Iceland is green and Greenland is full of ice. They say the Iceland natives gave their country that name to disorient invaders and sent them to Greenland instead. A land of contrasts, and the perfect match for a XPDTN3 trip.
Words by Marcel Batlle
Video and photography by Marc Gasch
WESTFJÖRDS OF ICELAND
Fast gravel, waffles and 4 seasons in one day
MEETING THE MIDNIGHT SUN
Landing in Keflavik at 4:00 AM and having to use your sunglasses sounds like a bizarre thing, but if you are new to Iceland, that' s a cool thing that welcomes you to this amazing country. Its June, and the sun is shining but as the Icelanders say, "if you don’t like the weather, wait for five minutes" so a rain jacket is always by our side...
Photographer Marc Gasch and myself, Marcel Batlle, traveled from Barcelona, and met Magnus Backstedt, who flew on an earlier flight and was already sleeping at the KEF guesthouse near the airport. He was sleeping like a baby and we didn’t want to wake him up, but when he did, we discovered his bike didn’t show up the night before at the airport. Not good news, and so we spent all morning queuing at the lost baggage counter, filling papers and claiming the bike. Not a good start.
FIGHTING WITH ICELANDAIR
We were there just for a 3 day ride and on a tight schedule, so missing that bike was a disaster. Magnus took good use of his social media profiles which helped to get the ball rolling and some calls were made to make sure the bike made it to Iceland as soon as possible. Anyway, waiting at the airport made no sense, so we decided to start our transfer by car to the beginning of our route in Flokalundur, gate to the Westfjords adventure for XPDTN3.
Sunshine didn't last for long on day one
We woke up at the Flokalundur hotel the next morning and the bike (obviously) did not show up... but at least there was a promise from the company to ship the bike the next day to our base camp in Thyngeyri. The worst case scenario happened, and Magnus was going to miss one of the 3 days of our route. So it was just Marc and myself starting the first day wearing bib shorts and a short sleeve jersey, contrary to some of the advice some of our Iceland friends gave us to not even bring shorts to Iceland. Take that! Well, but Marc 's been here before so he suggested we fill up our Apidura packs with all our cold and rain gear, which in the end, was the best decision ever.
STAGE 1: JUST 2 OF US
Morning greeted us with a gravel mountain pass in Vestfjardarvegur to Hornataer just starting at the door of the hotel (ouch) but the shining sun, blue skies and an amazing breakfast made us pedal up pretty easy and fast. Soon we realized our 700x40C tyres were the perfect tire for this terrain, and we were happy with our choice, that took us 2 days of debate and phone calls at home.
Things were getting muddy after a few hours
But blue skies didn’t last for long, and before we knew it, the top of the pass met us with a gentle drizzle and colder temperatures that saw us reaching for our Gabbas. 10 minutes later we were opening our bikepacking packs searching for all the clothing we had, while some snowflakes started to appear in the sky. Real four seasons in one day.
The infinite gravel road continued all the way to Thyngeyri (no asphalt here) and the soil was perfect for high speed gravel riding. Marc and I were flying on our Exploros, taking advantage of the fresh legs from the first day, and the light load we were carrying (all our winter gear was on us anyway...) Before we knew it, the majestic Dynjandi waterfall appeared in front of our eyes like a perfect postcard, and we decided to get close to hear the huge noise from the 3rd highest waterfall in Iceland.
Dynjandi waterfall, the 3rd largest in Iceland
Unfortunately, the mosquitos also liked the place, and after getting a few of them out of our ears and even our eyes, we decided to put the small cog and sprint to the end of the fjord.
The sun came out again for the second mountain pass of the first day
And that’s the problem with the fjords: they look super cool on the map, but, unless there is a bridge in the middle, going to the fjord usually means pedaling all the way to the end of the fjord to then pedal all the way out on the other side. And repeat. Anyway, the amazing views at the Borgarfjordur , the sun shining and the turns we took to fight against the wind at 40 km/h make us reach the start of the last climb in no time
The views from the top were amazing, We stopped here for 15 minutes admiring the fjord below
We stopped at the base of that pass in Hrafnseyri to take off some of our clothing and eat some peanuts, while some birds were graciously flying over our heads. Later we discovered those birds are famous for attacking cars and tourists trying to protect their nests... The last climb to Grandahorn was long and steep in some parts, but the views of the clouds coming into the fjord made the effort totally worth. Now sitting at the top of the ridge and discovering Thyngeyri, our base camp for the next two days , at the bottom of the next fjord.
Those flowers were in blossom all around the area. Happy photographer!
OUR BASECAMP IN THE WESTFJORDS
After a fast descent, we reached Thyngeyri, and the Simbahollin Guesthouse, where Magnus was waiting for us, still without his bike. Damn. Anyway, the company promised to deliver the bike the next morning just in time for our big adventure around the Vesturgatan loop, an F-road 4x4 rugged and technical trail that went around the Dyrafjordur and Afnafjordur fjords.
Marcel happy to be in Thingeyri
Our basecamp for the next 2 days
So, on the second day of our adventure, and after an amazing homemade-organic breakfast at Simbahollin, Magnus’s bike arrived! Quick setup and we took off on another rather unusual sunny and warm day on the Westfjords. Then again, and against all the odds, we were starting our day in short bibs and no sleeves. Happy campers.
The Simbahollin is a cool small guesthouse run by a Belgium couple
STAGE 2: AMAZING VESTURGATAN
The Vesturgatan is one of the most beautiful routes (for 4x4 and bikes) in Iceland, that covers a small tip of a Fjord for 60 km, all time rolling along the sea, cliffs and rock beaches that abound in the area. On that sunny day, the sea was perfect turquoise, with clear waters that perfectly blended with the blue skies. A perfect day for cycling.
The start of the Vesturgatam loop already looked promising
Blue skies and blue fjord. Can't complain.
We started arguing about the convenience of the Nano 700x40c tires here though, and after the first 30 km it became clear that a 27,5x 2,1 tire would have been better for this loop, even if we had no real problems with the 40 Nanos. But GravelPlus 650B tires would have added a bit of comfort in this technical and rocky track.
Remains of another era.
The pace was fast with Magnus and Marcel in front
After stopping in a lighthouse for a bite, we sailed again, as one of the parts of the route was only passable on low tide, and we definitely didn’t wanted to get caught in high tide only to have to go back. So we keep going on the continuous up and downs that took us all time close to Dyrafjordur, an unspoiled landscape almost free of tourists and definitely with a remote felling to it. We were loving it!
One of the best bike loops we have ever done for sure,
This rocky beach was on the limit for opur 700x40 Nanos
NO KOMS HERE
After crossing the Stapaladur area, and going over 50 cold water streams, the Fossdalur valley waited for us with the longest climb of the day. A steep and long climb, still with some snow on the highest sections, that took us to one of the tallest peaks of the area, with amazing views to the Arnafjordur in the back, and the Dyrafjordur on the descent on our front.
The start of the biggest climb of the trip
The climb was very tough, especially for those with 44T chainrings and 11-36 cassettes (Marc had the best combo with 38T chainring and 10-42T cassette) but the downhill back to Thyngeyri, technical but super fun, made it all worthwhile, even more so when we were all thinking about the Belgian gigantic waffles with rhubarb homemade jam that were waiting for us at Simbahollin.
So high that we got to the snow line...
Top of the world, all donwhill from here
STAGE 3: #EXPLORE CYCLING
Our third day in the area was left to discover and explore. We didn’t have any route planned, but instead decided to get a map, loaded some waypoints on our GPS and set up to find the best parts of the fjord and the valley, with some help from Wouter, the owner at Simbahollin.
Rocky mtb terrain on the climb to Ausudalur
Our first target was the gravel road that winded back to the end of the fjord, a pretty gentle flat asphalt and gravel road that took us along the sea, with some menacing clouds in the sky that previously made us take all our winter and rain gear, on a cold and grey Icelandic day. After pedaling the fjord loop, under a continuous rain, we turn left (and up) along the Ausudalur valley, in the search of a glacial lake of the same name that some of the locals talked us about.
It was starting to rain here, and the temperature was dropping fast.
A technical and super steep climb that took us a while to cover, with fist and baby head sized rocks that stopped our progression, even if once at the top, we had some of the best views of Thyngeyri and a beautiful lake at our feet. If had been a warm day, we might have tried to put our feet in those clear waters...but not today.
Water. Water. Water.
RAIN AND WAFFLES
So we descended on the same track down in Ausudalur, and by then we already spotted our next target: the Sandafell mountain, a tall peak in the back of the town, that serves as an antenna and communication center, due to his privileged location in the tip of a tall mountain surrounded by cliffs.
Last climb to Sandafell before going back home. We'll be back...
Well, that was steep. We were all grunting and suffering on the way up, at the limit of traction in some places, under a cold rain that made our feet and hands numb. Marc, our photographer, had to fight with gloves and towels for the cameras to get our pics and videos done. But then again, once we were at the tip of the cliff, organic homemade Pesto sandwiches appeared from the bottom of our packs while a time-lapse video was setup, and we just sat down under the rain and watched the landscape in awe as we can see a northern storm with fierce and really dark black clouds coming fast towards us, possible all the way from the coast of Greenland. Time to go home....
Words by Marcel Batlle
Photography and video by Marc Gasch