Rid­ers’ Wan­der­lust

A reader re­lates the tale of his two-wheeled ad­ven­tures in en­chant­ing Ice­land

Bike India - - Contents - STORY & PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: HA­ROON RAFIQ

IN OUR CON­TIN­U­ING GLOBAL mo­tor­cy­cle rides, this sum­mer my wife, Farzana, and I de­cided to ex­plore an­other part of Europe which was a lit­tle out­side our com­fort zone. We ze­roed in on Ice­land, a coun­try of­ten de­fined by its dra­matic vol­canic land­scape of gey­sers, hot springs, wa­ter­falls, glaciers and black-sand beaches — a no­madic dream­land where the brave and bru­tal Vik­ings once ruled the rugged re­gion. The place lit­er­ally breathes fire and ice be­cause glaciers and vol­canic springs can be found close to each other. Ice­land is not a des­ti­na­tion; it is an ad­ven­ture. It’s a to­po­graphic and cli­matic mélange. Our ride sprang sur­prises and mind­bog­gling vis­tas at ev­ery twist and turn of the road.

As our Ice­land Air flight made its fi­nal de­scent to­wards the Ke­flavic air­port in the cap­i­tal city of Reyk­javik, we could only see snow all around as we looked out of the win­dow from 20,000 feet. Who­ever said it was sum­mer in Ice­land? Upon land­ing we learned that Icelandic weather had thrown up a sud­den damp­ener and that they had un­ex­pected heavy snow­fall at the be­gin­ning of sum­mer that blan­keted most of the east and north of the coun­try, mak­ing it too dan­ger­ous for mo­tor­cy­cle travel in those parts. This forced us to al­ter our route, travel plans and ho­tel book­ings com­pletely. I soon picked up our rental BMW mo­tor­cy­cle and had a dis­cus­sion with the peo­ple at the shop re­gard­ing cli­mate fore­cast and al­ter­na­tive route pos­si­bil­i­ties be­fore head­ing back to our ho­tel. Sub­se­quently, the wife and I strolled around the serene cap­i­tal city of Reyk­javik, visit­ing the lovely seafront area and then tak­ing in the sights and at­trac­tions around the down­town area. The next day we would start the ride on a cau­tious note with prayers for good weather

as we were warned to look out for dan­ger­ous cross-winds and pos­si­ble snow.

As we loaded our lug­gage and got astride our mo­tor­cy­cle, we hit mul­ti­ple glitches. The GPS power ca­ble snapped, the hel­met in­ter­com was not work­ing… the list just went on. An hour later we fixed all the prob­lems and were soon rid­ing out of city lim­its, ac­com­pa­nied by heavy cross-winds that tossed us all over the road. Nev­er­the­less, the ever chang­ing spec­tac­u­lar land­scape kept up our spir­its.

Our first stop was the Kerid crater which was formed af­ter a vol­canic ex­plo­sion 3,000 years ago. We then pro­ceeded fur­ther to the Sel­ja­lands­foss wa­ter­falls and then on to the fa­mous Sko­gafoss wa­ter­falls on Route One. The lo­ca­tions and sur­round­ings of th­ese were ab­so­lutely breath­tak­ing. Fi­nally, we made our way to the south­ern­most vil­lage in Ice­land, Vik, which was our des­ti­na­tion for the day. The day came to

an end with a sump­tu­ous din­ner.

On a cloudy morn­ing in Vik, break­fast over, we headed to­wards Dyrho­laey, which is a penin­sula of vol­canic ori­gin. A short dis­tance away we ar­rived at the Black Sand Beach, where one also comes across the very unique Reynis­dran­gar rock for­ma­tion, sculpted with great pre­ci­sion by Mother Na­ture. At the Black Sand Beach, the sight of the black sand and the con­trast­ing milky white froth of the sea waves was a de­light to the eyes.

We then made our way east­wards, to­wards Hofn. This time the bru­tal cross-winds were push­ing us to the edge of the road, threat­en­ing to al­most end our trip on a bad note. As we cruised along the Skei­d­flo­tur flood plains, one no­tice­able as­pect of Ice­land was the stark changes in scenery: one minute you’re rid­ing through hard, im­pen­e­tra­ble rock, and the next mo­ment it’s fer­tile and rich farm­land, af­ter which you come across hills, fol­lowed by plains as far as the eye can see. Our next halt was at Joku­lar­son Glacier La­goon with jaw-drop­ping scenery of ice­bergs float­ing in the la­goon that slowly find their way into the ocean. We rode a lit­tle fur­ther and fin­ished an ex­haust­ing day at Hofn.

The next morn­ing we woke up to the sound of light show­ers. Af­ter a sim­ple break­fast we fi­nally made the painful de­ci­sion to back­track to Vik as the route fur­ther east and north was mostly cov­ered in snow and some roads had been closed off. There­fore, we aban­doned our orig­i­nal plans and de­cided to ex­plore cen­tral and western Ice­land in­stead.

We headed west­wards on what was a largely wet ride amid pelt­ing rain. Along the way we en­tered the sec­ond largest na­tional park in Ice­land, the Skaftafell Na­tional Park, and ex­plored on foot the hik­ing trails. First, the Svar­ti­foss falls, which are sur­rounded by dark lava col­umns, and, sec­ond, the hik­ing trails took us to the spec­tac­u­lar Vat­na­jokull Glacier, the big­gest glacier out­side the po­lar re­gion. It was a three-hour re­ju­ve­nat­ing walk in the very lap of na­ture that sat­u­rated our vis­ual sense. We got back into the sad­dle and made a brief stop at the road­side Lauf­skalavarda site, which, once a farm, was de­stroyed by the first recorded vol­cano in the year 894.

Ac­cord­ing to the lo­cal tra­di­tion, ev­ery­one pass­ing by it is sup­posed to place a stone at its site to bring good luck, so we also did our part. We called it a day af­ter a nice seafood din­ner.

On day four, with the sun shin­ing bright over­head, we started out fur­ther west­wards on high­way one through wind­ing roads that cut across rugged moun­tains and ar­rived at Sol­heima­hasan­dur, the fa­mous site of the 1973 US Navy plane crash in Ice­land wherein the pi­lot man­aged to mirac­u­lously save all crew mem­bers. Af­ter an eight-kilo­me­tre walk to the crash site we hit the road again, head­ing west to­wards the small and en­tic­ing fish­ing town and old har­bour of Eyrar­bakki. Here we took in the sights be­fore we fi­nally set­tled into the town of Lau­gar­vatn for the night.

Af­ter a sump­tu­ous break­fast we left the con­fines of our su­per cosy cot­tage at Min­ni­bor­gir and headed to­wards the UNESCO world her­itage site, Thingvel­lir Na­tional Park, lo­cated on the fa­mous Golden Cir­cle route of Ice­land. The Park is sit­u­ated in a rift val­ley that marks the crest of the mid-At­lantic ridge notable for its un­usual tec­tonic and vol­canic en­vi­ron­ment. The con­ti­nen­tal drift be­tween the North Amer­i­can plate on the left and the Eurasian plate on the right can be clearly seen in the cracks or faults. The other ma­jor at­trac­tion here is the world’s first par­lia­ment, Altingi, set up in the year 930. We took a highly re­lax­ing stroll in this spec­tac­u­larly scenic place and, post lunch, started our jour­ney to­wards the western part of Ice­land, Bor­gar­nes, which has a pop­u­la­tion of 1,800. Here we vis­ited the Set­tle­ment Cen­ter, a mu­seum fea­tur­ing the his­tory and set­tle­ment of Ice­land and set­tled down for a nice and yummy veg­e­tar­ian din­ner within its premises.

That evening we checked into the ho­tel in Bor­gar­nes. The hot wa­ter here had an over­whelm­ing odour of rot­ten eggs. On en­quir­ing we learned that our ho­tel, like many other ho­tels in Ice­land, used wa­ter from nat­u­ral hot springs which had a strong odour of sul­phur, thus sav­ing en­ergy and ex­penses. Af­ter break­fast we headed to­wards the fa­mous Golden Cir­cle route that led us to Geysir. The English word ‘geyser’ has been de­rived from this Icelandic Geysir. The place is full of geo­ther­mal ‘geysirs’ out of which presently only one, named

Strokkur, is ac­tive. The blow­hole sends out hot wa­ter gush­ing at high speed at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals, climb­ing up to a height of 100 feet. There are nu­mer­ous smaller nat­u­ral hot wa­ter springs all around, some of which are used by the lo­cal peo­ple to boil eggs and also bake Icelandic rye bread in un­der­ground boxes. We de­cided to call it a day close to Geysir.

Day seven was the con­clud­ing day of our mem­o­rable Icelandic mo­tor­cy­cle ad­ven­ture. We started from Geysir in an east­ward di­rec­tion, head­ing to the en­chant­ing Gul­foss wa­ter­falls. Th­ese spec­tac­u­lar wa­ter­falls are lo­cated in the canyon of the Hvita river. It seems that the gorge was formed by flash flood wa­ters that forced their way through cracks in the basalt lava lay­ers. It is a com­bi­na­tion of two wa­ter­falls and it is well nigh impossible to de­scribe the bril­liance of this place in words. From there we headed in a south­west di­rec­tion to the town of Hver­agerdi that sits atop a 5,000-year-old lava field and has a lot of geo-ther­mal ac­tiv­ity. Soon we passed by the big power sta­tion in the area that uses the nat­u­ral hot wa­ter springs to power its tur­bines. We also vis­ited the only shop­ping com­plex in the world that strad­dles two con­ti­nents. The mid-At­lantic ridge and Eurasian ridge pass un­der this com­plex and it’s an area of high earth­quake and tre­mor ac­tiv­ity. It was af­fected by the earth­quake in 2008. From there we started our fi­nal lap into the con­crete jun­gle of Rek­javik, mak­ing our way through evening traf­fic and ar­riv­ing back to our ho­tel.

Rid­ing in al­most vir­tual seclu­sion, those seven event­ful days have been an over­dose of awe­some­ness for both of us. It was mes­meris­ing and breath­tak­ing, in­tim­i­dat­ing and, at times, very fright­en­ing, mys­ti­cal and sur­real. The Ice­landers are among the nicest and most help­ful peo­ple we have ever come across. No won­der Ice­land stole our hearts in more ways than we can count.

(You can watch all of Ha­roon and Farzana’s global rides at www.ride­for­pas­sion.com)

Rid­ing in al­most vir­tual seclu­sion, those seven event­ful days have been an over­dose of awe­some­ness for both of us

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