It’s a non-cycling day. Indeed I haven’t set eyes upon Wanda since I locked her to a large pipe in the underground car park of my hotel here in Porto. I hope the authorities never read that last sentence out of context. She’ll be released in the morning…
In other news, I have been busy exploring Portugal’s second city and I’m a fan. I love the retro feel to much of the place. Some buildings are comically dilapidated but that seems to add to the charm. This morning I headed out early with the intention of making a little film, not with the iPhone but with my Canon DSLR. I’ve been carrying it with me on the bike for the past two weeks but it’s the first time I’ve used it so I hope you like the retro homemade movie that I’ve made. I’ll be back in a few moments to recount the tale of yesterday’s cycling…
That just about sums Porto up. Had Brexit not intervened, it’s the kind of place I could have imagined living and working in, but the 52% put paid to that. Thanks. You really didn’t think it through, did you…
Back to the cycling. If you remember, yesterday morning saw me wake up in Bragança, the Portuguese city in the north-east of the country, not too far from the Spanish border. The previous evening I had come up with a tentative plan; to cycle to Tua, a small town (if that) towards the eastern end of the Douro valley around 150 km by road from Porto, at the mouth of the river. There were still a few ifs and buts but one possibility would be to cycle as far as Tua and then take the train to Porto. I had tentatively checked the train times and there was one at 18:02. It was, crucially, the last train of the day. Unsure as to what Tua consisted of and the kind of place it was, any plan B – involving staying in Tua overnight or stopping before I got there – was even more uncertain than my plans to catch the train.
I was expecting a bit of up and down (as mentioned in the video – see previous post) but I was certainly not expecting it to be quite so dramatic. Initially it was just the usual up-down-up-down cycling that anyone who has ever decided to cycle in the Yorkshire Dales will be used to. Neither the ascents or the descents last too long and if you start complaining about the steep roads, you are soon pleased to be rolling down the other side and your grumbles forgotten.
My initial main gripe yesterday was not the ascents and descents, it was the lack of anywhere to buy breakfast. Spain and Portugal don’t seem to embrace the early morning coffee culture in the way that the French and Italians do. I left Bragança far too early for there to be any cafés open and the villages through which I cycled were all devoid of anything remotely commercial. It wasn’t until I found a petrol station at nearly lunchtime that I was able to have breakfast (which, admittedly, looked and tasted more like lunch).
Then the big descent started. All… I forget so here’s that graph again:
…20 km of it! From 40 km to 60 km – where Mirandela stopped me in my tracks – downhill all the way. I remember thinking to myself something along the lines of “I’m so glad I’m not having to do this in the other direction” without realising that between kilometres 80 and 100 that’s exactly what I would be doing. Hellish. Good cardio, but hell nevertheless.
But that wasn’t the full story. Had I known that I would be stopping at the top of the hill and staying overnight, I would have contented myself with the long, long grinding crawl in first gear. But I had that train to think about. Just before the 100 km point, I paused at another petrol station in a remote (horizontally as well as vertically) town called Vila Flor. I search for directions on Google Maps. There is no ‘bike’ option in Portugal so I was reliant upon the driving directions which don’t include the route profile (if you choose to believe it). 23 km remained to be cycled. I had two hours in which to do it. In normal circumstances, not a problem. In the terrain of north-eastern Portugal, potentially a big problem. I set off.
Initially the route continued to be ‘undulating’ and my concerns were real. My mind was continually attempting to work out if the remaining distance could be completed in the remaining time. I avoided looking at the time however as I didn’t want to have confirmed what I suspected; that I was running out of time. Then, a glorious thing happened. I didn’t think the magnificent 20 km descent of earlier in the day could be bettered. Perhaps ever. But it was about to be relegated into the second division by what happened next; another 20 km continuous descent into one of Europe’s most beautiful valleys, the Douro. With roads switching back repeatedly on the vertiginous slopes of the valley, lined with perilous terraces of vines, I picked up stupendous speed. This was the French Riviera corniche road on acid and with no other vehicle on the road, it was all mine… Move over Cary Grant; Andrew P. Sykes is in town.
I arrived in Tua with about 10 minutes to spare before the train arrived. Success! Another momentous day on this cycle of 2019.