21 June 2010

Travessia de Portugal-part 18

I wish we had taken even more pictures.

Not much left to report. We had to get up at 4:30 to catch a taxi at 5 to make our 7:30 AM flight. I will say that checking the bike box with KLM was a freaking dream compared to when we left Seattle and had to deal with Delta… We simply walked up to the counter, told them we needed to check our bike and they charged us 55 Euro. Compare that to the $500 we paid going the other way; doesn't it just make you sick? Why the airlines can't pull their collective heads out is a mystery to me.

This ride will forever be a part of me. Having ridden the route twice I am amazed at how much I remembered from the first time. Almost every day we would ride past some small feature and I would blurt out, "I remember this from the race!" You can't do something like this and not be changed forever. Judging by Shelley's lunch selection in the Schiphol airport on our way home that goes for her as well.


Bread, meat paste, and beer. Sometimes it's the simple things.

If anyone reading this is considering doing this tour for the first time here is what I learned.

  • Take a CamelBak. You will need it. Not just for the water bladder (don't get a cute little small one!) but also to carry some spare clothes and tools and food.
  • Bring spare parts for everything. We brought along a spare tire, one chain, a complete set of chainrings, and spare cycling shoes. It was not enough. I also needed a cassette and should have brought spare cleats and spokes and more tools. I also brought spare derailleur cables and a spare rear derailleur but luckily did not need them. Bring an extra derailleur hanger if your bike uses one.
  • Disk brakes – you will need them. Any rim brake (cantilever or V-brake) will be inadequate and you will go through several sets of brake pads. Hydraulic is better than mechanical but disk is required.
  • In the Pacific NW tubeless tires with sealant are not so crucial. In Portugal they are. Each day you will ride through thistles, thorns, and sharp stones not to mention all the glass and bits and pieces of crap and metal on the farm roads. The best (and messiest) sealant is Slime. Second best is Magik Seal. We used straight latex but were told it does not seal in extreme heat. Luckily it never got too hot.
  • Pack lots of oil for your chain. And some rags to clean it with. Pouring on the lube will only accelerate the demise of your drivetrain as it collects dirt and sand.
  • Bring a real pump. CO2 is fun and racy but what will you do when you need to just top off your tires? Or when you get your fourth flat because you did not bring tubeless tires with sealant?
  • Two words: chamois cream. Bring enough.
  • Get a real mount for your GPS and forget about the plastic one you can buy in cycling stores. Touratech is the only way to go. Then ask Antonio for the adaptor so you can attach this mount to your handlebars.
  • Use rechargeable batteries and bring a charger – it's the green thing to do.
  • A pre-paid SIM card that works in Portugal might be nice. All the staff carry mobile phones and if you are alone and have a problem what are you going to do? At least bring an international phone and be prepared to pay the long distance fees if you need to. Oh yeah, don't forget to put it in your CamelBak each day!
  • Sun block – need I say more? I love the sun, had a base and was needing to coat myself in SPF 15 for the first several days.
  • Bring a camera and put it in an easy to reach spot. Ours was in the back of my CamelBak and I wish it had been in the front. When you are tired it's amazing how difficult it is to just get your camera out. A water-resistant camera is also a huge bonus; when it rained we did not take any pictures…
  • Do yourself and everyone around you a favor and bring along some Sport-Wash. We did and it really works. If you do laundry every night you can survive on two sets of cycling clothes. We still brought three just in case.
  • Bring some of your favorite ride food. We did not thinking we could subsist purely on what we packed at breakfast and purchased at cafes and it would have been nice to have more for variety and emergencies.
  • Leave your attitude and expectations at home. Long rides will usually mean that you encounter some sort of adversity along the way and if you can't deal with it you are done.

This was an amazing journey. Thanks to Shelley and CICLONATUR for making it possible.

20 June 2010

Travessia de Portugal-part 17

Here are all the pictures.

Ah… the day-after blues, the physical relief and the drive back to the big city.

After sleeping in I boxed up the bike. We don't have any pictures or movies of this but as I was trying to box it up outside of the hotel the wind was really blowing. After thrice retrieving objects from the underground parking garage where the wind was blowing them Shelley suggested we just move down to the garage… Genius. Once down there we were able to finish up without interruption.

Breakfast was yet another example of how the organizers go all out to make your experience special. By now most of the clients had left. They invited those few clients that remained INTO THEIR HOTEL ROOM where we had bread, butter, jam, cheese, cold cuts, cereal, yogurt, juice, tea and coffee. I mean c'mon, where else can you get this kind of service? Nowhere, that was rhetorical.

Then we loaded up the van (which had the seats installed again now that all the duffel bags were gone) and headed north.

A car ride is a car ride for the most part. Sure the scenery was nice but Antonio did us a huge favor and instead of taking the freeway all the way to Lisbon he stayed on the coast and we took a ferry over to Setubal on the mainland. Beautiful! The ferry connected an idyllic, sandy peninsula (obviously a wildly popular vacation and summer fun spot) with the main land mass. They had passenger only ferries and car ferries – all of which were painted a very high-visibility green. 

Once back on the road we drove across a massive, 16 km bridge on the A12.  
I felt like I was on the set of one of those build it bigger shows.

Kevin and Lesley Anne were getting dropped off at the airport so we took advantage of the 'left luggage' office and paid them to store our boxed bike. That was the best 8 Euro ever spent. From here it was back to Hotel Barcelona and then off to the market below the bull fighting arena for beer and breakfast food.

Finally we indulged in what has become a Lisbon tradition for us (if you can call doing something two times in four years a tradition); we went to the Pizza Hut next door to the hotel and ordered a large pie. Armed with this and our beer we watched television in bed and relaxed. Truly, there was nothing I would rather have been doing at the time.

19 June 2010

Travessia de Portugal-part 16

Here are all the pictures.
Here is the ride profile.
Here is the official newsletter.

Today was all about sticking together, savoring the moment and taking pictures. Usually there were more or less two groups and even though people might start with one everyone kinda rode at their own tempo but today we regrouped several times and no one was pushing the pace.

There was a mechanical this morning but it was not us! Thank goodness. And it was resolved relatively quickly.

In fairly short order we finally got see the Atlantic ocean.  

The route skirted the edge of a plateau above the water and several times we would descend to a beach and then climb back up to the top of the plateau.

The top of the plateau was littered with boardwalks so tourists could enjoy the view. Many times you could just ride right out to the view platform.  

One of the times we descended to the beach the path the tour used to take had been washed away by the winter rains so we had to walk along the sand for about 800 m. It must have seemed strange to the people at the surfing contest we interrupted to see all these people pushing bicycles…  

How easy is it to push your bike through soft sand? Not very. You can see how much our feet sunk into the sand.  

At the end of the beach we finally got to back onto a firmer surface.

Exiting the beach.

And were immediately faced with the hardest climb of the day.

As luck would have it, this hardest climb was soon followed by the hardest descent. Only a handful of people even attempted to ride this and of that handful not everyone made it down. One person that did ride the whole thing was Louize Hill. Way to go.

Pink power!

This descent was followed by a climb (of course) and then we came to the G-String descent so named because it runs along a spine with significant exposure on both sides. As we approached the descent I was about to warn Shelley that it was coming up and she replied, "I got it, go go go!" She was filming!


Here I am scouting out the descent.

We were not able to ride the beginning as there were some fall-away corners with only inches of trail and the back of the tandem would have slipped off but we did ride most of it. At Shelley's insistence! Nice.

The cafe at the bottom was where we all regrouped for lunch. It was a tiny surf community and i bet this establishment rarely gets as busy as when we all rolled in.

After lunch the final climb was on pavement and then we all rolled to the finish together as a group.
It was really fun to finally ride with everyone and we finally got the chance to let someone else take our picture.

The dirt road was covered in washboards and littered with potholes. On a tandem it's crucial that the captain and stoker communicate – here is what we said on that section of road.


Just before descending to the finish we stopped for the obligatory group shot.

Then we rode over the last few rocks, down a short section of road and finally down a wood ramp right to the beach. We were done!

The Atlantic is not exactly a tropical body of water but this far south it was warm enough to jump in and I did exactly that. After tons of well wishes, hugs and thanks we eventually worked our way back up the hill to the hotel. I washed my ride clothes one last time, hung them up and then we all (all that clients that hung around that is) went to dinner for our final group meal and the awards ceremony.

Dinner was a traditional sort of seafood gumbo with rice, tomato and three different kinds of fish and prawns all in one big pot. Yum.
I think we drank a little more wine tonight than usual…

Antonio goes all out for his clients. Not only did everyone get a certificate of completion, he also had a special t-shirt made up for each person that rode all 14 days.
To quote him, "We could have written the words on this shirt in English but they have greater meaning in Portuguese." I like that.

Everyone got called up and recognized. It felt so good to get a hug, my certificate and to know that Shelley and I had completed this together!

I'm pretty sure Shelley was very proud of herself as well. This smile looks very genuine.

At the awards diner everyone was saying that I was a hero for riding a tandem over all these roads and over all these hills. If there is a hero in this story it's Shelley for the entire ride with me. She usually could not see what was coming up, she was sitting on the less comfortable end of the bike and she has never done anything like this or this hard before. I am so grateful for her company, her encouragement throughout the ride and her tenacity and will to finish what we started. Amazing.

When it was finally time to leave the restaurant we got a final shot of the 15 clients that rode all 15 days.

Thank you Antonio, Berta and all the staff at CICLONATUR; we had a wonderful time.

18 June 2010

Travessia de Portugal-part 15

Here are all the pictures.
Here is the ride profile.
Here is the official newsletter.

Today we transitioned away from the interior and rode to the coast. We started with a roaring descent on paved roads from the hotel (as they always seem to be located on the top of a hill) and then it was dirt, pavement, dirt, pavement all the time with more and more white sand on the ground the closer we got to the ocean.

Today we climbed the hardest rideable hill on the tour – up to Portela da Brejeira. Since there was not much in the way of cafes on the route today the staff met us at the base of the climb so we could top off our CamelBaks.

Rest stop.

The climb is about 3 km total, averages something like 20 percent but the beginning is wicked steep with a loose surface thrown in for good measure. As you ascend the grade eases just slightly but the surface deteriorates with more and larger stones. We actually rode most of the first part but then the fatigue became overwhelming and we had to dismount. Under ideal conditions this climb is rideable for sure – even on a tandem. In this case ideal would mean fresh and not so tired. :)

At the top it's more up and down and up and down and I think we made more wrong turns today than all the other days combined. :( The surface was fun and the riding was okay but after a while having to backtrack – even just 100 m sections – was getting really old. It was tough to choose the right path! You would arrive at five-way (or more) intersections and have to select the correct route on the fly.

As we got closer to the beach we rode along an irrigation canal for about 8 km. This was a nice reward for all the climbing earlier in the day for sure. 
I love stuff like this! Not only is it pretty, it makes you concentrate. One wrong turn and you are in the drink. As this warning sign seems to imply. 

Tonight at dinner I confirmed that Martin loves sardine and tuna pate. A couple of times the hotel has served it along with the bread and butter and it's darn tasty. 

17 June 2010

Travessia de Portugal-part 14

Here are all the pictures.
Here is the ride profile.
Here is the official newsletter.

In the morning we spent a lot of time riding through orchards. It was pretty easy going except for the parts where the earth was soft and had been turned up from the farm machinery and our tires sunk in. Kind of like riding in sand only not quite as bad. Thankfully these sections did not last long.

What did last long was the following section through wide open plains. Aside from the grass there was almost zero vegetation!

Seems like forever.

Note the trail – at times we were riding along a path that was not visible from 10' away. We would come up to an intersection, see the main path go right and invariably we would turn left.

The next section was along this highway-to-be which on this day consisted of a huge, wide road covered in white gravel. It was fast riding but also a little boring. You could see the road waaaay up ahead so you knew exactly what was coming up. Not so exciting.

What is more exciting is the Portuguese fascination with bovine-themed cycling clothing. On this tour we had two different clubs show up both with jerseys designed to look like cows. Today we were on the road with one. 
Cycling clubs are cool. And members of both of these clubs were super nice.

Towards the end of the stage we stopped at a cafe across the street from a German hippie camp. Seriously. Why German hippies decided to settle in this specific spot and why in Portugal I have no idea. As we were buying Cokes a woman with three children emerged from the camp's driveway speaking German and went into the cafe to get something. What exactly does it mean to be a hippie in 2010? I'm not sure but from our vantage point it appears they like onions. 

The last part of the ride today was brutal. It was up and down these insanely steep sections of dirt road that are probably only travelled by logging industry bulldozers as they are too steep for regular vehicles. It was through another eucalyptus forest and after the last, steepest descent we finally emerged on a massive dyke (dam?) that spanned a body of water. We rode across this to the hotel. 

ASIDE – prior to this tour (specifically this day) I kept telling Shelley that our brakes were actually too strong. Never again.

16 June 2010

Travessia de Portugal-part 13

Here are all the pictures.
Here is the ride profile.
Here is the official newsletter.
Distance – 66 km
Moving time – 3:46
Stopped time – 1:47
Moving avg – 17.6 kph
Overall avg – 11.9 kph
Total ascent – 2460 feet

I rolled the bike out of the hotel to oil the chains, that much went fine. When I spun the rear wheel to see if it needed truing I discovered two more broken spokes! Crap. Time to again remove the cassette, remove the brake rotor, replace the spokes and kinda, sorta true the wheel. This is getting a little discouraging. We have four more rides to go and I really want to finish! Thanks to Shelley for being so patient and helpful and supportive while I was frustrated.

We were treated to a spectacular view from a new bridge that spanned the river. Under this automobile bridge you could see the old train bridge that this tour used to use to cross this river.


It was another super fast stage today. Mostly flat with just a handful of hills requiring the little chainring. And today was all about sunflowers and wheat. We rode through field after field of both. 
Several times there were sunflowers on our left and wheat on our right. Once we even saw a solitary sunflower in the middle of a wheat field… Alone, proud, apart from the crowd.

Normally there is one cafe that we all tacitly agree to stop at for lunch and some days we are just on our own but today Antonio had officially reserved a café at the halfway point for everyone. They served up a traditional Portuguese veggie soup, grilled sardines, grilled mackerel (both crusted in salt) and bread. 
We ate off these old, stone tables that used to be the stands for the city market where the vendors would display their goods; very cool. 
Of course nothing like a big meal to make you want to get back on your bike in the blazing sun... my legs were so toast.

ASIDE – it seems that on this tour starting back up after just about any stop was a monumental effort. My legs always felt like someone had poured lead into them. After warming up they were always much better. Note to self – bring a personal masseuse along next time.

Lately one strategy I have been employing to deal with the heat is to soak my cotton cycling cap in cold water right before starting out again and it works great – for about five minutes. Then my cap is bone dry. Oh well.

We rode past another reservoir today and had to cross a spillway. This involved carrying our bikes down an embankment, across the concrete spillway and then climbing back up the other side. 
Just another day on the Travessia! :)

The last town we rode through had what appeared to be a group of locals (gypsies?) on horse-drawn wagons cruising down the middle of the main road. We tried to pass courteously but I think they took offense and we were treated to what I'm sure was some choice phrases in Portuguese as we finally edged past. Maybe they were worried we were going to spook the horses or something, not really sure… 

This cafe in this town was MUCH needed. I also stopped at the town tap to fill my CamelBak because I was drinking so much. Even though I am not dehydrated it seems like I can't get enough to drink. And water seems insufficient – I want juice, sports drinks, Coke, beer, anything at all. It feels that way minutes after we roll out each morning and lasts until dinner or I get a beer. If only there was some way to keep the liquid in my CamelBak cold, I might fill it with beer…

At the end of the day all that mattered was that the hotel room was spacious, there was a spot in the sun to dry our laundry, the swimming pool was large and refreshments were available. 

15 June 2010

Travessia de Portugal-part 12

Here are all the pictures.
Here is the ride profile.
Here is the official newsletter.
Distance – 77 km
Moving time – 3:37
Stopped time – 39 min
Moving avg – 21.2 kph
Overall avg – 17.9 kph
Total ascent – 2248 feet

FAST, that's what today was. We started by descending Monseraz (65 kph!) and then blasting down 20 km of paved road. Most of today was on pavement and what wasn't was almost all on very firm, wide dirt roads. And it was flat; meaning we never had to use the small chainring.

The first notable feature of today was a road that descended a valley to a river. Sounds normal enough but in this case you are flying down what appears to be a modern, well maintained asphalt road when suddenly the pavement ends and you are in the dirt. Just 20 m later the road disappears into the river! On the other side the process reverses itself and you start on dirt and then climb out of the valley on asphalt. It's like a civil engineering project that never quite got completed. 

At the cafe the water tap had a pump! 

Much of today was spent riding through field after field of sunflowers. 

Today we only stopped once to grab a bite on the trail, once at a café for an ice cream and then rode all the way to the hotel. Where there was a crystal clear delicious swimming pool! 
It did not matter that it was tiny. Oh man did that feel good... soaking the legs is wonderful. I tried to hit the lounge chairs after but the sun was too intense so about 10 of us walked a block to the local bar and had snacks while watching Portugal play in the World Cup.

As mentioned previously a really popular appetizer here is boiled snails. Just like the big ones of French origin, these little ones taste like whatever you cook them in which seems like salty water. Add some fresh bread, beers and you have a really good way to tide yourself over until dinner.

14 June 2010

Travessia de Portugal-part 11

Here are all the pictures.
Here is the ride profile.
Here is the official newsletter.
Distance – 104 km

At this point you will notice that I sometimes ran out of energy to download the GPS data every day after our ride was complete… The ride profiles are mostly correct so they will have to suffice.

Today we met Mario Silva for the first time. He planned on riding the last few days of the tour entirely on his unicycle! Just like tandeming, the unicycle community is a niche group and they have all kinds of stuff no one has heard about; like hubs with internal gears. Mario was riding on his 29" bike with a two-speed hub to facilitate going faster on the flats and on pavement. And to his credit he flew! He got maybe a 20 minute head start on us in the morning and it took us almost two hours to catch him.

Half wheel team.

Okay, let's just get this out of the way. After the cleat on Shelley's other shoe would not release from her pedal (it had also worked its way loose apparently) we fixed it by removing the wedges and cinching down the bolts again. Then we noticed that one of the springs on her left pedal was busted. Not a crisis, the pedals are double-sided, but it's just one more thing to add to the list. I'm really glad we didn't break any more spokes!

Before the lunch stop that is. As we pulled in for food I decided to check the rear tire and wheel (for some reason it had become habit by now) and what do you know… there was another broken spoke. Riding around with one spoke missing is usually no big deal. Especially if your wheels are well built which ours hopefully were since I built them myself. But two…? And on a tandem bike that is getting hammered all day long? Plus, whenever you break more than one spoke it's a safe bet that the rest are not far behind so reluctantly I sat down and commenced some much needed bike maintenance. Here I am wallowing in my own misery. 
And here I am after realizing that Shelley is taking my picture. 

Today was a long haul. And hot. The sky was pretty blue all day and at the last café stop about 25 km from the hotel I had some cherries, an orange, a sandwich, loads of water, two juices and an ice cream. I was depleted. It saved my bacon. And no, it did not stop me from the usual post-ride snack, beers and a huge dinner and yes, I still devoured all my sandwiches we had made at breakfast.

Towards the end there was an option to take a paved road instead of a 10 km stretch of brutal stone road so we opted for the asphalt and I think it was a good call. We still had to climb the hill to the hotel at Monseraz which was wicked steep but at least it was only about 1.5 km to the top. By then we were both feeling our spirits lift just a little and Shelley even suggested we take a cobble detour instead of riding the asphalt road all the way to the top. We almost made it. :)

Thanks to Shelley still wanting to go for it after such a long ride and for boosting my spirits all day long and during the bike maintenance. Oh yeah, and who got me a Coke while I was replacing spokes? Shelley.

On this hill the cobble streets were contoured just like the underlying granite. At times they did not even cover the granite.

As we walked around the town at the top of the hill and explored the castle the battery in my camera expired. Rats. The castle included a mini bull fighting arena inside the castle walls! Amazing. And our cafe was perched on a wall with a fabulous view out over the valley below.

13 June 2010

Travessia de Portugal-part 10

Here are all the pictures.
Here is the ride profile.
Here is the official newsletter.
Distance – 87 km
Moving time – 5:43
Stopped time – 2:32
Moving avg – 15.2 kph
Overall avg – 10.5 kph
Total ascent – 4026 feet

Leaving the hotel today you immediately climb up a big hill on a looong cobble road. At least it's 'new' cobles and not Roman cobbles but we still had to walk a significant portion. It was just too steep and too early in the day.

ASIDE – on steep climbs with a hard surface our 6" (150 mm) fork makes the front end kind of floppy and it's hard to maintain a straight line. Add in the jarring of the cobbles and we have to walk a few more climbs than you would on a single I'm learning.

The nice thing about long climbs is they are usually followed by long descents. Today was luckily not an exception to this rule and we were able to reel most of the bunch back in. 
"Tandem Power!" as the local clients seemed to like to say. :)

There were plenty of rollers and rocks today and all that bouncing around puts some serious pressure on your bladder. What can you do but take a nature break? 

The last descent from this first hill was quite steep and pretty bumpy; one client even put on elbow pads before descending as a precaution. To her credit Shelley was game for riding it and our brakes did a sterling job.

Today the route took us next to some reservoirs. Because of the phenomenally wet winter Portugal had experienced, these were full to the brim. So full in fact that our intended route disappeared underwater twice. 
Thanks to the miracle of GPS technology we were able to construct a detour around the vanishing track and impromptu lakes and get back on course. Not before we accidentally ambushed a family picnic though; these people had settled down by the new lake shore and were getting ready for a feast when suddenly 25 cyclists showed up. 

I was convinced that today was going to be a day free from mechanicals. I mean, what else could go wrong, right? Lots. With (thankfully) less than 10 km to go Shelley asked me to pull over so we could look at our rear tire and wouldn't you know it, the thing had failed just like the first one. 
Somehow air was getting in between the inner casing and the tread and the pressure was causing the tire to bulge. Seems like a manufacturer's defect to me but no doubt being on a tandem and on really rocky roads was contributing to the problem. Still, it sucks. And we broke a spoke in our rear wheel too. The support van met us with a new tire and sealant and shortly we were back on the road. Replacing the spoke did not seem critical as the wheel was looking pretty fair.

At this point I'm trying to notice things that still ARE working on our bike... The problem is as I look around in search of these things I see all kinds of stuff that is about to blow up.
- The cleats on my shoes have had it. The shoes that I am wearing are so worn out the sole does not protrude far enough so I am walking directly on my cleats and I'm worried they won't last the rest of the trip. I don't have any spares.
- Both our front and rear derailleur cables are frayed – just beyond the clamp but still. It's making me nervous.
- Will our new small chainring last until the end of the ride? I will NEVER buy another aluminum inner ring for the tandem... steel is the only way to go.
- Will the new rear tire last? I am so hoping the Kenda Nevegal is just a cheap ass tire and what we have now (IRC) is better.
- Will both of our chains last?
Tandems are hard on equipment! Especially when you ride them in extreme or long events.

Once safely at the hotel with clothes washed and bike stowed we finally had the energy to walk around town. There was a beautiful square complete with fountain, playground for kids and of course the ubiquitous cafe. You know what the locals eat as a snack? Boiled snails. 

We joined our fellow riders and ordered beers. Then I had to open my big mouth and comment on how small the beers were here in Portugal. Before you could say, "What's on tap?" we were being presented with larger ones. 
Now I could not help feel like the big American that has to have his big beer. :( Oh well, it's the price you have to pay and today the cost was not so arduous.

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