270km on the Portuguese coast
The idea started as a nice little holiday. Currently living in Thailand and doing most of my sport events there, I felt like I owed it to my country to do something big there.
Originally I wanted to walk the Costa Vicentina's Trail - which has 3 different distance options: 350, 255 or 150km, and I even thought we could all do it together, me, my brother and both my parents. Quickly, I realised I had no business trying to drag my parents into this. My brother said "What would be cool, would be doing it on a bicycle!". I was more interested in having him around me than the actual means of transport and any kind of details so, as always, I said "Yeah sure!! Fuck it! Let's cycle it!"
As the date approached I watched my brother tango around the idea of cycling 200 and something km. He has just recently found his love for big motorbikes and the week before the cycling, we went to Faro for the biggest bikers show in Europe. Just a few days before the agreed starting time, he was still trying to convince me to do it on a motorbike, rather than a bicycle. Me being stubborn, I said "Why don't you do it on your motorbike and I'll cycle!?". He jumped at the idea and was quick to emphasize all the positive aspects of that option "I can take the tent, I can bring you water, etc.". And like so, we thought we had a plan.
What happened the following 6 days was as amazing as it was poorly planned. Let's just say, 30yr bike with basically 3 gears, very rough idea of the roads and distances.
The original plan was to do Sagres (known for being one of the furthest western points in continental Europe) to Tróia and get the boat to Setúbal. Due to logistics and issues with transporting the bike in public transports we decided to pick up the bicycle from my dad who happened to be in Portimão. I was already doing over 200km from Sagres to Tróia. It wouldn't hurt to do Portimão - Sagres (an extra 50km) if that solved the issued with logistics.
We started off from a random point in Portimão where we met my dad who didn't spare any energy trying to deter me from the idea. He called it everything from crazy to stupid and unnecessary. I asked my brother if he backed me up and with his support, I confidently said "I am a Pereira dad! Why the hell do you think I won't be able to do it?"
The road to Sagres was a good warm up. Being on holiday meant I had been doing jack shit for at least the past 2 weeks. And the weeks before that, even though I had been training, the intensity had been fairly mild. All that aside, we did the N120 to Sagres and reality slapped in the face with all the hills I was faced with. The most I had ever done on a bicycle was 80km in a day, in Thailand. I quickly realised how flat Thailand is and how I didn't account for it for this trip. Don't get me wrong, I expected hills, but my brother was willing to do the whole thing with me and he has absolutely no training so I thought we were good. He did a few stops and guided me through the roads I needed to take. It was an okay ride but with a lot of wind and I was racing with the sunset. We left at 5pm and we needed to reach destination and put up our tent before the sun was down. Plus, my brother said he wanted to see the sunset in Sagres. I kept pedaling and talking to the sun: "It will work out!!", I told the sun a few times.
The whole of the 50km I kept thinking about my brother and how much of a boring week he was going to have, having to wait for me, moving from one camping site to another every day, waiting for me to reach destination so we could go to the beach or have fun around town. It was his holiday and I felt very selfish for wanting to do this trip when we could easily do it on his motorbike. I felt horrible for it and after telling him a few times how I was feeling he said "If you say that one more time, I'm gonna smack you!". I was baffled at his support and, in a way, his belief in me. He had absolutely no doubt that I was going to complete it and that made me feel great.
We decided to carry on and spoke with a friend who was also camping around the coast. She was in Zambujeira do Mar, nearly 80km away, which happened to be the toughest part of the journey also due to a lot mountains. We had planned to do about 50km a day but because of our friend, we decided we would try to make it there to have an extra day with her and her family.
Less than 12h later I was on the road again. I left early from Sagres, leaving my brother behind, putting away the tent and checking-out. I passed Vale do Bispo and made my way to Aljezur, where we planned to stop for lunch. Right after Vale do Bispo there were some nasty hills but the worst part was after Bordeira, going through Monte Ruivo. The hills were challenging and it was windy but the worst part was the fact that it was a very narrow road, with no side track, meaning that in a lot of the curves there was no visibility. I was constantly looking behind me to make sure cars could see me.
My brother met me just after Bordeira with breakfast and told me "You're coming up to the worst part of the whole journey! Stay strong". It was hard, I think I had to dismount my bike a couple of times but I felt good coming into Aljezur. I had been there before and I remembered this corner shop I had been years before. We sat down for a quick drink and decided to organise lunch. 43km done and there were 40 more to do. In my Thai standards, I had it in the bag!
That day we did one of the greatest things I have ever done in my life. I went to the market and bough some veggies and eggs and we set shop underneath a bridge. The river was down and there were a few ducks roaming around. We stayed under the shade and prepared our food. With a little gas bottle and a pot, we boiled our eggs using water from the river. I cut up the veggies to eat raw in a salad, and prepared another bag of frozen veggies. It amazes me how little you need to be fed and happy. Right there, in the nature, with one pot, 2 forks, a gas bottle and water from the river, we had everything we could possibly need.
My brother kept on trying to feed me. I was so full I felt sick when I started cycling again! He was restless, constantly worried about me not being in the sun when I wasn't cycling and having a nap before hitting the road again. Really, I have no words to thank him enough!
We waited a couple of hours for the sun to ease off a bit and hit the road again. Aljezur to Odeceixe this time, for a quick break, to then head to Zambujeira do Mar, our final destination for day 2. Again the road was far from ideal or safe. Bumpy road, no side track, a lot of trucks and speedy cars and a few hills. The best part, was just before hitting Odeceixe, with a few crazy downhills. What a blast!
Coming into Odeceixe I felt good and with only a few km left I was confident. We did a quick stop over to go see the beach in Odeceixe and from there, I told my brother "Do me a favour, go ahead and meet Elsa, give her a kiss for me, have a beer, put the tent up and I'll meet you there in 2h, tops!". He was reluctant, but in the back of my mind, that whole day I was still thinking I was a dead weight for him. He was wasting his holiday hanging around because of me, taking 2/3h to get to a place he could easily reach in 30min to 1 hour.
These last 18km were the first real test to my physical and emotional strength. Before leaving Odeceixe my brother said "It's a breeze now! It's a nice and flat road, you're gonna fly through it!". I don't know if it was because I was already tired from the other 50 something km... but God dammit!, That could not have been further from the truth!! Up until Sao Teótonio there were some nasty hills and, cycling around 5/6pm meant there were a lot of vans and trucks passing me by at a very questionable speed. I felt unsafe and the whole idea started to seem pure stupidity.
The sun was baking and, as I was hitting those last few hills, I started thinking "Here I am, being selfish, wanting to do this and my brother is basically losing a whole day of his holidays babysitting me around". Then that moved into "What the fuck!? I said I wanted to walk the Costa Vicentina's Trail which is much closer to the sea and with far better views! I didn't want to cycle, HE was the one who wanted to cycle and now I'm the one stuck at this shit!!!!"; "Chãozinho? Chãozinho o caralho!!" (Meaning... flat road??? A breeze my ass!!!).
This whole time I was also getting hit by a lot of wind. Another thing I didn't account for. I usually tell people, in Thailand, if you feel the wind, there's a storm coming. So basically, on a hot summer day, there's absolutely no wind. Why the hell would Portugal have wind, right!? All the possible obstacles and blockages of this trip were suddenly rushing through my mind. All the sudden, I had a tunnel vision, focused only on negativity. The wind, the hills, the bad state and unsafety of the road, my brother, me getting back to work in just over a week, the bad state of the bike, me not having a mobile phone and no data, you name it!
As I was hitting those last few hills and feeling all these things, I could feel tears coming to my eyes. My throat was closing and I remember screaming "EMOTIONS", so loud, it echoed through the Alentejo valleys. I knew those were only emotions and they were just trying to trick me. I knew that I would be able to finish it, I just had to keep going. So I kept going! Difficulties aside, this was one of my favourite parts of the trail. The valleys looked amazing and looked peaceful despite all the traffic. As much as I could, I looked up to see the fields and take in the views. I came across many cows and felt like speaking with them.
As I arrived to Zambujeira do Mar, my brother was waiting with our friend at the entrance of the camping park. They were chatting away, happily and in my head I was ready to quit. At this point, the whole idea sounded utter stupidity. I could not see one reason why I would need to continue. I waited a few hours to say what I was thinking because I knew it was just the tiredness taking over me but, in all honesty, I kept thinking that this was his holiday and with me leaving to Thailand in just over a week, I should be enjoying our holidays together, rather than wanting to start a dialogue with a bloody cow!!
Anyway... in silence I started thinking of a possible solution. Maybe cycle to a train station and get the bike on the train or even leaving the bike with my friends' family for them to bring up to Lisbon in their van. As I was thinking all of this, 2 funny things happened. Elsa said "Well done! Now you only need to finish it!"; and at the same time I got a text from a good friend saying "You got this!".
FUCK!!!! Just as I was prepping my exit plan, the closest people to me saw absolutely no way out, no other option but to complete the mission. I knew, had I been less tired, I would be telling myself the same. My brain was all mushed and I felt like I couldn't think properly. I told them I wanted to sleep and that I would think about it the following day. We had already planned to stay a whole day in Zambujeira so I was not ready to change that.
After studying different options and routes, we decided we would do the following 3 days in stages of 40/50km each. I was happy with that plan.
Thursday morning I left early enough so my brother didn't have to wait for me at the destination. The road from Zambujeira to Porto Covo was great. Flat as it can be and because I left early, the weather was cool and there were hardly any cards out. I reached destination around 10am and waited for my brother. For the first time it was me waiting, not him and I felt good just for that. We put up our tent and headed to the fish market. We got sardines and squid for lunch and had a blast.
After lunch we met some ostriches near Praia Grande (.... random as FUCK.. but they are there!!!) and went to the beach near Ilha do Pessegueiro to just relax. For sunset we packed a bottle of red wine and prepared a beans and tuna salad. Dinner al fresco, my favourite!
The following day, the plan was to do about 45km from Porto Covo to Melides and because of the roads, my brother wanted to meet in Sines. There's a side road where there's no cars and he wanted me to use that road but I would't be able to find it on my own. Getting to Sines was great, flat road and mostly right by the sea. AMAZING view!! I got to Sines ahead of time and waited for him and then we lost about 2km trying to look for this road. So far so good I thought, it should only be 26km to Melides. "Easy job!". Well, we found that side road and had to look for an alternative to the highway - a parallel road towards Bêbeda. As we hit Vila Nova de Santo André, we hit the second hardest part of the whole journey. It was already coming to 12pm so the heat was coming in and I was getting hit with hill after hill.
On and off I was already cycling for about 4h and I could not see the end of this chapter. We were going to Melides but my brother had told me that the camping site we were going to was after Melides town. Well, I got to Melides council, then Melides town, then Melides camping (but not our camping!!!) and I had to keep going. I remember telling my brother "I'm sick of this shit!!!".
The sun had no mercy and we finally got to the turn for our camping site. I was happy, only to 1min later feel like ripping somebody’s head off!! The road to the camp was another 4km... with a bunch of hills and only 2 downhills. I almost felt like crying again. In the middle of all this, I ended up falling from my bike ... just a great finish to this hectic part of the journey! I hurt my back pretty bad and felt like I wasn't able to cycle anymore. As I was 3.5km away from the camp I decided I would walk and push the bike. Blood, sweat and tears took a real meaning at this part of the journey.
Struggling to walk and tired, right at the last hill before the park I started feeling a difficulty to breath. It was past 1pm, I had almost no water and, to make things worse, I had no idea how far I was from the park. My breathing and heart rate were completely out of hand and I could barely breathe. ‘Why???’ I thought, 'I'm only walking!!’. I kept on walking and tried to regulate my breathing through the dizziness. The rest of the afternoon I felt like I had a very clouded mind, I wondered if I had suffered a concussion. Looking at it now, I don't know what a heat stroke feels like but if anything, that's probably the closest I've been to it. At least that's the only explanation I can find for what happened there.
People at the park were great and they were already expecting me with a bag of ice for my back. Other than minor scratches, I believe I fell with my shoulder on the left side and as I rolled over with the speed, I hit and got the whole impact with my lower back and butt.
We spent the afternoon grilling some meat and chilling at the beach. Praia da Galé, a must see!! What an amazing place!
I was in a fair amount of pain but not for one second I thought about not cycling the following day. It was the final stretch, the final 40km which were meant to be an easy stage.
I woke up early and again, got going and left my brother behind dealing with the clean-up (poor thing!!). Nice and easy road and because of my back I decided to take it really slow. In less than 2h I was in Tróia and had our boat tickets ready. I had reached the destination!!! What a feeling!!
My btoher was not at the finish line but I still celebrated! Just as it feels sometimes when I do different events in Thailand on my own. You get used to celebrating on your own and simply taking in the moment with a smile on your face.
I have to admit, getting to Setúbal at around 12pm, in baking heat, nothing felt better than putting the bike in the van and sitting in the front seat. We did a short trip to Vendas Novas for some amazing bifanas (a meat sandwich) as a celebration. (More of a celebration for my parents to be honest, they were the ones craving those bifanas).
Oddly (or maybe I should've known it already), my dad had the same speech as when we made our separate ways in Portimão. The idea was still stupid and pointless. Not quite the celebration I was waiting for but... okay.
There were definitely hard moments during this trip. Not only it was badly planned, not the best bicycle and the route was done the hard way around (going from Lisbon down to Sagres is an easier route than the other way around due to the incline and wind…). But those are definitely the moments that teach you things and bring the real taste of victory when you finish.
One of the big learnings, which I have been building up on this whole year through all the events I’ve done, was that I am definitely made of more! I can push through and I have a good amount of willpower. When I set myself a challenge, I will complete it, no matter what! The second, and actually most important learning of the whole journey was realising that as long as you keep your breathing under control, you can keep pushing. Your legs will hurt while you climb those hills, your muscles will feel like they’re about to break under the pressure, but as long as you monitor your breathing, your legs will not give up!! I was actually astonished at the power of this realisation. I kept thinking “Just watch your breathe. Your legs will hurt, and they will keep hurting!” Potentially obvious for you but for me it was a bit of a game changer. Focusing your energy on the solution rather than issue / pain, applies not only on everyday life but also in sports.
Call me crazy but sitting in that car, in that same car ride just before lunch, I was already thinking what other trips I would like to do... London - Paris, for example, or a 600km ride that goes through Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.
Let me rest these legs and stay tuned!
Finally, thank you brother! This trip would have not been possible without you!!!