Staying married

Several years ago I was on the roof, doing whatever people do on roofs, and noticed the rain gutters were full of leaves and muck. So I decided to clean them out. Natalie was down below working on her own project, but because apparently it was too hard for me to go back down the ladder to get the garbage can myself, I asked her if she could wheel it over from the side of the house and position it below me – providing a place for me to throw the mess I was about to pull from the gutter. She stopped what she was doing and walked down the steps headed toward the side of the house. In the process she misjudged her footing and went to the ground in pain. With a voice filled with concern and compassion I said something like “yeah – that looks like it hurts – you still able to grab the can?” She hobbled over and retrieved the garbage can (although at an annoyingly slow pace.) Later that day Sam took her to the hospital and we found out she had a broken foot. This story provides my friends with never-ending fodder for jokes.

Last week Natalie began to suspect another fracture in her foot – this time it was the likely result of over-training (running). Learning my lesson from the experience above I used more concern and compassion as I said “yeah – that looks like it hurts – you still able to ride around Iceland?” Although there was a little hesitation in her voice, the answer was yes. She’s been hobbling around the house gingerly ever since.

Yesterday her doctor verified the fracture (stress fracture in the third metatarsal) but cleared her for the trip, providing she takes it easy on her foot. That means our 18-mile hike-a-bike pushing a 200-lbs recumbent (bike, gear, trailer) on a gravel road at mile 400 has given way to a much longer ride around that obstacle (probably a net add of 60 miles and a few thousand vertical feet and the elimination of our pioneer handcart trek experience). It also means she gets to ride on the luggage carts in the airport. But beyond that, we’re still on for the trip and we’re still married.

We leave for Iceland in 4 days.

Day 1

Monday and Tuesday melded together into a single day. Bryan dropped us off at the airport and we quickly made it through the Delta check-in process. Let’s just say there are a few extra steps when part of your luggage is a disassembled tandem bike.

True to form neither of us slept well on the airplane. This is crazy frustrating, as I can sleep like a baby in church. Maybe this is God’s way of reminding me not to sleep in church. We touched down in Iceland wired.

It took a bit of time to assemble the bike and get ourselves ready to ride, as expected. It was and still is a gorgeous day! Sunny, blue sky, nice tail wind! What a treat.

A local suggested a route change, which turned out nicely. It had one hill that pushed 10 percent grade for about a mile, but otherwise was flat. Beautiful lava rock landscapes and ocean views all along.

Staying in a campsite in Thorlakshofn (but with some cool Icelandic letters — the first letter looks kind of like a “P” for example).

That great idea I had about using a tarp for tent, and our bike for the poles… turns out it wasn’t such a great idea. Now I’m trying to figure out if it’s worth it to drag the tarp around for the next 3 weeks or just ditch it in a dumpster.

We are too tired to write much tonight but hope we will sleep well tonight, even though it is still middle of the day light outside at 10 pm. Sorry we can’t upload many pictures.

Long day

This is actually the day after our long day. We were too tired last night to write a blog entry.

We slept really well in our first campsite. It was nicely vacant, at least compared to what we’ve seen since.

We left Þorlákshöfn at about 10:30 headed toward Selfoss. It was raining but we knew we had to make up miles due to a route change the day before. Our riding was slow, and we didn’t make it to Selfoss until around noon. We found a great place to eat: Yellow. It had plenty of food that fit our diets. It was delicious, but expensive (but well worth it).

We left Selfoss and headed straight into the wind. This was our lot in life for the next 10 hours. In total we covered 77 miles in about 12 hours with a lunch and dinner break. It was completely draining. There was so much wind and rain and traffic — see below — that we couldn’t talk much.

We did have some spectacular scenery, despite the rain and headwind. Beautiful dark cliffs with lush greenery and cool waterfalls.

We found traffic to be much different than our first day. No shoulder and lots of cars zipping by fast. That really wears on our nerves. A couple times we had to ride off the road to make room. We are hoping that the further east we get the fewer cars we’ll see.

At about 8 pm we started looking for a hostel, guest house, or hotel. We thought it would feel good to sleep inside and dry off. No room in the inn, however. So we finally rolled into a campsite at 10:30. It was 11:30 before we were eating, but I was too chilled to eat. The beautiful waterfall we camped by made up for the discomfort.

Begin and end your day with a waterfall

After a hard long day yesterday, today was beautiful. Within view of our waterfall-of-the-moment, we ate breakfast (oatmeal and hot chocolate), packed up camp — talking to several other campers about our bike all morning (which turned out to be a theme for the day) — and got on our way. Dry weather and a tail wind much of the day! By a bit before lunch time the skies became blue and sunny. Ahhhhhh.

We did 67 miles today, so 10 miles shorter than yesterday. (But the wind being in our favor made the world of difference.) During the first third of the ride we had some brutal climbs, one that even forced us to get off the bike and push. Ugh, not fun. But we made it. Traffic was somewhat lighter than yesterday, which is nice, but still more than we’d like. It is nerve-wracking — for both us and I’m sure sometimes the drivers. We are riding as aware and as carefully as possible and we really appreciate the drivers who appear to be doing the same.

We had lunch at a small cafeteria-type diner in a gas station in a town called Vik. (We can remember the short names. Many Icelandic City names are so long!) Fries and salad for Natalie, veggie pita for Pete. We had several more conversations with other travelers from all over (as well as a few locals) about the bike! It draws a crowd. Pete is a great demonstrator. Natalie has had the chance to speak French with quite a few people already. Iceland is definitely tourist-filled.

Afternoon scenery: Some more waterfalls, amazing green and dark-brown cliffs, a very huge far-off glacier/mountain, cool lava rocks in various formations, beautiful farms, blue skies!

Tonight we are in a nice campground, again by an incredibly beautiful glacier-melt waterfall (as with our site last night) in a town called Kirkjubæjarklaustur. Wow, that’s a cool name. When we rode into town, with sore, tired bodies, we grabbed a few groceries, then headed to the community pool. They we enjoyed a shower, a swim, and a wonderful soak in the hot tub. Then to our campground to set up, eat backpacking chili, visit with a few fellow travelers, and get ready for bed. Feels great.

Beautiful finish after a long ride

Blogging first thing in the morning…. We were too tired last night.

We knew we were going to be riding into the wind and rain yesterday. We also knew that we had an extra long ride because there were only two places to stop: one at 45 miles which wouldn’t cover enough distance to get us into Hofn by Saturday night (and we have a one-night hotel reservation in Hofn that night) and the other near mile 85. We worked efficiently to eat and break camp in the morning and headed out around 9 AM.

It rained on us most of the day and the wind slowed us significantly. It wasn’t until between 3 and 4 PM that we made the midpoint. We ate at a gas station (the only one for 120 miles) and set off for another long ride. The winds shifted and we had side wind and tail wind which helped us make it to our destination before 9. So grateful for the favorable wind.

We arrived completely gassed at the place we thought we could stay. However, the campsite didn’t look like it was there. There was no road sign for it, which is strange for Iceland. However, our bike maps said there was one .3 miles down a hill. We were not feeling up to riding another 5 hours to get to the next campsite, so we rode down to the guesthouse to inquire. As we rode up we saw one tent with a bike near it. We asked inside and they said we could stay. I think they don’t advertise because they don’t want tent campers, but we were so grateful they let us set up a tent. We get to use their restaurant’s bathrooms and set up on their backyard.

Here are a few comments and observations from yesterday and the previous days:

  1. This year our bike plus gear is over 200 pounds. Hills hurt. Our last two days have had just over 1000 feet of climbing each day. Hopefully we’ll be in shape for next week’s climbs.
  2. Yesterday evening with let than 9 miles to go we saw many cars pulled over. We were moving at a good pace but decided to stop and see what everyone was looking at. We were so glad we stopped. It was a glacier lagoon and it was stunning.
  3. The horses here are beautiful. The have long manes. Some of their manes cover their faces. Many want to run with us as we ride by. (Sheep seem curious about us.)
  4. We’ve been eating at gas stations, but they are few and far between. Yesterday our only opportunity was at mile 45. We are thankful for fries and salad.
  5. The water here is amazing. The stuff that comes out of a bathroom sink is like expensive bottled water.
  6. We see a few other bikers each day, but not as many as we thought we would see. It is always nice to see someone else experiencing Iceland in the same way.
  7. We’ve had a few days of rain and are so grateful for our waterproof gear. Although after riding for 10 hours in the rain I’m soaked on the inside. It is probably sweat, but it might as well be rain. Almost all of my clothes are wet and haven’t had the chance to dry, so this morning I might be putting on wet clothes for today’s ride.
  8. Not to complain, but so far Iceland
    chocolate
    has been mediocre. Come for the water, not the chocolate.
  9. The traffic thus far had been rough. It’s like we are in a vehicular mosh pit of tourists. As we go east it is getting better. Each day we’ve been run off the road fewer times. Only twice yesterday. We are so grateful for drivers who slow down as they pass. We find that the closer we ride to the white line the more bold and dangerous drivers are when passing us – thinking there is room to pass without getting out of their lane.
  10. One way bridges are really common.
  11. We are sleeping great. Sleeping in a tent has been no problem. The only downside is all the extra gear you have to haul around.

Today we have a shorter ride and we are staying one night in a hotel (first for this trip). Hoping for a relaxing day.

Riding to Höfn

Once again blogging in the morning instead of the evening. Yesterday’s ride to Höfn (fishing village on Southeastern part of Iceland) was our easiest ride so far. On Friday we rode 85 miles in order to only have to ride 41 on Saturday. Plus, we had lucked out and made a last-minute hotel reservation so we wanted to get to Höfn as early as our check-in time would allow. We wanted to make maximum use of the reservation!

We rolled into Höfn right at 3 pm and checked into our room. It has a beautiful ocean-facing view. First things first: unpack our tent so it could start to dry and then string a clothes line across the room to start drying clothes. I didn’t have anything dry left. The combination of rainy days and lots of sweat had moistened my wardrobe. Natalie doesn’t sweat as much (she is in better shape — added note from Natalie: haha yeah right) so she still had a few dry options…. We started unpacking and hanging things around the room. It soon looked like our luggage had exploded into the room – stuff everywhere!

Next we went to a supermarket and binge shopped. $100 dollars later we were laden with food for the next 2-3 days, although it seems like we’ve somehow managed to eat half of it in our hotel room over the last 12 hours. 🙂

On Thursday we had made friends with a nice family camping near us. On Friday as they passed us in their car they stopped and gave us their contact information in Höfn and invited us to do laundry at their home. As we were shopping I sent him a note saying that I still needed to look for a part for our bike and we’d be a little late. (Long tangent: when we arrived in Iceland I failed to tighten every bolt on our bike – rattling around in an airplane hold tends to loosen things up. In our second day, riding into the wind, we hadn’t noticed when a small part fell off our bike – an idler wheel – that helps maintain the chain line when we pedal hard – keeping our pedal force from being absorbed by our rear shock. Without the part some of the chain management is being provided by a chain tube and metal bracket which have tons of friction under pressure and will eventually destroy our chain. The idler is a specialized part – unlikely I could find one even in Salt Lake City, so no chance of finding one in Hofn. However, I hoped to find something that could make the situation a little better. The ride is hard enough without mechanical inefficiencies.)

Back to the story. Our friend Siggi said he’d meet us at our hotel and look at the bike with us. It turns out Siggi his the captain of a fishing boat and after looking at our problem he called his boat’s engineer to come help. After some brainstorming we rode to their boat and they improvised something that will work. Icelandic fishermen who are days and weeks at sea have to be able to repair anything on large complex ships – our bike was easy to them. The bike situation is now improved. Siggi drove us around town and then let us use his family’s washer and dryer. He then showed us some of the fishing industry infrastructure before dropping us off at our hotel. What an amazing blessing to have met such a kind and generous person.

We spent the rest of the evening in our hotel room eating food and enjoying the space, warmth, and dryness. It is amazing to have a bathroom 4 feet from our bed!

Natalie is going to add some thoughts…

Weather on the ride into Hofn was cloudy and cool but no rain! The winds were nice to us. There were occasional small climbs but nothing killer. We saw several cyclist packers, a few even pulling trailers like us! Kinda fun to see others experiencing what we are. Lots more beautiful scenery along the coast. Loving it. There was considerably less traffic! Yay!

It was so cool to have a private tour of Hofn from a sea captain (whose father and grandfather and so on were also fishermen), someone who has lived here his entire life! It was also fascinating to get a tour of his ship. I think he said it was built around 1960 and is the oldest fishing ship still in use in Hofn. We had a great visit with him too as we waited for our laundry, talking about fishing adventures (even when he stood – literally – on a killer whale that was trapped in a net next to their ship as they worked to free it), whales, language and education (he speaks great English), family and children, the increase in tourism here and how it has affected everything, the training required to be a sea captain, the fishing industry and related regulations and recent changes as the country works to protect its resources and stay sustainable, etc.

All in all a pretty amazing day and cool “add” to our adventure!

Cruel and unusual punishment

Today we took a much needed day of rest in Höfn. We moved from our hotel to a campground at noon and then attended a small local church with about 10 others. Siggi had contacted the pastor yesterday to find out the time they hold their service. In a town this small, everyone knows everyone. It is delightful.

I’ve been thinking about the drivers who pass us too fast and too close. I think an appropriate punishment for a crime like that would be to be sentenced to ride with me for an hour. They’d certainly gain a first-hand appreciation of the perils of biking with these narrow shoulders and I’d probably get a chance to know them better and understand why they are in such a hurry. We’d both win. Although Natalie might argue that being on a bike with me violates some human rights fundamental – it could be considered cruel and unusual punishment.

I’ll include a photo of one of the horses here with their cool manes. It’s like they share a barber with Shaggy from Scooby Doo.

Our campground was sparse at noon, but now at 8 pm it looks like what you would expect in Yellowstone. Natalie and I both like getting away from crowds, but we are happy to see so many people enjoying the beauty of this country.

Tomorrow should be a moderate day as far as miles and climbing go. The big unknown is the weather. Right now it appears we will be riding in light rain – if the weather matches the forecast. We’re told that the forecast is always right but sometimes the weather is wrong.

A different kind of century

I’m posting this two days late, because two nights ago neither of us had energy to do anything beyond set up our tent and eat a quick dinner of canned soup, and last night, when I tried to publish it, I was too out of it to realize I have to successfully hit the publish button…

We left Höfn on Monday around 8:30. It was good to get moving early. Our routing software showed a crazy 45 precent grade climb right at the beginning, but we knew that was impossible so were anxious to find out what our first climb looked like. Mercifully it was a short climb to a tunnel which was about a mile long. We were so thankful!

We had several stopping points in mind, but because we were rerouting around the long gravel hike-a-bike due to Natalie’s broken foot (for the record, this is just a convenient excuse) we hoped to ride far. The reroute was adding a day to our already tight itinerary and Saturday is forecast for bad weather, so we wanted to bank miles. Our route didn’t have any stops along the way (without a detour), which made it easy to keep riding without breaks.

The weather was good and the wind was often at our backs as we rode into and out of beautiful fjords. By the time we rolled into a campground 12 hours later we had covered a little over 100 miles with about 4000 feet of vertical gain.

We set up our tent, ate dinner, and collapsed. We’re sleeping great, btw.

Riding to Egilsstaðir

It rained at night (but we still slept great) and we woke to the most beautiful sunny blue skies! Our tent even dried out before we had to pack it! That rarely happens in Iceland, at least in our 8 days of experience. We biked along the Atlantic up and down hills, stopping once for the biggest order of fries we’ve ever had (to go with our canned peaches).

We left behind the zig-zag fjord roads and began to head inland and a little northwest.

The sun gave way to rain and the terrain changed as we approached and entered the mountains. Literally. We drove through a 4-mile tunnel. Bikes are allowed! But not horses or pedestrians. Or semi-trucks (although a few must have missed that memo today…). It was kinda nerve-wracking but also pretty awesome. Also a way to avoid the rain for a while!

Next we rode up up up for 5 to 10 miles (in the rain) over a beautiful steep mountain pass. (Why no tunnel there?) Coming down was less effort but much much colder. Much. We were soooo chilled and wet by the time we reached the bottom, even with our excellent rain gear.

We are in a town called Egilsstaðir. We quickly bought a few groceries, then found our guesthouse. (Pete was able to find a last minute opening.) Soooo nice to take a long hot shower and dry out. Pete opted for the community center pool and hot tub. We cooked our simple dinner in the cozy guesthouse kitchen and got to visit with fellow travelers from Dallas, France, and Korea! I honestly can’t believe how much French I have been able to speak here! And Pete got to speak Korean.

It was a good day with a few tough parts. The traffic was a little busier again today, but still not as bad as along the southern coast. It still is stressful at times. But we gratefully have had some very courteous drivers. The winds weren’t a huge factor today, but the rain definitely was. The sunshine during the first part was delightful. Having a roof over our heads tonight after getting so wet and cold cold cold is delightful.

A little under 60 miles today, with a little under 3000 feet vertical gain. This is a great adventure!

Ride to Grímsstaðir

Again posting one day late due to very poor wifi….

On Wednesday we rode from Egilsstaðir to Grímsstaðir. But before I talk about that, I need to mention the swimming pool I went to on Tuesday night. The local pools here are my favorite places to go relax. Even small towns have them. There are usually a few hot pools to soak in and sometimes an ice bath to cool off in and make it so you can start the whole soaking process over. I have a body built for soaking. If our bike breaks down, as long as there is a pool nearby, I’ll be fine. I’ll just soak for the remainder of our vacation. If you go to Iceland go to the local pools every chance you get. America has something to learn from this tradition…. Natalie, for the record, doesn’t enjoy them like I do. Maybe she is missing some important gene or something. So she usually stays and does something else while I go soak enough to make up for her absence at the pool. The pool in Egilsstaðir was perfect. I stayed until I looked like a proper raisin. Nothing else mattered after that – it was a perfect day.

Our original schedule had us riding for 50 miles and camping along the road near an outhouse. (There are surprisingly few along the way – especially when you are on bike and 50 miles is measured in many hours….) The outhouse was in a lovely location and it would have been a good campsite (better than the one we actually stayed in) but we wanted to get more miles with the hope of shaving a bike day off our schedule and doing something touristy like whale watching on Saturday, so we pushed on for another 30 miles. Our map showed a campsite 3 miles off road and even though our bike does poorly on washboard, we felt the investment in time would pay off with a nice campsite.

We bounced into the campsite at about 9 pm on light rain, clocking another 12-hour ride. We were exhausted. Unfortunately the campsite was effectively a small plot of ground next to an outhouse. Gratefully the outhouse had running water and flush toilets.

Grímsstaðir is a settlement in north-east Iceland whose main claim to fame is that its weather station holds the low-temperature record for Iceland of -38°C. Luckily we didn’t experience any of those temperatures. Instead we had to deal with a zillion flies. They were everywhere – unlike anything we’ve experienced in Iceland. We couldn’t even eat outside, so dinner was in our tent. We were so tired that we didn’t even change clothes – just rolled into our sleeping bags wearing the clothes we had sweat in all day, and in the morning we woke up and wore those same clothes today. (Natalie has worn the same kit all week….)

In summary, Wednesday was a hard day with not much of a reward at the end of the long push. We were in desolate but beautiful country. We passed only one small village earlier in our ride.

Natalie’s notes:

This day began with idyllic weather: sunshine, blue skies, favorable winds. We ate our guesthouse breakfast, packed up, said goodbye to our traveler friends, and hit the road. Beautiful perfect conditions for most of the day!

Partly because of the great conditions, we banked extra miles (85 miles total this day) and are now a day ahead of schedule.

As we moved higher and more north-central, we went from rolling green valleys, rivers, and farms to a desolate high-mountain landscape. We loved having less traffic because of the remoteness! We did a LOT of climbing — 3600 feet of vertical gain — and our legs could feel it. We saw a huge beautiful rainbow as the weather turned a bit misty and rainy towards the end of our ride.

Not so nice of a campground that night…. I’d give it half a star maybe. We had to ride out 3 miles on a washboard road (in the rain), and the ground was very lumpy. If we hadn’t been so tired after our long high-mile day, and if we hadn’t been kind of in the middle of nowhere, we probably would not have stayed. There was one other campground for miles and we just had to get off the bike. So we stayed. We were the only tent. (There were a handful of car campers.) There were SO many little annoying black flies, it was outrageous. We ate dinner in the tent to avoid them. But the little metal bathroom did have running hot water and flush toilets, which is always nice. (No shower though.) We were so tired and annoyed by the flies we decided to sleep in our bike clothes, which turned out to be a bad idea.