Tenerife – Big climbs, gravel tracks and cacti

I think of Tenerife as a place where people go on the sort of holidays that scare me.
Not in the attacked by a bear kind of scared, that’s more Canada’s thing, but in the whole sitting on a beach with a million others,  in the background time and life ticks by before going back to work and repeating. That’s a rather depressing thought and there must be more to Tenerife than this. As part of the deal with us going to China Marion wanted a trip somewhere hot and sunny in December. We booked flights with Jet2 to Tenerife with an idea to explore the hidden gravel tracks on Tenerife…..

As we boarded the plane our fellow fliers were almost entirely twice our age. Some had the perma-tan complexion and hair of Donald Trump, these were the regulars it seemed. The queue of people in the zimmer frame and wheelchair lane was surprisingly large, Scotland’s pensioners were on their way to get some sunshine. Then there was us with bike helmets in hand getting funny looks. “Look they’ve got crash hats do you think they’re going to cycle?” We could hear a few times.  “No we take crash hats because we don’t trust the young inexperienced pilots, they’re bound to crash” muttered in rhetorical answer.

The good thing about flying on SAGA holidays is that all old people get there 3 hours early just in case something happens, like my mum does tells me to do. Therefore the plane actually left early. I thought we might break into a rendition of “The wings on the plane go flap flap flap” or some classic tunes for take off.

In flight the pre-Christmas duty free sales were being pushed hard for the 4 hour flight. From a polite ‘can I interest you in our special offers’, then by the end of the flight it was a tongue in check but effective “cheap fags ‘n’ booze for Christmas”. It was certainly an eye opener and we hadn’t arrived yet.

From the airport we figured a bus was easiest as the bikes could fit easily in the two big lockers underneath. Our hostel was up the mountainside at San Miguel and we had bike boxes to transport so couldn’t ride there. We were planning on avoiding the coastline, and the aerial view as we arrived showed a massively developed strip behind which was a huge area of greenhouses and netting where I guess our winter salad vegetables are grown and shipped back to the UK.

The bus was pretty efficient and cheap but it had limited space for bikes. We were lucky to take the two spaces available.

The hostel was a beautifully renovated 100 year old traditional house with wooden floors and stone walls, a suitable antithesis to the hotel resorts that you associate with the Island. The host was a super friendly lady, she was busy putting up Christmas decorations on a cactus with her parents.

That evening we got out to stretch our legs on a climb from the hostel. The sunset was amazing, luckily we had lights to get back down as it got dark pretty quickly and there’s not much artificial light up here. In fact the skies here are renown for being so dark. They mapped the moon for the first Apollo missions using the telescopes on Tenerife.

The next day was the big climb towards the 3700m volcano Mt Teide and we set off for the quaint and quiet mountain town of Vilaflor. Marion on her flat bar gravel bike and me on my Tripster with tubeless WTB Crosswolf tyres. It was surprisingly pleasant riding between cacti and vineyards, already we were a world away from the coast. Vilaflor was just a good stop for snacks just at the edge of the vast pine forests that cover the higher hillsides. These forests are super important because they trap the sea fogs and mist, this diverts water down into the ground filling the aquifers that supply the large water demands for such a small island (they also have a desalinization plant now which isn’t quite as romantic). If these trees burnt down the Island would be a desert pretty quickly still.

It was also pretty hot at least 20c in the sun, not bad for mid December! As the road continued we wound up ever higher. The total climb was 1700m non stop, not a bad mornings workout. I think the recent Tibetan passes helped make this feel surprisingly small!

The first high point was the crater rim at about 2150m altitude. The forest started to thin here with views of Mt Teide, which at 3700m is the highest peak in Spain I learnt.

The road now flattened and the scenery was really cool:

The road was perfect and smooth but we were on gravel tyres and looking to do a route on the gravel tracks here. We kept a look out for the turn off we had seen on the map.

Unfortunately the whole upper mountain is in the National Park and bikes are strictly totally banned in the park from any non paved track which was frustrating. We had ridden 2000m of vertical on gravel tyres for no reason! To make the most of it I had a plan B which was only slightly illegal. The views of Mt Teide kept us going towards this other Gravel route.

The cloud started to close in as we reached Las Cañadas del Teide and a chill was in the air here at 2200m.

Finally we reached the gravel track AKA Plan B, the first few kilometers were still in the park so obviously we walked….

The riding was awesome and justified the choice of bikes. The views back over the crater were made so dramatic by the dark clouds building up:

Then the descent back into the pine forest to the south of the island started. We had now left the National park and could legally ride the bikes again but then hit a restricted military zone. Gives us a break we thought.

It looked safe so we kept riding, watching out for any tanks or bullets. I actually think we had avoided the zone by staying north, either way we survived and that’s the most important lesson here.

The track got rougher and rougher making it a challenge to ride and the descent took a long time!

The mist had closed in and we relied on GPS to navigate a maze of tracks that zig-zag in the forest.

Once lower down the light was fading and the sunset was going to be just as dramatic as the day before:

Finally on the paved road again we headed towards Granadilla and stopped for Pizza and to listen to a local band playing some cracking Christmas tunes otside the local church. It was 9pm and dark but still we were in shorts and T-Shirts!

In total we rode 109km and 3500m of vertical, not a bad effort on cross bikes!

The next day we rolled down to the sea for a swim, entering the concrete resort jungle I was not in my natural environment and far from happy, myself and the Tripster were keen to leave for the wilderness of the mountains! Just as I sent for a swim the blue sky vanished and dark clouds appeared over head, another sign I said to Marion who had already headed off to swim in the sea.

The road down to the coast was a fast descent but it was a long climb back up past dramatic scenery:

The next day Marion had to leave for the airport to get back for work so I headed out on my own on a lower level gravel route through the forest. It was fun but the track was closed halfway in so I had to retrace my tracks. It was still sunny and warm and pretty awesome to be riding here regardless! There was also Ice Cream….

The weather had been perfect for riding bikes, there’s nothing like riding on dusty gravel through warm sweet smelling pine forests in December!

It was only 4 hours away from Edinburgh too and there’s certainly more to explore here, although it is a shame the off road riding is restrict in the national park. If you want to stick on the road you can easily hire great looking carbon road bikes all around the island. Perfect for a fast and light bike packing trip. I think we’ll be back sometime….

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