Be more Iceland.
At the moment I walked into the lobby of the Harbour Hostel in Stykkeholm yesterday evening I couldn’t feel my hands anymore. Somehow I managed to get the gloves off, dial the number on the phone and asked for a room. “Don’t worry, I’ll be with you in a second.” A nice female voice replied. “Don’t rush.” I replied, buying me some time to get the feeling back in my hands, I couldn’t move them to get my wallet anyway. Ten minutes later I was the owner of a bed for the night and the feeling was back, luckily it took less time then usual.
That’s what Iceland has been like so far, a tough cookie to ride. When I arrived here from Spain on Monday I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but wouldn’t have expected such conditions. Most Icelanders though think cycling here in October is mad, and I can now understand why. But I cycled home from Scotland to Germany for Christmas three times, so at least I am used to this, and I am sure I will cope with the few days I have here.
Apart from the weather I had a great and enjoyable time so far. For the first two nights I stayed with Erla and Bjarni in Reykjavik, who I found yet agin over Warmshowers. This gave me the opportunity to assemble the bike after we made some changes in London, and also to sort the kit for the riding here, preparation is essential here, there’s no room for mistakes in cruel conditions like this. I chose to leave some things behind, freeing up space for food in one of my Salsa bags. I carry enough food for 4 days here, which has been a good choice, as shops are scarce and thankfully I can just stop and eat, not having to worry about stocking up each day.
I also temporarily changed my tent. In terms of clothing I swapped my shoes to 45NRTH Japanther boots, which Charlie thankfully gave me in London, they have been crucial to survive the wet and cold conditions I had the last two days. I also managed to get a decent new waterproof with a hood, another feature that saved my ride yesterday. Plus new winter gloves, which at least stay waterproof for a considerable time, although not for the whole day. On top of that I now used my Tineli thermal tights and Skins for the first time, so far I had carried them around Europe with no need for them. Apart from a view little things I have used most of the items I cycle around the world at least once, so the packing and kit so far has been a good choice.
So what makes the riding so tough here? It’s not the terrain so far, although I have been warned about that as well. It was the cruel combination of high winds and heavy rain I had yesterday, paired with a largely unpopulated countryside. When I left Borgarnes yesterday I was rather shocked that the next bigger settlement was about 100k away, meaning a day with hardly any shelter from the storm. I had a slight tailwind to begin with, but quickly that crossed my riding direction and gave me a nasty sidewind most of the way, chucking the rain on the garments where they have the least protection. The really cruel bit was when the road turned into the wind, virtually bringing me to a hold. The only way to keep moving was to push hard off the saddle, while at the same time swallowing the water from the rain which was now straight in my face, and heavy. Whenever I looked left or right there was the same scenery, and the odd sheep or horse. Most houses where just far enough from the road, the only place I found shelter was an abandoned house on the road which was locked, but thankfully the entrance gave me some shelter from the wind.
After 65k I found a place for coffee, which was a blessing as much as it was a problem. Although I took most of my layers off I started shaking once back on the bike, an it took half a climb to warm up again. My original plan was then to head west after the climb, but after 10km I had to abandon that. The wind had won, I had lost. I checked my GPS for other hostel options and found another place in the opposite direction, about 25k Northeast. By then the conditions had finished me for the day, I was on the edge of getting Hypothermia, and needed to get into the warm very soon. Riding back I recognised how strong the wind was, I was just sitting on the bike being blown across, no pedalling needed. After another hour I finally arrived at the hostel, after 120ish kilometres, my computer died as well. At least I am prepared for the worst now, for now I am off to see the sunrise, it looks like my first good day here in Iceland!