Thoughts and tales from the saddle - on my own in Europe.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Day 45 - Viana do Castelo - West Coast - Portugal

Cycling into Portugal was a surreal, but satisfying, experience. Surreal because I was in a remote valley following a winding road up and down the left hand side, towards the sea, occassionally passing a large house and its terraced fields, and even more occassionally passing a person - an actual person! - walking along the road or, as is usual, stopping their work to look at me as if I were a different, alien species. Around one corner a large concrete sort of archway was covering the road. No signs, no warning, no explanation, just a concrete box - like a garage you could drive right through - and then, afterwards, a sign explaining the 'new' rules of the road (mainly speed limits for cars) because we were now, apparently, in Portugal. You wouldn't know it otherwise and the first time I really noticed was about 10 miles down the road - they have orange traffic arrows! They're green in Spain! Amazing.

I've been following that river, in the valley, for the last three days, meandering my way down the left hand side, looking across at Spain, on the right, until today when I reached the sea and my compass began to point South again. That's the satisfying bit, by the way. Knowing I've now cycled the length of France, from coast to border, the width of Spain, from border to border, and now not-quite the-width of Portugal, from border to coast.

I have a decision to make, however, fuelled in part by mother nature but also by my own conscience. To complete my plan of cycling through all European countries this year, I really need to be starting at the top of Italy at the beginning of June. I don't know when the last time you properly looked at a map of Europe, or, more specifically, France and Spain, was, but that is quite a long way from the West coast of Portugal. With Andorra in between, I would even go so far as to say it's too far for me to be able to cycle in 4/5 weeks. So do I sacrifice any purist intentions and resort to other means, at least for the journey back across Spain, or do I stay in the saddle, regardless of how that might affect the overall plan? I've always said there are no rules - and there aren't - only in my head, which is where this particular battle is currently taking place.

Finally (yes, I'll shut up in a minute), in response to a specific request (thanks for all the comments, by the way), if you want to recreate the conditions I am currently working under, in order to be able to experience these 'best thing since mass-produced vodka'...err...experiences, try the following:

Turn the heating up to about 30 degrees (or just go outside, if the weather reports I'm hearing are correct), get an exercise bike and put together a small mixture of sun cream and salt water (or just sweat, if you happen to have lots of that lying around). Set the exercise bike to nearly the hardest level, get on it and pedal. Every 5 minutes or so turn the level up for 10 minutes, to the point where you can just about keep the momentum going - that's a hill. At the same time, get someone to flick the suncream/sweat solution into your eyes. Keep pedalling until sweat, real sweat, drips off your nose and runs down into your mouth, your eyebrows long since overwhelmed. Taste that suncream. Feel the burn in the legs? Tough, another hill. Get out of the saddle, push down on those pedals. Get someone to throw some insects at you, making sure that some stick to your face, legs and arms, and at least one large one gets caught in your hat. Try and get it out while still pedalling. Get someone to throw dust and dirt at you every five minutes - they're lorries passing. Do this for four hours.

Admittedly, the scenery, the food and the cold, cheap beer tends to take the edge off a bit, but you'll get the general idea.


  • At 9:20 am, Anonymous pete said…

    Stiff upper lip Percy, looking at the map, you seem to be pretty much on track! With the limited information I can gleen from google earth, your route through southern Spain looks to be a fair bit flatter than what you've covered so far which should make the going easier.... although, its a safe bet it will be chuffin' warm!! At the end of the day, its your adventure and you should play it as you see fit. That said, a couple of days letting the train take the strain if required may give you a much earned rest and I think you would stiil get to see and do what you hoped for along the way.

  • At 9:57 am, Blogger Roger said…

    Umleitung!! North Africa!!!

    Go down to gibraltar (and get in another 'country' on the way), Along to Algeciras. Take the ferry to Morroco, Land Rover or bus or aeroplane or something to Tunis then ferry to Genoa or Naples.
    That'll be a barking mad way to spend some time and money for no apparent reason and mean you indeed only used your bike for transport on land in europe.

  • At 2:08 am, Blogger Sopwith-Camel said…

    "do I stay in the saddle, regardless of how that might affect the overall plan? I've always said there are no rules "

    So bend the plan a little to make it fit reality. I had to, it made more sense than killing myself trying to keep to a schedule I dreamed up in the middle of London.

  • At 8:46 am, Blogger Mike said…

    I remember booking a flight to Tasmania that I couldn't afford - completely on a whim and completely off plan - I was heading north out of Melbourne at the time.

    It was the highlighit of my time in OZ.

    It's a stunningly beautiful untouched place,

    The Dutch girl I met there was also beautiful, although not - to be fair - untouched. (enough ed.)

    My point is I had an amazing time entirely because of a great sense of liberation.....plans are overated..

    I'm for storming North Africa...although possibly toning down the German Imperialism eh Rog?

  • At 9:15 am, Blogger Roger said…

    although possibly toning down the German Imperialism eh Rog?

    Sorry - i don't know the Portugeuse or Spanish for 'alternative route' so did what any bad Englidh tourist would do down on the Costa - use any other european language that comes to hand and shout it loudly like Basil Fawlty until people at least pretend to understand to shut you up.

  • At 5:58 pm, Blogger P.Dub said…

    Yep. That'll do it.


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