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Lanzarote: My First Hairpin Mountain Ascent, December 2021

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As in life, there are moments riding when you pause at a junction and decide whether to take the easier road or the one you know will scare the bejeezus out of you.

I reached such a place on the island of Lanzarote, riding alone on a rented Honda Rebel 500. Already I had done some of the most challenging riding in my life (but more of that later.) Right now I had to decide whether I should accept the challenge of the Mirador de Haria ascent. Not only was it my first time riding hairpin mountain roads, I was on an unfamiliar bike with less horsepower than my Gladius back home. I’m a novice – I passed my Mod 2 only a couple of months ago – and I knew exactly the beast that lay ahead: I had descended it two days before, riding pillion on a Yamaha scooter. It was what my dear departed Dad would have called ‘a knicker-gripper’ – a narrow road with a series of extreme, tight bends that snaked mercilessly up a volcanic-looking mountain. Once you were on it, you were on it. There were no escape routes, no lay-bys, only the promise of tea at the top, in the panoramic cafe. I suspected I would need it.

Tapping the bike into first gear, I turned right and began the ascent.

There’s nothing you can’t tackle as a beginner. The secret is to break it down into small steps. Don’t worry about the mountain, deal with the next bend that’s coming. Have faith in your bike. A gear indicator would have helped, but I managed without. I probably revved harder than I needed to, but it was a rented bike, so no worries there! Riding on the right helped too: I was on the inside for the duration of the climb, so there were no drops to distract me. Instead I had a sheer rock face alongside and, curiously, the tightest bends had rock walls on the left side too, so it was like entering a labyrinth. It meant it was impossible to see what was round the bend. All I could see was the tightness of the bend. And boy, they were tight. I reckon I was in slow second gear for most of them. But that was fine – the cars were crawling up too, so there was no pressure to hurry.

I welcomed the straight bits and took a deep breath for every bend. Up and up and up… and then the car in front began to indicate left and the cafe came into view. YES! I followed him into the car park, adrenaline and dopamine surging through my veins in equal measure. And who doesn’t love those happy hormone rushes?

So I sat with my tea, gazing out across the mountains to the Atlantic beyond, and allowed myself a Well Done Me moment. As I reflected on it, I saw it hadn’t been as hard as I’d imagined. It hadn’t been as challenging as what I’d tackled half an hour earlier, when the bike had been hit so hard by a sideways coastal wind that I feared the bike would flatten out beneath me. Rebels are notoriously tricky in wind. I’d considering buying one as my first big bike, and every review seemed to say the same thing – put them in wind and they fly around like a shuttlecock. Riding the LZ-1 road on one was downright scary. I am well-used to riding in wind (my part of Warwickshire is especially windy, as the number of glider schools shows) but I had never had to counter-steer to keep a bike upright. I did now. It wasn’t just an occasional strong gust. This was relentless. All I could do was focus and remind myself that the end of the road would soon come: the LZ-1 turns inland at Orzola the northernmost tip of the island.

As I said in my blog about neighbouring Fuerteventura, there’s nothing on Lanzarote to challenge an experienced rider, and it’s not a place you would go to with the specific aim of motorcycling. But it’s a fantastic landscape to explore and you can easily do it in one day. The most visually striking area is the Parque Nacional Timanfaya: countless miles of lava fields formed by volcano eruptions between 1720 – 1736 and again in 1824. It looks like the Devil’s own building sight, a sea of barren black rubble. But this can’t be shovelled away by diggers. Once the lava cools, it sets solid. It takes hundreds of years for life to resume, beginning with lichen, and underneath this vulcanised carpet are former villages, abandoned as the lava flowed mercilessly on.

It was sobering to ride through it when I did, as the volcano on La Palma was still erupting. There will be no Going Home for those displaced residents. Incidentally, in the excellent Timanfaya visitor centre (don’t miss it – there are fascinating displays about volcanoes and the geology of the Canaries, with free entrance) one information board showed the location of all the volcanoes across the islands and said the risk of an eruption was considered ‘low.’ The Devil clearly had other ideas…

The Mirador de Haria is on the LZ-10 road. I used Moto & Bike Lanzarote for the bike hire https://motobikelanzarote.com/en

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