The Old Way

Not a place to slip a pedal. The frothing North Atlantic has taken many a fisherman, but it seemed hungry for its first taste of mountain biker. Carston Oliver and Eric Porter keep composed on some Icelandic exposure.

The Old Way Rebuilding Ancient Routes through Iceland

After a morning spent slamming my pedals into the muddy sides of our “trail,” repeatedly jerking to a stop mid-stroke, I’m beat.

These crisscrossing sheep paths looked so promising from a distance, but each trough formed by tiny hooves is just too narrow for a bike. Rain splatters against my glasses as I take a minute, lying on the spongy moss carpeting the valley floor and wishing a trail would magically appear and make this whole exploratory bike trip worth it.

Steely blue water foams against volcanic cliffs far below while a high plateau towers into the clouds above us, radiant with green lichen, tufts of golden grass and shiny blueberries. An early fall sunset glows through hazy fog, casting long shadows across the stark splendor of Iceland’s West Fjords. By all accounts, it’s beautiful. But a mountain biking destination? I’m not so sure.

Two days earlier, our 20-seater prop plane dipped beneath thick storm clouds, zooming toward basalt cliffs dropping 2,000 feet down to a dark indigo harbor bustling with activity. After the short flight from Reykjavik, the airplane banked a U-turn at the end of a narrow valley and we touched down on the single, questionably short, ocean-side runway of the Ísafjör∂ur airport, the largest town and hub of the remote, sparsely populated West Fjords region.

My friend Vidar Kristinsson met us at the baggage carousel with a huge smile. His looks identify him as a local—light oceanic eyes and a vibrant red beard, a modern-day Viking. “Welcome!” he said as he helped shuffle our baggage to the parking lot. After jamming three bike bags and gear into his Subaru, we piled in for the short drive to town.

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