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Video: Payson McElveen Crosses Iceland Under Human Power In One Day

Jan 12, 2022
by Sarah Moore  

Words by Red Bull Media House / Photos by Evan Ruderman/Stachehouse Productions

The 13-minute piece beautifully documents McElveen’s successful attempt at traversing the subarctic island country in a single bike ride. McElveen became the first person to cross the country from coast-to-coast under human power in less than a day, completing the 257-mile route in 19 hours, 45 minutes.

bigquotesI'm thrilled to bring viewers into my history-making Iceland adventure through my new film ‘Crossing Iceland. This excursion was the truest test of my physical and mental stamina but set against the amazingly diverse landscape of Iceland. I hope that they can experience the same level of awe that I did in traversing this country.Payson McElveen

“Crossing Iceland '' highlights the challenges and freedom of self-supported adventure, which for McElveen required negotiating the infamous Iceland Highlands, a 15,500 square mile, lifeless expanse of volcanic rock and sand. His journey began at 4:15 AM at the Akureyrarkirkja church in Akureyri, a city on Iceland’s northern coast. Between him and the finish line, the turbulent ocean wash of Iceland’s southernmost coastal town, Vik, McElveen weathered strong winds, steady rains, glacial rivers, and subfreezing temperatures. He was racing the clock and also an incoming early season snow storm, for what he describes as the “ride of a lifetime.”

2119 was a shoot for Payson McElveen as he attempted to set the speed record for biking from the North of Iceland to the South Photographer Evan Ruderman Athlete Payson McElveen
2119 was a shoot for Payson McElveen as he attempted to set the speed record for biking from the North of Iceland to the South Photographer Evan Ruderman Athlete Payson McElveen

Renowned photographer and adventurer Chris Burkard, an Icelandic team of filmmakers and overland guides joined the Durango-based rider to capture this historic ride. For him, it was less about the record attempt than the personal challenge and opportunity to experience the otherworldly country. “The competitor in me will always enjoy racing to throw down a fast time, but this project was less about an FKT effort and more about seeing if it was possible to ride across the whole country in less than a day. This ride has solidified my interest in geographically-based challenges like this. Start at one landmark and ride as fast as you can until you literally run out of road or trail…in this case that was hitting the ocean on the southside of the country,” the 28-year old rider explained.

McElveen utilized The Highlands “F” roads, which are rugged, minimally maintained, double-track suitable only for high-clearance overland vehicles. With no refuel points along the route, McElveen carried more than 7,000 calories to fuel the journey.

Chris Burkard says that the feat inspired him for historical reasons, “More than just an athletic achievement, Payson’s ride pays homage to thousands of years of overland travel through this wild country. It’s nearly impossible to describe the experience to anyone who hasn’t sunk their tires deep into it’s remote and endless gravel roads. But this film captures the highs and lows of his impressive journey in a way that can only be compared to a near mythical achievement. Fitting for Iceland to say the least.”

McElveen’s ride took advantage of a tight weather window, yet he still faced turbulent weather conditions, which he says despite the rough terrain was the biggest challenge. “It’s funny how a ‘weather window’ in Iceland would qualify as the worst riding weather you’d have all year elsewhere,” McElveen remarked. “Iceland’s weather is some of the most dynamic in the world, especially in September. I knew we were pushing it a bit in terms of the time of year, but I really wanted to try to complete this ride before we left. I chose my gear carefully, which was crucial in completing the ride.”

Payson McElveen sets the speed record for biking from the North of Iceland to the South Photographer Evan Ruderman Athlete Payson McElveen
Payson McElveen sets the speed record for biking from the North of Iceland to the South Photographer Evan Ruderman Athlete Payson McElveen

Burkard agrees that the environmental changes are a defining aspect of adventure in Iceland, “This is an environment that’s so unforgiving that they literally tested the lunar rover on this landscape. To move through The Highlands with just the clothes on your back and the gear on your bike in under 24 hours…it’s mind blowing. Honestly when Payson set out, I was worried about what might happen if he got too cold, if the wind picked up, when moving between glaciers. But, even more so, I was rooting for him from the beginning–to see what he could do to marry his athleticism with the pure adventure that Iceland has to offer.”

Payson says he’d love to see others attempt the coast-to-coast route at record attempt speed, but wants to make sure people understand the potential dangers of the route, “The interior of Iceland is an extremely harsh place. When I got up there and saw it for the first time, it felt completely otherworldly – like I was visiting an alien planet. It feels like you’re not supposed to be there. I had the distinct sense that I wanted to get through it and back down to safety as fast as I could. For others interested, I would strongly recommend riding in the warmer, dryer months of the summer, with more clothing and food than you think you need. Iceland is the most beautiful country I have ever ridden through, with volcanoes, glaciers, desert and weather that will make you feel extremely small and vulnerable. After this ride, I have a full appreciation for giving this wild land the respect and admiration it deserves.”


  • 34 4
 Must have been a long Trek
  • 21 2
 Looks like a long session in the saddle.
  • 24 2
 He had the Stache for it.
  • 9 2
 for this he needed a lot of fuel
  • 5 1
 5 points to the first person to Slash an hour off the time
  • 4 0
 @Cheersdude: Seeking big adventures sounds like a great Remedy for a good life.
  • 3 0
 I'm sure he was full of top fuel for this.
  • 3 0
 I'm sure that route had a fair bit of Checkpoints.
  • 5 0
 Guys stop. These puns are corny and a ticket to nowhere
  • 1 0
 A different calibre for sure
  • 1 2
 The Re:activ of the press due to his Supercaliber performance is outstanding
  • 3 0
 For those who like to ride a bike for long distances, there is Red Bull Trans-Siberian Extreme. 15 stages, 8 time zones, 5 climate zones, 9105 km and climb height 77000 meters. You can drive this route and just for fun Smile .
  • 1 0
 These adventures are his Domane.
  • 25 0
 Is he really fast, or is Iceland very small?

  • 18 0
 $500 for the first person to do it in under a week… on the Grim Donut V2 with Levy link.
  • 8 0
 Can I put drop bars on it?
  • 1 0
 @Lokirides: No, it has to be mustache bars
  • 6 0
 Word down the street is that Keegan Swenson is on his way to Iceland... Strava ride to be posted the day Payson's Red Bull video comes out.
  • 3 0
 I love Iceland, it's a fantastic place, the nature is really as from another planet. Everybody should ride there sometime in their life. Or maybe not all 8 billion people on the planet... Don't go to Iceland folks! Nothing to see there!
  • 2 0
 Watch the video…there was some dude from Spain about halfway through they came across some dude who had waaaaaay too little gear (think Crocs and no socks like Lachlan Morton) who was doing the same thing over multiple days. Mountain + Bike + Epic = Worthy
  • 6 1
 Near mythical achievement. Impressive.
  • 1 0
 We have been here in 2011. 1600 km of bike, about 600 km of bus. Incredible island. This Guy is a real tough rider. With the wind, the Rain and volcanic sand, it is definitevely a defy. If I go back there one Day, I Will use my fat bike.
  • 2 0
 We were in the area where the movie prometheus were captured. It Was totally surrealistic.

In the Middle of nowhere, youre meeting a security Guy : "sorry you cant go further, Ridley Scott is filming". :-/
  • 3 2
 Im going to ride in some of the most beautiful terrain in the world. I'll go so fast and be so tired that it won't be enjoyable. At least some folks were there to take photos. Nothing against the acomplishment, I certainly couldn't do it. But done over 3 days or so this would have been amazing.
  • 2 0
 3000 ft climb out of the start and after that all downhill?
  • 1 0
 @mi-bike: Generally, that's how climbing up and over volcanoes works
  • 1 0
 @TimMog: if you click the link you can see how extremely skewed the topography was.
  • 1 0
 @mi-bike: I did. I've stayed in Akuyeri where he started, and it just goes up as soon as you leave the place. It certainly isn't "downhill" from there, he still knocked out 10k+ feet after that
  • 1 0
 @TimMog: my "all downhill" comment was tongue-in-cheek.
  • 4 2
 How many donuts would he have burned?
  • 2 1
 I guess for some people, suffering on a bike as an end is a thing. Did he have a good time? How are the memories?
  • 2 0
 It would take me 19 hours to cross this freezing river
  • 2 0
 19 hrs. and we're done. wait what country were we in again?
  • 1 0
 This is truly impressive! And the landscape. Wow. Need to do this one day but I will give myself more time Razz
  • 1 0
 Seems like he was Payson with Mach 11
  • 1 0
 @philthyphill secondo ammè habbevuto troppa livella e poi bbo
  • 1 0
 Ma vero Gioia perché non va
  • 2 0
  • 1 0
 Must have had a good tail wind
  • 2 3
 Didn't have to say "human powered", we're on a bike website so yes it's human powered.
  • 1 0
 me likey
  • 1 1
 I heard he removed the whole knockblock system to move his front wheel.
  • 1 0
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