prelude: spring 2016
In retrospect, it seems perfectly reasonable that our motorcycle circumnavigation of Iceland along Ring Road would be inspired by a hula-hoop. I had been hired to teach hoop-dance for two weeks in July of 2016 at a movement retreat in Holland and while researching airfares, discovered that the cheapest flights appeared to go through Iceland. Hmm, Iceland in July! I wonder if people ride there? A quick google search revealed that Iceland was indeed a land rich in possibility. For this motorcycle enthusiast living in the muggy south, the idea of crisp, cool temperatures sounded like heaven. So I accepted the invitation to teach and began looking into flights and farm stays with relish. Robin Knobel Dail, the creator of http://www.MotoGirlCafe.com and one of my riding buddies, heard about my plans and asked to join in, and we began laying out plans to circumnavigate Iceland.
I’d returned to motorcycling in the spring of 2014 after a 29 year hiatus from riding and found myself amazed at the changes in the sport. Rider courses, armored gear (for women, no less!) and a well-established community of other female riders like my new friend Robin made my reentry into riding both welcoming and engaging. I had a lot of making up to do in terms of riding experience though, and I voraciously explored opportunities for improving my rusty riding skills. Now, at 51 years of age and 30,000+ miles into my reincarnation as an adventurous, middle-aged woman motorcyclist, Iceland seemed like the perfect challenge.
Upon looking at our budget, work and family responsibilities, Robin and I decided to give ourselves five days to ride around the country. On the other side of this wonderful adventure, I would give myself no less that 10 days to do the same journey. In addition to Ring Road itself, I optimistically added Snaefellsnes Peninsula to our journey, thinking that we would want to ride more than just the 830 miles (1336 km) of Ring Road. Googlemaps assured me that the 350 kilometers that I had routed for our first day would only take about 4 and a half hours. One of the first lessons Iceland taught us was that an Icelandic kilometer was more equivalent to a US mile and that was when the weather was good. Once the temperatures dropped and wind and rain came into play, our journey suddenly became much longer. Add to that strict speed limits of 80 and 90 km/hr, less-than-ideal road conditions, free-roaming sheep, jet lag, grumpy dispositions and unfamiliar bikes, we risked taking on more than was judicious by trying to shoe-horn this journey into the five days we allowed ourselves.
Our next challenge was to find motorcycles to rent. We looked at both http://www.bikingviking.com and http://www.sporttravel.com and ended up choosing the former based solely on the fact that the BMWs spec’d about an inch lower in seat height. Robin had plenty of experience riding ADV bikes, but with my very limited experience riding that style of bike and my 28 inch inseam, we felt that even that small amount could make a difference.
We boarded our direct WOWair flight from Baltimore to Reykjavik with the optimistic intention of learning useful Icelandic phrases, reading up on history and culture and educating ourselves about all of the natural wonders for which Iceland is justifiably famous. In actuality, both Robin and I struggled on the red-eye flight and arrived at 5am, Iceland time, at Keflavik Airport having slept not a wink nor mastered even the pronunciation of the street were where we were staying. I’ve read about people landing at the airport and going straight to the motorcycle rental company to begin riding, but I know myself well enough that I wasn’t willing to ride in that jet-lagged mental and physical condition.
We devoted the day after our arrival to sorting our gear and purchasing last-minute items for our trip. While researching motorcycling in Iceland prior to our trip, I came upon a website created by an Icelandic man who circumnavigated the entire globe in 2014 over 10 months on a BMW. I had corresponded with Kristjan prior to our journey and he generously offered to meet us at a neighborhood coffee shop where we spent about an hour going over our route. I distinctly remember his look of concern about the amount of ground we were hoping to cover on that first day. He was taking into account considerations that were not even on our radar yet: in particular the mercurial Icelandic weather and the ambitious distances I had routed from the relative safety and comfort of my home in NC. He did help us curtail the first leg of our journey by about 100 kilometers and rerouted one part so that we wouldn’t have to ride what would have been a rather technically challenging dirt road on our first day out. Two apps recommended by Kristjan gave us great peace of mind. Yr.no is a service from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute that gives detailed information about conditions in different parts of the country, and Maps.me is a very useful offline mapping app. Robin and I went to bed and slept fitfully that night, filled with both excitement and not a small amount of trepidation about our departure early the next morning.
the Harpa concert hall in Reykjavik, like a gem next to the water
day 1: 242 miles/390 kilometers
We arrived at Biking Viking as they opened their doors at 9am to pick up our BMW F700GSs under sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 50s. After signing contracts and maxing out our credit cards to meet the required deposit, we prepared to ride off to a watchful audience of Icelandic and foreign men gathered at the motorcycle shop. I’d like to think they were admiring our skills and brawn but they may have been waiting around to see if we needed any help picking our bikes back up. Not an unreasonable assumption if they had noticed my face when I first mounted my bike and attempted to lift it off the kickstand. I had a moment of panic as I felt the full height and weight of the loaded bike for the first time and found myself balanced precariously on the ball of my left foot, left butt-cheek off the side of the seat and my right leg dangling in the air. Nothing to do but focus on the clutch and throttle, head and eyes, and as I tentatively released the clutch and eased on the gas, we rolled successfully out of the parking lot and onto the highway leading us to Ring Road.
The evening before I had mapped out and written our route in detail on a folded piece of paper to place inside a sandwich bag and tape to the battery cover in front of me. Although riding Ring Road seems like it should be straightforward (and it mostly was) we still had to navigate multiple roundabouts and find our lodgings throughout our journey and the first day took us off Ring Road completely and around the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
There was a fair amount of traffic as we left the city but we soon found ourselves covering several kilometers at a time with no other vehicle in sight. Our Sena communication system made conversation effortless and as we rounded the bay of Faxafloi, we exclaimed to each other over the stunning vistas that opened up along our ride. Blue waters reflected the bright summer sun to our left and an expansive landscape of black volcanic rock iced with green moss and lichen undulated on our right.
The BMWs felt nimble and strong and we had beautiful weather through to Borgannes, but when we turned onto 54 and began heading west onto the Snaefellsnes peninsula, the winds started picking up and clouds scurried overhead. Our first day riding would turn out to be by far the windiest and we felt pretty worn out when we stopped to gas up at Vegamot Snaefellsnesi, a few hours into our journey.
After a meal of traditional Icelandic fish stew and burgers at the sweet little cafe, we ran into a group of motorcyclists led by an Icelandic guide whom everyone called H because his name, Hjortur, was, like so many Icelandic words, rather hard to pronounce. The group seemed surprised to hear that we were self-navigating and H gave us some advice concerning our planned route, warning us that the winds were unusually strong that day and could be dangerous.
We altered our route to his suggestion and we were very glad we did as it took us northwards up 56 and then westwards along the top of the Snaefellsnes peninsula with breathtaking views from the cliff top of the ocean on our right to the north. We stopped in a little town called Grundjarfordur to confirm our directions and make sure we turned down the correct road to get back to the southern part of the peninsula. The landscape was dramatic and steeper here and the islands off the coast cut sharp silhouettes against the blue, cloud-studded sky. We ended up on a dirt road with spectacular ocean views that crested on the eastern side of mountain at the tip of
the peninsula. The street tires on our BMWs tracked securely on the dirt and rock and we soon found ourselves back on the south coast, but also directly in the powerfully gusty winds we had hoped to avoid. We soldiered on as the temperature dropped and grey clouds thickened overhead.
I spent much of that leg of the drive worrying that I might have missed a turn as signs are scant there (and throughout Iceland, I soon learned.) The winds were strongest here and the video footage from Robin’s GoPro shows me leaning hard to the side to keep from being blown over. Gusts from passing trucks buffeted us about brutally and I felt like my tires might loose contact from the road. We finally started to pass some familiar landmarks and with an inner sigh of relief, we returned to Ring Road at Borgarnes, heading north for a bit before turning east onto 50 to get to our first lodging on the road: Hverinn farm stay. We pulled in happy but fully spent for our first night’s sleep on the road. Steam rose from thermal springs into the chill air and Icelandic horses grazed just across the little road.
day 2: 200 miles/322 kilometers
On the night of Day 1, we spent an inordinate amount of time trying to get the right tools to take the battery cover off the bikes so that we could connect our heated gear. Our experience on the first day made it very clear that hypothermia from the cold, wind and certain rain was no joke and we were determined to put our preciously purchased electric gear to work. Although Robin had brought all the tools we thought we could possibly need on our journey, we discovered that the one tool we did need, a Torx screwdriver, was the one tool we didn’t have. Our wonderful Icelandic host, like all of the Icelandic people we encountered, was happy to help us out, and by 11pm that night, both Robin and I had our gear hooked up and ready to go. Fortunately it’s barely dusk at that time of night so we had sufficient light to get the job done.
The next morning, however, we realized that while Robin’s gear was working, my wasn’t, and after some unsuccessful attempts to diagnose the problem, we drove off into the blustery morning light bundled up and hopeful that the layers I brought would be sufficient. After an hour or so of driving north along beautiful rolling countryside, we took a brief stop at Stadur and discovered the first of many N1 gas stations. These were havens for us as there weren’t a lot of places to pull over to stop to adjust gear or check our progress along Ring Road. Each N1 is different but most have restrooms and internet as well as an assortment of fast food options, from lamb hot dogs to pizza, as well as dried fish and espresso. We took a brief rest and then hit the road again, having heard that the winds typically pick up in the afternoon.
At Blonduos, we pulled into an unmanned, free-standing gas pump to fuel up again and had our first mishap. Back in NC, I drive a Triumph Thruxton with soft, low-profile Ortlieb saddlebags and I was not used to the panniers. In fact, because I was always in the lead, I was dangerously oblivious to the fact that my rear end was quite wide, as if I was wearing a giant bustle, and after gassing up, I took off in 1st gear only to feel a sudden, violent jerk as the bike’s right pannier just caught a metal bar protruding from the gas pumps. This knocked the bike out from underneath me in a spectacular, body-slamming fall and I hit my head hard enough that I saw stars. We got the bike righted and out of the way with the help of (yet another) kind Icelandic man, but, besides being deeply mortified, I was nauseous and shaky and concerned that I might have a head injury. This was when the reality of what we were doing really hit home. After taking some deep breaths as Robin keenly observed me (she’s a nursing professor at Duke University,) I felt like I could ride my bike up the road to the N1 just within sight where we could rest and regroup. I couldn’t eat and felt like I wanted to just lay down for a nap. My head hurt and I felt like I was walking on cotton. I could feel the adrenaline still surging through my body and couldn’t tell if what I was experiencing was due to injury or fear. Robin wisely advised me not to sleep and she kept a good eye on me as she ate a meal at the restaurant. I think I may have told her where my insurance information was and what to tell my family if I went into a coma. After about an hour, the shaking subsided and I took a walk to the pretty church just next door. The fresh air made me feel much better and I decided that I could continue leading the rest of the ride. I won’t say that I didn’t say a little prayer while in that church.
Ancient cairns ticked rhythmically at our side as the road passed between black, volcanic mounds of green-dusted rock. I still felt shaken by my fall, but riding actually helped me clear my head and release some of the nervous energy stored in my body.
When we turned right onto the gravel road leading to our Airbnb, I struggled a bit to keep the throttle smooth and consistent and began to worry that I’d damaged the bike somehow. I spent that night not sleeping well, worrying about my head, the bike and my riding abilities. However, of all of the places we stayed on our journey, this was by far our favorite.
Our delightful hostess, Eyglo, offered us separate, wonderfully appointed sleeping vans with electricity, heat and 360 degree views of the fjord to the north and the mountains wrapping around us. Eyglo is a healer and natural foods chef, and although it didn’t occur to me at the time to ask for her help, I feel like the good energy she emanated and the beautiful environment she and her kind husband had created gave me the healing I needed to continue on our journey.
day 3: 196 miles/315 kilometers
Day 3 began with Robin and me diagnosing the issue with my heated gear. The jacket and all the wiring and thermostats were in good working order until the last link in the chain: the adapter from the SAE at the end of the thermostat to the battery. Eyglo’s husband lent us his Torx screwdriver and although he didn’t speak much English, was gathering enough information about our predicament to be shaking his head at the crazy American women motorcycling around his country. At this point, we realized that there was no fix for the electric gear situation and I grimly prepared myself for what I suspected would be a dangerously cold (for this southern girl) ride across the upper right quadrant of Iceland. I had brought a couple of wool base-layer shirts and a thin down jacket, but not adequate layers to ride without electric gear for our journey (a mistake I intend to never repeat.) We were learning just how fickle and brutal the weather could be and I, for one, was concerned about how I was going to make it safely to our destination that evening.
I spent a bit of time before breakfast hooping to relax and warm up my body and also to ground myself. Even though it was now obvious that I wasn’t going to die of some brain injury, I still felt a bit vulnerable (and very embarrassed) and a little disconnected to my body. The evening before, I was in Eyglo’s main house making some hot tea and doing some light stretching when one of the other Airbnb guests, a lovely French woman named Patricia who turned about to be a yoga instructor, took the cue that I needed to move and began guiding and coaxing me with a combination of French and broken English into gentle yoga positions. We ended up giving each other a hug after our yoga session together, unable to communicate verbally, but able to connect on a very real level through shared movement and warm smiles.
After breakfast the next morning, Eyglo, her husband and Patricia waved us off as Robin and I rode our bikes back to 82 on the steep and winding gravel road, encouraging each other through our Sena bluetooth devices. I was amazed at how much easier the drive was that morning compared to the evening before when I found myself gripping the handlebars and cursing inside my helmet (and likely into Robin’s ear.) The value of rest and a good meal! We were excited about the next leg of our journey over the top of Iceland and felt fairly refreshed and alert. However, it was in the mid 40s and cloudy when we departed and the cold, gloomy weather followed us the whole day.
Our first stop, at Lake Myvatn, provided no shelter from the cold temperatures, which were dropping by the minute, and I found myself the most tired I had yet been on our trip. The scare from the day before, difficulty sleeping, and concern about my gear were all making me feel depleted. I napped a bit on a cold bench under the gunmetal grey sky, and when it was time to get back on the bikes to continue our journey, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to lift the bike off the kickstand, much less make the next leg of our journey. We had talked to some other motorcyclists who we met at the stop and they warned us that there was no place to stop and rest until Egilsstadir, about 165 km away. I inwardly wondered why I had ever thought motorcycling was fun as I anticipated the next couple of hours in the saddle. The temperature dipped down below 40 degrees F, and when it began to rain, I felt yet another level of cold as the blustery wind evaporated the moisture from the waterproof shell of my gear. Even though it got colder during the second, longer leg of this northern journey, I found myself figuring out ways to ride
that would conserve my energy and protect me from the cold and rain. I kept my grip on the handlebars as loose as possible and I found keeping my chest on the battery cover in front of me protected me from the brunt of the wind and rain that had been beating me up till then. The vibrations of the bike moving through my sternum comforted and soothed my overtaxed nervous system. I did cat and dog stretches and twists from the seat of the bike and occasionally stood up straight on the pegs to keep my knees from getting stiff. Paradoxically and despite the cold, wet and windy conditions, the further we went towards the eastern coast of Iceland, the stronger I began to feel and when we finally stopped at a warm and inviting N1 station in Egilsstadir, the sun was suddenly shining and it was looking like we were going to make it safely and easily to our final destination in Seydisfjordur. Motorcycling was fun again!
Alas, Iceland was not through with us yet, and when we got back on our bikes after a short rest to make what we assumed would be an easy and sunny ride to the eastern shore of the island, we found ourselves swimming our way through dense rain and fog. 93 was by far the twistiest road we had encountered at that point in Iceland, and as we ascended the steep mountain above Egilsstadir, the temperature began to drop again and we entered dense, swirling clouds. After cresting the mountain, we began our descent into even denser fog and were shocked to see water lapping near the edge of the thin ribbon of wet road. It seemed that any miscalculation could potentially send us plummeting into what I imagined were deep bodies of water. Oncoming traffic presented another challenge and Robin and I worked hard to keep our eyes on the road and look through the switchbacks. Despite the challenging conditions, I found myself enjoying the twisty ride down the mountain. We passed a beautiful waterfall right next to the road, and eventually the town of Seydisfjordur revealed herself from behind veils of mist and cloud. We navigated our way through the middle of the town and up the hill to our Airbnb where a thin waterfall burbled down the steep forested terrain. Seydisfjordur is a pretty port town where the ferry from Denmark delivers its travelers to the Icelandic shores.
A cobblestone road banked by quaint restaurants sided with corrugated metal led to a little blue church with a tall steeple, all of this dwarfed by the looming mountains folding in protectively around the village. The tempting scent of grilled meat led us to the cozy warmth of a timbered restaurant where tourists spoke in a variety of languages and compared notes about their journeys. We were 3/5ths of our way around Iceland!
day 4: 252 miles/404 kilometers
Day 4 was our most ambitious as we were traveling over 400 kilometers, the longest leg yet. It also turned out to be by far our favorite part of the entire journey. We left Seydisfjordur in the same weather conditions we had arrived in the night before, and Robin’s concern about the ride up the switchbacks of the gloomy and mist-shrouded mountainside equaled my trepidation the previous morning about the gravel drive from Eyglo’s home. As we had discovered the day before, a good meal and a night’s rest did a lot to improve our riding skills and we both enjoyed the journey up the mountain. We were rewarded with the same glistening sunshine we had left the evening before and we got back onto Ring Road and continued our journey around Iceland. The intense blue skies and relatively warm temperatures (mid 50s) did much to improve our moods and we enjoyed the beautiful rolling land around us, decorated with giant marshmallow-like hay bales and fluffy sheep that performed full-body jiggles as they trotted out of our way.
Having studied the map the evening before, I had found a shortcut along Oxi Road that would reduce our distance by about 50 miles/80 kilometers. Turning onto Oxi Road it became clear that we were going to be committing to about 12 miles/20 kilometers of dirt road and Robin and I were both very thankful for the clear skies and sunshine. I would not want to imagine what the road conditions would have been like had we encountered rain and wind during this section of our trip. This part of our journey was so picturesque and devoid of traffic that we decided to do what the Icelandic tourism sites caution against, stopping in the road for pictures, and I think a little Icelandic elf decided to chastise me a bit for breaking the rules.
As I gently depressed the brakes to come to what I was certain would be a perfectly executed stop, the back tire suddenly and inexplicably lost traction at the last moment and I quickly found the bike on the ground underneath me. This time, however, I was standing, straddling the fallen bike, blinking my eyes in disbelief that this split-second spill had just happened. It was as uneventful as the spill two days ago had been dramatic, and I had to laugh at how ridiculously easily the bike had gone down. We decided to record this spill with a few photographs and together got the bike back up on it’s side stand. It was really wonderful to be able to take an unplanned pause in our riding on such an isolated section of road and breathe in the beautiful landscape around us. I listened to the ticking sounds of the cooling exhaust pipes and felt profoundly happy to find myself in such an exquisitely remote and beautiful part of the world. It was one of those precious moments in life that you know you will cherish forever, even at the moment you are experiencing it. We mounted up again and continued along Oxi Road, standing on the pegs, ascending and descending the steep hairpin turns of the dirt road. When we finally returned to the paved security of Ring Road, we sadly said goodbye to what we knew was going to be the most magical part of our journey while also breathing a sigh of relief, thinking it would be smooth sailing to our lodging in Kirjubaejarklaustur.
But, as our Icelandic adventure had already taught us, the weather and road conditions were mercurial and we soon found ourselves riding towards heavy-bellied clouds and dark skies. To the north, imposing and slightly obscene tongues of dirty ice loomed over us from the between the mountaintops. Like the tip of an iceberg, they suggested the unimaginably enormous glacial mass known as Vatnajokull, just out of sight. It was obvious that the alarmingly large boulders of volcanic rock littering the flat plain to our left had at some point made the dangerous trajectory across our path. I soberly considered the angle of repose of the large boulders resting precariously on the steep bank of black screed rising sharply up to our right and prayed they would not do the same as we passed. The temperature dropped into the mid-forties and I thought, ‘here we go again.’ The wind began to pick up, as did the traffic, and I found myself ticking off the challenges. Cloudy skies: check. Colder temperature: check. A little wind: I got this. Oh, more traffic: ok, ok, I’m still good. Oh, is this wind getting a bit gustier? Well, hell, of COURSE it’s beginning to rain. Hard. Still, I found myself riding joyfully along. I was beginning to tolerate and even relish the hardships Iceland threw our way. Maybe I’m more cut out for expedition travel than I thought! And then we began to encounter the metal-grated one-lane bridges. Glad I had watched the videos on the Inspired By Iceland website about the right protocol for navigating these things. We just have to be patient and take turns with the oncoming traffic. I stood on my pegs to give myself a clearer view over the crest of these bowed, one-lane bridges. Well, it appeared that not all of the oncoming tourists in their jeeps and RVs had taken the time to watch the same instructional videos to prepare for riding Ring Road and I found myself thrown into a bit of a game of chicken with some of the drivers. I stayed upright on my pegs to make myself look larger, flashed my lights, even resorted to tapping my horn to Robin’s annoyance as I made my way along the narrow metal grill of the bridge, willing the driver heading towards me to see me and yield way. The rain continued to fall, the wind to blow; the one-lane bridges got longer and oncoming drivers less courteous. We eventually came upon a stand-off in the middle of a bridge between a tour van and a truck towing a trailer.
Robin and I sat on our bikes in the cold rain, watching the drama unfold in front of us. Funny how the cold starts to really seep in once you’ve stopped moving. Below us to the right was a steep decline down to churning water bubbling with huge chunks of blue ice. The passenger in the truck in front of us got out of the vehicle, clearly upset and explaining to everyone that her husband had the right of way and didn’t know how to back his vehicle up. Finally, after some heated discussion between the van driver, the truck driver immediately in front of us, and several other drivers, all now out of their cars and discussing the situation in their respective languages, the poor truck driver relented and began to back his assembly down the bridge towards us while we eased our bikes back along the incline to the bridge. The vehicles behind us had built up at this point and we could only go so far. The truck driver inexpertly turned his wheel one way and then the other, until he was completely jack-knifed on the bridge. At this point I turned my head to look forlornly at Robin and she snapped a picture of me. Nothing to do but laugh and wait in the cold rain. Looked like we were going to be there for a while. I heard some rather heated cursing in what I assumed was Icelandic, and the driver of the vehicle behind us marched past, pulled the poor driver of the trailer in front of us out of the driver’s seat, and expertly straightened up the assembly to back down the bridge towards us, passing within inches of our panniers. With a big sigh of relief, we closed our visors and continued on our journey. The very next bridge was particularly long with actual pull-outs along its length. As I saw the end of the bridge come into sight after passing its apex, I also witnessed a fast-moving jeep heading straight for me. I flashed my lights and tapped my horn to alert him to my presence. He hit the brakes hard and did a little fishtail right before entering the bridge itself while I gritted my teeth and willed myself not to shut my eyes. He nimbly backed up as I passed him, Robin close behind me. Whew! This game of chicken in the cold rain on these metal bridges was not for the faint-hearted.
We finally arrived after about 9 hours on the bikes at our beautiful Airbnb located just north of Kirklubaejarklaustur, nestled between misty green meadows of mown hay, dotted with enormous, pink-wrapped hay bales. Icelandic horses grazed on distant hills and I felt like I might see a Teletubby appear from behind a giant pink marshmallow any moment. Hot showers and tea never felt so welcome.
day 5: 155 miles/250 kilometers
Our last day was our shortest. We took off in the cold rain and even though the sun was officially up around 3am that morning, it was overcast and dark enough that I couldn’t see through my sunglasses. I knew from experience, however, that there was no telling what weather conditions awaited us and also that stopping on the side of the road to retrieve my sunglasses from the panniers might not be possible. I ended up riding up the steep volcanic gravel drive with my sunglasses perched on the tip of my nose so that I could look out over them and directly through my rain-covered visor. The built-in windshield wiper feature on my winter gloves came in handy as we made our way back along Ring Road and through the pouring rain. Yet another lesson learned from this trip: a helmet with a drop-down sun visor would be useful here.
Sure enough, within an hour or so the skies cleared and much of the remaining part of our journey took us through brilliant sunshine. I opened my visor and pushed my sunglasses into place over my eyes so that I could see through the bright glare of the Icelandic summer sun. There was even more traffic on this southern section of Ring Road and we encountered the occasional non-compliant tourist with their car parked precariously half on and half off of the road. Signs for horseback riding tempted us, but we felt a bit anxious to get back to Reykjavik before our 5pm deadline. We’d learned to not take any part of our trip for granted and knew that a seemingly straightforward drive could quickly become complicated. We spent the rest of the day skirting storms, alternately riding towards dark clouds and sunny skies. It wasn’t the first time we appreciated the all-weather worthiness of our Klim gear.
We finally made our way back to Biking Viking in Reykjavik around 3:30pm. It was a bit anti-climatic to hand the keys over and say goodbye to our trusty steeds. We stood out in the parking lot waiting for our cab to our Airbnb and I for one wondered where the welcoming committee of handsome European motorcyclists was to congratulate us on our accomplishment.
Showers, tea and a long soak in the hot tub on the roof of our Bauhaus-era lodging awaited us though, and we later rewarded ourselves with a delicious Icelandic meal and a bit of shopping for our loved ones back home.
there is some very fine food to be had in Reykjavik
ROK, one of my favorite restaurants in Reykjavik
The next morning we were lucky enough to be able to squeeze in a short visit with Kristjan at our favorite coffee shop where he met us with a big hug and the congratulations we were missing the day before. We regaled him with stories of our adventures, mishaps and achievements, and we felt truly lucky to be able to share our experiences with someone who understood what it means to do something new and scary and exciting. There was for me a strong feeling of rightness about being able to bookend both sides of this life-changing and life-affirming adventure with our new Icelandic friend. I departed Iceland grateful for the 1100 miles of experience she gave me as well as the lessons she taught, and as the Flybus approached Keflavik Airport, I was already plotting for my next moto-trip back to the beautiful island of fire and ice.
epilogue: lessons learned
photo by Robin Knobel Dail
1) Iceland can get pretty cold, even in the middle of the summer, and you’ll want a suit that can handle every possible weather condition. We found Klim Altitude gear perfect for our needs in Iceland. It’s absolutely waterproof and provides excellent protection from the elements and from spills. You’ll want to augment it with adequate thermal layers and we’d recommend an electric vest at the very minimum if not a full liner.
2) A good communication system is essential and I cannot imagine being in Iceland without it. The Sena Bluetooth communication device we used never once let us down. It enabled us to announce upcoming turns and roundabouts, obstacles in the road, and to determine whether to take a break or push on. In Iceland, sheep are free-ranging, often grazing at the very edge of the road if not actually on it. The Sena Bluetooth was truly a life-saver and gave us such peace of mind to be able to alert each other to their proximity to the road.
3) The 112 Iceland app is a potentially life-saving app that allows travelers to check in daily to record their intended journey. If they do not reach their destination by a certain time, help is on the way. http://safetravel.is/112-iceland-app/
4) Also, for your safety and comfort while in Iceland: YR (https://www.yr.no/place/Iceland/)
5) Familiarize yourself with the bike you are going to be renting and, as much as possible, with the kind of riding your are going to be doing.
6) Give yourself some cushion time-wise and distance-wise to allow for the unexpected delights and challenges that you might encounter.
7) Test all of your gear! Each and every part. And bring extras of small but important components like fuses.
8) Make sure you have the tools to install and the hardware needed to mount items like your heated gear, your GPS and a tank bag if you chose to bring them.
9) An anti-fog Pinlock visor and built-in sun visor would have been helpful. I replaced my Shoei Qwest with a Neotec modular helmet with a drop-down sun visor and Pinlock anti-fog system. I hope to use this helmet for my next trip to Iceland.
10) Robin and I traveled exclusively with our route written on paper and taped in a sandwich bag to the tank, but next time I would follow the advice of my Icelandic friend, Kristjan, who recommends a navigation system with the best available charts and offline maps in your mobile phone: Maps.me (http://maps.me/en/home) When traveling, it’s both comforting and safer to know your precise location and to be able to plan the route ahead with that secure knowledge.