Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Iceland Part 3

The next day the only rain I experienced was walking to the base of the waterfall.
Sometimes it’s hard to make the decision… Do I take off my motorbike gear or keep it on when going for walks… It’s sometimes a simple decision and sometimes impossible to know which is best. If it’s hot weather than it’s quite an easy decision, but when it’s cold then it seems to depend on how long the walk is. I’d take a wild guess that I use 4 times more energy walking with the motorbike gear on, but then I take up a lot of time taking it off and packing it away into the boxes on the bike. I sometimes feel like an old man when I walk with my motorbike gear on. I get tired so quickly, my legs overheat and I have to rest lots to cool down. I don’t feel out of breath, I just feel too hot. I’m glad it’s not a hot climate, but then if it was I’d have taken my gear off…. Probably…
There can’t be anywhere else in the world like it… Well, maybe I’ve just never been anywhere like it. I would ride for what seemed like ages but only make it a few kilometres. In and out, in and out. The Fjords made the travelling slow around here. Sometimes I’d ride 40 kilometres and only make a few kilometres in actual distance,  because I’d just ridding around to the other side other the fjord. But it’s not just once… this was happening all day, and all the next day. It really was slow going. When I travel like this I sometimes feel like it’s pointless. I’m just sitting on the bike all day looking at things passing by. I feel bad sometimes, I should be stopping and exploring, but then what could I see that I couldn’t see from the road? Well, I won’t know unless I stop!, but where should I stop? It’s all so amazing. 

Arnarfjörður in iceland

Dýrafjörður in iceland
Days later I came out of the area of the Western Fjords feeling like I had got the lay of the land. I now knew roughly what it looked like but I failed to feel like I had explored. I sometimes don’t mind that because it allows me to look at a map and then have a mental picture of what an area looks like, but then could I not do that by looking at pictures of the area on the internet? Maybe… but it’s not the same.
When the roads are quiet and the surface is good I always find myself passing the time by thinking about something other than riding the bike. Today I was starting to realise that my time in Iceland was running out. I really wanted to take a panoramic photo that summed the country up in 1 go. I tried to imagine what the photo would look like… Surely it would need to have a glacier in it… Oh and a volcano… I thought that was good as they go hand in hand in Iceland, but it will need something else since they do go hand in hand. I wondered what that thing was… I didn’t want it to be anything man made as the country cries out “Wild wild wild”. I wondered if it should be horses, then after a while decided that was a good idea… So I need to find a place with a glacier, volcano and some horses. I liked the idea… the horses would take up the foreground and the glacier and volcano the background. The problem was that I had already passed the area of Iceland where I could have probably got that photo, there were no glaciers where I was and the closest ones were too remote for there to be any fields with horses in them.
I was now feeling like I was starting to have deadlines again. I followed the main highway 1 east along the North side of the country all the way to an area called Myvatn. Tonight was the night I would finally fit my off road tyres, for tomorrow I’m doing my first real off road in Iceland. I now had mentally planned out each day that was left in my trip and I had set myself a strict face paced schedule to keep until I got on the ferry.

Horses Near Myvatn in iceland
I found a camp next the Myvatn late and set up my tent. Once my tent was up my bike was hauled onto the centre stand again and the back wheel was removed and the tyre was let down. Ever since my days of travelling bike motorbike in Australia I’ve been self-sufficient with tyres. I always fit my own tyres and I always fix my own punctures. I always carry tyre leavers, patches, spare tubes and a pump. I wouldn’t say I’m amazing at fitting them as I always struggle at lining the inner tube valve up with the hole in the rim while trying to give myself room for my fingers with the tyre levers. 1 hour and 15 minutes later my bike was looking extra mean with brand new off road tyres. I was now excited and couldn’t wait for tomorrow to come!

The following day was pretty fast paced. I was at the top of a volcano, or more accurately a cinder cone looking over the lake, Myvatn. Then a bit later I was looking mud pools and volcanic vents forcing stream up out into the atmosphere while trying not to gag at the awful sulphur smell, before I knew it I was standing at mightiest waterfall that I’ve ever seen. (I later learned it was likely Europe’s most powerful). By late evening I was behind in my schedule. I worked out that I needed to double back to Myvatn to get fuel as I had wasted enough to put me in danger of running out before the next time I could get fuel. This set me back a fair bit. I had planned to be as close as I could get to a place called Askja.

Hverfjall in iceland
My bike was now fully fuelled up, probably quite dangerously I even had filled up the part of the tank that is meant to allow the fuel to expand on a hot day… But I didn’t expect any of those so I put fuel there instead and headed East. I pulled off the highway into the turn off for road F88. The “F” means it’s for four wheel drives only. I stopped the bike and started reading the array of signs that had been put up with information about the road. No hire cars allowed, I got that… But I wanted information about any river crossings on the road, I then found a sign for that, it showed me where they all were, but I had no idea how deep they would be.
It had been a while since I had been on rough roads with a motorbike. I felt out of my depth riding this heavy bike up this badly corrugated track. I was introduced to these “Corrugations” when I was 20 years old when I was riding my motorbike Cape York in the very North of Australia. Ok, so you might ask…. What are they?  Well, think of walking along a sandy beach at low tide and seeing the ripples in the sand that the sea left as it went out, or think of an old fashioned washboard that was used to scrub clothes clean. Basically on gravel roads, sandy roads, or clay roads it’s possible for a similar thing to form. The corrugations are always run left to right along the width of the road, so riding down the road means riding over the corrugations. The size of them varies wildly where sometimes they’re small enough not to notice, and sometimes riding over them is almost impossible. The corrugations I found on F88 I found were more towards the impossible end of the scale. Normally I keep my map neatly tucked in between the seat and petrol tank the corrugations soon made that disappear. I had to stop and drop me tyre pressures down to try to flatten the tyre enough to not go as deep into them and soften the blow when I hit the peaks of the next one. Speed is an issue, going slowly enough to not get the vibration means you’ll be going slower than walking speed and if you go faster than 50 mph (80km/h) you can start to skip over them. The problem with that is that the tyres are not 100% on the ground all the time and steering gets to be a problem sometimes.
An hour or so down the track the corrugations were starting to feel more normal. It made me remember about how my own standards of a track would change wildly depending on what I had been riding over before I got to the track, and since I had just come from a nice highway onto this track then it’s no wonder I thought it was rough. If I had come off a track with deep rutted soft sand then I’d probably have thought this was easy!
The first of the river crossings didn’t slow me down too much. I parked the bike a few metres from the edge and jumped off. I had bought some black bin bags when I filled up with fuel. I had seen a man on a motorbike about a week before who had the remains of some bin bags around his legs… The idea clicked at the time, I thought it would be a great way of making temporary waders to walk into deep water with without getting my legs wet. I unrolled 2 bags from the roll, one for each leg and walked into the water holding onto one with each hand so they didn’t fall down to my ankles. My feet were soaked within seconds as the small stones pierced their way into the bags. The water was not too deep and the bottom was not too rough. I walked back to the bike and carefully rode it into the river. The water came over the foot rests but it didn’t bother me as my feet were already wet. The water was nowhere near as cold as I’d have imagined it would have been either!
It was getting late by this time. I didn’t see any other traffic on the road. It made the whole thing feel like a bit more of an adventure. I always find it disappointing when I’m travelling somewhere that I think is remote then when I arrive I find there is 100’s of people already there… I remembering when I had travelled with my motorbike in Australia, I had made it to a waterfall called Mitchell Falls which is in a remote area in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, I parked the bike up next to 2 4 wheel drives, which were the only 2 in site and walked the 3 kilometres to the falls only to find over 100 people sitting in a pool at the top of the falls… It didn’t add up… 2 4 wheel drives with 100 people?? It turned out a cruise ship was off the coast and all these people were brought in via helicopter.
I soon came to another river crossing. It was now passed 10pm and I thought there was probably no chance that I’d meet other traffic on this track. I once again stopped the bike before the edge of the river, this time I didn’t bother with the black bags, I just walked right in. In the middle the water was almost at the level where men think twice to go any deeper, especially in Iceland. This time the water was cold, I was uncontrollably making screeching noises at the cold! I thought that it must be fresh glacial melt water as it felt like it was bearly above freezing. I found that if I walked down river a little that the water was a bit more shallow. It would have been crazy to try and cross in the middle as the water would have come over the motorbike’s seat and dropping it in that depth would have given me massive problems, especially since it was likely nobody would come to my aid at that time of night. Downriver the water was just over knee deep, which I remembered to be just over 60cm from my days in Australia. I knew that was about my limit for my old Yamaha Tenere, but I’d never taken my Africa Twin into water anywhere near this deep before. I thought maybe I should camp and see if the water was any lower in the morning, It’s quite common for rivers with glacial melt water to be high at the end of the day as the glaciers melt much more in the day than at night. A sign quite clearly stated I was not allowed to camp. But not through wanting to obey the sign I decided to continue and see what happens… After all if anything was to go wrong, then it would “all just be part of the adventure”.
I jumped on the bike, started the engine and slowly let go of the clutch lever. The front wheel was about completely under the water, as the back made it to the same depth I could feel my panniers dragging in the water. I kept the revs steady but kept my hand on the clutch just a little so if I hit anything under the water I wouldn’t stall the engine, doing this also let me ride a bit slower. The back wheel started to spin in the soft gravel riverbed and the bike, though it didn’t stop moving dug its way in a little deeper under the water. Just as I was at the stage of panic that I was going to be stuck in the middle, the bike started to rise out of the other side….. front wheel out... back wheel out… cough! And the engine just died.
I was now freezing! That water was much colder than the first river I crossed. I was at the stage of not being able to think clearly, taking badly thought out risks, the whole idea of crossing at this time of night was a badly thought out idea. I could have camped and waited for the first 4 wheel drive in the morning to watch me cross and help tow the bike out if I dropped it or drowned the engine. But instead now I was sitting with the back wheel barely out the water with a bike that just stopped running. All this went through my head in about a millisecond as that one millisecond later I had pressed the start button and the bike burst into life again, I gave it a rev and let go the clutch and wheel span all the way up the far side back onto the level ground again. Phew!

Monday, 23 July 2012

Iceland Part 2

I was now travelling by myself for the first time in almost 2 months. I had no travel buddy, no deadlines to meet but I only had 9 days left in Iceland before I had to be back at the ferry to head home again.

After I dropped Kiya off at the airport I went back to pick up my off road tyres from the camp ground where I had left them 1 week before. The road tyres on the bike now had done almost 10,000 miles (16,000 km) and were looking quite slick.

I was not dealing with being alone very well, my motivation was low. Normally I’d be excited at the thought of another chapter starting. Thinking back to how excited I was the day I arrived in Iceland my mood today just did not make sense. I thought back to when Mila and I rode up the pass after leaving the ferry and how amazing I thought everything looked through my fresh eyes. Why can’t I feel that way again? Is Iceland getting old this quickly?

Looking at the map and I picked a direction to travel in. I wanted to ride up the west coast from Reykjavik and try to get myself as far west in Iceland as I could.

The following day I rode through Reykjavik. As I rode I wondered if I should stop in and see a little bit of the city. I felt a bit torn between two things and wondered to myself which I would regret more, leave the capital without seeing what is has to offer, or would I regret wasting the time doing that when I could be out in more remote areas while I had the means to do so. After all if I really want to see Reykjavik sometime then I could fly there and walk around the city, but then I’ve never been a big fan of cities.

By this time the city was slowly disappearing in my rear view mirrors. I was riding up main coastal road to the North. The weather was dry but the sky was full of grey clouds which hugged the mountains just to the east. The rock of the mountains was quite black looking but there were bright green moss or grass patches which really give the scene an amazing contrast. The road is quite busy with cars, though they don’t look like tourist cars, more local traffic. I soon get fed up of being in a queue of traffic and I find a place to stop. I was a bit sore as it had been a few hours since I got on the bike… 2 hours seems to be the norm for this, though I often do more when I feel the need, but today there is no need. My sudden lack of deadlines and lack of destination was causing my pace and enthusiasm to slow down. It didn’t seem to matter how long I stopped for or how fast I rode, as nothing or nobody was waiting for me at the other end.

I man handle my bike onto the centre stand to do some checks... Engine oil… ok. The chain is starting to get tight spots, but it’s not getting too noisy yet, so it should be ok for getting home. I fill up my chain oiler with fresh oil and remove the nozzle that drips the oil onto the chain. Sometimes after rain it seems to gunge up when the oil mixes with water causing the oiler to stop working. Its maintenance and I DO need to do it, but it just feels like I’m wasting time, I have no drive and once I complete one thing, I start looking for something else that might need attention. It feels like I’m just making excuses, I feel like I should be somewhere else, but I just don’t know where that place is. Why can’t I make the most of this?

I continue North thinking some distance might help my mood. After looking at the map I discovered that the highest waterfall in Iceland was only a 30 minutes ride away. I turned off the main highway and head east up what would once have been the main highway before they built the road tunnel under the Fjord.

I really feel like I’m off of the tourist route now. All along the south coast of Iceland there were tour busses, big 4x4s, motorhomes, motorbikes, hire cars, but now there was very little traffic. I park in the car park where the walking path starts for the waterfall. It is now lunch time so I eat a few boiled eggs that I had boiled earlier in the day, then a few cookies… The cookies were the same brand as Mila and I had bought when we travelled together, eating them made me think of her and wonder how she was getting on with her new job. It was now raining quite heavily and there is no place to shelter so I made do with the luxury of wearing my motorbike jacket and helmet to keep dry and I sit on the bike. I wish I had an umbrella, I then thought about somehow rigging my tent over the bike to keep dry while I waited for the rain to stop. I noticed that some children were watching me from a car that was parked a few metres away, they must have been left by their parents while they walked to the waterfall. I was jealous they had somewhere dry and comfortable to sit.

The rain would just not give up! I waited for as long as my patience would allow before I decided that I needed to find a place to stay for the night. I didn’t want to ride in this rain as it was heavy enough to soak me if I rode too far. I finally decided to put on a brave face and 40 kilometres later I was in Akranes. I had seen clear skies off to the west so I kept going in that direction hoping the distance would cause the rain to stop. By the time I made it to Akranes it was sunny and late enough to not feel too bad about stopping for the day. I found a camp ground, but didn’t find anyone to pay for the privilege of staying there. The camp ground was beside the sea and was full of caravan and motorhomes, it looked more like a grassy place you might have a picnic on a warm summer’s day rather than a place to sleep in a tent for the night. There were toilets and showers but they were in a portacabin. Everything looked quite temporary.

Glymur in iceland

I now had my tent up and I was sitting in it feeling glad that I didn’t have to put it up in that heavy rain. I was still feeling quite blue and isolated. I remembered that I often feel more isolated when I camp by myself in a busy camping area than if I camp alone in the mountains. I never seem to feel lonely when I camp in remote places by myself, but often when I come out of remote areas and camp again near others I end up feeling really lonely and disconnected. It seems so strange to feel alone when there are other people just metres away and not when people are 100’s of kilometres away.

I had not managed to find any sort of attendant or manager for the camp ground, not even a sign to say how I should pay for the privilege of sleeping on their grass. Maybe someone will come around later looking for some money at a more normal stopping time for the night. My mood made me feel something was missing… was it really just the fact that I had gotten unused to travelling by myself? I really didn’t know… but I hated feeling this way because I knew when I thought about it later I wouldn’t understand why I did feel that way and I’d just feel like I’d wasted time for no reason. I phoned home to see if there was any news that would change my mood. I phoned my brother first, then a few friends, one told me a funny story about something that had happened at which cheered me up a bit.

In the morning I rode back to the waterfall car park and started walking up the path towards it. The path was quite flat for a few kilometres but then dropped away and disappeared into a lava tunnel. I crossed the river by walking over a steel cable that someone had kindly put there for that purpose. It was a bit like a tight rope walk, but there was also a normal rope at hand height to help balance with. I trusted myself enough to not fall in but didn’t completely rule it out. Over the past few years I seem to care less and less about things going wrong while travelling and I’ve managed come up with something to say when it does… “It’s all part of the adventure”, today I didn’t need to use the phrase as I managed to get myself and my bag of camera equipment over the river without getting it or myself wet.

As I stood looking over the highest waterfall in the country I tried hard to be impressed. I thought about the first waterfall that I had seen in Iceland when Mila and I were riding up the pass away from the ferry. I didn’t stop for a photo, but I was impressed, everything was impressive that day! Why is nothing impressive today? Its times like these that reminds me why I always take people’s travel advice with a pinch of salt. If someone didn’t recommend I went to a certain place then they’re likely basing that advice on the experience that they had when they went to that place, but what if they were in the same mood I was in when they went there. This scene should have impressed me, I knew it! But it didn’t, was it the weather?

It was a few days later that I started coming out the mood and started seeing things in a different light. I was riding up a pass over a mountain and once I got to the top I saw a red survival shelter. These seem to be quite common in Iceland, though I’ve not seen one like this before, it looks like some sort of life boat perched on top of a mountain, or some sort of survival pod that might see in some science fiction film. I went inside to have a look and found a set of bunk beds and a few tins of food laying around, there was also a log book that a few people had written in.

I was now riding the bike West towards the most Westerly point of Iceland, which really is not very far from Greenland. I passed fairly big boat that was washed up on the beach which had a sign next to it saying it was the oldest steel built ship in all of Iceland. The road turned gravel after this and started following the coast. The track was cut into the side of a hill and as I rode along the right side of it I could look down 50 metres or so down to the sea. I was glad I trusted my abilities on the bike on the gravel but I couldn’t ignore how bald my back tyre had become now and thought that there would always be a chance I could underestimate the grip and drop the 50 metres down to the sea.

Bjargtangar; well I didn’t know the name of it before I got there, but I saw it written on a sign when I arrived. It said something about being the most westerly point of, not only Iceland, but Europe too. I didn’t really think that it might be the most westerly point of Europe when I planned to go. I walked along the cliff for a while and soon spotted some Puffins. I’d never seen a Puffin before. They’re such weird looking birds. This place really was a haven for them, there were hundred’s! I guess there must be a lot of fish in the sea here. I set up my camera to see if I could take a panoramic photo that included some puffins. With the lens I use for a panorama I really do need to get close to them to see any detail, but I just couldn’t get close enough and I didn’t want to disturb them too much in their territory. I changed the lens back to the longest one I had and took a few photos. I was amazed how laid back they were, yet how worried they looked at the same time. Their beaks were like rainbows! I finally saw some in flight, it really does not look all that natural, their wings look far too small to keep them up in the air. I’m far from an expert on them, but I thought the wings must be small so they can dive into the water more easily. What an amazing bird that can walk, fly and swim!

Puffins at Bjargtangar in iceland

I followed the track back to the main road then began to follow the coast around the North-West corner of the country. Progress is slow, the roads are gravel. I overtake cars as most of them are going too slowly for me to follow them. I try to be careful so I don’t create too much dust or throw any stones up, but become impatient when some drivers don’t let me pass safely. I wonder if they want stones in their windscreen? Eventually the road is strait enough and I can creep passed without too much excess speed. I resist the temptation to open the throttle wide as I pass after the driver had not slowed to allow me to pass for over 20 minutes and it was only out of sheer respect that I didn’t just pass before anyway.

I didn’t really have a plan now, I didn’t have anywhere in particular that I wanted to be, but I was now quite happy and satisfied with everything that appeared over the horizon. The bike eats up the distance of these Western Fjords so quickly. Tonight I decided to just keep riding passed my normal stopping time. There was not much danger of it getting too dark to ride on, for it does not get dark at this time of year this far North. Normally I think 10pm is too late to pull into a paid camping ground as other people might be sleeping by that time, I’d normally want to be stopped somewhere between 8 and 9pm. This was a pretty remote area and I didn’t see any towns for a long time and I didn’t see anywhere I could put my tent up but I didn’t really mind. I stopped to eat about 10pm and continued on until much later before stopping at a big waterfall that pours down the side of a mountain then cascades through a series of other falls down into the fjord. There was a yacht anchored out in the bay and there were some other people camping near the beach. It was late now, but I didn’t worry too much about my bike making too much noise as I rode in as the waterfall would have drowned out the bike easily.

It was not raining, but the sky was grey and the cloud didn’t seem to be too far above the mountains. It was quite cold too, but then I wasn’t surprised as it was after midnight and I was just a dozen miles south of the Arctic Circle.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Iceland Part 1

I arrived in Iceland the day after midsummer. I had been aboard the MS  Norröna for 2 days, all the way from Denmark.  Finally the Ferry arrived in Seyðisfjörður on the East coast of the country. It seemed like a prison sentence was complete and I was now free again!

My introduction to Iceland was clear skies and warm weather and amazing scenery. I was out on deck to get my first look while the Ferry sailed down Seyðisfjörður and into the harbour.

There’s something about getting to a new country that just excites me. It seemed like an eternity as I waited to get my motorbike off of the Ferry. The motorbikes were right at the front of the Ferry and the exit was right at the back and there were about 800 cars and motorhomes in between me and the door. The car deck was packed. I had made my way squeezing in between cars and motorhomes,  down various dead ends as cars were almost touching in some places, only to realise that I had gone to the wrong end of the ship and had to make my way all the way back again with my bag carefully balanced on my head so not to scratch cars on the way passed.

The town of Seyðisfjörður was unnaturally busy. It felt like the area had just been invaded by tourists. After an immigration officer stuck some weird sticker to my front mudguard I was free to explore Iceland at my own pace…

It felt like some sort of rat race, there were cars everywhere, bumper to bumper, as they waited to pull out onto the main road. I stopped at the first place that I could once I got on the main road. This just happened to be right opposite the junction that I just pulled out of. There was somewhere to park my bike and there was a little piece of grass to look at my map on. I jumped off the bike and began talking with some other bikers that had done the same. A minute later Mila pulled up on her Suzuki Bandit. I had briefly met Mila on the ferry while we were searching for where we were meant to sleep. She was from Holland, that’s all I had learned about her at the time. We both talked to the other bikers for a while before they left. Now it was just the two of us looking at my map spread out on the grass talking about our travel plans. By this time Mila’s chain lube was helping to stop the map from being blown away in the wind. We talked about what we had planned to do in Iceland, I learned that she had almost 1 week to travel before she had to start her summer job and had decided to take the ferry here rather than fly so that she had some transport.

 The small town slowly settled back to its sleepy norm as the tourists slowly dispersed and moved in the direction of their onward destinations. It was all quite relaxed at this time. The warm weather was quite welcome. I had been getting bad weather in my last few days in Norway and the day I had spent in Denmark was terrible! We sat talking about places in Iceland, pointing at the map. I started to draw things on my map so as to remind myself of what was there, rather than just draw a circle then forget what’s there a few days later. It was about at that time that I realised that though I’d planned to come to Iceland for several years, I had not managed to actually make plans on what to do or see once I got there. I knew very little about the place. Mila seemed to have quite a few good ideas.

The day just seemed to be filled with random encounters…. 

On the Ferry
First look at Iceland at Seyðisfjörður

The interview

We must have looked quite interesting sitting on the grass looking at the map, complete with a tin of chain lube and WD40 to hold it down. A man walked up to us and asked us if we would mind getting interviewed about our travel plans for Iceland. Mila and I looked at each other and both shrugged and told him, “Why not”. Minutes later there was a camera on a tripod pointing at us and a man with a South African accent was asking us questions about our travel plans. It was only during the interview that they learned from us that we were not travelling together and that we had only just met on the ferry. It was quite difficult to make the interview interesting when I actually had no plans to tell them!
Once the cameras were off and we were left on our own again we decided that we might as well travel together for a while. We decided to go south to the general direction of where Mila was going to work.

There’s nothing quite like the first few hours in a new country, especially while riding a motorbike. Anything remotely interesting gets a double take as I ride passed as everything feels new. I feel like I have the curiosity of a small child while they learn about this new world they’re in. We stop and take photos of the jagged mountains that seem to all have spires like cathedrals. The sheep, some black, some white and some more like collie dogs with black and white together. We saw gorges, waterfalls and some massive 4x4s that looked like monster trucks.

Mila getting attacked by a horse in Vik

A big 4x4
Mountains in South East Iceland
Africa Twin and Bandit

I’d now been away from home for about 5 weeks. I had left home alone but in the whole time I had only travelled alone for a few days. I had mixed feelings about having a travel buddy again. During my 4 weeks in Norway I had travelled with Peter, who I’d met while waiting for the Ferry in Denmark. At the time Peter and I had also talked about travel plans and both realised we didn’t have any, so decided to make some together. It really is a mixed bag. It always feels amazing to share amazing experiences with people, but from a more selfish point of view you have compromise with your ideas. It works with some and it does not work with others. I was lucky enough that it worked for me both times! The only thing I really had to compromise on with Mila was not sleeping in my tent. We stayed in Guest houses or hostels the entire time.

I had 3 weeks to spend in Iceland. The plans I did manage to make before leaving home where that I should see the more easy to access places around the ring road that circles the country, then later in the trip I’d head inland to the more remote interior. This worked out well as Mila’s motorbike wouldn’t have coped well with the gravel roads and deep river crossings of the interior, whereas my Honda Africa Twin was built for that sort of thing.

After several days we arrived in the area of Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that made its name in Europe in 2010 during the eruption that grounded 1000’s of flights around Europe. We planned to walk up the Volcano towards the Glacier to see what we could see. The problem was that I had run out of time. My girlfriend was due to arrive in Reykjavik later that day and I couldn’t have possibly fit in walking up the Volcano and the 4 hour ride to the airport in 1 day.

Skógafoss in Iceland

We packed up our bikes together for the last time, put our helmets on and got ready to go. I looked at Mila and we gave each other a hug. Our helmets banged into each other… It sounds quite clumsy, but it felt quite natural. I was sad to leave as we had a really fun time together.

That day just seemed to go so slowly. I was not quite in the mood to spend time seeing or doing too much. I seem to be such a bad traveller when I have a destination and a deadline to get there. When I’m free to do as I please then I feel like I can make the most of being somewhere. The constraint I had forced me just to ride. I arrived in the area of the airport about 4 hours too early, so I thought I’d use the extra time to find us somewhere nice to stay on that first night together again. The best I managed was a wooden cabin only a few kilometres from the airport. It was small, but it was clean and had everything we needed. 

Of course, me being me, I wanted to sneak up on Kiya at the airport. I had not seen her for about 6 weeks. I just wanted to tap her on the shoulder and give her a chance to smile before she turned around so I’d just see her smiling face looking back at me. When the time came it was the opposite that did happen. She sneaked up on me and I was the one who had to turn around. It was a new relationship. I had met Kiya while travelling in Australia about 9 months before and we only started to see each other in March when we were both back in Scotland. It was now the end of June and I had been away half of the time since March. The only time Kiya had ever been on a motorbike was when I took her for a 30 second ride around a car park a few days after I had finished getting my bike ready for this trip. I had given her careful instructions about what to bring and how to carry it as luggage space was really limited already and it would now be extra limited with two people on the bike. Most importantly Kiya had brought with her the heated grips that the freezing Norway weather forced me to buy. That was a horrible experience, but not horrible enough for me to pay the crazy Norwegian prices for a set of grips while I was there.

The following morning, it took a while to get things organised. I had to leave the off-road tyres that I had been carrying since home at the camp ground with plans to pick them up again when I dropped Kiya off 1 week later. Finally when we managed to work out how to fit our gear and ourselves on the bike we headed back to see Eyjafjallajökull. I really wanted to do the walk now as Mila had told me all about via SMS. 

Kiya was a bit nervous at first on the bike. I could feel her tense up when I leaned the bike into corners. As the day progressed she did ease up a bit and get used to it. It was evening time when we made it to Skógar.
Skógar is a place that’s pretty hard to drive passed. Highway 1, the highway that circles Iceland goes right passed it, but I’m sure most tourists must stop there as there is a huge waterfall that is easily seen from the road. This is the place where Mila and I stayed the night before we said our goodbyes to each other. Kiya and I walked to the waterfall the same as Mila and I had done just days before. It’s hard for me not to feel like a tour guide when I take someone to a place that I’ve been before and they’ve not. I put on a brave face and try to maintain the same excitement that I had about the place when I was there first and try not to reference the fact that I’d been there before so that we’re sharing the same thing. I even took the same panoramic photo too.

The following day we made our way towards the Volcano, it was very relaxed walk. We stopped to take photos quite a lot and we made very slow progress because of that. We didn’t make it as far as the Glacier before we decided to turn back and move west again.

Kiya on our walk up Eyjafjallajökull

We talked about where to go next. I wanted her to see as much as possible in the week she had as I felt bad about leaving her as she spent the 2 months working while I was away enjoying myself. Kiya was quite jealous of my plans to go inland once she was back in Scotland. I told her that I didn’t think I could ride the bike well enough to take it over the rough roads with both of us on it. Despite my arguments and my concern that I wouldn’t be able to handle the bike with the extra weight, she managed to convince me we should go to a place called Laki.

Laki or Lakagígar made itself famous for its 8 month long eruption in 1783 – 84. It’s a major part of Europe’s history. The eruption and the consequences caused by it killed around 25% of Icelanders and around 6 million people around the world. The famine caused is believed to have caused the French revolution. 

The track out to Laki was not as bad as had been described to me. It did slowly get more and more rough the closer we got. The river crossings were the part that I really was not looking forward to. I remember them from when I rode a Motorbike around and through Australia, but I knew that Iceland would not be quite the same. Often in Australia I was quite glad to cool my feet off as I walked through to check the depth and the best route. With Iceland this was certainly something that didn’t have the same appeal. I made the first crossing with Kiya still on the back. It was quite difficult to keep the bike going in the direction I wanted it to because of the river bed being uneven. There was a cheer from the back as the wheels rolled onto the opposite side and accelerated up the track again.

It had started to rain by this time and my feet were getting cold from walking through the river. On the rougher sections of the road the bike’s suspension would bottom out and sometimes I’d hit the engine’s sump guard off of rocks. It was not a fun ride, but I still enjoyed it for the challenge. We arrived at the base of Mount Laki, where you can get a good view of all 130 craters that opened up during the eruption, though we couldn’t get motivated to climb it as the top was covered in cloud and we’d likely have seen nothing if we went to the top. Instead we found a lookout that was not in cloud but not as high as Mount Laki, that we could ride the motorbike up. A friendly German couple that had arrived in a 4x4 took one look at us and offered us hot tea and asked how we made it over the rivers. I told them about me walking first before riding them… then before we knew it our cups were full again with fresh tea. I had wished that I had spent the morning putting on the heated grips that Kiya brought from Scotland, but I just didn’t want to waste the time while she was there. The elevation made the weather far colder than it had been in the morning. My feet felt numb with the cold as they were soaking wet from the river crossings. After taking a photo from the lookout we continued on around the track which circles the area. I was glad to be on the bike again as I could wedge my feet in between the petrol tank and the engine. It took a while, but they started to feel a little warmer.

Lakagígar. Iceland in iceland

My vision felt like something was broken. Everything felt so black and white. The clouds were grey and the ground was black from the volcanic ash. The surface of the track was just ash from the volcano eruption. Sometimes it was hard and sometimes it was a bit soft. A small stream crossing that I didn’t bother to walk across almost made us fall. There was a sharp right hand corner after the crossing that almost swallowed my front wheel. We managed to stay on the bike, but only just. The final river crossing before we headed back was the worst. I stood on the side looking down on the river trying to guess the depth.  Kiya was scouting around looking for a shallow place that she could cross so she didn’t have to stay on the bike. A little way upstream the river was faster and had small islands that she thought she could get over without getting her feet too wet. By this time I was pretty cold and just starting to wish my feet were dry again, I really didn’t like the thought of having to wade through again to check the depth and route, but I knew I had to as the river looked to be about border line with what I was willing to risk riding over. Kiya told me about her plan to cross up steam. I said that I could take her over at the crossing as I had to walk over anyway. She insisted that I didn’t have to as she could make it over herself. 

Kiya on the Africa Twin at Laki

I cast my mind back to when I was talking to Kiya’s family about motorbikes, which they forwardly told me that they hated and thought they were one of the most dangerous things ever invented. The day had stressed me out enough already. My mind kept flashing back to Kiya’s family and what they would say if we had fallen of the bike and injured ourselves. I felt totally responsible for everything that was happening that day. I told Kiya that she had to come down and cross the river with me. I didn’t see the sense in both of us having wet feet. She took a bit of convincing, but only because she felt bad that I had to take her, whereas I looked at it from a more logical point of view. The water was right enough, up to my knees as I crossed with Kiya on my back. I double checked my route on the way back to the bike before I started the bike and slowly let go of the clutch to drive it into the river. The water came well over my feet as they stood on the foot rests and I started to feel the drag on the panniers as they entered the water too. The crossing was not very wide, but it seemed to take a long time to get to the other side. I had read so much about how to restart a drowned motorbike… Things like standing the bike up on its back to drain the exhaust and taking the spark plugs out to get the water out of the cylinders. I just couldn’t face doing something like that while I was this cold. So much went through my head in that short space of time… The front wheel started making its way onto the high and dry and I was out! I just hoped that there were no more deeper crossings before we were back on the main track again.

Our week together really flew in. We managed to make our way up another inland road and see the sunset over a glacier. We saw “Geysir”, the original Geysir which Geysir’s got their name from and saw huge waterfalls.

A Geysir at Geysir

I dropped Kiya off at the airport safe and sound and I was back on my own again. I was glad I managed not to make it into the bad books of her family and proud that I’d managed to take her into the highlands of Iceland on the bike. There was so much still to see, but not that much time to see it in now.

Navigation on road F35 in iceland

 I only had 9 days before I had to leave head for home...