Thursday, 29 September 2016

Iceland Pt 1

We come from the land of ice and snow,
From the midnight sun,
Where the hot springs glow.
Immigrant Song, Led Zeppelin

When Robert Plant wrote the above on a plane back from Reykjavik he missed out "weird", "wacky", "jaw dropping" or any other myriad terms you can pull from a thesaurus that apply to Iceland. Given the war like tone of the rest of the song, it's ironic that Iceland is one of the few countries in the world that doesn't have to go to war to increase the size of its territory, nature just keeps going: "Here, have some more".

Coloured landscape at Landmannalaugar

They should really hand out jaw straps at the exit to Keflavik airport, all those cliched phrases about the place are true, the locals must have a phrase for "tourist standing open mouthed at something". The landscape looks as if they got hold of H R Giger and Salvador Dali and just let them get on with it. Cobalt blue pools? Check! Blood red streams? Not a problem. Rainbow coloured scree? Did that before breakfast! Vast lava fields that can be used as Mordor? Of course!

There's something else that will make your jaw drop - the prices. Coming from the UK where everything is driven by pricing as low as possible Iceland is a shock, typically add 50% to UK prices as your starting point. Surprisingly one of the few things that isn't expensive is fuel which is around 10% above the prices you'd pay at an urban filling station in the UK. For nine days touring around the SE of the country and covering nearly a thousand kilometres we used just £50 of fuel.

The harshness of the landscape and the relatively isolated location do mean that Icelanders have their own take on things: a 3 metre wingspan eagle and a Massey Ferguson 135 tractor as garden ornaments? In the same garden BTW. Then again they did have a geothermal vent steaming away in their back garden.

If the landscape is totally over the top then the weather is more than a match. The weather forecast on the other hand takes British understatement to extremes: a gentle breeze translates as "hoolie" for the northerners among us or "A woman rang in to say a hurricane is on the way" for the southerners.

Although we took the bikes (see the next post) this was as much a general holiday as a biking one, there's a lot to see. A day and a bit seeing the sights in Reykjavik is enough city for us rural folk. We managed to see most of the museums, some traditional and a bit staid/boring but others were really interesting like the Viking long house that was preserved "underneath" a modern building. Eating out at night was fine, if expensive, though we probably dropped in to the "tourists out of their depth" on the first night. On the second night I remembered seeing a small restaurant as we'd walked in to town and it was much better. It's worth noting that although the restaurants are pricey the food is very, very good 

The next day after our first trip to a thermal baths we head out of town (although it's the capital, Reykjavik is little bigger than a British provincial town) towards Thingvellir, the world's first parliament. When we get there the car park is packed plus there's four coaches, as a result the first viewpoint is packed. As we walk further along there are fewer and fewer people. By the time we get back to the car the car park is almost empty. With the weather being poor we decide not to go for a ride but to continue along "The Golden Circle" tourist bit. It turns out that we are following a "wave" of tourists, we get to each attraction just as most of them are about to leave.

Strokkur letting off steam

Next up is Geysir the eponymous, err, geysir. Due to geological activity it is regarded as dormant these days and only the smaller Strokkur performs on a regular basis. The eruptions are all very sudden and it's a bit hit and miss getting a shot. The final stop is GullFoss which is simply stunning, even several hundred other tourists can't detract from the spectacle.

We camp in the area for a couple of nights doing a ride (again, see next post) before heading towards the centre of the island stopping at the rebuilt viking long house at Stong. 

Inside the reconstructed long house at Stong.

A short walk behind this reveals a fantastic set of waterfalls. This is something that we've not really expected, sure there are the well known falls like Gullfoss, Dettifoss and Skogarfoss but there are countless others which whilst not having the sheer size and impact of the main tourist oriented falls are nevertheless just as impressive or beautiful.

After more jaw dropping, stop the car and take a photo, vistas we arrive at Landmannalaugar. This is one of the main hiking centres in Iceland (it's the starting point for the Laugevegur Trail, reckoned to be one of the best trails in the world) and is known for the multi-coloured mountains and its hot springs. The name translates as "community hot springs". 

The campsite at Landmannalaugar

The campsite is a little "firm" and we have to pitch the tent using rocks rather than pegs. Iceland is as close to being a cashless society, even here in what might be described as "The middle of nowhere" you can pay for the campsite using your debit card. The site attendant suggests we only pay for one night in case we change our minds. The weather is, hmm, bracing.

In the morning we prevaricate for a while, decide not to go for a bike ride but go for a walk instead. We do a combination of three trails and come to the conclusion that we'd have struggled to stay on our bikes in the wind. Deciding to cut our losses we head out of the area that afternoon and head down to Skogarfoss on the coast.

Skogarfoss is one of the posterchildren of Icelandic waterfalls, plainly visible from Route 1 it's a simple walk to the base. Even better is that the campsite is all of 100 metres away, though the constant noise through the night takes a bit of getting used to.

The big waterfall you can walk behind

Like this.

At the top of Skogarfoss
Just along the coast is a turning to a low lying glacier. Low lying as in 50 metres a.s.l. What is shocking is the amount that it has receded in the last twenty years - nearly a kilometre.

Heading back west towards Reykjavik we stop in the Hveragerthi area. More hot springs (this area is known for them) and then increasingly bad weather means we chicken out of camping for our next to last night so find a hotel which is very nice.

Our last day is taken up trying to stay dry interspersed with a visit to a geothermal power station and the Blue Lagoon thermal baths - yes it's really tacky and touristy but I suppose it's got to be done. Then it's back to the airport to drop off the hire car and check in at the hotel. We pack the bikes in to their bags in the foyer, grab a meal, arrange a 5am alarm call and we are done.

And what's with the horses?

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Yorkshire Dales 200, the 2016 edition

Skipton's that way mate.

"So where are you heading?"


"But, ..., you're going the wrong way!"

"Well ..."

So begins yet more explaining another round of madness instigated by the chief sadist, Stuart. To be honest I'm not sure who's madder, Stuart for coming up with these routes or us for heading out on them. Whatever, the resulting stares tend to be one of either incredulity or pity. I don't know which is worse.

Getting ready before the off

That morning nineteen of us had left Stuart's shop under bright sunshine. Actually eighteen, Emma was late, as usual. From the off the pace was lively and even before we had pulled out of the estate a group of five had a gap of a hundred metres. No point in me being there I'd just blow up, take it steady. Except that the pace wasn't steady, it was brisk and before long we've hauled in one of the five. A few kilometres later and we haul in another. "That's Mike". Now I'm worried, an ex-racer he normally leaves me standing, I'm going too fast.

At the top of the first off-road I decide to ease off and Mike slowly increases the gap between us. His place is taken by a couple of local lads out for a short ride. We leap-frog each other taking turns to open gates until our routes part. Now alone I head over the moor until a nature break and a drink allow another two riders to join me. For a while we are caught up in the Trailquest that is part of Malham show but soon we split, they are much faster than ourselves. On the descent to Arncliffe Cote there's a rider fixing his bike, it's Mike. "Hit a rock and punctured!" He'll pass me later.

Descending to Arncliffe Cote

I wait at the bottom gate for one of the two riders to catch up and we ride on up the dale. I've descended but not climbed the next bit of off-road and I stop at the bottom to get some food in me and a bit of drink. I think I might be walking this as it's quite steep, the other rider is on a CX bike and is already walking. Somehow I manage to keep going, it isn't that bad and by the time I'm at the first gate the other guy isn't in sight. By the next gate I stop to take a shot of some ponies and still no sign of him so I press on.

At the end of the track I surprise a roadie who thought for a moment I'd caught him up riding along the road! We chat for a while then he carries on to Stainforth as I turn right towards Penyghent and the descent of Long Lane. There's no-one in sight now and I push on towards Feizor.

Near the top of the track is a pile of cartons with water, bananas and packets of crisps put out by the trail faeries - one of the riders behind lives here. I see a rider dropping off the road, must be Mike catching me up. I grab a banana and head over to the cafe at Feizor. Coffee and a toasted tea-cake ordered, it's not Mike but Stuart that pulls up. "Care to join me for a coffee sir?", "Don't mind if I do."

Lunch at Feizor

The two riders who'd caught me earlier turn up and order a larger meal then the rider who we'd overtaken earlier rode through without stopping. "Four ahead of us" says Stuart. He's first away and a couple of minutes later I'm off. Except for a short meeting with Stuart again I won't see another rider in the event until I finish.

The first narrow BW has been strimmed so there's no dancing around avoiding nettles and briars. Not so the second and as I get to the clapper bridge I have to wait for a walker to reel in his extendable dog lead and then wait for his wife to dawdle across the bridge: "Only enough room for one way traffic love.". The next clapper bridge is one I've not ridden in this direction before and there's a slab missing which makes it interesting.

I'm in limestone country now and the heat of the day is making itself felt. I keep seeing Stuart about five minutes ahead of me which at the pace we are going is a kilometre or slightly further, no way I can catch him without going in to the red. Ride my own ride. Soon I'm heading round to Ling Gill and then up on to Cam Road. I ride for a while with a couple of guys touring on the northern part of the Pennine Bridleway: "I'm from Surrey, not quite so hilly down there!". Eventually it's time to move on and I take the descent down to Newby Head. I'm counting down the big climbs left, one is just in front of me and I take it steady knowing that it's basically downhill after this to the next refreshment stop.

Traversing Great Knoutberry Hill

Low gear, a bit of food and I'm dropping down to the top of Arten Gill. I walk the short climb up from the gate to start the traverse round to the Coal Road. This is an old cart track but one strip is hard packed singletrack and it's brilliant fun to blast along. A dog walker takes care of the last gate before the tarmac and then it's a blast downhill. I get to The Moorcock Inn just as Stuart is leaving, he'll gain time on me from here to the end as I take extra stops.

A drink of orange and some crisps then I'm on my way again and across the border in to Cumbria. I'm not sure where the bridleway back over towards Hawes leaves the road but it turns out not to be hard to find.

What looks from the map as being a hard climb turns out to be anything but and I just sit and spin until I get to "The Water Cut" a piece of art installed on the moorland next to the PBW. This is one of the few sections of the route I've not ridden before, Cath and I had ridden part way along from the Hawes end before turning and dropping down the PBW back to the Moorcock.
The Water Cut (with attention seeking bike in front)

Hell Gill looks an interesting limestone gorge, at least it's bridged unlike the other becks which provide a variety of entertainment in their crossing. (Cath bivvied at the Water Cut and there was heavy rain overnight, where I was crossing ankle deep water she had to deal with thigh and waist deep crossings.) Finally I'm back on familiar ground, it's still uphill but the angle eases. Finally I'm at the high point but there's no easing as the track soon drops steeply through old quarry workings then straight down the nose of the fell. I just manage to spot and count five tracks in the wet grass, I'm sixth on the road(trail).

Soon enough I'm on the road and heading in to Hawes. There's a big queue outside the chippy so it's the cafe and a coffee and panini - cheese, tomato and pesto, it turns out not to sit too well on my stomach. The plan is to be away by 1800 and it's a minute before that when I set off. There's a bit of drizzle falling but not enough to justify putting on my jacket as I'll overheat.

The only times I've done this climb have been on a road bike so it's a matter of just keep plodding along until I plunge down the descent to Semer Water and up the other side. This is the penultimate climb and the only other bit I've not done before. A bit of cramp forces me to walk short sections until once again I'm on familiar territory and an easing in the angle. Even with a headwind it's a quick blast across the top and down to Kidstones and time for a quick bite. It's now 1925, with luck I'll be starting the final climb in just over an hour.

There's 20Km of road before then plus a little detour around the back of Swinden Quarry and it becomes properly dark while I'm on that. Just the last climb to do now, no way I'm riding it my legs are too tired. Just before the top I put on my waterproof, better to do it now than in the wind. In the mirk I can't see the holes in the track and keep dropping in them so walk a section until the track improves. The beck is a bit deep so detour that and push on through the rocky section until I arrive at the sleepers across the boggiest section, just track now.

Push on in to the wind, even when the angle eases I still have to work at it then finally each pedal stroke gains more ground and I begin to move up through the gears. Suddenly everything goes black as I drop out of the cloud and my light isn't being reflected off the water droplets. The downside is that it's beginning to rain quite heavily. I know that I'm turning to be with the wind shortly so it's not a concern. Just the last track down to Halton East to negotiate and it's a bit muddy then it's just road.

As I get in to Embsay the heavens open, I really wouldn't want to be riding in the other direction it's bad enough going with the flow. Through town and there's no-one about, up the ramp by the station and in to the finishing straight. I pull up outside Stuart's workshop at 2225 It's taken 14hrs25mins, I'd an optimistic target of 14hrs so pretty pleased with that. The first rider back managed 12hrs5mins.

Here's the Strava bit ...