Largs to Gran Canaria
Whilst I've been pretty comfortable mooching around the North Sea as a medic, with the occasional excursion to Denmark, the Netherlands or the occasional hazy night in Lerwick, I haven't really been anywhere 'nice' in my offshore travels.
By nice, I mean warm - and safe.
So, I couldn't really turn down my next little job which was to travel with a drilling vessel as she made her way to the dock yard in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria.
The DS4 was infamous for going AWOL from her cold stack in Largs, in the firth of Clyde when she broke her moorings in huge gales.
The weather when I arrived was almost as vile and I was drenched before I even made it up the gangway. I was looking forward to some better weather in the canaries!
A 10 day very pleasant transit saw us arriving at a very busy port, with a handful of sister ships tied up all awaiting work.
My company had arranged a flight home for me, which they put back at my request so I could see a bit of Gran Canaria.
I wondered if there was any decent cycling here...
It turned out that the canary islands are nothing short of a cycling 'mecca'. Lacking confidence and still terrified of cycling with other people who were all absolutely guaranteed to be better than me in every single way possible, I opted to go on a 'cappuccino' tour with Freemotion Bike centre. This sounded gentle and surely must involve lots of coffee stops and photo opportunities.
If it was too easy (after all, I had been doing Alpe de Huez on the watt bike every week offshore) I could pick a harder tour on a later day.
I know nothing about bikes. They have two wheels and that is pretty much it. I'd heard that Specialized were a good brand and for 30 euros a day rental, I picked one.
I didn't have my cycling helmet with me, but one came with the rental. I had already warned FreeMotion that I would need 'normal' pedals as I couldn't yet ride cleats. No problem, they said.
After a very pleasant evening at my all inclusive hotel apartment, complete with pool and kiddies evening disco, I got a taxi to the bike centre only 20 minutes away and got in the queue to collect my helmet and bike. I hadn't brought any suitable cycling shades and figured I could just grab a cheap pair at the bike shop.
One 140 euro pair of Oakleys later and I was set to go.
It was my first time on a proper road bike and my first time on road tyres. What could possibly go wrong?
Betty, our guide, advised me to have a quick ride up and down the car park to get used to the bike. After watching me give it a spin she advised me to do it again.....
We weren't far away from setting off when I noticed lots of people looking in my direction.
Did I have a hole in my shorts? Were they admiring my trainers? Feeling self conscious and fighting off every desire to just give the bike back, get in a cab and go straight back to my hotel, I realised what they were looking at.
I googled it later and discovered to buy one new would cost about £5000.
I took out some extra insurance and sympathised with Betty, our guide, who gently pointed out that even she 'didn't get to ride that one'.
Betty spends her winters in Gran Canaria, guiding tourists around the island on two wheels. Fair enough.
She also spends her summers cycling up mountains in Switzerland.
How on earth she tolerated hapless tourists like me, day in day out, I don't know. She was truly inspirational and I wanted to be like her - immediately.
There was only one other guy with our 'cappuccino' tour. A banker, quite tall and pleasant was allowed out occasionally to go cycling.
They both set off at a brisk pace. I could keep up - just - but as usual, got a bit bedevilled at roundabouts (going the wrong way round now as well) but the traffic was forgiving. Confusingly so, in fact, as the traffic here gives way to cyclists on roundabouts.
To a Brit, where the traffic basically tries to kill you at every opportunity, this was most perplexing. I wobbled and almost fell off in the middle of a 4 lane backwards roundabout when the traffic slowed and politely waved me through.
I just about managed to keep up, wondering how I'd do 35 something miles in the heat, when they both instantly left me for dead each time we came to a hill.
I dropped Expensive Specialized into his lowest gear and span comfortably up each hill - getting there in the end - and enjoying the super fast, super smooth downhills on the other side with the sea breeze cooling me down and the view of the bright, sparkling azure ocean in my view the whole time.
Speed both thrills and terrifies me. I'm acutely aware of what will happen to my body if I come off at 30mph - I've done it enough times on racehorses - but it's the skin removal and traffic that makes me twitchy. But hey, I'd have been having fun until that point.
We stopped briefly on occasion to let us regroup. After setting off a few times up hill I noticed a weird buzzing sound coming from banker's bike.
He was on a bloody e-bike!!
For the love of God!
At about half way (home!) we stopped for coffee. This seems to be a thing with cyclists. Coffee and cake.
We didn't stay long enough for cake and we were off again. Once back at the bike shop I had another coffee then cycled the 8 miles back to the hotel for a dip in the (very cold) pool.
After a day off, I cycled back to Freemotion to repeat the exercise, though this time with a larger group. We set off on the Cercados Espino tour, taking in a stunning old river valley.
The rock formations were stunning and the blue sky exhilarating. It was a gentle 1% incline for several miles and the road surface was like velvet. We stopped for lunch and coffee and cold cola at a cafe just before the valley begins to get stupidly steep. I had lunch with a german cyclist - which is not something I ever thought I'd say - and we sped back down the valley in half the time, enjoying the gentle downwards incline.
Delighted that I just about managed to keep up with the group on a hot and busy hill back into town, plus managed to navigate a huge roundabout by myself when all Betty's ducklings got across together and left me stranded, I handed Expensive Specialized back in.
I was a few hundred quid lighter, but had really enjoyed cycling in the heat on superb roads, considerate traffic (I don't think I even noticed a car, other than the one who waved me across the roundabout, despite it being his right of way) and I have now found my favourite winter haunt.
About the author
Christine Grosart is a Paramedic, working offshore mainly on diving vessels.
She started beach cleans around 2011 and has gone on to be a trustee, secretary, instructor and underwater photographer for the charity Ghost Fishing UK.
She wrote the first training course for scuba divers to remove lost ghost nets, in the world.
In 2009 she visited the far reaches of Wookey Hole cave and still holds the British female cave diving depth record.
In 2020 she became a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society for her work with Ghost Fishing UK as well as her cave diving exploration. She holds the end of the line in several caves in Croatia and France.
In the same year she was included in the BBC Radio 4 Women's Hour Power List.