Fire & Ice – A Bikepacking Trip Across Iceland (Video)
Packed with stunning landscape shots, “Fire & Ice – A Bikepacking Trip Across Iceland” is a new short video that follows a solo bikepacker on a 12-day journey along the Iceland Divide route. Find the video, photos, and a story from behind the scenes here…
Words, photos, and videos by Adrian James (@the_adventuring_ant)
“Just be careful of the wind coming off the ice cap, it can get pretty rough around there.” Those were the parting words from the two helpful rangers, who had slowly materialised in their 4×4 from just a speck on the horizon. Those words reverberated with me for a couple of days as I rode further south towards the vast Vatnajökull ice cap.
“How bad can it be?” I asked myself. “There’s not been much wind so far.” I was in Iceland, and attempting to tackle the 550-kilometre Iceland Divide route, solo and self-sufficient—a much-needed escape from the continual news and restrictions arising from the pandemic.
Unsurprisingly, the rangers were right. In fact, I’d also say they were rather understated. As I headed west, rounding the ice cap, I came within 600 metres of the 8,000 square kilometre behemoth, and I was now being shoved around by an intensifying wind. Whilst it felt like I could almost lean over and touch the ice cap, it was sobering to think that a decade or two ago, it would have been even closer. The outlet glaciers of Vatnajökull have been retreating “exceptionally fast since the year 2000” and Icelandic studies suggest that they could lose half of their volume by 2100.
I pushed on, fighting with side-on wind and becoming desperate to pick up the pace. I told myself over and over, “The further I get from this ice cap, the less wind there’ll be.” In reality, the gap I was putting between myself and the ice cap was negligible, given the scale of the environment around me. Relentless and building in strength, the wind then forced me to abandon riding altogether; after being violently thrown off track twice, I decided it was safer to push.
I was now covering much less ground than expected, and becoming alarmingly aware that night was fast approaching. As I battled to even push the bike, I scanned the vast, desert-like horizon, in my head pleading for a natural wind block: a crag, a hole, anything. That’s when I spotted a solitary large boulder on the brow of a nearby hill and made a dash to jump behind it, out of the wind.
Lying on the volcanic gravel alongside the boulder, I caught my breath, relieved that I could now hear myself think. “What now?” I pondered, noticing that the boulder was clearly too short to provide cover for my tent, which I knew wasn’t even worth getting out of its bag. Instead, I decided to check the map, to see if there could be better shelter ahead. Noticing that the route crossed a bridge two miles ahead, coming to a junction with what looked like a larger track, I took the decision to push on into the now dim light. I hoped that changes in terrain near the bridge, or the bridge itself, might provide better cover. If nothing else, I also thought that being at a junction with a larger track was probably a safer place to be.
Determined and focussed on reaching the junction, I pushed everything else out of my head; it seemed like I covered the two miles in seconds, when in reality, it was as much of a battle as before. I approached the bridge, and as I did, the surrounding crags caught my eye. It was immediately apparent that this area would provide the shelter I had gambled for. But with the feeling of relief barely starting to set in, I spotted something else. I squinted and looked again. A tent. “Surely not,” I thought. “I haven’t seen anyone for days.” Then I noticed the mountain bikes, decorated in bikepacking gear. To say I was very happy is an understatement, having found both fellow bikepackers and shelter from the wind.
A short while later, it transpired that the mysterious tent was home to two awesome Italian guys, who I spent the next three days riding with, along with an equally awesome German woman who we also met a day later. In this wild and remote landscape, all our paths had converged for a brief moment in time, drawn together through this incredible human-powered adventure on our bikes.
The Iceland Divide is a fantastic ride—a smorgasbord of wild experiences from towering volcanoes and thundering waterfalls to seemingly infinite ice caps and mammoth glaciers. Undoubtedly one of the wildest experiences I’ve had on my bike, and one that will raise the bar for future adventures. It’s a tough ride and earns that reputation primarily through the potential for extreme weather variation—as I wanted to convey in this article. However, with good research, an appropriate selection of clothing, and the right equipment, you can enjoy this stunning route both comfortably and safely.
And if you were wondering, I never did manage to put my tent up that night, after trying and nearly losing it in the wind! I still ended up sleeping behind a pile of rocks, initially in my down sleeping bag, until it started raining at 2 a.m. At that point, I just put full waterproofs on and went to sleep on the floor, much to the bemusement of my new Italian friends when they awoke. I’ll soon be adding an emergency bivvy bag to my kit, which I would recommend for this route!
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