Iceland is a popular bicycle touring destination, and most cyclists show up during the summer months of July and August to enjoy the volcanoes, hot springs and rugged landscape of this northern island.
This ‘typical’ Icelandic experience wasn’t adventurous enough, however, for Italian cyclists Serena & Matteo, so they left for a 6 week tour of Iceland in April, when much of the country was still covered in snow. They packed not only bicycles but also skis and food for 20 days. We emailed Serena, who agreed to share the story and some photos of their amazing trip.
As she explained, the journey was split into 3 parts:
- A cycling-skiing circuit across the wildest tracks, closed routes and isolated highlands
- A visit to some of famous Icelandic tourist destinationsand Ejafjallajokull volcano
- A shorter west fjord ring by bike, with slightly warmer, better weather and lighter equipment
The first part was the longest, most important and adventurous part of the journey, and the following questions focus on this section of the trip.
1. Can you describe the trip?
For the route, you can find the Google map and GPS track on our website. We arrived in Iceland by first driving to Denmark with our van, and then by getting a ferry to Iceland. We left our van at the harbour of Seydisfjordur, and we started to cycle from there. We rode our bikes for about 700 kilometers and we skied with the bike on the trailer for only few kilometers because it was very hard. When the snow was not too soft, we preferred to use the bikes.
Serena with the bicycles and two very heavy trailers!
2. What was the inspiration behind the trip, and why in April, when it is so cold? Most people go to Iceland in summer!
We went to Iceland 9 years ago in summer and, during a stormy evening in the tent, we thought about another possible trip in Iceland but this time in winter. We had the desire to see wildest face of this land. During our trips, we are usually autonomous and we also wanted to have this winter experience without external support or help, so this crazy combination of biking and skiing crossed our minds.
3. How did you carry everything you needed for cycling and for skiing? Your luggage must have weighed a lot!
For cycling we used a small trailer. On the trailers there were two strong, waterproof and big bags (Ortlieb) and all the equipment for skiing, camping and eating was inside these bags. We calculated for at least 20 days of autonomous travel because we knew that in winter nobody believed a tourist would arrive. Photographic equipment, clothes, the tent and a few other small objects were in the bags hanging on the bikes.
For skiing, we carried one of the bags that was in the trailer on our shoulders. We disassembled our bikes a bit and we put them on the bobs (homemade pulkas; a sort of sleigh). This way of travel was really hard becouse the snow was crusted by the wind and often the load fell down. We each towed around 50kg of luggage.
Towing the bicycles while skiing. It’s a very heavy load.
4. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?
The first and daily challenge was going on against the wind, which often blew at 50km an hour and sometimes reached 90-100 km/h. It happened that sometimes it was impossible to leave the tent for an entire day. Often we were tired and hungry but it was too cold for resting or eating something. We had to hold on as long as possible, then stop, put up the camp and sleep.
The second big challenge was changing the route suddenly to escape from the volcanic cloud because the famous Eyafjallajokull volcano erupted while we were tenting only about 100km away. After the eruption, we had to face daily bad conditions on the tracks, with wet volcanic sand, big stones, ice and all kinds of snow. Still, we were aware of this possible challenge and ready for it because we had chosen a season and an itinerary that was really strange and out of the way.
5. What was the most rewarding part of the trip?
Sometimes we needed 2-3 hours to do a few kilometers, and the wind and the cold made it difficult to pitch the tent and cook, so every small step ahead was really rewarding. The greatest emotions and most joyful moments I had in my heart came from Iceland’s magnificent nature and some little, simple gifts that sometimes Iceland decided to give us, like a few minutes without wind, a bit of ‘warm’ sun, a hot coffee and a slice of cake in a petrol station after some days of isolation.
Snow drifting inside the tent.
6. What advice would you give to other people who would like to try the same thing?
You don’t have to try to repeat others’ experiences, you have to invent your own trip, looking for what is rewarding for you! Iceland may be very handsome in winter but you have to be very flexible, autonomous, pretend nothing and catch the gifts that Iceland will prepare for you.
Read more about Serena & Matteo’s amazing trip on their website: Islanda Bike-Ski 2010
You can also watch the videos they’ve made. The commentary is in Italian, but the photos and images tell a lot of the story: