It starts raining ten minutes into the ride and we pull over to suit up. Twenty minutes later, we’re at the base of the climb and we derobe. Half an hour later, I’m at the top of the pass, sweating through my sweater. It’s a screaming descent to the sea and I freeze on the way down. I never want to stop and it’s tough to regulate my body temperature. The climbs are hot work and the descents a cold thrill.
We wait at the junction for the group to catch up. Today we’ll ride out and back to the westernmost point in Iceland, the seasonal home of the puffins, but they’ve gone for the year. I eat a sandwich and unwrap half a piece of leftover blueberry cheesecake to split with Rue. We’re into the stage of the trip where we’re eating machines. We hide behind a signpost to get out of the wind. Nichole and Payson join us at the bottom. We’re all chilled to the bone. Chris says there’s an old ship up ahead that might be a good spot to snack and warm up. We ride there.
A Polish guy on a Niner hardtail pedals up. His girlfriend is a big fan. She sent him our Komoot route and project. He was on the other side of the country and came over to meet us and ride in the area. It’s fun to have friends in the middle of nowhere.
We climb a dirt road carving a rock wall. Over the top is an expansive view of a white sandy beach with a faint rainbow descending into the water. It’s breathtaking. Then, it vanishes.
Chris points to the base of the next climb. In that valley, just out of sight, is a museum with a cafe. We can go there to warm up.
It starts raining again and the museum is a refuge. Apart from the owner, it’s empty but open for business. We take off our shoes and lay our wet clothes on the radiator to dry out. We order rhubarb pie and coffee, then Coke and potato chips. The sun comes out and then it goes away. Time to get going. Let’s ride to the coast. The museum cafe owner promises he’ll heat us up some ham and cheese croissants for when we pass back through.
“See you in three hours!”
It’s a dirt and green rollercoaster to the village on the beach and another 5km to the lighthouse on the cliffs– definitely the most fun part of the day and I’m happy we get to do it twice. Chris shares stories from his East to West Iceland crossing on mountain bikes with the Battys. The lighthouse was their finishing point. Along the way, they crossed dozens of high-flowing streams with their bikes on their backs, loaded down with survival gear. The Westfjords Way is definitely the cakewalk version of touring in Iceland, but it’s still a lot of work. I’m convinced riding here is always a challenge. The locals say “the weather is boss.”
We ride back to the museum cafe for croissants and coffee, then back to the road junction, and this time we continue straight to Patreksfjörður. We get word that Payson broke his chain, but he’s all right. He’ll fix it.
For the last 10km, it starts pissing rain and there’s a square of bright light illuminating the sea. I look back to the coast where we came from. Not only does it look like a different day, but all socked in, it looks like a completely different place. I don’t think views in Iceland could ever get boring or common.
We make it to town and take shelter under the awning of a hotel and then find out that’s where we’ll be staying for the night. It’s time to shower and we’ll meet for dinner at FLAK.
The owners prepare freshly caught cod, potatoes, and oven-roasted vegetables. They set out five different kinds of molten cheese wheels and pour draughts of beer. The night is festive. We record the Adventure Stache podcast in the restaurant. The funniest highlight comes from Birna, our guide from Visit Westfjords when she says we all looked like we were wearing our grandmother’s clothing when the weather got bad.
Tomorrow will be our hardest day– two mountain passes and a rugged ride around a remote peninsula to Þingeyri. It’s time to get some rest.
The morning comes quickly. Breakfast is at 6:50 am and we’ll start riding at 7:30 am sharp. We’re all rushing; shoveling down scrambled eggs, bacon, chia cups, and watermelon, and packing sandwiches to go. We’ve got a plan. We’ll start climbing right away. Up and over the first pass is Bíldudalur, a town with a little shop and restaurant. We’ll stop there to warm up. The owner knows we’re coming. He’s making waffles. A local rider and friend, Bergur, is joining us for the day. I haven’t seen him since Unbound XL in 2019 and it definitely brightens my day.
We sweat up the climb and fully freeze on the descent. Chris and I detour off the route to find the waffle spot. It looks closed, but the front door is open and we head right in. It’s a well-stocked market with a cafe in the back.
The owner emerges.
He welcomes us in and points to the house out the window across the street. “That’s where I was born.”
He shows us the coffee carafe and a table.
“Could you please turn up the heat?” He brings us fleece blankets. It’s cozy.
Chris and I talk about the Tour Divide, bikepack racing, and documenting rides. I’d love to see him crush the Tour Divide. He jokes that he’d have to ride to the start to prepare. He’s a powerhouse with endless energy and definitely has the aptitude for self-supported endurance racing.
In that cafe, time stands still. The owner keeps bringing out more hot waffles, stacking one on top of the other. We cover them in whipped cream and rhubarb jam. Rue and the media crew arrive. Payson and Nichole make their way in. This is home. We realize we forgot to tell Bergur about the stop, but we’ll catch him down the way.
Time to go!
We ride the shoreline past a waterfall and then an A-Frame cabin. It’s actually just a storage shed. The sun is out and it’s our best weather yet– so idyllic. Then, it’s time to climb. Payson flies past us on the way up. It’s a big one, all on dirt. At the top, I stop to pee and layer up. Down the other side, I get a glimpse of the largest waterfall I’ve ever seen. It’s called Dynjandi, just off the route, but I know we wouldn’t just pass it.
Riding in, I see them sitting at a picnic table. Payson and Chris have found Bergur and Tyler, an American that is studying in Ísafjörður. He’ll ride with us for the rest of the day. A Russian fan of Chris’s has brought us pastries, hot tea, and a sliced loaf of bread. This is living!
Chris and I carry our bikes up to the waterfall, mostly for silhouette photos to show the magnitude of the cascade. It’s worth it. Standing over the edge is dizzying. There’s so much power rushing through that water.
We hike down, ride the spur back to the route and we’re tracing the fjord to the next peninsula. It’s adventure time. The road turns to doubletrack and doesn’t officially connect through, but the story is that a farmer took his own tractor and carved out a rock wall. It’s only passable by vehicle at low tide. We cross four streams, each about knee-deep. I keep my shoes on and commit to wet feet. It’s easier and faster that way. The riding is rough, rocky, rolling, and pushing the limits of our gravel bikes– so much fun! At the edge of the peninsula, the “road” is composed of large rounded stones right along the sea. We still have sunshine and it almost feels like we’re riding Treasure Island in the tropics. It’s surprising how much of it we can actually ride, but eventually, we all get off and walk a few steps. A steep wall of doubletrack leads us away from the sea and we continue snaking above the coast for another couple of hours. The light, the cliffs, the sea, the road, it just couldn’t be prettier– from black to grey to green to gold.
After a couple of hours, we’re back on pavement with a tailwind all the way to Þingeyri, a small fishing village on the coast. We’re hours behind schedule and we go directly to dinner. A kind British woman has prepared us pots of lamb and shrimp curry, rice, and a slaw. We drink beer and Apelsin and eat hot bowls of delicious food. We’re all seated around a long table and we’re all wearing the same glow– the salty air and sunshine of a day worth living.
We’re not finished yet. We’re staying the night in a storage unit converted into a bunkhouse. We roll 100 meters down the road and get right in the hot tub to warm up.
Soon after, we hang our wet clothes over the rails of the loft and Rue falls asleep on our mattress for the night. I go down to the kitchen to record the Adventure Stache with the rest of the crew. We’re so tired we have to mentally rewind through the day. Lights out, breakfast at 8 and 50km to Ísafjörður, where we’ll finish our journey.
I sleep the deepest I have the whole trip and forget where we are. I can barely peel my eyes open and I’m in a daze getting to breakfast. It’s scrambled eggs, bread, and butter, ham, and cheese. I eat like a sailor. I’ve stopped spreading butter on my bread and just cover it in cubes.
Let’s finish this!
A tailwind carries us to the first pass and then over it. The second is a bit trickier. We’ll take the old road over the new tunnel. We have to push our bikes for a kilometer or so to access it and then it’s slow going over the rubble. It looks like the mountain passes of Kyrgyzstan, but instead of being at 3,000 meters, we’re at 300. It’s so windy at the top that I can’t even roll my bike. The wind picks up the wheels and I awkwardly carry it to the descent. I have to sit down to put on clothes cause otherwise, the wind would blow my bike away.
We cautiously descend until we get some protection from the rock walls and then it’s a ripper. We can see Ísafjörður in the distance, we’re almost there!
We wait at the bottom to regroup. It’s chilly and grey, but we’ve agreed to jump in the harbor to complete the trip. A group from Visit Westfjords, the local tourism bureau, cheers us in. The boss, Diana, has brought us towels from the hotel and now I know I can’t get out of jumping into the sea.
Chris and Payson backflip off the dock into the water. I have to count up the courage and I do it. The cold water is a shock. My whole body is shaking when I climb the ladder back up to the dock. We put on dry clothes and ride to lunch– broiled wolffish, broccoli, and potatoes. We decompress by recording the final Adventure Stache podcast.
Our group will separate; Chris, Birna, and Thrainn back to their families, Nichole and Evan will follow Payson while he attempts a speed record across Iceland, Rue and I will join Jenny Graham and the team from Global Cycling Network for another Iceland adventure and a couple of video projects.
Rue and I board an airplane back to Reykjavik in the morning. Iceland Air allows you to roll your bikes on as cargo for any domestic flight. Within the hour, we’re back in the capital. We’ll trade our gravel bikes for mountain bikes before heading to the far northeast for another week of riding on this Arctic Island. The weather will dictate the plan, but it’s bound to be a wild one.
We will share the full Westfjords Way publicly with a riding guide. The goal is to inspire others to come to ride the route and have their own adventures. We’re working on organizing the self-supported stage race. After 8 days in the wind, I’d do it all again. My dream is to participate in the stage race next June, take a week off, and ride the full route as a time trial when the weather looks decent.
The Westfjords Way is an incredible opportunity to witness this land from the seat of a bicycle. As a bike tour, I recommend planning in time to soak in hot springs and take refuge with locals to rejuvenate for the next stretch. The land and weather are rugged and brutal, beautiful and dynamic. You have to bring energy to face the elements, but the dazzling terrain will sustain your efforts. It’s hard and it’s worth it, at any pace.
A huge thank you to Birna Jónasdóttir, our team mom for the trip, and Visit Westfjords for tirelessly working with Chris Burkard to design this route and make it the best experience possible. Thank you to Tyler for being the first to scout the route in the spring. Thank you to Evan, Rue, and Thrainn for documenting the ride. Thanks to Nichole and Payson for their endless positivity. Let’s do it again!