Post by Yuri Hauswald
Community Development & Elite Athlete Manager
It’s not called the land of Fire and Ice without good reason. Iceland sits on a mid-oceanic ridge between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, and lies above a mantle plume, a powerful flow of magma that is located in the central highlands near Vatnajokull, which means that this place as been on fire for eons. Volcanoes and glaciers have, literally, shaped the geologic and human landscape. And you know what else Iceland has because of all that geologic activity? Gravel roads.
And it’s gravel that brings me back to the land of Fire and Ice, namely The Rift, a 200k and 70k, first year gravel race through the heart of one of Iceland’s most volcanic regions, an event schemed up by the mad scientists from Lauf Cycling. Two years ago I was “lucky” enough to be invited over to be part of a small scouting crew for the event and experienced a traditional summer day in Iceland, which meant it was 39 degrees, raining sideways, and blowing at gusts of up to 50 mph, enough to push more than a few of us off our bikes. Throw in multiple glacial river crossings, a few of which were a wee bit above thigh high, and you have the recipe for hypothermia. Welcome to summer in Iceland!
Based out of the small agrarian hamlet of Hvolsvollur, home to the Saga Centre, a viking museum/pub/axe throwing joint of sorts, The Rift set out to create a top notch event that not only highlighted the gravel riding, but also added a layer of culture, and fun, by including viking feats of strength games, axe throwing, and Saga story telling of sorts from a colorful local. Home base for the race was the Lava Center, a tourist hot spot known for its world class interactive volcano exhibition, which also had a killer buffet that served as our post race meal, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Just a few pedal strokes out of town lies a network of gravel roads, covered in kitty-litter sized pumice in varying hues from black to brown, that traverse this stunning, craggy lunar landscape. Purple patches of silene acaulis, or moss campion, tenaciously cling to the volcanic soil in low slung bunches. Non-native lupine, introduced to stabilize the loose soil, dot the sides of the road, as well as occasional tufts of thrift, which thrust long, pink globed stems towards the sky. The little flora that does exist creates a patchwork quilt of color that tells the story of a harsh existence in an unforgiving, but beautiful, landscape. And far off on the eastern horizon, shrouded in a crown of clouds and capped with snow, sits Eyjafjallajökull, one of the many volcanoes that dot this region that blew its top in 2010.
Pictured: Alison Tetrick (eventual winner) crossing one of the many water obstacle on the route.
So how was the race? Well, for starters, it was a typical summer day in Iceland which meant that it was rainy and windy, but not too cold, so we had that going for us. Not to get too personal, or sound like I’m complaining, but I had my first experience at registration where I was given the AARP “downgrade” and placed in my age category instead of Pro. I worked too hard for those three letters, and I know there’ll come a day when I’ll downgrade willing, but for now I still like to choose to get my teeth kicked in by the likes of Colin Strickland, Ted King, Ingvar Omarsson, Matt Acker, Neil Shirley, Tinker Juarez, Alison Tetrick, and too many other local honches and international folks to name. Let’s just say that I lived up to my nickname, Diesel, and got blown out at the start but, once my engine warmed up, I joined a small group and suffered my way through the first 50 miles, only to find myself solo at the second river crossing and sitting just outside the top ten of the pro field.
The next 73 miles were a solo slog, which meant I had a lot of ME time- time to doubt, time to self talk, time to encourage, time to dig deep, and time to reflect on how lucky I am to do this as part of my job. No land speed records were set but I did catch a couple folks and ended up 9th, completely hammered by the technically demanding and unforgiving course. In true Lauf fashion I was handed their signature beer at the finish line, gave Tinker Juarez a hug, and pedaled back to my hotel, which was just a block away.
And so, post race, from the warmth and security of the guesthouse above the Eldsto Art Cafe, I was able to reflect on my few days pedaling/racing through this magical, other-worldly zone. Was it a place I would want to come race my gravel bike in again? Was it a place I would dream of returning, in search of more color, more trails, and more sunshine? Was it the next best thing, the newest sweet adventure destination, the oddest landscape I had pedaled through? If you’re like me and said YES to all these questions, you need to sign up for the 2020 The Rift, because knowing the folks at Lauf, they’ll find ways to make it even better. And who knows, maybe you’ll get lucky and meet some hudulfolk, too.