Author Topic: Spain and Portugal Traverse  (Read 1275 times)

Spain and Portugal Traverse
« on: October 03, 2016, 03:27:07 pm »
Four days 1100km from the North of Spain to the South of Portugal:


The story:

44km / 479m

Flight delayed for an hour meant that I would definitely be arriving in the dark. I'd packed my bike in a cardboard bike that I could ditch at the airport and so I spent most of the flight imagining all of the terminal horrors that the baggage handlers could inflict on it.
Fortunately liberal application of pipe lagging and bubble wrap did its job and it emerged onto the carousel unscathed . I unpacked and assembled the bike & lycra'd up. Ditched the box and civilian flight disguise and headed out into the night to Oveido.
I arrived at my hotel shortly before midnight and went straight back out into the city center to get some food.
Although it was late the receptionist at the hotel assured me I would be able to find food "If I went to where the drunk people get their hamburgers and sandwiches".
I need not have worried. It was the annual festival and the center of town was packed with thousands of people. Street parties, music concerts, lots of drinking (not really drinking by English standards).
I managed to find a bar which seemed to only sell three things - The three elements required to sustain the triangle of life:
Ham, cheese & wine.
Day 1 - Oviedo to Puebla de Sanabria
280km / 5,052m

Left a very foggy Oviedo just before dawn and rode 20km to La Vega. A small bakery was open and using some good international sign language I asked them to look after my bag while I did a diversion to climb the Angrilu (no cakes for me!).
The first couple of kilometers of the climb were relatively placid and then it crossed a plateau over to the other side of the valley and went straight up a wall.
From steep, to ridiculously steep. Each section was signed with the distance, max gradient and minimum gradient so one could at least manage ones expectations. I've been up steeper roads, but they were all very short. This was relentless.
Kilometer after kilometer of steep with no respite. My small matchstick arms hurt a lot from pulling on the bars.
Cold, misty empty car park at the top. Obligatory photo of bike next to the sign and head back down.
I know from mountain biking that one shouldn't drag ones brakes lest they overhead and the hydraulic fluid boils. It was so steep coming down that I didn't have much choice. On the very steep section I experienced serious brake fade. I spent what felt like minutes, but was probably seconds considering how best to safely crash. Fortunately pumping the brakes restored them and I was able to stop at the next hairpin.
Back down to the bakery...and yes this time I did eat cake(s).
I was deep in the Asturias mountains and would have to get over them to get to the South. The climb to La Robla went up for nearly a 1000m. In the distance I could see road disappearing into the clouds. I hoped I wasn't going there, but of course I was.
A few people in passing cars hooted and shouted ENCOURAGEMENT! Very strange, in the UK I am used to threats and insults.
Payback from the climb was a long gentle descent. Once out of the mountains I was a rewarded with a very enjoyable flat fast section (pretty much the only flat road of the entire trip). Into the town of León for a late lunch and then on to La Bañeza where their annual festival was taking place.
Lots of food, drink and festivities. Little of which I was sadly able to indulge in.
An amazing sunset with the whole sky on fire (the photos unfortunately don't do it justice).
A nice relaxing bit of night riding with the only excitement being a pack of wild boar which ran across the in front of me.
I got to my hotel in Puebla de Sanabria at about 22:30. All locked up and nobody at reception. There was a cryptic Spanish note on the door to Senoir Matthew, which I finally decoded to mean "your key is in the flower pot next to the window".
No dinner as I didn't feel like riding into town to find everything closed. I found the hotel kitchen and acquired a beer and small disappointing long life cake. I felt this was morally justified as they hadn't left me the wi-fi password.
Day 2 - Puebla de Sanabria to Linhares
236km / 3,987m

On the road before dawn. Cold. Freezing cold. I stopped to put on all of my extra layers and regretted not bringing proper gloves.
I crossed the border just as sun was coming up. Good to be back in Portugal, it felt a bit like coming home. At least a know a few words of Portuguese, as apposed to zero Spanish.

After a cold 40km without dinner and breakfast I arrived in Bragança. I had planned my route to take me past most of the notable castles and cathedrals. So dutifully followed the GPS track a cobbled climb that you would think twice about leading a goat up.
Big castle at the top...meh. Breakfast. It was early and everything was still closed. A few locals directed me to a large pasteleria where "my people" (other cyclists) were congregated. Huge breakfast. Order restored.
A bit more of a relaxed day. Certainly not flat, but nothing punishingly steep.
I road through a tiny village called Chãos where bizarrely there was a monument to Nossa Senhora de Ghisallo or Madonna del Ghisallo the patron saint of cycling. I was moved continue cycling to The Douro, Portugal’s major wine region. I stopped for a large steak for lunch and realised it would probably be considered a local crime if I didn't have any wine I did.
Later I spotted some very photogenic grapes in a vineyard which I sampled. Delicious! I figured they had enough so I appropriated a large bunch.
The road continued past a few more castles up a few more (painful) cobbled climbs into the Serra da Estrela national park to the town of Linares. I arrived there just as the sun was setting. It was a tiny medieval village with one very upmarket hotel which far exceeded my requirements. I was told that the proprietor of the bar in town had a hotel down the hill. Her place was full, but she offered a spare room in her house. The "spare room" turned out to be a huge pristine apartment. "Help yourself to as many figs and pears as you like from the garden" ...which I did.
Day 3 - Linhares to Crato
224km / 4,426m

Serra da Estrela, the mountains of Portugal, probably the highlight of the trip. Smooth roads, great views, gentle climbs. A bit of climbing to start the day followed by a long descent into the town of Manteigas. From here a gentle 1200m up to Serra da Estrela Torre, summit. Most of the climb was up straight road which climbs up the beautiful Zêzere glacial valley.
The summit was a 1,993m. I'll call it 2000m (in fact they built a small tower there for that purpose). Big radar domes, big tour buses.
A ham and cheese lunch (não pão!), a look in the tatty gift shop and ride down to the town of Covilhã.
Down down down. 1200m of smooth roads, cambered bends all virtually car free.
When I got to Castelo Branco, my "culturally inspired" route led me up another cobbled climb to a castle. It got steeper and steep until it eventually turned into stairs. Bike on shoulders, continue up.
Leaving Castelo Branco my route took me onto the N18. I was confident in my planning having ridden on plenty of "N" roads before. However this one was dual carriageway and had "no bicycles" signs at the on-ramps. I quizzed two policemen standing nearby who argued with each other about it. I decided to route around. My inspired diversion quickly deteriorated into a bad dirt road. The smooth N18 never far from view. After way too many slow dirt road kilometers I'd had enough and the N18 looked a bit calmer. I carried my bike across a railway line and rejoined it.
As the day drew to a close it got very hot. It felt like I was being attacked with a hairdryer. The past two days of constant climbing were taking their toll. I found a spring by the side of the road and climbed under to cool off. That sorted me out for about 10min.
As it turned dark (with about 80km left to ride) I reached the town of Nisa. I found a restaurant and had a large meal including a "Molotov" for desert (only to be eaten in extreme circumstances).
Rejuvenated I headed out into the night.
All was going well and I was making good pace when my main front light suddenly stopped working. I switched to the backup, but didn't want to risk that running out and being left stranded in the dark so I decided to stop at the next town and find somewhere to stay.
I was 50km short of my target for the day, but very tired and the broken light gave me the excuse I needed.
I found a place. A nice place, a very nice place. A bit too nice. I was acutely aware of how bad I must have smelt as my hosts ushered me in (4 days, 1 jersey).
They asked if they could help me with my luggage and were a little surprised when I pointed to the saddlebag and said "that's it".
Day 4 - Crato to Juncais
306km / 2,730m

A late start to the day (08:00). The owner of the guest house cooked me a huge breakfast and we spent a little too long discussing Brexit and the state of the Angolan economy.

A 50km deficit and a late start would mean a late finish. The backup light would be called upon after all.
By now I was feeling a little jaded and my priorities were flat roads and food. The highlight of the historic city of Évora (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) was not the Roman ruins or the large cathedral. It was the cafe where I ate lunch.
I bit more illegal motorway riding outside Beja. The road I was on started looking more and more like a motorway (flat, smooth and good for cycling).
After a while the "no bicycles" signs started appearing. I got off onto the side road which quickly deteriorated into a rutted dirt road. Nearly empty "motorway", wide verge. It looked a lot safer than the roads I ride on every day, so I got back on it.
South of the "flatter" lands of the Alentjo lie the Serra do Caldeirão mountains of the Algarve. Not big, not high. But tiring in the dark.after a long day.
After about eight o'clock the traffic completely disappeared and I could enjoy empty roads and a star filled sky on the final section.
I finished at about 23:30 and my mother in-law had kindly waited up for me.
Food and clean clothes!

Re: Spain and Portugal Traverse
« Reply #1 on: October 13, 2016, 12:32:35 pm »
Very cool. Nice pics and write up. I hope you had nothing planned for the following day.
Rust never sleeps

Re: Spain and Portugal Traverse
« Reply #2 on: October 13, 2016, 08:39:26 pm »
I hope you had nothing planned for the following day.

Just the small matter of a flight back home! I didn't factor in much fat in case of mishaps. In retrospect 50km less per day would have probably been better. I didn't really have much time to stop and take in the sights. Unfortunately work and family commitments necessitate this approach.
I'm thinking about a London to Algarve ride at some point. Probably Caen to Col du Tourmalet, then down through Spain, crossing into Portugal fairly far South. Approximately 2000km. Trying to work out a route which is quick, but interesting.
Again lack of free time probably means it will require long days without much stopping.
...I may attempt to MTFU and try out a bit of bivi action. 

Re: Spain and Portugal Traverse
« Reply #3 on: October 13, 2016, 11:16:21 pm »
Blimey. Good luck with that. Keep us posted here as to how it goes. I predict that will be an equally as good read..
Rust never sleeps