Rugged & Raw
I made my first trip to Iceland back in September 2016. During that time I did a counter clockwise self-driving tour around the country with my wife Susanna. You can check out my blog posts in October – December 2016 for more information on that trip. While I didn’t have a chance to mountain bike at that time I heard there was some good mountain biking in the country and was determined to find out more information and make a return trip with my brother Eric, another avid mountain biker.
Fast forward about 3 months and I put those thoughts to action. Having the inside knowledge from my previous trip that Iceland is a rugged and raw country I thought it best to find a local reputable mountain bike tour operator. I did an internet search and eventually came across Icebike Adventures; a mountain bike outfit based out of Reykjavík which specializes in single and multi-day mountain bike trips in Iceland. They have an amazing website offering a wealth of information including videos which provided much of the information I needed to plan my trip. They also received very good ratings from Trip Advisor. Over the course of the next few weeks I exchanged multiple emails with Asta Briem, one of the owners. Asta was very responsive and provided all of the information we would need for our trip. While I am an experienced mountain biker, one of my requirements was that I wanted to go at my own pace as I also wanted to do photography in addition to biking. Eventually, we booked the 3-day Laugar trip; a multi-day trip in the Highlands. The Highlands is in the interior of the country and most places are only accessible by off-road vehicles. Upon booking we received a detailed itinerary including the general region about where we would be riding and things to bring, all very useful and relevant information. The trails we would ride would be contingent on the weather as we were traveling in late June and the Highlands was just opening for mountain bike season. The excitement was on overdrive to experience mountain biking in a different country.
Police Going Above and Beyond to Assist
On the day of the trip we took a taxi to JFK airport and upon arrival the taxi driver’s car trunk malfunctioned and we could not get our luggage out of the car. For the first 15 minutes we tried everything but to no avail the trunk would not open. The car’s switch to open the trunk failed and the battery in the driver's key fob did not work either. There was no manual override and no entrance from the back seat. We were screwed! Eventually Eric solicited the assistance of some police officers from the Port Authority of New York who were on duty. They came outside with these huge guns and I thought to myself…great, just shoot the trunk and open it up; problem solved. While that idea didn’t fly with the officers all three of them were very helpful and empathetic to our situation even though this was a civilian matter. One of the officer’s in particular, Officer Rey, went above and beyond to assist us. He went out of his way to identify the battery in the taxi driver’s key fob and also checked that the battery was in stock at a drug store located about 10 – 15 minutes away. We were about 35 minutes into this ordeal and time was slipping away. It wasn’t looking good that we would make our flight but Eric went with the taxi driver and I stayed and kept talking to the officers who were also assisting other drivers as needed. They were able to get the battery but were still not able to get the trunk open. Officer Rey recommended that they get back to the airport as soon as possible to see what else they could do. At the same time we got good news that our flight was delayed and that brought us an extra 45 minutes to check in. Once getting back to the airport, another officer pressed the button and guess what, the trunk opened! We thanked the officers and were finally on our way.
Spur of the Moment Day Trip – The Edge
We spent a couple of days in Reykjavik hanging out in the city. We decided to add a mountain bike day trip from Reykjavik on the day before our scheduled 3 day trip in the Highlands. I emailed Asta and she immediately replied back. Asta informed me that there was a group ride happening on Monday at one of the trails easily accessible from Reykjavik called The Edge. We arranged for a pick up place and time and were definitely looking forward to our first day of riding. On this ride our guide was Guðmundur also known as Gummy like Gummy Bear. Other riders included Sara, an American living in Poland who was traveling back to the USA via Iceland, an Australian family of three visiting Iceland on vacation and Robert, a cross-country rider from Germany doing s 5 day tour with Icebike. Upon arrival at the trail, Guðmundur and David, another guide, made sure everyone was outfitted correctly and that our bikes were properly set up to rider taste. Before we set out he provided a set of instructions and let us know what was in store. The Edge is a single track trail that flows along a lava field. It provides a combination of flowy riding in the beginning then got a bit more technical as we had to navigate our bikes in the technical volcanic rocky sections. After that the trail changed to a fast and flowy section through some vegetation and finished in a different area. Upon finishing the 3 to 4 hour ride, our off-road vehicle was waiting to shuttle us back to the city. A really good first day of riding was now in the books and this helped us to get acclimated to riding in Iceland prior to our three day tour.
Meet & Greet Day 1 - Off To The Highlands
We were picked up on Tuesday from our planned location by Petur, another mountain bike guide with Icebike Adventures. He showed up in his off terrain vehicle and we loaded our gear. Once we were inside Petur hit the play button on his radio and out came some rhythmic sounds of house music. It was quite evident to Petur that I really enjoyed this type of music and this would over the next three days be an added bonus on an amazing trip. Petur informed us that we would make a stop at the local grocery market and meet up with another group of riders in another vehicle doing the 5 day tours. Though our trip included food it did not cover other essential items, i.e. beer, and consequently we needed to make a purchase accordingly before leaving Reykjavik.
In the parking lot we met the other riders who were doing the other tours along with two other guides. The other riders included Dave and Sara from Colorado, Adrian from California, Tara from Montana, Mary from Connecticut and Robert from Germany. Their guide was Gunnar. Guðmundur hopped into our vehicle. Additionally, Asta and Magna Kvam, the founder and owner of Icebike Adventures, showed up to greet us as well. Once we were done getting what we needed and made some introductions the music ensued in the Land Rover Defender and off we went.
Lava Fields and Exploration
Landmannalaugar, is at the edge of a lava field. The trails in this region are shared by both hikers and mountain bikers so we needed to be aware and take precautions. Upon arrival at our first trail we were greeted with a stunning waterfall; one of many in Iceland.
We got our gear on and proceeded down some technical single and double track. There was some exposure immediately to our right which led into the valley below. The views were stunning the whole way down but my focus as you can imagine was what was in front of me.
From there we continued on roughly a six mile single track trail which consisted of mountain traverses with climbs and descents as well as technical and flowy sections. We didn’t come across another hiker or biker the entire trail. The trail felt much longer as we stopped along the way so I could photograph.
At the trail’s end Guðmundur was waiting for us. We loaded back into the truck and then headed to base camp where we would determine our next ride in the afternoon. On our way to base camp we drove on nothing but unpaved roads and at times had to cross streams full of rocks etc… and that made the ride quite bumpy. These off-road trucks aren’t for show they are a necessity. Shortly after the ride they took us to this oasis in the middle of the lava field and not long after we felt like we were on Mars.
Once at base camp we unloaded our gear into our huts, had some lunch provided by Icebike Adventures and decided to do another ride with the starting point being behind the base camp area. This second ride ended up being a 10 mile ride with some single track containing exposure, loose gravel, sand, dirt and wide open lava fields.
Day 1 concluded with reconnecting with the larger group in the main hut where the chef Bjorn prepared a very good spaghetti dinner. We all shared our stories from the first day as well as the kind of riding we were accustomed to doing back at home. We had cracked open some of the beers we picked up earlier in the morning and Adrian, the rider from California, shared his supply of Jack Daniels and Rocket Cat, an Icelandic version of what's known in the USA as fireball. No one dared touch the Rocket Cat on this day. Several hours later we would retire to our hut, break out the sleeping bags and try to get some sleep. Sleep was hard to come by on day 1 as Iceland experiences its midnight sun from May to August. During these months and specifically while we were there the sun set but it was still bright outside. To mitigate this issue I brought a sleep mask; a portable version of black out shades which was a life saver.
Day 2 – Craters, Hike a Bikes and Two Ways Back to Base Camp
Day two began with breakfast and would consist of a group ride around a crater and steep hike a bikes. On the way to the trails we were treated to otherworldly experiences and one really could not create a bad photo.
Once at our starting point we did some riding and came across a fair amount of hikers. This was also where we experienced the hike a bike. The following images provide a visual narrative of what we experienced that day.
For those wanting to increase the ride the guides provided us two ways back to base camp: 1) an additional 15 mile ride or 2) a trip to the geo-thermal spa with a ride back in the vehicle. Dave and Sara from Colorado and Robert from Germany opted for the bike ride back and headed off with Guðmundur. Everyone else opted for the second option and my lower back couldn't thank me enough as I was lugging an additional 5 - 7 pounds of camera equipment in my back pack all day.
Day 2 ended with another good meal by Bjorn, more great conversation with the group and full consumption of beers and the Jack Daniels supplied by Adrian. I don't think anyone put a dent in that Rocket Cat except Adrian.
Day 3 – The Steamer
On the morning of day 3 we bid the other group farewell. They had two more days to explore the trails in the Highlands while Eric and I were headed back to Reykjavik with Petur. On the way to the city we stopped off and did our last trail of the trip, a trail the locals call The Steamer. To get to the trail we rode some double track for a couple of miles until it reached the trail in a valley with mountains on all sides. It was easy to see why this trail had its name. This was quite a fun trail and we encountered lots of hikers along the way and no hike a bike sections. Not much time for photography but I was able to snap a few shots before we kicked it into gear.
After snapping a few shots we hit the trail down towards the bottom. All the way it was winding through the valley and we came across the photo immediately above, a hot spring. We paused for a moment and I took a couple of shots and then onward. Once we were done we eventually ended up on a paved road and biked to a cafe. Petur took a taxi to get his vehicle and that gave us enough time to have a beer. Once Petur arrived we loaded up the tuck and then headed back to Reykjavik, music in full swing. Petur dropped us off and then he was on his way. I can say this was an amazing trip; another once in a life time experience with a top notch tour operator and a good group of people whom we met along the way. For anyone considering a mountain bike tour in Iceland I would highly recommend Icebike Adventures. They met all of my needs and provided really good service and a quality product. Thanks for taking the time to read the blog and view the images. You can access more images from this trip here.