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Iceland 2009 - The 'Baptism of Fire for a Lightwave' Tour

Part 1 - Snæfellsnes peninsular

21.07.09 - Home to Keflavík

Getting to gatwick from the hotel at Horley was just so easy as cycle route 21 runs right past the airport terminal building. Just off the cycle route there was a lift that takes you right into the terminal concourse. What made us laugh was the sign for the 'Stairs to the cycle route'! Whilst we were packing up our bikes in their CTC poly bags a chap on a bike asked us where we had got the bags. We explained that we had brought them with us and they are not provided by the airlines. 'Oh dear' he said and disappeared later to return and ask us if he could borrow a pedal spanner!

The flight was fairly uneventful and we landed at Keflavík on time. After the run in with the security guy last year we left the bikes in their poly bags and went to the 'Alex' desk and asked the guy if we could use their transfer bus. We had to wait only 20mins and it was a lot less hassle than having to reassemble the bikes out side like last year. We soon had the tent up on the site at Alex and after leisurely putting the bikes back together cycled down to the supermarket for supplies.

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map link22. 07.09 - Keflavík to Borganes

After checking the weather on the internet at the campsite reception we decided as the best weather seemed in the west that we would head to the Snaefellnes peninsular. We rode to Reykjavik along the 41, fortunately after our experiences last year they had finished dueling it and there was reasonable hard shoulder to ride on therefore we were away from most of the traffic. What was interesting was that there was no sign of the no cycling signs we had seen going up on the new road last year. We stopped for lunch at 1.30 just before Kapella and later after passing the mammoth Alcan factory at Hafnafjordur we were soon in the suburbs of Reykjavik and we got to Reykjarvik bus station by 4.00pm. Although the web site had said there was a bus to Holmvik at 5.00pm, when we asked at the information desk they said that there wasn't one until 8.00am the next morning. As there was a bus to Borgarnes at 5.00pm we decided that rather than spend at night in Reykjavik and have to get up at the crack of dawn we would catch the bus to Borgarnes and cycle north from there. Fortunately the bus was fairly empty so we didn’t have too trouble getting the bikes stowed in the luggage compartments underneath. We got to Borgarnes at 6.10pm and after a quick visit to the supermarket we found the campsite which was just north out of town. It was a lovely location just next to the sea. After having some tea we chattered to a German cycletourer and a French guy who were camped either side of us whilst we watched a rather lovely sunset which cast a lovely light on the mountains behind.

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map link23.07.09 - Borgarnes - Eldborg

It rained quite heavily in the night but by 8.00 it had stopped. Unfortunately the wind was northerly and fairly strong as we headed up the 50, as it twisted and turned we had it mainly as a gusty side wind and at times we were heading virtually straight into it which made the cycling hard work. Thankfully the road was fairly flat as it could have been much worse. I had forgotten to fill my water bottle at the campsite, but thankfully Frank had some juice in hers. The scenery was a little flat and uninteresting for a while as it was mainly rough moorland type grazing with the odd hay meadow. When we got to Bruarfoss there was a river that cut across the road in a narrow gorge with a private fishing place on a promontory above the gorge. I stopped and wandered over to see if they could let us have some water as was a long way down to the fast flowing river. A guy pointed me in the direction of a small hut, obviously by the fishy smell and the large sinks it was the fish gutting hut! With our water bottles full we headed off to find some shelter across the river bridge and found a small side track just off to the left where we managed to find some shelter behind rock for our lunch. As we headed on It was hard work with the wind and we could see that the weather ahead of us wasn’t looking too good. We had intended on camping on a campsite at Eldborg but due to our slow progress with the wind we decided on a site a bit closer at Snorrastadir. The road was straight and seemed to go on for ages. At last we saw the turning and as we turned down the road to the campsite it was downhill and we had the wind behind us. Wahoo! What a great run down and so welcome after that slog into the wind. When we got to the farm there was an area with a few camper vans on it and a woman sat outside a building. We got off our bikes to have a look around for the reception. The women piped up “Are you looking for the reception, it’s that house over there the other side of the river” in very much an RP accent. I said “You sound awfully English”, “that‘s because I am” she said and went on to explain that she was with an English party who had come over to ride the Icelandic horses for two weeks. Soon after we booked in there was a horrendous down pour and the wind started to get up. I got the feeling we were in for a windy night.

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map link24.07.09 - Eldborg to Langaholt

Fortunately it was a sunny morning and the wind had abated a bit, the climb up to the main road wasn't quite as bad as we thought it would be. The wind was still northerly so we were either heading into it or had it on our sides as the 54 gradually turned around to the west between the Eldborgarhraun and Raudhalsahraun large lava fields . All around you could see volcanic cones as evidence of the lavas origin. There were again plenty of birds as we were mocked several times by circling Whimbrels. At a point soon after the 567 turn off we came across a picnic place which although it was a little chilly in the wind it had good views of the sand spits and marshes in Hafursfjördur. We still had the wind on our beam as we headed west through hay meadows with fine craggy mountains on our right. The beam wind was quite blustery which made the cycling quite tiring and weren’t we glad to eventually see the flags of N1 petrol station at the junction of the 56. We had hoped that it would have had a shop but it only had a cafe selling fast food. As we were fairly tired and hungry we decided that we might as well have something to eat as it was getting late. We briefly had the wind on backs as we left the petrol station which was great although it didn't last long as we turned west and the road twisted and turned until we got to Brautarholt where the road turned south for a couple of km's and we were blown along without any pedaling! As we crossed more marshes with many small lakes we were glad to see the campsite sign. The site was just below a golf course in amongst the dunes. The showers were in the club house and boy were they welcome as they were lovely and hot!

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map link25.07.09 - Langaholt to Arnarstapi

It was a lovely sunny morning and the sun’s warmth caused us to get up early as we wanted to pack up before the tent got too hot. It was a good thing that we were on the road quite early as the first bit along the 54 was wonderful for its birdlife. We kept stopping every 200 yards or so to look at the birds. There were sandy gravel sides to the roads with sand dunes next to the sea and small lakes between the road and the mountains. It was a wonderful habitat. Apart from the hundreds of Arctic terns feeding young, we saw Whimbrels, Arctic Skuas, Red-necked Phalarope, Ringed Plovers, Whooper Swans, Red throated divers and Snipe. It was a wonderful place, at Lysuvatn we could easily have stayed and watched the birds all day, but eventually we decided that we had better move on. As we continued along the 54 we passed many hay meadows and could see a rain cloud hanging just above the junction of the 54 and the 574. Although there was a hill it was raining hard enough for us to need to put a waterproof jacket on. By the time we both got to where it leveled off we were both far too hot and had to stop and strip off layers as we were both absolutely boiling as the sun had now come out. We had our lunch stop at the top of the hill below Axlarhyrna with lovely views looking over the Budahraun lava field. It was an easy and enjoyable ride across Breidavik again through many hay meadows with a craggy mountains backdrop. The map showed that we should have been on gravel but it was tarmac all the way to Arnarstapi. When we got to Arnarstapi there unfortunately wasn’t a shop only a cafe with a large campsite behind. It was a little expensive for what they charged as there were no showers just cold water. It was a lovely warm evening so we sat outside and cooked, whilst watching the arctic tern colony in the field next door feeding young.

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map link26.07.09 - Arnarstapi to Hellissandur

Last year when we were in the interior of Iceland we had taken the cleats off our Shimano M90’s as the rough gravel surface of the roads had made them a bit dangerous to use as we wanted our feet free to put a foot down at any time. Since we had arrived in Iceland this year we hadn’t had a chance to put them back on. We decided to put the cleats back on the boots as we were mainly on tarmac and it does make it easier. We both set off and I quickly stopped to put my sun glasses on and promptly forgot to un-cleat my left foot and wallop I was sprawled out on the gravel of the campsite driveway, what a donkey! I picked myself up and there was blood pouring down my knee. I went back to the campsite toilets and washed the grit and blood from the wound as best I could. Fortunately it looked worse than it was and it was just a bad case of ‘gravel rash’. In the mean time Frank had retraced her route to find out what had happened, what a great start to the day.

With my knee patched up we set off for the visitors centre at Hellnar. On the way we spotted a little pull in with an interpretive board showing a path to Bardarlaug a crater pool. It was only a short walk and as we walked around the pool we had good views of the Snæfellsjöll in background. As we got back to the main path we spotted a Ptarmigan and with a bit of stealth Frank managed to get quite a close view. When we got back to the bikes we headed down to the visitors center at Hellnar.  The visitor centre had the usual interpretive displays of the geology, flora, fauna and cultural history of the Snaefellsness peninsula. From there we headed down to the sea shore and found a small cafe where we had some lovely fish soup and homemade bread which we can highly recommend. Whilst we sat waiting for our soup we looked across to some cliffs with a large arch and from a noise we recognized a fairly large Kittiwake colony.

After our lunch we explored the cliffs and the Kittiwake colony before walking back up to our bikes. Frank had set off before me and whilst I was sorting myself out to follow her I was stopped by some people from an English coach party who had noticed my ‘GB’ plate, they wanted to know what it was like cycling around Iceland. It was a god pull up from Hellnar back on to the 574 but it was reasonably flat from there to the craggy cliffs at Lóndrangar where we stopped to have a look at them from the view point. Our map showed it should be gravel but the 574 was now all tarmacked till we reached the turn off to the 572 which dropped us down to Dritvik an old fishing village with some lifting stones on the entrance to the beach. These were four stones of various weights allegedly used by the local fisherman to ascertain their strength. I only managed the second stone the ‘Halfdraettingur at 54kg which made me a ‘Half-Carrier’, but I didn’t like to risk my back on trying the ?! We had a look on the beach and it was absolutely covered in bits of rusting metal, wreckage from the steam trawler 'Epine' from Grimsby which floundered on the coast in 1952.

Whilst we were there we found our first Icelandic geocache which was hidden quite close to the path and we had to make it look like we were bird watching as we sat over the cache with one of us looking through the binoculars whilst the other filled in the log. When we got back to the bikes and studied the map we realized that we still had a long way to go. The lunchtime soup seemed a long time ago and we both agreed that if we were to continue a brew and something to eat was in order. It was indeed a long slog as the road was quite straight as we crossed lava field and we were gradually climbing which didn’t help. Unfortunately as we turned the corner near Lambhagtiarnir a small lake we were heading straight into the wind and it was only after about 4km’s when the road turned to the west and we had reached the highest point did the cycling ease and we got a nice run down to the junction of the 579. However the last bit up to Hellisandur was hard work as again it was slightly up hill and into the wind. It was indeed getting late when we got to the campsite which was a small basic site with only cold water and one working toilet, but we couldn’t complain as it was free.

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map link27.07.09 - Hellissandur to Ólafsvík

We had only a couple of cups of tea and a small piece of salami and cheese for our breakfast as we had little else. By the time we had arrived the night before we had been too late for the shop.  It didn’t open again until 11.00am that morning so we decide to get going as we intended on only going as far as Olafsvik.  The wind was still quite strong and was again in our faces. When we got to Rif there was a sign for a shop so we turned off the main road and found a well stocked supermarket where we bought a couple of Vinabrauds and bottles of juice. As we were standing outside being blow about by the strong wind the lady on the till in the supermarket popped her head out of the door a told us that we could use her garden at the other side of the building. She said it was sheltered and had a bench we could sit on. It was really nice of her and the Vinabrauds certainly hit the spot and made up for the lack of breakfast. Going across the open ground as we left Rif there was such a strong cross wind it was very difficult to ride safely as the strong gusts were so strong we were in danger of being blown clear off our bikes. We decided that it was safer to get off and push the bikes until we got into the lee of a bunt that had been built to protect the new road. We got in to Ólafsvík in good time and found the campsite at the end of the town. We pitched the tent before going back into town to find the supermarket and then returned to the campsite for a lovely hot shower.

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28.07.09 - Ólafsvík

We woke to rain and more wind and decided that after all the exertions of the past few days we didn't fancy battling any more wind, so a rest day was in order. After a lazy morning we went for a swim at the pool. It was a small indoor one but quite warm and had a nice hot tub. There were some local kids enjoying the inflatable toys and the woman attendant spoke to them in Icelandic but it was easy to work out that she had told them to get out of our way as we might want to swim lengths. We felt dutifully obliged to then put in a few lengths. While I was resting at one end there were shouts from the family in the hot tub and I looked over my shoulder to see a woman quickly hoisting up a little boy’s trunks. According to Frank the little boy needed a wee and had dropped his trunks and was about to pee over my right shoulder before his mum stopped him.

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map link29.07.09 - Ólafsvík to Setberg

While packing up our light weight gas stove Frank broke one of the pan supports off. I hasten it add it was a design fault with the weld and not her clumsiness! We quickly headed for the N1 garage in town and luckily they had one small gas stove left, it wasn't the lightest of stoves but it was better than nothing! It was still overcast as we left Ólafsvík but the wind at least wasn't as strong as the day before but it was still a head wind! It was a little clearer across the Breidafjödur and you could see across to the western fjords were we had been last year. As we turned the corner at Búland you could see Kirkjufell 463m reputably the prettiest mountain in Iceland and as we got close to Grundarfjördur it did sit out on its own and on a better day with a good light on it I admit it could look quite majestic. Grundarfjördur seemed to be in morning as there were loads of flags at half mast and blue ribbons tied to bushes outside many of the houses. We stopped at the information office/cafe for a snack and decided that given the head wind we wouldn’t make Stykkishólmur that day. We went to the supermarket for supplies and then off to find the town campsite. Well it was right at the back of the town situated in what looked like an old quarry. As it didn't look very welcoming with stony grass we noticed that there was another site just a couple of k's further on. Well it was worth moving on to Setberg as although it was only a cold water site it had lovely views over Grundarfjördur bay and lovely new mown grass and to make it even better we were in beautiful sunshine most of the evening while Grundarfjördur was in the shadow of the late evening cloud.

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map link30.08.09 - Setberg to Stykkishólmur

The wind had moderated over night and had changed to a slight southerly which was a blessing as up to now we had had a head wind all the way around the peninsular. It’s probably only sailors and cyclists that get paranoid about wind direction and strength but it can certainly aid or hinder ones progress and no more so on a touring bike in Iceland! The slight tail wind helped as we climbed up and down to the bridge across the Kolgrafafjördur and certainly helped as we climbed the hill out of Hraunsfjördur. At the top we looked down on the open expanse of the Berserkjahraun lava field so named after the two Berserks who reputedly cut a trench through it. From the junction of the 56 we made good speed across the Helgafellssveit and had hoped to stop for a brew at the picnic place marked on map at the junction of the 58, however when we got there it had gone so we ended up sitting on a wee hummock of bilberry plants overlooking a lake with Drapuhlídarfjall as the backdrop. From there it didn't take long to get to Stykkishólmur. After the usual shop for food and pitching of the tent we set out for a bit of geocache hunting on Sugandisey Island. On our return I remembered that the lassie at campsite/golf club reception hadn't given us a ticket for the tent so I saw her and asked her if there were any showers. "Oh yes" she said "at the grey building", "that's strange I couldn't find them", "Oh they are on the ends". What she didn't tell me was the fact that they were outside and I mean outside! Basically it is a shower cubicle with no roof on it and with a 9" gap at the bottom, big enough for a small gale to blow through and passing small boys to have gander through. I don't know what the guy who designed the building was on at the time or whether he had a sadistic streak or whether he was some sort of outdoor healthy fetishist type. Perhaps a bit like the Finns and the Swedes who seem to think it's healthy to jump into icy coldwater then roll about naked in snow and end up beating themselves with birch twigs. We concluded that it was either an afterthought or a mean way of making you not stay in too long and use too much hot water! We could understand outdoor showers in the south of France but not in Iceland for goodness sake, there was no way you could have taken a shower when it was raining as there was nowhere to keep them dry. It was certainly a novel experience.

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31.07.09 Stykkishólmur to Reykjavík

Our plan was to catch a bus to Borganes and then do a route into Husafell to have a look at the lava tubes at Sursthellir. We went to the tourist information office at the sports center to check the times and returned to pack the tent. Waiting at the petrol station for the bus were two other tourers. We soon got chatting to them and found out that they were from Sweden and returning to Reykjavík at the end of their holiday. We talked about cycling in Sweden and 'Wallandar' country until the bus came. As they were going to Reykjavík the driver put their bikes in the luggage compartment and as we were only going to Borgarnes he put ours on a towing hitch mounted rack at the back. As Frank was taking all the bottles and things off her bike she noticed what looked like a crack in her front wheel rim, there was no time to check it out we had to make a quick decision. If it was cracked the best place to fix it was Reykjavík. The Swedish guy seemed to think it looked like a crack as well so I told the driver our change of plan and thus we ended up at Reykjavik.
From the Reykjavík bus station we headed for the campsite, at least we knew where it was from last year. By the time we had got ourselves pitched and a meal cooked it was too late to look at Frank's wheel rim, I would have a look at it in the morning.