Iceland by bicycle days 11, 12 and 13 – the wild south west

Selfoss Church
Selfoss Church

I was in no hurry to leave Selfoss… having said that, I was in no real hurry to do anything.

I had some touring admin to sort – toiletries, new gas canister, food (always food!) – and was spoilt for choice. Despite the grim summation in the guidebook, I liked Selfoss. It was functional, yes, but a pleasure to pootle around by bicycle. It trundled around housing estates and backstreets in search of regular Iceland.

Panniers stocked again, I found a quite road heading south and to the coast. The sea would now be my companion for the remainder of the trip. I planned to head to the south west corner of the country before heading north and back to the cabins at Keflavik. The distances were not great and I had time to take my time.

I pedalled away from Selfoss into lonely fields. The road was quiet, the cycling perfect. I enjoyed he contrast to the challenges of the mountains. Even in my relatively short sortie around this fascinating country, I was gaining some semblance of its contours and colour.

I came across a fenced copse to the side of the road and ventured through the gate and to a small clearing. The ground was rough, moss covering shallow gnarly rootstocks, but in the clearing I found stone benches arranged around an elevated fire pit. I sat down… apart from the gentle hiss of the branches above, the spot was quiet, calm.

This was forestry association ground. It struck me that the sheltered oasis provided welcome protection for self-powered travellers in a country where most folk rely on the internal combustion for conveyance.

I pedalled on and soon hit the shore, my arrival marked by a heavy coastal fog that soaked my clothes and gave the journey a sinister edge – John Carpenter synth soundtracks jangled in my ears.

Workaday fishing villages dot this bleak coastline and the local authorities have tried to capitalise on Iceland’s tourist credentials with a range of interpretive panels.

It may lack the brochure appeal of the Golden circle, but I loved it.

Some way down the coast I came across the Knarrarosviti Lighthouse, a stark counterpoint to the horizontal tenor of the landscape. I pedalled along a bumpy, sandy track to the structure as it seemed a good place to stop for lunch. I admired its angles, the marriage of function and form. Sitting on its steps, munching on cheese bread and apples, my imagination ran riot picturing the storms that slam into this coast as this beacon provides some comfort for the hardy soles battling the tumult at sea.

Next stop was Porlakshoen, although the combination of the fishy aroma and seafood processing and rain compelled me to push on to Strandarkirkja, my anticipated stop for the night.

This tiny village is a collection of farmsteads and an attractive church perched above a wild, larva-strewn coastline. A farmer has opened up a grassy field for campers to pitch for free along with a small shop and cafe for essentials.

I found a lovely sheltered spot and got organised.

With dinner done, I sat back and relaxed only for the silenced to be broken by the familiar sound of tyre on gravel.

An impressive convoy came into view: two Surly Pugsley fat bikes, both fully kitted out with panniers and frame bags, one with a trailer carrying a small boy. My new neighbours were at first a little concerned that they might be raining on my parade, but I assured them they wouldn’t be spoiling the view.

The family were from Alaska on a lengthy tour. Sadly, I didn’t catch their names but the dad – a lithe, alert looking fellow – shared my love of bikes. He was positively evangelical about the merits of fat bike travel. I could only express my admiration that he and his wife were touring with a toddler.

They were very well equipped though… even their son had a balance bike.

I awoke to rain on the fly, and lots of it. I made coffee, and then more. My destination, Grindavik, was only a few kilometres along the coast. However, the rain seemed set.

I packed away as much as possible in the tent and waited it out. Finally, conditions improved a little and I broke camp without getting too soggy. My neighbours were firmly ensconced in their tent when I left.

The road to Grindavik crossed a desolate lava shelf, the sea on my left, dark cliffs to my right, which wore heavy clouds on their summits.

Traffic was light, but here I saw several cycle tourists heading out on adventures of their own. I envied them.

The road climbed steeply over a headland and I dropped into sunshine. A gull then attacked me. The bird screamed above me and tried to dance on my head. I had no helmet and spent five lung-busting minutes try to outrun my assailant while ducking its angry advances.

Grindavik was set to be my destination for the next couple of days. Tomorrow would be spent at the nearby Blue Lagoon for some blatant tourist therapy. I found the town’ s excellent campsite, not unlike a municipal park, protected by turfed soil berms.

The weather then turned and the atmosphere changed – that palpable sense of rain and storms to come. I wandered into town to buy provisions for the two days and some tent beers, the woman at the state off licence giving more than a quizzical looks when buying brews at 4.30pm on a Tuesday afternoon.

Back at camp, I sat back and tucked into my book (Keith Foskett’s excellent account of Pacific Crest Trail) and whiled away the evening.

By 11pm, the promise of rain was fulfilled. The tent shook violently despite my sheltered spot. What followed was, without question, the worst night I’ve ever spent under canvas. The tent side thudded in the wind, and the poles creaked and rattled. The frame of my tent is designed to yield, but the inner and fly pressed into my face. The weather had been turned up to 11.

Grey sheets of water slammed into my fragile home. I had resealed the seams before departure, but the downpour soon exposed my lack of attentiveness.

I was hungry for sleep so I could detach from the angry conditions, but none came. The night was spent rechecking guys and holding the four corners of the inner down.

In the early hours I started to break camp. Checking the forecast for the next two days, conditions were set to deteriorate. In needed to be away from this coastline. Other campers bailed too… a number of tents now beyond repair. It seemed ironic that this sheltered, ordered urban location could be so exposed.

Frustrated that my plans might have to change, I did follow highway 425 west for a while only to be blown over three times. The last fall ripped a rivet from my rear pannier. I turned my back on conditions and headed north, past the Blue Lagoon, back towards the shelter of the cabins.

However, I ultimately needed to head west and endured a simply awful 10kms of riding along the road I pedalled nearly two weeks previously. I stopped many times as trucks thundered by and the buffeting rocked my touring rig. This was no fun, dangerous even.

Police patrolled a car accident ahead of me and one officer asked if I was OK. He urged me to get off the road… I would, soon.

After a miserable hour and a half, I reached the Guesthouse Alex and squelched into reception to be greeted by a wry smile.

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