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To Bicycle or Hike Across Iceland

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As I sit in Logan airport I have one question on my mind: when my flight touches down in Reykjavik, am I going to look for a bicycle or just tramp. The advantages of both options are obvious, but the disadvantages of each method of travel are perhaps equally clear.

Iceland weather and climate

It is said that 70% of Icelanders check the weather daily, and living in a country that sits at nearly 65 degrees north latitude it is easy to understand why. For reference, Maine straddles 45 degrees and Ecuador is around zero. If you travel north from the Ecuador to Maine you are only a little over two thirds of the way to the northern latitude of Iceland. I have never been this far north before — relatively few people have. Needless to say, Iceland is disposed to having an extreme climate.

View away from Reykjavik, Iceland

I looked over the long range weather forecast and cringed: it averaged 55 degrees F during the day and around 40 at night. Not a bad nighttime temperature, I told myself, and then remembered that night is not really a thing they have in Iceland at this time of year. They are too far north for that.

But what gave cause to worry was the excessive frequency of animated clouds and rain drops that were jotted through the weather forecast. Whether I walk across Iceland or bike I am going to be outside — a lot. Wet combined with cold — even 40 degrees — can easily lead to hypothermia. This, combined with the fact that there will probably be very long stretches between towns with adequate (extreme budget) accommodation, and I’m framing the challenge that sits before me.

[adsense]Guest house accommodation in Iceland easily tops $100 per night. Hostels are looking like $25 for a bunk. I am in this for the camping, for the hiking, possibly the biking. I am going to Iceland for the landscape, the extremes, and, perhaps if I’m lucky, the adventure.

Advantages of bicycle travel

On a bicycle I can cover between 60 to 100 kilometers a day comfortably, and at a pace that allows for many stops to check things out or to rest. A bicycle is a vehicle, it is the ultimate vagabonding machine. On a bike, a traveler can move fast enough to get somewhere while concurrently moving slow enough to enjoy and really feel every inch of the journey.

A bicycle also puts the traveler in charge of their own locomotion by providing the ability to start and stop at will,  as well as the additional self-sufficiency and self-determination that comes with being able to do so. Public transportation can be called “point to point travel,” as you make a decision at one point on the map to zip right over to another — the in between areas of the world zipping by outside the window. Bicycling emphasizes these in between areas of travel, and it is often in these no-name spaces of the planet — the places that few travelers touch the ground — that some of the most memorable moments in travel happen.

The bicycle also acts as a gear transporter, removing its weight from the body and distributing it down through the frame and wheels. This is a major advantage of this type of travel.

But the main advantage of traveling by bicycle is perhaps the fact that it is really, truly fun. It is probably the most enjoyable way to travel through the world.

The disadvantages of bicycle travel

It is dangerous, very, very dangerous. The bicycle is made for using the same paths of transport as other types of vehicle — namely, automobile, trucks, rigs, motorcycles — all of which have a gross advantage in physics in a collision with a bicycle. Traveling by bicycle is to put a lot of faith in every dimwit driver that happens to accelerate up behind you at potentially excessive speeds. This letting go to happenstance is a part of life, but you must do so to a far greater extent when traveling by bike.

The bicycle also becomes a ‘dynamic’ possession of sorts — it is something that you own and use that can consume a disproportionately large amount of mental bandwidth. If a bicycle is your means of transportation, then it can become something that you rely on. Likewise, it becomes easy to start worrying about safeguarding it against theft, about keeping it in good running condition, and on and on. I do not like worrying about what I own, I do not like having to chase away a bunch of goons huddled around my ride.

Advantages of hiking

Just getting up and walking from town to town has a ring of romance to it. Walking is my species’ natural, default means of travel. To walk is to really feel every step of a journey very literally. It is also truly interesting being “at ground level” for the entire length of a journey, it is real interesting.

The option to hitchhike or easily hop on an available bus is also more open to the hiker than the bicycle rider.

The disadvantages of hiking

It is slow. At best I could only hope to average twenty to twenty five miles a day. Hiking would makes me vastly “farther away” from internet access and, therefore, my business, communication with my workers, interns, and family. There is a balance that every traveler running a business from the road needs to work out between taking the road to its farthest limits and making a living. I wish I could have left VagabondJourney.com to other people while making this Iceland journey, but that is simply not a possibility:

Even while off in some of the most remote and environmentally brutal stretches of the planet I still need to keep my work in mind, and cleverly plot rendezvous points where I can publish, edit, and direct the body of people now working on this project. Perhaps someday I will be able to go off on month to two month long adventures leaving this fiasco to the team . . .  but for now I am too poor not to think about money — and sell Vagabond Explorer.

Baggage restrictions

I picked up my bags for the first time and walked from the bus into Logan airport. I walked around a little, felt the weight I was freighting, got a handle on the load, and again cringed. I have been training hard for this trip for the past couple of months, but I know that I am not going to be praising my packing techniques five miles out on a many hundred mile hike.

The problem is not that I packed what I do not need — no, I have only what I need. The problem is that what I need to travel with is vastly more than in the days when I use to tramp with hardly even a bag.

I make my money from digital endeavors — this website, blog, and now Vagabond Explorer magazine — and I need to carry the appropriate electronics. I am continuously surprised at how much space a netbook, an Alphasmart Neo, a couple cameras, some SD cards, a spare hard drive, and various cords can take up. I am even more surprised at how much this all weighs. I have one entire bag that is just digital equipment — my mobile office.

My other bag is a relatively large size Lowe Alpine TT Tour (this is a traveler’s back, made specifically for foreign travel (not a hiking bag, more on this later). The problem here is that over 50% of the intake of this backpack is made up of camping gear. I have a Hennessey Hammock tent and a good sleeping bag. I am well prepared for these travels in Iceland, and everything I have is needed, but this doesn’t make it weigh any less.

At this juncture it is clear that I am going to need some way to cart this gear. Either I will go by bicycle and make a gear rack to hold it, or I will come up with creative means for hiking, if that is what I decide to do. But as I was walking through Logan debating my options I saw a way through the forest: a baggage cart. If I could somehow find a cart (or wheelbarrow like contraption) I could pull my baggage behind me. My wheels are turning, as it is clear that I am going to need wheels of some sort to complete this journey across Iceland, a country with a bulk supply of mountains, fjords, deserts, and forests.

Note to readers: This entry is post dated to June 15th. I arrived in Iceland two days ago.

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Filed under: Bicycle Travel, Europe, Hiking and Trekking, Iceland, Western Europe

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3048 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Polis, Republic of CyprusMap