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October 2014 Club News

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Around Iceland by Motorbike in 12 Days

By Rachel Solomon

Well 11 days for me, and not quite from start to finish! It was a long haul to get to Reykjavic, we left Albany in the morning on the 5th June and arrived in Reykjavic at one thirty in the early morning on the 7th.

The first sight of Iceland from the aircraft was enough to jolt us from our travel-weary frame of mind... it was one o’clock in the morning and through  the window we could see a spectacular sunset, and that was the darkest it was to get!

We had three days to acclimatize before we left on the bike tour, which we used to sight-see around the city and visit Blue Lagoon.

Day one was meet ‘n greet for dinner at a waterfront restaurant, then the following afternoon we were to meet to attend to the motor bike hire paperwork and have a familiarization ride. The familiarization ride was postponed due to the torrential downpour.

Viking Biking Motor Shop.
The next morning we were up and early, bags packed in the hotel foyer, and awaiting transport to the bikes, which were at the aptly named Viking Biking Motorbike shop. 

The first day of the bike trip saw a group of 17 bikes and 23 people riding on the right hand side of the road, leaving Reykjavic on BMW motor bikes: GS 650, GS 800 and GS 1200’s.  A red van was the back-up and tail-end Charlie.
The first  stop was a geo-thermal power station, quite amazing and explained why there were steam outlets throughout Reykjavic on the pavements! Iceland is powered by thermal power, no other heating necessary.

Then we rode on to the first waterfall, Skogafoss, which was suitably impressive. People were behind the fall of the water and standing on top of the cliff from which it fell. We continued along the coast to our hotel for the night, and the mantra for turning corners was “right is right”, as a few had drifted to the left of the road.

The next morning we were up early, breakfasted and had the first of many pre-ride meetings around the bikes to discuss the days riding itinerary. After gearing up we left the hotel and continued along the coast, riding across new lava fields (from Eyjafjallajkull erupting in 2010), past black glaciers, and catching glimpses of sun shining off Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajokull. Stunning!

Looks cold.
The temperature dropped to 5 degrees as we rode across the bridge to a glacier lagoon filled with floating icebergs which had broken from the main glacier. Lunch was a very welcome bowl of warming mushroom soup, we didn’t realize at the time, but this was to become something we looked forward to on those wet and chilly days.

On to Hofn, through more lava fields, breathtaking scenery and single lane bridges which had a substantial span, where you judged the distance you and the oncoming car were from the bridge, he or she who arrived first had right of way! We spent the night at Hofn, which is a picturesque fishing village, with a restaurant which served lobster pizzas!

The next day saw us coast-hopping, the fjord glassy and the clarity of the air startling. We headed inland, going through mountain tunnels, when we popped out the first tunnel, a herd of reindeer were on the slope of the mountain (tick from the bucket list), we went through 2 more tunnels the longest being 7 kilometres, they were one way, and when you saw headlights appearing you pulled off to the side, after the second tunnel we past another reindeer herd (tick again).

We continued to a fishing village for refueling and a coffee break, one of the fastest riders amongst us had a police car following him into town and as he said... it was one of the few times he actually rode within the speed limit! We were witness to the event!

At the morning briefing we were told there was going to be some dirt riding, not only was there dirt riding to come, but a narrow, winding muddy road which took us  across a snowy pass with visibility only metres in front due to the mist. When we reached the summit we stopped and made the most of the photo opportunity in the first snow we had seen on the trip! 

The adventurous Solomons.
It was very eerie in the mist and mud, and the most demanding riding we had done. It was time to ride on (the red van had caught up to us) and all too soon emerged from the misty gloom into what seemed like another world, a snowy pass with a blue sky and bright sunshine. We gradually descended from the mountain, the muddy road morphed into bitumen and few of us could resist scooting around the gentle curves with blue artic lupins in flower on the verge, past green farmland dotted with groups of white farm buildings with red or blue roofs, plus the accompanying church.

After lunch (Subway, Icelandic of course!) we continued north. We had been warned by people we met in Reykjavic, that the mountain passes channel the winds, and we needed to be cautious. As we are from the Great Southern we are used to winds, we reassured ourselves. We rode through scenic mountain passes, on roads again with sweeping curves, our bikes at an angle and riding into a constant and relentless wind from the passes on our left! When will the wind cease?

Scenic view from hilltop.
Finally we were through the passes and found ourselves “on top of the world”, what a view! Blue skies, white glacial ice, rivers passing under ice tunnels tumbling downhill, all my dreams and ideas of Iceland in one scene.

Glacier flow.
We followed the road and came to a T junction with one of our party sitting on his bike pondering which way to turn, we consulted the map and off we went to Vopnafjordur, a fishing village with a great little café which had table and chairs in the sun, served tea and scones and the coldest beer we had on the trip. A bonding session with those riders who ventured forth was underway.

Next day we continued north, along the coast and through farmlands, expecting some dirt riding through along the way. We were wary of the sheep grazing along the road verge, taking care to miss those who made the decision to dash across, one didn’t make it unscathed.

The road then became bitumen with sweeping bends and fantastic coastline scenery, of course we had to stop at the end of the section and marvel at the perfect riding road. We continued north with some of the group travelling gravel roads to the most northern point of Iceland, others were worried about their fuel level so continued on to the next roadhouse for coffee and fuel. Unfortunately one couple had a bit of a wait (an hour) by the side of the road until they could be refueled.

Leaving the roadhouse after a break saw us detouring to a grotto with an amazing amount of bird life, then on to Husavik, where we could have lunch, go whale watching if we wished or travel onto Lake Myvatn, where we were staying overnight.

We chose to join the group that went whale watching, motoring deep into the harbor we saw dolphins, Minke whales and a Humpback whale put on a show breaching. The tidal flow made the demarcation of the ocean and the harbor waters vary, and a large number of sea birds feeding were noisily with dolphins and Minke whales popping up amongst them.

It was quite late, though still light (of course) when we returned to shore and we still had a distance to travel so we made our way to Lake Myvatn. We arrived in a cloud of midges, for which the lake is named, they got everywhere!

Gravel roads dusty like any other.
Next morning we were quite eager to leave and escape the intrusive midges, we headed out of town, stopping to see boiling sulphurous mud pools on the way to see what is considered the most powerful waterfall in Europe: Dettifoss. To get to Dettifoss we navigated a gravel road which one pillion passenger thought was too much of a challenge for her, and she opted to take the “red van” until we were again on bitumen. Dettifoss is a magnificent waterfall; however what amazed us was the lack of safety railing, so we could walk to the edge of the waterfall, fantastic for great photographs.

Then it was back to Lake Myvatn for lunch and refueling, some of us gave our bikes a token wash, so the brake lights could be seen. Then it was back onto the highway taking the picturesque route zigzagging along, around and over fjords to Akureyri.

You had to slow down to take in the magnificent view, those who had a pillion passenger were able to take photos on the move. The traffic had increased the closer we got to Akureyri, which is a sizeable town where we were to spend our rest day, once we found our elusive hotel that is. The locals watched as bikes circled the roads, until the target was found. At the hotel the next challenge was to park 17 bikes in an area in the front of the hotel which was a tight fit to say the least!

It was discovered the entertainment that night was cars “drifting” at the top of the hill in town, some made the walk up, others wandered into town to find the ice cream shop and comment on the cars doing the loop around the town square – a variation on doing Yorkies.

BMW’s on display.
The next day we visited the Motorbike Museum in Akureyri, a collection of motorbikes representing the history of motorbikes in Iceland; it held the collection of a well known Icelandic motorbike enthusiast who had died in an accident 2 years prior to the opening of the museum and had Benelli, Moto Guzzi, Honda, Norton and more. Well worth the visit. 

To the disbelief of our Icelandic tour guide Grant and I had organized to swap our motorized mounts for the four legged kind and go on a horse ride in the afternoon. I was keen on riding an Iceland horse as they are known for their fifth gait, called a tolt. We were picked up from our hotel and taken to the farm, there were horses everywhere. The ride was along a path beside the fjord, and looping back to the farmhouse, with the opportunity to canter and then experience the tolt.

It was the summer school holidays so our guides were the farmers two daughters, very informative young ladies sharing stories of life on a farm in Iceland. The next morning we turn westward and travel through rolling green hills, dotted with herds of horses, scooting along at a good speed, stopping at a road house for lunch and to refuel, before going further west to stay the night at an isolated, but still very comfortable hotel at the entrance to the Westfjords.

We enter the Westfjords, and travel along the coastline of the fjords. We stop to investigate fishermen’s sheds, built into the hill with sod covering the roof. At one well-kept shed the door is open, with fillets strung across the opening, drying. Lying in the grass is the ugliest fish head ever seen. I won’t include the photo ugh!

Continuing on towards Holmavik we cross high mountain passes where water is pouring out of the grassy and mossy mountain side to the large drains by the side of the road. We skirt the fjords, many decide to continue on to the farm stay where we stay the night, others, well 3 of us, decide to venture further and take the longer route. It was a decision well made, what fun.

We stopped just past a farmhouse with a yappy dog, sat on the sweet smelling hay bales, picked up discarded sheep wool with clumps of lanolin in it, (good to clean our dusty boots) then wended our way to Heydalur, the farm stay, past flocks of geese and derelict boats by the water. As we were riding into Heydalur arms were waving from a steaming outdoor hot water tub, the others had settled in well, and it was a great way to chase out the cold!

The dark haired one is the arctic fox.
The farmers had a tiny dark grey arctic fox in a box by their back door, very cute, if a little smelly. The mother was no longer around. Six weeks later a photo was posted on face book and the little fox was quite a big fox, still dark grey and cute!

Before we leave Heydalur the next morning, our Iceland guide is cleaning our visors; of course we thought nothing of it. We are heading to Isafjordur  (Isa we were told means Icy), unfortunately my heated grips do not heat anymore and nothing will coax any activity from them! We climb the mountains we are to pass over, it gets colder the mist is getting thicker, and there is mud again.

Grant's visor fogs up, and when he cracks it open so do his glasses, he stops as he can’t see, and takes his glasses off. We continue up, up and up with the droplets of misty water stinging our faces. At the very top of the pass we see an enormous glacier looming out of the mist, hanging to the very edge of the road!

In its “shadow” some of our party have stopped for photographs… we continue on and are descending down at last. It is an anti-climax and we are still on a “high” when we get to the bottom of the mountain and wipe our glasses and visor dry, then continue on to a few more waterfalls, and the village where we will have lunch.

After a welcome bowl of mushroom soup we refuel and travel along what starts off as a gravel road, beside a fjord, the road continues along and we find ourselves passing a remote museum with aircraft outside (minus their wings) and fishing boats… Grant can’t resist stopping and investigating. There is a memorial for members of the village lost at sea whilst fishing.

After a short stop we continue on, I find myself wishing we had come to the end of the days journey, there is a sharp corner left, I am tired and need to have a second go at it. The gravel has once again turned to mud and the concentration is ramped up, it has been a long cold wet day. Finally we see our destination, Grant registers at reception, before we enter our room we find a hose and wash the caked mud from our pant legs and boots.

Bikes parked up for the evening.
That evening we all sat around as a group of 23 and discussed the day, what a large circle. At dinner that night we shared the dining room with a group of German tourists who very politely asked us to keep the noise down! We all had our version of the adventure to share.

Puffin on cliff edge.
Early to bed and early up the next morning to ride to the westernmost point of Iceland, therefore Europe, to Latrabjarg to see puffins! As I turn onto the road I groan inwardly... more of the mud! We ride to the cliffs, see puffin birds, and get some great photographs. 

The journey back to the main road is slow as the mist has come in to join the mud! A welcome and warming coffee is had at the service station before once again washing the mud off the bikes, so as to see indicator and brake lights! Then we are on the road again, we are on very good gravel roads, travelling south, to Stikkisholmur. We travel along roads which are in the process of being constructed, in Iceland this seems to mean you shift the mountain passes to where you want them!

          staging on the road edge. We ride on excellent roads today, both gravel and bitumen, along fjords and through farmland. I see my first tree, albeit dead, and take a photograph of proof! My mind is wandering a bit now and I start thinking of things to do which would make good photographs, like hanging off roadside guard rails.

Lunch again is warming soup, but leek and potato this time. And it is time to turn off the highway and head to the coast and Stikkisholmur. We scoot along the excellent gravel road, the red van; “tail-end Charlie” is scooting faster and overtakes us. The scenery is stunning along the fjord, we have to stop to take a panorama shot, and it is a photo opportunity in which I pretend I had fallen off a cliff!

We arrive at our hotel and clean up and go for a wander. A priority for me is to find a chemist and something which would stop me coughing at night! That done, we find the town is set on the edge of a beautiful natural harbor, and the harbor is filled with fishing boats. We find a table and chair in the sun and soak up the ambience.

Icelandic farm house.
The next morning we set off for Borgarnes, travelling alongside fjords, and through villages (it is more populated as we are getting closer to Reykjavic) until we stop in the drizzle at the Ice Caves. We are told Journey to the End of the Earth was filmed here; however the film crew investigated the cave for the possibility of using it for the movie.

We waited for the tour; the bikes filling the small car park, some cars arrived, looked around and left, with 23 of us we were a big group.

Suddenly second-hand BMW GS.
Little did I realize it but my ride around Iceland was coming to an end! We left the caves and travelled further down the road, 2 enormous volcanic rocks were to our right, I looked over my shoulder too long, and when I focused ahead I was caught in loose black gravel on the shoulder of the road. After fighting the gravel for about 400 meters I decided to ride down the embankment of the road, unfortunately the ground was soft, my front wheel dug in and Grant witnessed my somersault and triple pike over the bike. This meant my GS 650 was loaded into the van and was taken back to Reykjavic, never to be ridden again, but I’m sure it was good for spare parts. 

I travelled from Borgarnes to Reykjavic through the “Golden Circle” visiting the geysers and the impressive Gullfoss waterfall with crutches at hand in the red van as a tail-end Charlie!

Then off to Ireland a day later, but that is another story.

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