I open my eyes to a mass of white clouds. In the distance, a red glow pierces the horizon. A volcanic eruption, I thought before my rational mind erased the crazy idea. Probably the last light of the sun. Or the reflections of the moon. It is two o’clock in the morning and the plane will soon land on Icelandic soil. A mixture of excitement and fatigue invades me. I am finally arrived on this island so imagined. Seven years that this land has occupied my thoughts since I watched the movie “The Dream Life of Walter Mitty”. In a few minutes, I will put my feet on the ground of this particular country.
I pick up my bicycle in its big protective box and reach in a clear night the small shelter dedicated to the bicycles outside the airport. One by one the pieces are put back in place on the frame. Pedals, front wheel, lamp. But I can not put air in my tires. There is something wrong with my brand new little pump. I use the local inflators, tired of wasting time. What do I do ? First of all, join the Volgar campsite at a distance of about ten kilometers. The rest can wait. I drive in the night on a small road that quickly turns into a track and then a path covered with small black pebbles. It is slightly raining. And the planned ten kilometers turn into a good fifteen. I have the strange feeling that Iceland does not want me. I finally reach the campsite and go to sleep, exhausted, at about five in the morning. The day is already getting up.
“Hello, somebody in there? The owner’s voice wakes me up. She comes to claim her due. It is 10am. I pay her the 1750 Icelandic crowns requested and worries comes back to me. Starting to cycle around Iceland without a functional pump does not seem like a good idea. And the only place where there is a bike shop is in the suburbs of Reykjavík. I wanted to avoid the big city… but it is my only option. The road is big. It’s almost a highway. Or is it one, given the speed at which cars overtake me. Lava fields covered with yellow moss stretch as far as the eye can see. The closer I get to the capital, the more traffic gets worse. Twenty-seven kilometers later, my problem finds its answer. My pump works very well, it was just the tip that that was not in the right direction. Just unscrew it, turn it over and problem solved. Beginner error. Good lesson: never leave without testing a new pump.
Back on the highway in the opposite direction, I pedal in the rain to join Grindavik, on the other side of the Reykjanes peninsula. With the storm the light is fantastic. In the midst of the lava fields, I feel like I am driving on another world. In the early evening, after almost seventy kilometers in the legs, I finally arrive at Grindavik and its industrial area. Anita’s Guesthouse is still empty and I enjoy the tranquility of the place to take a good hot shower and dry my stuff. One by one, the other guests arrive. Welcome to Iceland.
The next days I travel the south coast of the Reykjanes Peninsula. The wind is blowing hard and getting on my nerves. Traffic too. Cars are passing me all the time. Between the short intervals of engine noise lies the great silence. And the sound of the wind hissing in my ears. On one side, the big green cliffs. On the other, lava fields covered with moss. I am not far from the ocean and many seabirds accompany my slow progress. Gray weather. Rainy weather. Blue weather. I camp at Strandakirkja in the wind where terns fiercely defend their territory with intimidation moves. Even the birds are fighting against me! At Selfoss I get back to the road N°1, the main road around Iceland. And its permanent line of tourists. The landscape changes. Meadows after meadows succeed one another. On the hilly road, beating against the wind and the traffic, I feel my illusions slowly cracking. This has nothing to do with the Iceland that I have in my head.
Southern landscapes. Lupine flowers. The village of Vík í Mýrdal and cows in a meadow.
I find refuge at the poorly equipped and overcrowded Hella campsite. I must think about the rest of my trip. How to avoid the two major problems I have been fighting for two days: wind and traffic. The only solution seems to be to start cycling very early, the wind being generally light in the morning and people taking the road around 10am. Then I have to abandon my definite itinerary and accept the vagaries of the difficult Icelandic climate. No Westman Islands. No Laugavegur hike I was planning to start in three days. Everything will depend on the weather.
Cliffs and meadows scroll gently with the rhythm of my pedal strokes. The landscape feels like Scotland. Eyjafjallajökull, volcano and glacier that erupted in 2010 is invisible, summit in the clouds. At its feet, the little Raudafell Guesthouse is waiting for me. From the living room I observe the green mountains of the surroundings and the long plain extending to the sea. In the fog, places seem so austere. The next day, a Portuguese girl on a school exchange living at the landlords’ farm serves us pancakes without flavor. (Frugal) breakfast included. The owners have a hangover. They celebrated, like all Icelanders, the arrival of a long weekend.
Skogafoss and its famous waterfall is full of people. I do not linger. The Sólheimajökull glacier and its ice blocks floating on a small lake is filled with people. I do not linger. A few kilometers from Vik, strong wind push me to abandon my desire to visit Cape Dyrholaey and Reynisfjara beach. I am tired. I feel like I am in a dream. A not very happy dream that I can not escape. A big climb makes fun of me and I push my bike fighting against wind and cars. On the other side, Vik has disappeared. Only large hotels, restaurants and shopping centers under construction remain. On the way to Kirkjubaejarklaustur I traverse again lava fields under rainy clouds. My mind is rolling, worrying in the middle of this inhospitable environment. A great black desert stretches for miles. And I can see the rain falling in waves at the speed of the gusts of wind. On a small rest area, swallowing my lunch under the drops, a young woman offers me the comfort of her car during the meal. But I refuse nicely. I still have a good twenty kilometers before joining Skaftafell and give up to comfort now is never to continue again.
A white immensity extends to the horizon. The Vatnajökull Glacier is an ice monster. It is the largest ice cap on the island. It covers 8% of the territory. Enough to say that what I see from the road is only the submerged part of the iceberg. At its feet between two glacial tongues is the small Skaftafell National Park. The clouds are so low that I only distinguish the glaciers intermittently. The Svinafell campsite is wet at the foot of the mountains a few kilometers from the park. The place is crowded like every camping I have been since a week. The mass of tourists is impossible to avoid on the South coast. I have been riding for eight days now. Almost four hundred kilometers traveled. And I am deeply disappointed. Where are the exotic landscapes, the vast wilderness, the untouched nature? I check the weather forecast for the fifth time of the day. The weather is still looking bad for the next few days in the area. But not in Skogar and the Landmannalaugar, where stretches the five / six day trek of the Laugavegur trail. A few clouds and mostly sun for at least four days. Could it be a sign fallen from the sky? Decision is made. My bike in the barn of the owners of the campsite and my hiking bag ready. It is time to see something else than the disappointments of the South coast.
Summits in the mist.