12 months, 5 days and a scattering of hours.
No, not the amount of time since I last wrote a blog although it does seem like it. Actually it’s the time elapsed since I last set foot (or wheels) on this exact spot, although so much has happened since, it seems like a lifetime ago.
The wind has really gotten up, pushing against me like a train as I struggle to pedal and stay upright. Today though, it in no way subtracts from either the sheer, all consuming enjoyment of gazing at the volcanoes dotted against the horizon or the pleasure of just being on a bike again.
Actually, I’m more glimpsing than gazing, having to mostly focus my attention on the spinning bike wheels just inches in front of me. I’m out of practice at riding in a group and definitely out of practice at riding full stop.
It’s only my third road ride in 9 months but I’m back for a brief stay on the isalnd of Lanzarote, how can I not be out there cycling in that landscape? The endless stretches of near deserted, silky tarmac roads which weave up and down through some of the most dramatic scenery you can pack into a small island. It all just demands to be seen from two wheels.
So, after the best part of a year off of the bike due to injury and with the grand total of two, 30km road rides under my belt in the last month I’m headed out with a group to tackle the iconic Tabayseco Climb.
At just under 10km long, with 530m of vertical distance it’s one of the biggest climbs on the island. The climb itself, at an average 5% gradient, isn’t the most off putting although a few hairpin bends and steeper sections keep things interesting as does the infamous wind when blowing in the wrong direction,
It’s a relatively calm day but my body is already protesting when, after 10 minutes of pancake flat riding, I meet up the group I’ll be cycling with. Seven, mostly lean, muscled men of varying ages, tanned, fit looking with thighs that could crack walnuts. Then there’s me, in a skirt and running shoes, pasty white with embarrassingly stringy legs. This is going to be ‘interesting’.
Ten more minutes later and that theory is confirmed, we’re flying along peloton style into a head wind. I’m shamelessly drafting the guys at the front whilst trying to keep up enough to hang off of their churning back wheels. The ‘relaxed’ pace we were aiming for is on the lower slopes of a sprint at my usual cadence. Teeth gritted, head down the only view I have is of lycra-clad butt cheeks a few feet from my nose.
I’m relieved when the pace evens out a little, enough for me to chat to my neighbour and to finally enjoy some of the pretty white stone villages and farm land which roll past. Heading up past the villages of Guatiza and Mala the group finally swings away from the coast, heading inland to face the mountain, Tabayesco in all its dark, forbidding glory.
Actually it was a pretty sunny Tabayesco, very sunny in fact and hot as now sheltered from the wind the temperature soared.
The first 5km of the route wind up gradually through shrub-greened slopes dotted with small holdings after which the sides drop away and it becomes just you and the road, carved into the side of rock, steep drops below, steep sides above.
I start the climb too fast of course. A breakaway group of 3 speeds off and my mind clicks to competitive mode. If I can just tail them… Ordering my legs to pump pedals I set off in hot pursuit. Sweating and panting I soon realise that whilst the head is willing, the body is screaming in protest. I slow the pace. Aware of 2 more of the group not far behind I push on as much as I’m able.
The climb, whilst not one of the steepest I’ve done by any means is insidious. At points it actually looks like you’re not climbing at all, it just feels like it. Looking behind you though actually gives a better perspective of how much the road has risen and is still rising.
Four km in and the 2 guys behind finally breeze past me. Chatting. Damn it! But I’ve gone too quickly and I’m paying the price. Another 15 minutes or so of slogging it out and I reach the final turn off before the last few km of hairpin bends which catapult you to the top of the climb.
It’s always a daunting sight looking up at the vertical zig zagging road, but I know from experience how quickly you gain altitude this way. Deep breath and pedal.
It’s painful now. Having not bothered to really adjust the bike properly at the start my back, arms and legs are hating me at every pedal stroke.
As I stop on a bend for a breather another small knot of riders passes me looking serious and focussed.
I straighten my skirt and remount.
The summit actually comes fairly quickly. As predicted the hairpins carry the rider up quickly, like an elevator rising and, rounding the final bend, the last stretch of road unfurls to display the 5 members of my group already waiting at the top. With as much dignity (zero) and speed (nearly zero) that I can muster I cruise into the parking lot at the top to a hearty round of applause.
At 560m above sea level the view is stunning and, amazingly, I don’t feel too bad. Don’t get me wrong, in no way did I want to do the climb again that day, but all things considered I felt, appropriately, on top of the world.
The group leader arrived some 15 minutes later accompanying the final rider and we all briefly savoured our achievement, whilst putting on coats to fend off the altitude chill.
Time then for the next best bit, the descent.
The less twisty and non-traffic heavy road down meant potential speeds of over 70km an hour for the most daring, however, a combination of rusty skills, dodgy arm and strong side wind meant I opted for a slightly more sedate pace although still clocking a decent and hair raising 56 kmph
The coffee and cake stop in Teguise was a welcome one and where I would be leaving the group to continue racking up the kilometres. For me however, my morning’s 55km adventure had been perfect.
Surfing the information superhighway there appears to be much contention about what height a lump in the earth must be before it graduates from a hill to become a mountain.
Some define it as 1000 feet (305 metres) from sea level, others at a more challenging 2000 feet (610 metres). One of these means I cycled up a mountain, the other a mere molehill.
I don’t particularly care however, as for me, today’s ride marked more than the literal climbing of a mountain, it was a metaphorical one too.
Just a few weeks after I was here last year I had a serious accident on (or falling off of) my mountain bike which resulted in over 8 months of injury, of no cycling, no driving, no most things in fact.
Those intervening months have been a journey of both physical and emotional pain and hard learned patience on the road to recovery.
Riding is a huge part of what I do and what I love, it’s central to who I am, it keeps me grounded and sometimes sane.
Not being able to do one of the things I love most in the world has been a bigger mountain to climb than even Tabayesco. But, “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” as all the greats say and it’s true.
Today feels like the proper return to cycling that the few spins around my home roads haven’t. There’s still some healing to do before I can fully use all of my limbs and there’s much fitness to gain too, but that’s now a mere molehill compared to the mountain of the last 9 months.
Bring on the bikes.
Cover photo credit: http://www.tritalk.co.uk/forums/userpix/9498_lanzarote_1.jpg