Rain or Shine: The 2023 Komoot Women’s GranGuanche Rally
Following the inaugural Komoot Women’s Rally on the GranGuanche route earlier this month, Mia Altieri reports in with her impressions from the week-long ride around Spain’s spectacular Canary Islands with a group of 40 other women. Find her story with a warm and airy gallery of images here…
Words and photos by Mia Altieri (@mia.magnolia)
Komoot Women’s Rallies are week-long bikepacking events that aim to “connect, unite and break down the barriers in adventure cycling by making adventures by bike more accessible to women of all backgrounds.” Entrance is guaranteed for a few attendees, but for most, admission is possible by entering a raffle. Once the application period closes, 50 women are selected for the event. Three rallies are planned for 2023, the first being the GranGuanch Gravel route in the Canary Islands, which took place earlier this month.
The GranGuanche route hops from island to island across the Canaries; each island is connected by a set of ferries. While there are some desolate sections, the islands are well inhabited, meaning there are plenty of stops with food and accommodations. The Komoot Women’s GranGuanche Rally was organized by a team of highly capable women: Gaby Thompson and Lael Wilcox handled logistics, and Mayalen Noriega handled route-specific logistics. Sami Sauri and Rue Kaladyte acted as a media team and captured content throughout the trip, while Martha Perry took the important support role of driving a truck around the island to intervene in emergency situations and help the media crew get around.
The rally took place over seven days between January 14th-20th, 2023. Mileage-wise, it‘s possible to travel the entirety of the GranGuanche gravel route in seven days. But considering the ferry schedules, which run at a limited schedule in the winter, traversing the entire gravel route at a leisurely pace in seven days isn’t possible. Initially, the plan was to bikepack on the islands of La Graciosa, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Tenerife, and finish on El Hierro. However, due to the ferry schedules, this would not quite be workable. To facilitate ferry logistics and timing, the rally was changed to include only Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, and Tenerife, with the 15-kilometer loop on La Graciosa left as an optional shakedown ride the day before the rally.
In the month before the rally, an email was sent out with information regarding the start and end locations. The plan was to meet on the 13th of January in La Orzola and ride the short island loop of La Graciosa and end for a finishers party in Los Cristianos on the southern end of Tenerife on January 20th. Additionally, the organizers hosted a Zoom call where they covered a comprehensive set of topics such as terrain, route, food options, legality of camping, flying with a bike, what bike would be suitable, etc.
The group was particularly interested in topics such as food, whether or not the ride would be a no-drop ride, and the legality of camping. Sami Sauri answered questions about food and showed photos of the cheese board that she likes to bring bikepacking. The organizers clarified that this was not a no-drop ride and that the intention was for us to group up with riders of similar capabilities. As for camping, the organizers made it clear that camping is illegal in most places, but emergency bivvying is acceptable. Finally, the organizers gave all participants three free months of Komoot premium so they could download all of the routes for the trip.
The 50 riders who were selected were of different capabilities, ages, and mindsets. Some riders admitted that this would be their first time bikepacking, others were professional gravel cyclists, but most were hobby bikepackers. In the weeks leading up to the rally, information, tips, and worries were shared in a WhatsApp group with all the participants. There was a communal effort to answer questions, not just from the organizers, but from the participants as well, cultivating a sense of community in the group. It was interesting to see how differently each of us approached the trip. One of the rally riders had planned how many kilometers she would do each day and had already booked accommodations in advance, while another only started packing in the late hours of the night before her early morning flight.
By Friday afternoon on the 13th, most of us made it to La Orzola. In the end, about 40 riders of the 50 riders who’d signed up were present. Unfortunately for one of the rally riders, the airline had lost her bicycle in transit, and she wouldn’t be able to get the bike to her for another two days. Those of us who had our bikes assembled—and weren’t already seasick from the ferry rides—took the short ferry ride to the small island of La Graciosa and did the quick 15-kilometer loop. Many of us met for the first time on the ferry ride to La Graciosa and chatted away excitedly on the rough Atlantic. Once on La Graciosa, we all rode the tiny loop together. The terrain on La Graciosa was spectacular. It had Martian-like landscapes, some brief sandy sections, and spectacular views of neighboring islands.
After returning to Lanzarote that evening, Komoot treated us to tapas and drinks. Those who hadn’t met on La Graciosa met at the dinner, and it was officially the first time the entire group was together. Despite most of the attendees not knowing one another, the group bonded quickly, and there was an incredibly friendly atmosphere full of excitement and anticipation. After the welcome meal, the organizers gave a brief speech and some reminders for the ride. Some goodie bags were given out with stickers, a buff, and a patch, and after we disbanded and made final adjustments to our bikes after dinner.
The next morning, on the first day of the rally, we gathered at the start point, where Rue took each of our photos as we eagerly waited to start the ride. While most bikes were suitable for the gravel and terrain ahead, the bikes took all shapes and forms. Tires sizes ranged from 38 to 3.0”, everything from steel to aluminum to carbon, and a variety of bar types, including drop bars, flat bars, and alt bars.
We finally started at around 9:30 a.m., and we rode as one big group for the first 30 minutes but slowly formed different groups according to our riding styles. As we pedaled across the island, we experienced a variety of terrain, including lava rock, sand, gravel, and pavement. I spent the day bouncing in between groups and enjoying the ocean views, red mountains, rock formations, beautiful coastlines, and the charming town of Teguise. Lanzarote was my favorite island of the trip; I particularly enjoyed biking through the volcanic rock section in Parque Natural de Los Volcanes and my brief swim in the ocean. By the end of the day, most of us were on the ferry to Fuerteventura, where we would start the following day.
After a quick stop for pastries in a cafe in Corralejo the next morning, a majority of us started out on Fuerteventura. The day’s ride kicked off with a beautiful coastline followed by some long road climbs. Most of the group slept at the halfway point on the island, and the next morning, we left to try and catch the afternoon ferry to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. After two days in Fuerteventura, we arrived in Gran Canaria. Gran Canaria was one of the most anticipated islands due to its steep climbs. There were some ominous texts in the group about a steep gravel section that shouldn’t be underestimated.
I started the climb with new friends Katie L’Herpiniere, Liz Seabrook, and Mille Gibbons. It was sunny when we started the climb in the nature reserve Marteles, and we were greeted by a spectacular green gorge with a smooth paved climb. The terrain was absolutely breathtaking and unlike anything we’d seen on the previous islands. A light rain began as we climbed, and the smooth pavement turned into the forewarned steep gravel section. As we got higher, my tiny group splintered off, and I was on my own. The rain became substantial, and the visibility was poor. Cellular service was unreliable, but when it was available, texts would come through from the Komoot group chat with riders reporting how unbelievably cold they were on the descent. One rider didn’t bring a raincoat and fashioned one with a trash bag.
At the top of the mountain, I found myself extremely cold and wet. Before the descent, I changed into my wool clothes and rain gear amid the downpour. At this point, I was still soaking wet, but at least I was a little warmer. When I finally got down the mountain, most everything I owned was soaked, and when I turned my phone on, there was a flurry of messages. Some people needed to get picked up from the top of the mountain and messaged the group for help. One woman attempted to bivy at the top but found herself unable to get warm. Another woman forgot to pay her phone bill and had a hard time routing down to the mountain. Yet another two ended up getting confused and ended up in the town they’d started in that morning. Needless to say, there was some chaos. When the sun rose the next day, there was still a light rain but plenty of rainbows to light the way and spark joy throughout the group.
Once on the ferry to Tenerife, we discussed whether or not to do the gravel route in Tenerife as it would not only be equally as rainy but also snowy. Ultimately, we decided to bike to the final destination of Los Cristianos on a road alternate. While most of us were disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to go to the top of Tenerife and see Teide, we agreed this would be the best decision. Taking the road meant most of the group arrived in Los Cristianos two days earlier than anticipated. The touristy town was quite a shock for us as we had been staying mostly in small towns and city outskirts. But, admittedly, we were all grateful to be in Los Cristianos as the sun was strong, and there was nary a cloud in sight. Despite how excited we were to be in the sun, most of us felt lost and didn’t know what to do with our extra time. The next day, some groups splintered off, some explored islands, some surfed, and some went on a gravel route along the southern coast of Tenerife.
The next day was the final day of the rally, and we celebrated with a finishers’ lunch hosted by Komoot, where we were treated again to tapas and drinks. We exchanged stories as a group, and some people even made plans to ride together in the coming months. At the end of the lunch, Lael flew back to the start of the route to compete in the road race version of the GranGuanche, where she finished the route in just over 40 hours (go Lael!).
Despite not being able to ride to the top of Teide in Tenerife, this ride is one of my most memorable bikepacking experiences. I feel immensely grateful to have attended this rally. I typically bikepack solo or with one other person, as when I ride with another person, there’s usually a compromise in riding style and paces. But, biking with such a large group in a non-race environment meant I could ride at my own pace and that there was always someone nearby to ride with.
Before this, I had never biked with only women, and it felt incredibly empowering to be surrounded by so many inspiring women. The sense of community in the group was heartwarming, and it was great to see women supporting each other and lifting each other up. Thanks to this trip, I now have an extensive community of female bikepacking friends, and my bikepacking community strengthened tenfold. I can’t recommend these rallies enough. If you identify as a woman and would like to participate in one of Komoot’s Women’s Rallies, they will host two more this year: one in September in Slovenia and another in November in Tucson, Arizona.
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