Travel Through Iceland on a Harley-Davidson

By Peter & Kay Forwood

Iceland on a Harley (11/8/98 - 27/8/98)
Distance 2571 km (108260 km to 110831 km)

This is part of the fourth section of our around the world trip.
Complete Trip Overview & Map

Coming from  Norway

11/8/98 Off to Iceland, that cold country somewhere in the north west near Greenland, 250,000 inhabitants, settled by Vikings over a 1000 years ago, 80% of the population living in the capital leaving the rest to the wilds of uninhabited wind swept, rain swept barrenness. Icelanders have a reputation similar to the Vikings of a fun loving, hard living fearless people. We boarded the Smyril-Line boat at 3 pm after a relaxed morning ready for the two day voyage out through the islands surrounding Bergen and into the foggy (thankfully calm) sea. The vehicle ferry only runs for four months of the year as no one is stupid enough to holiday in Iceland in winter, even less likely to face the North Atlantic winter storms.

12/8/98 Stop off at the Shetland Islands for an hour in the middle of the night and at the Faroe Islands for three hours this afternoon. Otherwise the days sailing was reasonable smooth with a chance for reading and postcards.

13/8/98 At 8 am we started cruising up the 16 km fjord to the town of Seydisfjordur on the east coast of Iceland. The first notable trait is the total lack of trees or shrubbery and the thousands of seagulls. Customs was polite and cursory and we received a special permit to drive in Iceland. The temperature was 10 degrees and after getting money and posting cards we climbed up out of the fjord to a plateau (Iceland averages 400m above sea level) where the temperature dropped to 7 degrees and 15 km later in the next town with sunshine, was 17 degrees.Our boat to and from the island Within 30 minutes the weather had drizzled, rained, sunshine, strong winds, welcome to Iceland where they say if you don't like the weather now wait five minutes and it will change. This is where the Widder Electric gear is great, dressing for 15 degrees, when colder turn it up and when the temperature rises again turn it off. 300 km south along the coast to Hofn with more extremes of heavy rain to sunshine before a wet night in the tent.

14/8/98 The weather cleared and from the start of travelling to the end we were never out of sight of one of the tongues of the glacier Vatnajokull. This 8400 sq. km glacier dominates the south east of Iceland and is about 20 times larger than any in mainland Europe. Its arms stretch to within a couple of hundred meters of the coast road to sea level and at one point huge icebergs have broken off the glacier front into a 20 sq. km lake open to the sea. Here we indulged in an amphibious boat trip through the icebergs to the glacier front. Because of the influx of warmer sea water the glacier front is floating out onto the lake for 2 km and is the only receding section of an otherwise growing glacier. Further around the coast is the sandur (a braided river mouth) whereOne of the large tyred vehicles used to cross glaciers the new land being formed in the interior is being deposited along the coast by glacier melt. This is where, in Sept. 1996, a hot volcanic fissure opened up under the glacier and melted an immense section, when it finally burst through the ice front it carried huge icebergs and washed away the road and bridges along the coast. Camped at Skaftafell after a waterfall walk.

15/8/98 Leaving at 8 am we encountered strong cold winds falling off the glacier, gusting around rocky cliffs and by 10 am the sandurs had heated up in the sun and a strong warmer wind was now racing up the valleys making it hell for the bicyclists fully loaded cycling into it. It is one of the few times I am so thankful for a heavy motorcycle. Heading west the road passes through the middle of a lava field where mosses grow 30 cm deep and walking on it feels like walking on a trampoline. We were heading for Landmannalaugar via Eldgja but because of the rain two nights ago the rivers were a metre deep and it was necessary to take the longer route via Hella. We did deviate taking the southern most route 271 across six creek crossings, lowering the air pressure in both tyres by 10 psi and taping our boot tops to our rainHeading along the dirt tracks to the inland pants we managed to get through (some 30 cm deep) without incident. The scenery along this route is stunning with mountains of volcanic debris, snow, desert scree slopes with mosses and grasses growing in more protected areas. The two tyre marked track winds it's way between these magnificent formations.

16/8/98 A cold 6 degrees awaited us in the morning, despite sunshine it was cold, but after a brisk 1 1/2 hour walk through rough lava fields and up into bubbling and steaming fumaroles and back to the campground hot springs for a pleasant hot tub we were more than warm. The hot springs (only 40 cm deep but extensive) bubbled from the ground and mixing with the cold surface water you can choose your preferred temperature. It was great this time of year but you could picture the steaming pool surrounded by snow in winter and the relief it would be for hikers. Headed out along the piste (dirt road) F26, this time removing the windscreen as it was gathering dust and made the rocks and sand difficult to see in front of the motorcycle. Through yet more lava fields andBarren dusty track into Reykjavik, Iceland's capital.

17/8/98 Quite a basic city of 160,000 without the architectural beauty of other European capitals due to the lack and cost of building materials. Villi Knudsen with his father have been filming Iceland's volcanic history since the mid 1940's and have a two hour showing of their work and Iceland's frequent eruptions and glacial bursts. It seems a fault line running north/south through the country is parting allowing long fissures to open periodically causing spectacular lava flows. But with a flow every five to ten years you have to be extremely lucky to see one on a two week trip.

18/8/98 Heading north east to Thingvellir and the Althing, where the Vikings leaving Norway and settling in Iceland around 900 AD set up their form of parliament. The leaders would meet regularly at this central point to discuss the future of their country for over the next 300 years. On then to Geysir where all the other geysers in the world get their name. The original geyser having stopped sprouting its boiling water and steamVolcanic lake in 1930 but Strokkur, its smaller brother still manages spouts of 30 meters. The extremes of ice and fire in this country is amazing. The third touristy attraction in the trio is Gulfoss waterfall . Water seems to flow from the glaciers everywhere making you wonder whether it will last but some are 600 meters thick so it should last a while. We decided to head to the north coast via the Kjolur route, about 200 km of piste and recently bridged at the four worst water crossings, having just three washouts to be negotiated. We found the road to be similar to Australia's outback and provided the speed of 60 kph or more was maintained the bike glided across the corrugations with under inflated tyres. Heading off to Kerlingarfjoll, a 12 km detour to some ice caves (which were closed due to unusual melting and collapsing ice) we did experience two deeper river crossings, at the last one some water was sucked into the air filter. With the filter now above water level and the exhaust pipes still below, full choke and throttle the motorcycle slowly fired and we drove up out of the crossing. Camped alongside the river on the detour.

19/8/98 Headed outNew lava, still steaming, along the European and American falult line early with over 100 km of piste to go, stopping only at the Hveravellir hot springs about half way. Here a series of over 20 hot pools, some sprouting steam geysers, others boiling madly, blues and greens with small sintered pools, are beautifully set in the desert. The road improved dramatically from the power station dams and we drove through to Akureyri for the night. Iceland is rapidly improving their roads. Allowing less adventurous tourists into previously inaccessible areas and also restricting its off road usage. In some ways it is taming rapidly its appeal as the only frontier of Europe.

20/8/98 With no real rain (just drizzle) for the last few days and a forecast of just drizzle for the next four days we decided to attack the interior of Iceland and head towards Askja. Travelling quickly through Myvatn (will return in two days) staying only for river information where we were advised the need to cross about a dozen rivers, some 2/3 of a meter deep. From the other rivers we have previously crossed, this depth can be halved by going around the main crossing and crossing in faster but shallower water. The round trip needing more fuel than we could carry so we would need to detour 25 km (each way) to the rural settlement of Bru. We set off heading down ring road 1 and off on the desert track of F905 and across F910 to Bru.One of three river crossings, absolutely freezing water With just four shallow river crossings we arrived in Bru just as the petrol station was closing but managed to refuel and retrace our steps back to the F905. Here we found the first real river crossing, about 30 meters wide, Kay had to walk the icy waters to check the depth and then I followed with the motorcycle. Wet to the knees we camped next to the river.

21/8/98 Awoke to 4 degrees and slight drizzle, with still wet boots and pants. The drizzle continued for the next three hours while we rode the 70 km to Askja. The first 30 km was through volcanic ash interspersed with harder tufa. We dropped the motorcycle in the soft ash about five times whilst developing the technique of leaning back to reduce front axle weight and increasing speed to float across the top. This worked as long as we could stay in the wheel tracks of other vehicles but if balance was lost slightly a rather spectacular lock to lock slapping of the steering followed by a sudden digging to a halt, half buried in black volcanic ash would occur. The dead weight of the passenger I have been carrying finally became of great value helping to lift the motorcycle, dig out the front tyre and push from the rear. Kay had to walk some distances as restarting in some ash drifts with two up was impossible. The final 40 km wasThe third river crossing two up generally harder surface and in the end we were weaving through a lava field to arrive at the Askja caldera. Its not often you get a chance to swim in a volcanic cauldron. Lake Viti is kept at a constant 24 degrees by sulphurous fumaroles and after climbing down through thick mist, stripping off to my birthday suit it was a tremendously relaxing end to an arduous ride.

22/8/98 We had decided to stay in the hikers cabin last night as the skies had cleared and the forecast was for 2 degrees. We awoke to a heavy frost and clear skies, able to see the countryside for miles that had been robbed us by yesterdays fog and drizzle. The first creek crossing had been frozen over and despite earlier traffic there were still plates of ice floating where we crossed. Three major river crossings today and varying reports of their depth and width. Heading out now on the F88 past Herdubreid. The desert scenery broken only by the oasis at the base of the mountain. Playing it safe, Kay walked the first and smallest crossing (carrying her boots) in the almost freezing water. The same routine at the second crossing, a much wider one at 35 meters, and deeper (30-40 cm) with loose stones on the downstream edge where we needed to cross. By the third crossing we were feeling confidentLoose gravel and a floating front wheel, and we are wet and decided to cross two up and paid the price. Loose gravel about half way brought us off wet to the knees and the motorcycle resting on its crash bars. After a hurried righting the motorcycle started straight off despite the mufflers being underwater and we all emerged unscathed though wet in the sunshine. Myvatn tonight after a hectic 250 km of piste over the last two days.

23/8/98 Myvatn is one of the most volcanically active places on earth situated on the crack between two enormous tectonic plates gradually moving apart. We walked along and across the still steaming lava flow from the 1986 eruption where a ten kilometre crack opened up in the earth's crust spewing out lava. Walking from the Europa plate back and forth to the American plate. Iceland is the only place above sea level where these two continental plates meet. It seems odd to walk from Europe to America and back in a few minutes without getting your feet wet, tectonically speaking that is. Overnighted again in Myvatn

24/8/98 Myvatn is also famous for its lake, formed just 2300 years ago this shallow lake is the breeding grounds for thousands of migratory birds feeding on midge fly and their larva. These midge hatch from May to August and although some bite most don't, and just swarm around you everywhere you move outside. They are so thick they penetrate your ears, eyes and nose rapidly driving you to frustration. We were at the tail end of the season when it was said to be a light dose. The locals walk around with net covered heads to avoid the insects.Geysers letting off steam in the background of mirror smooth lakes

25/8/98 Moving again to Husavik famed for whale watching. After a visit to the whale museum and a couple of videos pointing out both sides of the harvesting of whales we headed out to sea. Just two whales, humpbacks, seen breaching from about 1 km away and then at the surface close up for about 30 minutes including a number of deep dives with flukes displayed. Quite a spectacular sight. Normally Minke whales are also sighted but I can't help pondering the incongruity of charging tourists to see whales and trying to keep them tame for that industry while at the same time allowing harvesting for meat of the same species in another area of the ocean nearby.

26/8/98 Camped last night at Jokulsargljufur National park and this morning headed out to the unique basalt columnar formations at Hljodaklettar (Iceland has such unpronounceable names). These crystal like columns are so unusual with their honeycomb ends. Headed further south down a deteriorating road past Dettifoss waterfall and the last 20 km before ring road 1 was a designated jeep track winding through sandy cuttings and rocky ridges. Overnighted at Egilsstadir.

27/8/98 Regrettably leaving Iceland at noon, two enjoyable weeks and managing to avoid most of the rain with eight full days of sunshine, somehow avoided the endless strong winds other motorcyclists encountered and even managed most river crossings without incident due to the lateness of our summer visit. (Glacial and snow melt in June and July cause high rivers but cooler weather in August slows melting). A longer stay here would definitely be warranted particularly on an off road motorcycle but we managed a good look in the two weeks of some of the more remote areas. The fully loaded Smyril-Line boat sailed with us aboard..

Move with us to Faroe Islands

Received this email from Njall on the 19/12/98 regarding the current sub glacial volcanic action on Iceland.
Photos also with the compliments of Njall

Hi all.

Greetings from the adventure island!
For those who don't know it already, we're having an eruption in the glacier Vatnajokull.  The volcano activity is quite big as you can see from the pictures.  The smoke can be seen from Reykjavik, the capital,
which is on the other side of the country. There is the possibility of floods like we had two years ago.  Let me know if you want to receive more pictures and updates.

Njall Gunnlaugsson
Managing Director
Biking Viking Motorcycle Tours




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