Day 10 – Djúpivogur to Kirkjubæjarklaustur – 184 miles
Just when you think Iceland can’t get more amazing…
We woke to bright and sunny weather again, 50°, with a light breeze, the sun drying the dew on the tents. It’s good not to be cold! We plan to enter the large glacial Vatnajökull region today and make for Jökulsárlón, a large glacial cove. It’s an easy ride, about 100 miles, all pavement, in and out of fjords along the south coast of the island.
The usual salmon, coffee, hard cooked eggs, cheese, and rúgbrauð with butter for breakfast. A thick fog rolls in, blanketing the harbour and campsite within minutes as we break camp.
We ride in and out of heavy fog along cliff roads. We descend into the bay leading to Hornafjörður, it’s dotted with floating light grey swans everywhere and a large black sand beach stretching out to the horizon. We ride through a short tunnel and cross many single-lane bridges. The longer ones are steel decked; the shorter, wood. Each makes its own sound as the bikes cross. As elsewhere on the island, the main road becomes the main street through towns. The demarcation easy and clear – sheep grates in the road before and after, then an island diverting lanes and lowering the speed limit to 50km/h. We have yet to encounter a traffic light or stop sign since leaving Reykjavík more than a week ago. It’s fantastic.
In Hornafjörður we’re back in the sun, the fog having receded. The long black sand beaches make a striking contrast against the brilliant blue water. On the other horizon, we get faraway glimpses of the “smaller” glaciers, dripping down off Vatnajökull.
Not only can you see glaciers, from some vantage points you can see three, four, even five at once! Large enough each has its own name, they’re dripping down valleys off the mother Vatnajökull like icing off a rugged cake.
We ride down a dirt road to the Hoffell Hot Tubs, natural hot pots feed by underground springs, but elect not to take a dip as the glaciers are calling us closer.
We enter Jökulsárlón, the iceberg bay. It has the widest glacial path so far where Breiðamerkurjökull spills to a broad, protected cove, calving icebergs where it meets the salt water. Seals frolic between the floating ice. It’s the busiest tourist destination we’ve seen, partly because it’s right off the Ring Road in close proximity to the south’s larger population, and partly because it’s stunningly and uniquely beautiful. I know of nowhere else you can get this close to a glacier and icebergs on dry land. We spend a lot of time here admiring the place and lunch on fantastic hand-battered (they made a big deal of that) fish and chips from a food truck. As elsewhere tourists flock to the bikes and ask questions. A Chinese family grabs Steve by the jacket sleeve, insistent to take pictures with him and the bikes.
We head out again, finding yet another glacier that seems approachable and less touristy, down a long gravel trail. Warren dumps on a tight switchback turn onto the trail, recovers it, and we think better of continuing the 8km. We ride instead farther down the Ring Road to Fjallsárlón, another glacial lagoon feed by Fjallsjökull. This is less busy and bigger than Jökulsárlón but no less beautiful. In fact, the view of the glacier is even broader. We could spend days popping by glacier after glacier in this region but need to move on.
There’s a wicked southwest wind along the huge broad flats of Skeidararsandur. We ride sideways for 25+ miles, in awe of some of the bicyclists we see heading towards us. We tried for a camp at Svínafell as the map indicated it had a pool. But it was rudimentary, almost run-down, unprotected from the winds and very exposed, and the pools looked old. With rain forecast we wanted somewhere with less adverse conditions and better protection. We found the same at another try in Skaftafell.
We ride another 25+ miles of desolate nothing, horizon-wide black and dark grey glacial wash from Skeiðarárjökull to the north, always looming in the distance, it too taking up the horizon. We cross a lot of one-lane bridges along the Ring Road. With more traffic in the south, we occasionally need to wait for the other direction to clear.
The wash eventually gives way to a large lava field made of black basalt, covered in green-yellow lichen. It must be old as lichen is all over it and the rock is less jagged, actually softly rounded in its covering. We emerge from a short tunnel and it’s like a different world – we see well-tended farms, broad swaths of high green crops, and sheep again.
The wash from Vatnajökull is vast and we see even more glaciers on the northern horizon, five or more at a time from this distance. Despite being sunny and warm elsewhere, clouds are captured by the glacier, gathering ominously dark like something portentous from a movie. The glacier makes its own weather, a fact that was further impressed on us the next morning.
We find a campground in Kirkjubæjarklaustur for the night. It’s clean, has great facilities, and is sheltered from the wind between hedgerows of trees and large bushes and a looming mountain. There are a few copses of evergreens here and there at the foot of the hill. Sheep graze on the lower, easier slopes.
After finding camp we head to the market and meet a German family who took a keen interest in our bikes. They recommended the F208, from which they’d just come, as an easier F road with few river crossings and none more than knee-deep with small stone beds. Steve’s bike with street tires would be treacherous in that, so we thought better of it. There’s lots of time left to explore some lower-risk paths to the interior.
My bike continues to impress and my comfort level on the rough stuff is higher. Maybe I’m skilling up?
It cools quickly once the sun hides behind the mountain and chill wind comes down the slope. We snack on our favourite white mold cheese – yum – and cover up from the cold.