If you’re interested in reading a little more about the trip or are planning a similar one of your own, I’d like to share some useful resources along with my experiences. These photos are from my scrapbook of snaps from the road.

I set out my plan: Cycle nineteen daily legs covering distances of around forty-fifty miles, with a couple of longer days around the seventy-eighty mark. This included two detours from Route 1, and I had one additional day for contingency.

Based on previous trip experience in Europe and some local training rides around this distance, this seemed a challenging but realistic schedule.

A good selection of things I packed.

I thought it would feel like an intrepid start to cycle right from the airport to Hafnarfjörður, a suburb just South of Reykjavík. Knowing I’d feel jet-laggy and that I’d be landing at 6am, I deliberately set myself a short day to settle in and booked into an Air BnB.

There’s a good shelter to rebuild your bike at the airport, with tools. However the staff didn’t tell me this when I asked where best to go, an I missed it entirely! Ask to be directed here, if this is your plan.

I’d read mixed accounts of cycling on Route 41, the trunk road that connects Keflavik Aiport to Reykjavík. It’s fine to cycle for the most part with a wide shoulder, but that narrows near town and there is heavy traffic. Sliproads that join often left me wobbling precariously between lanes of fast moving cars and impatient truck drivers sounding their horns. In the rain, this wasn’t fun. I’d avoid it and get a bus from the airport. Start your journey in Reykjavík and save the hassle and unnecessary risk.

My bike also needed a wheel repair after it was bent in transit, so I immediately lost my one contingency day having to spend it at the busy but well equipped and welcoming Reykjavík campsite.

Don’t make the mistake I did of thinking it will be easy to find the most suitable cycling roads around this small city. It’s easy to find yourself on dangerous highways with no room; whilst you can cycle on these legally, its really unwise! Download and print one of the city cycling maps, there are lots of good well signposted cycle paths if you know where to join them.

Day 2:  Reykjavík – Þingvellir

Þingvellir, anglicised as Thingvellir, is a beautiful national park situated on a large system of rivers and lakes at the rift of the North American and Eurasian continental plates. There’s a huge crack in the earth here, flanked by a long high cliff at the divide.

Historically it’s an important location and it’s a worthwhile stop. At this stage I still naively thought I’d have energy to spare, and that I could jolly off on side-trips at will to seek out good spots! Extra mileage be damned, I’d not be back in a while. I’d soon learn…

Þingvellir, my first taste of Iceland's unique scenery

Day 3: Þingvellir – Varmaland

The only stretch of Route 1 prohibited to cycle is the Hvalfjörður Tunnel just North of Reykjavík. You either loop around the fjord (a very length detour), or take a short bus ride through the tunnel from Grundarhverfi to Akranes (which is what I did after only learning of this restriction when on the road, a research fail).

It was here that I first encountered the infamous Icelandic wind. I’d heard about this, and seen some alarming viral videos, but to feel the full force of it is to be humbled by nature in the most brutal way imaginable. My distance this day was close to seventy miles, and it felt it.

The last stretch into Varmaland campsite was stunning, but I’d been given a taste of what effort was to come. Gorgeous views to the North, and an evening under a midnight sunset were wonderful sights. The campsite is very basic, no showers, just a washroom and some sinks for dishes / fresh water.

The stunning horizon North of Varmaland Campsite
The low sun close to midnight paints the sky red

Day 4: Varmaland – Sæberg

Leaving Varmaland, things got abruptly tougher. The wind was now a constant presence, forcing a first-gear walking pace. A long, desolate road stretched Northward under a leaden sky and spits of rain flew around. It may have been the weather, but it felt like there was little to see here. It’s an isolated hinterland dotted with tiny, forlorn looking rest stops. One small hotel offered a brief respite, but a tough climb into a blanket of fog soon followed.

I was blown from the road onto the steep, slippery gravel banks at the shoulder several times, and passing truck drivers cared little for leaving room. I passed a freshly laid memorial at the roadside, flowers and cycling gloves with a photo of a young guy. This was a sobering sight and a stark reminder of how just dangerous these roads could be.

In the fog, I passed an American lady taking a pause at the roadside. I asked if she was okay and she assured me she was. She introduced herself as Annie, telling me she was just taking it slowly, and that we’d likely meet at the campsite.

What felt like an eternity later, after some ten hours cycling, I arrived at the N1 service station at Staðarskáli where I my map showed the evening’s campsite. It was grim news to hear that there was no site here, and that it was another 10k to a renovated farmhouse by the sea called Sæberg if I didn’t feel like wild-camping.

I could at least eat and rest here, and an hour or so later Annie arrived. We had coffee and an interesting conversation; turns out we’d both been inspired to take this ride by the exact same online article! She told me she was 58, and had been craving an adventure when she read this, but that neither her husband or friends liked the idea so she decided to go alone. Fair play! She certainly had my resepect. We joked about writing the author a sternly worded letter after what had been a hard day, then cycled on to the farm where we chatted some more and found some comfort. Hot showers can go a long way to restoring spirits and energy, I was finding!

Day 5: Sæberg – Blönduós

The wind hadn’t eased one bit. There was literally no let-up on this day, with little change in direction over ten hours to barely make up forty miles. The painted lines at the sides of the pin straight road converged at the horizon, and there was the strange illusion that no progess was being made at all. It was like cycling alongside one of those repeating, looping backgrounds from old cartoons. There was nothing for it this day but to push on, painfully slowly, inch by inch. “Every day has an end,” I said out loud to myself, imagining lying in my tent drinking hot tea.

At last I arrived at the campsite. Built alongside a canyon, there was a scattering of wooden cottages and tents set against a backdrop of distant mountains that glowed red in the low, late-night sun. In the morning I saw Annie again. She seemed way jollier than me (which made me feel a little ashamed), and we wished each other well.

Late night sun in the North, at Glaðheimar

Day 6: Glaðheimar Campsite – Engimyri Guesthouse

A change in the road direction meant that I was no longer fighting the wind quite so hard all day. This felt good, and as the clouds cleared I found I could get my first real look at the Northeastern landscape. Some beautiful bowl-shaped valleys are here, the road rewarding sweaty climbs with fun descents.

Passing the town of Varmahlíð, for around ten blissful miles I was blown along like a sail boat. The world went strangely quiet, as I matched the speed and direction of the wind. I put in so little effort, I almost whooped out loud. I wanted to enjoy this for as long as it lasted.

Iceland has it’s own native, ancient species of horse. They are small and graceful looking animals with long manes and tails. I saw a herd being led in the fields alongside the road. It was such a nice surprise to see a sign of life that it really made me smile. The only other wildlife I’d seen had been the odd tenacious curlew that swooped around and gave a loud machine-gun chirping, I assume as I cycled past their nests.

The view at lunch times was improving

It was a stroke of good fortune that I found The Engimyri guesthouse whilst planning. Zooming into the map in this region to see if it looked good for wild camping (as no campsite is close), I stumbled upon one lone guesthouse seemingly in the middle of nowhere and booked up a room right away. The young couple running it are really friendly, even arranging food for me after the kitchen had closed. Perhaps my desperate look elicited some sympathy!

The Öxnadalur valley here is stunning. A jagged, craggy mountain ridge flanksthe road to the North capped by the distinctive Hraundrangi peak, a towering lava column. This is a local landmark. Sadly it was lost in the clouds for most of my stay, so photo opportunities were scarce but I had a go.

Day 7: Engimyri – Goðafoss

I’ll never forget this place. The isolation and effort of cycling roughly 312 miles (502 km) to Goðafoss with some detours, dealing with the punishing elements, had all but brought me to my knees.

It was harder than I’d ever imagined possible to achieve the daily distances, taking 10-12 hours and every ounce of energy. By the time I reached the campsite, eyes and face swollen and exhaustion overtaking over my body, I began to understand that I was really testing my limits. The solitude had also brought upon some surprising emotional swings. Resting in the comfort of the cafe at Fossholl, looking out at the falls, I was shaking a bit and there it hit me. Fat tears welled up in my eyes and I had to swallow hard a few times to keep composed. To think of it now, it feels melodramatic to recall this, but it was a very real feeling and one that I’d not really experienced before.

On previous challenging trips, sharing the trials with others tapped into a resolve that I was finding harder to draw upon individually. On those, at times you’d have to be strong to encourage someone, and at turns they’d motivate you. There’s often a bleak humour that accompanies collective graft that’s felt and understood even when not speaking.

I’d wanted this though! What had I expected? I’d been craving being out of my comfort zone, learning where my limits were and here I was, finding them. I knew even whilst feeling that way that there had to be value in that.

I settled on taking a bus to cut out two days of riding. At first I considered this idea to be a failure, like admitting defeat barely a third of the way in, and I had a hard time reconciling that. However if the wind remained such an impeding obstacle, the trip would become solely about grinding out the miles with no time or energy to explore places on foot or take photos. I didn’t set out for that. Decision made, I loaded the bike on a bus and headed East. The instant I did so, I felt happy again. Morale restored by the mile and I was ready to enjoy the trip afresh.

Upstream from the falls is a beautiful stretch of river

Days 8-10: Goðafoss – Egilsstaðir

The bus drove through a part of Northeast Iceland that resembles the surface of the moon. Later I read NASA ran landing drills here, such is the similarity. I was dropped right at Egilsstaðir’s campsite where I spent a pleasant evening. The following morning was spent killing time ahead of heading to my cabin at Hótel Eyvindará just North of small town.

The cabin was meant to be a treat after my two longest days riding, but I enjoyed it no less for having let myself rest a little already. I welcomed a bed and some good food in the restaurant. It was lovely having my own little room, tucked away in the trees, and I spent some hours on the porch decking reading and feeling my energy returning.

Hótel Eyvindará woodland cabins

Days 11-13: Egilsstaðir  – Höfn

Deciding against taking Route 1 through a mountainous, steep gravel section to the south, I opted instead for the coastal route which rejoined it later. It was longer, but had less of a climb and was all tarmac. The ride is wonderful, in stark contrast to first half of the trip with the wind at my back and incredible views and even a 6k tunnel which felt weirdly exciting to cycle in. Breiðdalsvík and Djúpivogur were my fishing village camp spots en-route to Höfn, tiny villages set out on the fjord peninsulas.

Route 92 is a spectacular road

One endearing thing I was finding was that staff at small local hotels seemed perfectly happy to have me sit in their lounge / bar areas in the evenings, and even charge my devices. Just buying a cappuccino and being friendly seemed enough; people were kind-natured and accommodating. It was nice to be around others and do some people watching at the end of a long day alone, and it beat sitting in my tiny tent!

The roads in and out of the fjords were hilly, abruptly rising and plunging over a series of small blind crests like a mini roller-coaster. The climbs were rarely long though and cruising along by the sea in the fresh air was fun.

Höfn makes for a good place to restock, as there’s not much opportunity on the Westward route for a couple of days riding to Skatfafell.

Djúpivogur, campsite viewpoint

Days 13-16: Höfn – Vik

Riding alongside the many glaciers that branch off the vast Vatnajökull National Park ice sheet felt incredible. One after another they breach the mountain highlands snaking toward the coast.

Now joined by a good friend from the UK who’d flown out to complete the trip with me, the going was much faster and altogether more enjoyable. We passed the peculiar sight of the iceberg lagoon at Jokulsarlon before getting to Skaftafell.

Svartifoss falls gave a good photo op, only in the shade though unfortunately. Another of Iceland’s iconic spots, we were checking them off as we hit them.

There was an alarming moment at 5am. I was awakened by the tent flapping so violently in gale-force winds that the top was touching my nose. It felt like the whole thing was about to be ripped away around me. Expecting to look out and see a storm rolling in, I got fully dressed and hastily packed all my panniers up inside preparing to step out, quickly tear down the tent and get going.

However I saw my friend looking outside too, and we were both surprised to see bright blue skies and sunshine. Tents all over the site were accepting defeat, some were in a terrible state. Lots of people stood around anxiously wondering what to do next, others were throwing their belongings back in their cars. This wasn’t an option for us, so we waited it out in the cafe at the visitor center, had some breakfast and got going early.

The stunning campsite area at Skaftafell

It was another section being blown briskly along, clocking up the miles with seemingly no effort. Every time I glanced down at the bike computer, at least another five had gone by. If felt fantastic. Vast, flat deserts of black and brown sand stretched beyond site. For a very short stretch we rode at 90 degrees to the wind, which was extremely challenging, leaning the bike dramatically to counter its force. Mercifully this was over quickly, and the next days passed much the same way as we camped at Kirkjubæjarklaustur before arriving at Vík, Iceland’s southernmost town.

It’s worth exploring the coast and headland around Vík, there’s an abundance of bird-life here and an impressive, rugged coastline jutted with sea stacks.

I’d begun to count down the days in how many more times I had to pitch my tent, a ritual I would be glad to be done with for now – just two more stops followed.

Days 16-19: Vík – Reykjavík

Now it really felt like we were on the home stretch. Cycling was plain sailing in good weather, the straight roads weren’t as dramatic to ride as those long, sweeping curves in the Northeast, but they’re efficient and there are plenty of rest stops from here back.

A picnic lunch at the incredible Skogafoss, and a night at Seljalandsfoss with it’s impressive falls that you can walk behind made for great distractions from riding. Another at the comparatively charmless Selfoss campsite saw us ready to complete the trip. Just 36 miles separated us from the end of the ride. That was an exciting feeling. Time had seemed to stretch out here, three weeks felt like a couple of months, it was strange.

As though sticking it to us for having it easy for a week, Iceland threw one last curve-ball at us. Heavy rain came down over our last evening and continued the next morning. My friend got a puncture and there’s a long, taxing climb over a mountain pass between Selfoss and Reykjavík. Into the fog, it was impossible to see where it ended as heavy traffic thundered past.

Once it did give out though, our last fifteen miles or so were a dizzying, wind-assisted drop at over 30mp/h all the way into town. The sun came through the clouds near our finish and a spectacular rainbow formed. I don’t recall seeing one more vivid, and we were cycling under its arch. It was a sight I’ll never forget, marking the end of the trip as we finally pulled onto the city bike paths and prepared to have a few beers.

The guys at Kria Cycles did a good job of boxing my bike for a reasonable sum (it’s worth booking this ahead so there are no surprises), and my friend and I set out for a really good evening in town, sampling some local beers and taking in the night life. I was very, very much looking forward to a Netflix binge, takeout lasagne from my local pizza place, and some time on my sofa!

Now though… I’m craving the next trip. I have a few ideas. Watch this space! I hope you enjoyed reading about this one.

If you have any questions about the trip, please feel free to comment and I will do my best to answer.

A fairy-tale ending under a full rainbow
Home to Vancouver, the view into Indian Arm.