Riding Under the Midnight Sun: A 3-Week Cycling Adventure in Iceland
Iceland has been a dream biking destination of mine for several years now, but more in an abstract, “that would be cool someday” kind of way until I heard about a race called the Arna Westfjords Way Challenge. The thought of combining breathtaking landscapes, unique cultural connections, and meeting other riders from around the world was too much to resist, so in a particularly strong moment of “carpe diem”, I found myself signing up for my first ever stage race.
Six hundred miles over 4 days of riding sounded like my kind of crazy: an ultra endurance experience, but with the luxury of sleeping between stages (your timer also stops at each cultural connection, so there’s every reason to stop at that hot pot and soak your tired legs, or get one more waffle with jam at breakfast). Over the last few years, I’ve had my share of bike adventures and physical challenges, but this was my first two wheeled solo adventure outside of North America. I am happy to report that it did not disappoint!
My adventure began on June 16th when I flew into Reykjavik, unexpectedly arriving 24 hours before my bike and gear, which I had packed as I usually do in a cardboard bike box. I was thankful that I had some travel essentials in my carryon, and that I had remembered to use an Apple Airtag, which helped me figure out that my bike box didn’t make the tight connection in Montreal. Once I confirmed with the airline that my bike would be delivered on a flight the next day, I was able to pivot to finding a hotel and exploring Reykjavik on foot and with a rental scooter until I was reunited with my rig. I also met up with a new friend, Peter, who would be joining me in the Westfjords for the stage race.
Once reunited with my bike and gear, I was itching to hit the road. I had about 10 days to make my way up the west coast from Reykjavik to Isafjordur, where the Arna Westfjords Way Challenge would commence on June 28th. Heeding the advice of a couple locals, I would follow the coast up to Stykkishólmur, take a ferry across to the Westfjords peninsula, and ride a direct route north which provided a preview of the final day of the stage race.
The Icelandic weather lived up to its reputation, throwing wind, rain and chilly temperatures my way. The 10 days of solo touring that I enjoyed had the advantage of a flexible itinerary and allowed for spontaneous decisions like taking a rest day in tough weather or getting a late start once the weather had died down (also helped by the 24 hour daylight at this time of year). The scenery was unparalleled, and I enjoyed documenting and sharing my random adventures with friends and family back home on my Instagram story highlights. Riding late into the night and into the early morning hours with the soft glow of the midnight sun illuminating the sky was a surreal and unforgettable experience.
As I entered the Westfjords and set my sights on Isafjordur, I reunited with my friend Peter, whose photography skills (shared in this post) could not have been more welcome. Having never signed up for anything remotely like the Arna Westfjords Way Challenge, an entertaining companion to distract me from my growing nerves was also welcome. The real draw for me to do this race was the promise of cultural connections like museums, hot pots, and local farms, with plenty of waffles and jam to keep me going – but I would also have to put in more miles in 4 days than I ever had before, and by a long shot.
The race was a true test of endurance, made even more challenging by the unpredictable weather (and of course, the flexibility in dodging rough weather that I had when solo touring was out the window once the event started). I think the conditions of 2023 will be one for the books: out of the 72 competitors who embarked on this adventure, only 38 managed to cross the finish line. While my goal going into the event was simply to finish, I surprised myself with 4th place in the women’s category and 15th place overall. While I’m not convinced that racing is compatible with my larger desire to explore on two wheels, it was an exhilarating experience to complete a task that would have been simply unthinkable to me just a few years ago.
My trusty companion on this journey was my Cervelo Aspero gravel race bike, a model certainly not designed for touring, but one that I have adapted for the job. Some key alterations I made included component upgrades to maximize comfort and performance, since I would be riding harder and longer than I ever had before. My Cane Creek eeSilk seatpost, Cane Creek eeSilk stem, and titanium Cane Creek eeWing cranks proved to be invaluable for absorbing road vibrations, reducing fatigue, and vastly improving my overall riding experience.
I could write many more words about the beauty of Iceland and how I’m dying to go back and explore more of its incredible landscapes, but ultimately I would just encourage you to go experience it for yourself. On a bike, if you can swing it. To me, there is just no better way to appreciate the forces of nature, the drama of the scenery, and the sheer luck of getting to live on this beautiful, magical, precious planet we call home.