The Best Cycling Day So FarOctober 14 in Portugal
Our brief time in Reguengoz de Monsaraz proved to be quite eventful. As we rode into the town we soon discovered that the council had been very busy destroying all of the footpaths and most of the roads. I suspect that they might eventually get around to putting them back again, but in the meantime anyone walking around the town has to navigate past piles of dirt and slabs of concrete.
We had an enjoyable dinner at a local restaurant where the owner spent most of his time and his limited vocabulary in telling us what a fantastic bloke he was. To emphasize the point he had decorated the dining room with large photos and drawings of himself. To be fair, the food was pretty good.
I had not been long in bed when a mighty storm broke overhead, complete with rolling thunder, lightning and heavy rain. My main concern was over whether it would be still pouring down in the morning. In spite of the rain I did eventually fall asleep, only to be awoken when the room was brightly illuminated. At first I thought it might have been a police raid because I had not shown my passport when checking into the hotel, however it turned out to be the automatic emergency lighting. There had obviously been a power blackout and there was no way to turn off the emergency lights. It was like trying to fall asleep under a searchlight.
In the morning I awoke to find the rain stopped. It was not the only thing that had stopped – the internet had also stopped working and no one seemed to know how to turn it off and on again to get it working again. The television at least, was still working and the lead story was of how Portugal had been hit by one of the worst storms in history. Winds of up to 170 kph had destroyed much of the trees of Lisbon and the north of the country had suffered huge damage. That was the region we had been in just 4 days earlier, so we counted our blessings that our hardships had been relatively minor by comparison.
It was about this time that I witnessed one of the most amazing sights of my lifetime. While I was sitting in my room, gazing at the screen of my notebook computer, I heard a rustling noise close by. I glanced across to see that Helen was actually climbing in through my open window. At first I thought it was some sort of joke, but realized that she was intent on climbing the whole way in. It took a while for my addled brain to click into gear and the only thing I could think of to say was “What the hell are you doing?”. From the startled look on her face it was obvious that she had been sleepwalking and had regressed to her previous life as a cat burglar. She immediately climbed back out again, the same way she had entered and I was left wandering whether I had imagined the entire episode. An alternative explanation might have something to do with the fact that her room was right next to mine and she just made an honest mistake, but I will leave it up to the readers to make up their own minds.
By the time we were ready to start riding we got the message that Jorge was running late and was still 30 minutes away. Allan used the time to discover that his key would not open his bike lock and hoped that Jorge had an angle grinder in the van. We eventually managed to cut through the lock with a pair of pliers and a lot of elbow grease.
At least the overnight storm had lowered the temperature to a much more comfortable level. This made our early cycling absolutely delightful. We even had the assistance of a lovely tail wind. The combination of lovely smooth bitumen, cool weather and helpful wind surely made for the best riding of our trip so far. We even managed to hold the peloton together. Well that last sentence is not perfectly correct. When we stopped for our first rest break we found that three riders were missing. Since we had been riding at a very sensible (modest) pace we could not understand how that could have happened. A phone call revealed that they had gotten rather muddled and had headed back in the same direction we had arrived from the previous afternoon. They had thus succeeded in riding about 3 km in the opposite direction to the rest of us. Old age really is a bummer sometimes.
With the group all reunited we were able to make good, cohesive progress with everyone obviously enjoying the picturesque surroundings and the great road. For the first time since the ride started, it really could be accurately described as “flat”. The only problem was that we all knew that the ride was going to have a mountain top finish.
The fortified village of Monsaraz can be clearly seen from many kilometres away and we could all see that it was going to be a serious challenge to get to the summit. The road kicked up to around 5% at the base of the climb and must have been over 10% on the tight corners. Riders sought ever lower gears as they slowly made their way up the mountain. It certainly was a help that the temperature was cool and the wind was still mostly on our backs. I am sure that our riders were justifiably all proud of their efforts when we finally reached the town entrance and were able to enjoy the panoramic views in all directions.
The landscape was dominated by the massive Alqueva Dam Reservoir, the largest artificial lake in Europe. The white city inside the city walls was easily the prettiest town we had seen thus far and the lunch we enjoyed at an old olive mill was equally as impressive.
The final attraction was the magnificent Hotel Rural Horta da Moura we had been booked in for the night. The only way I could describe this place is SUPERB. I think we could have happily stayed here for a week.Read more