LunaTours trip to Iceland

by Amy R.
Amy in Iceland

I am the happy cyclist who won Team Estrogen's contest last year. I applied my $1000 credit with LunaTours to a trip to Iceland this July. Something different, I thought. It was different, indeed.

Five women aged 19-59 braved a week on mountain bikes rumbling over mostly dirt roads to remote valleys, moss covered lava fields, volcanic rhyolite and lava mountains, steaming hot and freezing cold streams mixing for perfect immersion temperature enjoyed with people from all over Europe while gazing at a pristine valley at the center of a huge volcanic caldera. Wonderful.

Our leader was Rebecca Hintze, the owner of LunaTours, and our local guide was a Viking descendant. Haldor and his wife Gerda ramrodded the trip, carried our gear in their 4x4 Toyota van, and cooked our meals at the hostels, often the only lodging available outside Reykjavik, the capital.

You may have heard that Greenland is white and Iceland is green, and that is true. In full summer, there is rain often and cool temperatures by our summer standards, but knowing that in advance helped me prepare with clothing and attitude. I brought appropriate clothing, (warm socks, tights, full rain gear and new booties), and two shower caps, one of which was blown off my helmet the first day in the back country. Luckily, our guide changed the route that day so instead of uphill into a stiff wind, we rode with a tailwind down a gentle dirt road with farms, sheep and Icelandic horses around.

Thingvallir, where continental plates meet
Thingvallir, where continental plates meet

Between rain showers, we could see green mossy hills and snow spotted Mt Hekla, biggest peak on the island (1600 meters I think), the volcano responsible for the eruption in 1104 that wiped out all the forests on the island. There are few trees today, lots of brush, bushes, moss, wildflowers, and grasses, waterfalls and rivers, steam vents and geysers, as well as glaciers including Europe's largest.

Iceland photograph

The volcanic origin of the island was apparent everywhere. Jagged lava fields covered with moss were a frequent sight, with arable fields in the minority. Lupine was introduced as a soil stabilizer and has become a noxious weed, taking over expanses of fields to the exclusion of native species. Fortunately for us, they were in bloom and looked lovely.

Lumber is either imported or flotsam, and some big stuff floats in there from Europe and Siberia. Most houses are stucco, tile, or metal siding with lots of red or colored metal roofs. Most people own their homes, including flats in what look like apartment houses. Medical care is provided by the government and is centralized in Reykjavik, with a transport system to bring people in for fancy stuff. The population is under 300,000 with over 80% living in and around the capital.

Cycling in the city - Iceland
Cycling in the city - Iceland

We were on basic Giant mountain bikes (no shocks!) provided by the local guide, who was a font of info about history, geology, customs, as well as opinions about politics and George W.

Outside shoes are always taken off inside homes and hostels. Once again I'm glad I brought my own pedals and saddle, though the rough volcanic debris road surfaces were hard on equipment- one Frog cleat destroyed, bootie bottoms trashed, drive trains needing frequent adjustment, no flats, no injuries, few crashes.

They have strict protectionist laws about import of dairy and meat so there's no mad cow or hoof and mouth disease. It limits genetic and food variety but supports the local farmers and keeps purity of stock, this being a subject of some debate there. Food was great - I tried reindeer, red deer, goose confit, boiled lamb shank (yum), local cod, fresh lake trout, salmon, skyr(like yogurt), and more. Greenhouses are heated geothermally so they grow some of their own produce. They do make their own chocolate, fleece and wool clothing, and moss schnapps, to name a few. Everything is expensive!

We rode Icelandic horses one day; they are small, strong, gentle, and have a gait called the toltt, which is unique in horsedom, and is fast and very smooth.

So what I thought would be up to 40 easy mostly road miles a day turned out to be challenging, mostly rocky dirt riding 25-35 miles/day. Paved roads out in the rural areas we saw were two lane with no shoulder, and the few cars gave us good leeway. I really liked my rear view mirror as I usually saw traffic before I could hear it over the oft present wind. We covered a small circle in the southwest area of the island and saw so much. There is lots more to see!

Iceland photo

We got rained out part of the longest coldest windiest day - we got in the Toyota 4WD van to ford a glacial river after lunch and never got out. The abundant geothermal energy allowed us to sit in hot pools and tubs many nights, and two of those nights were in a remote colorful rhyolite valley called Landmannalaugar (many words like that and longer), where a cold river and hot river met, perfect for soaking. And I loved the endless daylight - it dimmed a little after midnight!

Rhyolite and lava at Landmannalauger
Rhyolite and lava at Landmannalauger

All energy is derived from hydroelectric and geothermal, so it's very clean, and guess what, I saw exactly one piece of litter the whole week (other than two shower caps blown off). They just don't litter there; wouldn't it be nice if our culture could get that habit? We stayed in hostels most nights out of Reykjavik (pronounced Rye'-key-a-vick), because that's all there was out there in the middle of nowhere. Had they been full, we would have been living like sardines.

I loved hearing all the languages. Most people we met spoke English. I tried to learn some words and the numbers, but the only one I can remember is 6-"sex" in Icelandic. When they travel to the US, they must love to book at Motel 6. They didn't accept dollars (too weak) or Travelers Checks, but we paid for everything (as they do) with credit cards. Thanks to the US military presence, there is an extensive cellular phone network all over the island. I didn't turn mine on to avoid the forwarding charges. I couldn't get my swell new Costco phone card to work the one day we had access to a public phone. Oh yeah, and Icelandair still serves a hot meal!

Coming to and from the airport, we stopped for a soak in a huge (> 1 acre, no kidding) geothermal pool attached to a geothermal plant. They do floating massages there, but they were booked. All in all, a fun and worthwhile trip. My thanks to Rebecca and Team Estrogen.

Amy, Portland, Oregon, USA