After a stellar performance in delivering multiple blogs from the Faroes, well in my view anyway, the silence since we arrived in Iceland must have seemed deafening, to those on their couches. The last few days have been full for us, mostly wondering how to dodge more rain and cold and blogs have taken a back seat, so here goes…..
We are up early in our cabin after a luxurious night sleeping on a calm sea yet again. Are we lucky or what?! Fog or mist clouds our view on the TV screen from the bridge of the view ahead. Good thing they did not have that technology on the Titanic! Cabins need to be vacated an hour and half before arrival to allow the crew to prepare them for the next guests, so up and packed for us. Unlike the Faroe Islands, everyone is getting off so we gather up our gear, still damp from yesterday’s windy downpour and ensconce ourselves with a fellow traveller, Ralph, whose path we crossed from time to time in the Faroes.
Then we are down to Streak and Storm, remove the anchor ropes, load up and wait to dock. Motorbikes with knobbly tyres surround us, I believe they are heading for the centre with its gravel roads, river crossings and other challenges while we are taking the more sedate route anti clockwise around the country. I doubt our paths will cross and so far they have not.
Just as efficiently as we boarded, they have us off into a cold and wet Seyðisfjordur, the port in Eastern Iceland where we will start and finish our circumnavigation of Iceland. The first thing I notice is the trees, something we missed in the Faroes, which had virtually no trees, the second is snow a few hundred meters up the steep grassy hillsides, that explains the cold, snow near sea level in summer, whatever next… Now I know why all the UK motorcyclists head south from the Eurostar, they can get this kind of weather in the UK in winter.
Happily settled in the local coffee shop, these map apps are very good at locating them, we look at the weather forecast for the east of Iceland, rain rain and more rain it appears and sub 10 degree celsius weather predicted. Not our preferred riding weather and the alternative of heading south sees more of the same. With our gear still wet, we stay overnight to dry out and then set-off northwards.
Past the cyclists, they are crazier than us, although one we spoke to thought that those who walked were the crazy ones. Down the temperature goes and over the pass at 5 degrees, a hot drink and warmth starts to fill our thoughts and we make barely 80 kms / 50 ml before we find a place to warm up. Today will be a short riding day. We reach Möðrudalur, the highest working farm in Iceland, and probably the coldest and here we will stay. As we walk back from our room for dinner, who should appear but the cyclists, they have peddled the same distance as we have ridden, although we arrived about 7 hours earlier. My hat off to them, but not for me.
Still grey the next day, but onward we go without the rain, we are thankful for small mercies. I am taken by the ‘fresh’ nature of the land, both the verdant greens and the volcanic activity that rents or covers the landscape we ride through – coming from Australia, an old and worn land, the recentness, if there is such a word.
We chose to take a 7.4km tunnel linking Mivatn and Akureyri – what surprise that is as the temperature increases from 11 degrees to 34 mid-way – not the best experience for Anne being claustrophobic! We find out that Vaðlaheiðargöng tunnel construction hit some difficulties when they hit a stream of underground, boiling geothermal water.
We arrive in Akureyri from where in February 2018 two dedicated BMW riders drove their car 400 km to hear our presentation on ‘the Stans’ we were making at the Iceland BMW motorcycle club AGM. Then they drove 400km home to be at work the next day. We really hoped they enjoyed the presentation! We are catching up with one of them, Joi, while we are here on Sunday.
Saturday night we are eating at a local restaurant when our neighbours, seeing our clothing ask if we are the RTW motorcyclists meeting their friend Joi tomorrow. Of course we are. We spend time chatting and learn that Kristjan and Joi are friends and motorcyclists from childhood going on a road trip together the day after next. Connections again.
We spend longer in Akureyri than originally planned for some bike maintenance issues on both bikes. Stefan, whom we met at the Motorcycle Museum, has kindly let us use part of his Velaverkstaedi garage for us to work in, away from any potential rain and gives us hand at times.
I had wondered the last time we were in Iceland, in February 2018, about the lack of trees around Reykjavik, and have since learned that it was a combination of natural disasters, volcanic activity, and clearance for sheep farming and timber for heating and charcoal that denuded the landscape. It is believed that when the first settlers arrived, around 25% of the country was forested, This was reduced to 1% within three centuries. Later volcanic activity covered large areas and strong winds also eroded the soil. Until 100 years ago, many Icelandic people had not seen forests. At the present rate of reforestation, it will still only cover 1.5% by 2050. A reminder to us all, man’s actions cannot always be quickly remedied. See https://hmdecozine.com/2014/01/21/iceland/ if you are interested in more info on this topic.
From Akureyri, we continue our way westwards, stopping at Hvammstangi for the night.
The plan was to spend a week exploring the Westfjord region but more forecast rain put us off and we decide to head to Snæfellsness National Park instead. What a special place, especially Djúpalónssandur, or the Black Lava Pearl Beach.
We have seen, experienced and learned so much since we arrived so instead of writing a ‘novel’, here is a simple list of things that have become normal for us over the past couple of weeks but are worth a mention or we might forget about them:
- The smell of sulphur when taking a shower can be strong in places
- Hot water from taps is extremely hot here
- Night time is still light enough to read in summer
- You can’t see the stars at night in summer
- The tiniest villages exist everywhere especially in tiny coves accessible to fishing boats
- The tiniest village will always have a church
- Life here, at least in the countryside, revolves around fishing or sheep farming and Icelandic horses
- Whereas sheep in the Faroes are kept predominantly for meat and therefore would be seen with long strands of wool hanging off their bodies, waiting to snag against a bush to be removed, sheep here have a beautiful fluffy coats for the prized Icelandic wool garments
- The Icelandic language is the closest to original Old Norse that was spoken by the Vikings and has a number of unique characters such as ð (th as in ‘this’) and þ (th as in ‘thing’)
- The power of nature can be seen and felt throughout Iceland with its numerous volcanoes, moss covered lava, waterfalls, wild coastline, geothermal activity noticeable with steam coming out of the ground, wildflowers growing out of lava rock cracks
- Many legends of trolls, demons, and prophets exist around the origin of numerous rock formations, islands, canyons
- Everyone speaks English in Iceland
- Winds can be ferocious here – thank goodness for Cape Town riding experience
- No need for wind turbines when there is so much geothermal energy
- Iceland is heaven for hikers and nature lovers
- Don’t think of earthquakes when you’re in one of the many long tunnels
- Sheep are as stupid as kangaroos, running out right in front of you at the last minute – thank goodness for good brakes
- Staying connected is tricky when you camp and need to recharge your devices
- There has been a lot of “chatter” in our heads as we work hard on staying positive in the relentless grey, cold and windy weather
- It is amazing how excited we can get when the low cloud and fog clears, even if only briefly, to reveal impressive scenery
- Green is so vivid even under grey skies
- Birds chirp all night
- We definitely prefer wild camping to organised camping but nature is so fragile and precious here that we decided to respect the Icelandic government request not to wild camp unless absolutely necessary
- Iceland is expensive
- It’s been fun repeatedly bumping into Ralph and Charlotte since the Faroes and making new connections
- We have enjoyed our time but the weather has been a bit of a challenge – yes, that’s why they call it ICEland! – we are especially disappointed to have had to decide to skip the Westfjord region this time
- It is Anthony’s turn to pick the next holiday/trip destination!!
A bit of trivia: we have now ridden Streak and Storm in 50 countries.
Just a couple more days here, time to catch up with our Icelandic friends, store the bikes in Reykjavik for a month thanks to these friends here before special time with family.
I draw back the curtain a smidgin and I am struck by the light streaming through the tiny gap, blinded I stagger back, falling on the bed. The Abu Dhabi sun strikes again, no, hang on, we are in London and have a gorgeous summer’s day. From Heathrow where we spent the first night, we head to Canterbury in Kent for a sumptuous lunch prepared by Anne’s mother, who, at 89+ still amazingly does everything herself, and then onwards to be reunited with Streak and Storm and start the preparation for our journey to Iceland. We are struck by the variety of textures and greens as we circumnavigate the M25 and M26. The countryside is so beautiful.
We arrive at the storage facility and find that Alan has Streak and Storm out along with all our travelling possessions. We now have to transform five suitcases into four panniers.
As usual Anne attacks the task at hand with gusto, must be the recent project management experience kicking in, or has Anne always been more organised? I spend time shifting though all the tools and spares to reduce our RTW supplies for a more slimline spares for the Iceland trip. Out go the 50 cable ties, spare fuel pump, rusty tools (note to self: leave tools pannier open even if it seems dry), multiple types of gasket sealant. A much more compact package emerges to join Anne’s sterling work with the other panniers. A good morning’s work has been done and my rumbling stomach indicates that lunch beckons. Anne suggests that even though Streak and Storm have been serviced and re-shod, we should still do a test ride today rather than wait till tomorrow. Sensible as usual.
Both bikes start first time and are purring away in the lunchtime sun. We are ready to ride and get fresh fuel to dilute the stale petrol and stabiliser that currently sloshes around in the tank. A line of warning lights from ABS to LAMP illuminate my console. Hopefully most will disappear as we start riding. Our main beam lamps last about three months and usually both go within 24 hours of each other as we run the bikes for almost the same amount of time. The BMW lamp failure is very consistent.
Within a few hundred meters of leaving my radiator fan kicks in, unusual since it is not a hot day. Refuelled just down the road and we are off to lunch at a local pub. It is great to be out in the New Forest, although one has to keep a wary eye for the ponies that graze at the roadside ignoring the passing vehicles, but masters of their domain and they will wonder out into the road from time to time.
My Christmas tree of warning lights stubbornly fails to go out, twice around the world without a glitch and there appears to be a problem(s)? My temperature gauge is rising and suddenly after only 2 miles / 3 kilometres the orange warning light goes red, never seen that before and the temperature gauge starts flashing, time to pull over, “Houston we have a problem”. My radiator is warm on one side and cool on the other. We, well I, do have a problem.
Should have considered the breakdown option in the insurance policy, oh well, too late for that. A couple of calls and Alan from the storage facility very kindly offers to bring a trailer out to collect me in the midst of a busy schedule. Three hours later we are back in storage facility, what next?
We quickly learn that at this time of the year, summer holidays looming, all the BMW dealerships service departments are booked up for 1-2 weeks ahead and cannot help us immediately. It is reminder of the outstanding support that the various BMW Motorrad service departments we visited around the world went out of their way to help an overseas visitor in need in some cases when we had just turned up to enquire about availability.
It also dawns on us that our ferry trip to Iceland is only a week away and there is no capacity for at least 2 weeks after our planned departure date. Only one ferry a week goes to Iceland so if we cannot get Streak fixed by Friday our planned visit Iceland with Streak and Storm is over.
There are no practical motorcycle alternatives we can think of: buy another similar bike, hire one for the trip, over two months with our August break do not make financial sense. As we are considering the various alternatives I realise this type of decision making is what Anne faced everyday as a project manager, juggling issues and priorities. We also realise that it is unlikely that we can recover any of our Iceland expenses from our Insurance policy due to the multiple exclusions including “any vehicle breakdown”.
The rest of the afternoon is taken up with phone calls to various motorcycle mechanics, gaining advice and information from helpful individuals. They say the problem could be caused by a blocked radiator, failed temperature sensor, gasket leak, water pump failure, thermostat failure, air bubble in the radiator, the list is not endless but extensive.
While holidays have driven up demand for servicing, we find one mechanic who works on BMWs who is going on holidays next week so he has run his workload down and has offered to help this week. He will come to Storm on Thursday morning to see if it can be fixed before the weekend, problematic is spares’ availability. There is no spare radiator is in the UK and it takes a up to one week to deliver from Germany. The centralising of spares by BMW causes problems when you are time constrained as we are.
So what is next? We do not know. From posting month old blogs recently, I am now giving you all a realtime view of our dilemma as it unfolds. If you have any suggestions or out of the box ideas we are listening. While this has been disappointing, frustrating and even a little stressful as we try to make the ferry next week, we remind ourselves that we were successfully able to travel twice around the world with Streak and Storm and we have this problem now rather than in a week’s time while on the road.
As we walked to have a drink and dinner and console ourselves after a tumultuous couple of days I see a mother walking towards us pushing her severely disabled adult son in a wheelchair – we are so lucky!– Anthony
Yes, we did it and it feels great!! Our 2nd round the world trip on the same motorcycles, Streak and Storm, in 6 months this time, from east to west, is now complete: 30,300kms or 19,000 miles plus 2 flights, 5 ferry rides and 2 truck rides, 22 countries visited on this trip, 11 new countries, making it 95 countries in total for us over the years. And we celebrated a couple of milestones on the road: 43 years since we met and my 60th birthday.
Why did we do this trip again?! Well, it was a choice between painting the house or going on another bike trip. There was no hesitation on our part. After Anthony drew up 3 routes of varying length and duration, we both picked the same one: the longest one, another round the world. There were friends in a number of countries we made on our last round the world trip who we dearly wanted to see again. It was also the most challenging route, for the timeframe – can we go around the world during a northern hemisphere summer? and for the terrain – crossing Mongolia with its renowned stunning scenery but difficult roads. Why so fast? We didn’t want to be away another 15 months – 6 months seemed to be about right and we saw it like an endurance challenge, a marathon, or ultra-marathon if you will, one that would challenge us both physically and mentally. Well, the timeframe challenge ended up forcing two major route changes along the way. Right at the start of the trip, we had to abandon our plan to ride to Alaska due to a long late winter. We spent a couple of months basically seeking less freezing weather and heading further and further south in the US. Then we gave up the indefinite wait in Kazakhstan to hear whether Turkmenistan would grant us a transit visa which meant we could not return to Iran to visit the many friends we made last time. That was gutting. And the terrain proved to be more challenging, hence one pickup ride in Mongolia, and the timeframe too, due to visa constraints, hence the 2nd pickup ride. Yes, the ride was at times physically and mentally tough but also so much fun and so rewarding!!! Renewing friendships and making new ones a huge part of that enjoyment. So we made it around the world from east to west in 6 months as we had hoped!!! And safely!! And we feel good.
Both bikes performed fantastically well overall: Streak’s four problems got fixed in Tajikistan and is still running with a secret ‘Tajik fix’ and both Streak and Storm got a new battery in Turkey. Heidenau Scout K60 tyres were fitted in Vancouver and lasted 20,000 kms.
As for us, we have enjoyed the whole journey, loved the people we met and new friendships made, saw some fantastic places, experienced so many unforgettable moments, discovered places we’d love to return to, supported each other during the tougher parts, learned more about ourselves, and best of all, can confirm once again that based on our experience, the world over, the vast majority of people are good, kind, generous and helpful.
As we close this chapter, we know how we would like to travel next!!! While we had a fantastic trip, we were so often sorry to have to move on. Too often, we ran out of time to spend a couple of more days somewhere to catch up with friends on the road – that was disappointing. 6 months was too short really. But at least we know where we’d love to return to such as the Caucasus. And while we saw stunning scenery and many fabulous ancient sites, as always, it is the time we spent with people that stays with us. We would love to spend longer in one place, wandering the smaller lanes and smaller villages with lesser known sights, at a much slower pace and at a time of the year that isn’t either too boiling hot or freezing to camp – I may have to work on Anthony for the camping part though!! Our pace will change radically. But for now, Streeak and Storm return to their storage place in southern UK.
Thank you to our numerous Gardian Angels and to all our followers for your comments and private messages and encouragement, it always meant so much to us, our connection back to home, family and friends. It is time we did that painting at home now!