Thursday 21 January 2016

The End

I've been quiet for a while. I guess because the trip has long since finished and all of the fund raising has wound down, there's nothing left to write about. But even so, the page keeps getting hits at a rate of 10-15 per day. So I'll use this post to wrap it up and leave the blog page to do whatever blog pages do when they retire.

But before I do, I ought to thank every single person who read the blog, commented on Facebook and Twitter, who donated to Just Giving (we smashed the target and raised over £3k for the MNDA), and who helped us with advice and support. It was a bloody good trip. And if this blog inspires even one person to go and do something they wouldn't ordinarily have done, well then it was a raging success!

Cheers to you all. Tom

Sunday 6 September 2015

Not Across Iceland on a Fatbike - LIVE!!

Recently a couple of us tried to ride North-south across the interior of Iceland. We were utterly unsuccessful, but we had a pretty good adventure in the process.

We also made a decent chunk of cash for the MNDA (£2k and counting).

After reading the account of our trip a local deli/cafe offered to host an evening where I blather on for an hour or so about our trip and show off some half decent photos. They also said that all profits would go to charity and that they'd open the bar; so I was left with little choice.

So... If you're in Bristol on the 7th of October and fancy being mildly amused by tales of wind-assisted suffering, then please come along. It's free, but donations on the night are welcome. 

There's a link below, please call Source Deli and book in advance. ... esomeshare

I should point out that I don't pretend to be in any way an expert on adventuring, biking, Iceland or public speaking. So they'll be plenty of schadenfreude to revel in if you're into that kind of thing.

Tuesday 4 August 2015

(Not) Across Iceland on a Fatbike - A Write-Up of Our Trip

Perhaps you read about our plan to conquer Iceland by fatbike? Perhaps you donated to the MNDA, or wished us well before we left? Certainly I made enough noise about the trip in an effort to drum up charity sponsorship.

We had such grand designs, we had plans, we had the gear and the desire. Sadly, we did not have all of the luck. As a result, our trip didn’t quite go according to plan. Though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

Our original intention, that's Jim and me, was to jump on a bus in Reykjavik and head as far north as we could manage, then ride from the northernmost point (Rifstangi) to the southernmost point (Kotulangi) via the interior highlands (the Spengisandur). A journey of about 600km on gravel tracks and dirt roads, with river crossings and the barren desolation of pure wilderness. That was The Plan.

Unfortunately Iceland has just been through one of the hardest winters and the coldest June on record. As a result, parts of our route were still under snow, and many of the river crossings (difficult at the best of times) were impassable by bike. After hearing all of this when we arrived, we elected that we’d start in Reykjavik that day, and try to loop our way around the Hofsjokull glacier via the Kjolur route, joining the Sprengisandur below the worst of the trouble. Plan B was a similar difficulty to Plan A but a little longer. However it avoided many of the blocked and dangerous areas. We reckoned that the extra distance could be covered by the time saving of not spending the first 24hrs heading north on a bus.

Plan A and Plan B

Initially Plan B seemed like a good one. We set off from Reykjavik on the afternoon of the 16th July 2015, having first topped up our frugal supplies with salami and jelly sweets at a Bonus Pig. Here began my fixation with jelly-sweets. A day without jelly sweets was a bad day. To those who are thinking of creating your own Trail Mix with a balance of sweets, chocolate, nuts and dried fruit; forget it. We did that, and portioned it neatly for each day. The net result was that halfway through the day all I had left to snack on was the nuts. Top tip: don’t scrimp on the good stuff.

 Reykjavik and the Bonus Pig

We rode out of town via a couple of parks and along river paths, it was sunny and peaceful and we were feeling fit. After a brief, and not wholly pleasant, stint on the ring road, we took the Nesjavallavegur road (no.435) east, with the aim of reaching Þingvellir (ancient seat of Viking parliament) 60km away to camp for the night. Unfortunately, without initially noticing, the road we’d taken was one which contained “many steep hills over 15%”, so by the time we arrived at Þingvellir at 9:30pm, we were completely done in. After an exceptionally cold shower and a bowl of instant noodles, and having been on the road in one way or another for 15hrs, we passed out.

The road from Reykjavik to Þingvellir was not flat.

Day 2 dawned fresh and bright, and after an utterly vile breakfast of instant porridge we were ready to hit the road. Our aim was to finish the tarmac section that day at the Gulfoss waterfall and along the way take in Geysir (big hot water spout which gives it’s name to all of the geysers of the world). The route was a good reminder of how dreadfully inefficient mountain bikes are on tarmac. We rumbled along expending vast amounts of energy in noise and friction and presenting a huge frontal area to a freshening headwind. A significant highlight was stopping for lunch at the Geysir cafe and trying their beef balls. If there is a more dense substance in the universe I’d be amazed. These things bent light towards them. Eating one was like trying to slice through an anvil with a flip-flop, and for the next 10km I had a stomach like a wet bin-bag with a couple of bowling balls in it. 

Beef balls and a bit of product placement

The Waterfall at Gulfoss is undeniably beautiful. I’d been there about 10 years before with my wife, and I recalled a small carpark, a fairly ramshackle little gift store and little else. How times have changed. Every few minutes a huge coach arrived to disgorge punters onto a wooden boardwalk, taking them on pre-determined route to a viewing platform. The shop, which many years ago seemed to sell a few postcards, the inevitable stuffed Puffin toy, and a few CDs of Bjork, Sigur Ros and some hippy whale music (really, it did); was now at the forefront of naff Icelandic marketing.  

Gulfoss - Noisy

Of course this is to be expected, after all we were on the most popular tourist circuit in the country (the Golden Circle), and just because we got there by bike, doesn’t mean we weren’t tourists too! But the sheer weight of visitors was astounding to me. Faced with this, I think the authorities have done a decent job of keeping everyone in one place and ‘off the grass’.

After being buffeted by passing tourist coaches for the 10km between Geysir and Gulfoss, it was a pleasant relief to head north-east out of the carpark and away from the traffic. It seems that for about 90% of visitors, Gulfoss is the end of the road. For us though, it represented the start of the proper ride.   

We spent the second night in an empty tin hut 10km north of Gulfoss on a spit of land between two glacial streams. The setting was absolutely idyllic, with a glorious vista which included the Langjokull glacier and the snow-capped Blafell Mountain. Out of the wind, with the sun shining I sat on a grassy tussock and read my book; completely content. The hut was pretty basic, made from rusting corrugated iron and a couple of windows which looked like they’d been stolen from different buildings. The inside of the hut was festooned with cheerful graffiti from previous occupants. The most notable was from a guy who’d ridden across central Iceland on a Brompton (nutter). Inevitably, dinner was instant noodles.

The hut and it’s views

 On the morning of the third day (after gagging down a small mountain of porridge) in brilliant sunshine we left the tarmac behind. The wind was still rising, having reached a steady 30-40kph at this point, and forward motion was becoming more and more difficult. As we crept over a 700m pass, the huge open plateau of the Kjolur lay before us. Our destination was still 70km north, the road was loose and gravelly and the wind was kicking up dust-storms far ahead across the desert. With dust goggles on and through gritted teeth, we battled into the wind, and then the rain, occasionally being passed by 4x4s and the odd off-road bus full of happily waving tourists (one group got out to cheer us up a hill, which was quite cool).

Incongruously, about halfway across the Kjolur, there’s a small shop selling a few dry goods, beer, knitwear, coffee and toasted sandwiches. We stopped here to warm up and get some hot food. At the same time we watched as a cyclist approached a river crossing and meticulously removed every last item from his bike before going backwards and forwards scores of times with his gear. It all looked very labour intensive, and not at all how I’d have imagined doing it myself. As he neared the end of his ordeal, the lady running the shop dashed outside to show him a shallow easy route about 5m downstream from where he was crossing. I wouldn’t like to say if she’d only just noticed, or spent some time bathing in schadenfreude first.

The Kjolur in lowering cloud

Before we left, the shop keeper gave us a few dubious looks and issued a couple of dire warnings about the weather getting worse for the coming days. It was pretty clear she thought we were going the wrong way, and having spent the better part of half a day going 40km, it was hard to disagree. Nevertheless, we put our soggy waterproofs and gloves back on, and stomped outside into the teeth of a gale.

Only a couple of kilometers past the shop we met a cyclist coming the opposite way. Like most people, he immediately took an interest in my fatbike; squeezing the tyres and nodding wisely. Only unlike most people though, this guy was just a bit of a jerk. Unprompted he informed us that he was in part responsible for making my bike ‘famous’ by setting a some kind of a record on it. In fairness to him, that is fairly awesome, but as an opening statement to a couple of total strangers it’s a bit like saying “I’m really very very wealthy you know?”.

When we conversationally mentioned that conditions were pretty tough, he proceeded to tell us he’d been in Iceland for months and knew “never to ride north”. He then told me that I can’t have used my bike much, as there was so much tread on the tyres and his fatbike tyres were practically bald (we took his word on that). Maybe it was unintentional, but the impression we were left with was of a man who was determined to be that much tougher, more knowledgeable and generally cooler than everyone else he met. Perhaps in other circumstances he’s a great guy, but on this particular day I think his charm gland was misfiring. Interestingly, at the end of that day we were chatting to a Dutch cyclist who was telling us about this really annoying cyclist he’d met earlier that day...

Having politely disengaged from our super-impressive new friend, we set off north again. Our average pace was little more than 6-8kph, and on the poor surface we’d reached the point of pushing on the steeper sections. We were wearing every stitch of clothing we had, our faces covered with buffs, hoods up and pulled tight, but if we stopped for more than a minute or two we started to get cold very quickly. 

Kjolur - Nothing to see here

After about 60km we climbed into the cloud, and the already lifeless grey and brown scenery disappeared into a white veil of nothingness. Even the 4x4s and busses seemed to have stopped passing us, presumably turning off for Kerlingarfjoll 10km earlier. There was just us, a 500m visible ring of dust and gravel and the roaring of the wind through our hoods. We stopped joking, then talking, then we stopped communicating entirely. Each slipping into his own thoughts and getting on with the business of turning the pedals and moving painfully forward. It was a very hard day, but after nearly 13hrs of cycling over 80km we made it to Hveravellir, and the soothing warmth of its geothermal pool.

 Hveravellir – Geothermal vents

That night the wind rose further still, efficiently dismantling the odd tent and leaving the occupants to scurry around chasing their belongings and getting cold and wet. Our intention for the following day was to continue heading north for 30km, before tracking north-east over a mountain pass to a hut for the night, and eventually (about 2 days later) joining the Sprengisandur as originally planned. We knew we’d have to make good progress to do this in the time we had, but when we set off from Reykjavik in the sunshine, it seemed doable. Now, with the wind some way upwards of 70kph and increasing flurries of snow, we could barely climb onto our heavy bikes, let alone make the distances we needed. What’s more, we’d been told that the mountain pass was still under snow (how much we didn’t know). The final straw was when Jim was blown off his bike after we'd made about two fairly horrible kilometres in half an hour. There was no way we could manage Plan B with the time we had.

So, reluctantly, we changed our plans (again).

Halfway along the Kjolur to the east is the Kerlingarfjoll mountain area. This would have been another option to join the Sprengisandur, however this too was under several metres of snow and closed. So, sadly, our only choice was to turn tail and ride the 90km back to Gulfoss and the only other viable river crossing heading east. Still, at least this time we had a tail wind, and what took us 13hrs the previous day took only 7hrs with the wind. We found a campsite halfway between Geysir and Gulfoss, then found it made excellent pizza. We spent that evening eating (not noodles!) and working out what to do next.

Crossing the Kjolur isn’t easy

My lasting memory of the Kjolur, and from what I’ve heard this is true to some extent of the Spengisandur too, was surprise at how heavily travelled it was. While it was undeniably beautiful, and we only saw two other cyclists; there were many 4x4s and buses along the route. So in spite of the emptiness and desolation, it rarely felt like the wilderness. We knew that if something happened, there would be someone along in half an hour who could help. It’s not at all what I had expected.

The Kjolur – Looking back at where we’d come from (about twice as far as the faint peak in the centre)

After riding across the Kjolur twice in as many days, Day 5 was going to be a ‘rest’ day. We had looked at the maps and found a track running 45km east/west from Gulfoss over an 800m shoulder to Haifoss (another huge waterfall) where there was hut and campsite. The route had quite a few river crossings, but from our vantage point and the overall topography it didn’t look like it was being fed by the local glaciers, so we maintained hope for low levels of water.

The day started out well enough; we had noodle for breakfast (anything is better than porridge), the sun was shining, the wind had dropped a little and the views were epic. We rode slowly upwards on the opposite side of the river to the flocks of tourists visiting Gulfoss, and then swung east over the mountains.

Views from the non-tourist side of Gulfoss

That’s when the fun started.

The track was in a shocking state and clearly not at all well-travelled. We couldn’t help wonder if that was anything to do with the ‘large’ crossing over the Fossá river towards the end of the route. We found ourselves trying (and frequently failing) to cycle on loose rocks the size of tennis balls, the track generally meandering east and uphill over countless blind summits. Every uphill section meant Jim getting off to push, while my fatbike came into its own by just about managing to stay rideable. This at least made me happy, as it meant the smug German fatbike expert from a couple of days before was incorrect when he'd said I was on the wrong bike. The pace was glacial.

We crossed four or five small rivers, a couple requiring us to strip down to our underwear and grit our teeth as the freezing water rushed around our legs. Here the fatbike became a serious hindrance. It floats. Even with all of the baggage it floats. This meant that any water deeper than about 0.5m caused the bike to tip sideways and try to launch itself downstream. Crossing the rivers became an act of clinging to the handlebars and trying to stop the thing from washing away.

This is considerably less fun than it looks

This continued for the next 5hrs. With crossings and loose uphills rapidly sapping our strength and our will. And all the while the nagging question of why we hadn’t seen another vehicle of any kind. Was is because of the Fossá crossing? Was it going to be too deep or fast? Fatigue and nerves were beginning to prey on us, when we encountered at least one of the reasons why there were no vehicles.

We rounded a corner to find a snow drift across the track. It was about 15m high, several hundred metres wide and completely blocking the way. On foot and pushing the bikes, it wasn’t too hard to get around, but only a lunatic would have tried to drive over or around it.

Okay then…

Eventually, and after yet more small river crossings and uphill sections, we came to a long loose downhill with the Fossá forming a ribbon of water glinting in the distance. Neither of us had much energy left at this point, and we were hoping against hope that we could cross. The thought of dragging our bikes back up the mountain was not one we were looking forward to.

With not many other options, we headed down to the river. As we approached it got wider and louder. When we finally stood on the bank, looking into the rushing torrent of fast flowing water, both of us were more than a little nervous; just a few hundred metres downstream the river ran through a series of small rapids before plunging 120m over the Haifoss waterfall. 

I may or may not be making an obscene gesture

With no choice but to either quit or go for it, Jim made the crossing first. The water rose to thigh height, and for a moment he looked at a loss, before finding a technique of using his bike as a prop and slowly hobbling across. I knew this wouldn’t work for me, Jim’s bike didn’t float. My crossing was more eventful; with no means of propping myself up, and the bike being dragged down river, I had to use it like a sea anchor to steady myself as I crossed. Jim came back over to help, but the bloody-minded part of me declined, determined to make it on my own. One slip and that was it, the bike and all of my gear was gone and I was stranded miles from anything resembling help, on a road no-one used. Fortunately there were no slips, and with adrenaline pumping we made it to the opposite shore unscathed. All that remained of the day was to take in the magnificence of Haifoss, then pedal another 5km downhill and downwind to set up camp.

Haifoss – 120m straight down. Our river crossing is just beyond the horizon.

Unfortunately the hut had been invaded by a team of Icelandic rednecks. When we arrived they were already completely drunk out of their minds and just setting up for an evening of getting even more drunk. The scene in front of us was this: Two guys with beers (for the duration of this anecdote just assume everyone is doing everything one handed because the other hand is already occupied with beer) were outside lighting a barbeque with petrol. One guy had set off the alarm in his truck and was trying to crawl through the boot to shut it off, only he’d forgotten the key and was a bit stuck due to only having one hand free. Two more guys were unloading crate after crate of beer from another truck, and there was the owner of the hut stood watching the whole thing and shouting a lot. Oh, and crotch-obsessed dog.

They were all very cheerful and friendly and wanted us to stay (especially the dog), but after 12hrs of hard riding, this did not seem like a place where we were going to get any rest. So with heavy hearts, and the slight sadness that comes from missing out on an epic party, we got back on our bikes and rode another 30km to a quiet campsite infested with midges. I think we lost the plot that evening. We didn’t need a campsite, we didn’t need to ride 30km more and we ended up heading in the wrong direction for Landmannalaugar. If I have any regrets from the trip, it’s that we should have crossed the Þjórsá at the hydro plant 3km south of the hick-hut and wild-camped close to the F225 to Landmannalaugar. But we were tired, strung out and fed up with the headwind.

In retrospect I’d hesitate to say that day was definitely the best part of the trip (mainly because of the poor choice at the end). But it was exactly the kind of experience I’d been looking for. It was hard, a bit scary and utterly unsupported. We felt like we’d found a little of the the wilderness we’d been looking for, faced the challenges it presented and arrived at the other side not found wanting. That’s not to compare what we did to climbing Everest or other equally impressive adventures; but it’s all about perspective. To us, this was what the spirit of the trip was about, and I doubt we’d have found it if we’d followed Plan A.

The following day we rode the 70km to Selfoss for provisions and to work out the best way to Landmannalaugar following our wrong turn the previous evening. This ended up being the bus. With only 70km covered on easy roads, day 6 turned out to be the rest day. We arrived at Landmannalaugar quite late; the bus driver having had a whale of a time getting through river crossings and snow to reach the camp site. But when the sun only sets for 2 hrs a day, and it doesn’t really get dark, arriving late isn’t an issue.


After pitching the tent we immediately stripped the bikes of gear and went for a ride up the valley, revelling in the lightness of the bikes beneath us. The valley floor was a huge gravel outwash plain bisected by hundreds of tiny streams. On all sides the rounded hills rose in a combination of orange, ochre, green and red; with steaming horned black volcanic extrusions thrusting through the mountainsides and disfiguring the landscape. At any moment I expected to hear a deep rumble and see lava (or Orcs) spewing from the mountaintops.

Landmannalaugar – The briefest of sunsets

As we explored it became clear that the campsite sits at the head of a massive historic lava field which has blocked a valley almost completely. Only by walking over the lava field can you find a hidden verdant green plain surrounded by steep sided mountains capped by snow. As we sat and stared at this incredible, almost impossible sight, for the first time in a week the wind disappeared and we were confronted with near perfect stillness. The only moving thing was a waterfall cascading down the mountainside a few km in front of us, and the only sound was its faint muffled roar. It was utterly tranquil.


The following morning (day 7) was bright and clear, an experience dulled only by porridge ming. We decided to make our way along the Fjallabaksleið Nyrðri road (F208) towards Hólaskjól. This was a relatively short day of 45km, but we were beginning to suffer at this point and we knew that the route had quite a few river crossings and a couple of stiff climbs. The map showed five rivers, which in true Icelandic style turned out to be about 12. Fortunately the first and last (the largest) were bridged.

The F208 road winds its way through the northern foothills of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier. The road is stunning, showcasing the volcanic and tectonic activity which has shaped the region, and the almighty glaciers which continue to carve their way through the landscape.

Unfortunately, after a number of tedious fords, impatience got the better of me after the fourth or fifth river crossing. Rather than stopping, prodding about, changing my shoes etc, I just started going at them full tilt on my bike. While this was certainly effective and no doubt spectacular, it did lead to incredibly cold and wet feet for the next 8hrs. To all future travellers in the region, I would advise taking a different course of action.

The final descent from the mountains led to the Eldgja River and the Hólaskjól campsite. This was vastly enlivened by racing a bunch of Brazilian guys on a supported motorbike tour down the mountain and across the fords. Here my gung-ho river crossing technique and Jim’s inability to locate his brake levers worked to our advantage, and we won. There was much grumbling from our petrol powered friends. Grumbling further enhanced when we skipped across a footbridge and sat on a small bench watching them one-by-one nearly drown crossing the last river, while we scored them out of ten for effort and aggression.

Fjallabaksleið Nyrðri – Stunning landscapes

Another night of dining on noodles led to our final day (of porridge) and an attempt to hit the southernmost point (Kotulangi). This is located about 2km south of a massive lump of rock on the south coast called Hjörleifshöfði. The day was going to be a big one; with 35km of gravel road, followed by a 45km dash along the ring road (imaginatively entitled ‘1’) then 4km across a black sand beach. Followed by the reverse along the beach and a further 12km to Vik, whereupon we would collapse, burn our bikes and find some beer.

Provisions may have been running low, but the scenery and riding was still epic

While uneventful, the day proved to be hard. We were flagging pretty badly by the time we got to the ring road, overall fatigue from the previous days was making itself known. After the solitude and silence of the wilderness, there are few sights more depressing than a strip of tarmac frequented by scores of tourist buses. This was compounded by a lump of rock (Hjörleifshöfði) which appeared to be moving away from us as fast we were moving forward. I’d sort of given up hope that the end of the trip would be anything but an overwhelming disappointment, until we left the ring road and started across the beach. Once again we were alone in a bleak and deserted world. Our tyres crunching along the beach as we aimed for a mirage of the sea shimmering above the bone dry black sand.

All beaches are special in one way or another, but Kotulangi really does feel like the very end of the world. Cut off from the road by sand impassable to anything but a big 4x4 or bikes (too far to walk for all but the most inquisitive) and stretching seemingly endlessly in all directions, it was a fitting place to end our adventure.

We sat on the warm dark beach, watching the sun on the waves, listening to the sea and drinking the last of our coffee.

Eventually we roused ourselves and made our bedraggled way to Vik. We’d covered about 650km in 8 days, taken routes we’d never heard of, and had an epic adventure… Not quite as planned, but then there’s something to be said for leaving your plans behind in a place like Iceland.

Tom Vincent

Monday 3 August 2015

Tips for Bikepacking in Iceland

So, while I slowly type up an account of our trip, here by popular demand (this is a lie) are some tips for those seeking to do something similar. This is by no means an exhaustive list, neither is it necessarily correct, or indeed useful. 

In fact, you may as well go and read something else instead. 

Go on. Off you go.

1.      When arriving at the airport with your bike, if you’re keeping your bike packed up and getting a coach/bus to Reykjavik, shop around a little and look out for the cost of transporting a bike. Fares vary wildly, and bikes can cost a lot.  

2.      Avoid riding on the no.1 road. It’s busy and probably the least pleasant part of the country. If you really must use it, try to get a bus. They have racks and/or space for bikes. The state buses (i.e. Strateo) are far cheaper than the coaches.

3.      Use the buses. Unless you’re an obsessive cyclist to whom any other form of transport is blasphemy, then get the bus. There are long stretches of nothingness on the south coast ideally suited to not riding. Obviously, if there’s an interesting alternative, getting the bus IS cheating!

4.      You’ll only need a couple of days of food. There are stores and cafes around the place, even in the central highlands. Sure, it’s a good idea to carry food with you (especially to save money), but you wont need more than a few days unless you’re on some insane expedition over Vatnajokull (in which case I’d hope you already know much more than me on this subject).

5.      2ltrs of water is enough most of the time. Water is everywhere. We didn’t use purification or filters, but we did avoid glacial streams. Clearly you need to exercise caution and common sense. It’s not my fault if you subsequently die because you elected to do something extraordinarily stupid.

6.      Get off the beaten track. That includes the Kjolur and Sprengisandur. If you’re anything like me you’ll read this and completely ignore it. You may be set on a route which has some arbitrary purpose (furthest, longest, hardest etc), but if you can change your mind then do so. It’s far better to find points of interest, find the most interesting way to get between them and refer to point 2 if you’re struggling.

7.      Be flexible. If the wind is blowing a gale from the north, go south. If you’re already in the south, then either have a day off or see point 2. Jim put it best “The weather in Iceland is like wrestling a gorilla. You don’t stop when you’re tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired”. In summary; you cannot beat the weather. Don’t try.

8.      If you’re going to cross rivers all day, then you’re rapidly going to get annoyed with frequent changes of shoes. A better choice than the traditional flip-flops (which are a swine and very cold to ride in) is a pair of lightweight trainers you can ride in which dry quickly. Accept cold wet feet (sealskinz sock help) and know there are warm dry shoes awaiting you once the wet stuff is done.

9.      Protect your eyes. Dust storms and dust from passing vehicles is an irritant you can do without. A pair of cheap dust-proof glasses from a hardware or H&S clothing store will do a decent job for very little money.

10.  Beware your GPS! If accuracy in recording you trip is important and you set your GPS to a battery saving or extended mode, then it’ll only record points every 10mins (or something similar). Strava (or Garmin or whatever) will join the dots. This means that your route will be effectively shortened. Worse than that, Strava cuts out stopped time. The net result for us was about 10% inaccuracy on distance and saying what took 12hrs took 4hrs!   

11.  Take every opportunity to jump into a hotpot. Geothermal pools are marked on most maps and one of the highlights of the country. They vary from sublimely hot, remote and pretty, to a tepid slimy hole in a beach. All are worth a dip. 

Wednesday 8 July 2015

It's the Final Countdown (dun-nu-ner-ner- dunu-nu-nu-nur...)

One week to go.

In precisely one week I'll be sat in a meeting, probably looking very restless and slightly nervous. And not just because it's a marketing meeting and I'll be bored beyond tears. It's because the following morning, at some unholy time of the day, we set off for Iceland.

About time too really. I've been building this up for so long now that there is no chance in hell it could ever live up to the hype!

Of course it wouldn't be right if we didn't have a little more drama before we start. Why not?

So, with the kind of monotonous surety that only Fate and all of her demonic little helpers can deliver, our route is once again in some doubt. After being nixed by fire (Holuhraun going pop for 7 months), this time it's ice. Apparently Iceland has been through one of the winteryest winters in decades (think of the chilly bits in Game of Thrones and you're spot on - they film it in Iceland), and as a result, the interior of the country is still thawing out. Normally the central highland tracks are open by late June, but as you can see from the map below, at the moment it's all closed.

Still, it's not all doom and gloom. The map above is a little old, and the route between Hofsjökull and Langjökull is already open (mostly). Speaking to the helpful people at they seem to think that the Sprengisandur should open next week too, but they're not 100% on that. So we might still be in with a chance one way or another. I guess all we can do is head out there and take a look.

Other good news lies in the unlikely forms of sponsorship and sausages. No, really.

We've raised over £1250 for the MNDA, and Source Food in Bristol have set aside half a kilo of salami to liven up our otherwise painfully dull diet! They're also making noises about hosting an evening 'event' when we get back... I feel a particularly dull slideshow coming on.

Since this might be the last blog post before we go, here is a link to the DeLorme tracking website. At present it shows South Bristol in all of it's urban glory. But in 8 days it's going to get a whole lot more interesting.

Password: Fatbike


Tuesday 23 June 2015

Fame, Fortune and Glory

3 weeks to go until we leave. I'm trying (and failing) to resist getting excited.

I think I'm ready (which means I'm not at all ready). My kit list has more ticks than blank spaces, my spare room looks like someone ram-raided an outdoor shop, there are collection tins dotted around south Bristol and my wife is so bored of this subject she stopped talking to me weeks ago.

I've also started to commute into work with a nearly fully laden bike. As if riding a fatbike through the streets of Bristol wasn't enough to draw attention, now the thing is hung with bags and bottles and cages etc... It looks great; but subtle it aint! Surprisingly it's not much more difficult to ride. Yes, I've lost a few kph on my usual route, adding 8 minutes to a normally 45min journey. But what we're planning isn't a race, so it's about how we feel at the end of each ride, not how long it took.

That said, it was gratifying to get back onto my road bike this weekend for the first time in an age. Being able to compare pre-fatbike rides with post-fatbike is an eye-opener. Hills which previously took it out of me are comparatively simple affairs now. If Bradley Wiggins or Dave Brailsford is reading this (and I've little doubt they are... I'm told they're glued to this blog and hang on my every word); I'd suggest you train for everything on a fatbike. Riding anything else afterwards is like levitating.

On the fundraising front; the MNDA campaign is going pretty well. There's nearly £900 of sponsorship online (, and the tins are slowly filling up. The notable exception to this being The Hare pub on North St, where the tin is already full (amazing work!).

The Family Vincent also attended a MNDA fundraising event in Horfield at the weekend. The medieval recreation was particularly awesome, though also slightly reminiscent of the League of Gentleman. Still, anyone selfless enough to dress up in hessian and give up their weekends to charitable causes sits on a moral plain some way above my appreciation for historic battle tactics.

Further fundraising glory may also be found in the form of a Limited Edition print donated by the good (and profoundly potty-mouthed) men of Modern Toss. Unfortunately my enthusiasm for gratuitous swearing seems to be less widely shared than I assumed. As a result, the online auction of the print is proving to be a little disappointing. Hmm... I may need to dream up another plan for that particular venture. Perhaps a live auction in the pub after we get back from the trip. Alcohol is often at the heart of ill-thought-out decisions, so it could be a good place to get a stupid bidding war going on.

Speaking of becoming famous and retiring young (that's what the previous paragraphs were about right?); this blog was name-checked on the world famous Radio Show. Yeah, I know?! I think I'm about 40-50mins in. You have to listen very very carefully. Very carefully. I'd suggest good headphones and quite a lot of patience is required. Still, that means this blog is now officially famous, and I don't need any of you hangers-on and groupies getting in the way of my ascent to stardom anymore. So do one yeah?

Sunday 14 June 2015

Nutrition, Packing and a Trial Run

So, as I sit here watching the cricket and suffering with Sinusitis, I've got plenty of time to start tying up loose ends before we head off to Iceland in a month. Like 'how are we transporting the bikes?' and 'what are we going to eat?' and 'how the hell are we going to fit everything onto our bikes?'... You know, unimportant niggling little things like that.

I've said it before, but planning this trip has not been easy. I guess it's because we're bikepacking newbies. So we have absolutely none of the gear we need for this kind of trip. It turns out my tent is wrong (well, it's preposterously large, heavy and weak), my bags are wrong (an 80ltr rucksack is not advised), my stove is wrong, most of my clothes are wrong. At the start of this I didn't have a bike, bags, spares, maps and a host of other things it seems are essential if I want to survive.

And it's not like I don't mind using what I've already got, but my mountaineering boots are wrong, using my road bike would be suicidal, and apparently having a route in mind is deemed wise (I'm still not convinced on that last one).

So when I say that planning is not easy, I think what I'm trying to say is that this trip is proving to be a bit of a gear-fest. And that's because we're starting from first principles. The next trip (I hope my wife doesn't read this bit) should be a doddle.

But despite the fact that the cupboard was very much bare when we started planning, we're pretty much ready. So ready in fact, that we managed a trial run up on the Quantocks last week. It was useful to try the bikes (nearly) fully loaded, to see how we're going to pitch the tent while pretending the weather wasn't glorious (this is where we learned that the current tent sucks) and to sit out and just enjoy being in the middle of nowhere. It was good fun, with the notable exception of the food. The food was sodding awful.

"So what are you planning on eating?" I hear none of you asking. Well, I've been researching food to a ridiculous extent too. And it turns out that Bachelors Super Noodles contain pretty much the same calorific content as those posh dried food ration packs they sell for £5 a go in the local Outdoor shop. Yes, I'll confess that Super-noodles are neither super nor, probably, noodles. But they fill you up, are light, are full of energy and they're very very cheap. Nonetheless, with something like 9 to 10 days of food needing to be carried, there's simply no way to haul everything we need. So we're going to be running at a fairly high calorie deficit throughout. I can only hope that where we cross main roads (such as Myvatn) we can find a nearby shop or garage! Otherwise we're going to be hungry.

Another box ticked is the bikepacking bags. If you're not already familiar with this stuff (and judging by the traffic sources to this blog, most of you know WAY more about this than I do), then there's a new(ish) move away from traditional panniers and racks, and towards bags which attach directly onto the bike. I'm led to believe that the main reason for this is so that you don't have to rely on a rack which, were it to break, would leave you utterly buggered in the middle of nowhere (after all, who packs a MIG welding kit in their spares?).

So the bags I'll be using are mounted to the bars (Wildcat - Fat Leopard), the seat-post and saddle (Alpkit - Kaola), the forks (5ltr dry bags on Salsa - Anything Cages) and inside the main triangle of the frame (Alpamayo Designs - Frame Bag). No doubt experienced readers will be wondering about the last one. This is a very new (so new they haven't launched officially yet) bike bag company set up by a friend of a friend. We're very fortunate in having a couple of their custom made (pre-production) bags. And with absolutely no loyalty at all, I can say that they really do look the business. Time will tell what they're like in the 'real world', but first impressions are very positive indeed. I've uploaded a few images.

So what have we got left to sort out? Not a lot really. Though we still have to work out how we're actually getting our bikes to Iceland. They're booked onto the plane, but do they go in (hugely expensive) padded/hard cases? Or do they go in clear plastic bags. The latter apparently protect your bike because the baggage handlers are less likely to stomp on something when they can see what it is? Hmm... While there is some logic to that, all it would take is one careless/hungover handler, and the trip is over.

Well, there's still time to sort that out. 4 weeks seems like a long long time away and I'm not a patient man.