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Sprengisandsleið

To put the new Explore collection to the test, four riders undertook an unsupported ride across Iceland. Tackling an isolated mountain road through the country’s interior, crossing volcanic deserts and glacial rivers, this is not a ride for the faint of heart.

“It might be Nordic, but it’s nothing like home.”

– Marius Nilsen, wear tester

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Four riders. Four days in the highlands. 28,800 calories.

Situated at the edge of the Arctic Circle, on the boundary between two tectonic plates, Iceland’s volcanoes and glaciers suggest a land before time. The Golden Circle draws tourists by the busload with its enormous waterfalls and steaming geysers, but we are not here for that. Wilder things await.

Crossing the plateau

“The road is in dreadful condition and requires strong nerves to negotiate…”

In 2015, photographer George Marshall travelled to Iceland to ride Sprengisandsleið with framebuilder Tom Donhou. Also known as the F26, the mountain road runs for 200km and bisects Sprengisandur, a barren highland plateau between two ancient glaciers: Hofsjökull and Vatnajökull. A storm hit less than halfway across the plateau and the pair had to be rescued.

Four years later, Sprengisandsleið remains unfinished business. Joined this time by three Norwegian riders – Marius Nilsen, Kirsti Ruud and Øyvind Nordengen – the group land in Keflavik, the country’s major transport hub, just 50km from Reykjavik. They skip the capital and head east to Hekla, the gateway to Sprengisandur.

Marius wears GORE-TEX Hooded Pullover

“As you’d expect, the water is ice cold. But it’s not unbearable. Taking your shoes off every time is a bigger nuisance, and getting that black sand off your feet.”

– Kirsti

After two days of sealed roads and sidewinds, the riders turn north. The goal is Laugafell, a remote site on the slopes of the mountain of the same name – an oasis in a desert of black sand. Sprengisandsleið is a draw for four-wheelers, but there are serious caveats. There are no services for over 200 kilometres. There are multiple glacial river crossings. Crossing alone is not recommended without the ability to “read the water”. On a bike it is a different prospect.

Long before jeeps made Spreginsandur’s desolate highland a high-risk playground, it was still a place to be wary of. Icelanders, historically superstitious, feared the barren highland where elves, ghosts and giants were said to roam. Those who absolutely had to make their way through it often rode their horses to exhaustion. It is said that the region’s name, Sprengisandsleið, comes from the Icelandic word verb sprengja: to exhaust.

It is not mythical creatures that wear these riders out. It is the weather. The plateau lives up to its name.

“I’ve never experienced anything like it in my twelve years cycling.”

– Kirsti

On the fourth day, the riders run out of water. The plan had been to refill from the glacial rivers they would be crossing, but it was too cold and the beds were dry. They were saved in the afternoon by a French family who happened to pass by in a campervan. Later, a ranger showed up looking for them, tipped off by the same family. It was the same ranger George met four years before, and she was at pains to warn him again the dangers of crossing the plateau by bike.

“We were all alone in a way, even if we were riding together.”

– Kirsti

Relentless wind meant passing time by chatting proved difficult. Added to this, the riders had to keep space between themselves for safety: sudden gusts could result in erratic movements. Once energy reserves dwindled, talking becomes an unnecessary expenditure, leaving riders alone with their thoughts.

“As the sun set, damp darkness crept in. Our destination only seemed to get further away. Then we were reminded that in Iceland, nature is boss: Rain. Rain like never before.”

– Marius

There is a curious parallel in crossing the plateau by bike, four riders under their own steam, in a country that produces all of its electricity from steam. The most obvious advantage to such abundant geothermal activity for saddle-weary travellers are the hot springs found all across the country.

“Laugafell was a dream come true. It appeared in the distance like a hallucination, an imaginary pool of water in the desert.”

Kirsti wears Long Sleeve Windblock Jersey

“The next morning we descended off the mountain and raced to Akureryri. We just made the bus after an intense 55km team effort.”

Day 1

Keflavik to Selfoss – 126km

Day 2

To southern edge of Þórisvatn lake – 99.8km

Day 3

To overnight near Kvíslavatn lake – 72.3km

Day 4

To Laugafell hot springs – 87.4km

Day 5

To Akureyri – 86.1km

“So that was kind of special. Challenging but peaceful... in a way.”

Explore Collection

Tools for adventure. Tested to the limits.

Explore Down Jacket

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Explore Technical Pullover

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Explore Cargo Winter Tights
With Pad

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Women's Cargo Winter Tights
With Pad

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Women's Explore Technical Pullover

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Explore Down Jacket

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