160602 – This is not the Way

Today remains a blur of roads, tracks, paths, cars, and hills. Nine hours of cycling out of about ten hours, and only 95 km. The climbing from yesterday was only deferred to today.

Reception at Hostel 2300 in Tomar also doesn’t open until 8:00 am, or, when running late, 8:15 am. I left by 8:30 am after rescuing my bicycle from the storage locker. After talking with Fernando, the night host for the hostel, I decided to follow the Camino Portugues, which Fernando said shoudl be fine except for the first 300 meters. At 9:30 am my odometer showed 6 km. What Wayne, Charlotte, and I lovingly referred to as “goat tracks” doesn’t come close to describing the track out of ton, narrow enough that I couldn’t easily push the bike or ride, as the bicycle with panniers extended into the underbrush. I passed another cyclist taking a break in one of the few clearings. Shortly thereafter, the road improved, and I lost the Camino.

Fine, I didn’t like it anyway.

Routing myself onwards, I reencountered the Camino on actual roads, and then reencountered Franco, the Spanish cyclist from earlier. As he actively navigated from GPS, we cycled together with him taking the lead. That eventually lead to smaller and smaller roads, then poor gravel track, then pushing our bikes through overgrown weeds, with Franco occasionally hacking thorn bushes out of the way, “like Indiana Jones”. Now almost noon, and 30 km into the day, discretion proved the better part of valor, and at the next main intersection I indicated I would follow the larger road, and we went our separate ways.

The rest of the day had a few sections of relatively flat roads, but primarily the day constituted long steep climbs punctuated by the occasional steep descent.

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I spent a lot of the day cycling at less than 10 kph. The intial 6 km in the first hour had me paying attention to the time and killometers covered all day, and not until late afternoon did I start making significant progress. I even cycled past the castle in Penala given concerns about time.

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Temperatures in Portugal climbed today to close to 100 degrees, Even after refilling my water when cycling with Franco, I ran out of water 17 km outside of Coimbra, and on the remote roads found no refills until I reached Coimbra (at a market where the guard ran me out, but not before I filled one water bottle).

Coimbra wins the “Worst City in Europe to Cycle In” award. There are no bicycle paths, and the drains for the road run the length of the road (instead of the occasional grate), wide enough to destroy a bicycle if the wheel hits the drainage system. While a river surrounds Coimbra, the city is vertical. Navigation anywhere in the city requires steep climbing, on one-way streets narrow enough that cars can only barely pass me when pushing the bicycle.

I initially planned to camp, but with the campground 5 km outside the city chose a hostel. Finding the hostel required circling the block, then a visit to Tourist Information, and then another circuit around the block before finally finding the small sign. Did I mention the city is vertical? Circling a block takes on a whole new meaning with roads steep enough I can’t cycle up them. Once I found the hostel, no one answered at the door, so I selected another hostel only 300 meters away. Then I realized the 300 meters would require 2 km of cycling to reach, and almost all straight up.

After months of preparatory fretting, and then days on the road, Wayne and Charlotte boarded their plane today. Would the traffic be too heavy? Will we find somewhere to stay every day? Will the weather be ok? Will I be able to manage to the 60 km I set expectations for? Will we find castles? Will I manage to find time for Wayne and Charlotte to explore as well as cycle? Will Wayne and Charlotte have fun? They played a big part of that being a success.

Back to it being all about me.

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