Iceland To Africa By Bicycle 2004

Newsletter 2

Written 1st September 2004

Key statistics so far:
  • Pedalled distance: 438 miles
  • Furthest in a day: 71 miles (John O'Groates to Golspie on the east coast of Scotland)
  • Punctures: 1
  • Mechanical breakdowns: 1
  • Maximum speed: 40.0 mph
  • Highest altitude: 671 metres
  • Top of The Pops this week: Still The Carpenters! I did try to replace them with images of Brittney Spears in the bath but sadly failed!
  • Biggest wind: Force 9!

You'll notice that the mileage hasn't gone up hugely - mainly due to the amount of time spent on ferries returning from Iceland, via the Shetlands and Orkneys. However, I've now started the John O'Groates to Land's End section which requires a minimum of 60 miles each day to stay on schedule - so it's tough going from here!

It's been an interesting week in many ways. It started well and, as promised, I did do the hill back to Seydisfjordur for the ferry which achieved the highest altitude so far ... and the highest speed down the other side of 40 mph. This was despite the pouring rain, the howling gale (which I thought had gone but now discover had only popped out to get reinforcements!), the sharp bends and the gravel on every corner. It was a descent designed to test the nerves, which complained bitterly although I did my best not to hear them over the wind, and was exhilarating to the core. I also beat the two Germans who had cycled up, for one and a half hours, the other side with me. The spirit of the Olympics fresh in my mind, I figured there was nothing wrong with a bit of healthy competition, and it's rather nice to beat the Germans at something!

I overnighted in Seydisfjordur and waited for the ferry. It was an ideal time to reflect on the events since leaving home to the thunderous applause of the 3 people who were listening to BBC Radio Leeds at 6:40am that damp August Monday morning. In particular, the people you meet and the kindness shown by the sponsors (GNER, Smyril Line and Northlink Ferries for transport so far, aswell as Air Iceland). There have been a number of times when I've wondered why I'm doing this - I've also been asked numerous times and each time found it quite difficult to explain. The thought (and you'll think this odd for a 35 year old) that sprang to mind this week is that it's about growing up, becoming an adult at last! Then it occurs that I'm probably too far gone for that!

Back to this week. The crossing from Iceland to the Shetlands was rough - the above mentioned Force 9 was keen to show us how big and butch it was compared to our little 200 metre ferry! What really surprised me was that the crew let me use the gym and that's a wild experience - the weights doubled and halved depending whether the boat is going up or down at the time. Other than going to the gym I became Homer Simpson for two days with nothing to do except eat hot dogs and chat to the people I'd met in Iceland. We finally arrived, only a little delayed, in the Shetlands at 10pm on Friday 27th August and I made a beeline for my friends at The Queens Hotel (they'd shown a real interest in the trip when I had lunch there a week earlier). If you ever fancy a stay in The Shetlands, head for Lerwick and the Queens Hotel and ask for Peter McKenzie ... He's quite a character. His guests are on the unusual side too - Doug, for example, works as a contractor for BP and arrived on a two month contract three years ago - he's a lost outpost of BP and still awaits his next instructions as he soaks up the hospitality of The Queens at their expense! Apart from his jokes, which mainly revolve around the dubious morals of the Shetland Girls, he also told me the story of the recent building of a roundabout in Lerwick. Apparantly the Islanders were so confused by it that an informational bulletin was put out on local TV to explain how to use it. Some of the people from the outer reaches don't come into Lerwick as often now because they're scared of it! I actually think he's telling the truth too having experienced the rather eratic behaviour of drivers at the little roundabout near Safeways!

I spent three full days in The Shetlands as I waited for the ferry to Kirkwall in The Orkneys. The thing that struck me most were how big the islands are. There are over 100 of them and they reach some 80 miles by 30 miles. Lerwick itself is a bustling town with three Indian restaurants and two Chineses (now that must give you an idea of the scale of the place). The islands are beautiful with wonderful hidden beaches, towering cliffs, the clearest water I've seen anywhere in the world and rolling, unspoiled countryside. They are also home to 100,000 pairs of puffins (who had sadly left earlier in the month to sit on the water miles out at sea and sulk until the weather gets better again in April!). This seems odd behaviour for a bird that likes to live in burrows when it's on land ... but, then again, that also seems pretty strange behaviour for a bird?!

On the 31st August I sailed from Lerwick to Kirkwall in the Orkneys, arriving at 11pm, and was put up in the Peedie Hostel courtesy of Northlink Ferries staff. The next day I cycled the 16 miles from Kirkwall to Stromness and visited the Northlink office to thank Lisa and Brian at in person. The three of us also posed for a photo-shoot for The Orcadian Newspaper before I boarded the ferry for Scrabster (passing The Old Man of Hoy - an impressive feat of nature) and then cycled the 23 miles to John O'Groates to prepare for the beginning of the mainland leg this morning.

A quick trip to the shop, a chance meeting ... and another newspaper interview later ... and I was on the way, managing 71 miles putting Loch Ness within striking distance tomorrow! There were a couple of big hills today and I surprised myself by actually enjoying them! The first 40 miles were fairly flat and there's nothing better than a hill to focus your mind for an hour! It occurred to me that there's a real feeling of satisfaction going up - the more potential energy you store, the better you feel. I wanted the hill to just keep going ...the longer the up, the better the down is - it's a bit like one of those wind up toys you have as a child and I display the same tendancies even now ... the need to wind it as far as it can possibly go so it will travel faster and further when you finally release it! I just hope I don't break the coil as I so often did as a child!

More ramblings in a week or so's time and any feedback is very welcome.

I'm also still collecting sponsorship and am receiving donations along the way ... if you have friends or work colleages who you think would like to help, please forward this email on. The website is and, other than the sponsorship page which is continually updating, it will be fully updated on 9th September.

All the very best.


PS - today's photo's are af Iceland (the long and lonely road ... I think you'll see what I mean!) and the signpost at John O'Groates.

Tom Bottomley
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