It is time for a day off

I had already decided yesterday that the epic adventure of the wind and rain called for a day off to recuperate. Especially since that adventure had already eaten most of the next day anyway. When I woke up it was 1:30 in the afternoon.

A week earlier I had decided to try and photograph every place where I set up my tent, to help me remember how each day of the trip started. Most of the time I’ve been remembering this only after I’ve packed up the campsite and am preparing to ride away. So here’s what I saw after packing up today:

I set up next to this bush. The only safe place from the wind in the entire site.

The view of the campground. I'm the only person here.

It was well weird being the only person in a campground.

With everything ready for transport, I boarded the bike and rode directly into town and up to a hotel, where I checked in for the day. Then I pulled all my gear off the bike and spread it around the room, and cranked the radiator up as far as it would go. The intense rain from yesterday had soaked everything. If I was going to pay nearly 200 bucks to stay here for a night, I was going to take full advantage of it.

This is what you do when you get to a fancy hotel and everything you own is wet.

With that taken care of, I walked out to a nearby restaurant and ordered a seafood salad and a big chunk of oven-baked cod. Both tasted fantastic, and I ate them slowly as I sorted photos and made notes, then checked in with my workmates. I could tell my body needed rest and repair, and plenty of nutrition for both. I also spent a while answering more questions about the trip.

How do you feel about Iceland now? Did you have any expectations, or just go in with a blank slate?
It’s honestly a little hard to remember what I was expecting. The memory has been squished by the experience of the country:

I was expecting to have to camp nearly all the time, and stealth camp some of the time as well — or at least knock on doors and ask for permission to camp on someone’s land. Perhaps that would have been the case 15 or 20 years ago but apparently the country has changed a lot.

I was expecting to see a lot more snow, and a lot more meltwater, even at this time of year. I was definitely expecting it to be much colder, much more often. Maybe I’ll still encounter some real cold in the higher elevations when I head inland some more, but so far it has been almost disappointingly moderate. Like autumn in San Francisco.

I was expecting the country to feel even smaller than it actually is — and it’s pretty small. On the ground it feels big. The days have turned into weeks, and I’m still geographically only halfway across it.

I was expecting more of the roads to have wide shoulders, instead of almost no shoulder, which is the norm here. On the other hand I was expecting to have to negotiate gravel roads much more often. If I added up all the segments of gravel road I’ve covered it’s still probably under ten miles.

I am impressed by the availability of electronic payment systems, pleased by the ready availability of high quality information about services and road conditions, and in general finding the tour around the country to be much more first-world and accessible than I was expecting.

And how are you doing … emotionally?
That’s a much harder question to answer. I’d like to say I’m feeling wonderful, all the time. But in truth it’s been a mixed bag because the events leading up to this trip have given me a lot of emotional work to do. The good news is, I feel like it’s actually getting done.

This long range tour thing is something I’ve definitely missed. Doing a tour in this place, with equipment that I’ve been refining for such a long time, is a dream. I wake up each day feeling glad I’m out here, and amazed that nothing’s gone seriously wrong yet, despite my risk-taking.

But at the same time I keep remembering that I don’t have anything else going on in my life except for this trip. Back home – if that’s even the word for it right now – I have a cat, a job, and a stack of possessions small enough to fit in a closet. I don’t even have a bed, or an actual place to live since I rented out both units of my duplex. And that’s it.

When I was still in my previous relationship and feeling low all the time, I kept nagging myself internally with a question: “The real measure of ambition is sacrifice,” I said. “How much would I give up to go on this trip? If my partner doesn’t want to come with me, would I give up my romantic life and go anyway?”

Well, the relationship ended before I could make that decision. But now, here I am in the middle of nowhere with no romantic prospects, cautiously going through my regrets and making peace with them in an unhurried way, and re-examining my priorities, and I’m still doing just fine. And that’s great, but it also sort of worries me.

I’m wondering, what does that choice say about me, and about my future? Some days out here I float the idea of locking the bike in a storage unit and flying home to go on some dates and jumpstart my romantic life. Other days I feel like that is the absolute last thing I’d ever want to do, because I am truly enjoying this adventure and flying home would bring it to a screeching halt. And if I do head home, will I just want to be back out here again in a few months? Regardless of who I’m with, or whether I’m with anyone?

I can’t see that far into the future right now. But I feel blessed in that I don’t have to. Right now each day brings healthy exercise, fun little discoveries, good food, and all the time I could ever want to think and write. Plus I can talk with my friends and family any time, thanks to the iPhone. I can just let this roll forward into the next day, and the day after that, as long as I put in some work hours and stay on schedule to reach my work conference after crossing Iceland. And that’s what I want to do.

So I guess, if anyone asks, tell them: I feel fine.

Now give me an easier question, please…

You’ve mentioned peeing by the roadside. What if you’re not near an town and you have to poop? What do you do?
A poop question! Much easier. I have pooped in the middle of bike tours before. You need two sealable bags and a big wad of toilet paper, and you basically poop on half the toilet paper and then clean up with the other half, then put everything inside both bags and dispose of it when you get to civilization. Turn one bag inside out and put your hand inside it to use as a glove, like dog owners do.

Hikers generally don’t have the fortitude to pack out their poops, but it’s easier for a cycle tourist, and since a cyclist is more likely to be close to civilization on a road, it matters more. The land on either side of a road is likely to be somebody’s residence or farm.

When you camp is it always near a town?
On this trip, when I camp it is always in a campsite. That’s the law in Iceland, more or less. There are exceptions but I haven’t taken them.

Official campsites are usually on the outskirts of a town, or near a restaurant or shop along a highway.  Some are run by local government, some by private citizens. I’ve been camping about 3/4 of the time.

Relative to other ways of spending a night, camping is DIRT CHEAP in Iceland. You’ll pay over a hundred bucks for a hotel room, at least 80 for a room in an AirBnB, and around 50 for a shared bunk in a hostel — but a campsite with hot running water and bathrooms will cost about twelve bucks a night.

On other trips I have stealth-camped, or stayed in hotels all the way.

Okay, that was enough questions. It was 8:30pm and the restaurant was shutting down around me.

Next order of business: A hot shower, during which I applied soap to both my of long-sleeved shirts and all of my underwear, then added them back to the drying pile. Another Iceland-style laundry day.

And then, I was done. How done was I?

  1. Just done.
  2. Like, so done.
  3. Done.
  4. Totally completely done.

Back to bed!

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!

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

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

“Nice try, asshole!”
“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.

The big steady climb

In the morning I could actually see where I was. Nice mountains around the campsite…

The disorganized but centrally located campground in Blönduos

I also learned an interesting strategy for drying your clothes that may be uniquely Icelandic: Stick them in a closet with the plumbing!

This campsite is fancy because it has a clothes washer.

Want to dry your clothes? Hang them up next to the plumbing.

I knew it was going to be a long day of riding, but I couldn’t help stopping at a café for a while to sort photos and eat chocolate.

Light snack before taking off.

And with that important business out of the way it was time to get on the road. A light drizzle was already falling, and the weather service said it was going to get worse before it got better.

No barfing so far this trip, but you never know!

And indeed, it did!

Wet on the outside, but dry on the inside!

When the bike is moving, the airflow keeps this from getting wet. But when I stop for a break it gets coated.

The water even began to affect my at-the-ready chocolate bar that I keep deployed to the front pouch of the bicycle…

Spare candy bar, unwrapped and ready to eat, but getting melted by the rain.

Still plenty of neat scenery to look at, of course.

When this thing gets on the highway, you move aside!
Fine afternoon for a swim.
Given time this plant cover would grow right over the highway.
Looking East.
The mist adds mystery.

And that’s how it was, for a good three hours or so … and then I went around a corner and saw … THE HILL.

One of those moments where you look ahead and know exactly what you're going to be doing for the next three hours.

As soon as I saw it I pulled over and took out my baked vacuum-packed fish, and ate lunch. I knew I would be going slowly up that hill, and it would be a fine time to digest. Then of course I went pee by the roadside. Probably my fourth time that day, which is pretty typical. I think all the water I consume makes the average about one pee stop per hour when I’m on a bike tour.

I sat around snacking for a good while, listening to an audiobook about a cholera outbreak in London and how it inspired the use of the scientific method in medicine and the germ theory of disease. Then I contemplated just biking to the base of the hill and stopping at a campsite there, so I could tackle it fresh in the morning. That would cost me an entire day though. There were better places farther ahead where I could spend an extra day.

Starting the big climb...

And so, the big steady climb began…

"All Hunting Strictly Prohibited". I gotta wonder ... aside from wild geese, what would anyone hunt here? What would be worth it?

A scattering of sheep, waaaay on the other side of the valley.

It took about half an hour of pedaling, at a very deliberate 1.9 miles per hour the entire time, before I hit the halfway point. I was rewarded with a very nice view of the valley behind me.

Partway up...

Then the road went around a curve and kept going up. I took several more rest breaks, and ate more snacks and water. The book about cholera wrapped up and I switched to music for a while. Finally the top came into view.

Almost there...

I was rewarded for my efforts with a really spectacular view and a nice photo op.

I'm glad I don't have to go over THAT too!

Then I got a look down the hill, and was excited to see it was a long continuous descent past a somber looking lake and some neat farmland.

Time to go down!

I put on all the rest of my layers, queued up the “Diablo 2” soundtrack for the heck of it, and took off.

The summer approximation of night fell as I was gliding down into this new valley, and I spotted the lights of Varmahlíð in the distance. That’s where I would camp. But first, time to investigate this funky looking monument to Icelandic poet Stephan G. Stephansson next to the road…

Quite an interesting sign. By "hydropower" it does not mean lakes and dams, it means piping heated water out of the ground to power turbines.

Everything was closed when I finally made it into the town, so I headed for the campsite. It turned out to be at the top of a hill. I was annoyed at having to pedal back up the side of the valley again, but I knew I couldn’t be too annoyed, because I was going to be camping overnight in a place with running water and toilets for about ten dollars.

I cycled through the patchwork of little clearings as quietly as I could, finally choosing a spot that was concealed from the wind and far enough away from other campers to respect their privacy. It’s always difficult trying to find a balance between politeness, decent ground cover, and distance to bathrooms. About fifteen minutes later I had the tent deployed as usual. Once again I thanked my earlier self for choosing a tent that could be inflated, so I didn’t have to mess with poles in the dark, the rain, and the finger-numbing cold.

Inside it was the same cozy little home as ever. I hung my speakers up and played some ambient music to mix with the rain, snuggled into my sleeping bag, and chatted with the folks back home on my phone since it was just hitting afternoon over there and everyone was out and about. It wasn’t at all like being home, of course, but it did provide a little reminder of home and all the things in my life outside the framework of a bike tour. Sometimes I forget. I guess that’s part of the point of vacations.

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.

Around the bend at Hrútafjörður

I woke up to a misty morning, with far less wind than last night. Strolled around a bit after striking the tent and packing.

Looking down the inlet towards the land.

There was still no food to be found but I knew that about 5 miles (or 8 kilometers) down the road I could stop at a service station with an attached restaurant.

Hey Andy! Another restoration job for ya!

The one on Flatey island was in much better shape.

The wind was stronger when I climbed up to the highway. I hardly had to pedal at all for five miles, which felt weird after the struggle of the previous three days, and I couldn’t fully enjoy it since I knew I would pay for my fun when I turned north and had to ride up the other side of the bay, directly into the same wind.

The joint is jumpin'!

Icelandic graffiti! How quaint.

I lingered at the restaurant buying snacks, importing photos, and eating fish and chips. The weather seemed to be getting worse. I knew I couldn’t keep delaying. Time to get back on the road!

The wind blasted unpredictably from the front and the side, making the highway very dangerous. I would not recommend this route to anyone but a seasoned touring cyclist. Luckily the drivers were as considerate as they are elsewhere in Iceland, giving me as much room as they could and slowing down to a polite speed when space was limited.

Eventually I fought my way far enough north to look across the bay and see the little town where I woke up in the morning. The ride south had been so easy…

This is my "argh, wind" face.

Pretty scenery, but lots of cars. Mostly heading south, back towards the airport and the capital city, since the summer season is ending.

Then it started to rain. The most heavy rain I’d felt since arriving in Iceland. The air became humid, and my breath fogged my sunglasses. I didn’t want to take them off because they protected my eyes from the raindrops hammering at my face. I began muttering to myself out loud about how my gear didn’t include a pair of clear driving glasses like I’d thought about getting months ago for this very situation. “Ugh, stupid previous me; why didn’t you think of absolutely everything ever, instead of just almost everything?”

I soldiered on, taking breaks by the side of the road to wipe my sunglasses, until I went up a hill and around a bend and the wind changed direction enough for me to stow the sunglasses in a bag.

At that point I picked up some speed, and some horses said hello to me as I rolled by:

That was pretty cool and gave me a little boost. Then I started going downhill, and felt pretty good about things, until the bottom of the hill opened up into a valley and the wind came back. “Hey, remember me?” WHACK.

Another hour of slow going brought me to this:

I have no idea how drivers manage to read all those symbols as they zoom by.

Perhaps I could find a place open late enough to get something to eat, and maybe even find a place to stay out of this hellacious wind!


Wet and windburned, and glad to be indoors.

The hotel was fully booked, but the attendant actually called around the town for me, asking if any of the homestays had an extra room. And she found one! Then she described me and my bike, and said I would come by in an hour after my meal. Then she gave me directions. Now that is helpful.

Bookshelves do add atmosphere to a room. But they shouldn't take up most of it!

Not much room but I didn't care. It was time for sleep.

The homestay was cramped but warm, and the hosts were very kind. They opened their garage so I could store my bike out of the wind. As I took my luggage off the bike I checked out the confusion of pipes along the garage wall.

Typical example of the complicated plumbing in an Icelandic home.

When hot water (from underground) is the primary way you heat your home, the ductwork gets simpler, but the plumbing gets way more complex!

The hosts only took cash and when I hunted through my wallet and came up 20 dollars short, they hand-waved it. That made me feel both good and bad. After talking with them some more they mentioned that they take American money as well as Icelandic, so I dug my wallet out again and gave them the full amount based on current exchange rates. That made everyone happy.

While exploring, I found a nice sign in the bathroom, and apparently a wall socket that supplies magic??

I've been seeing this a lot lately.

So that's where it comes from.

Pondering this, I put on my pajamas, set up my little speakers, and played some ambient music that merged with the blustering wind against the window. I was glad I didn’t need to set up a tent in that chaos.