Ultra-endurance icons Jenny Graham and Lael Wilcox explore Iceland in new GCN+ documentary
200 kilometres along the continental divide, craggy mountain faces give way to steaming rivers and end at the base of an active volcano
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Hearing that Jenny Graham and Lael Wilcox are on the bill, you might naturally assume this would be a documentary on some gruelling ultra-endurance event (opens in new tab). Maybe how many laps of the island could be completed in a set time, or perhaps how far across could be ridden without sleep.
After all, Graham does hold the women’s record for cycling around the world unsupported (opens in new tab), averaging 145 miles / 230km every day for 124 days. Not one to rest on her laurels, this summer she'll compete in the eighth edition of the Transcontinental Race – which will be the first time it’s been held since Fiona Kolbinger won in 2019 (opens in new tab).
Wilcox is perhaps best known for winning the Trans Am Bike Race outright in 2016, a gruelling 4,200mi / 6,800km ultra-race from the USA’s east coast to its west. But she’s got plenty of races lined up for 2022 herself, including 24 Hours of Old Pueblo, TT-ing the Arizona Trail and a variety of multi-day challenges all across Europe.
But that’s not what The Rift - Riding Iceland's Fault Line (opens in new tab) is about. Instead, it’s a meandering journey through the stunning landscapes and innovative towns, equipping you with a strong appreciation of both the riding and the culture of this unique country.
Whilst on your own bikepacking trip (opens in new tab), you might read a plaque or an information board at the top of a viewpoint, detailing the natural and human impacts on the landscape before you.
Whether that's the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia travelling inextricably in their separate directions – covering a distance roughly two-Jenny's-fingers-worth every year – or the geothermal energy plants, tapping in to the vast renewable source that is the Earth's molten core, Graham and Wilcox scatter those little nuggets throughout their chats.
But it is the people that really leave a special mark. Arranging to cover part of the way with a local mountain biking collective, Wilcox and Graham met the top two Icelandic female Enduro riders, who've set up a women's riding group that now counts a thousand members.
Considering Iceland’s tiny population, that’s staggeringly huge. Scale that up to the United States and it equates to 900,000 people – more than the population of San Francisco.
The riding's pretty natural, following trails created by sheep over hundreds of years, but it’s incredibly brutal. The bikes require suspension travel longer than even the most flexible roadie's stem and chunky tyres that weigh more than a wheelset. On the other hand, such tough local trails make for highly skilled riders.
Given the wilderness and lack of roads, the filming itself proved quite a challenge. E-bikes helped access those remote areas that cars couldn’t follow, while plenty of spares and banks of batteries helped guard – to some extent – against bad luck.
Although one thing beyond anyone's control is the weather. With 100mph winds hitting the west of the island when the trip was due to start, there was little else that could be done other than wait it out for safer conditions.
During their time there, Graham and Wilcox were introduced to an Icelandic proverb to the effect of: "If you don't like the weather; wait a moment". With the high mountains and remote ocean location, weather systems can roll in and out with an almost disorienting speed.
At least it meant that the delay wasn't problematically long, but it also meant the dry conditions at the start of the trip didn't hang around all that long.
The Rift - Riding Iceland's Fault Line (opens in new tab) is available now to watch on GCN+ with a subscription that costs £6.99 / $8.99 and includes close to 100 exclusive full-length documentaries, as well as racing coverage and highlights.
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After winning the 2019 National Single-Speed Cross-Country Mountain Biking Championships and claiming the plushie unicorn (true story), Stefan swapped the flat-bars for drop-bars and has never looked back.
Since then, he’s earnt his 2ⁿᵈ cat racing licence in his first season racing as a third, completed the South Downs Double in under 20 hours and Everested in under 12.
But his favourite rides are multiday bikepacking trips, with all the huge amount of cycling tech and long days spent exploring new roads and trails - as well as histories and cultures. Most recently, he’s spent two weeks riding from Budapest into the mountains of Slovakia.
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