Gallery: The Westfjords are the way

Inside the Arna Westfjords Way Challenge, a four-day bike race and cultural exchange in Iceland's most far-flung region

Iceland may be the 21st century’s most famous tourism success story, but most visitors never make it to the Westfjords — cyclists included.

The remote northwestern corner of Iceland is its least inhabited and most dramatic. Shaped by wind, water, snow, and ice, the Westfjords are home to wily weather and even wilier residents (7,000 of them). Vibrant villages and family farms are tucked into the terrain, and people share the landscape with puffins, arctic foxes, seals, and whales.

Watch: Payson McElveen crossing Iceland by bike

Last summer, adventure photographer Chris Burkard, ultra-endurance cyclist Lael Wilcox, photojournalist Rue Kaladyte, endurance cyclist Payson McElveen, and mountain biker Nichole Baker set off to scout a bikepacking route around the Westfjords with the help of the local tourism office. The route they mapped, 960km of paved and gravel roads, is now the foundation of the Arna Westfjords Way Challenge, a four-day stage race that debuted in late June.

Read: Iceland’s First Ultra-Endurance Stage Race is focused on Inclusivity and Cultural Connection

The race is unique by virtue of its location but in other ways, as well. In order to finish the race, riders are required to make two cultural connections per stage. A cultural connection may include stopping at a hot pool or museum, or eating local fare.

Additionally, the fourth stage of the race begins at midnight, so that riders can truly experience the season of the midnight sun.

This year’s edition was capped at 100 participants, and 10 slots were reserved for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Color) athletes.