When we were in Iceland last year with John and Sonia, Kevin wanted to do a Saddlesore 1000 round the island (1000 miles in less than 24 hours) but none of the rest of us did as we were ‘on holiday’. Roll forward 10 months and we were on Iceland again, this time specifically to ride a Saddlesore as part of a group participating in Chris McGaffin’s IBA Ireland ‘Fire & Ice Saddlesore 1000’.
We signed up for this ride last year and were fully expecting it to be the culmination of the many practice miles we had planned for this year in preparation for our US trip starting in June. Unfortunately, as Kevin has been ill most of the year and in and out of hospital, this was to be our first ‘real’ ride and we were both conscious that we were very out of practice.
I’d been watching the weather forecast and was rather disconcerted when I read ‘On 2nd May 2013 the automatic weather station at Bruarjokull registered a minimum temperature of -21.7 deg C. This is the lowest temperature ever measured in Iceland in May.‘ but they say there’s no bad weather, just badly dressed people, so forewarned was forearmed and we packed Merino wool base layers and electric jackets, gloves and (for me) leggings.
Arriving in Iceland on Wednesday evening the weather was beautiful – clear blue sky, still sunny at 10pm (I am always enchanted by the northern countries’ 24 hour sun in the summer) – and we just had that fleeting “Wish we’d been able to do the ride today” thought, before going to bed.
Thursday morning dawned very wet and blustery. Never mind, we only had to pick up the bike from Viking Biking. Several hours later we emerged from the bike shop on a Tiger 800 trying to work out how we were the first ones in but were one of the last to be given our bike which was not quite the BMW F800 we were expecting (apparently they were all stuck in customs).
We all wanted panniers and top box and Biking Viking have an interesting ‘system’. All the keys for all the boxes (top boxes and panniers had different keys) were thrown into a small plastic bucket. A set of panniers or a top box is brought down from the shelf and then the search begins for the relevant key. It took a while.
As we were about to leave the shop Kevin did up his Rev-It jacket sleeve and the zip fastener came off in his hand which isn’t great for a two-year old jacket; not a good start.
Once the Triumph has been farkled – SatNav, intercom, heated gear connectors, Spot – air put into the tyres and some lube on the very dry chain it turned out to be a great little bike for the job (thanks Terry for the lube and Bob for the loan of the compressor). What made it even better was that Kevin could ‘flat foot’ it so it was much easier for me to faff about getting on and off (this sentence may have been edited by Kevin!). Unfortunately the seat appeared to be hewn from solid wood so we were very pleased we’d brought our Airhawk cushions along.
At the riders’ meeting we heard the northern roads were reported to be closed that day due to bad weather (one of the riders went exploring the route in a car, encountered a blizzard and ended up in a ditch alongside several other car drivers because of the lack of visibility!). An alternative route was proposed in the event the road remained closed but it was made clear that each rider had to make up their own mind whether to do the northern route or not.
The route included about 50 miles of unmade roads which had been checked out earlier in the week by other visitors and alternatives suggested for those as well. Last year we had spent some time riding on gravel roads and I have to say I was not and am not a fan. I was rather apprehensive when I heard how many miles we’d be riding on them.
Our ride started at 05:27 from the very handy petrol station opposite the hotel. It was raining lightly and a bit breezy but we were quite warm with all our thermal gear on and didn’t need any electric heat yet.
The first checkpoint was at Ólafsvík on a western peninsular. This little detour was one of two that had to be added to the 1 road route to make the 800 odd miles of the ring road into the 1000 required for a Saddlesore. We had been warned about the gravel road with its 10% – 15% incline down to the petrol station but we made good progress on it despite the wet and slippery conditions.
Kevin had already decided we were riding the gravel rather than making the tarmac detour but he always gives me the power of veto if I’m really uncomfortable.
I was reasonably happy but not looking forward to it and was concerned we’d be ambling along at about 20 mph because of the conditions. As it turned out the roads were fine and just like a dirty road at home but with fewer potholes. Obviously there are technical details in the construction that I don’t know about but it seemed OK to me.
We were riding along at a good speed which felt comfortable and enabled us to remain on target for our ride. At one point I did peek at the speedo but decided not to do so again as we were going a lot quicker than I thought! I was really pleased the roads were not as bad as the ones encountered last year which had lots of large rocks and corrugations to contend with, they were very wet though and had some large puddles in places.
The drizzle turned into full rain and we decided to put our top waterproofs on to keep the worst of it from our jackets. As I said there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing, but I do wonder what clothing can be used to counteract the fierce wind we encountered all the way round the island.
We had a bit of a ‘moment’ rejoining the 1 when Mrs Sat Nav wanted us to turn towards Reykjavik. Luckily we knew this was wrong and a quick re-set had her back on target and we were off towards another of the detours, this time towards Siglufjörður in the North. We’d not been along this road before and it treated us to some beautiful scenery – more mountains, of course, and the sea. I think this is one of Iceland’s highest points. At this stage the weather was quite dry but at the stop for petrol and food I realised my neck and shoulders were very damp as I’d obviously not closed my top properly. Luckily there was a good hand-dryer in the toilets and I was able to get nearly dry again.
We caught up with Dave just before this stop and were to pass and be passed by him a few times during the ride. We thought we’d see most of the other riders during the ride as well but we only saw Dave, Tom and Michiel. We sat at the services for a while in the warm having a relaxed coffee and hot dog while watching Dave standing outside as he didn’t want to de-climatise himself. Eventually he rode off and Kevin decided it was time for another hot dog as they were rather nice.
At our next stop near Lake Mývatn we pulled in for petrol at a place I recognised from last year when we’d stopped for ice creams. That was certainly not on the agenda today. I took a couple of photos of the lake in front of the station which was unrecognisable from the beautiful spot we’d admired last year.
This was the point where we had to decide whether to risk the northern section. Of course, there was no choice really, so we continued west without even checking in the hope the roads would be clear. There was no ice on the roads but alongside the snow was still thick and heavy on the ground. It was surprising the roads were as clear as they were. It even stopped raining for a bit so we could enjoy the scenery.
We continued on to our last ‘proof-of-route’ receipt where the waypoint was at the end of the street leading to the War museum we’d visited last year. No time for a repeat visit but enough time for a food break. We had a nicely home-cooked burger and chips in the petrol station served by a lovely, friendly lady. It’s very civilised here in that most petrol stations are automated so you can get fuel 24/7 and a lot of them, especially in the smaller towns, are mini-markets-come-snack-bars as well and you can get good fast food; just the ticket.
Just before leaving Kevin decided he’d put on his heated jacket and gloves. He hadn’t been cold, which is testament to how good the Merino base layers were, but he wasn’t warm either. That changed for the final leg.
Reluctantly we passed Margaret’s Café where we’d previously enjoyed some delicious cakes and pressed on. By now the weather was pretty disgusting. It was tipping down with rain which was being blasted onto us by the brutal wind. It didn’t seem to matter which direction we were travelling, the wind was mostly from the side. At one point we were leaning to the right to counteract the power of the wind whilst going into a left-hand bend. Very odd.
The sun was going down and we were in that funny twilight you get here but because of the clouds it was quite dark. We could see shapes looming on our right, but the murk prevented us seeing the outlines of the mountains. When we passed the glacier it was sometimes difficult to see where the ice ended and the clouds began but we could see huge swathes of white ‘something’. At the river where the blocks of ice escape to the sea there were many more ice blocks lining up than previously. The one in pole position nearest the bridge was a beautiful blue colour.
We rode over numerous very wet bridges which were either wooden or metal. Shut your eyes and pray! Some of them seemed a lot longer than you would think necessary but I expect it’s to enable the melt water to take its own route without damaging the road. We were reminded of the eruption in 2011 when we passed miles and miles of desolate looking country that was just covered in grey with nothing growing.
A bit further on we started to pass those tiny communities of houses with the red or green tin roofs. They looked quite cosy, snuggled up against the lee-side of the mountain, looking out to sea. Their views were fantastic and many of them had waterfalls in their back gardens. Heaven in the summer but I’m not so sure about this time of the year.
Finally we were 40 miles from Reykjavik and that 40 miles seemed a lot longer than it should have done. Perhaps it was because we were both out of practice, or perhaps it was just the disgusting weather that didn’t seem to want to let up but we were both very pleased to reach the petrol station and get our final receipt. We’d succeeded.
The weather was pretty vile for much of the ride but in between the downpours the sun came out enough to dry us off and treat us to some beautiful scenery. There are some places where you will have a great ride no matter what the weather and Iceland is certainly one of those (except for blizzards of course). I was pleased that we had visited the waterfalls and other spectacular places last year as the whizz-round we had just completed only hinted at the country’s magnificence. We were both a bit stiff afterwards but nothing more than usual and Kevin had no problems from his last operation which was a relief to both of us. The Tiger was a terrific little bike, it coped admirably with the conditions and with a rebuilt seat we think it could be a contender for our stable in the future. All the riders who started the ride completed it and there were a lot of smiles on Saturday when we all met up to get our certificates and the obligatory tee shirts.
It had been a cold, wet and windy ride but that’s what makes it worthwhile. If it had been easy it wouldn’t have been an IBA ride nor worth doing and we’d had a lot of fun.
It was good to meet friends old and new and we’d like to thank Chris for taking us along on yet another of his madcap jaunts. He’s being coy about his final SS1000 in the ‘TT1000 Isle of Man’, ‘Iceland Fire and Ice’ and ‘watch this space’ trilogy but if the previous two are anything to go by we’ll be there and looking forward to it.
More photos: Iceland 2013 Album