“Of Ice and Men”- A Two Week Journey in Iceland

“Of Ice and Men”- A Two Week Journey in Iceland

Day 5 – Hólmavík to Eyjafjarðarsveit via Akureyri – 211 miles

Travel Map – Day 5

It’s the coldest so far – 40s and light rain. We finally get a break in the rain long enough to pack up and leave camp. The valve on my sleeping pad is broken and won’t seal. Fortunately, not being a pure air mattress, there’s plenty of foam in it to keep me insulated from the ground. And I have an excuse to upgrade. ☺

After coffee we break camp, suit up, plug in the heated gear, and go. It gets colder as we climb and we’re on gravel in very thick fog. The visibility is less than 30 feet and we’re in second gear so we don’t outrun our visibility; the road is very windy and twisty, along high cliffs to the fjord. Once we descend, the fog clears – well, it remains above us – and the roads are very comfy.

We seem to be running again from sun as it’s always behind us, shining on where we left. I see more fog on top of the mountains on our route ahead.

I find myself creeping well above the 90km/h speed limit, leaving my companions behind in the gravel, despite the road being very pot-holey and washboarded in many spots. Need to slow down to keep the group together and give myself more room for error. I wonder how the trike is handling this. David almost lost his plate the other day we heard. It’s very windy despite the fog, with the bikes leaning noticeably against the northwest wind. First we lean to one side up the fjord, round the point and get some tailwind, then lean to the other side going into the next fjord.

The wind off the Greenland Sea is cold and the white caps on Húnaflói make it feel even colder. Turning up the heat, switching on the heated grips, and changing to insulated gloves makes it cozy again. Still, when we stop to check out a lonely cliffside church, winter hats go on as soon as helmets come off and we don’t lose the gloves.

We see sheep and horses again; the more desolate Westfjords had nothing on which they could graze.

We find an N1 travel stop in Staðarskáli for bike and human fuel. It’s popular and one the largest stops we’ve seen, probably because it’s the only one for a wide range. The café is full and offers many choices – including multiple lines, salad and soup bars, and a bottomless bowl of lamb soup. The soup was delicious. I notice that even gas station restaurants use real dishes and silverware, no plastic utensils here. It all feels like we’re back in civilization except for some rugged machines: high clearance, snorkeled 4WD vehicles in the parking lot that must have come across or are heading to the central highlands. Even with our adventure bikes, seeing these trucks makes me feel like we brought a knife to a gunfight. Everyone here is dressed like they just stepped out of a high-end outdoor gear catalog.

In the parking lot I spot a car carrier notable because its driver was approaching from the restaurant in full EU-style workingman’s garb: a trim-fitting tactical black jumpsuit with appropriate patches of fluorescent green-yellow for high viz. Close beside him and in matching dress was who I assumed to be his son. They held hands and skipped to the cab, sharing their own private tune. I thought of how both father and son participated in the dignity of work and the respect it was shown in their demeanor and dress. So different from our country.

The multiple layers of clouds follow us all day. There are at least three distinct layers: one seemingly ever-present high, thin cirrus layer; then an intermediate layer bringing rain, often captured or created by the surrounding mountains; finally a lower layer forming above the valleys. It is striking. 

Because of the late start this morning waiting for the rain break and slow going across the foggy mountain pass, we decide to bypass Sauðárkrókur as originally planned and make directly for Akureyri, the northern capital of Iceland and largest town outside of Reykjavík.

We follow what appears to be a moraine, or glacial runoff valley, in Norðurárdalur. It’s amazing. Large and wide with tons of gravel of varying sizes, waterflow is low and slow now but I can imagine what it looks like in the spring. Waterfalls spill down from the hills to add to the runoff. There are what look like piers made of gravel stretching out from the shore and forming a “T” towards the middle of the wash. Musing as I ride, I’m guessing this is to control flow and or erosion?

We’re in and out of light sprinkles all day but it’s mostly dry. Roads are sweeping and beautiful along this section of the Ring Road. I can’t tell if the sun is shining only on the strand farms or if everything is so grey the white house and green fields look bright by comparison.

We make Akureyri, indeed a largish city with suburbs, and head just south to Hrafnagil, a small village in Eyjafjarðarsveit. We camp in a big, grassy area with very nice facilities (but no common cooking shelter) next to the sundlaug, complete with a steam bath or eimboð

We set up camp and head to the pool. A word about Icelandic hot pots a pools. They are very organized, clean, and naturally fed. So very little treatment of the water is necessary. Hence everyone is required to shower thoroughly, and naked, before entering the pool. Posters in the gender-labelled changing rooms remind you which bits to wash with special care. Some find this group showering naked uncomfortable, but trust me no one cares. In fact, if you try to shower with your suit on or bypass it, you’ll not only stick out like a sore thumb, you’ll get the pool police on you. Don’t do it. It’s so civilized to enjoy a bath and show at the end of a long day and it helps my cold, which seems to be improving.

Back to camp after soaking and steaming. It’s cold, low 50s, and the mist and wind makes it feel colder. Too cold to socialize after dinner. Veður, the Icelandic weather app on my phone, says the wind is 2-5m/s, which equates to 11mph. It feels stronger, more like 15-20mph. Winds are out of the north, I’m glad we decided to head south and inland away from the coast. I can imagine how it must be there. As it is, the blowing mist is needling the tent.

We find out David lost his balance stepping off the trike, fell flat on his back, and got the wind knocked out of him. Fortunately he was in full gear and helmet so suffered little damage – or so we thought until later in the trip when we reunite. Thankfully Danny was with him to help.

The forecast tomorrow is wet with real rain arriving overnight. We plan to make Mývatn tomorrow, a very short ride of 30 miles, for a two-day rest and exploration of the area, including some famous falls. I make coffee out of the weather in my tent’s vestibule (we call it the Hotel) for warmth then off to bed.