Iceland – Drive, Ride, Walk – Just GO

Words cannot begin to describe how remarkable this place is – but unlike most places in the world I think you would need to be near crazy to attempt to tour the country by bicycle. I am not saying that there isn’t incredible road riding in the country and even more magnificent mountain biking but to loop the island by bicycle would be just plain sadistic. Every cyclist I passed I tooted my horn and gave them a big thumbs up but they are certainly made out of something I just can’t relate to.

I am not being a hater here and I am certain that if I had a comments section attached to this post there are many who would say, “Bicycling Iceland is the ONLY way to experience the country”. I caution that Iceland is extreme. Not extreme in the ultimate challenge kind of way rather extreme in the conditions you would endure. The wind is crazy. It is a country without trees. The national weather website has a specific page that shows the wind directions and speeds by the hour by location. Car rental places highly recommend that you purchase wind insurance and it’s not just to make more money – doors get ripped open, paint is sandblasted, windows get chipped from pebbles (and not just pebbles kicked up from other cars). Wind alone is reason to not attempt the ride. Imagine kilometer after kilometer of a headwind in the bitter cold through a barren landscape without even a tree to duck under when the rain begins.

And then the rain begins. The national weather website also has a page just for rain too. There is a local saying that if you do not like the weather wait 10 minutes or drive 10k. It is true. The weather is highly variable. Torrential downpour to sunny skies within an hour is not unusual. Then again it could be hour after hour after hour of soaking rain that chills you to the bone.

You might say – “Well what about all those people that backpack Iceland – They experience the same conditions”. To that I would say: “Yes they do, but they hitchhike from place to place in nice warm automobiles with nice Icelandic people who drop them off at a nice warm café when the weather gets crazy.”

My advice – GO TO ICELAND. It is more magnificent than any photo you have ever seen of Iceland.
Pack a hiking backpack, sleeping bag, tent, cook stove, everything windproof and rainproof that you have and a friendly, trusting demeanor. You will have a remarkable experience. If you want to bike once you are there you can always rent one and hire a guide to take you to the good stuff that you wouldn’t be able to get to or find on your own.

If you are not willing to let down your guard and let faith in humankind take you around the island, my next recommendation would be to rent a 4-wheel drive. You will drop a pretty penny to rent one but it will get you to places that all of the people in their little Chevy Sparks wish they could go. (Plus, you can sleep in it more comfortably should finding a hotel/motel/guesthouse/farmer’s barn prove impossible.) And if you are American remember to learn to drive a stick shift before you get there.
Everyone has seen photos of Iceland and now you can see some of mine. Rather than babbling on about them I will just show them.

PS – Everyone does really wear Icelandic sweaters in Iceland. You may just convince yourself that they are stylish and you need to have one too. I urge you to resist that temptation – think about it – unless you live between latitude 48 and latitude 66 – you likely will never have any need to wear a thick, waterproof, itchy wool sweater.