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Driving on the moonICELAND


Driving on the moon

Article published in Fuoristrada magazine in 2004.

The Moon, perhaps Mars, certainly another planet: this is the impression one gets by visiting the central part, the most desolate and sometimes hostile of Iceland, a continent land among the youngest on the planet, located in one of the areas most active volcanoes in the world.

Read the story published in the magazine.

As usual, here I am presenting the summary of a part of yet another raid trip made last August. Really curious that it almost always manages to complicate my life by inserting sometimes even long off-road sections, even driving vehicles and carrying luggage that would not suggest the choice of practicing healthy, robust and reckless off-road. This time it was the turn of Iceland, a borderland par excellence, where the first signs of mass tourism are beginning to be noticed even though nature still manages to dictate its often unpredictable and violent rhythms.

The itinerary is practically all on unpaved roads apart from the stretch near Myvatn (a few tens of km), which can also be taken as a starting point for longer and more demanding hikes, going on the tracks that go around the Vatanjokull, the largest glacier in Europe. It must be said that Iceland should be treated with respect even if you are an experienced driver. The climate can greatly influence driving and above all safety conditions, so it is always advisable to inquire about road conditions and weather forecasts (see information box).

Leaving Myvatn, on the ring road, the first thing that strikes you is the immediate sense of loneliness that this strange, small, unique land can convey. We, the motorbikes, the earth and the sky, low, gloomy, little else. The fun begins at the entrance to the Jokusàrgljùfur national park. There are 2 entrance roads, which we will both take but starting from the one further east. Reason? There are no details, if you want you can also opt for a different solution, reversing the direction of travel, since we will only be able to a few km away. The unpronounceable name of this fantastic park means "glacial river canyon", famous for its birch forests, rock formations and the Asbyrgi canyon. At the southern edge is Dettifoss, the largest waterfall and with the greatest flow of water in Europe.

Here we will not find anything, apart from nature which shows us its boundless power.

The incredible thing is that here it is possible to get within half a meter of this "monster" and admire the immense amount of water that is thrown with a roar and immeasurable power further downstream without any fences. Impressive!

The track is sandy at times but easy and runs on the edge of Jokulsàrgljùfur, 30km long, 500m wide on average and about a hundred deep. Once you arrive in Asbyrgi you simply have to turn left and after a few km take the dirt road again that this time runs along the western edge of the canyon, with the possibility of camping. This track is slightly more demanding than the other (we are always talking about off-road bikes with luggage in tow), but it allows you to have a different view of the park.

Warm? Well, we are ready to tackle the Oskjuleid road or more simply the Askya road. This road can only be traveled by off-road vehicle and is probably one of the most fascinating and evocative in the country.

The track goes into a vast desert expanse crossing a bumpy lava flow that covers an area of ​​6000 square kilometers. In the background, the landscape is dominated by Herdubreid, a kind of black panettone, formed by a sub glacial volcanic eruption, almost 1700m high. Even on days of bad weather, hoping not to run into a sandstorm, or even worse of snow, the show is truly extraordinary: but where have we ended up? 50km into nothing and the first ford awaits us. It is a good training to face after another ten km, the Grafarlandaà known for its water, it seems the best in the country. Follow the directions on the signs and cross at the point downstream where the water is more choppy, therefore lower. This is certainly the most challenging of the 9 that will meet, even if the conditions of the level can change from hour to hour.

Nature remains the protagonist until the arrival at the Dreki refuge. At this point it is better to place the tent or find accommodation in the shelter (only 20 places) before traveling the last 8, incredible kilometers that separate us from Askya. Entirely excavated in a disproportionate lava flow, they prepare us for the spectacle of this immense caldera of 50 square kilometers, which must be covered on foot before reaching 3 lakes of different colors and sizes. Yes, only the Askya is worth the trip!

The cataclysm to which its formation is attributed is quite recent, 1875: on that occasion 2 cubic km of tephra were erupted causing damage as far as the European continent !!

The activity continued for about 30 years until there was a massive collapse of the surface material that involved an area of ​​11km square up to 300m below the crater rim.

Later this depression was filled with water giving the place its present appearance.

The return to the ring road, on the other hand, will take place first passing along the F910 and then the F905, so as not to pass twice on the same road. 90km beautiful, with 5 easy streams to cross (3 are really puddles I think for most of the year) and 2 passages on wooden bridges over the impetuous Jokulsà in Fiollum, the same one that supplies Dettifoss with water propellant. The contrast between the black covered hills and the low green vegetation that covers them, I think is the best for any type of photo, even if objectively often the lighting conditions are not the best. Some stretches are sandy, strange, compact, black, scenographic, but a couple of 4-wheel drive vehicles are enough to make them soft like a kind of wholemeal flour, sinking the wheels up to the hubs. In these cases, it is advisable to stay on the more compact part of the track that is not beaten when possible. Oh, I forgot, it is strictly forbidden to go off-piste, the fines are very high. The dirt road becomes increasingly faster and straight, a sign that the asphalt is approaching and once in Modrudalur, the Icelandic farm which, located in an oasis in the desert in a maze of waterways at 470m above sea level, is the most high of the town, we will be able to grant ourselves a visit to the church (a little cultural tourism never hurts) dating back to 1949 with an interesting altarpiece, on which an unprecedented interpretation of the sermon on the mountain is depicted, by Jòn Stefànsson, factor, artist and builder of the building. We are at the end. The asphalt of the Ring Road, the main and only artery that embraces the island, magically appears under the wheels, Myvatn is now close.

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