guesthouse Gerði?” Turns out I was right. He walks with me to a house next door, it is under construction. Once inside, only the top floor appears to be under construction. The whole house is fully booked, but for a bargain price, I get two mattresses behind the couch. For now, I still have the house to myself. I decide to run the bath before my roommates arrive.

I'm glad I continued cycling, long live the luxury of a guesthouse. After the bath, I plop down on the couch. I look up the weather forecast on Teletext. Rain tomorrow, after that, it will get better. The weather in Iceland is a relative thing. How can you predict the weather when it can change from minute to minute? Half the time I can't even say what the weather has been like, let alone tell what it's going to be like. Well, as long as the low clouds lift tomorrow, I think it's gonna be all right. Tomorrow there are two big photo opportunities on the schedule. Jökulsárlón, a glacial lake full of icebergs, and Öræfajökull, Iceland's the highest mountain. Jökulsárlón is in any kind of weather beautiful, but I doubt if I will see the top of Öræfajökull.

Via the teletext pages I automatically end up in the middle of a vague television program. The TV is an important part of my Dutch life. I now find myself missing it a bit. The TV can blank your mind like nothing else. Even now I stare at the screen without taking in any of it. After all the days filled with beautiful views, it is nice to have your eyes out of focus. I dream away and think about my upcoming days in Reykjavík. A soft bed, a private room, a chair, and all that in the middle of a big city. Sit on the terrace and simply lounge around. for 11 more days. Lost in these pleasant thoughts, the guests trickle in. Fortunately, it is not one big group but three small ones. The first to walk in is an Icelandic family. She speaks English with a beautiful Icelandic accent. Rolling r's with a consistent emphasis on the first vowel, as if each sentence were a question. An endearing enthusiastic-sounding accent. While her husband is lugging suitcases, she sits down next to me on the couch. Slowly I melt away. After the well-known questions (where are you from, where are you going, where have you been) we also talk about Iceland in general. She (Anna) lives in Reykjavík but was born in a small village just beyond Stykkishólmur. When I tell Anna about my boring stay in Stykkishólmur, she has to laugh. She recognized my experience. “Back then, as a kid, I thought it was a boring place.” Her chuckling laugh is infatuating. The three of us (me, Anna, and the baby Einar) are sitting on the couch watching TV. Einar sleeps. Meanwhile, three Frenchmen have also entered. They sleep in the room next to the living room. They just said hello and otherwise they are very much on their own. Anna and I are watching the late movie, some semi-comedy courtroom type of thing with Deborah Winger. I feel I suddenly am having the ideal family, here on the couch with my Icelandic wife while the little one has fallen asleep between us. I am rudely woken up from this dream by the French. They want to go to sleep and the TV bothers them. I say nothing, but it can't be a coincidence that they are French. Anyways, off and to bed. It's half past twelve.


+70 km



day 40 — July 22, 2003

I slept really well. Soft mattresses do wonders for tired bones. The French wake me up at seven. One of them talks from the bedroom to someone who is busy in the kitchen. When she doesn't understand, he repeats himself screaming. With half my sleeping bag stuffed in my ears, I make a failed attempt not to have to hear them. French, argh! I regret to not having kept on watching TV last night.

At eight o'clock I give up my fight. I load my stuff on the bike and say goodbye to Anna, her husband, and Einar. When I'm ready to throw my leg over the saddle, I suddenly see glacier tongues behind the guesthouse. It's a strange sensation, yesterday there was nothing to see at all and so, in my head, they didn't exist. And now they lie there as a confirmation of the fact that they have always been here. It is clear to me, I am in Glacier Country, and for the rest of the day, there will be a glacier in my field of view every second of the way. I cycle away on the long straight flat road.

After seven kilometers I celebrate a small intimate party. There are 1000 kilometers on the clock! I eat an energy bar and drink half a water bottle. It's crazy. After all this wildness, I cycle on slightly high sugar.

Despite me cycling twenty kilometers per hour, I just don't seem to be moving. The road disappears into a point on the horizon, endless far. Suddenly. Iceberg, straight ahead! The road makes a small bend and there it is. One of the country's main tourist attractions, Jökulsárlón. If you forget all the tourist misery (eight parked buses, tourist shops, and boats that sail every minute) it meets all expectations. This glacial lake is packed with icebergs. Icebergs as big as a house. There are completely transparent, bright blue, black stripes from volcanic ash or virgin white. All beautiful. The uniform grey sky changes the image into an almost mono-coloured picture. Partly because of these almost black-and-white images, timeless tranquility emanates from it all. Fortunately, to let the peace and tranquillity work in on me, the tourist violence is quite easy to avoid. Tip one: don't go to the toilet here. There is currently a row of three meters. Tip two: walk past the tour boats up the first mountain. Follow these directions and you'll leave all bus tourists behind for good. If you also conquer the second mountain, you can be sure that you can enjoy this place all by yourself. After all, no American bus traveler is able to climb the second mountain, because that nationality in particular is dropped here in busloads. They do Iceland in one day, it is no more than a plane stopover, Jökulsárlón, Geysir, and Gullfoss. And that's it.

In my cycling shorts and fleece jacket I'm the odd man out. All day I see people wearing a thick, brightly colored winter jacket and long windproof trousers. The vast majority have even added a scarf, gloves, and a hat to this uniform. And everything looks as if they bought it, especially for this holiday, I swear I still see some price tags here and there.

After a short walk along the edge of this beautiful lake, I go on again. It gives me a great feeling to cycle away from here solo, under my own power. I taste my freedom. The road continues to point in a straight line to the horizon. I am now heading straight for the highest mountain in the country. It's an immense sight. Öræfajökull punctures the clouds. The sun breaks through and reveals its beauty. After being able to enjoy the top of Snæfellsnesjökull for days at Snæfellsnes, luck has stayed with me. This top also rarely exposes itself. It's unbelievable when you consider that I only had a few meters of vision yesterday. The Icelandic weather, you have to love it. The glacier-topped mountain is of breathtaking beauty that seems to swallow up the road.

On the advice of the Lonely Planet I leave the road for a short trip to another glacial lake, Breiðárlón. My bike rattles on the unpaved farm road. The pedaling is tough, I just hope it's worth the detour. After eight hard kilometers I'm there. A small glacial lake with not one iceberg... god damn it. Frustrated, I cycle back. Stupid Lonely Planet with their stupid tips. After 16 unnecessary kilometers, I am back on the asphalt.

Four kilometers further, another sign points to a lake, this time it is Fjallsárlón. What to do? A small bus turns right. That must be meaning something. I decide to leave the 1 again. After two kilometers I am standing for the third time today at the edge of a glacial lake. This time my detour is rewarded, there are icebergs. It is a small lake, but that does not make it less beautiful. I grab my sandwiches and a water bottle and, sitting on a stone, enjoy it quietly. There are no large groups of tourists here. In total, there are eight people around. In the silence, you can hear the cracks and pops from the glacier.

Satisfied, I return to the ring road that now leads me around the Öræfajökull through a hilly landscape. It is a pleasant change from the long straight course of the last hours. Once on the other side of the mountain, the road remains flat. Still, there is something. It seems like my wheels are rubbing against something. Or do I have a puncture? Headwind? When I look back it is clear, false flat! The road goes up ever so slightly, invisible but clearly tangible.

Today's ride should be 68 kilometers. But due to the two glacier trips of a joint 20 kilometers, it will be 88, which is a new day record. I stop at the side road to Swinafell. A swimming pool! I doubt whether it is not wiser to continue cycling. It's already half past four and I still have about ten kilometers left. I refer to the Lonely Planet for opening times. They speak of a complex and it is open. Let's go then. To call it a complex is a bit of an exaggeration. These are a number of linked building blocks, which serve as a changing room, next to which are a round swimming pool and two tiny, single-person hotpots. The hotpots are lukewarm and only half filled with water. The round pool is also far from convenient. How do you swim a lap in a round swimming pool? An additional disadvantage is that there is a tour group from Askja Reizen, Dutch! I remember what traveling in a group means: trying with all your might to create a group feeling. Often against better judgment. There's one man parading around the pool like he's the lifeguard. A great know-it-all and all-rounder. Undoubtedly, he used to be top of the class in gym class and is now a complete failure in life. During an innocent fling, what he thought would be a one-night stand became pregnant, which resulted in him becoming a father at the age of twenty and having to provide a basic income. After some jobs in different factories, he finally became what he is today. Chief maintenance. His colleagues poke fun at him. Their harsh jokes are not understood by him, regardless he laughs along with them. From my hotpot, I made up his whole life together. I wouldn't be surprised if I'm not far from the truth. No, rather by bike. Solo, you experience a country better.

Another ten kilometers to Skaftafell. During the last kilometers, it starts to rain. And when I cycle to the campsite, it comes pouring down from heaven. I will be here for three nights. Skaftafell is a large national park. In addition to the usual foreign tourists, who come here for the glacier and the Svartifoss waterfall, many Icelanders also come here. They came here because of the many hiking trails over the tree-covered mountainside, because nothing makes an Icelander feel more like they are having a holiday than a group of forest-sized trees. Right at the entrance it is already clear that I am dealing with a well-organized campsite. There is a large information center selling every imaginable souvenir. Next to it is the supermarket with a restaurant, my place for the coming evenings. After paying for the overnight stay I enter the supermarket. I don't know what it is, but during these bike rides I crave sweets more and more. I buy a huge roll of those double cookies with a white vanilla cream layer in between. Like a pregnant woman with a jar of pickles, I gobble down one after the other. When the rain stops I hurry to a suitable place to pitch the tent. I manage to put it up in between rain showers. While I push the last peg into the ground, the following rain clouds start to dump their load again. It's just past nine, I'm tired from the many miles. Sleep.


+88 km


day 41 — July 23, 2003

Nine more days to Reykjavík! Oddly enough, I don't long for home. Of course, I miss the conversations with my parents and Alexander and the laughter at work. But not my own proud city. I don't miss my beautiful cube house in the heart of Rotterdam. I long for luxury, soft beds, the TV, the cinema, and shops. But I don't want to give up on the pools and the Icelanders. I long for Reykjavík.

I'm lying in my tent, recovering from yesterday's ride. The sun is shining and my tent seems to be surrounded by a fireball of light. At half past 9 I get up and take a shower, shave myself, brush my teeth, I am looking representable again. I even give my dirty clothes a scrub. Everything including myself is radiantly clean. I go and walk to the tourist shop to look for a hiking map of the National Park. The man behind the counter can't offer me more than a ridiculous photocopy for 50 ISK. Stupid enough I buy it. Totally useless, the little map on the Lonely Planet has even more detail. I leave with a full backpack (jacket, fleece, drinks, food, camera...). First a friendly visit to the Skaftafjell glacier. The walking path appears to be tarmacked for some weird reason. After driving hundreds of kilometers over dirt roads, it seems to me that the asphalt has a more important task to fulfill elsewhere. Odd. I might as well have gone by bike.

After walking 1,5 kilometers on this misplaced luxury I find myself at the foot of the glacier. The Skaftafellsjokull is a shrinking glacier. Incidentally, this is not caused by the greenhouse effect, as many might think, because for reasons that are unclear, the neighboring glacier is growing. As the Skaftafellsjokull shrinks, it reveals more and more land, land that has suffered for years under the heavy weight of the ice mass. There are thousands of frostbitten boulders. A small bump against it will shatter them into thousands of shards. There are beautiful stones, vibrant red (ferruginous), and dusty green (copper-containing) veined giants. I'll take a shard of each. The glacier has little beauty, it is dirty looking from all the volcanic grit that is frozen in the ice.

Skaftafellsjokulls' treasure trove of rocks

After a photo roll full of stones, I walk back and onward to go to the Svartifoss waterfall. It's an easy walk of another 1,5 kilometers that takes you past the Heygotufoss and Magnusarfoss, two silly little waterfalls that get a lot of love from signposts pointing to them. After a little downhill route, the much-discussed Svartifoss can be seen. The jewel of this national park. I think I'm starting to get spoiled with all the waterfalls I have already seen. This waterfall tumbles down from a high ledge consisting of basalt columns. I look at it and think, "well, a waterfall." Okay, admittedly the long shiny black basalt strips are beautiful.

After a minute I walk back. It started to rain softly. When I unzip my tent it stops with light rain. It pours, it looks like a waterfall. I decide to use the time well and walk to the phone booth. It is time to inform the supporters back home about the past few days. I talk to my parents about their own holiday adventure. They went to Andorra, where they lost each other in the capital. My mother managed to find her way back to the hotel on her own (by bus), assuming that my father will do the same. Nothing could be further from the truth. My father continued to roam the streets faithfully in search of his wife. In the meantime, she was waiting for him in the hotel room, full of worries. It was not until the evening that he gave up the search. A moving reunion followed in the hotel lobby. With tears and all. Which once again proves that true love does not perish. Satisfied I hang up the phone, everything is fine at home!

I walk to the restaurant and order a hot cup of coffee. I got some thinking to do. I'm here for one more day and have already seen everything that I wanted to see. I might just as well pack my things tomorrow and move on. But, what possibilities does an extra day offer me? What for destiny can I add to my journey? I grab the map.

What for destiny can I add to my journey? I grab the map.

As I sit here quietly, my table is taken over by France. A group of about eight men squeezes between me and the wall. I am sitting by the heating and that is also the place they have chosen as the ideal spot to dry themselves. They take turns standing against the heater. They bump against my table and push against my chair. Without even a single word or apologetic gesture. I hate the French, their way of ignoring everything and everyone for the sake of France, "viva la France," exudes an unprecedented arrogance. No doubt it's not all meant that way, but in the meantime they're still pushing me for extra space. They surround me, I breathe their breath. I want to breathe Icelandic air! French take their culture with them on holiday, instead of living in the culture of the holiday country. Get out. Let me be in Iceland and not sucked into France. Away, get on your bus! After twenty minutes of pushing and shuffling, they leave.

To celebrate the happy departure I have another cup of coffee. It's half past five and I still haven't found a way to fill up the extra day. I decide to move on if the weather is good and otherwise sit out the bad weather here for another day. Now it is time to cook. I put the burner half under the awning of the tent in the hope that it will in the meantime also heat up the tent. With a full belly and a warm tent, I fall backward on the sleeping bag and take a little nap. Then suddenly I know what I can do! I can go from Hveragerði to Þorlákshöfn and catch the 12 o'clock boat to the Westman Islands. I will arrive there at 3 o'clock, and take the boat back the next morning and cycle on to Grinðavík.

The Westman Islands are definitely worth a visit, although half a day is very short. The boat trip is not cheap, especially for a half-day stay. Maybe not such a good idea after all? Unless I sacrifice the Blue Lagoon for it? That is also a shame, it is just such a beautiful end to the journey. No, that doesn't matter because then I still need two days to arrive in Reykjavík. It was a nice thought. I'm just staying here one more day. It is now pouring like crazy, everything in the tent feels clammy. I actually still have to do the dishes... It's in the awning of the tent, it will remain there till tomorrow.


+0 km


day 42 — July 24, 2003

According to the weather forecast, which is posted on the bulletin board here in the tourist office, a lot of rain is waiting for me. But more importantly, it is almost windless. Since I have to cross three Sandurs (deserts of black volcanic sand) in the coming days, this is of great importance. Every day, before departure, I will have to check the weather to avoid getting caught in a sandstorm. A single sandstorm can completely strip a car of its paint, let alone what it can do to a lost cyclist.

Today's forecast is correct, rain. Lots of rain. I'm hiding in the video room of the tourist center. There is a continuous screening here about the natural disaster that took place here in 1996. On September 29, a new magma-spewing volcano was born deep beneath Vatnajökull. Iceland's largest glacier, an ice cover that is in some places over a kilometer. The heat created a huge lake of meltwater that was trapped under the icecap. This water mass exerted increasing pressure on the ice sheet. Until the moment, on November 5, when the pressure was so high that it lifted the ice cap and 3,000 trillion cubic liters of water poured out from under. This reached a top speed of 50,000 cubic meters per second. It dragged icebergs the size of a block of flats, knocking over the bridges in their path as if they were made of paper. It is an impressive sight to see this devastating tidal wave crash over the road where I will be cycling tomorrow. Imagine you have to be cycling there.

With duct tape I hope to strengthen the side of the tire enough to last for the next eight days, only then will I be in a town where I can buy a new one.

The weather has cleared up and at the tent, I tinker with my bike. I tighten the loosened bolts. Then my eye falls on the rear tire. The 'super strong' Kevlar frays. I suspect that one of the brakes was not completely straight on the rim and must have been wearing it down each time I hit the brakes. With duct tape I hope to strengthen the side of the tire enough to last for the next eight days, only then will I be in a town where I can buy a new one. I also adjust the rear brake a bit. There are two small adjusting screws (one on each side) that, when loosened or tightened, shift the entire brake to the left or right. If I tighten the right screw slightly, it goes wrong. The screw is pushed out of the brake. I look dumbfounded at the screw in my hand. An insignificant little screw causes a huge problem. The spring of the brake is now no longer held back, in other words, my rear brake has firmly clamped onto my rear wheel. What now? In short, I no longer have a rear brake. I sit in the wet grass trying to come up with a solution. Does a three-letter word haunt my head, bus? Not 50 days, not 1500 kilometers? In a brilliant moment of unprecedented technical insight, I realize that it should be possible to put my front brakes on the rear. Cycling without front brakes is less of a problem. Amazed at my own brilliance, I unscrew the brakes and put them against the rear wheel. Carefully I touch the setting screws.

Time for a test run. I cycle to the edge of the glacier and climb over the rocks next to it to get closer to the glacier and to see across it. The views are amazing, but somebody really should clean this thing.

I cycle back to the campsite and hit a few times the break to make sure all is functioning and safe for tomorrow. From the other side of the camping ground, I am being watched by two fellow cyclists who arrived here yesterday. When I cycle past them I have a chat. They come from Poland and take the bus to Reykjavík tomorrow. They offer me their spare tire. Unfortunately, it is a 28-inch tire and I have 26-inch wheels. I thank them anyway. When I take a more extensive test drive on the asphalted footpath to the glacier, I tighten the brake cable a little more for the perfect result. If you didn't know any better you'd think I know what I'm doing!

It is a great relief that I can continue cycling tomorrow. Unbelievable that such a silly little screw can throw so much spanner in the works. All told, it takes another 415 kilometers to reach the next bicycle shop. I park my bike at the tent and start eating dinner for tonight. No pasta this time, but noodles. A welcome change. When I am satisfied with the warm plate on my lap, the rain starts to pour again. After the usual 'early evening nap' I run through the rain to the restaurant. Hidden behind a cup of coffee I go through the plans for the coming days. I have an overnight stay in the wilderness tomorrow. The plan is to go to Nupsstaðarskógar, which is a beautiful gorge. But the road to it is a very bad 4x4 track. Given the state of decomposition, my tire is in, it does not seem wise to risk it. Besides, I'm not quite sure if the road to it actually goes all the way to the gorge. When I came across a brochure of an organized trip here in Reykjavik, I liked the photos so much that I included it in my itinerary. Now, after I've seen so many beautiful things, I don't really think it's worth it. No, I will cycle on to Kirkjubæjarklaustur tomorrow. My favorite place to speak. Kirkjubæjarklaustur, Klaustur for short. This will then once again result in an extra day.

I look in the Lonely Planet. I see that a boat leaves for the Westman Islands at seven in the evening.

I look in the Lonely Planet. I see that a boat leaves for the Westman Islands at seven in the evening. Then on day 47, I can continue cycling to Þorlákshöfn to arrive on the islands late in the evening. I have all day 48 there and take the boat the next morning back and cycle on to Grinðavík, to cycle the last stage on day 50.

I drink another cup of coffee to seal the new plan and hurry through the rain to my tent to pack my bags. Ready for a streamlined departure.


+0 km



day 43 — July 25, 2003

Up early, a relatively long journey (68 kilometers) awaits me, long because of the bad weather. It is a quarter to eight and there is a slight drizzle of rain. The main road leads after a few meters directly into Skeiðarársandur. Just before the first bridge over the widely branched meltwater-filled rivers is a monument in memory of the Jökulhlaup natural disaster. It consists of a number of rusty bent steel beams that were once part of the old bridge. It's an impressive sight. And a rarity. Icelanders usually deal with natural disasters in a stoic way. If you feel on average one earthquake per day, you learn to experience those things as normal. Apparently, this catastrophe was so great that even the Icelanders were taken aback by it.

A few meters further on I finally enter the volcanic desert. The fine rain makes the horizon disappear behind a silver mist. To my left and right I see nothing but a powdery black dust-covered earth veined by reflective streams of icy water. A few bright green clumps of moss grow only in those places that are sheltered from the wind. Most people will think it's a horrible dead mess, but I can cry, at how beautiful this is. As far as the eye can see I see this unearthly landscape. Awesome! I'm cycling here on this long black asphalted road completely alone. I feel like the only living being for miles and miles. I am so lucky to be here, here in this desolation.

A little gust of air blows me onwards. It's eleven o'clock and I already have 30 kilometers on the clock. I approach the turn to Nupsstaðarskógar. The high mountains that announce the approaching end of the Sandur make the clouds burst into an unstoppable howl. Grey clouds dance around this mountain like iron filings around a magnet, to evaporate in thick drops landing on my face. Exasperated by the wall of rain, I definitively ignore the path to Nupsstaðarskógar. On to Klaustur. Beyond the mountain range, the landscape changes from black dust to lava land. Large, cuddly, round mounds of moss fill the landscape. Like a bizarre display of a navel fluff collection of a proud, green-sweater-wearing giant.

Where a third variety of landscape begins, rolling meadows, is Dverghamrar. Dwarf cliffs. A mini natural monument consisting of two basalt mountains rising up from the ground. Like works of art sculpted by man, planted here in the flat grasslands. One of the pillars seems to be falling over in extremely slow motion.

A little further down the road I already see Klaustur. No time today for the notoriously heavy final stretch. The camping fields are soaked from all the rain that has fallen which proves that I can count myself lucky with the few showers on my way. On what looks like the last piece of dry land I pitch the tent. After doing the shopping I cycle to the nineteenth swimming pool of my trip. The deserved reward after 77 kilometers.

When all muscles have completely relaxed I cycle to Kirkjugolf. Another protected natural area. It consists of a basalt 'floor' that is flat even with the surrounding grassland. It was once thought that this was an old church floor, but it later turned out that we are dealing with the top of several meters long (underground) basalt columns. It is not much in terms of surface area, but it is a nice walk. The mountains against which Klauster is located look as if they are wrapped in a carpet of artificial grass. The grass has an unprecedented bright color and only the top of the mountain protrudes through the carpet. I can not tell you what it is with this place, but I love it dearly.

Hungry, I go back to the tent. I cook my pasta in a small building that has been set up as a kitchen and dining room for the camping guests. It's a nice place. An old German couple bakes a dubious mushroom mixture, there is also a young Dutch couple and a Canadian, the latter also traveling by bicycle. He (Daniel) will run the Reykjavík Marathon on August 16. He only arrives in Reykjavík the day before, by bicycle. That is quite something, but he also prefers to keep the daily distances somewhere between 60 and 70 kilometers. So I'm not that bad! The two Dutchmen are also good company. It's good to be able to talk again. No annoying French or German gibberish. Even the old Germans are communicating well, although he thinks the cyclists are crazy. And right he is. I am now – in Daniël's eyes – an expert by experience with my 43 travel days under my belt. He cycles on a bike that is too light with thin tires and cannot actually cycle on unpaved roads. This seems like a big problem to me. Aside from the south coast and the immediate vicinity of Reykjavík, there hasn't been a day that I haven't driven on a dirt road. The French that took the bus to Höfn have arrived here too. I seem to be able to keep up with their journey by bus.

After this pleasant get-together I walk towards the cafe for the ritual cup of coffee. To treat myself I also add a thick slice of chocolate cake. Yum! I go through the planning for the next few days. Tomorrow to Vík, then Skogar, followed by Hella. Day 47 will get me to Þorlákshöfn and the boat to the Westman Islands, then a rest day on the Westman Islands. The next day I go to Grinðavík and on the final day, day 50, to Reykjavík. Yes, it's perfect. I can buy a new brake and rear tire on day 46 when I pass through Hvolsvöllur. When I see it like this, I think it's all going a bit fast now. It also goes quickly with the film rolls. The tenth roll is almost full. So I have 5 rolls left for seven days. That is not enough, I use at least one roll per day. At the next opportunity, I have to buy five more. How many photos have I actually shot, I wonder. Some calculations tell me that I'm on 718 photos. That's 50 photos a day. It will be a nice job to sort them all out. At the end of the trip I'll have an impressive collection of neatly round numbers: 50 days, 1500 kilometers by bike, 1000 photos, and... 25 different swimming pools.

50 days, 1500 kilometers by bike, 1000 photos, and... 25 different swimming pools.

It's half past nine when I walk back to the campsite. On the way I meet the two Dutchmen, they are going for a walk. The weather has now completely cleared up and a low evening sun shines on the beautiful country. A good idea! I take my bike and go to the Systrafoss waterfall. Once there, the Dutch also appear to have gone here. Together we walk the path up, past the waterfall, and along the lake where the waterfall comes from (Systravatn). The name of Systra (nuns) comes from a legend that tells of two nuns who died when they eagerly grabbed a gold ring that appeared in the water here.

Back at the campsite I try to strengthen my back tire. It ends in impossible fiddling that I have to leave for what it is due to the falling darkness. The Canadian still suggests changing the front and rear tires and thinks that the wear is caused by the heavy luggage. A good idea, which I will definitely try the moment I get a flat tire.


+77 km



day 44 — July 26, 2003

The Dutch greet me with a mocking question: "Where is your sun now?" I had promised them sun for today. “There,” I say, pointing to a small hole in the thick clouds. I'm starting to learn to read the Icelandic skies. This small hole so early in the morning will cause the entire cloud cover to break open in no time. When I roll up my completely soaked tent, I start to have some doubts. As I cycle away I say also goodbye to the Canadian. I have a good feeling for today. The wind is strong and blows pleasantly against my back. Just outside Klaustur, a large orange sign with two flashing lights alerts me to the dangers of a possible sandstorm. Fortunately, the lamps are not on, but who can tell me that this will still be the case in half an hour? The wind for sure is strong enough, but for now, the ground is too wet to be able to drift. I cycle through a landscape that is identical to yesterday.

After 30 kilometers my rear tire gives in, and I have a flat. It's time to try Daniel's tip. At the side of the road, I set up my bicycle repair shop. I remove the last pieces of tape from my tire and then lift the two outer tires off the wheels. Having become wiser from my first flat tire, I try not to find the puncture. Instead, I exchange it with my previous, now glued tire. Then it's time for the big switcheroo. The bad tire goes on the front wheel and the good one on the rear wheel. When both wheels are back in place, I have to adjust the brake very carefully. With trembling hands, I loosen the right screw a little. And I shouldn't have done that!

There is nothing I can do but remove the last brake as well. There are still 45 kilometers left for me today, which I would have to cover without brakes. Dazed I get on, and the brake looks at me innocently from the handlebar bag. I try to stay calm and rest in my fate, but a powerless rage bubbles up deep inside me.

Fortunately, I am in the only landscape that would be okay to take on without any brakes. The road remains wonderful flat. With about 20 kilometers per hour, I continue cycling. The most difficult part of this is to insert a spontaneous photo stop. With two feet on the asphalt, I manage to achieve a braking distance of 200 meters. Simply put, it is dangerous! It is a blessing in disguise that it has to happen on this route of all places. I don't have to cross mountains, there are no sharp turns and I don't go through any towns either. On any other day, I wouldn't have been able to continue.

At the first photo stop, or as it is, 200 meters past the first photo stop, my bike falls over. When I put it upright, my rear tire appears to have spontaneously deflated. God damn now that too. Ignoring my still up bubbling anger I try to ignore this too and pump it up like nothing happened. But five kilometers further it is flat again. Against my better judgment, I pump it up again. At the edge of this lava field is a protected "natural monument". Laufskálavörður is a barren terrain that is full of cairns. These hundreds of stacked stone pillars were created long ago here by lonely travelers that would add a stone to a pile every time they walk past here to cross the interior. With the expectation that it will bestow good luck. I think I should have put down a stone before I left the campsite this morning. My bike is blown over by the wind again, resulting in another deflating of my tire. For the second time today, I turn my bike around. I take the tire off to put my second spare tire on it. The moment I turn to grab the tire, the bike falls over again. This time he clatters against my leg. There is a big bleeding scratch on my calves. How much bad luck can a person ignore? I shout a loud curse into the vast land. Goddamn dirty filthy bloody bike. In my anger, I kick my bike… Apart from all the cursing in the great empty room, this is truly sacrilege! I just kicked my bike. After some additional mumbled curses, the bike is back on its two wheels and I continue my way like a zombie. I only pay attention to my thoughts. What should I do after today? You can't continue cycling without brakes. The prevailing thought is to call it a day and catch the bus to Reykjavík. End of vacation? The surroundings cannot grab my attention anymore, the Sandur I am now driving through – the Myrdalssanður – has little beauty for me.

Beautiful is the lonely mountain Hjorleitshofði which lies like a monolith in the Sandur. On a positive note, my own weather forecast from this morning was correct, there is a beautiful sky above me. Bright blue with meters-high cumulus clouds. The entire landscape from right in front of me all the way to the most distant point on the horizon is crystal clear, for a moment I forget about the technical problems.

Only a little bit further until I arrive at Vík. When the tent is erected I make a last attempt to repair the brake. In vain. I grab the books and map to adjust the planning for the umpteenth time. I don't want to miss the Skogarfoss waterfall so I will have to go there first by bus tomorrow. The next day I will take the bus to Hveragerði where a bicycle store should be, according to my cycling book. I'll call them tomorrow to be sure, otherwise I'll have to drive on to Selfoss, a larger town where there is for sure a bicycle shop. Then, when the bike is repaired, I can still finalize my plans for the next few days. I will win end up with another extra day, I can spend that on the Westman Islands.

All this does mean that I won't see a bunch of things that I was looking forward to. I will drive by Dyrhólæy (beautiful rock pillars in the ocean) and Seljarlandsfoss (Iceland's most photographed waterfall). Damn bike! As I walk past the Esso station I bump my foot against a clump of grass, a sharp stab shoots from my ankle through my leg. I cringe in pain. Through all the other misery I had forgotten that my ankle is still very painful. I take off my shoe and see that it is thicker than ever. Not a good sign. I walk on stumbling.

In the store at the gas station I call my parents to vent all the misery of today. In the end, I think the new plan is okay, it gives my ankle some rest. It is what it is and it could have happened at a more unfortunate time. At least there is a good bike shop relatively close by.


+76 km

Vík í mýrdal


day 45 — July 27, 2003

Calmly I wake up at peace with the facts. The bus doesn't leave until a quarter past two. Sitting in my underwear on top of the sleeping bag, I grab the broken part of a brake. A possible solution appeared in my dreams last night. I push the screw into place and wrap a thin strip of duct tape less than half an inch around the brake so the screw can't pop out. I don't feel like taking the bus, the sun is shining and I want to see Dyrhólæy!

In an optimistic mood I put on my cycling clothes and try it out. All taped up I put the brake in place and adjust it with the remaining screw. It seems to work. A short test drive convinces me, it works. I'm going cycling! I quickly eat something and in the meantime see if I can also repair the other set of brakes. When I mount them on the bike and adjust them, the left screw also breaks. Then only breaks in the back, I don't care. No matter what happens on the rest of my journey, I can't touch the one remaining screw. I pack the bags and tear down the tent in a new record time. Exactly at the moment, I slide the tent into the bag, it starts to rain. Everything disappeared just in time, bone dry in the bags. At half past ten I cycle away on my taped carriage.

I crash into the guardrail at 30 kilometers per hour, and my handlebars twist around as I fly off my saddle.

It takes a lot of effort to leave Vík. The road to the west goes steeply up for the first three kilometers. By the time I reach the top, the rain has given way to the sun. It's been a while since I've made such a climb, I'm sweating like crazy. Once on top of the mountain, the road gently descends. Until suddenly a sharp bend follows. The road throws itself down a slope of 10%. Oh shit! My brake, I hope it holds out. I try to limit the breaking as much as possible. I see the images of a possible accident clearly pictured. A hairpin bend is approaching. I crash into the guardrail at 30 kilometers per hour, my handlebar twists around as I fly off my saddle. I float through the air in a huge dive. I hit the rocks and hear a crack in my back. I tumble down the mountainside. After each bone-breaking blow, I bounce off the ground only to crash again a few feet away. What feels like hours later, my lifeless body comes to a stop on the asphalt road in the valley.

While these images haunt my mind, I make it through the first hairpin bend. I pray to the god of tape, I assume that there is such an Icelandic god. With the fright in my legs, I make it through the last bend in good health. With sweaty hands, I can let go of the brake. Phew, the tape held. Long live Duct and his tape. If I had known in advance that I would encounter such a descent... I think I would be on the bus right now. With a fierce throbbing heart, I start the next small climb. The side road to Dyrhólæy goes from the top of this hill. The moment I drive onto the dirt road, a huge shower breaks loose above my head. These are no longer drops that fall, these are complete buckets of water that thunder down one bucket at a time. After three 'drops' I am completely soaked. A few seconds later the sun shines again. Anyone who sees me cycling now would think that I fell into a ditch, no one believes that it rained so hard a minute ago. “Yes, yes, of course, boy. It rained. And you believe it?" Steaming in the evaporating rain I reach Dyrhólæy.

I park my bike brotherly next to a motorcycle with Dutch registration and walk to the tip of the rock. Dyrhólæy owes its fame to the beautiful deep black rock islands that stand in the water here, just off the coast. The dark threatening purple-grey sky makes these objects standing in a tight azure blue ocean appear hostile. They are hateful petrified giants that come walking towards us from the ocean. One has already reached the shore with one arm, forming a beautiful arch of stone. Large enough to pass under with a boat. I walk on the beach surrounded by a black-and-white world. The pebble beach is ash grey and bumps against basalt rocks that go from light grey to shiny black. On the other side, white foam caps break upon the beach. I have ended up in another world. A world hiding behind a rain shower with drops of a liter. I'm in the middle of a fairytale book. At the very tip of this world, a rock that rises far above the waves, I eat the ultimate fairytale food, an apple. Enjoying the almost missed opportunity to sit here, I bite the apple to pieces.

Brotherly bikes at breathtaking Dyrhólæy

Through the same rain shower curtain I cycle back to the ring road. Every now and then I squeeze my brake to check. Fortunately, the rest of the road does not have any major descents. When 39 kilometers have been kicked away I unmistakably smell rotten eggs, sulphur! Only two kilometers later I meet the culprit, the Jokulsa river. I take a deep breath of this fragrant epitome of Iceland. On a natural high of the sulfurous clouds, I see Skogar glued to the mountains on the horizon. The town is not much and is probably completely deserted in winter, its main reason for existence is the beautiful waterfall. As with every tourist attraction on the south coast, the busloads of tourists drive back and forth. Skogarfoss is the prototype of the perfect waterfall. In a wide stream the waterfalls of a high mountain ledge, and to make it even more tourist worthy, you can walk all the way up to it. At the foot of this waterfall is campsite Skogar. The temptation is great to pitch my tent here, but a little further on another campsite is waiting for me. A campsite with a swimming pool! Reason enough to resist the temptation. I cycle on.

When I leave Skogar and put my head outside the mountain range the wind hits me right in the face, I hope they haven't closed this pool. At the foot of the mountains, in a meadow, is a large boulder with a small house inside. Or rather a house surrounded by a tight-fitting boulder. It fits so perfectly that they probably bought it as a kit at Ikea. “Rötshús.”

A kilometer further on I turn to the left, to the campsite. The dead-end road leads me via a graceful bend into a rainy valley. High mountains to the left, right, and at the front block the passage of the clouds, trapped here they can do nothing but unload their cargo. For the third time today, I am soaking wet. When I walk into the reception in all my dripping wetness, I am fortunately warmly welcomed. The boy, who is also the lifeguard of the swimming pool behind it, teasingly asks if I've had good weather. He is a little taken aback when I say that I've had wonderful weather. But he recovers quickly with drawling yaw, yaw. Yaw, is the most versatile word, or I should say sound, in the Icelandic language. Its meaning ranges from doubtful "I guess" to totally agreeing. In which class I have to estimate his 'yaw' is unclear. He says that he has seen many tourists swearing at the weather in recent weeks. “Don't all tourists want to see a waterfall?” I answer. “Rain is the ultimate waterfall. It is a waterfall that you are in the middle of. What else do you want?" He can laugh at this farmer's wisdom. I suspect that he will bother every nagging tourist with this comment until the end of summer.

A visit to a hot pot is always fun, but it takes on an extra dimension in the rain.

After again the necessary yaw, yaws I pay for my overnight stay at the campsite and a visit to the swimming pool. Since it is still raining I leave my stuff packed and start with the pool. A visit to a hot pot is always fun, but it takes on an extra dimension in the rain. Your body rests in the warm water, while your head is refreshed by the cold rain. It's like sticking your head in the fridge on a hot summer day. Purrrrrr. An hour later it is dry and I walk across the sodden field to higher ground. At the edge, half at the foot of a mountain range, I find a dry spot to pitch up the tent.

After the usual evening meal I go through the bus schedule for tomorrow. Because although my brake seems to hold, I still want to repair it as soon as possible. The bus leaves from Skogar at a quarter past two. I could go a little bit further down the road tomorrow to take a look at Seljalandsfoss. Lonely Planet calls it one of the most photographed waterfalls in this country. And as an extra tourist attraction, you can walk behind it. Let's see if I can make it. The bus takes at least fifteen minutes to get to the waterfall, which means it will arrive there at half past three. It's about 30 kilometers from here. Assuming that I cycle at least 10 kilometers per hour, I need three hours for that. If I make sure I leave here at 10, I'll be there at 1. That gives me enough time to take pictures and patch any flat tires along the way. From there I then take the bus to Selfoss. The next day I cycle with brand new brakes via Hveragerði to Þorlakshöfn for the boat to the Westman Islands at noon, thanks to this short bus ride I managed to fit the islands into my schedule.

Cows are now grazing behind my tent. I hear them sniffing and tearing the grass with their tongues. It's a bizarre sound, I close my eyes and turn the cows into fairies fluttering through the blades of grass.


+60 km



day 46 — July 28, 2003

I leave at half past ten. And again I ignore the scheduled bus. At least for now, first by bike to Seljalandsfoss. The wind has turned 180 degrees and makes the wonderful flat road even more pleasant. Without any problems, I cycle to the waterfall in one smooth movement. I'm way too early, it's a quarter to twelve. Calmly I walk to the waterfall. The path, trampled by thousands of tourists, leads slippery behind the waterfall. The American tourists between us are clearly recognizable by their bright yellow rustling plastic raincoats, afraid of any contact with nature. Completely refreshed I emerge from behind the waterfall. It's a nonsensical idea to walk behind a waterfall. It reminds me of an attraction from the fairytale forest of a Dutch theme park, the Efteling, it should be exciting but it is anything but.

The Lonely Planet alerts me to the existence of another waterfall that must be in a cave in the rock wall behind the campsite. Since I have all the time in the world I walk along the rock wall to the campsite. It takes a while to find it, but eventually, I find it, Gljúfurárfoss. She exposes herself through a crack in the rock wall. The fine water droplets are shiny pearls that dance in the sunlight. The weather is beautiful, an ultimate cycling day. I enjoy the moment on a bench. The bus won't arrive for another three hours... I can of course cycle a bit further. On the map, Hvolsvollur (the bus' next official stop) appears to be 21 kilometers away. With this weather and the flat road, that is a maximum of one and a half hours. What's wrong with me!

After a last photo of the waterfall, I get on. The sun warms my skin and colors the land more beautiful than ever. Even the wind feels warm. I've been cycling all day in just my T-shirt and cycling shorts, but I'm still boiling. The best way to deal with the changeable weather in Iceland is to dress in as many thin layers as possible. In the most extreme case, it starts with a T‑shirt for me. Then on top of that a long-sleeved T‑shirt followed by a fleece sweater. Then a fleece vest and finally a Gore‑Tex jacket. During this amazing summer, I wore a T‑shirt, fleece, and a jacket. But back to now. It should be around twenty degrees, time to remove my last layer. Cycling in nothing but my cycling shorts, is an extra liberation.

Families are passing me by in their steaming tin cars, and their heads turn, “Am I seeing it right?” That doesn't happen that often, of course, someone with a bare chest in Iceland, and certainly not on a bicycle! Two motorcyclists drive towards me. Until now I was always greeted very respectfully by my motorized fellow bikers. But not now. They are dressed tightly in steaming black leather. Motorcyclists are known for their so-called sense of freedom. Today I beat them. With an even bigger grin than before I kick the pedals around. What a beautiful day. The landscape is not that exciting, but due to the low horizon, the clouds take center stage. Big, fat ships of cotton float over me. To my left, I see my destination for tomorrow in the ocean. The Westman Islands look bigger than I thought.

Already at one o'clock I cycle into Hvolsvöllur. I quickly put on my T-shirt, after all, we are back in civilization. To kill time I honor the Saga Museum with a visit. Wasted money as it turns out. Photocopies hang on the walls and the display cases contain models, construction kits, and some items from the local Viking party store. The whole is purposely bad-lit, so you still get the impression that you are seeing something authentic. No, it is more like a comic book version of the Njalsaga. Disappointed I leave the museum. I still have time left. Pool number twenty is coming! Washed clean and refreshed I cycle to the gas station from where the bus leaves. I have a cup of coffee and update my diary.

When the bus arrives I routinely slide my bike into the cargo hold, onto Selfoss. Before the bus leaves Hvolsvöllur, it stops at the SS factory. The faint smell of hot dogs (which are made in this factory) already covered the village. Selfoss is an hour's drive from here through a landscape that has little to offer, I doze off.

The bus stops in front of the Selfoss petrol station and I wake up with a startle. I drag my bike out of the cargo area and click the bags onto the carriers. The busy ring road cuts right through the center and is conveniently camouflaged as a busy shopping street. I turn left and cycle directly to the campsite. I put up the tent at breakneck speed and throw the bags inside because I need a break and a tire before the shops close! On the main street, I see the bicycle shop. A godsend. I walk in with one of the broken brakes in my hand. "Do you have anything like that?" The seller is impressed with my material. “No, we don't sell such high-quality stuff here,” the man must admit with shame. I ask encouragingly. “It's not that good, it's broken. It doesn't have to be this brand, any brake is fine as long as it fits my bike.” He rummages in a drawer and conjures up a set. They look like chromed plastic toy brakes but are worth their weight in gold. I have brakes again and the last kilometers of my magisterial tour have been saved. After my request for a tire, the man, again completely shrouded in shame, arrives with a third-world copy. A tire formed from one thick piece of rubber without any form of reinforcing material. You could put a label on it that guarantees that this product is made from 100% recycled rubber. 3000 ISK poorer I walk out of the store to the tent to immediately change the tire and mount the brakes. Everything fits.

He rummages in a drawer and conjures up a set. They look like chromed plastic toy brakes but are worth their weight in gold.

Satisfied, I cycle to the supermarket. I'm in a big city and buy way too much in the well-stocked supermarket: two packs of pasta, sauce, cookies, more cookies, apples, milk, lollipops, bread, too much, way too much. I cycle back with two heavy plastic bags dangling from my handlebars. I prepare the pasta in the cooking area of the campsite. A Dutch couple is eating. They are just to begin their journey. We talk back and forth with our mouths full. They have been to New Zealand. “At some point, my plan was to go to New Zealand this year,” I say. “But the love for Iceland is too great. It would be a strange form of cheating.”

I take Skir for dessert to fill me up nicely. I wish my table companions a good journey when I go out to explore the city. In a small coffee house, I order a warm cup of coffee. I'll have to leave early tomorrow. At twelve o'clock the boat leaves for Þorlakshofn. I estimate the total distance at 35 kilometers. I should be able to do that in 3 hours. Add another half hour to view the surroundings of Hveragerði. I should leave at half past eight, and wake up at half past seven.

Four more days until this adventure ends... unbelievable.

Vestmannaeyjar and Reykjanes

Vestmannaeyjar and

Chapter 5: Vestmannaeyjar and Reykjanes


+149 km



day 47 — July 29, 2003

An very early start. I was wide awake at seven o'clock. Today is a race against time. I MUST catch the twelve o'clock boat. At a quarter to eight I leave the Selfoss campsite behind me, and right away ignore this whole "race against the clock" thing. I cycle to the swimming pool. The early hours are for the oldies, it turns out. Between the wrinkled skin, I let the water wrinkle my skin too.

After 45 minutes I'm outside again, completely ready for today's ride. The friendly push from yesterday has turned against me. The wind hits me dead on, I struggle to stick to a pace of 15 kilometers per hour, a pace I need to reach in order to arrive on time. Halfway towards Hveragerði, I turn a page of my roadmap. I am at the last page and am being referred back to card number 2, on day 1 I rode out of Reykjavik with this page on the handlebars. The circle is almost round.

Hveragerði still seems to be asleep when I cycle through it. The streets are deserted. I wander around here looking for the geothermal activity this place is known for. Hveragerði is Iceland's glass city. More than forty percent of all greenhouses are here, of course fully heated by the earth. The geothermal city park is located in the middle of the city. It looks like a dump site of a chemical plant. At least from behind the fence, because the park only opens at 10 am. I can't wait for that. To see some bubbling up close, I cycle up the mountain a little outside the city. A puddle of water measuring 15 x 15 centimeters is boiling, there are also some steam plumes and there is the unmistakable smell of sulfur. I've seen enough and let me roll down the mountain.

It's ten o'clock and I have to move on. The signage says 'Reykjavik 38 km', the temptation is great, but I leave ring road 1 and hurry to 'Þorlákshöfn 20 km'. The boat leaves in two hours and I also have to buy tickets. With one eye anxiously focused on the odometer, I fight my way into the wind. I have to stay above 10 kilometers per hour. To make the race more pleasant, it starts to rain lightly. The side road to Þorlákshöfn comes into view, I warn the wind with a loud curse not to have the guts to turn against me for the second time today. It helps, with an oblique wind the number of kilometers per hour climbs. I still have one hour for eight kilometers, cycling with such a deadline is horrible. Today no feelings of freedom.

At half past eleven I cycle into town. With 15 minutes to go, I stand in line for a ticket. When I am about to join the waiting cars with my bicycle, they just start to drive onto the boat. Once safely on the right side of the ferry, I am directed to the other side. As the cars roll onto the loading deck, I risk my life trying to maneuver myself to the other side of the ship. A truck with a trailer is blocking my way. What now? A car is coming towards me. I make a quick decision and sink to my knees, with my bike on an angle I manage to crawl under the trailer and finally reach safely the other side. Phew. I put my bike on its stand and, with my handlebar bag on my shoulder, I walk up the iron stairs to the upper deck.

The first deck is for the crew, and the second is the restaurant and video room. Another deck higher is the panorama deck, with large windows that show the angry outside world. Above is the outside deck where the cold sea breeze hits you. Tired from the race, I flop down on a couch in the restaurant. The coffee tastes good. The boat starts to move slowly with the engine roaring. As soon as we leave the harbour it becomes clear to me why all the tables here are anchored to the floor. When I get up to walk to the deck I sway from side to side, or should I say from port to starboard. Anyway, the ferry dances on the waves of the ocean. Standing at the railing, I scan the south coast for landmarks. I see what I have cycled, a pleasant thought. I think I recognize the high mountains of Vík. The rest is unclear.

I go down to the video room. A movie is playing, Van Wilder. A teen comedy. With the help of this background noise, the ocean swell slowly lulls me to sleep. The moment the credits roll I wake up and swing towards the panorama deck. Behind the windows I see the Westman Islands creeping closer. A hole in the clouds bathes them in sunlight, like an actor inside a spotlight. It seems to be the only place in Iceland where it is sunny. With a large turn, the ship sails around the island of Heimæy giving us a beautiful view of the cliffs and rocks. When the boat enters the harbour I descend to the loading deck. A little later, when almost all cars are out of the hold, I cycle onto the island. With rain, I cycled onto the boat. In radiant sunshine, I cycle off. I managed once again to pick a sunny destination. On to the campsite!

The campsite is right next to the site where a big party will be held this weekend. Þjóðhátíð, literally translated as folk festival, is a party for the Icelandic youth. Thousands of them flock to this island to drink and get laid. It is Icelands' only true open-air music festival. For that period, all tickets for ferries and flights to and from this island are sold out months in advance. On the advice of the Icelandic mountain bike club, I am gonna be in Reykjavik during these festivities. Because of all the Icelandic families who will hit the road that weekend, it is not safe to be cycling on the ring road. In addition to that, most campsites are also fully booked.

Two girls walk up to me the moment I cycle onto the campsite. They have just closed the washrooms, and due to the festivities, the campsite has been temporarily moved to a lawn next to the airport. As of today, the campsite where I am now is only intended for partygoers. According to the girls, there should be a white fence right next to the road so that I can reach the camping site via a shortcut. It is a miracle that I manage to find it, a small white swing gate in the middle of two grazing lands fenced off with iron wire. I drag my bike forward on a bumpy path with grass up to my knees. God damn, what a shitty path. I sweat like an otter. Where is the goddamn campground and how much longer do I have to walk this fucking path? I drag the bike over a number of boulders half a meter high and then see the campsite in a valley. Tired of dragging, I let the bike pull me down in its fall. I run uncontrollably down the hill. The two girls are there too, by car. Only then do I see the gravel road that leads to the campsite, that would have been a lot more convenient! Anyway, I'm here. I pay the girls 500 ISK for two nights, that must be a mistake because 250 ISK for one night is very cheap. On the site of the campsite is a guesthouse that now serves as a laundry room/toilet building/kitchen. Once the tent has been set up I go into town.

By far the largest part of this island is covered by Heimæy, the city of the same name as the island. With more than 5000 inhabitants it is a real city. I walk through the streets looking for a supermarket, the library for internet, and a pay phone to inform the homefront about the changed destination. I find everything and internet use is also free. A bit on the late side (half past six) I also find the swimming pool. There is a large indoor pool and no less than four hotpots. When I lay down in the sunbath I have a chat with the man next to me. A Swiss, it turns out, walks around here with his girlfriend. Previously he also cycled here. When he disappears into the changing rooms, I dive into the pool for a few laps, then allow myself another short hot pot visit before I also head for the changing rooms.

Before I get dressed I step on the scale that is here. This is the first time I'm weighing myself since I left Reykjavík. It is clear that I have lost weight, but how much? I weigh 73 kilos, in the Reykjavik swimming pool I weighed 83 kilos. So that means I lost 10 kilos! As if walking on air I take a beautiful walk back to the campsite.

I prepare my plate of pasta. The Swiss have also moved here from the old campsite and joined me in the kitchen. We pick up the table and chairs and put them outside on the terrace in front of the guesthouse. It promises to be a nice evening. A young, and very shy, German girl joins us too. After some insistence, she eats with the Swiss. For a moment it seems that the English conversation is changing to German, but after I make it clear that I understand German but do not speak it, English is quickly reintroduced. Unfortunately, the German girl is too shy to speak English. At least I assume someone of that age (16) can speak English. Satisfied with, as always, the neutral attitude of the Swiss, we talk a lot. I joke around and feel myself growing in certainty. The Swiss hang on my every word when I tell them about my adventures of the past 46 days.

Before we know it, it's past ten. Actually, I still have to update my diary... when everyone says good night to each other, I walk to the city. Only one pub is still open, an English pub. Not quite what I had in mind, but it will do. To adapt to the clientele I order a beer. From the radio comes Boney M. I am thinking about what I will do tomorrow... take a walk around the island and perhaps see the film about the volcanic eruption that took place here in 1973. All at an easy pace and without a bike. I hope the nice weather continues for a while.


+116 km


day 48 — July 30, 2003

I look at my clock, it's 10. I've slept straight through, not even awakened by my Swiss neighbors who were already up at seven to catch the quarter-past-eight boat. This must be thanks to last night's half-liter of beer.

The weather has changed, there is a strong wind that plays with the tent as if it was a rattle. And what's worse, it's raining. I'm afraid I won't see much of the island. With the hope of a clearing, I get up and grab the backpack. On to the lava field! Arriving on the east side of the island, the small droplets have grown into maturity. I walk up the wooden stairs that lead to the relatively fresh lava field. Signs and plaques are scattered throughout the pimply landscape. The signs indicate street names that lie meters deep under the lava here. On the plaques, buildings that have disappeared are pointed out. With my poor knowledge of Icelandic I manage to make the following: “Here, about 14 meters under the lava, stood the town hall of the Westman Islands. Built in 1946”. Then something whose meaning is a mystery to me, then the following date: March 26, 1973. This was the date the lava flowed through the streets. It is difficult to comprehend while standing on massive stones, that half a village once stood a few meters below your feet. The silent street signs are impressive symbols.

The rain is getting too bad to keep on walking. I flee to the makeshift cinema. After standing on the cooled lava I want to see it in person. The film is a concoction of amateur and TV recordings, which are projected on a screen with a beamer. But the images are impressive enough to cause goosebumps regardless of the quality. Thanks to the sizeable fishing fleet, all residents were evacuated from the island in one night. Only one man did not survive the tragedy. With the help of large amounts of cold water, the lava flow was forced to stop, to prevent the lava flow from closing the harbour and destroying the main source of income forever. When the eruption was over, the real work began. Thousands of truckloads of ash had to be cleared away. They are impressive images. If you look at the city now, there is nothing to indicate that these multicolored corrugated iron roofs ever succumbed to a layer of grey ash several meters thick. Literally meters thick! When I walk out of the cinema I look with different eyes at the residents who must have experienced this. Nothing but respect for their firm faith in the island and its new volcano. They have seen a primordial force of nature at work, and I am complaining about a little rain.

When the eruption was over, the real work began. Thousands of truckloads of ash had to be cleared away.

But well... to hide further from the pouring rain I duck into a restaurant. I order coffee and am slightly disappointed that I can't walk through the beauty of this island right now. I think of the two days left for me. Two more days of cycling, tearing down the tent two more times, cooking two more times. The day after tomorrow, that's what it's about. The day after tomorrow I will sleep in a hotel room. Seven nights on a soft bed in wonderful Reykjavík! Walking through the streets of Reykjavík for five days, five days to process all the impressions.

When the four cups of coffee (which I manage to pour from the thermos) are finished, it's still raining. I don't feel like going out. I'm so warm here. I order a cup of tea. Now I get a large amount again. Three cups later it is five o'clock and I decide to go to the swimming pool. First I go into the sauna, ideal to sweat the cold rain out of your pores. This is followed by an extensive ritual of hot pot, swimming pool, and sauna exchange. After sitting in the hotpot for the fourth time, I'm done.

A German boy has arrived at the campsite. He hitchhiked and everything he was wearing is soaked, including his shoes. With plastic bags tied around his feet, he stomps through the guesthouse. He speaks English, but I can't help feeling like I'm in a badly dubbed Clint Eastwood movie. He talks as if he has a straw dangling from the left corner of his mouth. Lots of masculine ego nonsense. He talks to me about the German girl (I get the impression that he is in love), she is doing an internship here as a medical student. She's here for three months. I'm jealous, so young and then already three months here! I would immediately learn the language and try to get a steady job. I wonder to what extent I am going to have problems getting used to the Netherlands again. The five days of 'winding down in Reykjavík' are a wise decision. After these days of travel, it would have been horrible to take the plane back right away and wake up in Holland. Just the thought. Sure, after all these Icelandic days it's nice to see the people I love, but I don't think I long to be back in the Netherlands.

I wonder to what extent I am going to have problems getting used to the Netherlands again.

Just when I want to dive into the sleeping bag, the two girls knock on my tent canvas. They need another 500 ISK from me for the second day, I already thought something was wrong. I ask them if in their experience they would call this weather a storm. Heimæy is known for its strong winds. The girls laugh and shook a decisive no. "It's just a brisk breeze." When I hand over the remaining money, I point out that a German boy is sleeping in the attic of the guesthouse. I can't help myself, it feels too good to betray a German who is hiding in the attic. They hadn't noticed him. Okay, I admit it, it's a dirty trick, but it is too funny not to do.

Tomorrow is the last camping day. What a delight! I pray for wind and dry weather. The whole stretch (73 kilometers, which I don't start until eleven) is on a dirt road with climbs of up to 16%, not for the faint-hearted. I think I'll be in Grinðavík at five o'clock at the earliest. Up at seven tomorrow, there is a boat waiting.


+0 km



day 49 — July 31, 2003

The 'strong breeze' keeps me awake. It's two in the morning and I'm walking a circle around the tent to put all the pegs back in the ground and tighten the ropes. No superfluous activity, one peg is splashing loose in the grass and two ropes dance in the wind.

At the stroke of seven o'clock I unzip the sleeping bag and it's time to pack my things. With the help of my four fairly heavy bike bags, one for each tent corner, I manage to fold the tent neatly without too many problems. Fifteen minutes before the boat leaves, I am blown into the cargo hold. I take back all my words about the swell of the ocean the day that I arrived. It's three times as fierce now. I struggle not to slide off my chair. Like an alcoholic, I wander through the corridors and let myself fall into the video room. In the dark, I catch up on lost sleep. Halfway through the nearly three-hour crossing, I step onto the deck. The south coast is bathed in sunshine, and only one dot on the entire coastline is hidden in the midst of rain. And let that be exactly the part that I am going to cycle today, the Reykjanes Peninsula. On this penultimate day, my luck with the weather finally seems to have run out.

When the ferry docks, Þorlákshöfn is greyer than ever. I cycle away in the pouring rain. But not everything is against me, I have the stormy wind at an angle to my back and it blows me on. After eight kilometers, which took about an hour on the way over, now been covered in a windy fifteen minutes, I reached the intersection. Straight on is a long climb to Reykjavík, right goes back to Hveragerði. I turn left, to Grindavík and cycle on a freshly laid road surface. The road goes up in a thousand and one stages. Fortunately, the wind lends a helping hand and but also worsens the lashing icy rain that paralyzes the left side of my face. It is cold, gloomy, and wet. The country weeps. By the minute the road is starting to look more and more like a river. The profile of the new front tire scoops up the water like a wheel, only to release it moments later, in waves over my shoes. My socks get wet and in no time I feel the water running between my toes.

It is half past twelve, and the first 20 kilometers are done. Behind a large boulder, I try to shelter from the wind and rain. I wring out my socks and eat some sandwiches. From a hygienic point of view, I should have done that in reverse order.

I eat the sandwiches as quickly as possible. I'm cold through and through. This penultimate day forms a wet bridge with the first cycling day. Then I sat pitifully chattering my teeth sheltering at bus stops. Now my teeth are chattering again, only I don't feel nearly as pathetic, the intervening 48 days have hardened me. I get back on the bike to warm up.

On with the kilometers, 25, 30. I'm on a stretch of road between a lake and a row of high crumbling mountains. A “falling rock” sign reminds me of the fragility of the mountains. The road continues to meander along the mountains. A cyclist is coming towards me from the distance. As we approach each other we stop for a short chat. It's a Dane. I joke that I don't have that nationality on my list yet, and say that he can add a Dutchman to his. He is just starting his journey, arrived yesterday. It's his first time in Iceland, I assure him he will have a great holiday. As we go our separate ways, I wish him a safe journey. He starts, and I finish. I don't know which is more pleasant, the pleasure of going to see it all or the knowledge of having seen it all.

The weather seems to be changing. The grey clouds suddenly give way to the sun, and within half an hour I am cycling in the sun. It continues to surprise me, while the rainwater is still rolling off my bags, the first drops of sweat are already beading on my forehead. The volatility of the Icelandic weather is unparalleled.

With a view of a sulfur-rich mountain after a short piece of asphalt, I turn left again. The road is getting worse and worse. Zigzagging I try to avoid the deepest, water-filled pits, but the thought that my bike no longer needs to be spared makes me take the descents way too fast and crash over many a bump. As the weather clears, the landscape also changes. Beautiful lava stones covered with a centimeter-thick layer of moss fill the land. The bright sun draws everything razor-sharp. The bike ride is again a relief. Beautiful volcanoes adorn the landscape and even though I have to make some steep climbs, some so steep that I have to conquer them on foot, the environment is well worth it.

After the last climb I roll down again with too much speed. I bounce in all directions over this road with more potholes than pavement. Zigzagging is not possible, hope for a blessing. A car drives behind me, and the distance between him and me is getting bigger and bigger. In other words, I go faster than the car! That can't be a good sign. Full on the brakes I manage to save myself and continue the rest of the long descent as a well-considered and sane person. And that's a good thing, the closer I get to the valley, the bigger the holes in the road become. The car is now overtaking me at a snail's pace. I let myself roll out and cycle straight into Grindavík. The free campsite is easy to find, as in most cases it is right next to the swimming pool.

After setting up the tent I splash into the pool. Swimming pool number 24, the Bleu Lagoon tomorrow, number 25 will be a worthy closing. A girl dribbles up to my hot pot, she is cold and covers her breasts with both arms to hide their piercing presence. She looks at me with an open face. When two Icelandic teenagers jump in and out of the hotpot next to us, I joke: "It must be a weird Icelandic ritual." The ice is broken, ice breaks fast in a hotpot! She is German but speaks excellent English. Quite a relief. I tell you all about my adventures. The difficult first days, about cycling without brakes and the stolen camera. She has yet to begin her adventures. Here in Grindavík, she is waiting for a photo camera to be sent to her (the one she brought is broken). She understands all my ironic jokes and laughs at the self-mockery, she is a German rarity. She unabashedly puts her hands behind her neck and shows her unshaven armpits. It's a bit of a shock, but it also gives her something stubborn. We have a nice conversation and she looks very sweet. While she decides to swim a few laps, I give up. It's seven thirty, time for my last pasta performance. With a full stomach, I fall back and sink into a deep sleep. I wake up from the cold. The German girl appears to live in the tent next to me. She smiles when she sees my sleepy head sticking out of the tent.

I tell you all about my adventures. The difficult first days, about cycling without brakes and the stolen camera.

I tidy up my bags and throw away the food I no longer need. At the picnic table near the washrooms, I unscrew my burner and clean it. I am joined by a Swiss motorcyclist and a French hitchhiker, the German girl also arrives. The girl studies harp at the conservatory, a noble pursuit. She has been in Iceland for over a week and has only seen Reykjavík and Grindavík. At first, she slept under a tree in the park near Perlan, to reduce camping costs. A few days ago she moved to Grindavík because of the free camping. Here she has been waiting for the arrival of the new camera for three days now. We advise her to go and knock on tents to ask for a camping fee, there is no one who realizes that it is free here! “You can earn a nice penny that way.” She can laugh heartily at the ridiculousness of the whole situation. Later we are joined by an older Austrian who also tours around by motorbike. It is a familiar one for the Swiss, their paths have crossed before. The Austrian puts up a huge bungalow tent. The light blue colossus is spacious enough to easily park two cars. The next Icelandic storm will either blow it all away or make it crash to the earth like a hopeless pile of twisted steel. In short, not the ideal one-person hiker's tent. The Swiss teasingly asks him when the kitchen will open. It's a fun last camping night. After twelve I crawl into my sleeping bag. Tomorrow the last few kilometers.


+148 km



day 50 — August 1, 2003

The last day has begun, and a hotel room awaits me. It is dry and the tent can be rolled up without any worries, not to be rolled out again until I am back in the Netherlands. I throw the plastic that has been used to put in-between the grass and the tent in the container, no need for that anymore. With a strange feeling, I get on my bike and greet the last campsite. The triumphal march has begun.

The wind is still trying to get its weight, but it can't hurt me anymore. With my eyes on the asphalt, I pedal towards the Blue Lagoon. At the top of the first small hill, I can see the white plumes of smoke from the spa adorning the landscape. In the large parking lot, I tie my bicycle to a billboard with a chain lock. It is a tourist highlight here, so be aware of pickpockets and other thugs roaming the grounds. I walk into the Blue Lagoon with my handlebar bag dangling over my shoulder. Everything here exudes luxury, including the price of 1200 ISK. Corrugated sheet finishing is not sufficient here. No expense has been spared, the reception area is made of narrow wooden slats and sleek cream-white painted walls. The gift shop is a jewel of glass and steel filled with triple-priced souvenirs, whether or not made from the water or sediment of the Blue Lagoon. Special healing powers are attributed to these articles, psoriasis patients can even take a dip reimbursed by their health insurance fund. Something that becomes completely special when you realize what it is that you are actually swimming in. The Blue Lagoon is kinda a waste dump from the Svartsengi power plant, located in the middle of a lava field. The light salty water is extracted from deep below the lava. This provides enough energy for over 21000 households. The unusable extracted cooled water forms the Blue Lagoon. This special water owes its fame to the algae that die during the cooling of the water and give the lagoon its typical light green, almost milky white color.

Once, during the group trip three years ago, this is where my physical introduction to Iceland started. This was the first stop at the nearby airport. Then it was as if I sank into an alien world, now I just don't know... there have been times in a simple 200 ISK pool that I enjoyed more. Of course, it looks a lot more spectacular here, but it is large and uninviting. No, give me a cozy four-person hotpot. After a much too expensive hour, I walk back into the changing rooms. You should definitely see the Blue Lagoon once in your life, it remains an otherworldly landscape in which heads seem to float on milk like currants from a plate of milk and muesli, ones, a second time is not needed I would say. Especially if you know that the alluring city of Reykjavík awaits you! I roll the chain lock off my bike and kick my way through the wind.

The kilometers go slow. With 15 kilometers on the clock, I reach the busy road between Reykjavík and Keflavík airport. The wildest stories are doing the rounds, it should be dangerous to cycle here. It is so busy here that you can forget to reach Reykjavík alive via this road. I look left and right once, it's not too bad. Admittedly, there are more cars whizzing past me in a few minutes than I've seen in the past 50 days. But it is anything but a threat. The entire road is provided with a wide tarred hard shoulder on both sides, which seems to have been specially laid to serve as an oversized bicycle path. It cycles wonderfully smoothly. So smoothly that I see just in time that the magic number on my odometer rolls by. 1500 cycled kilometers are behind me. 1500 experiences and a different story for every kilometer. On the other side of the water, miles away, I can see the first landmark of this tour, Snæfellsnes white peak glinting in the sun.

Not much later the first suburb looms. And as you reach Hafnarfjörður, the road gets busier too and the shoulder disappears. The plan is to leave the main road now and cycle around the suburbs via a quieter route. It is a detour that I don't feel like at the moment, I want to get to Reykjavík as soon as possible. Against better judgment, I continue cycling. But soon the road changes into a dual carriageway and it feels like cycling on a highway. The road winds through tunnels and level crossings. I need to get out of here as soon as I can. While the passing cars torment me by honking their horns, I flee into a residential area. In front of an apartment building that would not look out of place in Eastern Europe, I try to find the residential area on my city map. Without a street name index, it is not easy to discover Árskógar on it, but by walking down all the side roads one by one I manage to find it. I carve out a new route through this maze of curving streets. I cycle on at a walking pace, constantly looking at street signs and the city map. With street names like Alfabakki, Arnarbakki, and Amarbakki it is not easy to distinguish one from the other. At each intersection, I stare at the map for five minutes, and then I repeatedly take the wrong road. Finally, I find a way out of this tangle of streets. I cycle on Stekkjarbakki, which turns into the Hölðabakki via a complicated intersection. Then comes my rescue. As a variant of the yellow-brick road from The Wizard of Oz, I see a bike path. It passes under the road and points directly to the city center. The only thing missing is a path that leads from here to the bike path. I drag my bike through the grass and over a low wooden fence. Not all that handy but I manage. A neatly constructed cycle path is a rarity in Iceland and it is my saviour!

It is a relief to have escaped all the traffic. Through a green park, I cycle under the busy Reykjanesbraut and across the even busier Milkjabraut. Reykjavík seems to have become bike-friendly during my fifty-day absence. I drive into town without too much effort.

Then the moment is here. I'm in the middle of an intersection. An ordinary crossing, but for this trip it is a very special crossing. On day one I turned left here and now I'm coming from the right, the circle is complete! It's done, I made it. I want to do something to make this intersection more than an intersection. I would like to give it a new coat of asphalt or at least give all the white markings a new coat of paint. I can't get past taking a picture of it. Two women chatting on a street corner look at me in disbelief. “Today's tourists really take pictures of everything.” If only they knew the road I've traveled to be here.

The rest of the way goes through familiar territory. Past the swimming pool, turn right at the Cabin hotel, via the cycle path along the bay and finally left to go straight to my hotel, directly opposite the Hallgrimskirkja.

I'm done, that's it, over, out. I did it. Solo, with my own strength (and with the help of the bus). There are 1542 kilometers on the counter, that's more than the length of ring road 1.

I check in and go to my room. When I plop down on the bed I feel all 1542 kilometers lying on me like a thick blanket. Phew, done.

Two hours later I find the energy to get up and after a refreshing shower, I close the door behind me and walk out. I walk the streets, my streets! In café Solon, I have a traditional cup of coffee and start writing.


+67 km



After literally spending the last five days in Reykjavík (way too much money spent on clothes and CDs) I take one last look at the landscape that is so dear to me on the bus to the airport. It's heartbreaking as I watch it rush past me at a far too fast pace.

On the plane I pick up the road map and run my finger over the colored roads, mentally retracing every kilometer of my journey. I feel the pain again from the first ascent. With unfamiliar legs, I cycled over the very first hills in my life. Everything was hard. Fortunately, with each kilometers traveled also came the habituation and my perseverance began to harden.

Cycling through Iceland is the ultimate way to experience this country, to do it justice. Admittedly, it was undeniably tough at times and every climb still buzzes in my muscles.
Cycling is a strange activity that requires a certain mental state. Before I started this journey I already realized that cycling is not about arriving somewhere, but about cycling through something. The first days I completely missed this mindset and I only saw the daily distance that was not being achieved. The disappointment in my own strength was too all-consuming. Around Arnarstapi this began to change. The day schedule had become so loose that it was about the journey and not about what distance was waiting for me tomorrow. The wonderful breaks that I have taken while lying stretched out in the grass. They were beautiful. Having an itinerary is good, but don't treat it as a law.

Another thing is the pressure, whether intentional or not, that was imposed on me by other cyclists. Many of them thought 'bus' was a dirty word. But without the bus I couldn't have made this trip. It has given me more freedom in the daily distances and also the necessary peace of mind. Taking the bus is not a disgrace but a godsend! It gives novice holiday cyclists like me the opportunity to experience this way of traveling. I doubt I'll ever see the point of cycling up a steep road with hairpin bends when there's a bus that takes the same route. But that must be a personal shortcoming.

With the wind in the right direction and the sun overhead (which was the case most days), cycling through Iceland's beautiful landscapes is a godsend. At a pace where every stone catches your eye, and there is nothing to overlook, there is the urge to stop every five meters and enjoy the view. This landscape has so much beauty to offer that any faster form of movement does it injustice! As tough as the toughest moments were, they don't outweigh the miles filled with beauty. Pimply lava fields with beautiful green moss balls. Mirror-smooth fjords with breathtaking mountains. Smoking fields with the wonderful smell of sulfur. Completely deserted plains with nothing but stones and dust.

This feeling of the lonely cyclist creeps into me and settles in my stomach like love. Loneliness here is not a feeling that arises from deprivation, but that arises from the breathtaking power and beauty of nature. It enriches and is like an extra dimension that gives the landscape a feeling. Here in Iceland on a bike, I have not only seen landscapes, I have felt them. Crawling under my skin and clinging to my bones. Here you can see total empty nothing as nothing was intended. And nothing is so beautiful!

This trip has done a lot for me, more than ever I feel connected to this country. More than ever sure of the need to learn the language. I'll be here again next year.

As a more complete person I fly back to the Netherlands. I have become more confident, stronger and more focused. In 2005 I will live in Iceland.

I am shocked by that last short sentence I just wrote down.

In 2005 I will live in Iceland.