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Fire and Ice


While Liz and I spend a couple of weeks exploring Iceland, I decided to take some time to enjoy a few bike rides in this wonderful country.


On the edge of the Arctic Circle, Iceland was settled by Norse Seafarers over 1,000 years ago.


Icelanders are proud of their Viking heritage. Statues and memorials to their history are scattered around the country. They’re also proud of their stunning landscapes. This land is a visual feast of spectacular dramatic scenery.

But, as the name suggests, Iceland can be quite cold – even in the “summer” months.

I started my ride at the small town of Hveragerði (pronounced “KVER a gair thee”) about a 40 minute drive to the south-east of the capital, Reykjavik.  As I drove, heavy rain splashed down my windscreen.  A few minutes later the rain turned to ice as the temperature dropped below zero.

I put on my wet weather gear, optimistically set up the bike, and started to ride.  After all, if the weather turned too bad, I could always retrace my steps.

The thing that surprised me most was the wind.  I found it difficult to stay upright on the bike as I struggled up the hill.

The other strange thing was that I wasn’t getting wet from the rain.  It had turned to sleet, so rather than soaking me, white frozen blobs of ice just bounced off me.

The government welcomes recreational use of trails and has built a handy tunnel under the highway so cyclists, hikers and horse riders can avoid the traffic.

It also came in useful as a shelter from the breeze.

I was faced with a continual uphill grind for most of the first half of my ride.  It was hard work, but even though I had three layers on top, I didn’t overheat from the hard work.

As I climbed I noticed patches of ice clinging to the sides of boulders.  I grinned stupidly, for an Aussie this was very unusual.

Halfway up the hill, I stopped to enjoy the view at a lookout.  The wind was strong.  As I held my bike the wind blew it out from under me.  Since the wind was blowing towards the edge of the cliff, I decided to play it safe and lay the bike down 20 or 30 metres from the edge, and gingerly walked the remaining distance.

Towards the top of the hill, I encountered a sign which (I think) said this was a geothermal power station site.  Having so much volcanic activity is a boon for Iceland.  They’re able to economically generate almost all the power they need from geothermal power stations like this one.  And there’s no ugly coal smokestacks.

The landscape was like nothing I’d ever seen – almost lunar.  No trees anywhere.  No grass.  Just a few patches of moss clinging tenaciously to the edge of rough volcanic rock.

After a couple of hours of hard climbing, I eventually reached the edge of the Reykjadalur Hot Springs area.

At last! Some downhill sections.  I felt relieved that my uphill slog had come to an end.

Some sections were cheap.  I was grateful that the people from Ice Bike Adventures had given me a brand new Scott Spark with a seat-dropper.  I dropped the seat, leaned back and rode the steep rough section.

“Reykja Dalur” means “Smokey Valley”.  Our words “Reek” and “Dale” come from the same origins.

This valley was steamy. Hot water bubbled out of the ground.  The air “reeked” of sulphur and eggs.

Fascinating.

There were some boardwalks by the river bank to protect if from erosion.  There were also some partitions to give people a small amount of privacy to change into swimming gear before jumping in.  This place is quite popular for tourists.  I had arrived early in the day and had the place to myself.

But was the water warm enough to swim?  Not long ago ice had been bouncing off me, so I wanted to be sure.  I stuck my hand in.  It was perfect!

I decided that if I hopped in then, I wouldn’t want to get out for a long time, so I chose to stay out for now, and bring Liz back with me later in the day so we could enjoy it together.

Tourists were slowly arriving as I left.

The walkers didn’t mind sharing the track with a crazy mountain biker.  We kept out of each others way.  One even agreed to take my photo.  (Taking selfies on a bike ride can become quite tedious).

A couple of hours later I returned with Liz on foot.

The rain had disappeared as we hiked up the valley under blue skies.

Back at the hot springs, lots more visitors had arrived and were happily soaking in the warm water.

We wore our swimming gear under our clothes, so we just ditched the clothes on the bank, and jumped in.

Perfect!

We soaked in the warm water for almost an hour.

The only problem was getting out.  The air was cold.  But we managed.

The hike back down the valley was not as much fun as the downhill roll I had enjoyed earlier in the day on the bike.

 

But we did have more time to enjoy the view.

My ride was only 23km, but during that time I climbed over 1,300m in strong freezing wind. It took me almost 4 hours. I’ll rate it 9 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter.

Our hike was about 9km and took about 1 hour each way. It was in much more pleasant conditions. I’ll rate it 7 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter.

I’ll post more updates of our adventures over the coming weeks.

This is going to be a lot of fun!

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