Riding the Iceland Highlands

Words and Photos: Simon Cudby

“That’s on my bucket list!” was the common reply from my riding buddies when I told them I was going on an adventure to Iceland on dirt bikes. I had ridden on the volcanic island several times before, but this time we had a bigger group of friends to take with us on the tour with the RideWithLocals.is team."

After a relatively easy flight to Keflavik airport we got picked up by our guide Skúli Már Gunnarsson, owner of this successful little tour company. We loaded up our gear bags into Skúli’s van for the drive out to the southern town of Selfoss, home of the RideWithLocals HQ. We were greeted by a lineup of well maintained, and a couple of literally brand new Husqvarna and KTM bikes that we would be riding for the week-long adventure.

We spent our arrival day strapping our Giant Loop bags onto the bikes, and adding some necessary stickers. We were all in a bit of a haze as we had taken the overnight flight to Iceland, so by mid afternoon it was time for a quick nap, then dinner and bed. Sleep for the week proved a little challenging as there was 21 hours of daylight, and it never really got dark.

On our first official riding day we took a quick 50km blast up the highway to the dirt trailhead. It’s good that we were layered up nicely as it was a little chilly, and some of the guys even had heated layers switched to the high setting. We hit the fast flowing two-track with a mix of sand and volcanic pumice rock.

These Iceland rides feature a lot of challenging water crossings, and our first one was a doozie. Our buddy TC buried the rear end of his 450 about halfway across, and several of us waded out to get him unstuck. This was also the first real test of our Amazon $22 waterproof socks that we had all purchased for the trip, after our past wet trips. It’s nice to have Alpinestars Drystar Tech 7 boots on, but once the water gets over the top, your feet are wet no matter what. As it turns out, one of our biggest assets on the trip was our waterproof riding socks!

As the day progressed we navigated more crossings as the rain started to fall. This was a big reminder to make sure you are prepared for weather in Iceland, as it’s just a matter of time before the sky opens. We seemed to do well on this trip, but for less experienced riders Skúli asked that they walk their bikes across these rivers, as a tip over in the middle of nowhere has big consequences if a bike gets flooded (ask me how I know) haha.

  We passed through remote fishing towns next to big lakes, so we were respectful of the local fisherman by keeping it mellow on the throttle… until we were out of the area, then it was moto time again on the hero dirt wet sand. We rolled up to our mountain hut for the night next to Jökulheiman, which translates to “Glacier World”. We hadn’t seen any other people all day on the trails, and didn’t expect to see anyone way out here either. Waiting for us at the hut was Skúli’s team in the most awesome chase truck ever: A German fire engine rolling on huge tires, converted to carry gear bags and a spare bike.

Day two was more perfect dirt, and incredible views over every ride. As it was early in the summer we had to cross more than a few frozen snow banks which caused quite a lot of laughs in our SENA headsets as we slipped across the terrain trying to
stay upright.

Iceland is serious about keeping their remote areas in good condition, so we stayed on trails the whole trip, and didn’t go bushwhacking across any areas. We followed Skúli, who was  in turn following the white marker posts through what can only be described as the lunar landscape. The weather was tough again, trying to keep on the gas and wiping our goggles every minute to keep some vision intact.

After a half day of riding in the monochromatic landscape, we came upon some lakes that had almost fake bright blue colors, which we found out was filtered glacier runoff water.  As the sun was coming out we came to an amazing waterfall close to our cabin for the night. The trails were lined by purple Lupin flowers, and almost flourescent green grass. This was like saturated color film verses a morning in black and white.

Part of any great trip is the company you go with, and we had a good crew on this one. Lots of good laughs over dinner as we relived the past few day’s riding fun. We still had two more days to go on our adventure, and day three did not disappoint as we took in more amazing scenery whilst carving through the perfect wet dirt on the trails. More volcanic crater lakes, water and snow bank crossings, and a visit to a natural hot springs where we all took a dip. This area was the only tourist area we went to on the whole trip, and it was cool to look at all the “Super Jeep” vehicles crossing the deep river that led into the parking zone.

As we were stopping often to shoot photos, Skúli took off ahead of us in the rain to the next intersection. That left the four of us to play catch-up, and I think for me just riding close to the limit in this rainy, cold area was a highlight of the trip. All four of us riding fast and flowing on the dirt roads. Epic.

Our last day was something special, as we went into an area to ride that was much more technical and challenging. One of the guys said this was the real Ride with Locals, and as a bonus we saw the sun today. Although there were tracks everywhere, we just followed our guide through the foothills at the base of Mount Hekla, the most active volcano on Iceland. Fortunately we got out of the area without any eruptions for the day, and took the road back to Selfoss to the RWL HQ.

A big thanks to Skúli and his team for another great trip. If this is on your bucket list, check out www.ridewithlocals.is for details on how you can take this amazing trip.