Cycling to the Moon

I’m about to set off on a big, blow-out bike trip with my son. It’s a legacy thing; something I hope he’ll remember for the rest of his life. Family bike tours to the Netherlands no longer cut the mustard. At 14, I think he’s ready for a tough trip. We’re prepping for a trip to Iceland.

It’s pretty easy to pedal around the perimeter of Iceland. Too easy. I want Josh to be challenged. We leave on Sunday, pick up two Trek mountain bikes on Monday and, once equipped with racks, and a Bob trailer fitted to my bike, we’ll be venturing into the interior, cycling on a rippled dirt road, making for the hot springs at the Landmannalaugar mountain hut. We’ll pitch our all-weather Nemo tent next to the geothermal rock pools, and wonder that we ever made it at all.

The gravel road to Landmannalaugar is only open for three months of the year, in the Icelandic summer. We’ll be following a wind-blasted track into Europe’s only desert, a sub-Arctic volcanic-ash wilderness.

National Geographic Traveller Family Summer 2012 ICELAND

Sand and cycling don’t mix. It’s almost impossible to pedal through sand. For impossible read challenging.

I’ve done this journey before. 15 years ago. I brought my then girlfriend on her first ever bike tour. Rather a baptism of fire for her, but she survived. We married, and Josh is one of the three walking-talking results of our union. (The mag extract below is from MTB Pro, August 1996).


When I say survived, I mean it. The interior of Iceland is unforgiving, with raging glacial rivers to cross and weather that can be as fierce as it is volatile. Jude cried a lot. It’s very possibly a daft ask to expect a 14 year old to manage such a journey, but we won’t know until we’ve tried.

In the 1960s NASA shipped the astronaut corps to Iceland. Prior to the Apollo moon landings, NASA’s would-be spacemen simulated collecting rock samples here: it was the best place on earth to mimic the geography, and geology, of the lunar landscape

Iceland is also one of the best places on earth to witness the northern lights.

Desert sand. Buzz Aldrin. Hot springs. The shimmering aurora borealis. Me and my boy on bikes, in a tent, in horizontal rain. I can’t wait.


A version of this piece first appeared in National Geographic Traveller and a follow-up piece will be published later this year.


All this week I’ll add details of the kit we’ve chosen to take on this trip.

Shoes and socks


Travelling light we’ll have just one pair of shoes each (plus surf shoes for river crossings) so they’ve got to be a MTB and walking shoe hybrid. We’re taking Lake MX100’s. They’ve got walking boot style Vibram soles but with MTB features and SPD cleats. As it rains a lot in Iceland we’re packing SealSkinz socks (and gloves and hats).

Electronic protection


And as it rains so much it makes sense to protect electronic kit such as the iPhone, the iPad and the SLR camera. All will be kept dry with Aquapac bags.



This 250,000-scale map of the interior of Iceland is available from Ferdakort.

Stove and camp cuisine


No shops or cafes on the way to Landmannalaugar so we’ll be heating Travel Lunch freeze-dried food on a Primus OmniLite Ti stove, the latest and lightest expedition stove from the Swedish originators of gas-fired camp cooking.

Poles get the heave-ho from Nemo


No, this is not half a tyre from the extensive and eclectic Schwalbe range, it’s sort of an inner tube for tents. It’s the clever idea of Nemo Equipment. This US tent manufacturer was founded to market the AST concept (AirSupported Technology), although the company also produces tents with trad poles and with non-trad bamboo poles.

I came across them at the recent PressCamp in Sun Valley, Idaho. The Scott portion of PressCamp involved a real camp. We took a bunch of Scott CR1 road bikes along a rough dirt track to our base for the night: and found our Nemo tents already erected.

The Nemo tents with AST beams are frisky little things, pert in just 45 seconds. The air beams are inflated with integral footpumps.

Nemo says:

Pressurized air is an integral part of structures from car tires to basketballs, from spacesuits to the massive Millennium Arches building in Stockholm. AirSupported Technology™ is NEMO’s unique interpretation of inflatable structure for application in lightweight backcountry shelters. The advantages of NEMO’s AST™ compared to traditional tent poles include faster and easier setup, greater strength and wind resistance, smaller packing, the ability to bend without breaking and easy repair in the field.

ScottPressCamp 2

My mate Brian, a family doctor and youth leader, says his Scouts would love Nemo tents; they would have great fun running around deflating each others’ tents at night.

To that, Kate Ketschek, Nemo’s Director of Marketing and PR, says: “It would be easier and quicker to pump the airbeams back up afterwards versus trying to put all of your tent poles back in place. The set up is so fast and easy and less frustrating than traditional poles can be. I think it can be a great tool for introducing kids to camping.”

Nemo tents at night, Sun Valley, PressCamp09


The stunning PressCamp pix above are by the brilliant action-sports photographer Ian Hylands.