Valley of horses

As usual, now that it was daylight, I could actually get a look at where I’d been camping. What a lovely spot!

Where I set up the tent.

I also got a better look at the main buildings.

I'm not sure what this is all about, but I dig the creativity of it!

An example of the information you find at campsites.

Here’s the thing about Iceland that I am most impressed by, as an American camper:

If no one asks you to pay ... just pay on your own. Iceland!

And of course, I put 1500 Icelandic in the box. It was the closest I could get to the exact amount. I’m wealthy enough that I’m not gonna stiff these people even if I have the chance. Besides, the backpackers who come through here who are so poor that they do shortchange the campsite – and I’m certain there are some – are getting a little indirect support from me. That’s what I want.

On the way out of the campsite I found this sign offering advice:

"If your child runs into the mountains, give chase."

At the base of the hill I found a restaurant and hung out there for an hour or so, accumulating more snacks and eating a very messy hamburger that was like a Whopper but downsized for the non-American appetite. I posted some photos on the free wifi, disposed of my trash, washed my face in the bathroom, and then it was time to forge ahead.

I headed east, enjoying the short interval with the wind at my back. I knew I would have to turn north once I crossed the valley. I didn’t know it at the time, but the area around Skagafjörður that I was going to be riding through all day – including this valley – is famous for horse breeding. Horses outnumber people here. If I’d known that I wouldn’t have been surprised by the photographs I got later on.

But first, some truly classic Icelandic architecture…

A fine example of a working turf house.

And some lovely mountains…

And some amazing layers of cloud…

Looking West.

Layer upon layer.

Another day on the farm!

And some … rude signage? Oh well.

Apparently these people have had problems with wandering tourists.

And then … The magic hour light, with some magical animals:

I had stopped for a snack, and the horses wandered over to investigate. Then I went scrambling for my camera.

The light was just perfect.

And I was very pleased!

Enjoying my visit with the horses!

Then as if on cue, some ranchers came by leading another group of horses down the road.

I snapped a few photos and waved hello, and then continued on my way. The light got even more low and golden.

I'm glad the road turns!!

And then, after another few hours of quiet riding, the world turned blue.

I reached the little town of Hofsós very late, but the fellow who managed the guesthouse I was staying in was still around to help me get settled in. He volunteered to store my bicycle in his shop just a block away, keeping it out of the rain and away from prying eyes. He was a woodworker by trade, and the shop air was thick with the smell of fresh sawdust. It was a comforting smell, like freshly baked bread.

The room was small but the radiator made it very warm. I did some laundry in the sink and spread it over a chair to dry. Tomorrow I had to cover a lot of miles, and the forecast said the wind would be against me and blowing even harder. Time for sleep!

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!

And yes! A hotel restaurant was open! PRAISE BE; BLESSINGS AND FELICITATIONS; BLAH BLAH MIRACLE ETC!

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.

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.

Horses, geese, and sheep, oh my!

An opening in the clouds.

Each of these islands has a name! (I'm lying.)

All the little rocks and islands poking out of the water draw attention to the flatness of the ocean.

Two large tanks in the distance. Hot water perhaps?

Eventually I passed into a big valley and saw more Icelandic farming.

A more advanced version of the hay roller that was on Flatey.

Sheep gotta have their giant rolls of toiler paper!

Chances are good this area was a wetland that was drained for agricultural use.

It's easy to hold a sheep's attention. Just keep yelling "Baa-a-a-a-aa" at them.

Three curious onlookers.

Geese taking a rest break.

I cannot discern any rhyme or reason to the location of these towns.

It was quite a thrill zooming down the road and onto this cool causeway over the water.

Heading down highway 60 towards a massive causeway. Neato!

I stopped for a while at a restaurant and got some local fish and chips. Tasty as usual.

The Jarls of Skyrim grew this timber, obviously!

Heading into the hills again...

You don't find much litter by the roadside in Iceland, but what you do find, is memorable.

I did another long climb up a hill, but this time the wind was with me, making it much easier. At the top I celebrated with a candy bar.

My latest candy bar experiment!

It's a bit like a giant mutant Twix bar. I dub it the Cycloptwix.

The sign reads "Hunting strictly forbidden on Svíndals land."

It was late evening again by the time I finished with the ride.

Another day, another sunset that lasts for four hours.

Happy to be nearly done with today's riding.

I could not find anyone to give my money to for setting up camp, so I just shrugged and went to bed. Perhaps I’d track an attendant down in the morning… Such an easygoing country is Iceland!

The tent, tucked into a nice corner of the Búðardalur campground.

One hill eats the day

When I woke up in the late morning and stumbled out of my tent, I could actually see where I was for the first time: A steep valley with rock walls and a river running along one side of it. Up the valley I could see the fences and buildings of a farm, with patchy fields carved between the foothills and the riverbank, winding up into the mountains. Down the valley only about half a mile was the main road, and just beyond that the ocean, spread thin like a crust along the valley floor for another three miles at least before merging with deeper waters in the hazy distance.

Closer at hand I could see the same buildings I’d been poking around last night. All the cars had departed. The other bicyclist was gone, and so was their tent. No chance to say hello or compare notes, then. I noticed that the largest building had a symbol on the doors, of a person submerged in water. Some kind of pool? Looking up, I noticed movement on the wall of the valley beyond the building. Steam was coming directly out of the rocks. Aha, a geothermal spring, being harnessed for the pool no doubt.

Steaming water erupting from the side of a hill. Free heat, courtesy of the Earth's core!

As I was repacking my tent, a young woman walked up, about 16 years old. She asked how my sleep had been, then chatted with me a about the weather and asked a few questions about bicycle touring. Somehow she was comfortable in a single long-sleeved shirt and jeans in spite of the cold air — a true Icelander. When she ran out of questions she told me I could use the pool if I wanted, and I could pay for my stay up at the farmhouse when I was ready. Then she walked away.

Even after three weeks I was still not used to the way that even very young women in Iceland are comfortable interacting with total strangers in isolated environments. Not that they have anything to fear from me; it just makes me worry for their safety in general. My American instincts at work I guess.

I rode up to the farmhouse and paid my bill, then asked if there was any food to eat. The woman at the door shook her head regretfully. “There’s a hotel with a restaurant about an hour down the road. But there is a very big hill. I’m sorry; it is probably very far away for you.” She wished me luck and safe travels, and that was it. I checked over my supplies: Plenty of water, three slices of cheese, and a handful of Doritos. Great. Oh well, here we go.

The view back down the road.

I spent the next four hours slowly rolling my way up the hillside, following the lumpy gravel road. As usual, I pulled well aside for trucks and when cars were coming in both directions — partly to be safe, and partly to wait for the dust to clear. Every driver that passed me looked either delighted or shocked to see me. I drank plenty of water, which meant plenty of pee stops. There was a lot of traffic on the road and sometimes I had to wait quite a while for a gap large enough to empty my bladder in private.

900 feet up, looking back at where I woke up this morning almost four hours ago.

The farmhouse remained in sight for most of the day. I was resigned to the slow pace, so I just listened to my audiobook and pedaled along, knowing that as long as I could get to the hotel before 8:00 or so I could still get something to eat. Terry Pratchett’s “The Last Hero” was as great a read as I remembered. After about six hours, a zillion cars, and ten zillion pee stops, the road leveled out. More or less.

Miles to go before I sleep.

Mare's tail (hippuris vulgaris)

Mare's tail (hippuris vulgaris) up close.

And then, finally, I could see the valley on the other side!

Finally at the top!

The next half an hour was a terrifying gravel road descent around sharp curves with the wind constantly shifting around me, and impatient vehicles stacking up behind me in my lane over and over again. One driver decided I was moving over too slowly and honked at me, then charged around in the oncoming lane. I flipped him the bird and swore at him. At least the vehicles behind him actually waited for me to move aside on a straightaway.

Eventually I hit bottom, then spent the next hour trundling slowly around the valley in an oncoming blast of wind. I was in a hurry to get to that restaurant, now. When I finally got around the bend of the valley so the wind was at my back, I stopped for a triumphant selfie.

Do I look tired? Yep, I'm tired!

And just after that, I spotted a fellow cyclist, who came across the road to say hello!

Another bike touring friend! He's from Germany.

So great to meet fellow road warriors.

The wind pushed me the remaining distance with ease, but even so my lack of nourishment was getting to me, and I turned the cranks very slowly. When I got to the hotel restaurant I ordered two main courses – a chicken caesar salad, and fish and chips – and demolished them both. Then I heaped my stuff into a room, rolled my bike around the back of the hotel, took a shower, and went *splat* on the bed. Another crazy cycling day!

One bed for me, one bed for all my junk.