When choosing a good cycling location, several factors come into play. You will most probably be looking at things like elevation plots, water supplies, climate (ok, this probably also applies when you don’t cycle, except that we don’t want it too hot or too wet), distances between destinations and other particular things like “will the local air company transport my bike?” or “are the roads rideable?”.
For us, apart from visiting the country where we met over 10 years ago (yeah, yeah it has been a long time and we are getting really old in the process… ), we came up with 8 other very good reasons to return to Iceland. Here they are:
- Geothermal activity:
When cycling Iceland, one can always get over this “shitty part in the rain, mud and on a bad road” thinking that tonight one might soak in a natural hot pot or at least in an outdoor swimming pool. Iceland is a geothermally very active country being on the edge of both the American and the European continent. Therefore it has an impressive amount of hot springs, geysirs, mudholes and fumeroles. The good thing for us as cyclists, is that there is (almost) always some hotpot nearby to put our sore buttocks in and relax our aching muscles.
- Icelandic pastries:
Now a lot of countries have good pastries (especially northern countries do, it must have something to do with the cold, long and dark winter nights, where the only thing you can do to wave off your blues is eating home-baked cookies…), but we think the Icelandic ones are among the top ones! As some examples, we can mention “vinarbrauð” or “kanilsnuðar”. Yum yum! And the good thing: when cycling you burn enough calories to binge on Icelandic pastries every night and still not gain any weight.
- The Icelandic: Icelandic people are very nice. On numerous occasions they will actually turn out to be very curious and talkative, even though at first sight they seem to be a bit distant. And once you get them talking (which is in general very easy if you can speak a few basic words of Icelandic), they will especially be asking you “why all those foreigners come to visit Iceland ON A BICYCLE???” as to them this is a crazy concept. The Icelandic have a humour which is a mixture of downright straightness and irony (especially when it comes to themselves or their country). As an example: On the last day we hitchhiked on a stretch of road close to Reykjavik and the Icelanders who took us of course asked where we came from. When we answered that we were from France and Holland, the immediate reply was “Did you have any savings in Icesave?” (therewith referring to the diplomatic dispute between Iceland, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, which started with the collapse of Landsbanki in the 2008 crisis and left many cities and households in both the United Kingdom and The Netherlands without anything left of their invested savings). As we didn’t have any investments in Icesave, we could laugh about the remark and appreciate the ironic humour! They will also go out of their way to help you when in trouble. A few examples are the friendly workers of a power plant close to Pingvellir who drove us 50 km to get our bicycle repaired when it turned out they couldn’t help us, the employees at numerous gas stations who would call to inquire about taking the bikes on a local bus, or the friendly lady at the Isafjördur sports store, who never had heard of something like bicycle spokes, but still managed to organize us some for free.
- The diversity of the landscape: Iceland is incredibly diverse. When we lived in Iceland 10 years ago, we had visited large parts of the country and thought “we had seen it all”. But luckily we were wrong: this year we visited the inlands by riding over a highland route and the far-and-away Westfjords (Vestfirðir), both regions that are again completely different from anything we had seen so far. The highland is barren, with little to no vegetation, but incredibly beautiful with azur blue lakes and glaciers that seem to arise everywhere. The Westfjords are quite green (it rains a lot) and are marked especially by the sheer absence of human intervention and the long routes that follow fjords. Distances can be huge, even if settlements are quite close to each other as the crow flies. But it makes it all more nice and there are few tourists who actually come out there, which makes it for some nice riding without too much traffic.
- Iceland still has (relatively) few tourists. Although tourism has taken a great leap now that the exchange rate is so low, it’s still relatively mass tourist free and it is pretty easy to get that “out in the wild” feeling just by avoiding the main roads and main “attractions”. Expecially when travelling by bike it is easy to enjoy the landscape “all by yourself”.
- Cycling distances: Although we spoke about “long distances” in the Westfjords, distances are actually pretty small in Iceland and even suitable to cyclists who don’t want to bother bringing tent and sleeping bag. If in Patagonia we sometimes had 500 km stretches without anything, in Iceland there is rarely a stretch of road longer than 100 km without “anyting” and most of the time small guesthouses or campsites are at about 50 km out of each other, which makes that you can always get some food or accomodation when the Icelandic weather decides to play tricks on you.
- Seafood: They have delicious seafood coming fresh out of crystal clear waters. Especially in the Westfjords the water of the sea is so clear that you have a hard time believing that it IS actually seawater and not some high altitude alpine lake you’re looking at. It’s just the perfect cyclists’ meal nibbling on some dried fish as a snack or stocking up on proteins with fresh fish in the evening.
- And finally, but this reason is completely personal: We just think it’s the most beautiful country in the world. But we will not spend any text on that. Just get your bike into an airplane, enjoy the advantage of “slowliness” that cycle tourism offers and find out for yourself!
Vera & Jean-Christophe