Where to begin? It has only been two days, but so very much has happened…
It felt good to leave Porto. I dropped right down to the coastal road from the hostel, which quickly became a bikepath, skieting the madness of the city. The sun is out, the terrain is flat, the ocean is beautiful! I haul. I have everything I need and I am determined not to spend a cent today. It is not long before I run into signs for the Camino! At last, here it is! A series of lovely boardwalks appear, some for walkers only, some for bikes too, and I joyfully weave among them in the sunshine. “Bom caminha!” I hail as I begin to pass fellow pilgrims. At a point the roads veer inland, and we pilgrims with them. I begin to follow the yellow arrows and scallop shells, which are far brighter and more frequent than in Lisbon. There are even X’s, a negatory symbol to keep us off stray paths, and a bicycle code for variations! It is very much like a scavenger hunt. There are many cobbled streets, however, which makes for hard riding. Soon, however, I am cutting through alleys and backroads that make me yearn for the cobble again. The bouncing is hard on my bike, my back, and my hands.
There are little bikes painted on that piece of road for me, aimed at the heavens… well, on to the next bridge.
The path gives way to farmland, with dirt roads! Needless to say, I am excited. I suspect that it will rain this evening, so I want to find a good place to camp around three o’clock to give me a couple hours of daylight. My bad pannier is having a bit of trouble, but I am used to it. I purchased some very large rubber bands- I have yet to find anywhere to buy bungee cords- and they are keeping the pannier on the bike pretty well.
This was super fun! My bike had no problems.
I start seeing Alburgues, the pilgrim hostels, everywhere.
The trouble started when I dipped onto a very rough rock and dirt alley. I felt my back rack shaking, but I had gotten used to it. I bombed down this very bumpy road and lost the pannier. I stop, retrieve it, slap it back on, and begin to proceed, when I feel a rocking. I look, and I have lost a bolt that secures my rack to the bike! Shoot. I think for a moment, but decide I can lash it back to the bike with a piece of cord I picked up (found it wrapped around a tree a few days ago, incidentally). This was a bit frustrating because I had checked all the bolts on my bike in the burned forest and its ragged roads. Apparently, it does not take much to loosen these. Oh well, it is almost time to camp. There is a split in the arrows, one path for bikes, one for backpackers. The latter looks like better camping, so I opt for it. I find a place quickly, and none-too-soon, for there is thunder in the sky. I look at it. I am right outside of a residential neighborhood. There is a farm below me. It is probably fine… I think about it, and decide to keep looking, it feels too sneaky. On I go. I am to regret this decision.
A nice sign just passed my initial campsite.
Oh my, we are into trail now! It is getting very rough! I believe in my bike, but with 25 kilos on it, it is not the best for mountainbiking. I encounter a real mountainbiker, right as I get knocked off my bike and rack myself pretty good. A little pushing, a bit of lifting, and I am clear. The rocking seems worse now, however. I look and realize I have lost another bolt, down at the base where the axle of the wheel is. Shoot? No: Shit. I am up a creek, friends, in the middle of somewhere: nowhere useful, but no place to camp. I really can’t carry my back panniers, which are the big heavy ones, without wrecking something. A bit of fear takes hold, and I start to scramble, vying for solutions
I did come by this lovely bridge though.
I walk my bike across this bridge and set up against a cliff. After some examination, I think maybe I can rob Peter to pay Paul; there are two attachment points on each side of my front rack, and each of these has three bolts. I can make it to a bike shop with a couple missing. I pull one and try it. Doesn’t thread. Damn. I look again. For a bike that comes stock with two extra spokes, it seems like there would be some spare bolts somewhere.
There are three points on the frame to attach water bottle carriers, two of which are in use, but can be scalped if I needed, and one set on the bottom crossbar of the frame that is unused. Each has two bolts to attach to the frame. I say a small, selfish prayer and try one. It threads. My goodness, what a lucky break. I really can’t believe it. I replace both bolts, and needless to say, I plan at this point to hit a bike shop and buy six spare bolts! I go over the bike again and tighten everything up. No more exotic cobble if I can avoid it. I will forsake the yellow arrows without hesitation, I have much further to travel.
Good to go. The going is rough though, and steep- more “cobble,” almost too rough to qualify. I get bumped and slip, wracking myself again, real good, real real good. I’m not sure if I hit anything important, but it doesn’t matter; it’s like starting to get split in half, and there is a moment of hesitation before remounting. I feel physically sick for the next hour, a combination of the slip and residual panic. I forsake the Camino and stick to the smooth pavement, in search of camping.
There is none. I keep riding, getting a little nervous, as I am wont to do when the sun begins to set and I have “nowhere to lay my head.” Ah, the lilies of the field…
I am entering Viana de Castelo, a fair-sized town. There is a beautiful Cathedral up on the hill, and a hostel somewhere, if I can find one… No. I will not spend!
I ride on. I’ll get through this town. I would like to visit that cathedral. In fact, I would like to hike the Camino Portuguese someday- but this is a bike trip.
Enticing Cathedral… way up on a hill.
I am crossing a river to get into town. It has a very narrow catwalk, almost exactly the width of my bike. I inch across it, afraid to pedal, as it causes a wobble. There is a chainlink parapet wall on one side, and these strange, two-foot tall metal stanchions on the other. It is very windy. I get bumped into the parapet, going perhaps two miles per hour. Frantically I attempt to avoid falling either off the bridge or into traffic. This bump, come to find, was enough TO BREAK ONE OF MY GOOD PANNIERS! A stream of curses. It broke my spirit for the day.
That’s the part that holds it on the bike, is all.
It has been a rough day. There are only a couple hours left in it. I find a bike path, reminiscent of a frontage road. To my right is urban; houses, businesses. To my left is farmland, down to the ocean. I want a view of the ocean from my campsite, I had decided that earlier today, but I am getting increasingly anxious. At last, I dip down a farm road and find the coast.
It is perfect! Of the things that went wrong today, this is not one of them!
Or so I thought.
It is beautiful. I eat some dinner and see about finding the best place to camp. It is pretty windy though… I find a place that is somewhat protected. I am sure it is going to rain tonight, it always rains. I go about setting up my tent. My, it is windy! I get it set up alright, but the wind is picking up. There are attachments for the rainfly I rarely use, but I decide this is one of those times. As I am fiddling, the fly catches a gust and all the stakes pull up! Oh man, I don’t know about this. About forty pounds of rocks later, the tent is secure, but… I don’t know about this. I think about building some wind block, but there are no materials. It begins to rain. I am part of the anchor in my design to hold the tent down, for all of my weighty items are on the windward side (I am facing into the wind as best I can, but it is whipping over the plains and hitting harder on the inland side). I think to myself, I may have two damaged panniers and a shredded tent tomorrow…
There is a bad storm. I am exposed, right on the coast. It is raining like the first night outside of Lisbon, but the wind is far stronger. My ultralight tent is quivering and slapping in the gale, obviously unmatched, but defying the elements nonetheless. I am preparing to deal with the consequences when they arise- as in, when the rainfly shreds and/or the poles snap- then I will wake up in a wet sack that was once my tent, scream at the sky and book a full retreat.
As I sit in a frail cacoon that is getting absolutely battered, I think. I realize that this will be the hardest thing I have ever done. After days like this, I just want to go home. But I don’t really have a home, there is nowhere to return to. This trip is the culmination of years of avoiding this problem: I will have to make a career and work with a horribly inflated housing market in an area I can handle living in for a long time before I feel like I belong somewhere again. Or perhaps that is not my path. Either way, I will have to make a home here first, inside of myself.
I will always have family, of course, but the illusion of security and stability, the bubble all of our parents sort of subconsciously create for us, is broken. Now I must create the bubble, without the blissful ignorance of childhood, burdened by the knowledge of how transient and tenuous a thing this can be, with responsibility. I will have to cultivate consistency and faith in myself in order to do this well, to do it right. Perhaps I must simply alter my definition of “home…”
“The foxes have holes and the birds of the air nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head…”
Ten days in Portugal. I will not have even travelled it’s whole length. I look at Spain and France. They are much larger countries! I look at the globe, and I wonder exactly what I set up here, I am flung further and deeper by far than I have ever thrown myself before. What a challenge. What an opportunity! And here the sun begins to set, I have a few troubles, and I think about giving up, I get intimidated. I have much to learn, much to teach myself.
It is a violent night, and I do not sleep much. Everytime I rouse, the tent is still there…
Towards morning, the winds slackens at last. The tent is here. Huh. I am warm and dry. Perplexing. I doze until it is full light out. Upon inspection, I see that my sleeping bag is a little damp. Thank goodness I have a pool floaty for a sleeping pad, because it is keeping me out of a significant puddle of water. A lot of my stuff is wet, but nothing important, all that was properly stowed. Wow.
As I take down my tent, I notice that it is indeed damaged:
Friction from rubbing against the rocks (smooth, round rocks).
This is nothing I cannot repair. I am seriously impressed! Props to Big Agnes. That was the ultimate gear test. I survived, but my tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad need drying out, and it is not happening today. The morning is cold and wet. Intermittent downpours persist throughout. It was too windy to make coffee and I did not sleep well, so I am on the hunt for a Café/Snackbar, with its Delta coffee sign accompanied, usually, by a Sagre beer sign to match. I am passing by a firth, an arm of the sea reaching inland, slightly calmer. Nonetheless, the small skiffs anchored here are lilting violently. The Atlantic is angry here on the coast of Portugal. Waves seem to average 15-20 feet. Raw power is evident, mesmerizing to watch; this time of year it seems to be consistent down the whole coastline. It is as if there is an extra dimension to the sea, one can see much further out; I think I can see the curve of the earth.
I look to my right and see another of the fabled China Shops, but I’m not sure if it’s open! These are import shops that serve as a local combination of Ace Hardware and Walmart. An assortment of household items and tools, which I have been unable to find anywhere else, made in China, and hence, cheap! I see a cafe right past it. I stop in and order two espressos, which is just standard “café,” and a pastry. I watch American music videos from the 80’s as I breakfast and feel an affectionate warmth in my breast. It is more of a comfort than I imagined.
I finish up, having had a near flawless interaction in Portuguese, and decide to check the China Shop. It is open! I walk in and check out the pants. I find a pair, almost identical to a pair of the latest style I saw at the mall in Porto. Here they are ten euros. At the mall they were at least 60, I can’t recall. This place is deep, and upon exploration I emerge with a pack of zipties and a set of BUNGEE CORDS! With these my two damaged panniers are just about as good as new. I think eventually I can find a part to fix my Ortlieb front pannier, but for now, I am unhurried.
As I ride away, I feel fantastic. This is what I needed. However, it is imperative that I stay inside tonight, my gear is wet. In theory, it was supposed to stop raining after Saturday. My forecast shows another week of rain. Like I said, I’ll believe it when I see it. This is no Northwest rain from back home, it is an intermittent gale, full of short, intense bursts.
I cross into Spain. I was a bit excited about the inspection and another stamp on my passport. I waltz in, looking for a checkpoint. Never saw one. Hm. I wasn’t going to go out of my way to find it, I have places to be, but I am somewhat uneasy about it. I figure it is the government’s prerogative if they are concerned about it, though that doesn’t mean I won’t be held responsible for negligence . Well, I just keep riding, hoping that I don’t cause any trouble for anyone, particularly myself. As a cyclist, I hardly exist anyhow. I haven’t needed my passport for anything but checking into hostels, so far. It was a loose end I was not comfortable with, but I took comfort in my unimportance.
I can carry a lot of drugs in these panniers, but whatever.
There is a pronounced difference between Spain and Portugal. I can’t quite define it, but the impression is all different; Spain is more Western, more akin to the U.S. Portugal is humbler, more agricultural. There aren’t many derelict buildings in Spain. There is a sense of greater tidiness and attention to detail, more commercialized, modern. This is very subtle. The café signs have been replaced by Coca-cola signs. The first big town I came into, I found a nice bike shop across from an outdoor shop, with camping stove and fuel on display in the window! Imagine my excitement. But do you know what day it is? That’s right: Sunday. Very little is open. Just my luck. No matter, I ride.
I know I am staying in a hostel tonight. Frankly, I plan to stay in hostels most nights this week. I have in my notes that there is a hostel in Vigo, so I head there. Of course, I must avoid main thoroughfares, and this takes me over a small mountain. I do not mind, it is through a forest, and I take my time. While incomparable to the staggering features of the Pacific Northwest, it is still beautiful and peaceful. I climbed for an hour and a half at least, and the weather seemed to be taunting me. Touring involves being as tempestuous with your layers as the weather. Like a farmer, your life is dictated to you in part, you react, reply. It was cold, but while climbing, a rain jacket is about as much as I can handle. Everytime I got brave and took off my hood, I got hit. At one point, I decided to put my gloves on. This is a process, and the sky was calm, no rain, no wind. Very casually I performed the ritual. As soon as I pushed off, I was hit with a fierce combination of wind and rain. It was as if the sky was chuckling, saying, “The boy needs his exercise.” Yes, I do. I do need it, in both ways. I push.
At long last I start to crest the hill. The bigger the climb, the more gratification when you start to plateau! As soon as I crested, a wind so fierce hit me that each raindrop was a fist, and the force so intense I was certain if I lost my balance I would be propelled, bucked, off my bike. On a 5% downhill grade I was just about stopped dead. As I begin my descent, the splits open, gushing. It was hitting so hard I could feel each drop bouncing off my jacket and tights. It felt strange to be wearing armour against water. It was not enough, of course, all the water from my jacket channelled down and soaked my tights through the breathable panels. My feet had been wet all day, but now they were bathing. I begin picking up speed and it is freezing. I am making up all the time the climb cost, but it is no longer gratifying. I can’t see well, and my damp jacket is pressed against my body. I am so cold I start dragon breathing to raise my body temperature. The shock of the wind is such that I keep my mouth open behind my rain jacket. Eventually I start screaming to get my blood pumping . I ride it out, enjoying it in my masochistic way, knowing full well it will be over soon, and descend into calmer climes. I get to the bottom, into a town called Gondomar, and pull over. My arms and legs are numb. Cold wind. I pull my rain jacket off and shrug into my mid-layer. My feet are cold, but I feel good. I eat some lunch and continue on, climbing, of course. My legs are shot by now. Thankfully it is not long before the land levels out, and then a pleasant, steep coast for the last 12 kilometers down to Vigo, another city by the sea.
I climbed about 1500 feet today, over the course of 80 kilometers. I am averaging 50 miles a day or so, which is good, but I will be two days behind schedule when I get to Compostela, I think. I am 94 kilometers away, which is over 60 miles, with 3,000 feet of climbing. I don’t think I’ll make it tomorrow. Oh well.
One nice thing about Spain is that there seems to be wifi everywhere. I did not know where the hostel was, so I popped in for an espresso and hopped online. My, is it nice to hear Spanish! I understand what people say and can make conversation! Most welcome. They talk too fast and it is a little different than American Spanish, but no matter. The first hostel I looked up was a big, modern affair. Parking garage below, huge sign on top, mirrored windows. I arrive to an empty, locked up building. Bugger. I am getting tired of this. I was worried because online the three hostels in town didn’t show any availability. So, I am frantically running around hoping there is something available. Another stop in at a café, this time for orange juice (and internet). Ah, complimentary tapas, some sort of eggy cornbread. Delicious! This I can get used to.
I find another hostel and race towards it. I get stuck on a signpost and rip my good back pannier off. I double back and pick up the red hook left on the sidewalk. Thankfully, it pops right back in. I roll up to the hostel and… they have a room! Thank goodness. You never can trust what you read online…
For 18 euro, I get this:
Alright! Full hotel room, complete with tv. No breakfast. The kicker? It is only 12 euro on weekdays. Just my luck. Oh well, I absolutely needed to dry my gear out. This week is supposed to be wet and cold, so I am just going to bite the bullet on accommodation. There are special pilgrim hostels for 6-8 euro, but you must collect stamps along the route to qualify. I don’t see that happening. No matter!
I discovered that there is no border security between Portugal and Spain, so I am in the clear. I figured they were on pretty good terms, but you can’t even get into California without at least slowing down!
In summary, I have two damaged panniers and a tent in need of repair, in week two of a 9 to 10 month trip. Alrighty.