A night in a dancing tent concluded with the most curious sound. I could hear a strange buzzing noise outside the tent. At first it sounded as if it were immediately outside, before abating. Then it would sound distant, then immediately above and perilously close to the tent roof.
A little bleary eyed, I stuck my head out the door and saw nothing. Then, that noise again… this time above. I looked up and saw a bird scudding high above, engaged in energetic aerobatics.
This, I later discovered, was a snipe and this strange, almost mechanical, buzzing would accompany my camps for the next couple of nights. The buzz is the result of two wing appendages that can just be seen protruding from the tail. Why the bird has them is not clear, but naturally it does not rely on stealth to feed.
It’s beyond me to describe this sound, so thanks to the wonders of the interweb, here it is.
Consulting the map at Varmaland, I realised I had a couple of transitional days. I would be riding the ring road which, based on previously experience, was a prospect I wasn’t relishing.
However, the map indicated that the road would climb a pass before dropping down to the north coast. And the wind that had animated the tent all night would largely be at my back. This would be a day for bagging some miles.
I retraced my wheel tracks from last night and picked up yet more Corny Bigs (other chocolate bars are available) but avoided loading my panniers too heavily as the map indicated there would be other grocery opportunities on my route.
I rolled onto the ring road and traffic was mercifully light and those motorists I did see were courteous to say the least, pulling over to the far side of the road to overtake – UK driver could learn much. I appreciated this gesture and didn’t tire in offering a wave of acknowledgment each time I was passed.
First port of call on the road was Bifröst, a handy take off point for some impressive hiking. A rather unremarkable hotel and resort served as a stark counterpoint to the tumult and chaos of moss dappled lava beds that choke the valley floor.
The road bisects this stark, unforgiving terrain, and provides relatively easy passage. A few Kms on and the road followed the course of the Nordura.
Then the climbing began. However, this was climbing at its best. A steady incline through wonderful scenery bathed in warm sun. I slipped into my usual high cadence, low gear rhythm and ground it out. Later, I pulled off the road to take on water and refill my bottles from a gorgeous mountain stream, boiling the water as a precaution.
Yet again, the scene reminded me of the Pennine roads of home, albeit amid grander mountains and distinctly un-Pennine weather.
I climbed on, the road sometimes snaking across the terrain and depositing me into the teeth of the wind, which had largely aided my progress earlier on the climb.
After a few too many false summits, I reached a layby occupied by an Italian couple touring on mountain bikes with trailers. Their English was about as good as my Italian, but through the universal lexicon of sign language we shared route and experiences…namely the ferocity of the wind.
Our game of Give us a Clue ended – Italy won – and I looked north. A stunning view opened up before me leading to the deep blue inlet of Hrútafjörður. The distance was deceptive given the clarity of the air but I had some way to ride in order to reach those waters, all of it glorious descent.
I tore down the hill, tyres thrumming on the Tarmac. The rate at which I lost height made a mockery of my sluggish ascent, but I had no timetables as such. And time was proving elastic without the schedules of work.
I reached large, impressive looking garage and services at the bottom of the climb. As I locked Tango, three separate groups of tourists took my picture with the bike (without asking).
Stomach rumbling, I partook of the stock fare burger and hot dogs. Hardly wholesome food for the road, but it was delicious. I took almost embarrassing advantage of numerous Coke refills before grabbing my bidons and replenishing their stocks from an ice cold water fountain. Belly now comfortably full I turned my attention to the shop and, once again, was confronted with one of the minor frustrations touring in Iceland. While those seeking ice-cream, slushies (hilariously called Krapp), poor quality woollens and WD40 were well catered for, the were no real staples such as pasta and rice.
I did locate some dehydrated soup, bread rolls and cheese. Dinner would be a wee bit meagre that night.
I unlocked Tango and posed for another picture, this time for a German tour bus, and rode off. Riding along the coast was fantastic. I gazed across the bay and picked out the snow capped peaks marking the northern extremities of the West Fjords…an area I had originally planned to visit.
Two touring motorcyclists came thundering towards me riding impressively loaded BMW machines now famous thanks to Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman’s escapist adventures. They gave me an enthusiastic fist pump in perfect unison.
For once, I had a plan for my digs that night. In another conversation at Reykjavik campsite, I’d been told of a campground at Daeli, which was not only a bargain, but boasted lovely pitches and facilities.
Humming impressively after the previous evening’s paltry ablutions, I counted down the Kms to my turn. Helpfully, the campsite was marked off the main road and I picked up a gravel track that followed a lovely river into an eye watering wind.
I followed the valley for a couple of Kms and halted to allow a posse of horses to cross the road. Riding is popular in Iceland and I saw many groups, particularly on the edges of the interior. One lady rider asked me if I wanted to swap my mount with hers. I declined… I’m terrified of horses.
Crossing the river, I pedalled long the other side of the valley hopeful that the campsite would be sheltered as the wind was particularly destructive and would be a stern test for my tent.
The site proved to be well manicured and pretty empty. 950Kr secured a lovely secluded pitch with a picnic table and shelter from the conditions by shrub hedgerows. Add to this a camper’s kitchen and excellent showers and it was the Ritz.
I pitched and spilled my panniers onto the table, giving my gear a much-needed airing. I spent a lovely evening reading in the sunshine.
The following morning, I lay in my tent listening to the snipes droning away above. It occurred to me that the tent was shaking in such a way that the wind must have been coming from the opposite direction.
Popping my head out the door soon confined my suspicions. While this would make progress difficult today, if this wind hung on for a few days, my ride along the Kjolur would be an easier proposition.
I kick started my motivation for the day with lots of coffee and two large pots of Skyr, Iceland’s ubiquitous and delicious yogurt.
Rolling into the teeth of the wind I dropped several gears and spun the pedals. The tone was set for the day. Back on highway one and hopelessly exposed I had a chastening three hours of proper Iceland riding. Pumping the pedals, my backside hurt, my back seized and the ground slid slowly, painfully so, under my tyres.
The coastal road was attractive though, and aided by my usual repertoire of take-my-mind-off-it-singing, I managed to keep my sanity in check.
This was threatened by a) a nasty rainstorm which soaked me to the skin before I had chance to get the waterproofs on and b) oncoming trucks which created a wall of air the forced me into the verge on several occasions. It was pretty bleak riding all things considered.
However, every cloud… A car pulled up alongside me and two French guys engaged me in conversation.
‘Hey man, good for you on the bike. Is beautiful! Where you come from… where you going?’
My response was pathetic: ‘Not far today,’ I gasped, trying to keep Tango upright.
They overtook, both driver and passenger fist pumping out the windows. I appreciated the boost, even if my performance had been, lets say, lacklustre.
Never have I been so happy to reach town, even if it was the rather underwhelming Blönduós. This is, for many, the gateway to the Kjolur. The good news for me was that it boasted a large supermarket that allowed me to stock up on essentials and a few luxuries for the evening.
For the second time on my trip, I encountered some pretty ropey supermarket etiquette. At the checkout, the cashier quickly scanned my goods and slung thme to the end of the packing area and I frantically tried to keep in touch with my groceries. With a third packed, he asked for my money only to start the process again with the next customer, slinging her goods in similarly disinterested fashion and mixing them with mine.
I grappled with my groceries only to endure a caustic glare from the next customer. Unsure if I’d committed some blatant faux pas, I left quickly (chuntering to myself in a bid to maintain some characteristic English behaviour).
Squeezing all the groceries into Tango’s panniers, I pushed a very heavy bike to a nearby cafe for Coke and cake. I got chatting to a very attractive couple from Quebec. They had cycle toured New Zealand (I want to!) and could well appreciate the challenges of pedalling in Iceland.
‘I sink you are very courageous,’ the girl said, in a beautiful French Canadian accent.
‘Stupid,’ I replied.
I demolished an enormous chocolate covered pastry and pushed off. The headwind became a crosswind and was equally, if not more, threatening. I angled into it, trying to keep upright. This strategy worked until a truck came thundering by and I was sucked into the road. Oncoming wagons still blew me into the verge.
I cursed them wildly: pointless protestations, for they know not what they do.
Despite these pretty dire conditions, I followed another glorious river valley – the Blanda. Mountains finally provided some protection to my right and the landscape took on a distinct Alpine feel.
I found the junction with Highway 731, the start of my journey into the interior. Consulting the map, I located a campsite at Hunaver and pushed on along the main road for a couple more Kms. Pitching in the glorious sunshine, I sorted my camp and got serious about replacing some calories.