The adventures you can find on gravel have always been a huge draw for me. Track racing has taken us to some wild places (why else would you go to Belarus?) but Iceland has always had a truly incredible feel for gravel rides. The culture, the scenery, and the vastness of the place really make for some adventure.
I’ve been fortunate to work with Lauf bikes for the past 4 years, and been able to visit Iceland for The Rift this year and last. The Rift is a 200 km (125 miles) off-road bike race through the dark lava fields in the highlands of Iceland.
However, last year being focused on the #sub4 world record challenge meant I did the 100k course instead of the full 200k.
The course last year was 50k out and back, just enough to get into the otherworldly terrain of Iceland’s highlands. I’d heard stories of the full course from Christina, and it sounded like an epic adventure, riding past glaciers, washboard roads for days, roaring river crossings, and hikes through the black, volcanic dirt. I couldn’t wait for what sounded like a pretty rowdy extra 150k this year!
Race day arrived quickly, and our tiny log cabin bustled to life with coffee, breakfast, and carefully layering the kit we’d prepped the night before. The 22 hours of daylight during the Icelandic summer make it hard to know what time it is, and we keep checking the time before the start. Coming from the Texas heat of 100+ degrees (40+ Celsius) we had the full CHPT3 Winter Kit with Bib Tights and Streamliner Jersey at the damp 50 degree start line.
The start was similar to many gravel races; everyone full of nervous energy, jostling over the hills behind the lead car, everyone vying for a spot on the front leading up to the first big climb to get into the highlands. After the route hit gravel, it would be almost 2 hours of steady climbing up the loose, lumpy fire roads into the highlands.
The early morning fog and neon green moss covering everything made for a spooky, ethereal backdrop to our breathing. It’s truly difficult to describe the beauty of Iceland. I’ve been lucky to see some amazing places during my travels, and nothing compares. I’ve seen beaches, and it’s easy to compare a beach in Florida to a beach in California. The same feeling applies to forests.
“It’s like this other forest, but flatter or different trees.”
But riding past monolithic jagged black peaks only covered in neon green moss doesn’t really compare to anywhere else. The landscape seems barren and desolate, but at the same time incredibly young and vibrant.
After all, new land is being made here very regularly, and a fresh volcanic eruption started just days after we left!
We completed the course in just over our goal of 9 hours, and definitely ticked the box of enjoying the ride. After years of absolutely smashing every single track workout and digging pretty deep, it’s been a tough and welcome transition of making adventure a goal of a ride.
And instead of rushing back to Texas to get right back to training, we stayed a few days to snorkel, eat hot dogs, and soak up some time in a natural hot spring.
All in all, not a bad way to get back to adventuring.