A Climber's Dream - Cycling In La Gomera
The road before us is wide, smooth and entirely empty; a cyclist’s dream that meanders its way up a striking landscape of volcanic rock shaped through the millennia. ‘I’ve just got to make it to that white car by the large tree,’ I tell my husband Dave. Blinking furiously, sweat trickles down my forehead carrying sunscreen to my eyes.
We’re in La Gomera, at just 370km square one of the smallest islands in the Canaries, the Spanish archipelagos sitting about 100km from the coast of North Africa. Though only a four-hour flight away, the islands are fantastically warm throughout the winter months with temperatures averaging 24 degrees at a time we’re generally struggling with ice and numb fingers in the UK. For that reason, I couldn’t care less how much my eyes are stinging; I’m overjoyed to be riding in a jersey and shorts.
La Gomera is a climber’s paradise and I am not a natural climber. That’s the reason behind breaking the climb down into segments in my head. When I reach ‘the white car by the large tree’ I choose another point in the vast landscape to aim for, telling myself I only need to get to there and breaking a daunting 22km climb down into manageable chunks. I never stop once I get to my ‘point,’ I just like knowing that carrying on is optional. Even though it really isn’t.
After an hour of climbing we spot our first (and only) cyclist. I’ve previously tried to explain to my mum why La Gomera might not attract as many cyclists as other islands, despite its empty roads, spectacular scenery and wonderful weather. ‘Is it not very good for cycling?’ she asked me. ‘It’s incredible,’ I told her, ‘but not for the faint hearted.’
There are almost no flat roads on the conical island whatsoever, all routes heading up from the coast towards the centre and the Garajonay National Park before descending towards the ocean. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Garajonay is an absolutely mind blowing place with views of ‘volcanic plugs,’ formed when magma hardens within a vent on an active volcano and then survive as the surrounding rock erodes.
The National Park covers 10% of the island and is home to an enchanting laurel forest draped with mosses and lichens. As we’re on road bikes, we can’t enter the most beautiful parts of the forest but content ourselves with some of the most incredible and dramatic views we’ve ever seen. We make plans to go back with mountain bikes for an immersive experience.
For now, we’re happy riding some of most spectacular roads we’ve ever seen. It’s like no place on earth. Passing through this incredible scenery on a bicycle, it’s hard to keep our eyes on the road, but unfortunately it’s started to rain so we give our full concentration to the vertiginous route and its many hairpins.
After our epic climb and too long snapping photos at the top, our fingers turn to ice as the rain lashes down, soaking through all our clothing. Dave questions the wisdom of carbon rims. We both begin shivering so much that our bikes twitch.
As we roll into our hotel we can’t help but laugh – we must seem like total nutters getting up before dark to give our legs hell then riding a sketchy descent with lockjaw from the cold. The other guests shuffle from the bar to the pool, novels in one hand, beer in the other. I feel lucky I get to ride my bike and do that. It makes the beer taste even better.