Background

Lately I’ve been feeling the ‘travel bug’. Since moving to Washington in 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic began, I’ve not travelled much at all. I’ve focused on exploring my ‘backyard’ and it’s been amazing. This summer/fall has felt like an inflection point, though. I’ve longed for some international travel again, for seeing far away places and not being crippled by the FOMO and ‘what if Snoqualmie Pass is good?’ feeling.

In the summertime as I was recovering from shoulder surgery I booked myself a plane ticket to Gran Canaria the week after Thanksgiving. I picked Gran Canaria for a few reasons:

  1. It seemed like it would have decent weather for November/December, which can be a tricky time of year in most places.
  2. I knew there would be running options, as the Transgrancanaria course is world-famous.
  3. I would be on the east coast for the Thanksgiving holiday visiting my family in Miami. It felt advantageous to try and make my way to Europe or somewhere across the Atlantic since I’d have already done one of the ‘legs’ of travel.

Originally, I was just planning to go on my own. I honestly didn’t plan much, didn’t research that much. I talked with close friends of mine that had traveled there before and they recommended renting carbon road bikes for the punishing vertical roads of the island.

Eventually, my Dad and I talked about him joining the trip. My Dad and I have traveled a lot together in the past; we’ve done the John Muir Trail, climbed Kilimanjaro, and hiked R2R in the Grand Canyon. For this trip, though, I explained clearly to my Dad that I would be doing my own things during the day and that we could meet up at night. I had a dream of running and biking on my own and I didn’t want to compromise that. Maybe that’s selfish, but after a long summer of recovery from shoulder surgery I just wanted an opportunity to be by myself, exploring foreign mountains.

Trip Report

Day 1: Las Palmas/Confital (Trail Run)

We had a direct flight from Miami to Madrid with a few hours of layover before flying into Las Palmas. We took the bus into Madrid and walked around the main park for a few hours (it was colder than we thought it would be!). We saw the Plaza de Cibeles and noted it felt like a hybrid between Paris and London.

We crashed from jet lag hard on the flight from Madrid to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, hitting the wall of sorts. Picking up our bags took nearly two hours of waiting; it’s a small airport. Once in Las Palmas, we checked into our AirBnB that overlooks the main beach and immediately I laced up my running shoes to go for a jog. Not only did I want to explore the beach and the coastline, I wanted to fend off jet lag and avoid going to sleep super early. I made myself a loop around the Playa Confital; I wanted to go up further on ‘La Isleta’ but it’s closed to the public as it is a military base. Caltopo’s layer didn’t have that! Nevertheless, it was a super beautiful run showcasing what was to come. Lots of views, cool natural features, and lots of volcanic tuff.

Looking down at La Isleta from Confital.

Day 2: Arucas – Valleseco (Trail Run)

I wanted to make my way along the TGC course a bit, but also didn’t want to run all the way from Las Palmas up into the mountains. Thankfully the public transit system in Gran Canaria is well established and there are plenty of bus routes that you can use. I hopped on a bus from Las Palmas to Arucas, which is just a few miles up from Las Palmas. I was able to use credit card to pay for my bus ticket. The bus dropped me off at the large Gothic-style church in Arucas.

From Arucas I planned to use the TGC course as a ‘backbone’ but deviate when I found other interesting options. The ridgeline up from Arucas towards the mountain Osorio was super nice and I followed it all the way to the top of Osorio. From Osorio, the TGC course descends into the town of Teror only to climb back up again. I didn’t really want to descend/ascend that much unnecessarily, so I kept on the ridge towards Valleseco. I met up with my Dad in Valleseco after ~10 miles and 4,200′ gain. The sun was fully out and I was pretty tired/sweaty by the end.

Running along the broad ridgeline above Arucas towards Osorio.
A neat, small bridge looking out towards the coast.

We ate at the only open restaurant in town. When we asked for a ‘menu’, the host explained how he doesn’t have one and that he could ‘make us anything’. My Spanish is decent, but when he quickly rattled off the options he could prepare, I was lost. I basically told him we’d like some meat with potatoes and my Dad and I lowered our expectations, preparing for a complete unknown. The host made us a great meal, though, of some kind of meatball with lightly fried potatoes. After a long run, almost anything would have tasted great.

After lunch, we drove back down into Arucas for coffee and ice cream. The streets felt very European with cobblestones and tables in narrow alleys. We enjoyed sipping on afternoon americanos and gelato while looking out at the Gothic church and the northern coastline below.

Day 3: Cruz de Tejeda – Vega de San Mateo loop (Road Biking)

Coming into this trip, biking was my biggest ‘excitement’. I really wanted to see much of the island by bike and had read lots of great reports about how amazing the roads are for bike tourists. However, my first day on the island really had me nervous. Many of the roads seemed busier (and narrower) than I was used to; plus, it all seemed steep. I’m used to gravel biking where the grade of climbing is low comparatively, so my frame of reference was a bit off.

We picked up bikes at one of the many FreeMotion bike centers around the island. My carbon road bike was a feather compared to my steel gravel bike back home. We loaded them into the trunk of our rental car and began to drive up to our hotel at the top of the island. My friend who had spent time on the island recommended (if we had the budget for it) staying at Parador hotel. It’s a 4-star hotel, so it’s a bit spendy, but DAMN it’s so freaking beautiful. It sits on the Cruz de Tejeda, a 3-way road crossing at the top of a mountain pass. It overlooks south towards the ocean with the Roque Bentayga and mountainside below.

Looking out from our balcony at the Parador.

As soon as we got there, I could feel my ‘squirrels’ itching to get out on the bike. Thankfully my Dad was okay with me ducking out on my own. I grabbed my bike out the car, put on some biking clothes, and set off with no real plan in mind. The bike handling felt a bit shakey at first because of how light it is compared to my steel heavyweight. The carbon frame also wasn’t as damp as I was used to. After a few miles, though, I got the hang of it.

Moody roads.

Here’s the quick and dirty on roads in Canaria:

  • Any of the red/green roads are usually a pretty good bet for decent road condition.
  • The yellow ones can be questionable pavement surface, usually an unkempt asphalt.
  • MOST of the roads in the mountains are steep, sometimes approaching 12-14% grade in sections.
  • The drivers are very respectful of cyclists and will give you good berth.
  • The only roads you probably shouldn’t (or legally can’t) ride on are the blue routes (GC-1, GC-2). These are major highways.

I made my way on GC-150 (a green road) towards Pico de Nieves. I stopped at the overlook, which was in-and-out of the clouds. In November/December, a cloud layer usually develops near the mountaintop (Tejeda) in the afternoon. I continued on, descending down GC-130 towards La Colomba. There were very few cars on the descent, which was a nice surprise. My nerves about the biking being inaccessible were quieted. This was going to be an amazing bike tour!

After descending quite a bit, I figured I should start making my way back towards Tejeda to meet back up with my Dad. I hadn’t really created a plan/itinerary for the day, so being out for hours on end maybe wasn’t the best. I took a left onto GC-131 (yellow) to GC-132 (yellow) to make my way back to GC-41 (red), which would take me back up to Cruz de Tejeda.

This was my first real test of climbing on steep mountain roads. I was amazed what a lightweight carbon frame and a 2x groupset can do! I was able to climb no problems, never needing to come out of the saddle. Granted, I was in my granny gear (or near it) for most of the time, but I was still proud of myself having never road biked before.

I texted my Dad that I was going to be quite late…hahaha. All the descending I had done meant I had plenty of climbing left to do and it was going slowly. I eventually met back with GC-15 (red) and rolled into Cruz de Tejeda about 1.5 hours late from my original estimate. My Dad joined me for a ride down GC-15 (red) into Tejeda town proper, which was down a STEEP road (12-14%) grade. At this point I had been on the bike for ~4 hours so I was pretty hungry and tired.

Making our way out of Tejeda back up towards the Cruz de Tejeda.

The afternoon light was stunningly beautiful though! Such amazing overlooks and viewpoints just from the road. I wasn’t sure how the 12-14% grade climb back up to the hotel was going to go for either me or my Dad. I had him give me the car key and hotel key in case he wasn’t able to make it back up. I took off and pretty quickly lost sight of him. I figured I’d get a text when I checked my phone next saying something to the effect of ‘come pick me up, fuck this.’

The 12-14% grade climb was a burner but I managed it fine, to my own surprise. Sure enough, when I got back to the hotel I saw a text saying ‘come pick me up’…no ‘fuck this’ though. By the end of the day, I’d managed ~45 miles and ~7,500 of climbing. Not the easiest way to start off, but a proper start to more biking to come. In my happy place of pain and exhaustion I guess. Time to eat!

Day 3: Roque Nublo-Tejeda loop (Trail Running)

We had 3 days in Tejeda and I wanted to spend one of them trail running. I drew up a route that headed out towards Roque Nublo, a popular attraction. There’s a great network of trails along the ridge out towards Roque Nublo and Pico de Nieves (as well as in the other direction towards Artenara). The TGC course doesn’t take this ridgeline but I’d eventually meet up with it at Roque Nublo.

My legs had pretty little energy in them after jet lag, a long trail run, and a long bike ride, so there was plenty of ‘power hiking’ to avoid going anaerobic the entire time. Tons of great views!

I was pretty much alone until I got to Roque Nublo, where there were tons of tourists. Makes sense…it was a super cool area! Lots of volcanic tuff and vertical relief all around. The rock itself is a serious rock climb so just pictures for me this time.

Looking out at the final ridge to Roque Nublo.
Roque Nublo

I descended down towards Tejeda where I grabbed a drink and snack at a minimart. The trails are pretty rocky/techy, especially on the descents. I took them slowly, still nursing a weak right ankle after a roll about 1 month ago.

Unfortunately, this is where I started to run into navigational issues. Around Tejeda there are ‘trails’ that are marked on the Caltopo MapBuilder Topo layer that really aren’t trails. There was one trail that was basically a sewer line about 50′ above a road. This made for really slow travel. Then, after Tejeda as I was trying to make my way up towards Cruz de Tejeda, I spent about 30 minutes trying to find a ‘trail’ up to Lomo de los Santos. No trail, just cactus bushwhacking. NOPE. I took a detour along a road and then eventually met up with a trail that took me back up to the Parador. It added about 1hr in total to my run and I was pretty tired by the end. Yet again, my Dad was like “uhh…you’re way late bro.” Yep…unexpected and just part of the experience.

Finally climbing up towards Cruz de Tejeda.

At the end of that run I was pretty dang tired. I was unsure of how well I’d recover, but I began eating and drinking and started to feel better. We ate dinner at a nice French restaurant across the street from Parador, sipping wine and enjoying our time in the mountains.

Day 4: Artenara-Pie De La Cuesta-Ayacata Loop (Road Bike)

I felt surprisingly recovered and wanted another long day out in the mountains. But I also wanted to actually ride with my Dad so we opted to ride out GC-210 (green) together towards Artenara. The road out to Artenara is ridiculously scenic! Sweeping views and a nice grade. Perfect start to the day. We stopped at the one open cafe in Artenara for a coffee.

Dad coming out of the saddle at just the right moment. Spoiler: it wasn’t that steep.

We split up at Artenara. My dad took GC-21 (red) up to GC-150 (green); I opted to continue down along GC-210 (green) to the southern part of the island. The descent was long with plenty of switchbacks. I eventually ended up in La Aldea de San Nicolas de Tolentino, where I stopped for a snack and drink.

I knew with all these back-to-back days I was probably ‘burning the candle at both ends’, but with this being a short trip and all I wanted to take a ‘do it while I’m here mindset’. With that, I chose to lengthen the ride and continue towards GC-605 (yellow). It’s one of the two mountain climbs (GC-604 being the other) that really caught my attention. I knew I’d be tired but I wanted to give it a go.

On the ride towards GC-605 along GC-200 (green) I was smiling ear-to-ear. The views were INSANE and the riding was so damn fun. It’s in moments like this, where I’m just moving continuously, where I feel most alive. I felt really alive.

I stopped for an ice cream where GC-200 (green) meets GC-605 (yellow) and then continued up the switchbacks. There was a lot of climbing to be done but it was nicely graded and good asphalt. Nothing felt terribly difficult and I managed to make good progress. There were tons of awesome view points along the route and I stopped frequently to take pictures.

Up, up, up.

The center of the island feels super dramatic. It’s vertical, steep, and every town is perched on a cliffside. Topping out GC-605 felt like being in the alpine, even though it’s a paved road. The town of Ayacata is perched amongst Roque Nublo, Roque Bentayga and Tejeda. I texted my Dad that I’d make my way to Tejeda and we’d meet for coffee/ice cream. The GC-60 (red) road was SUPER fun, twisty and with drop-offs. Thankfully there weren’t many cars. I ended the day in Tejeda, opting not to make the steep climb back up to the hotel. I didn’t need to stroke my ego yet again on that one. I had a long ride planned for the next day, anyways. I ended with another long day, ~60ish miles and ~8,000′ of climbing. Food, water, more food was the cadence for the rest of the day.

Day 5: the VOTT Canaria (Road Bike)

Coming into the trip I did very little route planning. I wanted the trip to have a ‘fuck around and find out’ nature.

The first or second night of the trip I was reading different blogs online about bike routes around Canaria. I came across the ‘valley of tears’ multiple times. It sounded hard, like the ‘test piece’ of the island. Independently my Dad found the same write-ups. He egged me on a bit; ‘I think you should do it’. HA! My Dad pushing me to some ego-laden route?? Well, I had to do it now.

I didn’t want to do the route from Tejeda, so it would have to be done from Maspalomas (where we’d be staying at the end of the trip). Unfortunately, there was going to be a narrow weather window. We only had 2 days planned in Maspalomas and the second day was calling for rain and generally bad weather. I am vehemently against road biking in the rain (for multiple reasons), so I watched the weather forecast intently for the first day.

It was going to be a hard day, regardless: 82 miles and 10-12k of vert (depending on whose GPX track you trust). Being stressed out about rain forecast to start at 6 PM didn’t help. We had to check out of Parador, drive down to Maspalomas, and then I’d have to do the ride. Lovely…

My Dad was graciously up for an earlier-than-normal wake up. We checked out and were driving down towards Maspalomas around 7 AM. As long as I could start before 9 AM I thought I’d make it through the ride in time before the weather. Worst case, my Dad was willing to come pick me up along the route (#hero).

Around 8:30 AM I headed out along the route, starting near the Playa Ingles in Maspalomas. I followed GC-500 (green) out towards Puerto Rico. Riding smooth asphalt along the coast was really nice and just pleasant. No crazy climbing…yet at least.

One of the few hiccups of the day came in the town of Taurito. Normally, GC-500 (green) continues on to GC-200 (green), but the road has been closed for a few months (not sure why). I hadn’t read any great recommendations on alternate routes around this closure, so I figured I’d just go and check it out for myself. The major highway, GC-1, is closed to cyclists, even though its only a 500m section at the terminus of the highway to get to GC-200. Annoying!

At the roundabout/on-ramp for GC-1 a few policeman were staged. I asked them how I could get to Mogan (the town on GC-200 I had to get to). They shrugged their shoulders, pointed to the ‘no cyclists allowed’ sign, and didn’t seem to care. Welp…what now?

Another cyclist came up to the policeman and seemed similarly perplexed. He asked if I wanted to ride along with him, which I didn’t really want to, but I followed him for a few minutes to see if he knew a way around. Turns out he didn’t, as he led us into a hotel parking lot seemingly confused.

As I turned around, intent on heading back down GC-500, I saw the policeman leaving, heading in the other direction…

The climb up to Mogan along GC-200 (green) was nice and gradual. I felt like I was making good time through the day. Unlike previous rides, I didn’t really feel much motivation to stop and take pictures. This day kind of felt like a physical adventure, rather than an aesthetic one. I just wanted to move efficiently and see how my body would hold up to the test. I was intimidated by all the hype around how steep the GC-606 climb was. I wanted to position myself to get through it well.

The two climbs on GC-200 towards La Aldea de San Nicolas de Tolentino went smoothly. I again stopped at the same minimart for a croissant and electrolyte drink. Now it was game time. I would take GC-210 (green) out towards GC-605 (yellow, the ‘Valley of Tears’ climb). The climb is 3,300′ over around 7 miles. It’s called the ‘Valley of Tears’ because of how hard it is. Well, time to see…

It was HOT moving through the canyons, baking with their rock walls. I stopped at the base of the canyon to eat a snack before starting up GC-605. I won’t lie, the start is pretty brutal. Steep switchbacks, with broken up asphalt. Unlike other roads, after steep switchbacks it doesn’t flatten out to a plateau for you to recover. Pretty much from the jump it’s time to crank and it doesn’t let up.

Thankfully, there really weren’t many cars on the road and I took advantage of the full width of road to zigzag at times to make it easier. I didn’t cry at any point, but sweat tears did burn my eyeballs a few different times. I stopped 2 or 3 times to grab a drink and snack. There was one pro-looking cyclist that passed me and I was like “Dang…this dude is legit”.

Around 5 hours into the ride, I topped out GC-605. The weather seemed to be playing along. I was proud of myself for making it through the brutal climb. I had a bit of a headache and pretty desperately needed more calories than I’d taken in so far. I stopped at a cafe in Ayacata that was full of cyclists. Must be the ‘spot’. I ate the best-worst ham and cheese sandwich ever.

I still had many kilometers left and the worst part for me: descent. I know many people love ripping downhills at speed on bikes, ‘flowing’ of sorts. Personally, I find it kind of terrifying and reckless. ESPECIALLY road bikes. I can’t help get the thoughts of crashing and having road rash and serious injury. It just doesn’t seem worth it. I had around 40km left of steep downhill roads with cars and LOTS of headwind left. I knew I’d be pretty worked by the descent, but I didn’t anticipate how mentally worked I’d be by the end.

The entire ride, there was one specific 100m section I dreaded. On GC-60 (red) south towards Maspalomas there is one climb near the end that has steep switchbacks on a cliffside. It’s not very wide and it’s the one, single section where as a rider you wouldn’t want to have to deal with cars. The ONE…SINGLE…SPOT. And, like a freaking movie script, as I was making my way up to that section, what did I see rounding the corner? A fucking BUS. Un-freaking-believable. Can’t make this up.

I chuckled, just in total disbelief at what the chances were. The bus route runs like twice a day. Seriously??

I just pulled over to the side of the road, huddled with my bike against the cliffside, and waited for it to go by. Silly.

When I got back into Maspalomas I was the most mentally worked I’d been in a long time. Physically I felt surprisingly good. Legs still had gas in them, I had eaten reasonably well. But being in the drops for nearly 2 hours straight on rough asphalt, dodging cars and riding 30mph down roads worked my brain. I felt a weird kind of ‘high’ where basic human tasks were really difficult. I just layed down on my hotel bed and began to process what had just happened. I did it. 82 miles and 10k gain wasn’t anything ‘unbelievable’ that hadn’t been done before. But it culminated an awesome week and felt like a nice stroke of my ego. My Dad had planted this idea and I did it.

Then, like a movie, it started pouring rain as we went out for pizza. I could only help but chuckle.

Day 6: Dunas de Maspalomas

After 5 days of all-out, I was ready for a down day. The VOTT mentally tired me out, being in ‘focus mode’ for so long. We had a hotel in Maspalomas on the beach near the lighthouse, smack in the center of the most tourist-y district. I felt so out of place. After spending so much high quality time in the mountains, mostly alone, switching to basically Miami Beach was a hard change.

I had one last small romp in me, so I ventured over to the sand dunes nearby. They seemed to be pretty famous from the images around the island. I only wanted a few miles of easy recovery jogging and they were perfect for that. What I didn’t expect was that they were also a nude beach. Lots of old naked bodies around.

Final Thoughts

The island of Gran Canaria is a wonder for trail running and road biking. I’m so happy I came. November/December is a nice time, provided you can be flexible about weather.

Here’s the bullet points (funny I put these at the END of the post hahaha. If you’re read this far thanks!):

  • Running
    • Not all trails are the same level of ‘maintained’. Anticipate generally rocky volcanic tuff on steeper descents and trails that wind in and out of villages.
    • It’s usually pretty humid near the coast, but as you get higher up the mountain upslope winds help cool things off.
    • Some trails double as mountain bike descents, so keep that in mind.
  • Road Biking
    • FreeMotion is a wide network of shops around the island. They operate together and you can pick up/drop off bike rentals at different shops around. They have a huge offering of bikes, from high performance carbon road bikes to mountain bikes.
    • Generally, red GC and green GC roads are in good shape and are a good bet for pleasant riding. If you’re in the mountains they can have up to 12% grade sections, but they are short. Usually switchbacks are well graded and manageable.
    • Yellow GC roads are usually a lower quality, bumpy asphalt. They can be good in sections but they seem to be less maintained.
    • Drivers are very respectful and have a sense of how to coexist with cyclists.
    • Buses will be on the roads, so anticipate that too.
  • Public Transit
    • The TGC bus system seems to accept credit cards. I didn’t need to use cash at any point during the trip.
  • Restaurants & General Travel
    • English isn’t a guarantee, so be prepared to practice your Spanish.
    • I didn’t have to use cash once on the trip.
    • Really good seafood, given their coastal location!