Tuesday, September 4, 2012

50K from Reykjavik: Reykjanes Volkvangur (8/24/12)

Trip: Reykjanes Natural Park
Distance: 80km

If you didn’t look at the porous volcanic rock that made up the ground and only stared down the road over the nearly flat plain to the bluish outlines of mountains near the horizon – you’d think you were in Wyoming looking at the Tetons.  Yet 50K from Reykjavik, I didn’t know what to do.

The rest of the gang was either in the Western fjords or glacier hiking on Mýrdalsjökull.  Earlier in the week, Brandy had rented a tandem bike at “The Bike Company” behind the tourist information on Bankastræti.  I went down and picked up a Trek Mountain bike to make the trip.

The plan was to hit the nature park, the bird cliffs and then come back through Selfoss (and the “Sausage Wagon”) to take the big long hill over the Mid-Atlantic Ridge along Route 1.

I rode out of the city along one of the numerous bike trails that run parallel to most of the major roads.  It wound through the neighborhoods in Garđabær and Hafnafjördur along routes 40 & 41.  About 5k outside of Hafnafjördur, the road to Reykanesvolkvangur turns off.  My guide book stated that this would be a largely unpaved road.  However, for about the first 8k this road is paved and busy with large trucks heading each way.

It turns out that right before you enter the Reykanesvolkvangur, there is a huge quarry.  After the turn to the quarry, the road immediately goes gravel and you have to climb over a couple steep short hills.  The second hill was especially challenging as it was too steep to sit but the road to slick and tough to get traction while standing.

As I came down from the second hill, the terrain opened up to the left to Lake Kleifarvatn and the road ran on a ridge to the right along the side of the lake. Somewhere in the almost lifeless lunar landscape that the lake sits upon there is an alien, awesome beauty.

Lake Kleifarvatn

After passing the lake came the indisputable smell of Hot Springs.  The Krýsuvík area sits on the fissures of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.  There is a parking lot for the largest of the hot springs, Sultan.  In 1999, one of the springs became clogged and exploded so there is now a bilingual (and awesome) warning sign: 

I parked the bike on a sign post and headed onto the boardwalk.  The boardwalk wanders through, over and around hot springs that look much like the Paint Pots in Yellowstone.  Seth and I had earlier commented that in Iceland they just put up a parking lot and a bathroom and say: Park here, see the sites but don’t expect any services.

Indeed, in the States they would never have built a site like Sultan.  The boardwalk goes over springs and has sulfuric steam rising between the boards.  I remember being at least 25 feet from any steam pot in Yellowstone.

After wondering the hot springs (and listening to Austrians – probably Karinthians – complain that all the signs were in English and Icelandic but not German), I got back on the road past the old farmstead and to the “Green Lake” of Lake Grænavatn.

After taking pictures of the lake - that didn’t really bring out the green-ness – I continued south toward the Krýsuvíkberg birding cliffs.  I got off the road and headed up an open hiking trail that took me about 2k up to a small knoll (is there any other size of knoll?).  From the knoll I could see Route 427 at the T intersection 4 km down the road.

I made it back to the road and made it maybe ½ km before I felt slipping from the back tire.  At first I thought nothing of it but then realized: uhh…ohhh! I have a flat!  With no flat kit or pump – I was screwed! 

So, I’m 50K from Reykjavik in this deserted plain.  I started to walk back towards Hafnafjördur.  I figured at worst I could try to hitchhike.  For about twenty minutes I saw zero cars going my way and only 3 going the other – all packed with tourists that would never have fit me AND the bike.

Where I popped my tire...

Finally one car came my way.  It was a primer-grey painted Opel pick-up truck.  The driver, Peter, stopped.  While he did not speak very good English (Waaay better than I speak Icelandic…), I was able to get a ride, putting the bike in the back pickup.

Quietly we drove back the 30km over gravel and quarry to Hafnafjördur which I had ridden while he chain-smoked Salem Lights.  We drove into a mini-mall with a KFC in it where Peter made a joke that I should eat there despite not being from Kentucky.  Then he stopped and said:

“He fix it,” pointing to a window in the shop (it was a BIKE SHOP!!!).  I thanked him, got the bike out and he drove off.

I walked my bike into the shop.  There two younger guys were more than happy to fix the tire.  (And, put more air in the front and grease the rusty chain…)

As I left the bike shop, dropping a hefty Kr 2500 for the work, I realized I couldn’t do the bike trip I planned (already 30K in the hole), nor did I want to without bringing a pump.  So instead I decided to ride back to Reykjavik.

Reykjavik is on a peninsula, so I rode around the city along the paths that follow the sea coast until about 3 when I decided to return the bike – in better shape than I had received it…

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