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Lessons Learned from Iceland

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Lessons Learned from Iceland

Old 07-10-17, 11:27 AM
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Lessons Learned from Iceland

Hi all, back from my trip! I regret it did not turn out to be the epic trip through the interior I had hoped for, due to environment tempered expectations and group dynamics that I should have been smart enough to avoid. As a consolation prize, I did end up cycling around 230 miles over six days through some of the most beautiful landscape you can imagine, sticking to the southwest Golden Circle area of the country, and have a desire to go back with less people!

The ride in from the airport to town Sunday morning established that much of the advice I had read about 40 miles a day target was actually spot on, and to think I was planning 60-70 was probably unrealistic for our abilities. Monday we had a shorter day around 35 miles from Reykjavik to Thingvellir, to get to our set off point for Tuesday. Tuesday we took off into highlands, only to turn around after 20 miles or so when the F338 road we told was passable actually wasn't (30 miles of up to baseball sized gravel necessitating walking up and down every hill after we all took a couple spills). Losing that day ruined any sort of safety barrier I had through the interior, with less good weather planned for the weekend, meaning we didn't attempt the 35. Wednesday got us to Geysir, just shy of 40 miles, after the other two decided stopping for three hours to soak up a spa and have a meal was a good idea. Thursday was a quick jaunt up to Gullfoss and back to Thingvellir, and Friday back to Reykjavik so they could rent a car and take off on their own when they realized this wasn't a sightseeing tour. It was a pretty similar route to my very initial plans, but I still felt a bit disappointed to not complete the route I had ultimately settled on wanting to do.

In any case, I did learn a lot in the process:
-Know your group, and that your expectations are in line, especially for a remote location. After hearing the days I was planning, both bought tickets and equipment before bothering to really discuss expectations with me, which strained us all.
-I didn't personally care for camping touring. Setting up and taking down camp daily was not fun or enjoyable to me, and the ultimate point of any vacation is to be enjoyable to me. Until I start doing tours longer than 1-2 weeks, or I go back to a remote area, I think I am sticking to credit card touring. Awful freeze dried meals didn't help. Ended up eating my lunch stuff for dinner because I couldn't stomach them after the first few days.
-If someone tells you a road is good or bad, take it with a bit of context. Good for a 4x4 doesn't mean good for bikes, likewise easy for someone who claims they're riding nearly a century a day on a plus size bikepacking setup doesn't mean easy for loaded trekking bikes.
-Don't think the top of the hill is a relief in Iceland. Barring some massive grades, there were plenty of hills where crappy rolling resistance and a head wind meant I was pedaling downhill in single digit speeds
-My bike sustained more damage on the way there in a box (front wheel axle sticking out the side of the box, and having to dick with cones a few times to get it back right) than it did on the way back in a plastic bag (none, that I have found at least).
-Short sleeve jerseys were useless there, unless worn under a raincoat. Same goes for sandals, it was too wet to get any use out of them, boots came in far handier off bike. If biking shoes get wet, thick wool socks are nice to wear the next morning, keep your feet insulated and dry until they can get some air through them and dry out.

Bike assembly point at Keflavik Airport


Biggest hill I've climbed: 14% for about a mile. Strava says I wasn't even the slowest one to walk up the hill!


Just a bit before we were turned around, the gravel on the road about a mile from that point was loosely scattered rocks like those behind my rear wheel


Outside Geysir


Back to Reykjavik, and finally warm enough to wear short sleeves for a bit!
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Old 07-10-17, 11:35 AM
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Oh, also I wouldn't recommend planning for only six riding days, do it when you get more time. Next time I go back, I'll try to do a full two weeks, to allow me a good ten days of riding and a couple on each end for time/sleep acclimation and a day or two to do off bike things.
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Old 07-10-17, 12:01 PM
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Thanks for the trip report. It's a nice break from all of the stupid arguing on this forum. You're right that Iceland is exceptionally beautiful and worth visiting despite the difficult weather.

It's too bad you didn't enjoy camping. However Iceland is more challenging for the camper than most places. Perhaps if you tried again in a place with fairer weather you'd enjoy it more. Also, freeze dried meals are nasty. From what I recall, Iceland's grocery stores were well stocked. We've found tortillas work great for making savory and sweet wraps. Mac and cheese is a staple too if we're tight on space. We add broccoli when it's available. And don't forget to sample the local pastries. Iceland had some weird ones:

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Old 07-10-17, 12:25 PM
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Jeff,

Thanks for sharing.

Despite the difficulties, it still sounds like you made a good ride out of it, and learned some valuable things along the way. If you want to make God laugh, just tell him your plans

I talked to a couple of young cyclists at the Keflavik Airport. When I asked them if they enjoyed their tour, one of them said, " I wouldn't call it enjoyable; it is more like memorable."
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Old 07-10-17, 12:43 PM
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@niknak - I've done plenty of camping in my life, but generally set up once and sit there a couple days, or have a car where thought out packing of everything back into its proper place isn't so key. Once camp was established, I had no issue with it, it was more the tediousness of doing it every morning and evening. That, and specifically there, the never ending sun makes it hard to sleep at night in a tent, even with a mask. Definitely got use out of the gas stations later in the week as it became evident we wouldn't be making it inland, it was cold enough that lunch meat kept for a few days, and hot dogs were a nice touch one day waiting out a few min of rain.

@Doug64 - It was really a great trip in the end, just wish I would have done it alone. Can't guarantee that I would have made it through the country alone, but then the "failure" would have been solely on me. It was actually interesting, we met one cyclist doing it solo (the aforementioned guy above pushing a century a day), and after getting through talking to him, my two traveling mates wondered why anyone would do such a thing alone. Took every effort to not respond to them, some of us just travel better solo

With the exception of nearly always pedaling into a wind, I lucked out with no rain and temps in the 50s every day but Friday morning, when we got drenched (but hey, at least I got to use my raingear!), I'd definitely recommend it to someone who enjoys riding through any sort of condition, as the helpful sign in the Bike Pit at the airport suggests:

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Old 07-10-17, 12:51 PM
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Originally Posted by jefnvk View Post

That is effin' hilarious!
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Old 07-10-17, 12:58 PM
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Good,honest report. I've never toured with other people, your post reminds me why.
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Old 07-10-17, 01:36 PM
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Good report!

I also tour alone. It seems my generation is the worst for group activities as we are so used to doing what we want on our timetable. Make a plan and sure enough someone will not prepare, not show up, or want to change it.

I don't care what the plan is but once I've invested myself in it I want to try and see it through.

If do group stuff I really let go of any expectations and just enjoy the company. I did that with my son and brother and, while we didn't cover many miles we had fun.

It would drive me nuts though to want to do a certain route and not be able to because of other people not prepping for it or not caring if it were actually done.
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Old 07-10-17, 01:59 PM
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Originally Posted by jefnvk View Post
-Know your group, and that your expectations are in line, especially for a remote location. After hearing the days I was planning, both bought tickets and equipment before bothering to really discuss expectations with me, which strained us all.

I am curious: Who were they to you? Strangers? Casual acquaintances? People who you have known for a while? Something else?
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Old 07-10-17, 02:10 PM
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Thanks for the write up. Most people only want to talk about their successes, so non-favorable trip reports are probably much rarer than bad trips are. And trip reports of less than ideal trips can be more educational for those that go there later.

I hope I was not misleading in any way on my comments about my trip there last year. I tried to make sure that some of my bad road photos were posted, but the software that this site uses really shrinks photos so it is hard to see. And I think I was pretty clear that the wind can control your agenda there.

Major bummer that it did not go well with the partners. I had a similar experience several years ago, one cycling trip and one kayaking. I am much more careful now in whom I travel with.

I like camping, I stayed at a hostel a couple times for the convenience (three different ones), but I planned to camp most nights. Sounds like we are a bit different in that regard if you prefer less camping. If you go back to Iceland, maybe you should plan to stay at hostels more often, they have quite a few of them and they are more affordable than most other indoor lodging. There are a few that are not part of the HI system, I usually just look at the HI list so I can't comment on others.
https://www.hihostels.com/destinations/is/hostels

If you planned to mix camping and hostels, that could be a pretty nice trip. But the hostels do fill up, so that could be a bit risky if your trip schedule gets off.

When I looked at the average weather conditions, I only brought a long sleeve jersey, I left short sleeve ones home. But short sleeves with arm warmers could work well too, I saw several with that mix. I think I used long pants about half the time, shorts half the time. I always kept the rain cover on my helmet for the additional warmth.

I have some medical issues that make my food choices challenging. I did not want to run the risk that I could not find the foods I can eat in the grocery stores there so I brought some food from home. (I was pleasantly surprised that half the food I saw in the stores had English printing on the packaging.) The meals I brought were meals that I have had on other trips and I know that I like them. Iceland has some food restrictions on what you can bring and an overall limit of 3 kg of food. I met their criteria for what I brought.

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Old 07-10-17, 02:21 PM
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Originally Posted by indyfabz View Post
I am curious: Who were they to you? Strangers? Casual acquaintances? People who you have known for a while? Something else?
One was my best friend growing up who I'd been backpacking with a few times before. Fairly athletic, just not a regular cyclist, who has been wanting to do a camping trip for a while so I'd figure I'd see if he had any interest. Didn't really hear anything back or discuss anything until I got a text in the middle of a basketball game telling me the airfares had just dropped and he was buying a ticket.

Probably would have been fine if it was just him, the other guy was one of his coworkers who I had met for all of an hour or two at a party. My friend asked if this guy could come along, I told him I'd have to talk it through with the guy before I could answer that. This was back in December, never heard anything else about it until the end of April or so, just figured he wasn't coming. I was then informed he'd had a plane ticket for a few months. Nice guy, but he had never really traveled outside of family trips (he's 24, just out of college), certainly hadn't been outside of the country, didn't take to the bike, and really had no clue what he was getting into (either traveling internationally or cycling). He bought all new biking and camping gear, most of which he couldn't wait to get home to sell.
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Old 07-10-17, 02:45 PM
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Originally Posted by Tourist in MSN View Post
Most people only want to talk about their successes, so non-favorable trip reports are probably much rarer than bad trips are. And trip reports of less than ideal trips can be more educational for those that go there later.
Agreed completely. One can learn from the things that went right and wrong, there is no point in only portraying a trip in a good light, even if that is how I will ultimately remember it. Even in my criticisms, I still want to make it clear it was an awesome trip!

I hope I was not misleading in any way on my comments about my trip there last year. I tried to make sure that some of my bad road photos were posted, but the software that this site uses really shrinks photos so it is hard to see. And I think I was pretty clear that the wind can control your agenda there.
Not at all, you were actually very helpful. Tackling the F338 in the manner we did was a compromise that probably shouldn't have happened, I should have put my foot down there and stated we were going straight to the 35 (which, by the few cyclists we met that had been on it, was anything from horrid to a piece of cake, absolutely no consensus from anyone on highland roads). Had I made that decision and stated it was what we were doing, we'd have had a full three days from the start of the 35 to get to Akureyri (and a day to bus back to Reykjavik), and plenty of time to turn back to Reykjavik if we made it a ways and it turned bad.

When I go back to Iceland, it will be camping again. There is no great way to do hostels outside of a couple cities there, and summer guesthouses/hotels are stupid pricey. The next trips will be mainland Europe, or around Michigan, where the cheap lodging is ubiquitous and not too crazy to budget for over a week to a week and a half. The fiancee has tentatively green lighted France on bikes for the honeymoon, I've had my eyes on a return to Flanders and/or Holland (probably separate trips), and would also like to work in Prague-Vienna or thereabouts. Just all about what you get enjoyment out of, I have no shame in admitting that camping has always been more of an obligatory necessity than a pure enjoyment to me!
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Old 07-10-17, 03:04 PM
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Originally Posted by jefnvk View Post
... The next trips will be mainland Europe, or around Michigan, ...
Wish me luck, I plan to be kayaking Isle Royale (which is officially in Michigan) in August and September. Two week solo trip, the food is bought and it weighs a ton. But it is not freeze dried.

But that is not cycling so I should apologize for being off topic here.
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Old 07-10-17, 03:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Tourist in MSN View Post
Wish me luck, I plan to be kayaking Isle Royale (which is officially in Michigan) in August and September. Two week solo trip, the food is bought and it weighs a ton. But it is not freeze dried.

But that is not cycling so I should apologize for being off topic here.
Don't be. That trip's gonna happen for me one of these years too, but a nice sea kayak is a bit pricier than cobbling together a suitable trekking bike. I'll hit you up for info on that when I get around to it

Actually, after Iceland, I left the bike in the garage this weekend and took the kayak out instead. Nice change of pace. Gotta rotate in the boat a bit more, work on my arm muscles.
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Old 07-10-17, 08:45 PM
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Friends of ours did paddle around half of the Icelandic coast (south to west to north) in their double kayak. They are extremely experienced paddlers. They stopped at the half-way point because of the weather and the relentlessness of it. We know of cyclists who have done the island. It is literally a once-in-a-lifetime adventure because of the challenges involved.

The sign is, however, hilarious in its honesty!
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Old 07-10-17, 09:51 PM
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Yup, that sign is very cute.
I'm rather a wussy cold, rainy weather grumpy pants, I mean I'll do it for a commute with no problems, but on a "fun" activity, let's say I don't specifically search out destinations like this.

Thanks for the report, fun to read.
Really looks that what that max fellow wrote about 3in tires really working there makes sense. I guess maybe 2.5s could do it, I think his girlfriend had this, but you can see how 3in or more would make a real difference, along with less baggage weight.

PS on a side note, you would make a good extra in a period piece movie, " Why yes Miss Cooper, a yard of this here gingham will cost you 2 cents, on sale this month from 3. It's all the rage back east I'm told."
You'd of course be the general store owner, I somehow doubt you'd get the Miss Cooper part.
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Old 07-10-17, 10:51 PM
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Thanks for posting. Still don't want to go to Iceland. Still don't want to tour with others.
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Old 07-11-17, 04:46 AM
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Thanks for this thread, Jeff. Iceland looks great! I've always wanted to go there. The smiles you wore on your face in those photos gives me inspiration!
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Old 07-11-17, 06:57 AM
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Originally Posted by Rowan View Post
The sign is, however, hilarious in its honesty!
Originally Posted by djb View Post
Yup, that sign is very cute.
The bike assembly area was full of them, there was a certain snarky-ness written into them all. Wish I had taken pictures of them all, but a couple more (although the drivers were actually quite courteous, for the most part):



Originally Posted by djb View Post
Really looks that what that max fellow wrote about 3in tires really working there makes sense. I guess maybe 2.5s could do it, I think his girlfriend had this, but you can see how 3in or more would make a real difference, along with less baggage weight.
We all had 47-50mm tires, we were fine until we hit the F-338. Even the regular gravel road leading to the F-road was fine on our tires, but I'll probably buy a plus size when I end up going back. We generally had the beefiest tires of most people we ran into, who were doing the Golden Circle and Ring Road, but the guys specifically heading into the interior for anything but the 35 road were almost unanimously on plus/fat tires. To be honest, what we did we would have been fine on a low geared road touring bike.
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Old 07-11-17, 07:02 AM
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Originally Posted by NoControl View Post
Thanks for this thread, Jeff. Iceland looks great! I've always wanted to go there. The smiles you wore on your face in those photos gives me inspiration!
I'd highly recommend it, IF you are there because you love nature and IF you realize what you are getting into.

If you do, you too will have that same smile the entire time you are there (at least until you see your bar tab)!
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Old 07-11-17, 08:57 AM
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Did you see Björk?

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Old 07-11-17, 09:26 AM
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Originally Posted by NoControl View Post
Did you see Björk?

Man! I used to have the biggest crush on her. I still remember the performance of "Birthday" on "Saturday Night Live" back in '88.
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Old 07-11-17, 10:25 AM
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Originally Posted by djb View Post
...
I'm rather a wussy cold, rainy weather grumpy pants, I mean I'll do it for a commute with no problems, but on a "fun" activity, let's say I don't specifically search out destinations like this.

...
Really looks that what that max fellow wrote about 3in tires really working there makes sense. I guess maybe 2.5s could do it, I think his girlfriend had this, but you can see how 3in or more would make a real difference, along with less baggage weight.
....
That sign that the drivers were all vikings, not quite accurate. Once you are out of Reykjavik, many of the drivers are tourists from elsewhere in rented cars. Considering how little shoulder there is on the sides of the roads I thought that most of the drivers were exceptionally courteous.

I think I live in a tent for about 6 weeks of the year, but not all at once. (So far this year, three weeks.) I am a retired geological engineer, I think enjoying the outdoors is an occupational requirement.

I had 57mm wide Schwalbe Extremes (discontinued tire) front and rear, they worked quite well as a compromise tire which was great for me since most of my miles were on pavement and only some miles on interior gravel (and cobbles) roads. As knobby tires go, the Extremes have very low rolling friction. Although it is a knobby tire, the knobs did not grip as well as some of the mountain bike tires I saw others using, thus I did spin out on some of the uphills in the interior where a pure mountain bike tire could keep traction all the way up the hill.

When I tell people that after a while in the interior I did not bother to try to avoid running over rocks that were smaller than a tennis ball, they never really believe me. But some of the roads were that bad.

I did carry too much weight, at one time I had 14 days of food but the most I was away from any stores was only 8 days so I clearly did not need to carry that much.

I had a great time there.
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Old 07-11-17, 10:41 AM
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@NoControl - no Bjork, except for her vinyls in the window of every record shop I walked past in Reykjavik! Her fame was a bit before my time anyhow

Originally Posted by Tourist in MSN View Post
That sign that the drivers were all vikings, not quite accurate. Once you are out of Reykjavik, many of the drivers are tourists from elsewhere in rented cars. Considering how little shoulder there is on the sides of the roads I thought that most of the drivers were exceptionally courteous.
Agreed 100% there, I'd much rather ride Icelandic traffic over Michigan traffic. Only had two close calls, one from a semi pulling a flatbed when we were approaching one of those areas with the sign in the middle of the road, and another when a giant tractor came barreling around us at about 25MPH. Even the frequent buses gave us wide berth, I never really felt in any sort of danger from the traffic there even when on the roads in Reykjavik.

It was nice to hear someone honking and yelling, and then realizing that they are cheering you on up a big hill rather than cursing you out!
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Old 07-11-17, 11:29 AM
  #25  
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I had only one close call and one that I had to chuckle at.

The close call, apparently a car coming towards me from in front of me was driving too slow because a truck behind it pulled into my lane to pass, and it stayed in my lane even though I am sure it saw me. And of course I only had inches of shoulder with a huge dropoff at the edge of the shoulder. It missed me by inches.

The one that was somewhat humorous, I am riding along in the rain and a tour bus passes me. But it apparently thought that it could pass me AND slow down enough to take the next right turn, but it was still passing me as we passed the intersection. So, it completed the pass, got in front of me and put on the brakes quite hard. I had not touched my brakes for hours and in the rain they did not work that well. I did manage to stop in time to avoid rear-ending the tour bus. Sat behind the bus for about 10 seconds until I finally figured out that it wanted to back up for that intersection, so I eventually pulled out and passed it. I am sure that bus driver was really embarrassed about missing the turn with a bus full of tourists.
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