• Day28

    We Ride Like Dogs then Arrive Like Kings

    October 15, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ ☁️ 17 °C

    We had always been warned that today was going to be toughest day of the trip. The guide even went as far as to advise a couple of riders on our team that they should not attempt it. We now all know that he was not lying.

    Looking back over our 40 or so previous overseas adventures, there is usually one day that stands out in everyone's memories, far above all the others. On our memorable 2007 Great China Ride it was the successful conquering of the notorious Mud Mountain, in Africa it was our ill fated ride to Poopa Falls, on our 2015 France ride it was the ride from Orleans to Beaugency, on our 2009 trek in Nepal it was the day we got caught in a Himalayan blizzard on our way to Kohpra Ridge, and so on. In a strange quirk of the mind it is always the worst day that people look back on with the greatest enthusiasm and affection. Today will probably go down on the annals of the Ghostriders as "one of those days".

    Yesterday evening was memorable for an entirely different reason. Jorge drove us back up to the castle on the summit of Monsaraz so that we could eat in one of the local restaurants up there. It was a glorious night with a clear sky that gave a perfect view of the steadily waxing moon. Apparently this area has been made a designated dark sky region to assist with astronomical observations.

    The trip is obviously starting to take its toll. It is not easy to do front up day after day to quite demanding days of walking or riding. We have now been on the go for almost 4 continuous weeks and I am not surprised that some are starting to feel the pressure. Three people actually decided to stay in their rooms and miss the evening meal entirely. They really missed a treat - the meal was superb and the serving sizes were enormous. Perhaps the restaurant had been forewarned about the challenge we would be facing the next day.

    Although the following morning began with fine weather, the temperature was by far the coolest we had experienced since arriving in Europe. The sky was dark and there was the distinct smell of rain in the air. Riders donned their warm gear and tried their best to prepare for the predicted downpour. I guess it was just "good fortune" that served to make sure that the hardest cycling day also coincided with the worst weather as well.

    At least it started dry. For all of about the first 100 metres. And then the rain started. At first it was just a nuisance, but it just would not go away. Slowly the water started to find its way into shoes, jackets and helmets. It would have been nice to take a few stops to enjoy the scenic beauty, but we were just too darn cold and wet to really notice it.

    About halfway through the ride we managed to take shelter in a covered outdoor eating area outside a local restaurant. We waited for the rain to stop. Of course it didn't - it got worse, much worse. We had no alternative other than to simply mount the bikes and head into the downpour. And this is when the going started to get hard.

    Soon after leaving the restaurant we began the climb that we had been dreading. It went on for over 15 km at a pretty steady gradient. We might have actually enjoyed this opportunity to demonstrate our new levels of fitness if the rain had not degenerated into a freezing cloudburst. I could no longer see anything through my glasses, but when I took them off, I discovered that I couldn't see anything with my eyes either. The droplets were so heavy and cold that they stung my cheeks and forehead.

    In rain like this there is simply no place in your clothing that does not get completely soaked. I could feel my feet sloshing about in my waterlogged shoes and started to wonder how long it usually takes to develop trench foot. And still the climb went on, and on.

    After what seemed like an eternity we finally felt the surface of the road start to level out and , a little further on, we noticed Jorge parked by the side of the road. "I think we have reached the top", I announced to the peloton. At the time I believed it to be true, but we all discovered soon enough that we were probably only half way up. Each time we thought we must have crested, we turned a corner and were horrified to see the road just keep pointing to the skies.

    Of course every hill must eventually reach a crest at some time or later and somehow we all managed to stay alive long enough to reach the point where we could climb no further. This area of Portugal is renowned for its incredible marble and we could see a succession of huge marble quarries on both side of the roads.

    Our destination for the day was the town of Vila Vicosa. We found it had an impressive castle that we rode past on our way in, but it also had something much more impressive than the castle. The Pousada Convento de Vila Vicosa is a huge 16th century convent that was converted into an amazing hotel in 1997. I have stayed it some pretty incredible places over the years, but this place would certainly be one of the most memorable.

    The current hotel is owned by the Portuguese Royal Family and it still has a huge number of the features of the original convent. Some even claim that the place has the presence of the last Abbess, who is still sternly overseeing the convent. In 1652 Cecilia do Espirito Santo professed in the convent and she remained there till her death in 1723. Many of the frescoes that are still visible around the corridors and rooms are said to be her handiwork.

    Considering the majesty and history of this place, it was a shame that our thoughts were on much more mundane matters, such as how on earth we were going to dry our sodden clothing and shoes. Personally I don't think we have a hope of even getting them even half dry, even if we worked for hours with the hair dryers. It might be just as well we only have one cycling day remaining.
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