first my video (duration 8:49 min)
Zzckkkzzckkk … That doesn’t sound good at all. What’s wrong with the gears? On top of that, the chain is sagging … Misfortunes and breakdowns on the journey to the GranGuanche Audax Gravel, read more here about my mishaps.
Lanzarote, Orzóla Hermitage in the north of the island, mid-March 23. It’s dark, ten to ten, waiting for the start. What am I doing here? Alone among 100 other male and female athletes?
Ahead of me lies Gran Guanche Audax Gravel, a kind of island hopping across the Canary Islands.
In a sense, time is my biggest competitor there, because it’s important in this 700-kilometre race with over 16,000 metres of altitude gain to get to the ferry departures on time so as not to stand still for precious time.
Lanzarote – Fuerteventura – Gran Canaria – Teneriffa – El Hierro
Here again to tracking on Dotwatcher.com
I had thought of various scenarios beforehand, but what if I don’t „catch“ a ferry, then the whole plan changes. On the way, I realise that although precise planning brings a certain security, it is more important to remain flexible and let everything come to you. First priority: pedal as hard as you can.
1 – Lanzarote: 104km/ 1580 Hm (6:30h)
The liberating „GO“!
The crowd starts to move. I’m probably the only one with an MTB, everyone else has arrived with their gravel bikes, with more or less bags … I with MORE … A comment from Tim in the WhatsApp group had prompted me to immediately take out the photo of my packed bike. He said it was packed up like that when he came back from shopping at the Mercadona supermarket. (Small satisfaction: As I write this, at the hotel pool in Tenerife, I think said rider is still on the road on Teneriffa …
*postscript, see below)
I start pedalling. It’s straight to the point. Gravel, very steep, hike a bike is the order of the day. Soon I find my place among the last, as I have to stop to take off my jacket for the first time. But my competitors are also racing through the night as if we were only going to the next pizzeria and as if we didn’t have 700 kilometres ahead of us.
It’s pitch black. Too bad. I’ve been to Lanzarote before for the Ironman. I remember the wonderful volcanic landscapes in all imaginable shades of red and brown. I don’t like driving at night at all. I hope to make it to Playa Blanca at the other end of the island without any sleep attacks. The first ferry leaves at 8:00. That should be manageable. From Mirador del Rio, the highest point, the descent is very rough. Had I thought that there would now be a long easy roll downhill, I was very much mistaken. In addition, a strong wind was blowing at night, partly from behind and partly from the side.
Fortunately, the views are limited. In the middle of the island, the route leads through the dunes. The sound of the sea is loud. Strong gusts of wind drive sand into my eyes, in some places heaps of sand have piled up in the middle of the path. Now and then I see a red taillight in front of me, otherwise I am alone, no one far and wide. Where is everyone? The Atlas Mountain Race sends its regards, I feel like I’m pushing my bike through several kilometres of sand.
I reach the harbour sooner than I thought. Now I could allow myself three more hours of sleep. Protected from the wind and cold, other drivers huddled together in the ferry counter room. No sooner am I snuggled into my sleeping bag than snoring starts all around. And an hour later, the first men start chatting loudly. Arrgggghhhh!!! So I guess I didn’t sleep the first night after all …
2 – Fuerteventura: 154km/ 2030 Hm (8:45h)
After the half-hour crossing to Corralejo on Fuerteventura, I look to start quickly, while many others first take a breakfast break. I am still well fed and in a hurry, as I want to catch the 20:00 ferry in Morro Jable to Las Palmas on Gran Canaria.
The first 30 kilometres take me along a flat gravel road along the coast. Sounds good, if the road didn’t have a washboard-like surface that shakes me up. In any case, I’m glad to have my MTB and learn cleverly at what speed you have to go over it to get through as comfortably as possible. Spectacle as the „path“ runs just along the edge of the cliff and the abyss.
Now we head inland, it is getting very hot and the strong wind is no longer constantly blowing favourably from behind. I struggle through the midday heat, slowly running out of water. I wish I had made the supermarket stop in El Cotillo. But I wanted to avoid the queue of cyclists at the checkout. That’s what I got for it. Today was also a public holiday and it was doubtful whether I would find a way to fill up on water. How relieved I am when I see the faces of Daniela and Marissa appear in front of a small bar. The innkeepers, however, are not quite prepared for the onslaught; unfortunately, normal water bottles are out. I have to make do with carbonated water. It’s a lot of fun in this heat, because my legs keep getting a spray shower. The only question I have is what effect this will have on the hydration pack …
Now comes the longest climb on the island. Although on asphalt, I seem to run out of steam in the blazing afternoon sun. With little motivation, I slowly make my way up. My goal, the evening ferry, is a long way off.
Before I drag myself around the last bend, I already suspect something. And the certainty comes when I stand in front of them: the famous giant iron men. I’ve been here before as part of a training camp and the route that now awaits me is familiar and straightforward. Rapid descents on superbly maintained asphalt. But it was shorter than I thought, because after Pajara, the route goes back into the terrain. Before that, however, I was able to refill my water – the cool cola was supposed to strengthen my legs. After the tedious uphill section, a beautiful beach passage follows. The ferry should work out. Maybe even the 18:00 ferry? What I don’t know is that the ups and downs of the last asphalt section are very tiring because of the frequent changes of direction. The wind pushes and just as often it comes directly from the front. You can’t call it a headwind any more, it’s better to call it a head storm.
When I finally look over the cliff edge to the harbour shortly after six, my heart leaps. The former ferry is still there. I race down. As I stand in front of the ferry, the bridge is being pulled up. The „sailor“ who is untying the ropes looks at me with pity and shakes his head. I could cry. Three minutes too late. (Detail on the side: When I later hear that this ferry would arrive even after mine due to technical problems, I was reconciled with my fate).
The crossing to Gran Canaria is very wavy. I lie down in the bow of the ferry with my sleeping bag, even though this is not advised. But there are fewer passengers here. I change my position and lie across the waves, trying to sleep. Car alarms go off again and again. All around me people keep „coughing“. Oh dear, some of them really don’t seem to be well. I wonder how my stomach will react, as I had eaten a good portion at the beginning of the journey. I kept listening to myself and didn’t dare to fall asleep without a care in the world.
3 – Gran Canaria: 140km/ 3500 Hm (10:30h)
It is late in the evening when we reach Las Palmas. After the preliminary skirmishes on the first two islands, we should now be able to really get down to business in terms of altitude. In Las Palmas I search for a while with Katie to find a way out of the confusion of construction sites. Then we lose sight of each other. Soon the track winds through a rugged canyon-like valley, with houses high above us. It is very lonely down here. At some point, however, there is an unlit car at the edge of the road, the driver with his smartphone in his hand. There is no one far and wide and I drive past quickly, feeling a little uneasy. What if the figure tells a colleague that a lone cyclist is about to pass? My MTB, wallet and maps could be taken from me or worse? I step up a gear. Fortunately, soon the flashing red light of another cyclist. We chat a bit. Somewhere in the reeds the headlights of a car. Was that the supposed helper? Eventually I’m alone again. Katie catches up and says she wants to continue to Ingenio.
I am tired and discover a playground at a crossroads. I won’t be able to stay long, as I really want to catch the last ferry to Tenerife at 20:00. I am tired after the previous sleepless night. I put my mat and sleeping bag in the bivouac sack and set up a cosy camp behind a tree. My bike leans against a thick branch and on it all my clothes to dry and air. As soon as I pull my scarf over my eyes, I hear: „Zzzzzzzzzzzz! A mosquito is pestering me. I can’t think of a peaceful night’s sleep, the unpleasant noise and itchy spots on my face and hands keep pulling me out of my restless dreams. Annoyed, I give up around half past two and set off again. That’s good, too, because it gives me some time for the next ferry.
I have time to do the math. From Ingenio to Puerto de las Nieves, about 100km long, there would only be one restaurant. If that were closed, I would be far too short of water. Oh dear, what to do? I drive through the first houses of the village. Still pitch dark. It doesn’t look like anything is open now, around 5 o’clock. Suddenly a man with a basket steps out of a house next to me. I bravely stop and ask if he could sell a bottle of water. No, unfortunately not. He opens his car door and pulls out a half-filled bottle. I thank him profusely. I wonder how old the water is. I’d rather not think about it. It was better than dying of thirst.
A little further. A figure dressed in white steps out of a door. What will he think of me when I ask him if he knows if there is a cafeteria open nearby? At this hour. He’ll probably think the old lady is crazy. But it’s already out. He says something in Spanish and I understand that I should wait a moment. Beguiling smells waft out of the open door. I am asked to enter. It is a small bakery. Fran and Elena provide me with water, cappuccino and delicious pastries. With the help of the translator, I explain what I am doing here so early. I understand something about „nieves“, aha, that’s similar to the Italian „neve“ – meaning snow. Help, I can get this far up in the snow? That’s all I need … My rescuers bid me farewell and tell me to pull the door into the lock behind me. The next ones would probably not be so lucky. Many thanks to Pastel y Miga!!!
Now I am on the ascent, which leads me up through a green valley. The fall wind rushes mercilessly down the mountain slopes and almost pulls me off my bike several times. Further up, the wind dies down, but now the asphalt is over and it’s very steep and hike a bike into the terrain. Eventually I reach the top. And there should be snow here? Then my eyes fall on a road sign and the scales fall from my eyes: Pico de las Nieves. Oh, that’s what the pastry chef meant in the morning.
Now many kilometres of fast descent follow. I almost miss the only restaurant far and wide at a small crossroads. The landlord laughs as I order everything, up and down the menu: Chicken soup, bread with garlic knit, blueberry tart, cappuccino, Aquarius, a delicious Spanish lemonade. „The woman must be famished …“
We continue through a breathtaking mountain scenery. In the foreground the famous rock formation „Roque Nublo“, 80-metre-high landmark of the island and cult site of the indigenous people. After the rapid descent, we turn left. Now the unpaved road announced by the organisers follows, which demands a lot of concentration, as it is not uncommon for the road to drop steeply at the edge. You should not make any mistakes here. Now there are two of us, because Jonas has caught up. The remaining climbs pass quickly with a bit of chatting and we even manage to be there for the 4 o’clock ferry and make a supermarket stop beforehand. Who would have thought that.
My goal was originally to be back in time for the flight home and perhaps not necessarily to do honour to my uber-name (see Dotwatchers Lanterne Rouge Award). Well, in Gran Canaria I was even among the top 20 … In the end, almost 60% of the athletes will finish, I am in 35th place, i.e. in the first third, and I am mega satisfied.
4 – Teneriffa: 173km/ 4570 Hm (14:40h)
The early departure from Gran Canaria has a positive effect on my night’s rest il La Esperanza, where Katie and I had booked a room. But first I have a good 50 kilometres and about 1500 metres of altitude to cover. A spectacular road winds its way up the slopes of the Anaga Rural Park. Although it is often wet and cold here, I am spared this. However, the stormy wind pushes me hard against the crash barriers several times. A few kilometres now take me through a dark forest. Here, as announced, it is damp, muddy and cold. I reach Cristobal de la Laguna and have to climb a few more kilometres on an unpleasantly steep road to my accommodation in La Esperanza. Katie is already fast asleep and doesn’t even notice my arrival. The warm shower is wonderful and I now have time to sleep for 2-3 hours. Well deserved.
As Katie sets off, I am roused from my light sleep, fortunately, because I get up earlier than planned. Good thing, because I can’t miss the only ferry to El Hierro, the last island, otherwise I’d have to wait a whole day. So the stress is always with me on Gran Guanche Audax.
Now there is no possibility to get food for more than 100 kilometres. I will probably hardly meet anyone in the next few hours. Moreover, 50 kilometres are not asphalted. I still have a few hours in the deep black ahead of me until daybreak, with some very steep climbs at the beginning that have to be covered by pushing. It goes through dense forest. Towards morning, I am overcome by sleep attacks and can’t avoid a power nap. I quickly spread out my sleeping bag on the dense coniferous soil and slip into it. I set the timer for 15 minutes. Shortly before the timer expires, I hear a bike pass by and set off again. Now in the dreamlike forest landscape I am distracted and the tiredness is gone.
Spectacle, as I turn a corner, there it is in front of me, the Teide in the morning sun. Wonderful! Once again I’m grateful for my MTB, because now I’m going downhill on a trail-like route. If Komoot gives a difficulty of S1 here, that is probably quite exaggerated.
Shortly afterwards, I am allowed to roll uphill on a tarred road for a while until I get back onto a kind of forest road. Somehow I seem to be running out of energy, no wonder, as I have hardly eaten anything in the past few hours. I stop and decide to eat my freeze-dried oat and apple dish. The bag is quickly filled with water, the porridge now has to swell a bit. In the meantime, I look for my foldable titanium spork, a fork/spoon hybrid. I can’t find it and I have a bad feeling. I had used it the day before on the ferry. I had probably thrown it away with the rubbish afterwards. I think a 30-euro eating utensil is a bit too expensive for disposable cutlery …
In order to be able to spoon my porridge, I now cut a makeshift spoon out of a plastic bottle, water the rest of the porridge again and drink it up. The main thing is calories. Meanwhile, a few cyclists had passed me. Each one reminded me that we have to make it to the port of Los Christianos by half past five. My guilty conscience kicks in as I glance at my watch. Almost noon. What’s so late already? I hurriedly pack up my stuff and follow my fellow cyclists.
There are still a few metres of altitude on gravel to reach the highest point below the Teide. Let go of the stress. I am so slow. And then the wonderful landscape, earth in all possible shades of brown and red. I can’t help but stop a few times to take photos. When I finally reach the top of the road, there is applause. I think the exuberance of some is the result of the knowledge that now the ferry has to run out. After a short descent, however, the road climbs relentlessly back up.
Two more climbs follow, now to be covered in the midday heat. In between, I stop at a tourist bar. I really need a few extra calories in the form of a sandwich and water and coke. I am really famished, but unfortunately I can’t stay long. I have to do without the ice cream. On we go. With mixed feelings, once euphoric to have made it soon, then again with a gloomy „I’ll never make it! The Teide is a tourist magnet and so there is a lot of traffic up here, which I don’t like at all. Eventually, however, I reach the edge of the mountain and now I plunge into the 30-kilometre descent on the best asphalt. Ferry, here I come!!!
Further down, in a bend, I have the feeling that smartphone cameras are directed at me. But that can’t be, they’re probably waiting for someone else. But I felt right, H. and T., two dotwatchers, had „waited for me“ and then sent me the beautiful snapshots. Thank you!
Before the ferry I even have time to go shopping in the supermarket. Then I receive a message on WhatsApp from Hermann. „Gabi, where are you, your ferry leaves in a few minutes!!!“ Stress! I hurry to the harbour. But without haste, all the bikes are still in the ticket hall. The shock is still in all my limbs and I now understand that Hermann thought the time of the Canaries was an hour ahead and not behind. What an exciting day. I still have some time left, get my ticket, tidy up my luggage a bit, prepare my sleeping bag for the almost three-hour ferry crossing and finally eat something again.
5 – El Hierro: 117km/ 3770 Hm (11:30h)
My plan for the last island: Since I was able to sleep a little on the crossing, despite a lot of rocking, I wanted to drive the nine kilometres and 800 metres in altitude up to Villa de Valverde. That night I wanted to look for a place to sleep that I had already discovered on Google Maps, a nice well-kept picnic spot. Others would drive through that night, but I don’t want to do that, as I would like to see this unspoilt island by day. Race or not, the placement was absolutely unimportant to me. The road winds exposed up the mountainside, the gradient is high and the wind comes relentlessly from the front. It is a battle.
In Villa de Valverde there is still a bar open, but unfortunately the kitchen is already closed and I make do with a tea and curd cake. I chat a bit with Christian and Ormonde, a few more riders join me. Soon I say goodbye and go in search of my bivouac spot.
I had not expected that: Now follow a few hike-a-bike climbs that are so steep that I can hardly get off the ground. Unfortunately, my navigation system doesn’t tell me the percentage of ascent, because I walk so slowly that according to Garmin I’m standing still. And where there is standstill – there is no gradient …
As it flattens out a bit, I pass Isabelle who is setting up her sleeping place. I continue a little further and almost pass my „picnic spot“. It is completely overgrown, the tables and benches destroyed by fallen branches. But the place seems to me to have been called for. I think I’m far away from the next dwelling, lean my bike against the tree, hang up all my things and disappear with mat, bivouac and sleeping bag between the remains of the table. Good night!
Around 4 o’clock a rooster crows nearby, which also promptly gets an answer from another direction. I am not so far away from civilisation after all… . I had slept for almost 5 hours. As I am shivering, I start packing my things. Instead of being dry, my clothes are now quite damp. Fog drifts over me in swathes.
However, I soon feel warm again after setting off, because again and again I am forced to walk short, very steep passages. The prospect of having to make do with only my meagre remaining food rations until the finish, over 100 kilometres with more than 3000 metres of altitude, demotivates me somewhat. There are no other distractions in the dark and so I walk along in a bad mood. The highest point of the first „hill“ is almost reached, and soon it should be light. I already have a hazy idea of the contours of the landscape. Am I dreaming? I think I’m in Scotland. Green meadows, separated by old stone walls, here and there cattle and sheep.
The following descent through the very steep mountain slopes is spectacular. The ground is wet and slippery due to the fog and in parts extraordinarily steep, 25% and more. How glad I am for my MTB! Unique deep views of the coast below me.
An old van, a man with a dog. They had probably looked for a place to stand high up in the solitude. I wonder how the old car made it up these steep hills. In any case, the loneliness was probably a mistake … with so many cyclists passing by here.
I can already make out Pozo de la Salud on the coast. There is a lonely hotel here. According to Google, the cafeteria is closed today. But I can hope.
But no, it’s really closed. I stand around helplessly. I see a man who is busy in the hotel garden. I ask him if it is possible to get a coffee in the hotel. He says yes, I should just go to the reception. And not only coffee … for a small fee I can even get breakfast at the buffet. The highest of feelings. I load my table with a hundred thousand goodies and settle down. Everything is of the finest quality. No ten horses will get me away from here so quickly. I wonder what the guests at the next table think of the not-quite-clean, torn-off person in cycling clothes. Rudi and another rider join me.
With a full belly, I then set off on the long climb up to Pico de Malpaso. It is entertaining. Apart from the dreamlike lava landscape, the wind does fisimatenten here: once it pushes me along briskly, after the next bend the strong one comes from the front. I watch every change of direction on my speedometer and try to anticipate the wind direction. What would happen to the wind if I rode around the south side of the island? Always a headwind? Oh dear! Now strong gusts are also coming from the mountain ridge, bringing with them clouds of fog. I am not spared anything either.
Now I’m going off-road again. I ride under a coniferous tree and feel a drop of rain. That’s all I need now! But I am amazed. All laws of physics seem to be suspended here. At home the road is wet, only under the trees it is dry. Here it is the other way round. There are wet patches under the trees, but everything else is dry. Strange. Have I landed in an upside-down world or am I dreaming?
But now I have plenty of time to think on my arduous way up. The solution to the riddle seems to be the storm. In the open, the raindrops are blown further, a tree gets in the way, then the cool wet manages to fall to the ground. At some point I remember that I still have some fruit in my luggage and, thanks to the anonymous donor on the last ferry, a packet of Canarian goat cheese. So I feast on pear and cheese and feel like God in France.
There are still a few surprises, steep pushing sections, but then finally I am at the top of Pico de Malpaso. The descent requires extreme concentration, again and again my front tyre threatens to dig itself into deep sand. I get tired and decide to take a little power nap in the grass at the side of the path. But no sooner have I made myself comfortable and closed my eyes than two athletes race past and shout something at me. Trouble! I perk up again and ride on. Small climbs in the scorching sun and then the ultimate steep metres await me before I finally reach the finish. Do I have to do that as well? At least 3 kilometres with a gradient of over 15%. Phew! After the first metres on foot with the slippery cycling shoes, I realise that this is even more exhausting than cycling slowly uphill. Thanks to MTB gear!
And then the icing on the cake: the last kilometres of steepest descent with dream views of the coast lying deep below to Timijiraque, the destination.
My journey across 5 Canary Islands is over far too quickly.
The countless impressions must now first be processed.
I will have plenty of time for that in the following week, because as a little souvenir from the islands I have brought a Corona virus with me …
Tim, from Spain, wrote me his story afterwards. Very nice. He was very helpful to other athletes and gave up a speedy progress himself. I wonder if I would be so selfless …. I was just kidding about the picture. But for me it came just in time for a good story in my report … hahhaaaaa. Thanks, Tim!