It didn’t start very well. After two days in Reykjavik—which included eating whale, hiking to a live volcano, getting accustomed to 20 hours of daylight, and soaking in the Blue Lagoon hot pools—two friends and I traveled to nearby Selfoss to begin a six-day off-road motorcycle tour of the country’s interior.
Chris, Steve, and I had traveled many roads together. We knew we were to meet two strangers and three guides before hopping on the Husqvarna 701s we’d reserved.
Morning found us standing in light rain in front of a suburban house. Our host, Skuli Gunnarsson, was a red-bearded, booming-voiced Viking and the founder of Ride With Locals. His fellow guides were Vilberg “Villi” Kjartansson and Einar Sverrisson, themselves both locals. Our two fellow riders were shy, unassuming Jonathan from New York and chesty, boastful Eric from Oregon.
After brief introductions and minimal instruction, we were told to suit up. Hopping from one foot to the other in Skuli’s damp garage, trying to get my gear on while staying dry, I wondered just what kind of trip we’d paid for.
An hour later, I was afraid I had my answer. We’d visited a waterfall, seen a historical spot, and then left the tarmac for our first dirt section. It was a hideous uphill—steep, wet, and strewn with loose boulders. One by one we stalled, crashed, or tipped over in the cold rain, long before we’d hit the summit.
It’s going to be like this? I wondered if we’d made a terrible mistake.
Through the rest of the day, we rode 130 miles through forest, desert, and pasture, over mud, sand, gravel, and lava rock. We made half a dozen foot-soaking water crossings in increasingly bleak weather. As we pulled in for the night at our remote mountain hut—the first of several without Wi-Fi, telephone, or electricity—I wasn’t wondering anymore. This was bad.
Motorcycle & Gear
Then it got worse. Over dinner, the guides prepped us for the next day’s ride. “If you make it, you’re a real rider,” Villi said. “Even for the guys who ride here all the time, this is really hard,” Einar agreed.
No Easy Way Out
They weren’t kidding. The day brought 105 miles of deep black sand manageable only at high speeds, technical rocky uphills suitable only for first gear, and hours of bone-rattling rocky road, interrupted by icy knee-deep river crossings. Lunch and snack stops were inexplicably held on wind-blasted open plain in cold rain. Visibility at times was minimal.
“This is Iceland!” Skuli screamed through the wind at one stop. “The real Iceland! My Iceland!”