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The ICELAND DIVIDE With Fabio Barboni

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north to south

Aukureyri  to Vik 

After a long period of quiet due to the Covid pandemic that made it impossible first and then difficult to plan trips to distant lands, with a lot of perseverance, I managed, with not a few logistical difficulties, to make one of the many trips that are inside my desktop folder " Places to visit before you die ".

The original project was to make a crossing from east to west of Iceland, however for reasons of time, (I had only 10 days of time including flights), poor knowledge of the area and difficulty in finding first-hand information on Icelandic internal tracks , I opted for a more "soft" version: by joining two cities Akureyri to the north and Vik y Myrdal to the south following two of the most remote tracks in Iceland: the F26 that starts from F1 (better known as the Ring road) from Godafoss and follows the entire Sprengisandur desert passing between the Vatnajokull and Hofsjokull glaciers to arrive in the south near the Mirdalsjokull glacier  and then F 208 that start from this glacier and turn around it, making a half circle through the Landmannalaugar National Park first and then through the Skafta Vally until reach F1, after this other fifty km to the west until  ViK y Myrdal end of our crossing, but not of the journey that then it’s continued to Hella by bike and from there to Rejkyavik by bus.

Day 1

We arrive in Rejkyavik on August 17th at 6 p.m. we have just enough time to take a transfer to our hotel “201 Hotel” (which I recommend because it has an excellent value for “money and is close to the main bus stop that can take you to almost any place you want to choose to start your journey); immediately welcomes us a typical Icelandic weather, cold, cloudy skies, light rain and a driver with a hair style and a beard that seem to have come out of the Vikings series.

We arrive at the hotel at 7 pm, just the time to order the worst and most expensive Pizza of our life and mount our bikes in order to be ready for the next morning to take a bus that after about 400 km it would lead to Aukureyri.

Day 2

At 6 am we get up after sleeping just over 5 hours, we prepare the equipment, we wait for 7 am to take advantage of the breakfast included in the price of our room (do not make the mistake of not including it when you book a room because with the price of the food in Iceland, by making yourself two sandwiches to take away, you can also save yourself lunch and get back a lot of the cost) which will be the only meal not prepared by us for the next 6 days.

At 7.40 am we are in the street, in a few minutes we are at the central bus stop of Rejkyavik: Mjood (remember this name in case you want to leave for any track you have in mind) we load our bikes on the rear rack that the Icelandic Buses are equipped with: attention they rarely load more than 5 bikes, three on the Rack and two in the Luggage compartment (but if the rack is full they may refuse, so if you decide to leave with more than 3 people, think about a possible very expensive rental).

After a very long 8-hour journey, with various technical stops along the few service stations present (4 in 400 km), which allowed us to see with a certain calm all the western part of the famous Ring Road, (of which we sincerely remember with enthusiasm only the part between the Northern fjords and Akureyri) we arrive at our destination.

The morale is high, the climate is much better: it does not rain, the sky is slightly cloudy, however once the bikes are fixed I have suffered problems with the rack which has suffered all the repercussions of the bus trip, I fix it with clamps, I lighten the bike as much as possible. Loaded by the front bags and luckily having a backpack with me, I shift the weight on my back against the worst odds.

 

We start from Akureyri almost immediately, just long enough to buy two gas cylinders to reinforce the supplies (already brought from Italy given the absurd cost of food in Iceland); Not being able to follow the new route of the Ring Road which now crosses a tunnel of 4 km we are forced to take us towards the F26 using the old road that climbs the fjord for about 700 meters in altitude and descends towards the East.

With our loaded bikes with which we still have little confidence, it takes a while to climb the steep descent of the dirt road, reaching the top with the long light of the endless Icelandic evening give us breathtaking views.

Back on the F-1, also thanks to a slight favorable wind, we are able to travel 50 km before evening, for 20 pm iwe are faced with the first great spectacle of nature of this trip: Godafoss.

After the usual photos we look for a place to camp: the Guest House is closed as well as the refreshment point of the service area, so we find a comfortable parking to place the tents; preparing dinner we realize that one of the cylinders we have purchased it does not work, in any case we still prepare a risotto and go to sleep, the malfunctioning of the cylinder is a big problem because our ability or not to be able to eat depends on it, however we are lucky, the next morning we will only have to delay the departure to buy one at the service station, which besides being the only point of supply for food or other equipment for over 400 km from there to Vik fortunately has quite a lot for sale. (you will find gas cylinders in every station of the N1).

DAY 3

The night passes quickly, we wake up early, at 5 am I am taking photos of the areas of the Godafoss waterfall and enjoying the show in solitude before the tourists arrive, we also prepare a coffee, we ill two biscuits and wait…. around 8 the area begins to fill up with people, at 9 am as soon as the service station opens we buy the gas cylinder and leave quickly towards the south.

The first 30 km run fast on a perfectly beaten track and slightly uphill along the Skjalfandafljot river , following the F26 we cross a suspension bridge, where we stop for a "bar" and continue towards the Aldeyjarfoss waterfall, a slightly more demanding climb begins which becomes increasingly difficult.

At the end of the valley and near the waterfall, which we reach when it is about noon, the weather is the best we will encounter for the whole trip, it does not rain, there is also some rays of sunshine that emerge from the clouds.

We do not get too close to the waterfall, because it would take too long we have to recover the approximately two hours spent waiting for the service station to open, never mind, only a few kilometers away we are in front of another magnificent waterfall where we can also get to the edge of the precipice.

The afternoon continues on a bad ground and with slopes beyond our expectations, we are now in the middle of the Sprengisandur and we remain, incredible to imagine, without a drop of water, all of a sudden the rivers and streams have disappeared the land is very dry and we are forced to resort to a sort of lagoon behind a dune to supply ourselves, in the end the filtered lagoon water albeit with an aftertaste of earth quenches our thirst. 

We don't meet anyone all afternoon except for a Jeep and two motorbikers with dirt bikes.

 

The weather turns bad, the gravel road it’ in the same condition, we manage to do only 40 km, for these reasons we need double the time to cover the same distance that in the morning,  we have covered in 3 hours.

At 8 pm, arrived near a small river, we decide to camp, both to take advantage of the running water and t of the short break from the pouring rain, in fact we manage to set up the tents just before the rain returns fallowing incessantly throughout the night.

DAY 4

 After a night under  rain we wake up around 5 am, have breakfast in the tent with coffee and biscuits, take advantage of the first short respite of the rain to dismantle the camp and we are on the road, we are undecided whether to continue on the F 26 or deviate as in the original plan towards Lagafell to take advantage of a hot spring bath; we decide not to decide until the crossroads.

We reach the crossroads after about an hour, the bottom of the track is bad we can't keep an average higher than 10/12 km / h, every attempt to increase the pace has to deal with our roof racks which risk detaching from the frame .

At the crossroads despite the fog the weather seems to hold, so we decide to go to Lagafell, the track even less traveled than the F26 is in even worse conditions and above all uphill, in fact the source is located at the highest point of the whole track; to do 25 km we take another two and a half hours also having to push in some really steep stretches, the track in some places is in fact no more than the imprint of some rare 4x4 past them before us,we do not meet for the whole morning nobody.

We arrive in Lagafell around 11.30 am there is no tourist, only a  ranger: a nice Icelandic woman named "Attie" who to our surprise also speaks a little Italian and welcomes us in a very warm way; she explains to us that very few people come here, sometimes even none for days, the place is guarded only in the months of July and August, the rest of the winter months remains a makeshift refuge.

Being among the things to do at least once in a lifetime and given the considerable effort it took to get there, we even bathe taking advantage of a wide range of swimsuits left there by the hikers that Attie puts at our disposal.

Bathing in the natural pool is a unique experience, the feeling of well-being when you immerse yourself is certainly emphasized by the fact that for over two days we had been out  in the middle of nowhere with cold temperature without being able to wash and warm up.

In Lagafell there are no particular services, but you can use the shelter ‘s kitchen, the bathroom and possibly bivouac nearby or sleep in a room, but we don’t know it’s for free; we just take advantage of the kitchen to prepare a plate of pasta and above all I to recover from the relaxing effect of the hot bath that had brought my blood pressure to 0.

After about a couple of hours we leave, we say goodbye to Attie and return to the F26 which we reach after 30 km of bad road and a long series of fords.

The junction with the F26 is at the Fjordungsvatn lake, from there we begin to see the Tungafellsjokull glacier on the even more majestic horizon, towards which we head quickly and on the slopes of which we stop for the night in the only equipped campsite of Sprengisandur Nydalur , after having crossed two quite dangerous fords that force us to make the crossing in various stages by removing the bags from the bikes to avoid being overwhelmed by the very strong current of the river created by the melting of the glacier.

At the Nydalur campsite you can just take a shower and buy some snacks such as french fries and biscuits; to drink the choice is between a pepsi or a non-alcoholic beer, we take advantage of the hot shower, we prepare yet another risotto and we fall asleep in our tents in the company of other adventurers who face the crossing in a camperized jeep, the night passes quietly.

 

DAY 5

In the morning we wake up early as usual, it is much colder than the previous days even if there is a bit of sun peeping through the clouds.

We take advantage of the good weather to try to grind as many kilometers as possible up to Visalir where there should be a refreshment point.

In the morning we pedal on the plateau in a continuous ups and downs between the dunes and lagoons, we can also see a rainbow, to the right and left we are surrounded by Vantajokull and Hofsjokull, we have a break for lunch just before a ford to take advantage of the water , we prepare a bit of pasta, we have also a little respite from the rain that has always accompanied us at times since the morning.

In the early afternoon we arrive in Visalir, as we were told by now it is no longer an active host, we find it open, but there is no service, we can rest a little on the tables and chairs present, we make a coffee with our stove, we arrange the equipment taking advantage of the shelter.

It’s still early so we decide to continue to try to get to the end of the desert as quickly as possible that we can be in the Landamannalaugar the next day.

The afternoon is characterized by bad weather, it rains constantly, the only positive note is the road that gradually begins to have a much better ground, we manage to keep higher averages, we also meet more Jeeps than usual, then we discover the reason: it's Saturday afternoon and many off-road enthusiasts venture into the desert in this lagoon area for recreation.

After an afternoon in the pouring rain, where we also meet three hikers on foot and an overturned Jeep, after the set 90 km we stop as soon as it stops raining to set up camp and spend the night at the black beach of Porisvatn lake in a lunar landscape .

 

DAY 6

Wake up at dawn it does not rain, after 10 km we are at the end of the desert, we leave the dirt road for the first time and with tail wind we run for 5 km along a splendid strip of asphalt.

In reality it is only a moment of pause because as we change direction we are faced with a very long climb against the wind that takes us up to the Langamannalunar plateau, a lava valley that winds up to the slopes of a volcano between pools of sulphurous water.

The spectacle of the views that surround us is breathtaking, the green of the moss stands out even more from the black slopes of the basalt rocks, there is also a bit of sun and we arrive at the Langammanlunar campsite which is time for lunch when in the distance clouds laden with rain herald us an epic afternoon.

After having lunch with  chips we leave to Vik , first we cross the valley of the Skafta river, the path is really hard we have to face 17 fords in the pouring rain and with a very strong head wind from the south.

Towards evening we are without strength, we can not even pedal some sections because are very steep especially with an absurd headwind, camping here was impossible: the water level of the river increases visibly the valley bottom has become a marsh and the strong wind makes it impossible even just thinking of camping in an emergency, pedaling and pushing to the bitter end in the evening we can get out of the valley and find refuge in a hostel, which is the first sign of civilization we had met for hours and the first with electricity we had met from Aukureyri.

Staying in a bed for one night after a week in the tent gave us pleasure, as being able to dry tents and equipment in a dry place finally we can also recharge our devices, phones, action cameras, GPS and Power Banks.

 

DAY 7

We leave from our comfortable night shelter a little more rested, the weather situation remains disheartening: rain and fog, we try to clean the gears of our bikes from lava dust, we give a quick lubrication and before to pedal we taking advantage of a short trek to the nearby waterfall that I don't remember the name.

After about an hour of continuous ups and downs we leave the lava valley and we find ourselves in an area of gentle green hills full of farms, the bottom is good, however, we pedal quite quickly, it is very cold, we reach the asphalt in the half morning and later after a last climb we are finally on the Ring Road.

 

We have covered about thirty kilometers, there are still about fifty kilometers to go up to Vik, however the road in perfect flatness and the strong north-east wind allow us to increase our average to almost thirty km / h, a dream after days spent pushing on the pedals (or foot on the ground) on the slopes of the desert.

We arrive in Vik which is about one o'clock in the afternoon, we are completely soaked due to the heavy rain: traveling on the N1 in bad weather is quite risky and the traffic intensifies as we go west.

In Vik we have our first non self-cooked meal after 6 days Hamburger and Chips, with non-alcoholic Beer for Simone and a Coke for me.

Theoretically the Divide is over, we should decide whether to continue towards Rejkyavik by pedaling or by bus; we opt to continue by bike not before having visited the famous black beach from which unfortunately we cannot see the well-known stacks due to the fog.

We continue the journey after booking a hostel in Skogar, along the way we make a forced detour to one of the most iconic places in Iceland: the wreckage of an old US Navy C.117 that fell back in 1973 on the black beach about 10 km away from Skogar.

The return to the hostel is always in the pouring rain which has not stopped for over 24 hours.

 

 DAY 8

After a proper breakfast, we leave for Rejkyavik, the journey is almost at the end remain only 200 km, before leaving Slkogar we visit the famous waterfall that takes its name from the locality: Skogafoss.

Then we continue towards the west, but we travel very fast at 30 km/H given the strong favorable tail wind, the view is much better than the one that led us up there from Vik, no longer a desert and monotonous land, but we are close to the plateaus of the small Eyafjalljokull glacier, from which many descend waterfalls over the valley dotted with farms and livestock to the coast.

 

Thanks to the wind we arrive in a short time near Seljalandfoss, also this waterfall famous for the choreographic horseshoe passage behind the water jump.

The area is also full of other smaller waterfalls with one insinuated into a small canyon carved into the lava rock.

At the half of morning we are pushing again towards Hella in less than hour we arrive at destination sometimes is possible to reach 45 Km/h  thanks to the tail wind. In Hella we are in the most urbanized part of the country, there is a dense fog and it rains heavily, staying on the N1 in that weather is extremely risky, the traffic is the same of a great Eruopean great city. We do not have more than 10 meters of view so we decide to get on the bus and continue safely. The choice turned out to be right the weather gets much worse, near the capital there are works for the doubling of the carriageway, staying there by bike between trucks and cars in the rain and fog would have been very risky in addition to the fact that we would not have seen anything interesting given the fog.

We then arrive with half a day in advance in Rejkyavik where after a nice visit to the cycle paths of the city and the historic center we stay overnight before reaching our hotel, our bike trip ends here, we have one last day to spend in the land of ice but we decide to be tourists.

 

DAY 9

 As said no bikes, we have no time to pedal the famous Golden Circle, we book a bus ride that includes a visit to the Thingvellir national park where you can observe with the naked eye the Antlantic fault that collides with the Euro Asian fault, and where the Icelanders held the first session and seat of their parliament; Gayser, Gullfoss ending the tour at the crater of the extinct volcano Kerið with its blue lake; in the evening we take the last two steps to the capital, enjoy a last Fish and Chips and return tired to the hotel.

The following morning we have just the time to buy some adhesive tape, prepare the bikes for boarding and reach the airport to return home hoping to be able to return one day again to visit the natural beauties of the East area, which has remained completely unpublished, or the Northern Fjords, that seeing them pass by the window of our bus ,  immediately appeared wonderfully wild.

How I always say: “so many things to do and so little time!”

 

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