Joffrey Maluski: An Icelandic Epic
Joffrey Maluski, a French photographer and no stranger to adventures in wild landscapes, recently returned home from a three-month bikepacking trip in Iceland. Accompanied by two friends, they travelled the country extensively, exploring deep into Iceland’s remote interior. Here, Joffrey shares some of his incredible photography along with insights into the marathon journey.
I’ve been on two bikepacking trips in France in recent years. The first was in the French Pyrenees, combining climbing, highlining and mountaineering. I enjoyed mixing bikepacking with other outdoor pursuits, so on my second trip, I headed to the French Alps during winter to tackle snowy landscapes by linking bike-touring with ski-touring.
This year I was keen to find a new destination to challenge myself slightly further afield. I visited Iceland in 2016 and ever since then, I’ve wanted to return to explore more of the country. I knew that coming here by bike would allow me to visit Iceland’s remote interior and connect with the epic landscapes in a deeper way.
After my solo winter trip into the French Alps, I decided that I wanted to tackle this next adventure with some friends. Travelling alone or as a group are completely different experiences, but I enjoy and need both! Creating memories that can be shared together rather than experienced alone is a special and important part of riding with others.
I asked my friends Léo-Paul and Katia if they wanted to join, and they didn’t take much persuading! I was glad to be heading away with them – in many ways the riding itself becomes much easier with others, as there’s always someone to keep you motivated. We wanted to have enough time to enjoy the trip without rushing any sections, so we decided to go for the maximum time possible: three months on a tourist visa.
With plenty of time available, we plotted an itinerary that allowed us to visit most of the country via Iceland’s Route 1 (also known as the Ring Road) but also explore the Westfjords and Highlands. We created a figure-of-eight itinerary, beginning from the capital, Reykjavík and cycling most of the Ring Road, before crossing the country from both North to South and then from East to West across the Highlands.
I went on some amazing local trips in France during the pandemic, but it was definitely special to travel abroad again after such a long time. Iceland is a unique destination and an incredible location for a photographer, with epic landscapes in every direction. Everything is huge, with mighty waterfalls, volcanoes and glaciers, making it one of the world’s greatest playgrounds for those carrying a camera.
Each region we explored had its own individual landscapes, the most surprising of which was the F26’s northern part. I had no idea it would be so dry and sandy, like a desert, with nothing around for hundreds of kilometres. I’d expected it to be greener with an abundance of water (like other places in Iceland) but that wasn’t the case at all!
River crossings could be deep and dangerous
But sometimes rideable
Even if the current was strong
The most difficult section was the route north of Hofsjökull glacier. There are lots of dangerous rivers to cross that can be deep and powerful, as well as areas of quicksand (which are best avoided!). It’s a part of Iceland that’s so wild even the Super Jeeps don’t often visit. In fact, we didn’t see a single other person out there. We would start the days around 4-5 am so that we could reach the river crossings as early as possible when it was still cold and the water level remained low. On occasions, we had to travel upstream to find a safer point for crossing where the river was wider – meaning the water would be shallower and less powerful. Trying to find the best way to cross them became a game, and as we gained experience these became our favourite days (despite the wet feet).
I used a few different tools to plan the ride: Komoot, Google Maps and the paper maps that International Photographer produces (which I highly recommended). It was important to pay close attention to the routes because there were some long sections without resupply. The hardest part of planning was calculating and carrying food supplies for the two Highlands crossings, which were 12–18-day rides in remote areas. We carried dried food that we’d repackaged in Ziplock bags so that it remained light and compact. I was grateful that I had my previous bikepacking trips to draw experience from, with a pack-list that is both optimised and organised these days.
If I can offer one piece of advice, it’s that it is important to not overload yourself carrying unnecessary items, usually packed due to a fear of lack of comfort. If your budget allows it, try to prioritise good quality and lightweight equipment – but do keep in mind that it’s all a learning process. You will find the equipment that suits you the best as you go on adventures and gain experience. The best way to learn is to get out there and practise on the road!