A cycle to remember, Tobias Woggon recalls the beautiful, but blustery Faroe Islands
Whenever people ask me what I believe is the most beautiful place on Earth, I answer the Faroe Islands. The archipelago in the North Atlantic has held my fascination since my backpacking trip there. The isles are a natural jewel in the vast sea with barren landscapes. It bravely presents itself with both harshness and warmth. In late spring, I set off with my friends, Max and Philip, to cross the islands from west to east: a trans-Faroe Islands quasi-alpine mixture adventure trail that everybody could do.
I first heard about this Nordic collection of islands during the solar eclipse in 2005. This spectacle could only be admired in two locations on the planet: on the Norwegian archipelago Spitsbergen and the Faroe Islands. My companion and photographer Philip was on location to capture the eclipse. When he returned, he spoke vividly of his trip and was eager to visit this unknown place once again. Maybe the Faroe Islands were an undiscovered mountain bike spot? These green islands, embedded within a dark oceanic quiver, fueled a fascination of wonder in both of us.
I immediately threw myself into research. Unfortunately, I was quickly disappointed to discover that off-road biking is prohibited there. The islands only have around 50,000 inhabitants. Most of them earn their money through hard work at sea or on farms and few go hiking on their land. The Faroese regard their land as useful, not beautiful. Therefore, there are only a handful of hiking trails where you are officially allowed to walk.
Route Planning with Sheep
Instead of mountain bikes, we would ride on gravel bikes since there are no bike trails and instead just a few trails reserved for hikers. We planned to cross from the west to the easternmost tip. Normally, I would prepare for the trip using Google Earth and look at the most important routes in advance. Unfortunately, there are no Google Street View pictures of Faroe, only Sheep View. Yes, you read that correctly. Sheep equipped with 360-degree cameras captured the pictures available on the internet. This initiative was launched in 2017 by Durita Dahl Andreassen, a local resident. She wanted to draw the attention of Google to the small archipelago that had fallen into obscurity. Since then you can explore the Faroe Islands on sheep-back via Google Street View. In reality, however, I would prefer the views to be seen from a bicycle saddle.
The first stage led us around a big road loop heading north from Klaksvík to Viðareiði, the northernmost town of the islands. Again and again, the wind whipped our faces, throwing raindrops that popped painfully against our skin like little water bombs and drawing our bikes along like sails, flinging us back and forth.
As we emerged from a tunnel shortly before the little village Hvannasund, we could hardly steer the bike due to the billowing strength of the tyrannical wind. Even breathing was difficult. Next to us, water cascaded as it fell down the rock face. However, it did not strike the ground and instead was caught by the wind and thrown back up into the air with full force. The majestic waterfall seemingly defied gravity.
We finally reached our destination in the evening and decided against spending the entire night in the tent. The wind was due to remain strong over the next few days. Therefore, the next day we made our way to the largest island: Eysturoy.
While traveling, we discovered the Faroe Islands are connected by huge tunnels built under the sea, in which we rolled on our bikes for eight kilometers in sheer darkness. Occasionally a car passed by, illuminating the black walls for a few moments before the darkness engulfed us again in an echoed chamber of metallic clinks and clatters as we pedaled through the abyss. Water dripped from the ceiling.
After what felt like an eternity, we emerged from the tunnel, ready to face the bad weather that we had left behind. But exactly the opposite awaited us. Blue skies and warm sun rays fell onto our skin. On a high, even pushing the bikes up the long passage at the steep coast of Elduvík didn't bother us. When we reached our sleeping destination, we could finally use our travel provisions—spaghetti carbonara from a bag.
Soaking Wet Nightmares
The gusting storm whipped the tent relentlessly, which meant rain did not bounce off it anymore. The rain was now coming through the tent. During my travels, I have experienced many uncomfortable weather situations, but I have never been afraid of my tent. I envisioned what you would imagine a day riding into a headwind after a sleepless night would look like.
The next day, the sound of the wind roared so loudly through my ears and my head that it didn't take long before the pain began to set in. My legs were still tired from a turbulent night in the tent. The next day, no matter how hard I pedaled, I struggled to move forward. Despite it being mostly flat along the fjord, it felt as if I was grinding up a mountain all day long. Our rescue? A fuel station at the roadside, where we arrived exhausted, to fill up the tanks. Rarely has a soggy hotdog tasted so good.
Finally: The Selfie Waterfall
On our way to our final island, we rolled our bikes through the last tunnel of our trip down to Gásadalur, one of its most famous waterfalls. The neighboring village was cut-off from society until a tunnel was constructed in 2005. Until then, goods were carried from the rugged coastline through the arduous mountain path or by boat.
On the last day of our trip, we didn't know where to stay overnight and asked a local where we could pitch our tent. The warmth and sincerity the man showed us was heartwarming and he instantly invited us to camp directly in his garden. Of course, the next morning he asked us if we wanted a coffee. This is how we experienced the Faroe Islands: wind, weather, and boundless hospitality.