Being on the road every day has nothing to do with strength. It’s a question of stamina and sometimes I feel as though I don’t have the answer. Some days I’m a ghost, a cycle drone, squinting at painted lines and exit signs. So much rolls by and yet I’m amazed at how little registers in my mind.
Winter took a heavy toll on my body. Day in and day out, every ounce of energy was spent on simply staying warm and dry. There were times when my fingers were so cold I couldn’t tie my shoes, and my feet froze so badly in France that I still have no feeling in my big toes. But the choice was to go on or go home, so I lowered my head, made the miles and biked to Portugal. It took everything I had, and now, under blue skies and a shining sun, I find there isn’t much left.
A break is what I need. I can’t say when or where, but at some point in the next month or so I want to find a place where I can recuperate.
I find it so very strange that my bicycle should run out of steam at the same time as me. I had what you might call a catastrophic breakdown in central Portugal, and it wasn’t until yesterday that I finally managed to resolve the problem.
As I was biking up a pitiless hill, my chain lost tension and I was left without any forward momentum. What happened next was kind of a blur, but what I do know is that my loyal steed bucked me into a gutter and then fell on top of me. I emerged from the ditch mad as hell, swearing a blue streak and kicking gravel everywhere.
Luckily, aside from my bruised pride, the only casualty was a Tupperware container that shattered into a million microwaveable and dishwasher-safe pieces.
Oh, and my ride had some serious issues. The bike’s transmission was completely worn out, and for the next 40 km of rolling terrain I was left with exactly one gear. Not the easy gear, mind you. That would be too . . . easy. I was stuck in tailwind mode, which was heaven on the downs and a nightmare on the ups. After a few hours I managed to cycle to Torres Vedras where I was exceptionally fortunate to find a bicycle shop owner who spoke English.
And the service! The head mechanic was like the Mr. Miyagi of bicycle repair. What would have taken me a full day of hammering and cussing took him about 30 minutes of serenity. When I waved goodbye, gears clicking beautifully, I was the proud owner of a new cassette, small crank wheel, chain and derailleur cable.
Unfortunately, my luck had another hiccup when I left the city. My derailleur cable came unhooked from the shifter, and once again I was down to one gear.
The ride to the next major centre was horrible – two hours of bucking wind and honking trucks. My mood was rotten when I arrived in Vendas Novas, and it didn’t improve much after that.
The first shop I found was without its mechanic for the day, so I followed a paper napkin map to the only other place in town. There the owner refused to fix my bike because I didn’t buy it in his store. He didn’t suggest anywhere else for me to go, just that I go away. So I did.
I biked 25 more kilometers to Montemor-o-Novo and finally found someone with the tools and know-how to fix my bike. It was a kid working at a motorcycle shop, of all things. He wasn’t as experienced as my bicycle guru in Torres Vedras, but he did an excellent job and only charged me three Euros for the repairs.
I wasn’t back on the road again until nightfall, but I still hoped to find my turnoff and camp somewhere outside the city. Navigation is tricky in the dark, though, so I wandered over to a small cafe to ask for directions before I inevitably got lost.
Once inside, I was devoured by a gaggle of old men who were shining with wine, singing arm in arm and watching the Portuguese version of The Price is Right. Being from Canada, they thought it very important that I sample the vino tinto from Lisbon. Again and again and again. For two hours they kept buying me drinks, shoving food in front of me and asking about every detail of my trip. It was such a treat after the previous days that I could have died smiling right there.
By the time I zig-zagged back to my bike, the only directions I needed were to a cheap hotel in the city centre. There I slept like a baby and had a shower for the first time in 11 days. And today, today I treated myself to lunch at a restaurant, which put a bit of spring back in my step.
Now all I need to do is get my feet back on the road.