Category Archives: Cycling Lanzarote
Although the temperatures throughout the week have oscillated between 14-20 degrees C, the wind chill factor has brought it down by at least five degrees. Some days I was wearing both arm and leg warmers, even though the sun was strong enough to burn unprotected skin. Anyway, it saved on the sun lotion….!
This being the final day, I did the unthinkable, and repeated a route from a few days ago. Not too hilly, out against the wind, and back with it. Órzola is a superb place to stop, sitting on a port-side terrace, drinking coffee and watching the ferries come and go to the nearby tiny island of La Graciosa. There I met four other guys, all from Shropshire, sharing a week of cycling together. They were obviously not in training. They were there to have a good time riding their bikes and, probably, having a few beers in the evening. Friendly crowd….one of them gave me a litre of water for my bidon.
Now that I have succumbed to using a GPS for recording some of my rides, I can now bore you with a few meaningless stats. For someone who only rides bikes for fun and exploration, all of this does little more than satisfy vacant curiosity….but here goes.
On the above ride, I achieved the most elevation gain in one ride, 1035 metres, higher than Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England.…and on this ride I climbed to my maximum elevation of just under 600 metres, just outside Haría, in the north of the island.
…and my maximum speed coming down from the previous 600 metre summit, touched 64 kph (40 mph) which, with a strong crosswind, was a scary experience…..but exhilarating none the less.
The six days, in total, saw me cover a modest 487 kms/ 302 miles…..but since my goal was only going to be 500kms, I left Lanzarote well satisfied. The trip was not just about the bike. My intention was to explore the island again, visiting caves, museums, wine growers, the ‘mirador’ and Timanfaya. And to allow myself to be distracted by eventualities.
If you have followed my adventures on this short trip, thanks for your company. If you feel inspired to do something similar, look for the opportunity. If you go for just a week, it can be cheaper and much more convenient to hire a bike, as opposed to taking your own. For longer periods of time, you have to weigh up the cost/convenience benefits for yourself. With all this in mind, all you have to do is look for a reasonable package deal that includes accommodation and flights…..and with as little as 5 kilos of hand luggage, you can be fully equipped for the trip (bearing in mind that bike hire can include helmet, pedals of your choice, puncture repair, spare tube, lock…..etc).
“The world is a handkerchief!” (El mundo es un panuelo)
….it’s a small world…..a very small world.
Heading up the steep hill out of Costa Teguise, a cyclist flashed past me going downhill, so fast that I nearly missed him. But in that briefest of glimpses, there was something so familiar about the profile that it prompted me to turn around and chase him down the hill. As we reached the T junction, I looked over and said “Oh, hi Brian! Thought it might be you”. He stopped immediately, dumbfounded: “Frank, this is amazing!”…….we occasionally cycle together in a Northamptonshire group, and our hotels are only a few hundred metres apart in Costa Teguise. He invited me back to his hotel and we sat drinking coffee together.
That same evening, as I was sitting down to my evening meal in the hotel dining room, I noticed a chap (whom I guessed was a cyclist) sitting at a table nearby, we made eye contact, and eventually sat together and shared tales of the road, diet, training programmes, and much more. After about an hour of chat, we eventually got around to introducing ourselves and enquiring about each other’s background. When I told him where I lived and which club I cycled with, he said “You must be Frank Burns then. I’ve read some of your blog”. I was left speechless…..well, only for a few seconds…….until Paul revealed that he was also a member of St Ives CC and, although we had never met, he knew about some of my overseas expeditions. We went on to sit together over several meals, ‘chewing the fat’ and sharing anecdotes. He shared his current thinking about cycling and diet, and revealed that he has ditched the use of carbohydrates altogether (the traditional source of energy for cyclists) and has converted to a high fat diet, which not only changes the metabolism of the body completely, but also forces the body to seek energy in fat reserves, which are much more enduring.
I have yet to be fully convinced about the wisdom of all of this, but the following day he actually completed a very challenging 110 miles/175kms on a single banana and water, and never craved anything else during the whole ride. To say that is impressive is an understatement. I can’t imagine ever going more than 50 miles/80kms without sustenance, and then I would be at my limit.
Other cyclists I met at the hotel included a German triathlete who, at the age of 50, was training hard for his next Ironman; a Belgian, probably in his early 60s, who was on a serious training schedule, going out every day with a group and ploughing the same furrow each morning……always going north into the wind, and coming back with a tailwind. I couldn’t imagine anything more boring, but then he was focused entirely his training statistics.
My route today was quite spectacular, but the wind was stronger than ever. Getting out to the Caleta de Fámara, on the north west coast, was very tough, but for the last ten kilometres, I managed to tuck in behind a couple of similarly paced cyclists and ‘sucked on their back wheels’. The strength of the winds along this particular coastline is the very reason that surfing, of every description, is big business. The small village is dominated by watersports shops and restaurants.But, perhaps the most intriguing person I met in my time in the hotel was Alex, from Geneva in Switzerland. He is currently ‘in between jobs’ in the high tech industry, but is also a super-keen kitesurfer. He had come over to the Canaries to scout around for the best kitesurfing beaches. His mission was entirely one of research, jumping from one island to the next, to get a global idea of what was available.
A recovery ride?
So, your curiosity has got the better of you? Did this man get back to base yesterday without succumbing to the “efectos laxativos” of the dreaded bar of chocolate? Well, sorry to spoil a good story with the truth….if there were any negative effects, they were felt this morning. I struggled to get out of bed and had little appetite for breakfast. I did a typical retired man’s thing by walking to the kiosk to buy a newspaper, and then spending the next hour reading it. I thought to myself: I should be spending more time like this, in cafés, reading the national press….doing what ‘normal’ people do.
But the road beckoned once again by mid-day. As I headed north, directly into the wind (again), I passed several hand-cyclists, and for a fleeting moment, I envied their low-slung, streamlined posture. Just the trick when the wind is blowing at 25 mph in your face….…..but my envy was short-lived, to be replaced by my total admiration at what they were achieving. And these weren’t just leisure cyclists. They were in serious training for something, and they were moving…..
Approaching Órzola, the furthest point of my ride, there were uncharacteristic dunes of white sand sweeping down to the sea, and I noticed several amateur naturalists, with their expensive cameras, at close quarters with a flower that was growing out of the sand. My curiosity got the better of me. I stopped and asked one of them, a German, what he thought it was. He told me he thought it was a ‘cistanche’, and it was the first time he’d ever seen one. The equivalent of a ‘lifer’ in the birdwatching world?
In Órzola, sitting on a café terrace overlooking the sea, I chatted to the barman in Spanish, and he eventually said to me: “How long have you been living in Lanzarote?” “Oh”, I said “about 4 days”. He looked at me in surprise and said he had thought I was the rich English businessman who lived in Costa Teguise. “You look just like him” he said. I resolve, then, to seek him out in Costa Teguise and give him a surprise. Wonder if he’ll accuse me of impersonating him…..
Turning back towards base, I decided to take an inland route…..which means only one thing on Lanzarote……mountains.
Volcanoes, superjocks and purgatives
Have you ever felt victimised by the weather? That the wind is blowing simply because you have decided to go out? I know fellow roadies who flatly refuse to go out in a strong wind. People in training, of course (and many cyclists are on Lanzarote) should embrace vicious headwinds, being a great form of resistance training and providing the basic practice of handling such conditions. Crouching down on the drops, lowering my body profile to reduce wind resistance, I head up the hill and against the wind……
…and then jump on a tour bus (the only form of transport allowed) for the 45 minute route around the amazing volcanic landscape that was formed during the 6 year eruption 1730-36. It is lunar, it looks totally barren…..but the truth is, that over 200 species of wildlife have established themselves, and many now thrive in the most hostile of environments.
My route back to base was interrupted by my curiosity. I just had to take a detour out to the west coast to take a peak at Club La Santa, the famous elite sports training resort that attracts both elite and amateur athletes, especially in winter. The closer I get to the Club, the more often I am overtaken by groups of young, fit things who show no respect for experience. I occasionally try to jump on the back of a peloton, stay with it for a few kms, but then have give into the anno domini…….
Once at Club La Santa, security eventually lets me through the gates, checks out my passport, tells me to leave my bike in a lock-up, and I head off to the poolside bar for a ridiculously expensive ‘café con leche’, and ogle at the training and leisure facilities
Too many lithesome Adonises and Venuses for my liking, so I head up the road and look for some affordable sustenance to fuel my ride back to Costa Teguise. I drop by a mini-market, buy myself a 75gr bar of 70% chocolate, that mysteriously claims “no added sugars”. I devour the bar and then (……and only then) I look at the wrapper for the statistics and ingredients, only to read (in tiny print, of course): “Un consumo excesivo puede producir efectos laxativos”. Aarrgh!!! Now I find out……. Now I know the significance of the ‘no added sugars’ reference. I feel my stomach…….I know it’s already beginning to work like an enema……is 75grs “excesivo”? If it is, I’ll be crouching behind a few volcanic rocks before getting back to the hotel…..I reach into my back pocket to assure myself I still have the emergency ‘papel higiénico’. Will he make it…..?
Tune in for the next episode……. 😦
Walter Raleigh, Malvasia and (unbelievably) rain!
Wanting to explore all parts of Lanzarote forced me to commit the ‘mortal sin’ of setting off for the day’s ride with the 25mph wind at my back. Why mortal? Because, although the outward ride would be a ‘breeze’, the journey back to base (Costa Teguise) was going to kill me…..and it did, because added to it was horizontal rain, which drove me to take shelter behind a bushy cactus, known locally as a ‘chumbera’ or ‘tunera’ (prickly pear)…..and that was a veritably prickly experience.
But then I was happily waylaid by an excellent museum in the Castillo de San Gabriel, in Arrecife (capital) and not only learned much about the history of the island, but discovered that our famous Sir Walter Raleigh himself had tried to invade Lanzarote, and the islanders had successfully hidden in the huge complex of volcanic caves. Raleigh sailed off having achieved nothing, because he had been under strict instructions from James I not to harm any of the islanders. I can imagine his frustration….poor chap.
When I got as far south as Puerto Calero, I came across this stunning field of meadow flowers, growing abundantly out of the volcanic ash.
….and not just wild flowers, but also a very special vine, that produces the Malvasia grape, and thrives in little dugouts in the volcanic ash, capturing moisture from night time dew for irrigation. Because it rains so little here (except for today, of course), this is an ingenious method of cultivating anything in this lunar landscape.
There’s a well known truism in the world of cycling: if the wind is blowing, it will invariably be in your face. Of course, like most Brits, cyclists too like to engage in the national sport of complaining……
My hire bike was delivered to me at my hotel by Roberto who, surprisingly, turned out to be Italian (married to a Venezuelan and now living in Lanzarote…..now, work that one out)
..and that’s why I ended up with an Italian bike with Campag equipment. It took me a few wobbly kms to get used to it, reminding myself that the brakes (as on continental Europe) are set up in reverse (back on the right, front on the left), the gearing not quite the ratios I’m used to (this is a 53/39 on the front, not the compact 50/34 I’m used to……) but hey, who cares, this is only for a week.
I headed into the hilliest part of the island, the north, unprepared for the near gale force winds coming in from the north east. But let’s pretend I’m a real, hardened cyclist……….such eventualities are part of the package of cycling life, aren’t they?
My plan was to ‘cruise’ the 80kms and build in 4 major visits:
…the first at an Aloe Vera museum that had this curious ‘stick woman’ telling me to “keep out!” of places I shouldn’t trespass:
….the third at another cave system (Cueva de los Verdes) which, because of its super acoustic, is used as a concert venue…but back in the 15th century, the natives used this cave to hide from pirates and corsairs, whose primary intent was to capture them and sell them into slavery…
……and the final stop was to re-visit a ‘mirador’ (cliff top viewing point) which overlooks the tiny neighbouring island of Graciosa
Still some 50kms from base, I knew my work was cut out for me to get back to the hotel in Costa Teguise.. A few sharp hills, followed by a prolonged but dramatic switchback ascent,
combined with head and crosswinds, both fighting for priority…..well there’s a story to tell there.
But I knew that, eventually, I had to turn with my back to the wind, and for the last 10kms, it was a cruise.
All’s well that ends well…..which means, I ended with a long-forgotten experience…..a long soak in a hot bath……and before any of you wags dare to ‘guffaw’ at my general lack of hygiene, I’m usually a shower man. 🙂 …..QED.
My apologies to all those expecting a daily update to my cycling exploits on Lanzarote. Technology hasn’t quite been in my favour, so my intention is to draft my posts each day and upload them as retrospectives when I get back home.
This is my mount for the week,
delivered to my hotel, by an Italian called Roberto, and as you might expect, the bike is an Italian job, equipped with Campag. But more of that in a later post.
Needless to say, weather and terrain have been hugely influential on the outcome of each day, and very little has been predictable. After 4 days, this has been a rollercoaster of an experience. But then, we wouldn’t want any other way, would we?
I am leafing through cycling magazines in an airport outlet, and a nearby voice distracts my attention: “Another cyclist, huh?” I put down the magazine and engaged with David, from near Cambridge, teasing out each other’s background, learning that we are both Lanzarote-bound, and both with the same objective: get in some winter miles where it’s warmer.
He takes his own bike….he’s staying a few months, and it’s worth it. I will hire mine……it’s cheaper than taking my own, as I’m only staying a week. I learn just enough about him to be intrigued…..
I seek him out on the plane, ask him to tell me more about his travels….he’s been retired 20 years and, before his wife and lifelong cycling companion was killed in a road accident 4 years ago, they had cycled the world together: Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, the length of Africa, across Australia and NZ, Malaysia……and much much more. They neither looked for accolades nor fanfares….they were simply adventurers who pursued their passion. And, according to David, his wife was the ‘goer’ and ‘doer’……she motivated him.
I hope to meet up with him and his cycling buddies on the island, share a ride and learn a little more about his journeys. We all need our sources of inspiration…..and I will be in listening mode.