In June of 2023, I spent 20 days in Iceland as part of my sabbatical. After two weeks of doing research with Anders Claesson and Giulio Cerbai at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik, I met up with my buddy Dylan Turner (@theseasonedbiker) to ride the Westfjords Way Bikepacking Route. The Westfjords Way starts and ends in Isafjordur, Iceland, and is the brainchild of @chrisburkard and a few others.
Shortly after returning from my trip, I wrote a serious of recaps on Instagram. The following recap is essentially those posts copied and pasted below.
Westfjords Way Bikepacking Recap Day 1 (23 June 2023). Visiting Iceland has been on my bucket list for a long time and this was a trip of a lifetime, combining work and some play. After spending almost two weeks doing mathematics research at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik, Dylan (@theseasonedbiker) and I headed north to Isafjordur to tackle the Westfjords Way Bikepacking Route, which is a 575-mile spectacular loop, put together by @chrisburkard et al., that circumnavigates Iceland’s Westfjords region.
We opted to fly from Reykjavik to Isafjordur with our bikes. Perhaps surprisingly, you can check your built bike on local flights on Iceland Air. Our bikes were loaded up with all the rest of the luggage. Neither bike sustained any damage! After a 45-minute flight, which included a rather exciting landing, we landed in Isafjordur at 6:30pm. We retrieved our bikes, pedaled into Isafjordur to stock up on food and fuel for our stove, and headed off for our adventure around 8:00pm.
Our original plan was to start riding the following morning with the goal of riding the route in 5 full days. However, we were beyond excited to get started and the sun never sets this time of year, so we decided to get a head start. Based on information on bikepacking.com, we were initially operating under the assumption that we were only allowed to camp in designated campgrounds. It turns out that this isn’t quite true, but we didn’t know that at the time. The first campground we encountered was at mile 12 and we definitely weren’t ready to call it for the day. The weather was perfect, so we figured we should chip away at the miles while conditions were good. The next campground on our cuesheet was at mile 65, so we decided to press on to there.
The flat miles ticked by quickly as we zigzagged in and out of fjord after fjord. We passed countless waterfalls along the way and finally reached the “campground” at around 1:00am. There didn’t appear to be an official campground at this location, but thankfully some very friendly locals allowed us to camp in the grass outside the Ögur cafe. The midges were relentless, so we quicly set up camp and jumped in our tents.
Westfjords Way Bikepacking Recap Day 2 (24 June 2023). After a few hours of sleep, I was anxious to get started with the day, but wasn’t looking forward to swatting midges while making breakfast. I’m not a fan of insects that fly into your eyes, nose, and ears, but at least midges don’t bite! After Dylan and I were up and moving about, the owner of the property came over to chat with us, and he graciously opened up the cafe for us so we could use the bathroom and escape the bugs for a few minutes. Our host was an entertaining guy and patiently answered all of my questions about the region and its local history. He’s also a big David Goggins fan.
The goal for the day was to ride 77 miles to Hotel Laugarhóll, where we planned to soak in their hot spring fed pool and spend the night. The weather was pretty much perfect all day by Icelandic standards. It was chilly and breezy in the morning, but we eventually had sun and blue skies.
After cruising along the coast for about 20 miles we stopped at Hotel Rekyjanes. Unlike hotels in the U.S., hotels in the Westfjords typically provide an opportunity for travellers to purchase snacks like candy bars, soda, and ice cream. They also always have coffee, which we rarely passed up. After topping off our feedbags and getting a caffeine fix, we were on our way. Another 25 miles later, we learned that if the route was going to deviate from the coast line, then we were likely to encounter a significant climb. Our first big climb of the trip was also one of my favorites. Perfect pavement, engaging terrain, and stunning scenery. I absolutely loved it. I’m not usually a fan of descending, but the descent down from our first pass was incredible.
Following the grin-inducing descent, we cruised along the coastline for a few miles before turning inland and then tackled another gorgeous pass. We rolled into Hotel Laugarhóll around 4pm. The rest of the evening was devoted to enjoying the pool and spending way too much money on ice cream.
Westfjords Way Bikepacking Recap Day 3 (25 June 2023). We were up early, but delayed our departure so we could take advantage of the free breakfast at the hotel. After an uncomfortable exchange between Dylan and one of the hotel guests (involing fruit jam), we were on our way and blissfully unaware of the classic Icelandic weather that was coming for us.
The first 20 miles consisted of a beautiful loop around a peninsula and was our first gravel of the route. I saw an arctic fox during this stretch. We resupplied at an N1 gas station in Hólmavik after 33 miles. The N1 gas stations became a sought after destination as they provided lots of excellent food options, including hot coffee. By this time, Dylan realized that I don’t pass up an opportunity to get coffee.
Around mile 60, we rode up and over a comicly steep climb that cut across one of the peninsulas. The next 40 miles consisted of riding along the coast but also had a few climbs to contend with. Around this time, the wind and rain was starting to pick up. At some point, we put our rain gear on for the frist time. I talked Dylan into taking a detour into Bordeyri, thinking we might be able to grab a meal (and coffee). It was cold and wet when we arrived and nothing appeared to be open. We slipped into a guesthouse to fill up on water and warm up a bit. We were about 100 miles into the day, but wanted to press on.
Shortly after leaving Bordeyri, the wind and rain ratched up several notches. We had one big climb and 23 miles to ride to reach our intended destination, a campground in the town of Búdaralur. There is an N1 gas station across from the campground that closes at 9pm. The wind together with driving rain for the last 15 miles was savage! Dylan and I got separated during this stretch. You have to do your own ride in such conditions. I realized that if I hammered, I might make it to the gas station, and hot coffee. I arrived with 2 minutes to spare. I grabbed myself a coffee and an orange soda for Dylan. He arrived several minutes later. After gathering our senses, we headed to the campground. Thankfully, the weather had calmed down and we were able to set up camp with no rain.
Westfjords Way Bikepacking Recap Day 4 (26 June 2023). I think both of us were dreading getting out of the tents and packing up in the rain. But we delayed long enough for the rain to stop. After getting up, we each made a run to the N1 gas station. Of course, I got coffee. Dylan discovered that the campground had a dryer, which was a welcome surprise. We opted to dry all of our wet stuff before hitting the road.
It was a bit breezy, but became increasingly sunny as the morning progressed. We stopped for a mid-morning snack at a quaint road-side picnic area after 40 miles. The views across the fjord were incredible! At mile 60ish, we stopped at Gil’s Cafe. This was another welcome surprise. The owner (Gil?) was extremely welcoming and didn’t flinch at the amount of food we ordered. We lingered for a long time, chatted with Gil, and topped off all of our electronics. One of the things we learned from Gil was that we could pretty much camp wherever we wanted as long as it wasn’t in a town nor on someone’s farm propery. He said, “this is one of the oldest law’s in Iceland.” We had been under the impression that we could only camp in designated campgrounds. This lifted a little weight off our shoulders as it meant we had a lot more flexibility about where and when we stopped for the night. (We’ve since learned that the campground rule does apply to camper vans.) When we finally mustered the energy to leave, the sky looked ominious in the direction we were headed. A little shell shocked from the weather the previous day, we ventured out with the hope of making it as least another 40 miles.
The rain started about 30 miles later as we started up a huge gravel climb. On goes the rain gear. The rain stopped a few minutes later, so we stripped off the jackets to avoid sweating to death on the climb. After two steep but awesome climbs, the rain started again. Rain gear back on. It looked like it might clear up a few miles down the peninsula, so we pressed on. Just as the sunshine arrived, we encountered a pullout with a picnic table. Without even exchanging words, we simultaneously pulled over to set up camp before the rain returned. 103 miles for the day.
Westfjords Way Bikepacking Recap Day 5 (27 June 2023). After packing up camp, we cruised along the coast with a glorious tailwind before tackling the first climb of the day. We didn’t realize how much of a tailwind we had until we reached the top of the climb and started descending into a brutal cross wind that became a headwind. This didn’t last long as we changed direction again, but it gave us a taste of what we should expect every time we were pointed in the “wrong” direction. It took me until day 5 to realize that the “wrong” direction wasn’t always predictable.
Our first objective of the day was to reach the Hellulaug hot spring, which is a geothermal pool located just off the road and right next to the ocean. We enjoyed soaking in the warm water, but I wasn’t looking forward to getting out and air drying in the cold breeze.
Once back on the bikes, we pedaled less than a mile to Hotel Flókalundur. We were pretty much out of food at this point and looking forward to resupplying. This hotel was a lot fancier than the others we encountered on route, and unfortunately, the resupply options were slim. They basically had a couple bars and some small bags of chips for sale. We opted to grab a meal in the restaurant and order another pizza each to go. Dylan planned in advance and had spare freezer bags to put the pizza in. Up until this point, we had been kicking around the idea of taking a shortcut and enjoying a more leisurely ride to the finish. While we crushed an obscence about of food, we offically made the call to turn right immediately after leaving the hotel and follow the shortcut. This cut nearly 60 miles of our intended route and I have no regrets about this decision.
Despite a headwind and increased traffic (due to tourists visiting Dynjandi waterfall), the next 20 miles were my favorite of the entire route! We climbed into an alpine area that was just stunning. I’d visit Iceland just to ride this section again. We made a short detour to visit Dynjandi waterfall. I hiked up to the waterfall while Dylan stretched at a picnic table.
We pedaled another 15 miles before setting up camp in a grassy field overlooking a fjord. 83 miles for the day.
Westfjords Way Bikepacking Recap Day 6 (28 June 2023). Our final day. 64 miles to ride from our camp spot to the finish in Isafjordur. From camp we pedal 30 absolutely wild miles along the coast line. Part of the route is under water at high tide. I had some anxiety about this section, but it ended up being straightforward for us.
I was really looking forward to stopping at the Simbahöllin Cafe in Thingeyri and it didn’t disappoint. I know bike tourers stop here regulary, so I assumed the staff would be familar with the massive amounts of food we ordered. But our barista informed us that he had never seen anyone order and then consume so much. I hope we become legends.
Leaving the town of Thingeyri, we had the most spectacular tailwind of the entire trip. But we knew is was going to be shortlived when we swung around the other side of the fjord. The insuing headwind was comical. I might have felt differently if we weren’t so close to the finish. I just kept laughing.
I stopped behind a road sign to get shelter from the wind as I waited for Dylan. We had 20 miles to go and our biggest climb of the trip. The climb starts off on pavement and then turns onto an old gravel road that is closed to cars. The gravel climb bypasses a tunnel that cars take through the mountain.
The intial part of the gravel climb was a few minutes of hike-a-bike. As soon as the gradient seemed reasonable, I hopped back on to pedal. I only made it a few feet before my rear tire spun out on a fist-size rock. I came to a standstill, attempted to unclip my left foot to put my foot down, but I couldn’t get my foot out. I fell hard on my left side and landed on my wrist in the process. I immediatley knew I had injured my wrist. In 2007, I had significant issues with both wrists and discovered that I have torn ligaments between the scaphoid and lunate bones in both wrists. Any time I fall on my wrists, I think, “well, this could be it.” I was pretty sure my ligament was intact, but knew I had done some damage. It seemed good enough to continue and that seemed to be the only option anyway. 9 miles to go.
The climb was magnificent. We made our way up through thick fog and drizzle. Wrist was feeling ok at the top. Nothing left but a descent to the finish. It immediately became clear how bad my wrist was on the final descent. I couldn’t really use my left hand at all. I’m not sure if adrenaline from my injury had anything to do with it, but I was shivering badly when we reached the bottom. We eventually reached the N1 gas station in Isafjordur. We warmed up inside and pounded some hot coffee and calories. Loop complete.
We stayed in a guest house that night and flew back to Reykjavik the following morning.
Westfjords Way Bikepacking Summary. @theseasonedbiker and I pedaled 518 miles over 6 days. Our route mostly followed the Westfjords Way route, but we took one detour that cut off roughly 55 miles. My @binarybicycles Grolar was the perfect bike. No mechanicals. We experienced all the weather. Sun and blue skies. Rain and savage wind. Our route was roughly 60% pavement, 40% gravel. The route is magnicient. The trip of a lifetime. Dylan, thanks for joining me on this adventure!
After returning home, I learned that I tore cartilage in my left wrist (TFCC injury). I have my wrist in a brace and I’m off the bike for 4-6 weeks. It’s been 2.5 weeks and I’m mostly being patient and doing as much hiking as my hip can tolerate. I tried doing one short ride on the trainer, but that wasn’t a good idea. Fingers crossed I’m good to go in a few weeks.
Mathematics & Teaching
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