So where do I start with this trip? Before we start, let’s get a couple of things straight. I hate camping. I hate it with a passion. It’s not natural. I didn’t spend millions of years developing opposable thumbs so I could sleep under a thin piece of canvas and partially cook food on a small fire and eat it with a spork. I developed opposable thumbs so I could open bedroom doors, turn the knobs on an oven and eat with a knife and fork. Secondly, riding off-road scares me, lots, It scares me in the same way sticking a revving chainsaw down my pants would scare me. So, what sort of trip should I do this year? How a about a 2 week off-road camping holiday in Iceland? That sounds absolutely perfect. I could have saved lots of money by staying at home and beating myself in the trousers with a lump hammer but I signed up all the same and off we went.
Rock up to Luton the evening before to meet up with the others. There are 6 of us all together. Mark, a Welsh/Brummie hybrid businessman who put the trip together. He’s on a 690 Rally Raid. Steve, the baker on his Ktm 525. Gareth, an engineer/enduro/off-road maniac riding a F800GS. Guy, founder of Nitron shocks sporting a spanky DRZ400. Geoff, an engineer from Coventry on another 690 Rally Raid and me on my old R1150GSA. They’re all staying at the airport hotels but I’m risking a run into the ghetto to risk my life but saving a tenner. The room is super heated and only has a single window about the size of my anus. I spend a hot sultry night listening to the sounds of an impromptu Santa Pod meeting that seems to taking place outside.
Up early to catch the Easysweat out to Keflavik then grab a taxi to the shipper. I’m riding shotgun. I certainly wish I had one. I would shoot the driver. He’s driving me nuts. Chatting shit and making absolutely no sense. Price for the experience? £100. Bugger me this place is expensive.
Get to the shippers and Mark hands the paperwork in. 10 minutes later the bikes are released and we walk up to meet out metal mates in their container. A lot easier than I was expecting for sure. They’ve all arrived safe and sound and in one piece so 20 minutes later and we’re on the road after a quick stop at a cake shop. I love cake.
Reykjavik isn’t much more than a small town so we’re quickly out and into the countryside. Cold and bright we go in search of where the continental plates meet. A huge gaping scar on the landscape like two giant jigsaw pieces that don’t quite fit. Stop anywhere though and you’re immediately surrounded by swarms of little black flies. I feel like PigPen and it’s only the first day. Christ knows what it will be like when I’ve not showered for a while and my ‘man crust’ really gets into it’s stride. You try and take pictures and the little feckers even land on the lens giving big black smudges. Little bastards.
We’re here to ride the trails but Iceland has had an unusually bad winter and many of the roads are still closed, even here in the south. There are signs warning of big fines and the dipping of testicles in molten lava if you ignore the closures so we have to track back to the tarmac and hunt down a camp site.
Find a lovely grassy site and pitch up next to an old bloke with a 4 foot tongue, a young girlfriend and an unusual number plate.
A quick caveman breakfast and we’re off to Geyser to see the … I’ll let you work that out for yourself. This is my first look at boiling water coming out the ground and as we ride in it’s a strange sight for sure. Little clouds of steam drifting about 1 foot off the ground and bubbling mud belching and farting and stinking. This place smells like a 15 year old’s bedroom. Watch the big geyser ejaculate into the sky a few times then ride on up to Gulfoss. Big old waterfall for sure but really not all that when compared to places like Niagra.
Destination is north so we take to the rough on the F35. Wide, flat, fast and loose in the cold sunshine out into the wilderness. Like a giant quarry, barren and bare except where the rivers provide some life and colour. Most the time you feel like you’re living in black and white. Quite an easy ride in bright sunshine. Only one water crossing and there is a car up to its doors in the mud at the side. We take 6 different routes through. 5 succeed and reach dry land. Geoff rides into something with the consistency of a chocolate gateaux and we have to manhandle him out.
Towards the end we suddenly descend into a little valley where they’ve hidden all the beauty. Over a brow and instantly it’s a different world with fields of grass being harvested and small fields of sheep. Getting proper cold now though – bloody freezing in fact and by the time we choose a camp site I’d willing pay £100 for a hot tub. Luckily it’s only £2 and includes more boiling hot stinky showers. I’m convinced the shower is going to make me smell like an egg sandwich but it doesn’t seem to stick to your skin.
Go to eat like humans in a restaurant which is nice. The waitress is an annoying little mare who says she speaks 24 languages but still comes back to us 5 times to check the order. When it comes to pay she can’t add up 2 and 2 without a calculator either. Reminds me of my university lecturer mate who someone described as being ‘Like a lighthouse in the desert. Extremely bright but completely fucking useless’.
Another dozy night with the lights on and we’re off further north again. We want to make it round to Húsavík to try and do some whale watching so off we go up the coast towards the arctic circle. Weather is really cold now so we divert into a small village for some substinence and as is often the case we happen upon a little oasis looking out over the cold deep water to the mountains beyond. Like a lovely dream the cafe is staffed by a pair of beautiful and buxom older ladies who move with feline grace and purr when they talk. To top it all they serve the most delicious cakes and soups. I think the name of the place was Heaven and we were all happy to worship.
An hour or two of food and flirting later and we’re off again. A lovely bit of road. A beautiful ride along the mountainside twisting, dipping and diving with the ever changing rocks and sea as company right the way up to 66° north. Apparently the arctic circle runs at 66°33′45.8 but this will do for me and I don’t really want to get the bike wet at the moment.
Round the tip and into the little town of Siglufjörður. A beautiful place slowly turning from a vibrant fishing town into a museum. Not long ago this place landed thousands of tonnes of Herring but now the Herring have learnt to avoid the area and holiday elsewhere leaving the trade to decline. A pretty little place though full of colour and old buildings.
Getting late and the weather is coming in again so we scoot through the single file tunnels and round the headland to be met by more freezing temperatures, rain and wind. The clouds hover just above the sea and create an array of threatening colours and shapes. A really beautiful scene despite the fact my tits are freezing off. It’s down below 4 degrees and me timbers are really shivering as we get down to Akureyri, Iceland’s second biggest town. We all dive into a diner to pour hot chocolate down our necks and defrost our veins before heading on to Húsavík. Couple of hours of ‘I never want to do that again’ riding in the ice cold drizzle and wind and we finally arrive. Camping at this point feels slightly more attractive than shoving a blunt needle down my jap’s eye, but only slightly, so we go looking for accommodation. We do a quick tour of the guest-houses but place is fully bloody booked so we end up on a wet camp site next to the local football field where we can watch the local ladies team practice. Despite all the lycra, I’d still rather be under tiles than a tent. Out to dinner in a very nice restaurant where the prices are specified in gold cards. I choose a bowl of soup which just has a single gold card against it.
All the buildings out here are super heated due to the free natural hot water. They reckon for ever £100 we spend on heating, they spend £15. Trouble is, going from the hot to the cold to the hot to the cold all the time is making me feel completely shit. Tomorrow could be difficult.
Wake up to the pitter patter of tiny raindrops tapping on the tent. I bloody hate camping. Can someone please come and build a hotel over the top of me so I can get out in the warm and dry rather than the cold and wet.
A couple of the riders leave early to ride the tracks in the hills amongst the clouds, the rest of us were intending to watch the whales but the weather is to bad for the boats to leave the harbour so we wander round the town. We go to a warm cafe and ask for some poached eggs on toast. “What are these poached eggs of which you speak?” says the little lady behind the counter. “I’ll show you” says Steve and promptly walks into their kitchen and starts cooking. Very nice too thanks Steve. I’m feeling really shit so head for the tent for a 40 winks/6 hours sleep. Wake up about quarter past 29 oclock in time for dinner/breakfast/tea/whatever.
Another cold wet night, we pack away our sodden tents and head for the desert. Initially flat wide and fast it soon narrows down and becomes single track as it heads out into the desert and towards the volcano at Askja. The boys are having a lovely time hooning about in the loose, disappearing into the distance. I come to a small water crossing and go ride round the edge, catch a big rock and take a tumble. The bike has taken a hit on the exhaust manifold and it’s sounding sick. Fucky bollocks. Still running though so I just carry on riding with my fingers in my ears. The road is getting pretty soft so I wait at a junction when the others go and take a look at the volcano and new lava fields.
Some serious boys toys down here. Big 4×4 trucks with luxurious accommodation, lovely tricked up vans and even huge coaches with massive wheels obviously stolen from a plane.
When the boys return it’s getting late and they’re all low on fuel so we track back north through the deep sand. This stuff is bread and butter to the others but for me it’s a shit sandwich. I’m riding along trying to do the right thing when the bike gets a massive wiggle on. I prepare to eject but I’m a fraction too late and my foot gets caught between the pannier and the sand as the bike goes down, dragging my foot back and twisting my knee. I pull the foot out from under the bike and I’m convinced my ankle is broken. It’s pointing in the wrong direction and I reckon I could kick myself in the back of the head with it. A bit of careful wiggling and squatting and it seems to be largely ok though which is a miracle. I bought a nice new pair of tough boots before I came out and they look to have been worth their weight in plaster of Paris.
Totally spooked I crawl the next few miles through thick deep black sand before we pick our way through huge expanse of lava fields and up towards Route 1. The lava fields are like a maze with the roads picking their way back and forth, up and down, in and out amongst the huge lumps of sharp, dark, forboding rock. The road gets straighter and wider and the sun momentarily treats us to a big rainbow before diving for cover again under the big grey blanket.
We reach the little haven of Möðrudalur about 8:30, wet, very cold and tired. Most of the others camp but the second I enter the super warm sanctuary of site office cafe my resolve dissolves and a couple of us end up getting beds in the bunkhouse. I guess I should feel guilty by TBH I don’t give a toss. Warm bed, warm water, space to move, simple pleasures and for £25 not expensive either. It’s just Delicious. I check the bike and it looks like the manifold has bent where the rock hit and it’s popped one of the retaining bolts off the head. The manifold doesn’t fit flush to the head and that’s what all the noise is all about.
Up the next morning feeling warm and dry for a change but the other side of the glass it’s still pissing down again and very very cold. No doubt the Icelanders are as pissed off with the summer weather as we are. Still hovering around 1 to 4 degrees. Meet the campers for breakfast. Half the group want to head back into the desert to feel the sand between their wheels, the other half had enough yesterday and opt to have a slow day up to Reykjahlíð where can all meet up later. I’m obviously piste off with piste so take the easy ride up to Route 1 and round. Route 1 sounds like it should be a busy main route full of traffic and infrastructure. The reality is that it’s often just a winding ribbon of tarmac in the wilderness. It’s a bleak and lonely place with miles of nothingness which I find strangely attractive. Riding the ribbon through a tunnel of grey cloud and rain we track up to Reykjahlíð stopping on the way to visit another big geothermal field steaming away to itself. Jesus what a stink. This one smells worse than an adolescent school changing room and it’s as much as I can do to breath without gagging. The planet must be bursting at the seams just here as there is a huge geothermal plant just up the road then a huge steaming lake and a blue lagoon looke likey full of boiling bodies warming their bones. Iceland is such a weird place.
Get to Reykjahlíð and start looking at the options. Go to a campsite with a lovely view over a lake. There a a lovely view in the office too. Mid twenties with the tautest pair of jumper lumps in the northern hemisphere. Before we can say a word some old bloke built like an old bird with claws for hands and translucent skin appears and he doesn’t seem to like the look of us dripping all over his carpet. “Sorry, all the rooms are full”. Yea right, with air probably. If we want to camp we have to take the bikes right over to the edge of the campsite too. We’re not keep to give this twat any money so we look elsewhere. Not many options round here though. There are expensive rooms in a condemned hut or bed and breakfast for 180 Euros. “WTF – are you sure?” “I’ll sell that today no problem” says the bloke. Jesus, still on a cold wet Saturday maybe he will. So it’s back to the camp site where we have to comfort ourselves with a few minutes puppy love as we sign in before setting up tents in the rain yet again.
Up again and the weather is on repeat. Out to fuel up but Steve’s bike is pissing fuel out the overflow pipe. It’s been dribbling for a few days but now it’s properly pouring out. Time for tools! Gareth get’s the carb apart and cleans it all out and we’re ready to go but it’s taken a while and we’re late leaving. The plan has always been to ride down the F26 through the middle north to south. Mark tells us it’s a tough road with lots of deep water crossings. About 150 miles of nothing but a single track etched through the rugged and hostile landscape. We’ve been checking regularly and it’s been closed. Today it’s open for the first time this year, brilliant, should be in a right shit state I’m sure. Quick look at another waterfall through thick clouds of bastard black flies and we peel off the tarmac to head south.
It’s all fine for a while, nice and compact where it’s been used regularly to the little villages. Through a gate and the proper F26 starts in earnest. I know the others just take this shit in their stride and I admire them for it. I wish I had half the confidence they have on these surfaces. I think my problem is size related. No not that, well not this time anyway! It’s to do with the size of the track. I’ve done a fair amount of rough roading but most of it has been on big wide roads and tracks with room for a big bike to move about when it gets jiggy. The F26 is a shallow single track trench bulldozed into the ground. The middle is usually a shitty loose no go area and the edges are raised right up to stop people wandering off into the landscape. We had wardens trying to find us earlier in the trip round the volcano because they had seen some tyre tracks outside the edges of the road and they weren’t happy. Result is that I find myself confined to a single tyre track on my big heavy bike and that leaves me with not much room for error. There you go, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
Anyway, the others go and play like pigs in shit while I plod along and play safe. The road itself is a bit of everything you could think of. Lots of loose, lots of mud and slush, sand, snow, ice and of course water. Lots of cold water. The road is just desolate, uninviting and hostile. Nothing lives up here out of choice. We meet a few drivers and hear various reports of weather and conditions. Roads like this, everyone shares. Everyone is in it together. The water crossings get bigger and more frequent until we come to a really deep and wide one where two lakes have decided to join themselves toghether. The warning sign says deep water. Warning signs aren’t used lightly out here. It’s about 50-60m wide too. I look at something like this and I just think WTF am I doing here? Why am I sat on an old bike waiting to ride in cold water up to my balls? Only one way to go though, we’re going in. I stop and hold a small naming ceremony using a handy Nabuchadnezzar of Champaign I carry for these occasions. “I name this ship HMS Adventure. God bless her and all that try and sail on her”. We’re off. The minute the bike hits the water it immediately disappears in a cloud of steam and the bike hisses it’s displeasure like a caged cat. I can see the bikes that have already crossed so I know logically that it’s not too deep but when the cylinders go under and the leaking manifold’s scream turns into a frantic farting noise then I’m convinced I’m going under. I even start breathing through my nose instead of my mouth cos
that’s going to be underwater any second. Few seconds later and it’s up and out, stuttering up the bank to meet the others. Boots full of cold water but a big smile on my face. Bike is nice and clean too.
Few miles later and I come round a corner and for a magical moment there is a hole in the cloud and rain. It illuminates a group of huts and a campsite in beautiful relief against an angry dark grey sky. Another oasis in the middle of this bitch of a road. It’s early evening and we could continue but I really want to stop, rest and eat, lazy lightweight that I am! We decide to stay the night. 4 Head out to the bleak camp ground over the banks of virgin snow but I look at my opposable thumbs and think they need some more practice so Guy and I buy beds in the bunkhouse for £35. Soon as I’m inside the wind picks up and a storm suddenly appears over the horizon. I watch the poor buggers in the tents struggling to cook in the gale from the comfort of the bunkhouse kitchen whilst cooking dinner and padding over warm worn floorboards in bare feet. I love places
like this. A wooden hut full of tired bodies chatting merrily away and sharing stories. Only real travellers end up in places like these and they have lots of interesting tales to tell. We’re chatting to a pair of Swiss couples coming through in their Land Rovers. Both the men and one of the women also ride 1200GS’s off road, and the other has a F700GS. They’ve been all over the world together and are obviously so comfortable in each others company. One of the men is a property developer. He’s talking about us going to the caribbean where he has his own private island. “Only a small one. 6000 square meters” Fuck! Yes mate, and you can visit my 2 up 2 down in Eastleigh, you’d love that:) The bunkhouse has accommodation downstairs just consisting of double bunk beds in a single room. Upstairs is where the rescue team is housed. They stay for the duration of the summer when the road is open. They reckon the wether has been so bad that the road will only be open 7-8 weeks this year. Once they leave you’re on your own if you’re stupid enough to venture out here.
Wake up at 4am with a big lump in the sleeping bag. My bladder. Climb down from the bunk, slip on some shoes and head outside over to the toilet block. The light is all weird, like a confused sun rise/set. Like the sun is sleeping with one eye open, keeping watch over the land and ready to call in a storm as soon as it sees movement. A sleepy, never to forget moment. Back to bed and a warm comfy coma. Get up and the rain is throwing itself at the windows again, angry and wild, desperately trying to break in. A civilised breakfast of porridge and coffee before slipping all the wet kit on and shoving my feet into soaking wet boots. I feel so sorry for my feet. Shut up all day in the dark and cold. No wonder they protest. I feel sorry for the campers too. Trying to break camp in the wet. Half of us leave early and leave the others to catch up. I’m travelling a lot slower than them anyway. Immediately it’s into lots of snow, ice and water. The road has been cut through snow and the puddles are often hiding sheets of solid ice. Some of the water crossings are deeper than yesterday but usually narrower at least with steep banks in and out. Eventually the road widens out and becomes graded and fast before eventually turning back to beautiful black tarmac. Get to the petrol station and a cafe. I’ve made it and I’m happy I did it. I would never try a road like that on my own. One of the riders counted the water crossings at 40 without the long deep puddles in the snow. Nobody has eaten properly for the last couple of days so we all sit and relax in the cafe as the weather continues to rage outside. I sit on a sofa and can’t remember feeling so comfortable.
Half the group get togged up and head out to Selfoss while the others get there Facebook and social media fixes. Life is so much easier when you don’t have friends. I can’t think of anyone that really gives a shit what I’m doing, why would they? Anyway, its properly twatting down now and we ride/sail our way through the water to Salfoss. There is a big site there with loads of cabins but they’re all fecking full. Everyone is retreating under cover and so it’s another wet pitch and another night when the sound of raindrops never stops. Wake up and it’s still going. Fecking amazing. At home we might get rain for a few hours at a time but out here it’s been raining pretty well constantly for days and days and days. I’m properly fed up with this now. I’ve got fucking rain rage and I’m under my own personal cloud. There’s going to be trouble if I can’t get under a roof tonight. We go for breakfast early and luckily they have a cabin free for tonight – we take it without asking the cost.
We have a day to kill before heading to Reykjavik to drop the bikes tomorrow so we plan a big circle route round the local lakes that looks like it should be sealed roads. It never turns out that way out here though of course! We head for the piste and Gareth disappears into the distance on his 800 and I can see the smile beaming through his helmet from a mile away. He’s in his element on roads like this and it’s lovely to watch. I catch up with him later and he’s giggling away to himself. “What have you been doing?” I ask. “About 110” he says still giggling. 110mph on the gravel drifting it about. Jesus. My GS doesn’t even do 110. The blokes a fucking nutter.
The scenery is much nicer down here. In places it’s awe inspiring. The mist blanket is lifted back to revel deep green hills and mountains, vast water courses running over huge plains reaching to the horizon. Some of the roads are lovely too as they track the lake edges. Beautiful wood and glass houses nestle on the rocks. Christ only knows what those cost out here. A really lovely area though. Back to the comfort of the cabin and a proper bed. Inspect the bike to see if there is anything I can do about the noise. Riding along today some of the walkers along the side of the road put their hands over their ears because the noise is so loud. Turns out all the manifold bolts have vibrated loose! Nip them up but it doesn’t make much difference. I’m sure the British plod can hear it from here and they’ll be waiting for me outside the port in Hull when I return.
We meet back up with the others and ride into Reykjavik to drop the bikes. Piece of cake again. I love cake. Just ride them onto the container and Foxtrot Oscar back to the cake shop. Taxi into town where we’ve rented a couple of apartments. 3 pairs of motorcycle boots in a 16ft square room equals nuclear meltdown and a toxic cloud that could wipe out an entire nation so we need to do something. Guy wraps his in a thick plastic bag. I put mine in the fridge. Top tip – if you’ve got stinky boots, put them in the freezer for a few days – kills all the bacteria:) Fridges don’t work so well but at least they harness the stink. Pity the poor bastard that open the door after we leave though. “Mystery death of Reykjavik cleaner. A young blond and very fit cleaner was found dead at an apartment today. The room was empty but the fridge door was open. There were no signs of a struggle. Police are mystified”. We spend the evening wandering amongst the tourists through the town centre, eating expensive fish and chips and trying to find a shop that sells puffin’s feet.
Coach to the airport and home. Another trip over. More memories and friends made. Did I enjoy it, of course, despite the shitty weather. It’s very beautiful in parts and very hostile in others. The people are very friendly and it feels so safe. I always left stuff on the bike and usually left the keys in too. We didn’t see it at it’s best I’m sure. Perhaps that’s for the best though. It’s saved it all for the next time…