Scalding water from the geothermal vents spills out of the hillside formed by an ancient lava flow into a cold freshwater glacial river mixing to a tolerable temperature.
The first blue Icelandic sky of the trip roused us from our tent at 11:00. Over a meal of powdered eggs and soy chilli, we discussed the next stage of our trip with our newly acquainted friends Siggy and Halli. Two men native to the area and longtime mountaineering buddies who had just finished bagging some peaks.
Siggy was a strong proponent of the Lagaveur trail, connecting Landmannalaugar to Pórsmörk to the south (pronounced "thōrsmōrk").
"My favorite. The best. Beautiful!" he affirmed with manic zeal. Then came intense queries into our route traveled to Landmannalaugar the day before, and an inventory of our gear (to ensure we were equipped to survive what lay ahead). Once satisfied, Siggy began excitedly sending GPS files to my iPhone and recommending apps (GPS Kit, wikiloc) downloaded by piggybacking on his 3G signal.
Despite Siggy's enthusiasm about the Lagaveur; Halli expressed some skepticism regarding the viability of such a feat on a bike. "It's good for hiking, I don't know how anyone would ride a bike, but I'm not a biker", he shrugged and lent us his map of the area.
The trail didn't look impossible from the topo-maps we studied over coffee, but the steep and immediate altitude gain as we left the oasis of Landmannalaugar was readily apparent.
Some hike-a-bike is to be expected.
The trail continued to climb through alternating smooth moderate track and sections of steep loose hike-a-bike. The terrain was accented with vents of sulfuric steam and boiling spring water, adding an element of otherworldly magic to the slog.
Progress was further slowed due to my constant pauses to take pictures, I have never been so enamored with a landscape.
As we moved into the higher alpine environment, the unintended mantra became, "I wish I had my Surly Moonlander; This would be great on a fat bike."
Red sandy earth and black volcanic rubble gave way to glacial snowfields. I pedaled 2 inch trenches in the snow for as long as my pride and burning legs would allow.
Memorial near the summit imbued a sense of gratitude for the fair weather.
Fatigue from the sustained efforts of pushing up through scree, snow, and steep sandy pitches overshadowed the fleeting moments of joy and freedom that came from the fast winding single track I had savored several hours ago.
Finally a somewhat sustained descent. With pent-up desire for speed, I bombed the final rocky section of trail. The 650b x 2.1 tires and titanium frame of my Merlin doing their best to soften the bone jarring texture of the mountainside. Howling brakes ensured that my arrival was well announced, greeted by gawkers with looks of bewilderment at the sight of a mountain bike. Monica had better sense and choose to walk down this final slope.
I was glad to pay the 4500 Kronur fee for a warm place to sleep and attempt to dry out my shoes. 5 hours of trail time and only 1/8 of the distance covered; food enough for one more day of travel. As I tried to sleep, sweating in the 80 deg F. hut, heated by a nearby geothermal vent, survival anxiety set in. We still had more climbing ahead of us, and the forecast was not favorable.