We feel very blessed to be able to ride THE most amazing bike adventures. The basic idea is to ride something similar to a professional tour: with a fixed route and daily stops and a team bus that has everything you need: a mechanic, some new tubes and tyres and some food and drink. Of course we spend the night in Heimplanettents. Because they give us the maximum flexibility while we are on the road with our bikes and at the same time have the luxury of comfort while we are outside and free.
This way you can feel like a pro at least once a year. For 2015, we set out to do 2 epic bike rides as farewell rides for our beloved friend Sebastian, who died in an accident in the spring. Not only was he the brains behind a great cycling label called Aurora Collective, but we also planned Iceland together, so this is the first of two rides we have for you, man!
Our idea for 2015: We will cycle through Iceland from 23 to 31 July. On 8 Bombtrack crossers. 11 friends. 8 riders. 3 guys behind the cameras. 8 days. At least 500 km. Against the wind. With the weather and nature. We go along with everything we encounter. We sleep in tents wherever it's green. With some great partners. To show the world how beautiful it can be to explore Iceland by bike.
Stage 1 - Geysir-Hveraellir
70.3K - 1,088m altitude
All right, this is that Iceland everyone is talking about. We are sitting here in front of our tents as I write this and it is an unreal feeling. We are all totally knackered from yesterday's ride and it is fair to say that this was THE most exhausting bike ride we have ever done in our lives. We still have 120 km to go and I have no idea if we will make the 2nd stage.... But let's start at the beginning.
It started so nicely. We all met in Hamburg at Ali's and packed the Bombtrack bikes and all the stuff into our Evoc cases. The ride to the airport went well and then we realised that we all had a lot more gear with us than we were allowed. 50k instead of 23k and only thanks to this guy from Air Berlin (we promised him to appear in the credits of our documentary...) we saved around 500€ on excess baggage.
The flight was great and everyone was so happy to see everyone. Although we flew through the night, it didn't get darker, it got lighter and lighter. An unreal experience to land at 1am when it's not pitch black. Unfortunately, our transporter and hangar were of middle age and far too small. So it was pretty clear that we were screwed unless we got a bigger car. Well, to cut a long story short, we did, but not until the next day, so we drove 50 km from the airport to our campsite with an open trailer. The Evoc cases were almost blown away as they were just lying on the open trailer.
The Heimplanet-tents were quickly taken down, we could rest and sleep for a few hours. Unfortunately there was no breakfast, because we still had to go shopping, pick up our Primus camping equipment and buy some other things. After seeing a geyser fort for the first time in our lives and getting the bikes ready for seven riders, it took until 6pm (!) before we could finally set off. Much too late and it was already getting cold.
From the moment we sat on our bikes, all the stress was blown away and we were just so happy to get going. Patric was riding with us for the very first time and he didn't expect us to be over-motivated. We rode the first 10 km or so at an average speed of about 35 km and boy, it really felt like a race. So great. The "problem" was that from the moment we touched road 35 at KM 29, as we entered the highlands, we hit an ugly dirt road.
Not a normal gravel road, but a road full of potholes, sand and dirt and with lots of little hills. After a few kilometres we called it "washboard" because it looks and feels like driving over a fucking washboard with millions of little hills and ups and downs. This road was killing us. And now our average speed was 12 km, it really couldn't go any faster. You had to be careful as hell not to fall, and if you had a gear that was too small, the rear wheel had no grip at all.
Now it was already around 10pm and it was starting to get cold and it was only a few degrees above zero. Darkness is not really a problem, because it stays light until 1 or 2 in the morning and only then does it get a little dark. But there were still 30 km ahead of us. We were all pretty exhausted - no breakfast, no sleep and no food other than a couple of Clif bars - so we decided to split the group and take our team van and camera crew to the campsite. Ali was to drop the guys off, empty the car and take the rest of the riders to camp.
It was getting quite dangerous as we were all freezing and had no strength left. Ingo had real problems to keep going and he almost collapsed. But we couldn't stop. Stopping means freezing and freezing was pretty serious at only 1 degree above zero. So we drove on and on and on towards camp. And we can't tell you how much we all cheered and screamed when we saw the lights of the van on the horizon.
You can literally see for so many kilometres because there is simply nothing. Except for the beautiful landscape, the glaciers and the incredible nature. In the end, the van took almost 1.5 hours until Ali got us all in. Then it was about 20-25km to the camp. We were happy, but at the same time disappointed that we couldn't finish the stage. When we reached the camp, it was 1am, not yet dark and then the best thing happened. No electricity, no hot water, BUT a hot spring with naturally warm water around 40 degrees. We sat there for almost an hour and warmed up. We are happy to be here, blessed to have the best friends in the whole world, happy to have made it this far.
Iceland said to us, "Welcome boys! Here I'll show you fools who's boss." Thank you for teaching us that lesson. On the first stage we all felt pretty small.
Stage 2 is 120 km long, almost 100 km of it on the "washboard". To be honest, we are pretty sure that we won't be able to ride the whole stage. But let's see, let's try. The sun is shining.
Stage 2 - Hveraellir-Varmahlid
110K - 1,088m altitude
We were soooo afraid of this stage. Day 2 on the "35". This damn road killed us on the first day. The car rental company strictly forbade us to drive on this road and of course we didn't do it. We promise we never would have done it. Really. Promise. We wouldn't be that stupid. Stage 1 was a dry day and if it had rained, any car that wasn't 4WD would have been fucked.... We were lucky though and had a damn good bus driver....
So the night was short and cold, but great. A fantastic MyMuesli breakfast and some bad coffee later, we looked ahead to day 2. 100 km of a crazy dirt road we called washboard, plus 20 km on the ring road ahead of us. To be honest, we didn't think we would make it today. We just knew it would take us at least 6-7 hours for the 35 km, plus a few more for the ring road.
We started the ride with only six riders, some suffering from altitude sickness, crazy headaches and nausea. The combination of not enough water, the altitude, the lack of breakfast and the strenuous cycling worked its magic on some of us. BUT: the sun was shining, the light was beautiful and everyone was excited to start another day on this beautiful island.
Reaching 35 was like meeting an old friend. You just don't want to see her again. But we got rid of her faster than we expected. After 12 kilometres or so, the 35 became a normal gravel road. Still crappy, but it felt like being on another planet. It was just great to finally ride 25 or more kilometres. And from that moment on, the road got better and better. Every single metre we drove was better than the last. What was amazing was that the landscape also changed so quickly. We left the highlands and Iceland was suddenly green. As green as you can bloody well imagine. We don't want to bore you with landscapes. But seeing wild Icelandic horses and being in that green felt like being in an episode of Game of Thrones.
We went faster and faster, took short drink breaks, drank lots of Clif Bars and Vitaminwaters and got further north really quickly. A quick note to 2 of our sponsors. We were celebrating 30 years of Gore Bike Wear and we can't tell you how much we appreciated getting some of their great clothing. Not only are the rain jackets and windbreakers in Icelandic colours, but we've all never worn such awesome bike shit. They really keep you warm when they have to and cool you down when you're riding uphill.
The Black Panther Xtreme tyres from Vredestein (I'm not kidding, they really are called Black Panther) offer us so much comfort and protection even on the gravel roads. PLUS, even though the roads are so bad, we haven't had a single flat tyre yet. Unbelievable. Thank you so much!!!
After about 100 kilometres we reach the high point of the day. The emphasis is on "HIGH". We had been glancing at the altitude profile all day and it just looked like a fucking wall. We just thought, oh my god, how are we ever going to do this with 200km already in our legs. Max in particular rides a Bombtrack Arise, a singlespeed that we converted to a four-speed shifter. But in reality he only uses 2. One for the uphill and one for the downhill. You really need good legs to manage the climbs here in Iceland. To make a long story short. We all made it. The wall was just brilliant and even better: the descent was so much fun.
We entered our campsite safe and sound. Everyone enjoyed Lars' amazing pasta and at 1am we all pitched our Heimplanettents.
Today we expect 100k on the ring road. The weather looks cloudy but dry. Thank you for being with us.
Stage 3 - Varmahlid-Akureyri
102.7K - 857m altitude
You simply lose track of time. When it gets late, you don't know if it's 5 pm or 11 pm. It just doesn't get dark. As a stupid German, you're used to getting tired when the sun goes down. Here it's all different...
Day 3 and there are about 100 km and 800 metres of altitude ahead of us. On a concrete road. No gravel for the first time.
Looking back after the 3rd of 6 stages, it's fair to say that Iceland taught us a lot of lessons. On Day 1, Iceland said, "Fuck you - what the hell are you idiots doing here?" On Day 2, Iceland kind of said, "Congratulations on hanging in there. Let me give you the best I've got." On Day 3, Iceland said, "Oh hey, I forgot I had something for you. Here are some wind suckers."
And this is what it looked like on the 3rd leg of this epic journey. Again we saw breathtaking landscapes, mountains covered with ice, wild horses, lonely roads and so much green. We were still very lucky: no rain and so much sun. BUT: the wind came up and it took a lot of teamwork to complete this stage....
When we started this stage, everything felt easy. We found a petrol station to charge our cameras and drank the first real coffee of the trip. The wind at our backs made us feel like we were flying down the road. We hardly encountered any cars, and when they saw us, they were all friendly and cool. The first climb of the day was quite long, but not too crazy and steep. And when we checked our garmins, we knew we had already done about 50 km, the team bus was already waiting and Ali was seriously brewing coffee. Incredible, having a coffee with your best friends in the setting of The Lord of the Rings. After an extensive lunch break, we thought that the rest of the stage would be easy, as there were no climbs waiting for us...
That was exactly the moment when Iceland reminded us who the babo is. Iceland blew a pretty fierce wind in our faces. We formed a team line, which we maintained until the stage was over and we reached Akureyri. Nevertheless, the tension rose a bit that day. The team is still a unit, but this stage showed us that we have to stick together. Watch out for the rider behind you. Watch out if someone is lagging behind. Just work together. Share your strengths and hide your weaknesses behind someone stronger than you. Kudos to Urban and Max for riding this tour as good as single gear.
For the first time we stopped riding before 10pm and just enjoyed being together. Still no rain and no crashes or any of that shit. Iceland, you are very good to us and we can't tell you how much we appreciate it.
Stage 4 - Akurey-Myvatn
103.2K, 1,301m altitude
Everything about the day was just fun. 7 riders started and we left our campsite at the top of a small mountain, only to stop in the tiny but beautiful "town" of Akurey for a quick coffee after riding only 10 km or so. Perfect start!!
When we left Akurey, we almost immediately came to a hill that was 300 metres high. Some loved it, some hated it. Especially for our bus driver, cook and good soul Ali, who is more or less a beginner on the saddle, it was a tough rollercoaster ride uphill. But he made it and was overjoyed and proud. We were too. Well done, buddy! And a very special thank you from the whole group for looking after us so well when we were out and about and needed a drink or some Clif Bars.
The ride downhill was pure magic and you really had to be careful not to fall off a cliff, because the landscape is just too beautiful. Compared to our road bikes, the Bombtrack Crossers are not as fast, but much more comfortable and perfect for the gravel roads in Iceland. If we ever come to Iceland again, we will ask Bombtrack for exactly the same bikes....
The lunch break was right next to some incredible waterfalls with great single trails to try out our bikes even more and take some pictures and footage for our upcoming documentary about this trip. We all felt like sleeping instead of tackling the second major climb of the day. Iceland also showed us an element we had never seen before: rain. It wasn't too bad, though, so we had no major problems tackling the 100 km and 1,350 metres of altitude.
The campsite in Myvatn was right next to a huge lake, and as we write these lines, it still hasn't got dark. It's 1 o'clock in the middle of the night and Iceland is still glowing. We have heard so much about this island and it really is better on all levels. The landscapes change so quickly and around every corner you experience something you've never seen before.
After Oslo and Mallorca, Chapter 3 of RAD TRAVELS takes us to Iceland and we couldn't be happier to be here. Whenever you can, you grab a bike, your best friends and travel the world by bike. It gives you the best possible speed to explore new places. Sometimes it's painful and there's no referee to stop the game, but seriously. That's what we love, and the only thing that bothers us is that there are only 2 stages left.
Stage 5 - Myvatn - Moorudal
89k - 500m altitude
As I write this, we are all lying in our Heimplanettents. It is 1 a.m. and of course it is not yet getting dark. Well, it's not bright daylight. It's something in between. Something unreal. We must be in an episode of Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings. You can't imagine how beautiful it is here. We camp in the greenest grass and listen to the sound of a small river that is right next to our 4 tents. We look at an orange moon and the sun hides behind a mountain on the other side. On the horizon there are volcanic craters and a huge mountain covered in ice. Oh yes, and then we went cycling today....
Leaving our campsite in xxx this morning was not that difficult after a great cereal breakfast, as we were looking at a huge volcanic crater that we really wanted to drive around. So we drove 10 km in the opposite direction to our original route and ended up at the edge of the crater. It took us a while to get up and down, and we lost a lot of power, but no matter, you don't often get a chance like this. The biggest problem, however, was that our shortcut from there to our route was not such a good idea. We ended up on a sand track that took us forever to cross.
Right after we had burnt off so much energy on this crazy stretch, a pretty decent climb was waiting for us. But again, Iceland was too good to us, because then we saw something we all hadn't seen before. A huge field where sulphur was blowing from countless holes straight out of the middle of the earth. Some people might read that and think we're just stupid white trash kids from the city. Well, we are. We don't see that kind of epic shit in Hamburg or Frankfurt.
We took the opportunity to take a lot of photos and film snippets for our tour documentation (which we hope to have ready in a few weeks when we are back home) and then finally set off, as there were still 80 km to go on this stage.
Some of us are lucky enough to have seen places in Australia, New Zealand or Hawaii, and all we can tell you is that you really don't have to travel that far and fly all around the globe. Just jump on the plane - take the bike with you - and 3 hours later experience breathtaking nature. It's just unbelievable how quickly the landscape changes from red to green to black and to any other colour you can imagine. The best thing about today's stage, however, was once again the weather. The sun shone all day and although the wind blew quite a bit in our faces, we mastered this stage with a great team performance.
For some of us, today was certainly one of the best rides we have ever done by bike. The last 20 km certainly add to that feeling. We switched into race mode - the cameramen Lars, Benny and Eti were filming from the open van while we were riding between 45 and 60 km/h. We were riding in groups. We formed smaller and larger groups, we shouted and just drove through Iceland and its deserted roads.
We had THE perfect wind at our backs for the last few kilometres, and we all arrived at our surreal campsite while the sun was still shining.
Now back to the beginning of this report... Remember? We have ice on our Bombtrack bikes and on our Evoc bags. It's slightly above zero and we see a lot of ice around us. After a few days you kind of forget that it's actually summer. Why the hell are we freezing again at the end of July? Oh yes, we are travelling in Iceland and we can't be more grateful for how great this island is.
Stage 6 - Moorudal-Egilstadir
95.2k - 886m altitude
Our last stage began with a freezing cold night with ice on our tents. Benny and Eti suffered a lot the last few nights as it was getting colder and colder and for some reason they only had a summer sleeping bag with them. Well, if there's one thing we can recommend, it's to bring warm clothes. They had to learn that the hard way. Rarely before have we met a place called exactly what it feels like to be there: like ice. Even in the depths of summer, we froze on our bikes. In the nights and on the cold evenings.
The moment we stepped out of our Heimplanettents, the sun shone from the blue sky and warmed us, and although we were all tired after almost 500 km in our legs, we were all looking forward to the last stage.
So we sat down in the greenest grass one last time, drank some great coffee and got some Icelandic donuts from the campsite owner and prepared for the last 95 km. Unfortunately, the route took us right back into a pretty steep climb and even better, a crazy gravel road that made it even harder to ride up the hill. When we came to Iceland, we had expected a lot of altitude, but to be honest, it was harder than we thought. The climbs are usually no steeper than 10%, but they are so long and the wind does its bit to kill you as you struggle up.
Later, the route took us again to some stunning Icelandic sights with endless waterfalls and deserted roads and so many cool things to see. It was all great and only the wind was our toughest enemy on this stage. It blew in our faces so hard for the first 70 kilometres that two of us decided to give up and get on the team bus. So there were only five of us on the last stage, which was a bit sad, because especially on the last 15 kilometres it was all downhill and the wind at our backs was saying goodbye to us.
Ali - the good soul in our crew - who made us pasta almost every night - is not the hardcore rider, but a bit of teamwork and a lot of heart from himself got him through the 95 km. He was super proud to have made it and so are we. Well done, buddy!
The end of the Tour D'Iceland was not too spectacular, the route ended in the small town of Egilstadir in a car park in front of a campsite. I think we were all still in the mood to just keep going the next day. But alas, we won't. I think I can speak for the majority of the group when I say: we would like to cycle further and all the way around Iceland on its famous Route 1.
But that was it. We made it and are so happy to have experienced Iceland. A total of 564 km in 6 stages with 5,825 metres of altitude. 8 riders, 3 friends behind some lenses. Many thanks to Heimplanetthat it was our home for 8 days.
Today we just have to make our way back to Reykjavik and then fly back to the place we came from. Thank you for following our travel diary. We will be back in October for the Tour D'Espana. If you are interested in riding with us, get in touch and drop us an email. We collect all emails and will get back to you with more RAD TRAVELS in 2016....
This was the first of 2 farewell rides for Sebastian Gondek. We miss you, man. The kids are all going.
Photos by Lars Schneider for RAD RACE