A Reason to Ride

The GranGuanche Report

My cycling memories go back to the day the training wheels came off my first bike. A whole new world suddenly opened up. Wheelies and jumps with the other kids around the neighborhood led to 10 years of downhill mountain bike racing across Europe. It was all about having fun, and the mountains were a limitless playground.

My relationship with cycling began to evolve. I turned to longer endurance rides and explored new surroundings, but everything changed at the beginning of 2020. As a respiratory physiotherapist working at the hospital, I was suddenly propelled to the frontline of COVID. The working conditions for every healthcare professional proved extremely tough due to the high number of admissions and the shortage of qualified staff. After spending day and night at the bedside of the patients with the most severe cases, I started to feel the urge to disconnect from the tragedy we were facing on a daily basis. Cycling was a precious tool to release the stress accumulated during these long working weeks. When on my bike, I could finally clear my mind and look after myself. I went on my first bike-packing adventure in June 2020 and was instantly hooked by the sensation of freedom it gave me.

Spending hours on the saddle is a form of meditation and self-awareness. You are deeply connected to yourself and to your environment. You forget about your daily struggles. This is the essence of living. You eat, you sleep, and you keep moving forward. I was making one with the nature around me. It was what I needed the most, whenever I was not busy working at the hospital.

It did not take me long to sign up for my first ultra-distance cycling event. And there was one that caught my attention right away. GranGuanche Audax Road is a bike-packing event across the Canary Islands from one ferry to the next. But more than just a route, it is an aesthetic and poetic adventure in a world made of endless picturesque roads, empty deserts, black lava fields, humid rainforests, and steep mountains. The aim is to ride the 600 kilometers and 14’000 meters of elevation in under 40 hours. But there is even more to it. The Audax Road becomes a physical and mental challenge, where ferry schedules force participants to ride fast enough to hop on the next boat on time and unlock the next island - four finish lines in one race.

The race was set to kick off at 5am in the small fishing village of Orzola in Lanzarote. Quickly, a small group formed and we were welcomed by the first rays of sunshine, passing by the lava field of Timanfaya. Most of the participants regrouped at the first ferry to Fuerteventura. Here we got our fill of sun, before pushing through the night across Gran Canaria. Unfortunately, after a long week at work, I was not well rested enough for such an effort, and I had to fight hard to keep going and not fall asleep between turns riding down the Pico de las Nieves. Not ideal.

Ultracycling is a roller-coaster of emotions. You push through the lowest lows and experience the highest highs. It taught me to never give up, no matter how difficult. Because even after the darkest night, the sun always rises. You learn to endure the tough moments because you know they won’t last forever. The same is true for the times we are living in. After two years of the pandemic, it seems that we finally get a glimpse of the finish line. All the efforts we put into it, and the sacrifices we made along the way, were worth it.

As we were regrouping at the first ferry headed for Tenerife, I managed to rediscover my strength. We sped across the island, as the weather forecast had announced strong winds and snow on Monte Teide for the afternoon. The view from the peak was breathtaking. Those behind us weren’t so lucky and got caught in the storm. Sometimes being faster comes with unfair advantages, but in the end it all boils down to luck.

Arriving in La Gomera, this was now a race to the finish. And despite giving everything we had left; the island was just too beautiful not to take time to admire the last sunset of this adventure. Early in the evening, it was time to regroup in San Sebastian. This time not to jump on yet another ferry, but to celebrate the completion of this unforgettable adventure with a proper meal (and a few beers). Bike-packing events give you the opportunity to build new friendships, with like-minded people and to realize that we all have our own paths that led us to ultracycling… because we all have a reason to ride.

During these 38 hours, I completely forgot about my reality and where I had come from. The past two years working at the hospital shifted to the background. Now, I am fully recharged and ready to get back to work. I am ready to give it my best again. But you know what? The next adventure is already in the works...