Sept 16 Borgarnes
Yesterday I left Reykjavik hostel at about 8:30. It was sunny and chilly. My ride along the bike paths, often separated from the roads, was enjoyable as I joined the commuting cyclists. I made a wrong turn after about half an hour and had to seek directions at a bus depot. By now I decided I would not effectively find my way to the last bus stop before the tunnel under Hvalfjordur that I was not allowed to cycle through. So I headed towards a bus station where I was told I could get the bus. I had to wait an hour and a half for the bus and then another hour through the tunnel took me to Akranes. By now the white caps on the bay were getting significant indicating the fun I would be in for when out on my bike.
Back on my bike, the 40 km to Borgarnes followed the coast into and out of two Fjords. I found later that the wind was around 30 kph, gusting to 45. One of these guts dropped me from 16 kph to 0 immediately. I probably averaged about 12 kph. I stopped about 4 times to gather myself but during one stop I saw my first Icelandic Horses. These are similar to Norwegian Fjord Horses but are now a separate breed. No outside horses are allowed on Iceland to protect their purity. Riding in conditions like these certainly shakes the confidence. I have not allowed enough time to do my ride at this rate. There is a bus, I think once a day, that runs along the Ring Road and so that is now a high probability. My first day’s 54 km ride almost did me in.
Once in Borgarnes I went first to the Settlement Museum. An excellent Audio tour took me through the History of the Settlement and then the Egil’s Saga, of which I will add more later. I was so tired that I was weak-kneed at I walked through the exhibit and continually had to lean against wall.
I had initially thought I would camp as the day was sunny, but by now I was so cold and shaken the spectre of sitting out by my tent trying to keep it from blowing into the Atlantic was out of the question. I checked into the hostel, had a hot shower and was very happy to be out of the wind.
Outside of a Mars bar I had not had lunch and so went back to the Settlement Museum which also housed the best restaurant in town. I splurged on a full strength beer and a wonderful Ling Cod meal. Back at the hostel on the internet revealed that today’s wind was going to continue, still out of the NNE, which is the direction I am heading. Thursday it will continue again, but slightly less intense.
This morning as I awoke and checked the weather again I could see things were no better, but now it was grey and colder. After fussing a bit, I decided I needed to do better job of visiting Borgarnes and that my gimpy knee needed an easy day. I could find lots of other reasons to stay off my bike, but perhaps I need to save some for later.
I put on my pedestrian clothes and headed off to have a leisurely coffee and sandwich in a bakery. I did some grocery shopping and had a walk around town. I cooked lunch and did some computer work. In the afternoon I walked more and then went to the local swimming pool which has 37, 39 and 42C hot pools. Given the cold north wind whistling through the streets I was drawn to the 42C pool and spent half an hour stretching my limbs. Dinner was hot dogs with potato salad and a beer.
Iceland’s Early History:
Possibly the most interesting part of Iceland’s history is that almost uniquely until the Vikings began settlement in the eighth century no people had occupied the island. When the first settlers came the wildlife, small mammals and birds, had no fear of people and were eatable. This proved a boon, as they could then keep and breed the livestock they had brought.
Much of what we know about Iceland’s history came through what are now called the Icelandic Sagas, of which there are many. The Sagas were written in a short period, about 1100-1350. The written sagas came from years of word of mouth stories and probably are a mix of myth and fact. The gods and mythical creatures figure in many of them. The ones I am reading involve the men and women that came to settle. They were largely from the west coast of Norway, often coming through Britain, Ireland and the Faeroe Islands, which were all part of the Nordic world at that time.
The Viking age, about 780-1050 resulted in part from the development of the Viking ships, which were capable of open sea travel and allowed the Norsemen to dominate much of Europe at that time. The first ship to hit Iceland, likely by mistake, was about 870, the start of what is now called the Settlement Age. By 930, when the first Parliament or Althing was formed, the estimate is that about 32,000 had settled here. Many of the settlers had come to Iceland to escape domination of King Harald Fair-Hair, the first king to control all of Norway. He figures in many of the sagas, usually as a bad man. Snorri Sturlusson, 1179-1241, is probably the most prolific of the saga writers and is credited with the writing of Egil’s Saga, which was situated primarily in Borgarnes.
There are about four of the sagas that are considered the most important in their representation of the beginnings of Iceland. Egil’s Saga is one of them. Egil is a strange character to occupy such a leading role in a country’s history. He was a fierce warrior and one of the best poets at the time, two characteristics considered important in this Viking Age. But he was also considered quite ugly and had a terrible even psychopathic temper. He killed his first person at six years of age over a game. His father who was similar to Egil had to be dragged off of him when Egil was twelve or there would have been no Egil to create a saga about. At about the same time Egil went raiding in Norway and Britain killing many along the way. Egil’s family was forever at odds with Norway’s Kings. Even so, both Egil and his father lived until old age and both buried chests of silver in the marshes on their farm near Borgarnes rather than pass it on to others. People still look for these treasures without luck. Interestingly, Egil’s brother and uncles who were considered more attractive and even-tempered than Egil and his father all died violent deaths.
It seems to me that the sagas that I have perused paint a bloody picture of this time in history. They all seem to involve killings for a host of reasons; honour, revenge, greed, … and women seemed to be very much into it as well. At any rate, thanks to the Icelandic Saga writers of the 12th and 13th centuries we have a very rich picture of that time. It was a mediaeval time, with a few land-owners and many serfs and slaves
Sept 17, Saeberg
When I second guess the weather I feel it is always a gamble. Looking out the window as the light touched the street, the trees were not moving much. I quickly dressed, finished packing and had the breakfast that I had planned. I was on the road at 7:30. It was cold, about 4C, but the wind was minor. I knew it would build to around 20, but for now it was maybe about 6 or 7 KPH, still out of the north. Soon I was out of town and the treeless but restful landscape settled in around me. The skies were grey but the ceiling fairly high and so I could see the mountains. My run north was to follow a valley for about 40 km, and then climb up over a pass before dropping back to the sea and the north side of Iceland, that is if the wind allowed me to do this today.
A pleasant hour and a half ride at 31 kms on my odometer got me to a nice hotel where I was welcomed in for a cup of coffee. I find a few things cheaper here than at home and coffee is one of them. There was a sign near the coffee urn that coffee was 100 kr. A few days ago I had a rude awakening. Rich King lent me his Iceland Guide book that he bought last year. He had written near the front 1$=127Kr. I went on the internet and found that 1CDN$ =98Kr. Oh well, the coffee was a dollar.
Soon after my coffee break I began to climb and as I went up the mist came down. Before long my visibility was about 30 m and dew was dripping from my helmet. And I kept going up, as did the headwind, which now approached that 20 kph predicted. I knew the climb couldn’t be a lot, and there were lots of level stretches but the kms klicked away and I kept going up. Each little up-hill dropped my speed to the wobbly level and the trucks, when on-going traffic dictated, left me little room on the shoulder-less road. I had one particularly scary incident as a very long truck passed as my speed was very slow. I almost had to hit the ditch to avoid his big wheels.
It was also particularly stressful that I couldn’t see anything. I usually don’t mind climbing passes because you can often see where the top may be. This climb took almost two hours and I was always thinking that I must be there soon. When over the top, finally, I had to stop to put on more clothes for the run down.
Not far from the bottom of the pass I hit the sea. I was now in North Iceland and I pulled into the expected N1 service station and ordered 25$ of hot food. A phone call to the hostel indicated that I had 10 km left, which turned out to be 15. After a tough day those extra 5 kms creats lots of angst let me tell you. At any rate the 106 km, tough as they were for this out-of-shape 74 year old, were infinitely easier than they would have been if I had tried them yesterday. I felt vindicated in taking the day off.
The hostel at Saeberg sits connected to a big farm overlooking the fjord. There is no food service nor did I have any desire to ride back 15 km to find more. I kind of suspected this and so I made do quite nicely with what I had left over from my purchases in Borgarnes. I had to wait an hour to check in and then the first thing I did was hit the outside hot pool (39C) looking out over the fjord. I am fully convinced that these mineral springs are the reason that Icelanders live productively to 150. I, at least, felt 25 years better after an hour in the pool. Everywhere I have been so far the hot water coming out of the taps have a slight sulphur smell, while the cold water is lovely, fresh and odourless. I think that all hot water comes from the earth.
Sept 18, Blonduos
Blonduos, 70 km away, would be my destination for the day. To cap this, the wind was now predicted to be down in the 6-7 kph level and from the SW. Wow, a tail wind. So I expected an easy day.
The day was still heavily overcast and chilly to start, but it was so pleasant riding along without the wind whistling in my ears. I could even hear the cars coming from each direction. I had a very light breakfast at the hostel and was looking forward to finding a coffee stop asap. Coincidentally, it happened at 31 km, just like yesterday. The fellow running the hotel/restaurant/Service station was about my age. He had gone to school in Sweden, been married to a Norwegian for 17 years, and had worked in Denmark. We spoke a little Norwegian, I imagine he could speak anything I wanted. He was running this remote business as a semi-retirement venture that his new wife had motivated. We had a long visit, there were no other customers. He gave me a full Scandinavian breakfast, which included all the coffee I could drink for 500 Kr, not much more than I have paid for coffee many places.
When I left the mist had lifted and I had some nice views of the surrounding mountains and farms with their animals. I love the little Icelandic Horses. They are one of the few breeds that can be trained to run almost completely level. You can drink beer while they are running along. I guess this is one motivation for the gait.
I entered Blonduos and had to cough up 8000 Kr for a guest room, no hostels for a while. I still don’t relish sitting out in a tent. The rains have held off but the mist is so wet and it hasn’t got above 11 or 12, and so I pamper myself. I made the deal in the campground, but my room was in a strip mall back in town. This was better situated for me anyway. I bought some beer in the Vinbudin, the government booze shop, and had a 25$ hamburger for dinner. I should have gone another 10$ for a good Icelandic meal, but I need to save some money for my old age.
Sept 19, Akureyri
I had breakfast in my room and stepped out of my south facing room into a high wind. The problem is that the direction I needed to go today was south at times, east at times. I can now tell about how hard the wind is as soon as I am in it. Less than 20 kph is doable. This wind proved quite a bit more. There is about 1.5 km to climb getting out of Blonduos and so I chugged away. Once over the top the road heads more directly south and I was being buffeted beyond what I like. I stopped behind a burm looked at my maps and tried for a while to will some different reality into the facts that were all too simple.
I turned and rode back down hill and down wind to the N1 station and found the bus would come by at 1:15. I had turned my key in at the campground, but the room door did not lock automatically. So I went and read for couple of hours until it was time to go to the N1 to eat a bit and wait for the bus.
The bus arrived on time and I loaded my bike on the rear bike rack, through my bags in the hold and spend the next couple of hours meandering off of the ring road to a couple of remote towns. The road was gorgeous but steep and the rain began. It did not take long to get to Akureyr; it would have been about 100 km for me to ride more directly.
In Akureyri it was still windy; it seems once the wind sets in for the day it stays. But the sun was now poking out and so after checking into the Backpackers (not an HI hostel) I had a nice walk around town. The Backpackers is teeming with young travellers. I had a nice visit with some. On was a young Tasmanian who is researching, for a possible book, a little known Danish vagabond from around 1830. He did some interesting things in both Iceland and Tasmania.
Sept 20, Akkureyri
I foolishly went to bed at about 9:30, not being overly tired after my easy day. I kind of drifted off around 1:30 I imagine but the party in the backpacker bar was still going on. I have planned two days here but I need to find a different place to stay tonight. At any rate I am now committed to staying here;
Akureyri is considered Iceland’s second city. Unfortunately the weather looks better for today than it does for tomorrow.