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Old 10-13-2013, 09:38 AM   #1
AK Rider/MotoQuest OP
Ride Alaska & Beyond
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Joined: Nov 2009
Location: Alaska, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles
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You are Touring Iceland? - Are You Serious?

You're Touring Iceland – Are You Serious?

Answers to this and related questions

By Scott Keimig

The whole group

Why Iceland of all places?

Well, why not? My Norwegian heritage is the foremost impetus. Iceland was settled by Norwegian adventurers and outlaws (often there was little distinction) around 874 CE, and I enjoy investigating global aspects of my ancestry. Also, Led Zepplin's Immigrant Song may factor-in: remember the lyrics, "We come from the land of ice and snow, of the midnight sun where hot springs flow." Lastly, I find puffin birds quite cute, and I thought I might glimpse a few on the trip (little did I know).

About 40% of our roads were gravel or hard-pack. This shot is along the south coast near the volcano Eyjafjallajökull, which is easily pronounced just as spelled (but only after 3-4 shots of brennivin)

Where is Iceland?

Geologically, Iceland is the westernmost country in Europe, and, simultaneously, the easternmost country of North America. How can that be? The tectonic plates of Europe and of North America are pulling apart under Iceland, and this accounts for much of the volcanic and seismic activity that distinguishes the country. Economically, it is part of Europe, but is not yet part of the ECU, so it uses a national currency. Meteorologically, it is within the Gulf Stream/North Atlantic Drift, so temperatures are substantially moderated along the coast and lack the extreme temperature fluctuations of areas at similar latitudes, such as Fairbanks – the northernmost landmass of Iceland is only a few miles south of the Arctic Circle. In eleven days of riding, our temps ranged from 40 to 65°F. We never saw heavy downpours, but did encounter an hour or two of drizzle on four days, and continuous light rain on only one day. Roughly 80% of riding was under either blue or overcast dry skies. But, high wind speed is another story. Generally, calm conditions prevailed until noon, and then winds would intensify and quickly become strong, gusty, and relentless. Wind was our primary riding hazard, while Iceland's "killer sheep" were the secondary hazard. Free-ranging sheep congregate on the edge of paved roads to access the absorbed solar warmth. The ewes and rams have street-sense and likely will not encroach your line; however, the lambs are about as predictable as squirrels or white-tail deer, i.e., not predictable at all.

Enjoying the sun, the solitude and the view in Myrdalur

Riding by the waterfall Dynjandi

What is the riding like?

We rode a little over 2000 miles with about 40% on gravel or hard-pack dirt. The paved 60% was via Route 1, commonly referred to as the Ring Road as it takes an 850-mile circuit around the island and is generally close to the coast. The asphalt on this narrow two-lane "highway" was in good repair and consisted of endless sweepers where the 90 kph speed limit was seldom obeyed. Traffic on the Ring Road was quite sparse once out of Reykjavik, and the few cars that were present signaled safe conditions for a bike to over-take – auto drivers were courteous to riders and seem to expect bikes would maintain a brisker pace. Similar circumstances generally existed on gravel roads, although the pace was just a little slower. However, such unpaved roads were often single lane, and the quality of gravel and hard-pack surfaces could deteriorate rapidly and often without warning. Tunnels, whether paved or gravel, were universally one-lane and had pull-over niches to allow passage of on-coming traffic with the right-of-way. Of special interest to adventure riders is a system of utility service roads into the desolate Interior Highlands, which is an arid, unpopulated plateau, consisting of rocks, bigger rocks, the occasional glacier, and ice-cold streams fed by glacier melt. These so-called F-Roads (rough trails in truth) are restricted to 4WD utility trucks and adventure-crazed motorcyclists. Caution is advised when riding F-Roads, as they may provide much more technical riding than what you are used to. Loose gravel and sand, rocks big as bowling balls, and deep ruts are the norm. Water crossings are numerous as there are zero bridges in the Interior Highlands. Our tour made only occasional (and optional) use of F-roads.

The approach road to the glacier filling the crater of Snæfellsjökull is limited to SUVs, motorcyclists, and anyone else crazy enough to try it. This volcano in western Iceland is the setting of the portal into the earth in Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Riding the Interior Highlands requires many stream crossings. This is near Dæli in northwestern Iceland.

How did you rent a bike?

There is but one motorcycle dealer in the country, Reykjavik Motor Center. It has a 50-bike rental fleet of BMW and Triumph dual-sport bikes under the aegis of its partner company, Biking Viking. This particular tour was in partnership with MotoQuest, Inc., an Alaska-based tour operator that specializes in adventure tours of off-beat locations; Iceland slots perfectly into their business niche. MotoQuest subcontracted bikes, an Icelandic tour guide (Thorgeir Olason), and a support van from Biking Viking. MotoQuest owner, Phil Freeman, and Biking Viking co-owner, Jón Sigurgrímsson, accompanied the tour. The tour started in Reykjavík and journeyed counter-clockwise around the country with a three-day excursion into the desolate Vestfirðir (West Fjords) peninsula.

MotoQuest trip - Biking Viking bikes

Describe the accommodations and meals:

Iceland is a first-world country (granted its economy is recovering from a national banking collapse) that is dependent on tourism as a principal source of income, so it has a flourishing hospitality infrastructure. It is, however, the least sparsely populated country in Europe with only one city of any size – the second largest city, Akureyri, has a population of 18,000. Most hotels we visited were 30 rooms or less, and a couple were farms with guesthouses. All were clean and comfy and most had an in-room radiator, which was very welcome to dry-out gloves and boots. As for food, you will find some unusual items in the national cuisine menus, e.g., minke whale, puffin bird, horse, and fermented shark. A few of us sampled these items, but I was gratified to stick to an incredible variety of fisherman's catch of the day, or free-range lamb, and addictive skyr as dessert. The local beers are tasty, as is the national drink, Brennivín; a delectable schnapps locals waggishly call "black death".

Puffins are the only animals in Iceland that outnumber sheep.

Although rustic, Toggi believes this West Fjords restaurant serves the best food in Iceland. This is baked plaice and is incredibly succulent (all you can eat, too).

In the fishing village Siglufjordur

Gas stations take on some very unusual shapes in Iceland.

The male part of the group

Knowing what you now know, would you tour Iceland again?

In one of Drew's "New York minutes"! Also, I'd highly recommend touring Iceland to other riders with a sense for adventure and appreciation for the fantastic. One of my friends used a Beatles lyric when describing Iceland as a magical, mystical island – very true, and it also makes for brilliant riding. And, if you have to limit your time in Iceland, put the Vestfirðir (West Fjords) peninsula at the top of your list. Lastly, you won't find a better tour guide than Toggi, an authentic Biking Viking.

Thorgeir "Toggi" Olason, an authentic Biking Viking as well as sculptor, teacher, business owner, national champion motorcycle ice dragster, and tour guide. You are a lucky rider if you ever get a chance to ride with him.

Interested in joining MotoQuest´s next Iceland - Fire & Ice Adventure?
Click here to find out more:

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