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!

1 comment:

  1. Hi David! I knew about you and your motorbike trip already as I also posted Icelandic panoramas on 360cities on Iceland... But I just stumbled upon your blog now... which is a very appropriate time since I am to return to iceland with my own Africa Twin in three weeks!
    Looking closely at one of your panorama I see you mounted Karoo tires... I am having trouble finding proper all-terrain tires in my town so I was to buy online (may be some TKC 80, not sure yet: were you happy with them?)
    I used to drive my 400XR in north Africa before, and it is first time I go "big"... as such, any tip for this bike would be highly valuable for me (e.g. like what spare parts would you recommend?). You bet I could have tons of questions, like it looks like the A-Twin is fine with water up to ~60cm... but how bad would it be to start again if it falls entirely in water..?
    Also, I was not sure that an additional tank of 10L is enough, but on the other hand some friends of mine will drive a 4WD close so the risk is reduced and I could have another one embarked if useful.