For a number of years now I have dreamed about extending the summer by arranging an off-season training camp for myself. This November I finally managed to persuade “la familia” to join me for a trip to Puerto de Mogan in Gran Canaria. This was going to be my first real to chance to tackle mountains so I was bit apprehensive. In the end everything worked out more or less like I had envisioned. The village was nice, the mountains challenging and everybody is willing to do it again next year.
Before the trip I prepared a rough plan where I would want to ride. The idea was to first try how my legs carry me up the slopes and then increase distance day by day. That plan pretty much went to scrap as I started my first climb. I had picked up the rental bike (Cannondale SuperSix Ultegra Disc) from Free Motion and by the time I had made it from the coast to the beginning I was fired up. I kept a steady pace and was craving for more after each twist in the road. After Ayacata cycle cafe I just kept going and it got lot tougher. I had to take frequent breather breaks and weather was lot chillier. I kept at it and eventually made it all the way to the top of the mountain.
At the top I couldn’t really see anything, but I felt a real sense of accomplishment. Even a chubby bloke like myself can make it up the climbs. I knew it would be doable as long as you have low gearing (34-28) and you pace yourself, but actually doing it is another story. The hardest part is the mental battle. On the third day I got some good advice from an older swedish lady. Essentially you should just turn off your brain and stop thinking. Worrying about road surfaces or upcoming inclines is useless as you just waste energy. Of course there are ways to make it easier for yourself, but nothing that can be changed on the mountain.
In my experience it would have helped a lot if I had been able to start little earlier in the mornings. We were having breakfast at 7 AM, but I usually got off at 9. So with the commute ride by the coast I ended up on the hills with the noon sun blaring down on me. I think it would also have helped to have some level of support. I do enjoy the solitude and adventure aspect of finding routes on my own, but I think going with a group could have been worth it for training purposes. If I had known all the time how much there was left it would have definitely been much easier to motivate me up the climbs. Another thing is it is much easier to suck a wheel and bear the pain when there are others suffering.
After the first day’s push to top my legs were pretty tired. Being over eager I had pretty much blown my original training plans.
- Day 1: Test my legs from Puerto de Mogan to Ayacata
- Day 2: Puerto de Mogan to pico de las nieves 90km
- Day 3: Easy day 3h to Maspalomas and back
- Day 4: Valley of the Tears 80km
- Day 5: Teide on Tenerife
So the new plan was to use day two as a easier day and rest on fourth. So essentially I would just jump to day 3 on my plan. However as I started off on day two I kept my options open. Idea was to check the collapsed coastal road and maybe make a small incursion in land. The ride along the coast was a breeze and I made it to Puerto Rico. I was feeling fresh so I decided head for the hills. What I hadn’t accounted for was the head wind I encountered in the natural wind tunnel. I was pretty much shot by the time I got from the canyon to the bottom of the Soria climb.
It was hot as hell as I started up the countless turns. It had been pretty much downhill all the way from the coast so there was no going back. Eventually I made it to the village of Barranquillo Andres. I checked the map on Strava app and it clearly indicated I should turn left up a precipitous slope. The guy at bike rental had told me it would more fun to ride up than down. I guess he was right, but he hadn’t mentioned the signs in Spanish clearly banning cycling. I did not want to turn back so I started walking. In all honesty I would not have made it all the way up riding so I was happy about this get-out-of-jail card. I walked past the barking dog and eventually the road was not so steep anymore so I continued on cycling.
As I made it to the top I had new-found admiration to the Norwegian triathlete I had met and chatted with the day before. They had skipped the closed coastal road to Puerto Mogan and ridden the up the hard route instead. I was happy to have made it to the top even if I cheated a bit, but now I still had the downhill to deal with. The thing is you spend all your energy going up and the most dangerous part of the rides is coming down. There are countless blind corners with oncoming traffic cutting on your lane. If you lock a wheel or hit a bump in a road you could veer off and fall hundreds of meters down from a cliff. I was surprised I did not enjoy riding down as much as I had thought.
On the third day I decided to go on a longer ride. I rode the easy seaside route to Maspalomas and after having some ice cream in roadside bar it was time to head for the first switchbacks. It was pretty late in the day already and it was starting to get hot again. I made it to the top viewing point (Mirador Degollada de las Yeguas) panting. The view was nice, but I had to make a choice again. There was huge downhill ahead and basically meant I would need to commit to climbing up the mountain. Luckily I met a dutch truckdriver who had been down in the canyon on an MTB. After a short chat and hearing about the local trail selection I was happy I was riding on the road.
It was time to charge ahead. I made it down and started steadily climbing up. It was getting hot and I was running out of sports drink as I was pooring it on my head. Riding alone with just the strava app I kept stopping and looking at the map. The towns seemed to come no closer and I found no way to see the upcoming route profile. I ended up stopping for a breather just 500m before Fataga. If I had known the town was closer I would have just pushed on. I felt pretty silly stopping just minutes after the first break. At least the ham and cheese omelette was great and I got my bottles filled.
As I continued on the gradients were reasonable and the only problem was that my ham string had started hurting. In the morning I had moved my seat 5mm forward and I think this had made the difference. I had dealt with this in the past so I asked a bunch of cyclists for a multi-tool loan so I could adjust my cleat. I finally hit gold as I bumped into a group of riders from the UK guided by Col conquerors. I managed to pull back the cleat and rest of the way to the pass was an easy task. I just followed the wheel or ran away from the chasers. It really got me thinking how different experience it would have been to be on a guided tour instead of self-reliant approach. From what I saw Rob and Karen run a very professional operation and I would have definitely been in good hands.
On the forth day I decided to take a day off and rest. It was worth it as we went fishing with la familia and I caught a sea turtle. On the final rental day I decided to take it easy and head towards valley of the tears, but turn back half way. Looking back it would have made lot of sense to do this ride on the first day. The downhill from Tasarte probably was the best riding I have done. The day would have been an awesome end to the trip, but I ended up dropping my phone from my back pocket. I ended up riding 24km extra looking for it. Luckily a local taxi driver had picked it up from the front of the hotel and I got it back thanks to Android’s excellent remote locking features.
So that was my trip in short. Based on my experience going solo the biggest lessons were that it would have been worth the time to setup your rental bike just like you have used to. It is equally important to start early as it gets really hot by mid day and so close to equator there is no shadows to cool down in. Another thing to note is that it does get quite cold high up so decending I was really glad I brought my merino arm warmers and not just the gilet. All in all the trip was a great success. Even my wife expressed an interest in trying riding some mountains so there just might be another family trip coming at some point.