Milner and Neethling Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

Inspired by the works of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Dan Milner and Andrew Neethling seek similar adventure in Iceland.

Andrew Neethling and Dan Milner head to the Land of Fire and Ice to recreate a Jules Verne classic.

Words and photos by Dan Milner.

“Do we move forward like civilised creatures, or do we turn back like cowards?” asks Professor Lidenbrook with more than a little English pomp.

I tumble the line over in my mind as I watch an approaching squall curling around the peaks in front of us. It’s about to hurl us some of Iceland’s notorious weather, so like Lidenbrook, we have a decision to make. 

Perhaps recalling a line from an old movie’s ropey script is not the best way to reach decisions that could dictate whether we’ll make it back in time for a post-ride beer, but just like Lidenbrook’s hero-moment in the 1977 movie of Jules Verne’s classic novel, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, we are facing challenges Iceland-style.

Okay, we’re riding bikes across a rugged volcanic landscape rather than stumbling through an underground passage hounded by noxious gases and hungry dinosaurs, but one glance at the primordial terrain around us leaves me certain that prehistoric beasts might lumber from behind a rock at any moment. Iceland can have that effect on your imagination: likely the reason why Verne’s book, filled as it is with long-lost monsters and giant fungi, is so fantastic.

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We press on, more out of a desire to complete our twelve-Kilometre trail loop than any denial of a dodgy screenplay’s concept of ‘civilised’ or ‘cowardice’. After all, if the old adage is to be believed, there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. Hashtag: Jackets on and ride onwards. 

The approaching squall is not entirely unexpected; given Iceland’s positioning between two notoriously stormy seas, we knew coming to ride here would come with meteorologically moody challenges —even in June— but both me and fellow Shimano ambassador Andrew Neethling also knew this rugged, colourful, unspoilt landscape would have its rewards —if we were willing to, as Professor Lidenbrook says, ‘move forward like civilised beasts’ when the weather rolls in.

The trail opens up into an amphitheatre of breath-taking beauty —these views alone are reward enough for continuing onwards, even without the long, sinuous descent in wait. It’s a story common to each of the days we ride: the weather changing its mood hourly, while each turn in a trail revealing a new vista across yet more vast, untamed volcanic plateaux, or becoming a gateway to a challenging pumptrack that rolls over jagged outcrops of lava spewed from the Earth’s bowels centuries, or perhaps only months, ago. The riding, the landscapes, and the idea of existing here —it is all very humbling.

You cannot visit Iceland without being humbled —it’s probably is the country’s biggest take-away— but it comes with inspiration. For three days we ride Iceland’s flowing singletrack through some of its most breathtaking scenery. We gawp at tumbling glaciers and skirt deep ravines that have been sliced through rock by untold forces, as easily as a hot knife through butter.

We battle headwinds and shoulder bikes under clear blue skies. And when we depart we swear to return. Like Jules Verne, we know we have just scratched the surface; dig a little deeper and who knows what more might be uncovered. 

Read our Tall Tales story told by Dan Milner himself over on our Features page here.