Everyday Adventurers Family Adventure Project: Biking in Wild East Iceland

Kirstie Pelling, Stuart Wickes and their three children are our Everyday Adventurers for August. The family are currently exploring two of the world’s Adventure Islands and we’re following them throughout this month.

You can keep up to date with their progress through videos and photos on their very own location tracking map. Visit the site for an exclusive Berghaus offer.

Stuart has gone for a shower. We can hear his strangled call for a towel. But no one is brave enough to pass him one as it would undoubtedly involve crawling over slippery, mossy rock, and enduring the splash of freezing water as we hand it over. Because Stuart has gone for a shower in a waterfall.

If you’re wondering which waterfall, it’s not the famous watery icons of Gullfoss, Godfoss or Dettifoss.  It’s not Hengifoss either; we already spent last night hiking and scrambling amongst the red and brown striped basalt columns surrounding Iceland’s second highest waterfall. (Check out the Punkt!) If we were in England right now, today’s waterfall would have a name and probably an ice cream van to go with it. But in Iceland, it’s just another gush of spring water making its way down a gash in the mountainside to join the glacial flows from the Vatnajökull ice cap, heading out to the Arctic ocean.

Still, it’s good for a shower after two days of dusty, hot riding. Although not everyone wants one. Hannah prefers to knot wild flowers together to decorate our handlebars while Cameron is busy with a pencil, sketching the ebb and flow of water over pebbles in the river bed. Matthew is sleeping. It wasn’t clambering into the waterfall for a shower that drained his energy, but two days riding from Egilsstadir. What we thought would be a short ride as a warm up, searching for the  legendary worm in Lake Lagarfljót, has turned into a bit more of an expedition than we anticipated. But you get the sense that happens a lot here.

On the map, Iceland looks easy for the summer wilderness traveller. There’s only one proper road around the whole island so you can’t get lost. You’ve got as much light as you could possibly need. You get warning for troublesome volcanoes (mostly) and you won’t stumble across tricky lava and ice fields unless you turn off onto one of the F roads (mountain roads) for which you need a serious 4 x 4, not a Ford Mondeo. There are no nasty insects, most people speak good English, the sun doesn’t hang round long enough to burn and you can stock up on Heinz beans in Netto before heading off into the wild.

But in the East and West fjords, and over much of the interior, it would be dangerous to underestimate this bewitching scenery when tackling it by bike or foot. Settlements are isolated and sometimes deserted. That little dirt track? Looks easy enough on a bike, but the washboard surface, loose gravel and hidden hills can really slow you down. And it seems whichever way you go in Iceland, the wind is in your face. An afternoon’s riding can easily spill into the evening and beyond, and the gentle valley floor can suddenly become a wind tunnel when the sun beats a retreat. The transition from tarmac into gravel can also exhaust you quickly if you are eleven years old and your bike is fully loaded with tent, food and water.

We had initially scheduled double the time and double the distance for this trip. After tracking down the Lagarfljötsmurinn (a giant worm a bit like the Loch Ness monster) we intended to head into the wild interior, via the controversial Kárahnjùkar Hydroelectric Power Station and Dam, and out towards the Askja volcanic crater and the Vatnajökoll National Park, with spiky black lava field and more pumice than you could use in a lifetime of baths. It would be possible, if unusual, for a family with young children to do this ride. We’ve done wilderness riding like it before in Spain, Chile and New Zealand. But it would have eaten up a week of our stay, and as we only have five weeks to take in the whole country, with its unfolding quirks, canyons and craters, it may have been a waste. Two days into our first bike expedition, we are sure we made the right decision. We are also increasingly sure that even four weeks here is only enough to scrape the thin mantle that is Iceland.

So we will see the interior of the island by four wheel drive instead, after another bike ride to the eastern fishing town of Eskifjördur. There, in the tradition of the whalers, shark hunters and herring fisherman, we’ll be swapping bikes for a boat to catch our own supper. Unless it’s like this gravelly road. In which case it might take till breakfast.

For all the latest on our journey catch up with us on the Berghaus Family Adventure Project Punkt! Map, check out our blog, or chat with us on Facebook or Twitter.

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