You might recall Josh’s stunning reportage earlier this year from Iceland documenting the Arna Westfjords Way Challenge. It was a wild week of intense weather, inspiring accomplishments, epic landscapes, warm hot springs, and new friendships. To kick off registration for next year’s race event, the AWWC team have released a series of videos recapping the highs and lows from this summer and share all four episodes below. So sit back, get excited, and find out what it’s all about!
4 Stages. 5 days. More than Just a Race.
The Arna Westfjords Way Challenge is Iceland’s first self-supported ultra-endurance stage cycling race. The event prioritizes cultural connection through Icelandic rider representation and required stops at natural and cultural points of interest to complete each stage. The race is also committed to holding space and providing opportunities for historically underrepresented communities in the outdoor industry including BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) and FWTN-B (femme, women, trans and non-binary riders). The race follows the mixed road and gravel route of the Westfjords Way for a total of 956 kilometers over 5 days.
The 2023 Arna Westfjords Way Challenge video series is here! For five days, participants faced the unpredictable Icelandic weather, winding fjords, challenging mountain passes, and were encouraged by the camaraderie of a global cycling community and the warm hospitality of the Westfjords. The race format of the Arna WFWC encourages riders to embrace cultural connection by requiring stops at cafes, museums, hot pots, and nature highlights, where race time is paused, allowing riders to immerse themselves in the local culture and create lasting connections with one another.
2024 registration is now open for both the full Arna Westfjords Way Challenge, and our one-day gravel race, the Arctic Fish Midnight Special.
- Arna Westfjords Way Challenge: July 23-28: Learn more and register.
- Arctic Fish Midnight Special: July 28: Learn more and register.
The 2023 Arna Westfjords Way Challenge | Icelandair Stage One
Weather was the only thing on anyone’s mind in the days leading up to the start of the 2024 Arna Westfjords Way Challenge. As riders from around the world made the journey to Ísafjörður, the forecast was foreboding with strong winds and constant rain on the horizon. True to Icelandic nature, you can never predict the weather until you’re in it – and this year, we got the worst of it.
The startline was also bigger this year – the excitement of the event has been growing, but there were also some familiar faces ready to take on the Challenge for a second time. Many made the trip back for the love of the community around the race, and the unique format of cultural connections encouraging riders to slow down and soak in this incredible place. Others came to win. Last year’s first place winner Arnþór Gústavsson came back to defend his title, and day one proved that this year the competition, and the weather, would put up a fight.
Watch the video to get the full story of this epic first stage [158 mi / 254km, Ísafjörður to Hotel Laugarhóll] and stay tuned for Stage 2.
A big shout-out to Icelandair for supporting the race, and getting our riders to the start line in our remote corner of Iceland!
The 2023 Arna Westfjords Way Challenge | 66 North Stage Two
The weather predictions were right: this was shaping up to be a tough week. The riders were already feeling it after fighting headwinds and rain on Stage One, and today was no different. Stage Two really starts to test the riders, and makes them dig deep to their ‘why.’ Why travel to ride bikes? Why take on such extreme distances in brutal weather? Why push your body to its breaking point? The answer is different for everyone, and everyone brings a story with them. The beauty of this race is that we get to share them, and build community with each other and with this country, by experiencing Cultural Connections.
Holar Farm is one of our most famous Cultural Connections, and it’s easy to see why. At the end of Stage Two, riders have been tested and tired for hours. With the final stretch in sight, Rebecca and her family cheer each rider on and up her driveway where she offers homemade cakes, coffee, and all the hugs and encouragement needed to finish the day. Holar Farm is all about creating connection between people, place, and of course — the animals. Connection is what our race is all about, and we’re grateful that people from all over the world get to experience the hospitality and contagious positivity of the Westfjords, especially when they need it most.
We’re so grateful to Rebecca and her family for welcoming us and being such a special part of the race. If you’d like to support Rebecca and her work at @holarfarm, you can donate via our website.
Another huge thanks to @66North for their support, and for keeping Iceland warm since 1926.
The 2023 Arna Westfjords Way Challenge | Fjallakofinn Stage Three
73 toed the start line on day one, but the relentless weather weeded them out one by one. Between ride-ending mechanicals and sheer exhaustion from battling the cold and wind for hours on end, Iceland threw it all at us this year. Stage 3 is a big push – this is where the real ‘ultra’ mentality comes in, since there’s one long stretch with no resupply. The days really do just keep getting tougher.
The day was all about getting it done. The men’s lead group stayed tight for the entire day and battled the wind together. In the women’s category, leaders broke off into groups and tried out different strategies. The race was getting tighter, and a much-needed rest day was just on the horizon, but not before a quick stop at Birkimelur hot pot, where we served up a taste of true Icelandic pool culture – a soak, a chat, and a pool-side coffee from Kaffitar.
A huge thanks to Fjallakofinn for their Stage 3 support, including the pop-up shop during our adventure/ rest day in Patreksfjörður.
Arctic Fish Midnight Special | Stage Four
The energy was high as riders toed the line for the start of the Arctic Fish Midnight Special (Stage 4). The riders have had a day to rest and recharge before tackling the final and biggest day of climbing, with some of the most incredible gravel roads Iceland has to offer.
This day offers something for everyone, especially with the addition of the single-day gravel race that brought in a group of fresh riders, including our very own mayors of Ísafjarðarbær and Vesturbyggð! The 2-in-1 race format added a layer of excitement, as the Midnight Special leaders came out the gate faster than anyone expected.
The midnight start was beautiful, and set the stage for all the dramatic light to come as riders watched the sunrise over mountain passes, waterfalls and the infamous Svalvogar low-tide road. Through all the exhaustion, riders were able to enjoy a 2am waffle party, a warming fish soup courtesy of Arctic Fish at Hrafnseyri, and all the hospitality of cozy Westfjords cafes, before tackling the final cold and windy mountain pass.
The Arctic Fish Midnight Special riders really ran their own race. While organizers weren’t sure what would happen when introducing a one-day gravel race within a four-stage ulta event, it was clear that there wouldn’t be too much overlap in strategy to utilize riders from each race. Ingvar Ómarsson and Katrín Pálsdóttir soloed most of the race to win in their respective categories, setting high course record bars.
The Arna WFWC competitors finished strong with just over half completing the race in its entirety. We’ve been following their stories of competition, connection, and finding meaning in the shared suffering – and it all culminates here. At the end of it all, this final stage proved that community is everything. We had seen many DNF’s by this point – most of whom chose to continue following the race, and others even got back on the bike to see through the final stage thanks to the help of fellow riders. Everyone dug deep, and proved that each ‘why’ is unique, but at the end of the day we are in it together.
Arnþór Gústavsson reclaimed his title on the top step, proving that for now this race is his. Weronika Szalas edged out a close race with Íris Ósk Hjaltadóttir. Both thanked their respective riding groups for their high energy and comradery to get them to podium.
These races offer an opportunity to ride the Westfjords your way. A huge thanks to all the riders, families, volunteers, sponsors and cultural connections that made this race possible.
Till next year!