Icelandic nerds

When I exited the tent in the late morning, there was no one around. Was this going to be the new pattern?

Daytime at the campground. Still the only person here.

I wasn’t in a hurry, so I set the phone on a little tripod and made a video of myself taking down the tent.

After that I still wasn’t in a hurry, so I went to the one local coffee shop and got myself a mocha, and sorted more photos on the laptop.

This drink has been claimed for Iceland!

I had so much trouble finding these when I was making chandeliers in Skyrim...

For a while I was the only person in the shop, and then a crowd of college-aged people came in. They carried books and papers, which they spread all over the largest table in the room before sitting down around it and talking excitedly in Icelandic. A stout man aged about 22 with a pile of curly blond hair sat at the head of the table and answered questions. He seemed to be in charge.

At first I assumed they were studying for some class, and turned my attention back to my laptop. Then I overheard the following conversation between the stout man, the woman on his right, the man on his left, and the barista who had come over to chat:

Him
Sleep storm bbbbbbbbbbb tiny hut?  A ten foot mobile dome of force bbbbbbbb remains stationary.
Her
bbbbbbbbbbbb stupid-ass name dddddddddddddd.
Him
bbbbbb Speaker for the Dead!
Her
bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb yeah I know that word.
Him
bbbbbbbbbbbb sample bbbbbbbbbbbb I said bbbbbbbbbbb.  Bbbbbbbbbbb fucking celestial!
Her
So how does that work?
Him
bbbbbbbbb god dammit bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb Dungeons And Dragons ddddddddddd necromancer dddddddddddd zero HP bbbbbbbbbb no but they don’t count as spells bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb fuck you to the gods bbbbbbbbbb fuck you to the DM ha ha ha ha haaa!!!
Barista
Do you want anything with your waffle?
Him
Just jam.
Barista
No chocolate or cream?
Him
No; I’m lactose intolerant.
Other guy
Cover it in chocolate and give it to him!
Him
bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb and I will kick your ass, and use you as a toilet!
Other guy
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!
Him
bbbbbbbbbbb Danse Macabre takes the fucking cake.
Her
bbbbbbbbbbbbbb because bbbbbbbbbbbbbbb human corpse I can just eat it because it’s not cannibalism!
Him
bbbbbbbbb go for fireball!  It’s fuckin’ great.  It’s a level 10 spell.
Her
bbbbbbbbbb
Him
Okay, what level?
Her
Third.

I grinned. This was making me feel right at home. I hung around for another half hour, enjoying the silly banter of the gaming crew, and then realized it was time to continue my journey before I got too lazy and just crept back to the campsite.

A chunk of the hills behind Ólafsfjörður.

I rode through the center of that yesterday!

One more tunnel to pass through: The Múlagöng. Another older single-lane model; the twin of the one I’d passed through three nights ago.

Another tunnel entrance, this one with two lanes.

I'm not sure exactly where this 66,000 Volt line is, but the water all over the walls does not inspire confidence.

Good to know which exit is closer, if you're walking.

I tried again to take a video of my passage through, and this time I held it a bit steadier. Here’s a 2x sped up version:

On the other side of the tunnel was a pleasant stretch of coastline. No nasty wind or rain, no biting cold. Just sunlight and a few fluffy clouds. It looked like Iceland was back to treating me like a regular tourist, instead of a human punching bag. Hooray!

I did the usual stopping and snacking. As I made my way down to Dalvik, my next rest stop, I checked out a few waterfalls by the side of the road.

The moss growing around them was fascinating:

It's a whole different world down here.

However high it grows, surface tension in water keeps the moss wet, like wax moving up a candle wick.

Oxygen slowly accumulating from underwater photosynthesis.

A little farther along I saw this marker:

Monument to Eyvindur Jónsson, allegedly the first Icelandic boatbuilder to build a decked ocean–going ship 350 years ago.

And a few interesting things in town too:

Down by the Dalvík docks.

"The Great Fish Day in 2005 honored all those who made a resort from Böggvisstaðasand and laid down with their diligence and daring groundwork based on Dalvík."

I found a restaurant specializing in fish, and ordered a giant chunk of it. Super delicious, as usual. Then I rode over to the local campground and found a place to set up. As I curled up in my sleeping bag again, I reflected that the day had been the perfect combination of relaxing and exercise to move me closer full-on touring mode. Tomorrow would be a big push down to Akureyri.

The hardest day of riding ever (so far)

The day started off very promising, with a rainbow. What could be more pleasant and gentle than that?

The rainbow connection!

On the way out of town I had a chuckle at this bit of tourist-baiting:

Have a nice trip and don't forget to buy something historically inaccurate with horns on it!

The road looked clear and straight, but as soon as I turned north I slammed into a headwind. I geared down and put on my audiobook about the solar system, and turned those cranks like a workhorse, moving along at just a little over 2 miles per hour. This was going to be one of those “test of patience” days that every cycle tourist knows about.

The road goes ever on...

Noon turned into afternoon. I saw some interesting geography, and took plenty of rest breaks to keep my spirits up and my bladder empty. It’s a real skill, being able to watch for traffic in two directions at once while peeing and turning with the wind. I’m sure this skill will come in handy. Maybe at parties — or job interviews!

Weird sand bars. Created by the tide? Or maybe wind?

Pedaling and pedaling, afternoon turned into evening. I wanted to ride around at least one of the two peninsulas between me and Siglufjörður. There was a campground at the end of the fjord between the peninsulas that I could crash at if it got too late — and it was getting pretty late already.

Who knows what other universe this portal leads to...

The weather report on my phone was probably calculated using this little station, about 50 meters away from me.

I took a break by the side of the road, ate some chocolate, and then just stood there for a while as the wind battered me. My waterproof clothing kept the cold out, so the effect was more like a very light massage. I took a few photos of the misty landscape, and then had a little dialogue with it in my mind. It’s that solo tour craziness setting in. I’ve felt it before!

Me:
“Hey hills!”
Hills:
“Oh are you talking to us now? Like we’re alive or something?”
Me:
“Aren’t you? Didn’t you ever see The Sound Of Music?”
Hills:
“We don’t get around much.”
Me:
“Yeah I don’t get around much either. ON YOU.”
Hills:
“If you don’t like us, find another route.”
Me:
“I would but you took up all the land and my bike doesn’t float. Assholes!”
Hills:
“Why don’t you take a nice normal vacation like a normal person, and just sit on a beach somewhere? Leave us out of it.”
Me:
“Because bicycle touring is awesome!”
Hills:
“Yeah? We could kill you. We could team up with the wind and shove you into a truck.”
Me:
“I know. You’ve been trying all day. But I will win this fight.”
Hills:
“Bring it, cycle-boy!”
Me:
“You’re not tough! Take away gravity and you’re just a bunch of floating crap!”
Hills:
“Take away gravity? Sure. Good luck biking with no atmosphere, smartass!”
Me:
“Shut up and eat tire!”
Hills:
“Shut up and eat wind!”

At that point the wind kicked up so hard that it knocked my bike over. I cursed a bit, then carefully dragged Valoria upright and inspected her. No harm done. Taking that as a cue to keep moving, I sat down and started to pedal away. The rain immediately began to stab at my eyes. I reached for my sunglasses… Whoops; they were gone!

I did a U-turn on the road and looked back. Where had the bike fallen over? There were markers by the roadside every 20 feet or so, but the markers all looked the same. I pulled out my phone and went over the last few pictures I’d taken. There was a shot of Valornia by the road! Ah hah; I could compare it with the weeds growing on the shoulder.

Hah! Found them!

Me:
“You tried to steal my sunglasses!”
Hills:
“And I would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for your pesky smartphone.”
Me:
“For that, I am gonna ride roughshod all over you!”
Hills:
“We shall see.”

On I rode, slowly rounding the first peninsula. It was close to midnight by the time the wind was finally at my back. I zoomed back up the fjord, looking forward to a nice rest at the campground. But where exactly was the campground?

I checked my map. Supposedly there was a microscopic town here called Ketilás, with white and yellow dots on it. The white dot indicated a campground, so there should be one right about — uh oh. Let me check that map legend again…

Well that’s not good. The white dot means “accommodation”, and that usually means hotel or guesthouse, and those are usually very closed by now. I suppose I could try peeking in a few windows to see if someone is still awake, or even knock on the door and wake them up, but that would be pretty rude for a tourist. I could also try stealth camping, or just set up on somebody’s lawn and try to pack everything up early in the morning before they spotted me, but I’d sleep poorly and the next day of riding would be wrecked.

Thinking it over, I decided that I might as well just push forward to Siglufjörður, around the next peninsula. I would be getting there quite late. On the plus side, there was a tunnel between me and the town, and if I passed through it late at night I could avoid all the car traffic. And there’s also a chance that the wind would be quieter at night. I called up the Iceland Bicycling Map to check out the road around the second peninsula:

My location was right around that white dot at the bottom, and I was headed north. See that red and yellow triangle with the drawing of a windsock in it? That’s the section I was most worried about. If you look very closely you can see a bunch of yellow stripes coming off the side of the road, just below the triangle. That means “lots of very steep hills all crammed together”. It was not going to be easy.

But I’ve always been a night owl, and a little bit foolish with my solo adventures, and besides I had my headphones on and was playing a really funny episode of The Goon Show called “The House Of Teeth” and it matched with the misty, dark atmosphere of the fjord. Even the wind was cooperating. It was a pleasure to be out riding, even after so many hours. So why not continue?

The cloud cover got thicker, and the sky darkened to the point where it was like riding at night back home — close to the equator. The rain intensified and drove all the mist down to the ground. I crawled up a series of hills. Nothing I hadn’t dealt with many times in the past. This was going to be a late night but I could handle it.

Then I rounded a tight curve and the wind pounced on me, lashing me with claws of rain — left, then right, then left again. I had to move out into the center of the road just to give myself enough room to make course corrections as I got shoved around. Then I saw a sign. I couldn’t parse the Icelandic word on it, but the symbol of two squiggly horizontal lines made the meaning obvious: “Lots of very steep hills all crammed together.” The sign was posted at the bottom of an incline that vaulted up into the darkness so sharply that it seemed like the road had a crease in it. As I fought my way up to the base of this daunting new hill, headlights appeared behind me. I quickly moved to the narrow shoulder and put one leg down to brace myself, and gripped both handbrakes. There was no way I could trust this wind around even a single car, in either lane.

The car slowed and moved into the opposite lane as it passed. My lights and reflective gear were still doing their job. But it didn’t matter; I would still need to stop like this for every car, because now the wind could actually hit me hard enough to send me all the way across the road. This was going to slow me down even more.

I started up this latest hill, fighting hard against the wind, and had to stop about 20 meters up for another car. The shoulder was half as wide as my bike and fell off sharply even here on the inland side of the road. If I fell down it I would tumble over and over on the bike for who knows how long, then probably splash into a pool. Even if my body didn’t get twisted or broken I would never find all my gear again. I was bracing myself and contemplating this as the car passed me, and the vortex behind it pushed the wind away and then snapped it back again twice as hard, nearly driving me over the side and turning my imagination into a prophecy.

It would not do to linger. When I didn’t have to be on the edge of the road I should move back out into it. I resumed pedaling. Rain stung my eyes and even when I blinked it away the darkness cut visibility to the range of my headlight, which was only at half brightness because I could not go fast enough to keep it powered by the generator in my wheel. I could see maybe 15 meters ahead. And if I stopped to rest for more than a minute or so, the headlight would fade completely and I’d have to start up again in almost total darkness. No matter how steep the hills became, as long as I was climbing them I could only rest for about 30 seconds at a time. I was breathing hard constantly now. In a flailing burst of optimism I thought, “Hey, at least the air is fresh!”

Then I got serious. “Okay,” I thought. “This has passed into the range of conditions where even experts have accidents and get killed. This is not just dangerous. This needs another adjective tacked onto the word dangerous. This is extremely dangerous. In conditions like this it’s no longer a matter of if but a matter of when I will get hurt.”

But I couldn’t just sit there on a hillside bracing against the wind forever. Even if I tried to wait for just a little while for conditions to improve, I had to balance that against the fact that it cost me energy to stay in place. There was a tradeoff happening every time I stopped and it might not work in my favor. The one thing I was guaranteed to gain from waiting would be improved visibility, because eventually the sun would come up. But if I tried to wait until morning, I would be incredibly tired and would have to contend with far more traffic, and the wind and the rain could be even worse during the day as the sun beat on the clouds. There was no easy option here, and the clock was ticking.

I looked at my phone in case I needed to call for help: No signal.

I thought for a while as I rode, and decided that I would split my time between two things: Pushing forward along the route, and stopping to look around for a sheltered place to stealth camp, so I could get a night’s rest before finishing the ride. I was a little worried that the wind would drive rain inside my tent and I would be sleeping in a wet mess – very dangerous because of the cold it would bring – but if I found enough shelter and the wind didn’t make any extreme changes I could avoid that.

I made it to the top of the second steep hill after the roadsign, and started down. I had to apply the brakes constantly because it was dangerous to go any faster than about 15 miles per hour in such unpredictable wind: I could run right off the road before correcting my course. Then I had just enough time to see something worse in the headlight and squeeze the brakes like mad, dropping my speed down to almost nothing. The pavement ended. Right at the base of the hill the road became a mess of dirt, loose gravel, mud, and potholes. So many potholes that it was hard to believe. It was like someone had replaced the road with an art installation called “A Meditation On The Pothole And Its Infinite Forms,” and the artist had begrudgingly included just enough tiny threads of road surface to divide one pothole from another, and not a centimeter more.

With the wind bucking me about there was no way I could navigate between them, so I just blundered into the potholes – one after the other – hoping they weren’t too deep and fighting to keep my momentum. For the next mile at least, every time the road leveled out it would turn into this shotgun blast of potholes. Sometimes the road would reassemble itself into pavement for the next hill; sometimes not. And of course the road continued to swerve left and right as well, following the messy coastline. As it did, the hillside to my left would sharpen into a cliff and then come charging up to me, stopping just short of the road, then slink back again to some vague lump in the near-darkness. On my right, nameless temporary rivers split and reformed, then fed into pools below the shoulder or tumbled into choking drains. Somewhere below, about 50 meters down, the ocean thrashed at the rocks.

After some unknown amount of time, I spotted a weather station – two narrow towers of steel scaffolding with little boxes attached – erected on a prominence to my left. I knew from previous experience that weather stations always had little roads leading up to them, and the ground around them was usually cleared. Perhaps I could find shelter here and set up my tent?

I found the access road and parked my bike on it, then picked my way carefully along the little road towards the towers. The ground did level out, but the wind was still screaming across it. The road continued though, so I followed it for another 50 meters, hoping for a wrinkle in the hillside or a large rock that would give some shelter. Instead I found myself approaching a cliff.

Suddenly I stopped in my tracks. Here I was, in the dark and rain, a hundred meters from my bike, out of wireless range, in a foreign country thousands of miles away from anyone with any idea where I might be, and I was walking towards a cliff.

“Am I trying to commit suicide?” I thought.

I stood there, rolling the question around. Was this some kind of subconscious thing? Am I like one of those ants that gets a fungal infection, and the fungus creeps into its brain and compels it to climb up a blade of grass and wait to get eaten by a bird? Has this trip been part of a secret plan from the depths of my mind, to get to the most remote and unfindable place possible, under the cover of a storm, and drop myself into the sea?

I imagined myself as a little icon in a computer game, on a landscape made of tiles. “Age Of Adventure” perhaps. Step by step, my icon moved across the tiles of grass, towards the tiles of water, and then disappeared as it fell in, with a bleeping sound effect. Along the bottom of the screen appeared the words: “PLAYER HAS PAYED THE DEBT WHICH CANCELS ALL OTHERS.”

“… Nah,” I decided. “That’s pretty dumb. But I am making some strange decisions. The bike has food and lots of useful equipment and I should be sticking close to it. Time to turn around.” I about-faced and walked back up the access road, rejoined my bike, and continued fighting into the wind.

Another hour passed, much the same as the previous hour. My wireless signal was dead but I could still get GPS coordinates, and the dot on the map said I was almost done with the hills. I stopped and looked around near a very large boulder on the right side of the road that looked promising, but the ground around it was wet and soft. There was no way I could anchor the tent. Annoyed at myself for wasting more time, I climbed back on the bike. Finally, after nearly another hour – at this point it was 4:30 in the morning – I crested a final hill and a valley opened in front of me. I shot down into it, and over the next half hour as I pedaled across, the clouds broke up and the rain eased off. It looked like I was through the worst of it.

I climbed up the valley, then around a few more curves, and there ahead of me was a huge hole in the hillside, with yellow light spilling out of it. I had made it to the tunnel.

The tunnel entrance.

As I drew close to the opening, the wind made one more try to assassinate me, coming down the hill in a rush and driving me across the road. I rolled all the way to the opposite shoulder before I could compensate, and saw that I had nearly been blown over a cliff.

Me:
“Nice try, asshole!”
Wind:
“Watch your back, cycle-boy!”

I was just at the entrance to the tunnel. According to the notes I’d made earlier, it was the Strákagöng tunnel, 800 meters long and built in 1967. Wide enough for one lane, with a few alcoves along one side for cars to pull over, making two-way travel possible. I could only see about 30 meters in before it curved to the right. It was lit by yellow sodium lamps and looked like the interior of a corrugated cardboard box that had been sitting outside for a month and started to buckle inward and decompose.

“This will be interesting,” I thought. Right next to me I saw this:

In the middle of all this chaos, a sign showing the height of the tunnel in meters.

The number 42! (More or less.) Surely it was a sign!

No, I mean… Symbolically.

There wasn’t a car in sight. Time to get risky. I pulled out my phone and took a video to document my passage through the tunnel. Sped up 4 times it looks like this:

The walls of the tunnel are surprisingly organic-looking, until you get very close and see that you are looking at some kind of semi-rigid insulation that has been bolted onto the inside in large sheets, perhaps during some kind of retrofit. Water seeps in from the surrounding rock, making all the surfaces wet, and in places it runs down the insulation like the walls of a shower. Not being a structural engineer, I wasn’t sure if the insulation was there to prevent cave-ins, or to redirect water, or perhaps to absorb minerals and eventually turn into solid rock. But it was definitely not what I had been expecting. Coasting along it silently on my bike, with no one else around, it felt more like a Disneyland attraction than a piece of highway infrastructure. Maybe “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.” I kept expecting to see twinkling lights, or a fake mine cart filled with jewels off to one side, or cartoon-characters made out of foam rubber bounding across my path.

Then I was out, back in the open air. The rain was gone and replaced by a luminous fog, and the road began a long, straight descent, with a procession of tall sodium lamps guiding the way. I stopped turning the pedals and just cruised along. It felt like the road was rewarding me for all my efforts. Occasionally I would spot a sheep, tucked in next to the bushes on the side of the road, hiding from the wind. I imagined they were there to witness my passage and congratulate me on my victory against the hills. “Baa, baa, congratulations,” they were all saying. (Well, a few did say “Baa”, so maybe that counts.)

Just as the descent slowed I began passing the houses of Siglufjörður, and by the time I had to turn the pedals again I was almost in the middle of town next to the harbor. It was about 6:00am, and the sky was already light.

I threaded my way to the south edge of town, up a short hill. There was a campsite here, divided into several terraces etched into the hillside with a small wooden building perched at the top. It was just about full daylight and I could see at a glance that there was nobody camping there — not a single person.

I fought my way up the roughly cut grass to the highest terrace, and set up my tent next to a large bush. As far as I could tell it was the only place in the entire site that was truly safe from the wind, which was no longer howling but still uncomfortably strong. I used the toilet in the small building, refilled my water sack, and with only a little more exhausted fumbling than usual I assembled my tent and stowed my gear.

Laying half-curled in my sleeping bag, with my mask pulled over my eyes, I fought against the sudden insane idea that I was only hallucinating being safe and warm, and was actually lying mangled at the bottom of a cliff with my bicycle on top of me, somewhere back on the road, in the dark. Was I only imagining I was safe, to comfort myself as my senses failed? Did I really make it all the way through that hellish terrain, up the hill, through the tunnel, and down here to the campsite?

I pulled up my sleep mask. My eyes stung from the sunlight, and then I saw the plastic netting of my tent, vibrating from the wind.

“Well, if this is my imagination, I’m just going to have to go with it, because it’s way too vivid.”

Then I fell asleep.

A day cut short

When I rode away from the homestay in the late morning, the wind and rain were still blasting over the landscape. I could tell it was going to be a crazy day.

After an hour of struggling I looked at my map and realized I was only about a mile outside of town. Visibility was bad, traffic was bad, and I was already soaked. I was wearing waterproof pants and socks and gloves, a big sweater and a shirt underneath a waterproof jacket, plus a wool cap and a balaclava, and sunglasses to keep the rain from blinding me. It had been working pretty well … until now. I was not going to go 30 miles today.

Just a few more miles ahead was a hotel specializing in horseback rides and ranching, so I put my head down and aimed for that. Perhaps the weather would improve tomorrow.

They had a room available in a shared apartment, so I grabbed it.

I sense a theme here.

Once again the poor bike has to sit outside...

The apartment didn’t have any space for my bike, but there was enough space in the room for me to lay out all my wet clothing and crank up the radiator. By the end of the day everything would be dry.

The shared area of this guesthouse.

Small but very warm.

The decor had some adorable touches. Cut-out horse art like you might see on the walls of a teenage girl’s bedroom. Kitschy reading material.

Hanging on the wall of the room. Cute!

But really, I was here for the hot shower, the buffet meals, and the dry bed.

The season was moving on, and the 24-hour-sunlight was now pretty weak.  Like pre-dawn light but all the time.  After drying my clothes next to the radiator for 6 hours I opened the window to the room.  The humid air was slowly being replaced by dry, cool air.  Outside I could hear the wind – the same wind I struggled against earlier – still clawing around at the grassland and shrubs around the hotel building.  It sounded like the ocean, except instead of a long rolling tempo, it was more like a tumbling wave that never stopped breaking.

Shortcut to Hrútafjörður

Another fine Icelandic morning! I never did find an attendant to pay for the camping space, or a donation box to drop money in. Oh well.

My plan for this day: Head east along Highway 59, cutting across the neck of land connecting the Westfjords to the rest of Iceland. A time-saving move to make up for the days I lost adding Flatey Island to the route.

This sign doesn't mean "no houses, no church, no car, no people." It means "you're leaving town."

Before leaving town I did a bike checkup. All the bolts were still tight, but the tires needed air and the chain needed oil. While I attended to that I dried out the insides of my gloves like so:

No rain? Prop your gloves upright to air them out in the constant wind!

Then I did some shopping at the grocery store and got out on the road. On we go! I chipped away at my archive of “Dead Ringers” radio shows on the iPod, since it was too early in the day for anything challenging.

And now I am going to tell you about the most wonderful sandwich ever.

This is the best part of the store.

My prep table.

I have no idea why these product names include Buffaló, Californiu, and Florida.

Remember those sandwiches I prepared yesterday? They had egg, meat, and cheese, but they didn’t have fish. Thanks to the fresh vacuum-packed smoked fish in the supermarket, I was able to right that wrong, in style.

Lunch: Smoked salmon, egg, cheese, ham, salami, and cucumber sandwich.

Quite possibly the best sandwich I’ve had in an entire year, or more. Prepared and chomped right there by the roadside.

This nourishment turned out to be very important, because the wind kicked up and began blowing straight at me for the next six hours of riding. Ugh!

Nevertheless, it is a bike tour. And still awesome.

Eventually, the barn becomes 100% patches...

Eventually the road turned into dirt and gravel, and got steep, adding to the challenge of the wind. But I climbed and climbed and peed and ate snacks and drank water and peed and climbed and peed, and eventually I got over the top.

The cloudscapes are often as complex as the land beneath them.
I'm pretty sure Jenny Green Teeth lives in this one...
It probably spells something from the air...
Another summit, another weather station.
Proud of myself for making it to the top!

After the usual hair-raising descent, I switched from the rocks and gravel of Highway 59 to the smooth pavement of Highway 68, and the wind moved around and pressed into my back. The remaining distance flew by and I found myself in the small seaside hamlet of Borðeyri just as it was really getting dark.

Borðeyri lies along the west side of Hrútafjörður — a body of water whose name roughly translates to “male sheep’s fjord”. So Icelandic!

Set up in less than 5 minutes, and ready for snoozles!

A very blustery campsite.

No food available, but that was okay because BEST SANDWICH EVER. No accommodation available either, but the campsite had a well-placed fence blocking the wind, and I set up just next to another camper and a family chillin’ inside an RV who gazed out their window at my bicycle in fascination. I waved hello at them and grinned, and the three kids crowded around the table inside waved back at me. “COOL BIKE!” one of them squeaked at me. Yo, I know it!

I took a final look around before going to bed. Such a haunting coastline…

Tired but feeling victorious.

The long slog out of Flókalundur

As soon as I was awake and folding up the tent, an attendant came by and asked me for the equivalent of about eight dollars. A total bargain.

The adjacent hotel was just finishing up with their buffet breakfast. I was about to resign myself to a day of substandard snacks when a manager pointed out that I could assemble a couple of sandwiches at the buffet and wrap them to go, for about three bucks each. Another total bargain.

The day got an easy start since I was heading inland. The wind pushed me gently along and I listened to some more Dead Ringers. The rocks just offshore looked terribly rugged and romantic in the angled sunlight.

As I came around the edge of a peninsula I could see out into the main bay again. There in the distance I spotted the ferry boat I was on just the other day.

The ferry boat from yesterday!

I switched from Dead Ringers to a Terry Pratchett book I hadn’t heard in a long time, called “The Last Hero”. I figured it was at least a little appropriate since one of the main characters is Cohen The Barbarian, and barbarians have some of the same mythic traits as viking raiders. That totally works; yeah?

Materials for building the highway, ready for further use.

Power lines, Iceland-style!

Over and over I noticed sheep grazing in random spots around the road, or just hunkered down resting. I assumed they must belong to some farmer.

Do they look cold? I feel cold just looking at them...

It occurred to me that sheep from different farms might get mixed up if they wandered too far. But I suspect the land stops that from happening. Sheep are good climbers … but not THAT good.

Even without fences, you know the sheep will definitely stay in this valley!!

In the early evening I paused for a snack on a massive hillside, and took a photo looking back down the row of peninsulas. Such an odd view.

Looking back through a cross-section of the route.

An hour after that I paused for another shot, this time looking into the adjacent valley. The view was fantastic, and once I saw it I had to just stand there and gape for a while. Of course it could have been the exhaustion talking…

After hauling 120 pounds of gear and bike 1000 feet into the air. At least there wasn't a headwind.

This iPhone picture doesn't do it justice. The view was astonishing.

Slowly I neared the top. I was down to about a quarter-mile at a time between rest breaks. One thing I know for sure about bike touring: If you’re doing a long haul you need to pace yourself carefully.

Up, up, up!!

Looks like a lovely place to build your dream home, except the drive to the store would be a bit much...

Some of that Icelandic lichen I've been hearing about.

At the top I strolled around for a while, and found this tiny isolated pond, tucked behind a small hill and concealed from the road.

I could have set up the tent here and spent the night unseen, but the wind would have been a menace.

I was tempted to roll my bike over to it and pitch the tent. “How cool would it be,” I thought, “to wake up in the morning next to this? Maybe drink some water right out of it, or wade in and wash my face?”

I thought about the new regulations against stealth camping. How did I know this land didn’t belong to some farmer? If I found this pond, how easily would others find it, while I’m asleep in my tent? My paranoia got the better of me and I decided to continue biking.

I sailed down the other side of the hill, dropping nearly a thousand feet in less than five minutes. The road began following the coast again.

Not a boathouse ... not a houseboat ... something else!

It's colder than it looks!

Just in case you're wondering if you're almost there yet.

The sun shines, but it doesn't warm.

Someone's boat got '86-ed!

No idea what this means or why it's here.

Probably parts from the boiler.

Ten zillion layers of paint.

According to my map, I was done with all the big peninsulas now. Pretty soon the road would turn north again and I’d have a couple of short, brutal hills to deal with, then finally a campground.

Another good season at the giant licorice and taffy farm...

After such a long and empty stretch of road I was glad to see continued signs of civilization. Then I saw a sign I didn’t like at all:

Never a welcome sign.

This caught me by surprise, which was a bit hilarious because I’d been inspecting the cycling map just minutes earlier, and it clearly showed a brown line indicating a gravel road. I felt pretty dumb. Now I was going to be climbing steep hills in the dark on a gravel road. That meant – potentially – sadistic potholes appearing suddenly in front of my wheel as I’m speeding downhill. Get ready to lean on the brakes!

To keep my spirits up I started listening to some old Monty Python records on the iPod. As the landscape grew dark around me and the air grew even colder, Michael Palin introduced me to the Wonderful World Of Sound: “The sound of a common household ant, magnified 300,000 times! ROOOAAARRRRR!”

I stopped and tried to empty my bladder. Just then, five cars decided to go rolling by, one after the other in opposite directions, taking their sweet time on the gravel road. There’s something about a full bladder that generates traffic.

While waiting impatiently I took out a plastic bag filled with mixed nuts – the last of my snacks – and tried to claw it open. It exploded onto the back of my bike, leaving little heaps of nuts, and the rest tumbled into the road. I swept together the ones on my bike and ate them. I was feeling a little nuts anyway just being out here in the dark. In my ears, Graham Chapman said: “And now, a massage from the Swedish Prime Minister.” 20 seconds of slapping noises followed.

I listened to a Python news broadcast about a pair of gangsters named The Piranha Brothers, who employed terrible violence and … SARCASM! … to dominate the London underworld. That entertained me as I grew increasingly cold and tired, shoving the pedals up the gravel hills, which seemed far too numerous to fit in the tiny chunk of map that stood between me and the next valley.

The situation was very familiar. If I tried, I could come up with a list of times I’d been biking up a crappy road at night, in some unfamiliar place, with only the promise of a destination somewhere ahead in the dark. The list would go into the double digits. It felt like this particular round had an extra edge of madness. As I cranked up the final hill, John Cleese was just explaining that he wanted to buy a license for his pet bee, Eric, but matters were complicated because Eric had suffered some kind of accident, and was now half-a-bee. Then John busted into song, and I couldn’t help yelling the lyrics out into the frigid air as I danced the bike back and forth across the road.

A laa dee dee, a one two three
Eric, the half a bee
A, B, C, D, E, F, G
Eric, the half a bee

Is this wretched demi-bee
Half asleep upon my knee
Some freak from a menagerie?
No! It’s Eric, the half a bee

I was thus in good spirits as I sailed down the other side of the hill, around a couple of hairpin turns, and into the last valley of the night, with gravel crunching under the tires all the way.

It was another half hour before I got to the campground — a big chunk of flattened dirt about 300 meters from the highway, with walls of rock and dirt bulldozed into shape around it to block the wind. I would have taken it for a construction site except there was a row of small buildings to one side including a set of bathrooms. Tucked into the corner between the buildings and the wall of dirt was a small tent, with a bicycle propped nearby. The only other camper in the site, and it was a fellow bicycle tourist!

I didn’t want to set up on dirt. I think the campground owners knew this was unacceptable, which is why they had unrolled mats of fake plastic grass around the bathrooms, making a ribbon just wide enough for a row of tents. I tried to inflate the tent as quietly as possible since the other camper was close by. Every time I use the hand pump – which goes shoopa-shoopa-shoopa – I imagine people around me waking up and wondering “What the heck is that noise? Are we getting a night-time visit from a hyperventilating goat??”

I curled up in my sleeping bag, and the tent walls rattled around me in the breeze that tumbled down the valley. I worried about food, and also worried about being harassed by a campground manager for not paying up front. There wasn’t any other option but to sleep and deal with it in the morning.