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Iceland: A Stormy Motorcycle Adventure
by Sherrie McCarthy
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We debate how many times we tried to visit Askja. I say 3, because there were 3 days when we actually said we were going to Askja that day, and the third time is a charm. Patrick however says 4, as the day we rode to Kverkfjöll to see the ice caves we debated if we should stop and see Askja on the way back, but decided against it as we thought we would run out of gas. Better to go the next day after filling our tanks at our camp site (and so began our first attempt to see Askja, part one here, and part two there!). But enough with the rambling, I am incoherent enough evenwhen I start out with a proper beginning, let alone when I try to tell a story from the middle on out. So a quick outline of our attempts before our last, and then the reason why we think the road to Askja is not so much hard as damned.
Day 3 of Our Arrival In Iceland
We decided upon our arrival in Iceland to go straight into the interior. We read that Askja and the ice caves at Kverkfjöll were both worth visiting, and we thought more or less “why not”. Our thinking went along the lines of at best we get to try some awesome offroading and at worse I drop the bike, break into a stream of tears, and in a fit of anger and demon channeling induced strength, I pick the the bike and hurl it at Patrick’s head while screaming the entire time how much I hate him. (Really, it is a wonder we work so well at all. But chocolate always helps).
I thought that Askja sounded like a worthy destination, and I thought that Patrick wanted to see the ice caves. On our first river crossing on the F 905 we met a couple on the way back from attempting Askja. They were on the one one bike, and he was riding a BMW R 100 GS. He said they turned back from Askja because they were just so sick and tired of trying to get through the sand. (actual words were that they “just had their snouts full of it”. You got to be German or punishing yourself with learning the language, but basically they were fed up.)
Then he blasted his way through the river and left me with the fear that I if he was unable to do it, I did not have a snowballs chance in hell to be able to do it. (About 10 seconds prior I had made Patrick hold on to the back of the bike to help guide me through what might as well have been the red sea to me. This is part sweetness on his part, but mostly the fact that he has no desire to see me morph into demon troll and ruin his vacation. Take that as you will).
Patrick was not about to give up his adventure so quickly however and we set up camp for the night just outside the national park that would take us to Askja or the ice caves. He convinces me that it would be better to go to the ice caves and just see what happens. (This decision was made not knowing that the majority of the road is in fact the same road, and also not knowing that the road to the ice caves was in fact much worse than the continuation to Askja.) But a good idea in theory!
But we made it to the ice caves and we did it without anyone losing a limb! However on the way back we decided that after 12 hours of offroading (and by offroading I mean driving on the 4 wheel drive tracks, at times the only reason you know you are still on the road on some of these tracks are the sticks that signal this is the approved path. Actually off roading means you are a flat out dick) perhaps it would be better to refill our tanks rather than risk Askja. This proved to be a wise decision as both of us went on reserve before we even made it back to the campsite. Meaning we would’ve ended up somewhere on the road with no gas.
This is where the road turned off, even still we thought 28 kms plus 28 back, why chance it?
So I do not really count that as our first try to visit Askja, since it was just a nice thought, or at best a maybe, rather than an actual plan.
The actual first day for me was the day we woke up at 6 to ride down to Askja, picked up a flat, blew my tire on the way to buy a replacement tube, and ended up in hospital for 2 days. But that happened on the ring road, so it was not the road that was hard, but rather the damn nails and screws.
When we got out of hospital we had lost 2 nights and 3 days there, and then another 3 days waiting for my replacement tire to be brought to Egilsstadir. So we thought that maybe we should see what else Iceland had to offer before going back into the interior.
May I state now that though the thought was a good one, when we finally went back into the interior our only regret was that we had not stayed there until we were sick of it first. But that is another post for another time.
Second attempt at Askja:
Patrick wanted to ride through Iceland south to north through the interior. I (still) wanted to see Askja. What better way than to go through the interior, check out Landmannalaugar and then take the F26 to see Askja. I was all for it in theory. But after the first attempt put us in hospital I was feeling a little superstitious about the endeavor. The ride however proved to be spectacular. Our favorite days of the entire trip in fact.
Upon arrival at the wardens hut at Nyidalur we saw a couple in a jeep who we asked about the rest of route. They told us their guide book said it was only for absolute nutters. That their guide book did not say that about any other route through the entire island meant something. (Although I really suspect to Patrick it just meant a challenge).
Not to take their word alone we asked the guide there if the road was safe to drive. He said we could do it, that the river however would be very tricky, but otherwise it was fine. BUT, to be aware that the route, despite being only a 100 kms, would take us about 10 hours. It would in fact be faster to go around. Plus since it was now late September we should also be aware that next to no one would be taking that route.
When we reached the turn off the fact that despite some pretty insane off roading in Iceland (including a closed road that I had to get Patrick to drive my bike up and onto, and more than once take over for me on that road) I have never seen this sign with the truck showing lots of ruts (plus we were already on one of these F roads to see the sign to begin with):
And after the river of death (I almost got sucked away by it just crossing it to see how deep it was. In fairness the river grabbed at my knee pads and they helped the drag, there was no way I was attempting that river. Patrick received the honor instead. But both of us got soaked checking it out, so it was not as if I was playing the princess on this one)
And so we come to our third (debatable fourth) attempt at Askja.
It is now Monday. We are scheduled to leave with the ferry on Wednesday. We wake up early, leave the tent pitched and go without all our stuff.
The road down is nothing at this point. Although my first day I was nervous, now after a month in Iceland (and finally believing Patrick when he said I just need to put my bike on high ) we blasted down. Rivers one and two we get through. The road is wet and so the sand is nothing. More importantly it is a beautiful sunny day. We are ecstatic. We are in love with Iceland, our bikes and each other. I’m still feeling a little superstitious about the whole thing, but I push it out of my mind. Plus third time is a charm right? And we have done worse. This is nothing!
We make it to Askja, and except feeling a little disappointed (at this point it was starting to feel like the holy grail of the trip) it was awesome. In fact the ride itself was better than the actual place. And though we decided it was too cold to swim, we took pictures galore, and began the ride back.
The ride back proved to be a little tricker. After a day of sun the sand was completely dry, and if there is a motorcycle sand surfing competition I assure you I will boycott it. I HATE it. Patrick insists there will come a day when I will give my bike a snort of gas just to get it to slide a little, but as it stands at the moment the only thing I hate more than losing control of my bike and having my bike start to sand surf is 20 m/s plus winds trying to knock me off my bike. That I had both more often on this trip than I would’ve liked and I still love both the trip and Iceland says a lot about the country!
And so there were points were I literally walked the bike through by playing with the clutch and keeping both feet on the ground while going through.
And this also meant it took us much longer to get out than we thought. Couple this with the fact that we did not know we would have to walk 45 minutes to get to Viti and you have us coming to the rivers about 3 hours later than we had anticipated. Nothing so terrible, except that when you are tired you make stupid mistakes. How Patrick did it we still don’t know. He was almost out of the river. He has done this river 3 and a half times now (twice down and back to the falls, that morning, and then 5 minutes before when I got the bike stuck halfway through, and almost dropped her, and in a fit of irritably made him get it out.) And then under Wilma went.
Again, not a difficult river. But we had it way too easy down and back! And he heard a monstrousness sucking sound and when we get Wilma out, she wont start.
We thought this was too easy.
And that my friends is why the road is damned rather than difficult.
The rest of the story needs to wait for another day, as I have already gone on for too long!