Reportage

The Westfjords Way: Bicycle Touring One of Iceland’s Most Remote Areas – Part 01

Wind in your face, wind at your back, pockets of light, sideways rain, hot springs, wild blueberries, glaciers, Arctic fox, sheep laying on the thermally heated roads, waffles and whip cream– this is the Iceland I’ve seen from the bike and we’ve only been here for three days. I’ve heard about a volcano erupting in the past year, polar bears floating on ice from Greenland to the north coast of the Island in the past ten years and a pregnant cow that swam 2km across a fjord to escape the slaughterhouse. The substance of legends, these stories are actually true. This place is dynamic. Volcanoes and lava create new land. The wind and rain create new lakes. This place is constantly changing and you feel it while you ride through it.

We are scouting the Westfjords Way, a 1,050km loop out of Ísafjörður through one of the most remote regions of Iceland. The route, designed by Chris Burkard, is half pavement and half gravel and will be Iceland’s first official bike touring route. We will spend the next 8 or 9 days riding the route and stopping along the way to have as many special experiences as we can. The biking crew is Chris Burkard, Nichole Baker, Payson McElveen, Rugile Kaladyte, and myself. This is Chris Burkard’s 47th trip to Iceland and the rest of us are first-timers. The media crew is Evan Ruderman for stills, Thrainn Kolbeinsson for video and Rue is shooting from her e-bike, a Specialized Creo Evo. Birna Jónasdóttir, from Visit Westfjords, is driving the media vehicle and organizing where we stay, what we eat, and special trips along the way. She’s a total badass. It’s also pretty cool that we have an equal split of men and women on the trip.

We fly overnight and arrive in Reykjavik on Monday. First stop is pastries at Brauð & Co. and second is Kría Hjól to build up the bikes. We spin around town in the afternoon, stopping at Omnom for kilos of beautifully packaged and locally made chocolate. We ride past the church, the concert hall, the penis museum, the rainbow painted road and a knit uterus hung on a wall with a young girl climbing inside. The people we meet in Reykjavik are beyond friendly. While looking for directions on our phones, we accidentally block traffic. The woman behind the wheel waits patiently and as she passes says “Good luck with your journey.” The people from Iceland speak excellent English with a very faint accent and a gentle tone.

The bikes all made it in working order. We’re ready to go.

On Tuesday, Chris drives us six hours to Ísafjörður, the largest village in the Westfjords. We share stories, both funny and heartfelt, and time flies. It’s stunning. We pack the bikes at a guesthouse and have family-style dinner at Tjöruhúsið. It’s four different types of local, freshly caught fish and couldn’t be more delicious.

Today is our first day on the route, tracing four fjords over 150km to Heydalur. The wind is almost always strong, but the route winds back and forth, changing it from a headwind to a tailwind. One minute you’re battling into the noise. The next you’re coasting at 35km per hour, even uphill, past rock features and water; waterfalls on one side, the ocean on the other. The light is enchanting. It’s impossible to gauge time by the sun through the clouds. It’s always changing.

Our first stop is the Arctic Fox Center where they rehabilitate foxes to release back into the wild. Right now, there’s only one occupant and he’s not camera shy.

Our second stop is for hot waffles, homemade jam, and fresh whip cream in a tiny house with picnic tables outside. The grandmother manning the waffle iron also knits Icelandic wool sweaters for sale.

Our third stop is looking for seals. They really blend in with the rocks, but you see them when they squirm around.

I stop to fill water from a fresh spring and spot patches of wild blueberries. We stop for a harvest, picking and eating handfuls.

Next up is a hot spring– a small cement tank of thermal water just about the sea with a tiny changing room. We get toasty, take a dip in the ocean and then get back into the tub to warm up. I go from groggy to sharp in a second. It starts to rain. We eat chocolate, get back on the bikes, and back into the wind.

The road turns favorably and also to dirt. Rue says it’s like an action movie and she’s right. We’re flying. We’re almost there. We turn again into the wind. Just two more kilometers. Rue’s e-bike dies, but she doesn’t tell me and she keeps up.

We make it to Heydalur, to a hot shower and a local lamb dinner. This is our spot for the night. Breakfast is at 7am and we’ll start riding at 8. Every night is planned with a hot spring in mind and beyond that, I have no idea how the days will look. I’m thrilled to be along for the ride.

A huge thank you to Chris and Iceland Tourism for putting this together. We’re eager to share the route and our stories and encourage more people to come ride it. We’ll be posting updates every other day.