Weekend Warm-Up: Iceland Divide

Iceland has a subpolar oceanic climate; that is, cold winters and cool summers. Naturally, this means a somewhat barren landscape. Throw into the mix that Iceland is a volcanic island (currently, 35 active volcanoes) with lava fields spanning as far as the eye can see, and that more than 10 percent of the country is covered in glaciers, and you can imagine the kind of adventure ahead for a pair of venturesome cyclists.

Bikepacking is how Giorgio Frattale and Francesco D’Alessio approach their adventure. Broadly speaking, the sport involves traveling self-sufficiently by bike for long distances. Previously, Frattale and D’Alessio (originally from Italy) have bikepacked their native country and various parts of Europe. They enjoy “putting dirt under the tires and frost on the sleeping bag.” This Iceland adventure, where they decide to traverse the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, looks particularly rough, though.

The Iceland Divide route. Photo: bikepacking.com


In fact; it looks horrendous. The film’s first images are the kind you want to be watching with a cup of hot chocolate, next to the fire, under a rug. It is the kind of adventure you want to see other people do.

It’s windy. But not spring breeze kind of windy. Wind that exceeds 200kph. Wind that puts chills through your body, even when you’re only looking at it second-hand, on a video. The surrounding landscape is akin to what I’d expect the moon to look like: barren, black and remote. This is what remote looks like.

It takes Frattale and D’Alessio nine days to complete the Mid-Atlantic Route, which the pair neatly sum up as difficulty level 9 on a 1-10 scale, mostly due to weather. They encounter hail storms, snow, rain and those awful winds. Storms powerful enough to lift their fully loaded bikes from the ground, and which last several hours. The river crossings are deep, with strong currents. Concentration cannot lapse. An injury could be serious in such an unpopulated place.

The Mid-Atlantic Route covers some of the least populated parts of Iceland. Photo: Montanus.com


Most of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is underwater. In total, it wraps around the earth for more than 65,000km, making it the largest chain of mountains on Earth. Iceland is one of the few places where this ridge is exposed. It spans the entire length of the country, from north to south, and is largely responsible for Iceland’s existence.

The pair reach a highest point of 1,139m, and only 20 percent of their bike route is paved. Reportedly just one percent is un-rideable, though on whose scale is anyone’s guess. As a pure adventure, I’d bet that this would rank near a 9, too. There is something about taking on harsh conditions in a wild landscape, while utterly self-sufficient.

If there is one thing that Frattake and D’Alessio know, it’s how to pick an appropriate theme song: “There must be some kind of way out of here/Said the joker to the priest,” perfectly sums up how many viewers would feel about being in their bike seats.