July 15th, 2017
We pushed our bikes out of the airport in Faro and immediately felt well out of our depth.
Our cheap aluminium road bikes creaked underneath the weight of our tents, sleeping bags and clothes as the sun beat intensely down upon our necks. I looked nervously at the clear blue sky. Here we were at the start of our biggest adventure yet.
We had two months to cycle from Faro in Portugal to the French Mountain Alpe d'Huez.
Stupidly I had promised some friends from University, who were travelling around Europe in a van, that we would meet them in the town of Mourão in four days time. That was roughly 190km, which meant almost 50km a day. I looked at my faithful friend and travelling companion fixing his ukulele onto the back of his back and then at my thin and pale legs.
If I am honest, I couldn’t see us making it.
Yet we set off smiling and made our way out of Faro and began heading north into the mountains of the algarve. We made our way slowly through the first of the Portuguese villages. Even though the sweat dripped down from my fringe and stung my eyes I couldn't ignore the simple and natural beauty that surrounded me.
After about two hours or so of riding, we stopped victoriously at a cafe in the stunning village Al Portel and ordered the first beer of the trip. The old waiter, who clearly saw our starving state, brought us a plate of ham and cheese and a few slices of bread, we sipped the beer and cheerfully spoke about the day.
“How far do you reckon we have cycled?” Josh asked me “About 40km” I responded confidently.
We ordered a second beer and checked the map. We had cycled just under 20 km and the sun was already setting. Nervously I looked around. At the peak of our idealism, whilst we were supposed to be planning the trip, we had decided we would just wild camp our way north. It had seemed a great idea at the time. Yet with the sky darkening and our stomachs rumbling the romance of ‘living of the fat of the land’ was quickly fading away. The first night’s sleep was rough.
We slept just outside of the village and were kept awake by the constant howling of dogs that sounded like wolves. Tweet That!
We hadn’t bought any food to eat or any drink to re-hydrate ourselves. We therefore woke up the next morning feeling hungry, miserable and experiencing a banging headache. Yet we packed our bags and continued under the motto ‘100%’ self improvement.
We had worked all year in mind numbing boring jobs for this trip. One bad night sleep wasn’t going to defeat us. If we were going to survive we just had to be better people.
With fiery determination we hit the road and continued climbing through the Portuguese mountain side. We went past village after village stopping only for bottles of water, quick expressos and the occasional food store to pick up supplies for the evening.
By 6 o clock we arrived into the village of Barranco do Velho. Like the majority of towns we had cycled through it’s beauty and simplicity was breathtaking. There was no sign of modernisation apart from the plastic chairs that stood outside the single cafe. We headed in stoned from the sun, sat down and ordered two cokes. The local barmen looked at us in slight bemusement and after a few head nods and raised hands came over to speak to us.
Of course being hopelessly British I can’t speak any other language expect my own. However my trusty companion, and the barman, could speak pigeon French. After a few moments of confused conversation Josh turned to me. “He knows a place we can sleep” he said with a smile beaming across his face.
The old barman led us out of the cafe, down the road and into a small wooded area. To our astonishment there stood a small swimming pool and a large stone BBQ.. “Are you sure we can sleep here?” I asked Josh not being able to believe our luck. We unpacked our bags, set up our tents and got the BBQ burning. The mantra of the day had been ‘100% self improvement’ and as I lay next to the pool eating a fresh vegetable pasta I couldn’t help but think that we had pulled it off.
That night I fell asleep feeling full, physically tired and satisfied. I imagined waking up early next morning and watching the sun rise over the mountain peaks in the distance. There was no denying that the next two months were going to be a challenge but that was the whole point of the trip.
You don't travel to find your comfort zone. You travel to push yourself out of it and test your character with new experiences.
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