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Reykjavík-Akureyri '95

From Reykjavík to Akureyri through the Kjölur route.

By Davide Cesari, Fri, 11 Oct 1996 14:36:44 +0100
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This route goes from the rainy South-West coast of Iceland right to the North of the country, which is drier and warmer in summer, passing through the interior of Iceland along the Kjölur route. I made it with 4 more friends in 6 days (with the aid of the bus at the last stage), and I think that you should cover it in not less than that time in order to enjoy it completely, though it's possible to run it faster.

Reykjavík-Mosfellsbær-Þingvellir 48 km.

We start in Reykjavík under a thin rain which begins to fade away as soon as we get rid of the highways and the suburbs that surround the capital; after a few kilometers, in Mosfellsbær, we get rid also of the traffic that crowds the Hringbraut (the main ring road that runs around Iceland) turning right towards Þingvellir; a last check at our gear to be sure we aren't forgetting anything then we go straight into the wild of this country. The rain keeps on falling gently but the favourable wind compensates the discomforts of the rain. In the afternoon some patches of blue sky welcome us in the relaxing village of Þingvellir. We get a bit worried when we realize that Þingvellir is nothing more that those 3 houses, a church and a hotel you use to see on the brochures, and the camping isn't very well equipped, however we get relieved when we are told that the following village, Laugarvatn, has got a supermarket supplied with all we need in order to cover the Kjölur route.

Þingvellir-Laugarvatn-Geysir 56 km.

The following day, after some climbs with a pleasant view over Þingvallavatn lake, we encounter the first gravel stretch of road which doesn't give us any trouble, it's just a bit tougher while going uphill because of the soft dark earth; a final steep descent leads us to a paved road right in Laugarvatn. Here we spend more than one hour in the supermarket discussing about what to buy for the following 5 days when we will encounter no villages. After an exhausting discussion we overload our bikes with pasta, bread, honey, dried fish and much more stuff. We eat the heaviest things just outside the market then we have to take off most of our clothes before leaving because the sun starts shining seriously. Some 30, partly graveled, but really easy kilometers of road bring us to the celebrated spot of Geysir; no need to talk about its main attraction, the geysers, of course, just a remark about the outdoor swimming pool: it's really great to have a look to such a nordic landscape from inside a 30 degree Celsius naturally warm water pool. The bright and transparent sky we admire in Geysir has its counterpart in a cold night after the sunset, but our sleeping bags welcome us warmly inside the tents.

Geysir-Gullfoss-Hvítarvátn-Hvítarnes 51 km.

Next morning is as bright as the previos evening so, after a few kilometers, the appearance, at our left, of Langjökull glacier is really marvellous, at least for us Southern Europeans, used to our Alpine glaciers and not to those wide and flat icecaps; Langjökull really seems to deserve this name as new stretches of the icecap keep on appearing on the left as we proceed along the road. Not to miss, of course, the powerful Gullfoss waterfalls, 6 km away from Geysir, but only after them we are really dipping into the wild: a signal warns us that we are entering the F35-Kjölur route at our own risk.
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Beginning of Kjöur route: last patches of green stained with "cotton" flowers before the desert prevails, Langjökull is visible on the horizon.

The landscape changes really abruptly, no more green bush, only earth and stones, the road is anymore paved, but the well pressed earth surface lets our wheels roll more easily than the rough Icelandic asphalt does. The road temporarily leaves the main Hvítá river valley climbing to the pass between Bláfell mountain and Langjökull. That's, in my memory, the most scenic part of the journey: the contrast between desert and ice, under a deep blue sky, is really an unforgettable feeling.
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A quick look at the map while the landscape has already turned into desert, Bláfell mountain in the background. Left to right: Federico, Sebastiano, Davide and Giovanna.

The climb to the pass, about 25 km from Gullfoss, doesn't give rise to any difficulty, apart from a short and steep slope, just after a river crossing, which requires my 28 teeth chainwheel. After the pass the road descends peacefully back in the main valley towards the Hvítarvátn lake, renowned for the icebergs released in it by a Langjökull's tongue. Just after crossing the river below Hvítarvátn we leave the main road and we take the deviation on the left which leads to Hvítarnes hut where there's also a camping facility. In the hut a kind group of -motorized- Germans offer us the leftovers of their dinner, which constitute a welcome gift for our ever-hungry stomachs.
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The relaxing appearance of Hvítarnes in the evening, Hvítarvátn lake is hardly visible below the glacier.

Hvítarnes-Hveravellir 51 km.

The following day we take the official photo of the tour and we exchange some words with the man at the campsite (helped by his daughter in translating from English to Icelandic) about glacial ages and the extent of the glacier at our back in the past centuries, just before leaving for the leg that was going to be the toughest in our tour. After a few minutes our riding is interrupted by a river, we discover in fact that the road which leads from Hvítarnes back to the main Kjölur route northwards is unbridged, so we have to take off our shoes and load the bikes on our shoulders in order to ford the river, not so terrible anyway.
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River fording near Hvítarnes, Kerlingarfjöll mountains with their glaciers can be seen in the background. Left to right: Riccardo, Federico and Davide.

The sun keeps on shining brightly while some wonderful multi-layered clouds appear in the sky, but we soon realize that the road is getting worse: we encounter many series of potholes with a 40 cm wavelength which are impossible to ride over, so that we have to look continuously for the best trail at the center or at one side of the road, moreover we are on a bank holiday so, believe it or not, the road gets crowded of cars, of course no relation to the jams we are used to ride in on continental Europe, but a bit annoying on a gravel road. But, of course, the colors and the shapes of Iceland compensate these disadvantages, so, after a long pedaling we manage to cover the 55 kilometers between Hvítarnes and Hveravellir where we are hosted by a friend of us, Sigurður, an Icelandic meteorologist, who is working for a couple of months in the local weather station and stays there with his wife and his sons.

Hveravellir-Blöndulón-Friðmundarvótn 60 km.

After a morning bath in the hot spring next to the camping we say hello to our friends and we leave Hveravellir with less confidence than in the previous days because of the changing weather. The sky is getting very cloudy and the glaciers are hardly visible, however the wind is in our backs so we keep on going further. The road gets better than the previous day, much less potholes, but the surface is softer than before so it takes a little more effort to proceed. The rain starts falling in the early afternoon but we continue until we find, about 30 km away from Hveravellir, the first sign of 'civilisation': a fishing lodge which offers also coffee and snacks, so we avail ourselves of this chance then, when we get out, the rain has almost stopped falling and after a short and steep climb we enjoy a magnificent view over Blöndulón lake which looks like quicksilver under the grey cloudy sky. A fast, slightly downhill, stretch of Kjölur route brings us to a few interesting zone surrounded by lakes where we decide to put our tents after our daily 50 kilometers.

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Giovanna, Sebastiano, Federico and their bikes standing out against silver Blöndulón after a recent rain.

Friðmundarvótn-Bólstaðarhlíð-Varmahlíð 51 km.

Our last day of Kjölur route starts with the previous fast gravel road which brings us to a very steep paved descent, close to a hydroelectric power plant, leading to the bottom of the valley. From here the road, unpaved again, but no longer called Kjölur route, keeps going along this pleasant valley for 15 km before reaching the -paved- main ring road #1 leading to Akureyri in Bólstaðarhlíð. A never ending climb and the subsequent downhill adding to 24 km bring us in Varmahlíð and a comfortable bus (we haven't enough holidays to make it all by bike) brings us to Akureyri, 80 km further on.

Some technical notes

This itinerary is not so harmful as it may seem for the bike components if you ride carefully (few big stones, no sand, but this doesn't hold for other Icelandic interior roads) so an ordinary MTB could be enough, just be sure to bring with you all the tools and spare parts you may need 200 km away from the nearest bike shop (however there's a bus to Akureyri once a day in case you have to give up) and check the strength and stability of your rear rack, that's, in my opinion, the part of the bike which gets more stressed due to the load you have to bring.

I thank my friends Federico, Giovanna, Riccardo and Sebastiano for having made the dream of crossing Iceland by bike become reality together with me. A big thank also to Cavazza and Suzzi, two of the best bike mechanics and assemblers in Bologna who supplied some of the bikes and many good advices.