an expedition to
A solo journey by bicycle from Lisbon to Labrador. Starting at the farthest West point of Europe and going to the farthest East point in North America. From the Atlantic ocean in Portugal, the trip will skirt the Mediterranean, Black, and Caspian seas. The route then crosses steep mountain ranges and through the vast open steppes of Central Asia. The most difficult challenge will be heading into the uninhabited reaches of Siberia and Alaska in winter. The path then crosses the interior of Canada before finally ending back on the shores of the Atlantic. An epic human powered journey to connect the people of the world using the power of the bicycle.
Date: January 6th, 2016
Distance: 114 km
Song of the Day: Sealegs - The Shins
Rain, all day. Such a pity too. I don't mind being wet, that is just part of the deal. When it won't let up at all, though, it is hard to enjoy the ride. That is too bad, really. This part of Portugal was outstanding. Sure, there were lots of tough climbs. A few where I thought, "why would you even make this road? There has to be a better way than right over the top of this hill!" The afternoon I went from a gorgeous descent to riding along this quaint river valley. Amazing. If it had been nice weather and I wasn't soaking wet I would have taken more time to appreciate all the beauty of it.
On the plus side I am getting my "touring legs" back. It's not just how my legs are doing, although it is nice that they are feeling good, if a bit tired after a couple of days' hard riding. More, I mean getting into the groove of life on a bike. How often should I stretch? What roads are good to take? When to stop and eat, where to go for food, what food to eat, how much food to carry.
Okay, those last few were mostly food based. People often ask me what I eat on the road and I usually tell them "everything". It is so true. I am constantly thinking about eating. This blog could also be called "Dravis snacks his way across the globe". You have to keep your energy level up, though. If you want to keep riding, you have to keep eating.
It is also important for keeping yourself warm. By the end of the day I was soaked to the bone and cold, so I found a place just off the highway to pitch my tent. In the rain. Everything I was wearing was soaked through. The floor of the tent was dotted with puddles. I think this is the part where you really ask yourself if you are ready to do this. Can you put on the miles in spite of the rain? Can you camp in the mud for the night? Then wake up only to put on those clammy, wet clothes and ride again? Anyone can ride on the nice days, it's the bad days that really test your determination.
Date: January 5th, 2016
Distance: 100 km
Song of the Day: Why Must a Man Change - Deep Sea Diver
I wanted to get up early and be on the road. I set an alarm and everything, but when it went off I looked over at the window and it was still dark. So I decided to sleep until the sun came up. I kept waking up and checking, but that sun wasn't coming up. A few hours later I really woke up and noticed the shutters were closed. Whoops.
Most of the day was slow. Rain. Hills. Navigation. I have known for a long time the flattest, straightest routes were made into freeways. That leaves me pedaling along back highways. Usually that is pretty good. It does get confusing though. Was it a slight left at the roundabout? Then a right turn after the squiggly part? I end up looking at my phone a lot. That has been great. My pocket supercomputer will do maps for me. Fantastic. That does mean I stop frequently though.
In the evening I got to Liera. Since the sun was setting, I paused to get my rear light working. Then back onto the highway. On the map it was the straightest route I wanted to take, which is why it slowly became a freeway. Not what I wanted, but I could get off at the next exit. Besides, at least there was a wide shoulder. Until there wasn't. Just a white stripe and a guard rail with four inches of concrete in between. Crap. The problem was, I couldn't exactly turn around at that point, and I couldn't leave because of a steep bank and a fence at the top. I hopped over the guardrail and into the gutter. Fortunately, in spite of all the rain, it wasn't filled with water. I walked up couple of hundred yards to where there was a bridge over the freeway. At the top I could see a little gate in the fence. The grade up the embankment was so bad I had to drag my stuff and bike separately. There was a little patch of stinging nettles to get through and then... the gate was a lie. A decoration. Just a pretend opening wired to a very real metal fence. As luck would have it though, where the fence met the bridge it had been stomped down by someone (or many someones). That gave me just enough to get the bike and bags over. Whew.
It was back to hills and complicated navigation after that, though. I only made it up one more big climb before calling it a night. I found a nice quiet tree farm of some kind to set up my tent in. Just in time too. By the time I got to my sleeping bag, it was raining again.
Date: January 4th, 2016
Distance: 104 km
Song of the Day: Begin the Begin - REM
Woke up early this morning, before the sun even rose. That wasn't hard to do since I went to bed at about 8:00 pm last night. I got the tent packed up and was off down to Cabo de Roca. In case you guys don't know, that is the farthest West point of Europe. The Ends of the Earth, get it? This cape really looks like it, it's a rocky cliff set above the Atlantic Ocean. The day was cloudy so it was hard to see where the ocean ended and the sky began. Seemed a fitting place to begin. From here on out it is all bicycle until I get to Uelen.
I spent a little time there making a video which I hope to post the next time I get a rest day. Actually, I spent quite a bit of time making that. Since it is the start of the trip I wanted to do something special. It was hard dodging the tourists that would show up. A bus would come by and disgorge a gaggle of people talking and taking pictures. In the end I got something I think I can edit together.
I reset my odometer and got on the road about 10:00 am, and then mountains. I spent the morning doing a lot of climbing. I couldn't complain too much, the weather was cloudy but pleasant.
Just after noon I found a bike shop. The guy working there, Daniel, helped me with a little "Portuguese engineering" as he called it. He used a little persuasion to get my chainring straight and then filed the teeth down so the chain could get over them. On taking a second look the teeth may not be as mangled as I first thought. Only half ground down, not fully. As Daniel explained "it can't be any worse". And wouldn't you know it, it actually worked! It was really nice to have my full set of gears once more, especially with all those hills.
The afternoon was spent along the coast, because I forgot that I shouldn't bike along the coast. There are two reasons. First, there are always hills. Second, there is always wind. The wind was sort of going my way sometimes. That was nice, but it was also hard when it was hitting me from the side, and things only got worse as the day went on. It started raining. Then it started really raining. Rain just slows everything down. It also makes the visibility worse. Not exactly what I wanted, so I only made it 100 kilometers. Starting three days late, I will have to make up some miles over the next few weeks.
Date: January 3rd, 2016
Distance: 52 km
Song of the Day: Evacuation - Pearl Jam
The bike did get delivered this morning, but the gorillas with the airline were pretty rough on everything. One side of the box was kicked in and some of the stuff must have fallen out. I think that also must have messed with some of the padding in the box. When it arrived the largest chainring was bent and some of the teeth were ground down like it had been dragged all the way from Seattle. I was quite upset about that for a bit, still am really. But I realized that I could start the trip without it. Unfortunately, it also took longer than I was expecting to get everything together. I can usually get a bike from box to rideable in 10 minutes. This is a touring bike though, and there are a lot more pieces to it. Even just fitting all the stuff I need in my panniers took a long time.
So I didn't get on the road until almost 2:00 in the afternoon. Once I did, though, it felt great. You couldn't keep the smile off my face. I was on the road again free and clear. The only fly in the ointment was navigation. Getting out of a big city is always a pain, and Lisbon was no exception. I rode along the river until that road turned into a major highway. From there it was on smaller streets, but that meant a lot of stopping to look up directions. So the pace wasn't exactly what I wanted.
It was beginning to get dark when I started heading into the mountains. I would have continued, but my light wasn't working. Well, it worked but the bolt that holds it on is one of the things that was missing from the box. I would have bought a new bolt, but it is Sunday and everything is closed. Just before sunset I did find a nice quiet spot off the road to camp, a couple miles from Cabo de Roca. The trip officially begins tomorrow.
Hanging Out in Lisbon
Date: January 2nd, 2016
Song of the Day: Pancho and Lefty - Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard
Today started out much better. I woke up in a bed for once. I also got in touch the the airline. They said they had found my bike and it would be arriving on the 6:10 pm flight, so that seemed like good news right away. Since there wasn't anything I could do until that arrived, I might as well spend the day seeing Lisbon. Somehow Portugal managed to avoid both World Wars. That means that most of the city is still intact. Well, things from 1755 on, that is, when almost the whole city was destroyed. As one local described it, "One earthquake, three tsunamis, and a five day fire." It's still a big deal. Lisbon also has a bunch of hills mostly surrounding the old town. It reminded me of Prague in that way, both the hills and not being bombed to bits during the last century. So come to Lisbon, it is like Prague with less defenestrations. I spent most of the day walking around the Castelo de Sao Jorge and its environs. It is built atop a large hill, like any good fortress should be, and it's been inhabited since about the 7th century BC. It has seen a number of different rulers, from the Romans to the Moors, and later the Spanish. The castle walls are circled by steep and narrow streets. There are lots of houses and little shops along each side. It's funny to see how tourism mixes with local life. I thought one shop was selling baby clothes on display outside. Turns out, that wasn't a store, just a lady doing laundry. But the best part was the castle itself. If you don't mind heights or steep stairs that would make OSHA faint you can climb all over it. Walk the perimeter and look out between the battlements. For a kid who grew up reading fantasy stories, it was pretty cool. I did hear back from the airline as well. The bags have arrived, but won't be delivered until tomorrow morning. I was hoping to get everything ready tonight and head out early, but what can you do?
Leaving is hard to do...
Date: January 1st, 2016
It has been a rough couple of days. I haven't slept in a bed in four days. I missed three flights in two days. For the last one, my booking was never ordered and I had to spend a hour on the phone figuring out what went wrong. By the time I did, I had missed the flight and had to re-book a fourth ticket. After finally getting on a plane this morning I passed out before the plane even took off. I had maybe slept 8 hours in the previous three days, and now the last 24 hours have been spent in planes and airports. But three flights and two connections later, I have finally made it to Portugal.
My bicycle, however, did not. I am assured it will arrive tomorrow, but I don't even know if the airline knows where it is. The fact they "think" it is in London isn't reassuring.
So far the new year has been less than stellar for me. My New Year's Eve was spent over the Atlantic, my plane shooting towards the approaching January 1st 2016. Due to the integer nature of time zones, I never really did get midnight. No one on board the flight even noticed. Combined with everything else, it was not an auspicious start to the year or the trip.
The one comfort I have in all of this is that these are the reasons I am looking forward to starting the trip. On a bicycle you just go. You don't have to time things right, you aren't waiting for people, you just get on and ride. For that I hope January 2nd brings better tidings.