REYKJAVIK, Iceland (May 4, 2021) — As Chris Burkard’s images of Iceland’s active volcano dazzled the world, endurance athlete Rebecca Rusch and cyclist Angus Morton joined the photographer in the land of fire and ice for an epic journey that was recently completed. The goal: to establish and ride a new north to south interior route across Iceland in winter. The trio rode for six days in early April, covering 327-miles across snowfields, mountains and glaciers. They climbed 25,600 vertical feet to reach the island nation’s southern shore. Their route meandered south from Akureyri through the rugged glacial interior to Vik, traversing some of the most remote, beautiful and difficult terrain the country has to offer across an exposed landscape famous for biting winter winds.
This was Burkard’s 44th trip to Iceland, which has become a favorite muse for the renowned adventure and nature photographer. But this was the first time an expedition was in winter and pioneering a completely new route. Burkard noted, “There is something special that comes from forging a new path, especially when the elements are against you. We aren't the first to fatbike in Iceland and certainly won't be the last, but our goal in attempting a first ascent that went from coast-to-coast crossing the Myrdalsjokull glacier was certainly one of my proudest moments. This route was something I have dreamed about for many years and to see it come to life in a way that was pure and unsupported made me realize what is truly possible on a bike.”
Being told again and again by locals that “no one crosses in winter,” the crew’s route was 90% covered in snow. It concluded with a final push across the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, the fourth largest in Iceland concealing the top of a large volcano. With only one progress-halting weather day, they rode fully self-supported carrying their own food and gear for the entire expedition. Along with being accomplished cyclists, each rider brought a unique skill set to the team: Rusch’s winter expedition experience, Burkard’s knowledge of Iceland and photography, and Morton’s film and TV production.
Rusch said of the journey, “Being invited as a member of this bold expedition was a highlight of my career. There are few things more committing than moving unsupported through Iceland in winter. The inhospitable terrain, the distance, the landscape and the unknown nature of the route required a deep well of skills. This ride was exactly the kind of exploratory expedition I’ve been training for my whole life. In so much ice and cold, there was so much warmth and energy. We were so small against this backdrop, but our team was solid and we moved gracefully in a place I never dreamed I would be able to ride my bike.”
Rounding out the three-pack was Angus Morton, who wore two hats: former pro cyclist and film/TV director. Morton’s production company Thereabouts uses sports to help people better understand the world. “As an Australian who grew up on the mid-north coast I hadn’t grown up ever experiencing a true winter, so to find myself cycling across the Icelandic highlands at -20c was rather surreal,” said Morton. “It’s a far cry from racing bikes on the road that’s for sure. Capturing an adventure whilst being immersed in it – allows us to provide a different perspective. Sport is a very personal experience and it’s often hard to convey that to an audience. By sharing the experience from within, my hope is that I can articulate the internal experience more clearly.”
Over the last three years, Rusch has set her sights on winter endurance expeditions. She had initially shied away from winter for physiological reasons including poor circulation. She adds, “I’m hugely intimidated by the cold—I’ve never been good in the cold. It’s always been this last frontier for me to try to tackle.” She put her full effort into overcoming the challenges of athletic performance in a deep freeze, incorporating the preparation and experience she has accrued for years as an expedition athlete, including breathing techniques, nutrition, mindfulness, and of course, completely dialing in her gear. Rusch shared this knowledge with the team.
Burkard explains of the additional challenges that traveling in winter brought, “There was a lot of anxiety in just not knowing what in the world we were getting into. It was a big unknown, as all expeditions should be. But we had an epic team, who put in the time to train and then support one another when things got scary, daunting and at times…freezing.”
Rebecca Rusch is living proof that midlife can be a time when a woman can truly hit her stride. The 52-year-young athlete is recognized and ranked as one of the world’s top endurance mountain bikers and adventure athletes. Her career has seen her excel in everything from rock climbing and whitewater rafting to cross-country skiing and most notably in biking, where she has truly made her mark. Rusch recently won the 2021 Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI), a 350-mile bike race along the famous mushing trail across Alaska—her second win in three starts, and her first win competing completely self-sufficiently.
Ride along on the journey through the land of fire and ice, as a film being produced by Chris Burkard Studios and Thereabouts will feature the stunning landscape and the triumph of this winter crossing in late 2021.