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Cycling Iceland: 1532 km in 13 legs in the land of ice

Cycling Iceland tour has been realized with Emanuele Battistelli in two weeks, from June 30 to July 14, including the flights. 12 legs plus one "spare", due to the cancelation of the leg to Husavik, in order to gain time for eventual problems during the route.1532 Km nd 11'256 m elevation gain.
 

Map

Cycling Iceland: the adventure begins

After six months of exciting preparation of this cycling Iceland tour, in order to understand its people, habits, history, culture, places, and mysteries, the first 140 km of front wind from Keflavik a Geyser help us realize that this adventure will be really hard! We ride on the coast towards Reykjavik on a busy road with some trucks next to us. I start realizing that there are not so many cycleways in Iceland (I'll be mistaken during the visit of Reykjavik, at the end of the trip) and that we'll hardly meet other bicycle tourists in this unfriendly climate. 

Leg 1: Keflavik - Úthlíð

Lunghezza 140 km  |Dislivello 1107 m 

tappa 1
We get closer to the capital in the terrible traffic, but we cycle away towards Þingvellir. In a first valley not far, around the peak of the hill, I recognize the House Museum Halldór Laxness, which novel "Independent people" introduced me to the understanding of the character of this country. F1 Tappa 1The wind blows colder and stronger and we manage to reach Lake Þingvellir, just to take a look at the meeting point of two faults, the American one and the Euro-Asiatic one: the cut is pretty easy to spot and it's impressing. The ride is harder until we reach the camping for the night under pouring rain.
 
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Leg 2: Úthlíð - Hveravellir

Lunghezza 110 km  |Dislivello 1464 m 

tappa 2This leg on paper looks normal, but in Iceland, there are no simple things. The first night in the tent provided some good 9 hours sleep like in a freezing bag, with the perfect match Ferrino High Lab Air of my sleeping bag and my tent Vaude Taurus Sul XP, which guaranteed good sleep despite the night rain. We leave at 9 towards Geyser. Some minutes of wait and then the "snort", precise as a clock, allows to prepare the camera to take its 10 meters high. Ready to the next celebrity, Gullfoss Falls: very wet and majestic, but we're not there for them. The thought is one and only: our bicycle trip through Iceland.

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It's Iceland at its truest: Kiolur. This gravel road crossing the namesake upland is 160 km long and we don't know what we're going to find. The one and only sure thing: the Hveravellir Shelter, at km 110, but we still don't know what to expect. After the first kilometers of excitement on a beautiful gravel leg, the roads go up with some 12 or 13% gradients, with the ground more and more demanding.
It's by going up and up that the wind blows (like a soldier) from that direction. An impenetrable wall. Hveravellir seems to get further. We realize that we chose the wrong tires, and we start panicking about breaking a spoke. The only certainty, when every truck stops passing by, is our tent: at least we don't risk freezing at night. With a lot of luck and much effort, this windy road crosses this lavic desert and we reach the shelter... After 13 hours on the saddle, it's 10 P.M., we started at 9 A.M.! Dinner at the shelter, tent near the hot river and a good freezing night between two glaciers surrounding us.
 
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Leg 3: Hveravellir - Varmahlíð

Lunghezza 110 km  |Dislivello 962 m 

tappa 3We wake up under a slightly frozen light rain. Fortunately, it's not our "galaverna" (a phenomenon typical of the Po Plain). We put on our technical waterproof clothes and we already fear our 80 km of gravel road to be cycled. We avoid the hot ponds of Hveravellir. Wet gravel means flat tire, and with these temperatures close to zero, it's not easy to change the tube... but we manage, and we're on the road again.
The gravel gets easier, but the wind gets harder and the cold intensifies. This lunar landscape, getting closer to the sea, transforms. Moving towards the North the grass is back.
Terns and sheep are chilling nex to us. They check on our presence and escort us. At the end of this road, we change our direction and as usual front wind and cold!F5 Tappa 3
In Iceland neither the descent is easy! With the panniers, you just have to keep pushing. At least, some sun rays bring some light over these majestic valleys: alpine sights a few feet from the sea. We finally get to Varmahlid: dinner at a self-service restaurant with widescreen during 5-2 for France against Iceland (it's the European Football Cup): it's shocking to witness no hysteria by the clients. We spend the night camping in a cool climate. The wind, as the islandigur say (Icelanders as they pronounce it), stops during the night. We start considering the possibility to ride at night!
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Leg 4: Varmahlíð - Godafoss

Lunghezza 146 km  |Dislivello 1134 m 

tappa 4The day starts with a ride in the wide valleys until 500 meters from the pass, which we reach after 40 km of an easy climb and with tailwind: we almost can't believe it! Descent against the wind towards Akureyri and breathtaking landscapes. We ride along the fiord, hoping to sight some cetacean came to greet the Italians, but nobody shows up, and we face a long and steep climb. F7 Tappa 4Rain on the top, cold and against the wind during the descent... But Godafoss and its waterfalls are getting closer and closer, and so the guesthouse hosting us for the dinner. Pretty quiet and mild night with the sound of the waterfalls.
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Leg 5: Godafoss - Myvatn - Grimmstadir

Lunghezza 97 km  |Dislivello 890 m 

tappa 5Finally the sun and a bright sky: we almost forgot that could exist! We visit the waterfalls and we start again towards lake Myvatn taking advantage of this beautiful day. We decide to modify the itinerary: we won't reach Husavik on the northern coast, because the comeback would mean ride on a gravel road we could not ride on with our tires... This ride gets the pace of a festive day. F9 Tappa 5Near the lake, we ride slower and slower: not for the wind but for the beauty of the scenery, which makes us stop eventually. Extreme contrasts: the green of the grass touching the intense blue of the lake with the lavic rock reflecting in it, never seen before! Some km further the northern "blue lagoon" awaits us for a deserved relax. One hour of dipping at 30° after two days of the coldest wind: well-deserved. Then 40 km against the wind on the neverending road towards Grimmstadir, a formality. Our guesthouse is in the middle of nowhere, the dishes made by the lady host unknown: we will never know what was in that soup, but at least the flavors were true. Goodnight, with a great sun.
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Leg 6: Grimmstadir - Egilsstadir

Lunghezza 159 km  |Dislivello 1024 m 

tappa 6The longest leg awaits us: on this sunny day at 5.08 A.M. the tent is an oven under this "Italian" sun and without wind. We choose the fastest way, but actually the road is the one and only Hringvegur 1; for half of the leg the tailwind helps us, so we cover a good part of the road in a reasonable amount of time. The first kilometers are wonderful: wild views, volcanos and these brown-green moments.

F11 Tappa 6We keep crossing windy rivers getting bigger and wider, but offer a special view on the grass. I wonder whether Icelandic nature was too generous or unfair, so beautiful and so inhabited: we meet the first signs of life after 80 km! The second part of the ride, a bit boring, descents on a very wide valley towards the sea. Unfortunately, the wind is against us, and the descent transforms in agony. We pass by Egilsstadir and a road sign shows 750km to Reykjavik, exactly the total we rode so far... we are halfway through! We continue towards the lake we chose to spend the night next to, at a quiet camping place.
 
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Leg 7: Egilsstadir - Djúpivogur

Lunghezza 89 km  |Dislivello 1012 m 

tappa 7Easy, short and relaxing leg, mostly sunny! The first part is a mountain pass, the second means descending to the southern sea, in a beautiful valley accompanied by sterns and sheep, but also some wild swans swimming in the river not far from us. Everything is quiet, except the central 30km, becoming gravel just before the mountain pass, with the coldest of winds and the classic flat tire which changes the mood of the day... This should be a short way to Ring 1, which would follow the windy fiord.F13 Tappa 7Once at the top, on a really hard descent, the scenery is again uniquely beautiful: the sea, the top of the fiord, the valley and the mountains cut by some waterfalls. Again, new and beautiful views. Riding along the fiord, some wild ducks ask for attention, and we are lucky enough to sight a group of reindeers, crossing the road not far. We're already in Dyupivogur, where we stop for the night.
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Leg 8: Djúpivogur - Höfn

Lunghezza 104 km  |Dislivello 709 m 

tappa 8The light ticking of the rain at 7.50 A.M. wakes us up. Oh boy, what a night sleep! The cold and the effort of the day help, but even at home, I don't sleep so well! And despite the light at night! We leave for today's 100 km, with a slow pace getting ready for the next three legs. The first part is dedicated to pictures: towards Höfn we find alpine views on the right and sea views on the left!F15 Tappa 8A good fusion of landscapes, which renovate at every little hill and shock us. The second part of this leg is more "normal", where many farms break the monotony, together with the rain, for a short period of 10 km but this brings down the temperature at 6°... We are prepared, the forecast told so. After a tunnel towards the west, we see one of the first sections of the Vatnajökull, the world's biggest glacier after the poles. Tomorrow it'll be all for us, after this night in Höfn.
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Leg 9: Höfn - Svínafelli

Lunghezza 130 km  |Dislivello 573 m 

tappa 9Vatnajökull day, a 130 km leg, with the glacier next to us. We put on every piece of clothes we own, in order to enter this fridge, but our fear is too big, and the wind helps us, so these first 70 kilometers are really easy with these landscapes interrupted by the ice until the coast. Then rain and cold.F17a Tappa 9
Halfway through the iceberg lagoon, the Jökulsárlón gives us some enthusiasm: after picturing and waiting for it, we meet this majestic place with our bicycles just next to the icebergs floating by. And then the biggest surprise: a sea lion looking for something to eat is keen to been photographed: a pleasant and unexpected meeting. The other part of the day is dedicated to the research of the place we chose to sleep, the camping.
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Leg 10: Svínafelli - Vik

Lunghezza 153 km  |Dislivello 421 m 

tappa 10Despite the 110 km along the glacier, today we ride next to these walls of ice. At our left, a wide gravel plain separates us from the sea, and here the ring does a larger turn towards Vik, the southernmost point of the island. The scenery changes every kilometer, the mountains become of a green even more intense, and we cannot avoid stopping to take some pictures. We are not worried about the 144 kilometers we have today: the tailwind helps us. We meet other cyclists, loaded AF slowly proceeding in the opposite direction.F19 Tappa 10
Michele and Viola will be in this land cycling Iceland for 25 days in order to complete the ring, but he admits having his special light with him: Viola, his 13 years daughter. I admire them so much! We follow their advice to reach a site they have visited before: this means adding 6 gravel kilometers to the leg, reaching 150 km for today, but it's totally worth it! The canyon "Fjaðrárgljúfur Masjid" is shockingly beautiful, as it's been happening for the last 10 days on this island. We are lucky, the desertic landscape leaves no distractions and we can keep "head down and ride" to reach against the wind, at 25 km/h pace, the destination, just on time for dinner. Night at Vik's camping for the wettest night, in order to test the tent.
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Leg 11: Vik - Hella

Lunghezza 98 km  |Dislivello 512 m 

tappa 11The tent held perfectly tight against tonight's water. The eleventh leg, this Iceland bicycle trip is close to the end. After a visit to the glacier, from Vik, we handle quite right the comeback to Keflavik, with a day in advance which we decided to take in order to avoid every problem, sand storms or other natural problems which could cause some delay. Today we divide the leg into three 30 km periods, with some stops along the Ring to see the waterfalls in Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss. F21 Tappa11The stops are worth it because every guide suggests visiting these places: apart from the rain, which forces us to wear our technical clothes more than one time, today's destination is Hella, reached really fast riding among farms and the spring sun, similar to every other European countryside landscape. With the waterfalls of today, together with Þingvellir, Godafoss, and Geyser we close our visit to the "golden circle", the typical Icelandic itinerary for tourists with a few days available.
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Leg 12: Hella - Reykjavik

Lunghezza 92 km  |Dislivello 592 m 

tappa 12Head down and ride fast! This is today's main hymn, because the meeting point between the Ring and Reykjavik doesn't offer many sights, just a 6% ascent for 5 km against the wind, but we're used to it now!F23 Tappa12Entering in Reykjavik is always pretty problematic, because you'll be on the highway inside the traffic, but once in the center it's easier to ride on the cycleways. In the afternoon, after reaching the camping spot, we visit the capital, in total deserved relaxation.
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Leg 13: Reykjavík - Keflavik

Lunghezza 104 km  |Dislivello 656 m 

tappa 13This last Iceland bicycle ride is from Reykjavik to its airport in Keflavik. The adrenaline initial challenge into the wildlands gave space to the relaxing plains of the south, or maybe the forces of nature helped us after some terrible first days of this trip, and now coming to an end is easy.
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Some negative points: Hveravellir hot ponds not visited for the bad weather conditions and the kitchens in the campings - usually meeting point for travelers - not used for the research of some expensive restaurants... Too fast, maybe. But even a German friend who used 7 weeks to travel by bicycle every Icelandic "paved and gravel road" couldn't discover all the beauty and the wonderful corners of this magic land. F26 Tappa13And probably you cannot answer the question of why 300.000 Vikings adapted to fight 12 months every year against these glacial winds, unstoppable rains, polar temperatures... Or maybe this is Iceland we figured as tourists, and the one to live in is totally different. I am proud to have ridden this Iceland itinerary by bicycle. I thank my buddy for his ability to adapt to every situation and his coolness. 1532 km in 13 days, 11256 meters of elevation gain: a real challenge.Icelandbike 2016 Giro completo
You can have some information about Iceland on its official tourism website. Francesco and Emanuele came back in the land of ice in 2017 for a new 15 days itinerary in the western fiords!

Iceland is a remote country full of natural beauties. You can have free camp almost everywhere or look for a camping site, but if you want more confortable places you can check availibility on booking.com.

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Francesco

ENG - I'm from Piedmont and I'm 31 years old, I have been living and working in Lombardy for a few years. After a start without any competence in this field, I then approached the bicycle world more and more. Today I can call myself a bicycle traveller and videomaker who would never ever stop. Cyclo ergo sum, I cycle therefore I am. I ride my bike trying to understand why it is so beautiful, rich, therapeutic. And every time I try, I do not understand it. So I must leave again...
ITA - Ho 31 anni e sono piemontese, anche se da qualche anno vivo e lavoro in Lombardia. Dopo un inizio da totale inesperto in questo campo, mi sono avvicinato al mondo dei cicloviaggi e della bicicletta sempre più. Oggi posso definirmi "cicloviaggiatore", e assieme all'altra mia passione - il videomaking - non mi fermerei mai! Cyclo ergo sum, pedalo quindi sono, per cercare di capire perché andare in bici sia così bello, terapeutico, ricco... E ogni volta che provo a capirlo, non ce la faccio, e sono costretto a ripartire sui pedali!

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