Table of Contents

Iceland gear and packing

For my own reference, here is the overwhelming amount of gear I packed for my Iceland tour, and how I arranged it.

This is what everything looks like packed onto the bike:

Here are the bags without the bicycle:

In the back: Two Ortlieb sport packer plus bags, each with an add-on net pocket and an add-on large roll-top pocket.

In the middle: Two ortlieb recumbent bags. The one on the left has three net bags attached to its underside in a row. The one on the right has a net bag, and then two small roll-top bags attached below, since it hangs over the drivetrain of the bike.

In the foreground: A Kelty Redwing backpack. On the loaded bike, this is placed sideways on top of the recumbent bags, where it fits nicely behind the seat, and is held down with two bungee cords.

This is all the gear that’s held in the Kelty backpack and the recumbent bags, or in the add-on bags attached to the recumbent bags.

The sleeping bag, with an inflatable insert and an extra liner included, is kept inside the large cotton sack which is then stuffed into the right-side recumbent bag and takes up all the space. The blue bag of rain gear goes into the net bag on that side, along with the raincoat, and the small add-on bags that hang over the drivetrain carry the bicycle lock and the drone.

The recumbent bag on the left side of the bike carries the tent, the stakes, and the pump. Suspended in the net bags beneath it are the blue sack with hiking shoes inside, and the red sack with pants, swimsuit, and other off-bike clothing. The net bag on the rear carries the big wool sweater. The yellow sack of sleeping gear and the other bags go into the backpack.

All this stuff goes into the sport packer bags, along with the laptop and the camera which are not pictured.

This is the charging gear for both the drone and the laptop, with a Y-connector so that they can both be run from one power cord with one international adapter. Between the two charging bricks, six USB devices can be charged at the same time.

These are the portable speakers, adapted to attach to the handlebars of the bike. There’s also an old iPod mini in here, for playing bedtime music. An iPod shuffle is not suitable for this purpose since it has no ability to stop playing! It will always repeat the current playlist forever or until it runs out of power! How silly. Not that it matters, since all iPods have been discontinued and will soon die out, and we will all be locked into digital subscription services and completely abandon the whole idea of controlling what we listen to without it being mediated from one minute to the next by a jealous corporate overlord in the sky.

This is a kit of spare music hardware. None of it is essential; it’s just here to give me options, or in case something breaks. Spare headphones, a spare microphone wire, airpods, a bluetooth transmitter, et cetera.

These are camera accessories. A macro attachment (not very useful but very lightweight, so might as well bring it), a wireless camera control that pairs with an iPhone app, an external IR focus-assist lamp, a tripod collar, and a smaller tripod for the iPhone.

Camera and drone charging stuff, plus an extra cable.

Lens and laptop cleaning cloths, plus a set of spare blades for the drone.

A collection of media cards, holding music, audiobooks, photo archives, and other stuff that’s non-essential and can be deleted as necessary to make room for photos. All formated APFS with encryption on, for the heck of it.

Micro-USB charging cables, a camera card reader, an add-on hub for the laptop, and various small adapters to extend the utility of the micro-USB cables.

A boom microphone for calling up friends and for video conferencing in strange places. The strangest place I’ve used this so far is by the side of the road next to a geothermal power plant in the middle of Iceland. The boom snaps into place on the side of my headphones, using a small stick-on magnet. It works with the laptop and the iPhone lightning adapter, and it sounds far better than anything else I’ve tried.

The travel toolkit. This is kept in the bag under the seat, along with a small tire pump and an emergency spoke repair wire.

The kit contains everything I need to disassemble the bike and put it back together, including removing the pedals and seat. I can repair chain, fix a flat, replace broken cables, patch wires, adjust brakes and shifters, and also prepare food and trim my nails and mustache. Each of these tools has had a lot of thought put into it.

The rest of the space on the bike is occupied by myself, two large water sacks, and whatever food I happen to be carrying at the time.

Iceland packing: The laundry

Contents of my laundry sacks, for my own reference:

The white sack: All the shirts I’m not currently wearing.

The red sack: Off-bike clothing. Pants with a belt, swimsuit, bucket hat.

The yellow sack: Long-sleeve wool undershirt, cotton long-johns, sleep mask, earplugs, LED candle.

The orange sack: Underwear, socks.

Preconception of Iceland

Before I did any research on Iceland, and well before I actually visited the country, I wrote down what I thought I knew about the place. So, think of this description as a snapshot of what some random West-coast American might think about Iceland from hearsay and pop culture. (Of course, actually going there will change this picture dramatically.)

Iceland is a big ice-covered chunk of rock way up north, populated by a collection of pale-skinned people all crammed into one large city, close to some killer geothermal pools that are probably very relaxing to sit in. The population is so small they have to be careful who they date, but they’ve mostly solved this problem with detailed bookkeeping.

Having nothing to exploit on their rock in terms of natural resources and not much of a tourism draw, but consistently bearing the best skin color, hair color, and height for social navigation, they have naturally turned to banking and finance as the means to stay at first-world levels of comfort. From a sideways perspective this isn’t too far from the plundering behavior of their ancestors, just white collar instead of blue collar.

Nobody does any crime because Iceland is too cold, but people struggle with depression a lot.  This ironically makes Icelanders a very interesting and engaging people to talk to.  This is also probably why they spawned Björk.  Occasionally their snow-covered rock explodes a little, dumping hot ash into the air and blocking the sun, and there is some fatalistic worry over this but soon everyone goes back to ignoring it.

Icelanders probably throw really cool parties.  And hey, don’t hate them because they’re beautiful and smart.  Do business with them instead.  You’ll live longer.


“To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.”

Leonard Bernstein (possibly quoting someone else)

Iceland Preparation, Flight, and Arrival

For years I was obsessed with the idea of taking a trip across all of Europe and Asia. The idea chewed around in the back of my brain, and I did my best to ignore it, because it was weird and scary.

Then some events in my life forced me to confront the idea directly, and I realized that even if I wouldn’t or couldn’t do the entire trip, I could at least do the starting portion: A zig-zag across the country of Iceland, during the summer months.

My most ambitious route crossed down the center of the country and took 31 days at 30 miles every day. With the six-day middle crossing included, and the ferry cross up from Vatnasafn, plus time to prep gear and sightsee, the entire tour would probably take six weeks (42 days) and most likely approach 8 weeks (56 days).

While putting this crazy plan together I made several pages of notes, divided into three phases: Entering, Crossing, and Exiting. If you’re planning your own bike tour of Iceland it’s a nice info dump.

Why indeed!

Good question, Dad. Essentially the reasons are: Low crime, good infrastructure, fantastic terrain, and not much of a language barrier. Plus it’s the extreme western point of what could be called Europe, and connects to the mainland by a ship that sails on a regular schedule.

Of course, even though I had months to put together a great set of equipment and study routes and terrain, it still came down to a mad dash over the last few weeks, when all this happened at once:

  • I laid on the floor in agony for several days and passed a kidney stone.
  • I went in for a series of doctor appointments and blood tests, for the kidney stone, allergies, and other things.
  • The water heater in my apartment began to leak all over the floor. (I can’t pass this responsibility on to the landlord — I am the landlord.)
  • I gave tours to and evaluated a dozen renters, in order to rent out my apartment so I didn’t blast through my savings on the road.
  • I drove several loads of furniture to Southern California.
  • Full time work.

But somehow, the boxes got packed. I was up until 4:00am for most of the last week, but I didn’t quit. It was time to make this happen. I was done looking, it was time to leap.

Andrew gave me a ride to the airport, hauling along the massive bike boxes in his massive car. I was running on less than four hours of sleep and very grateful for the help. Hiring an airport shuttle with luggage this big is a total crapshoot. We chatted about his camping plans, his car, and his middle child Nora, who was going through a strange punk phase and making some strange decisions. There was an accident on the Bay Bridge but we got to the airport in good time.

Andrew helped me unloaded everything at the curb, and we exchanged hugs. “Send pictures!” he said. “You bet!” I said. Then he drove off, and I stood there with a backpack, two suitcases, and two huge boxes, wondering what my next move was. Find a handcart perhaps?

As I was swapping things around in the backpack, a man wandered by with a large cart and said I could use it for ten dollars. I had to get rid of my American cash anyway, so I agreed. He hauled everything onboard and pushed it inside to Icelandair check-in desk. Usually this is the point where a lot of haggling over box sizes and regulations begins, and that’s why I planned to be here several hours before the flight. Was I going to have to pull out my phone and quote from the airline’s own website, and speak to several managers, like I had last time? Yes, a box this large can go on the plane. Yes, it’s sporting equipment. Go ahead and look inside.

The attendants weighed all my stuff, and then brought up my baggage purchases on their computer. I’d put three check-in bags on my ticket, plus the carry-on, and then I’d called earlier in the week to add an oversize bicycle to the list. With only a few words exchanged, the attendants agreed that my third checked bag could be the smaller bicycle box, because I was only bringing one bicycle but dividing it between two boxes to meet weight requirements. That was it. The boxes were checked and wheeled away in less than five minutes and I didn’t have to open my wallet.

The security line was long but moved well. I had to discard my entire bottle of root beer before I got to the x-ray, which was aggravating. Then I was at the gate, with almost two hours to spare. Time to charge up all my gadgets!

I admit I would have enjoyed the flight a lot more if I haven’t been a sleep-deprived zombie. I discovered that while the exit row did have more room, it was also stone cold because of the way the air circulated in the cabin. I pulled out my fluffy pillow from my backpack, crammed it in the corner of the chair, and tried to sleep for about two hours.

I woke up somewhere over Canada and felt a bit better, but I missed the meal service. So I summoned the flight attendant – a lithe Icelandic woman with a sharp voice who spoke impeccable english – and she confirmed that I had a paid-for meal, which she then brought. A tasty falafel salad that was a bit dry, so I gulped water with every bite.

Greenland passing below...

Another nap, some cool views over Greenland, and we were there!

Packed shuttle from the plane to the terminal.

Everyone here is on their way to a groovy Icelandic adventure. Wearing my backpack, I fit right in… But soon I would claim my massive amount of luggage, and start looking like a weirdo and getting curious looks, like bike tourists always do.

Oversize items creep down that ramp on the right and slide into the room, a few at a time. In the digestive system of the baggage conveyors, this is the appendix.

It’s like the backside of some giant box-eating herbivore. A boxivore!

Miraculously, all the suitcases and boxes got here intact.

I’d already bought an Iceland-compatible data plan on my phone to keep costs down, but it didn’t let me make local calls. I had to bite the bullet and invoke my roaming charges to call up the hotel and ask when their shuttle would arrive. Turns out I needed to: They weren’t running the shuttles unless someone specifically booked them, and so far no one had booked any today. I would have been waiting forever if I hadn’t spent ten dollars on roaming charges. So … worth it?

The boxes were opened up for inspection, apparently. Good thing they didn't lose any of my stuff.

Once everything was safely inside my hotel room I discovered that someone had opened up the larger of my two boxes and inspected it, and dropped in a tag. Now I know who to yell at if something’s missing! Arrr!

Contents settled during shipping -- but only a little.

For the next four hours I unpacked, organized, and repacked everything. I’d been doing trial runs with this gear for quite a while, figuring out how to pack it down. Laid out on the foor I have to admit it looks completely impossible to fit on a bike. And yet it all does.

Everything laid out for taking inventory. That's a lot of stuff, yah?

And that was it for me. I fell onto the bed and slept. It was early evening, seven hours had vanished into jetlag, and the day was gone.

At least technically, since the sunlight never completely leaves the sky… Welcome to the far north!!

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