Pez Goes to the Movies: The Rift—Riding Iceland’s Fault Line

The GCN+ streaming service offers, in addition to extensive race coverage, interesting documentaries covering cycling history, technology, personalities and two-wheeled travel adventures. The latest GCN+ video is about a three day trip riding along the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge in Iceland, with stunning vistas of an alien landscape—and bread baked in geothermal steam!

GCN+’s filmmakers want to bring viewers to amazing places, to inspire cyclists to discover new experiences and while some of the videos have gone to noted cycling regions in Europe and Australia, some have been wilder—Chile, Colombia and, now, a series of three videos will be available focused on Iceland. “The Rift” is the second of these and features Jenny Graham, who currently holds the women’s around the world cycling record and appears in other GCN+ documentaries, and Lael Wilcox, noted endurance bikepacker, who has set records on the Tour Divide and Baja Divide challenges. Together they spend three days riding along the ridge that divides two tectonic plates, the North American and Eurasian ones, a ridge that is part of the the world’s longest mountain chain, much of it underwater. There are a few areas where the ridge appears on land and Iceland, the world’s most geologically active place, is one of these.

The adventure begins at the famous Thingvellir, the country’s most popular tourist attraction, where the rift is very evident. The site has significant cultural, political and geological importance and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, although this is not mentioned in the video. It was once the site of Iceland’s annual parliament, held from 930 until 1798, and which now meets in the capital of Reykjavik, 43 kms away, and is considered the oldest surviving parliament in the world. Equipped with mountain bikes, Jenny and Lael take to the trails accompanied by a posse of local riders.

Iceland may not be noted for its trees but it is pretty spectacular and the cyclists, led by two women who are the nation’s top enduro riders and look impressively confident on the trails, travel through challenging terrain. The trails are basically paths used historically by sheep and one has the impression that Iceland, even with a population of 366,000, is mainly uninhabited. Cycling is increasing in popularity on the island and one of the locals mentions that she began riding by herself and a friend and that over a short time their group now has 1,000 female participants. After riding on what looks like another planet, the group comes to the end of the trail. Unexpectedly, there is a parking lot and a very nice restaurant where everyone convenes for beer. Having visited Iceland myself, I suspect that this might be the most expensive beer on the planet but probably worth it given the ride.

On the second day Jenny and Lael visit a bakery where the owner explains how he bakes using geothermal steam, which must be unusual even in Iceland. Iceland’s energy sustainability is a topic frequently brought up in the video and we learn that 87% of the country’s power is generated through hydroelectricity, while the remainder is geothermal, which generates both electricity and steam heating for homes. This was of such interest to the filmmakers it is mentioned three times! And while the country has six geothermal power plants, we first see one in the distance but the cyclists have a chance to actually visit one and are guided through the process, which is quite fascinating. Iceland is clearly the world leader in this kind of technology, which was spurred on originally by the 1970s oil crisis.

Taking their steamed bread, Jenny and Lael are provided a route by a local outfitter and proceed to ride cross country, finding their way past or through 20 rivers. Some of these are hot, some cold, but all seem to be fast-flowing and a good way to get hyperthermia. But they manage to ford their way onwards. Bikepackers often seem to relish terrible conditions, setting up balky tents in hurricanes and so forth, but in this case the women arrived at a comfortable cabin where the outfitter whipped up grilled lamb with rosemary—no freeze-dried food tonight!

On the last day the team continues onward and reaches a live volcano. This is not your Krakatoa/Mount St. Helens type of volcano but a somewhat domesticated one that tourists can visit close up and watch the lava flow. No flying rocks or pyroclastic flows but it is still quite spectacular, particularly in the dark. The riders are joined by a woman who is a disaster specialist, who explains what is going on with the volcano, which had announced its presence with earthquakes felt in the capital, 30 kms away, but also talks about how much geological activity takes place in Iceland. Disaster specialists will never lack for work here, clearly.

“The Rift—Riding Iceland’s Fault Line” is, as is the case of all the GCN+ travel documentaries, superbly filmed, with great drone work and a crew trying to keep up on e-bikes and somehow keeping the film gear clear of volcanic dust and dealing with mercurial weather conditions. Having watched Jenny Graham in other videos, one can only admire her unstoppable enthusiasm. Not only can she make the exclamation “Wow!” sound as if it has four syllables but every setback is just another great opportunity for a challenge. In this video there is chemistry between Jenny and Lael but they also seem to have a great time with local cyclists. Iceland’s natural environment is extraordinary and the filmmakers have undoubtedly met their goal of inspiring that spirit of adventure in every viewer.

The Rift: Riding Iceland’s Fault Line and GCN+’s catalogue of films are exclusively available via the GCN App, all web browsers, AndroidTV, Smart TV, Amazon FireTV, and Chromecast.



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