Day 36 (a typical day)
Due to a lack of available campsites I found myself awakening in a picnic spot just off the roadside in Central Portugal. It was just after 6am and as I do every morning I lifted my arm above my head and pulled the stopper out of my air mattress to force me out of my bed. As the mattress deflates and the hard ground cradles my middle aged body I have found myself smiling to myself as this ritual always makes me think that I have invented a crap Wallace and Gromit wake up machine.
To simplify packing up in the mornings I have got into the habit of leaving all but the essentials on my bike so I am soon packed up and on the road. I have gone from being a hibernating grizzly bear in the morning to being a bleary eyed grizzly bear on a bike in the morning. It amazes me that I seem to be the first one up and look at any cycling before 11am as being the prime time before the sun gets too hot and the roads host their traffic.
I am straight into hills as today I am cycling up Portugal’s highest mountain pass and so after just 5 miles I stop to remove my jacket as it is already getting too hot. This is when a car pulls I front of me, reverses right up to me and I think here we go. My negative gut reaction is soon dispelled as it was a local man called Tony who stopped to see if I was alright, thinking I had a puncture. We talk for sometime and I tell him that I am going up into the Serra da Estrala today. Tony is talking about the mountain and tells me what to look out for and the dangers of the water trucks which drive up and down the narrow roads to the bottling plant halfway up the mountain. After many handshakes and a photo we part and I carry on. The road gets very steep at the foot of the hill and I am already in my lowest gear but fortunately after another couple of miles the road settles a bit and I stop in a quiet lay-by for coffee and calories to get me though the day. This morning it is some leftover pasta with pesto and some noodles thrown in for good measure.
I am then left all alone for the next ten miles cycling uphill and being completely awe inspired by the beauty of the mountain yet eagerly willing my mind to wander to help trick my mind into thinking things other than the relentless uphill gradient. Today’s wandering thoughts include:
- What can I do to earn money when I get home.
- I would like to have a really really really good bottle of red wine in my lifetime to see if it is worth it.
- I wish I could be a voiceover man.
- I wonder what mint tea put through a coffee machine would taste like.
- Will my girlfriend like my new tan lines and wide array of insect bites.
As lunchtime approaches I then do my ritual of make another roadside coffee at one of the many mountain springs and I do what I have been doing far too much this tour. I open a small can of processed vegetables (today it is sweet corn, peas and carrot) and I drink the salty brine straight from the can and happily eat the tins contents with my fork. I was forced to do this several weeks ago as it was all I had in my panniers when miles from anywhere and now it is my guilty pleasure. I put it down to my body wanting the salt and only hope it is a habit I kick before I return home.
It has been a long morning but to be honest I am at the top and before I know it it am into the eight miles of downhill to the town of Mantiegas where I am staying tonight. It is in the bottom of a valley and to get out of the valley is another day of hills so I look for a hostel as there is no campsite and I am in need of a wash and a good sleep.
I would love to tell you that I booked into a hostel, washed and then looked around the town. But I didn’t. Instead I wash all my clothes in the bath, sat on the bed and marvelled at the novel experience of being indoors until what I predict will be the morning when my clothes will hopefully be dry and I continue cycling South. Camping is the norm, wild camping and hostels are necessity and a once in a while treat.
I guess I am saying that a typical day for me is cycling, eating and sleeping. Mix in with that random moments of sheer joy, desperation, hardship, beauty, loneliness, kindness, vertigo and hours upon hours to think really random thoughts. This, along with the growing realisation that we can all do much more than we think is possible with our lives is why I am loving my cycle tour so far.