Adiós España y Olá Portugal!

Trip Start Apr 18, 2009
Trip End May 19, 2009

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Flag of Portugal  ,
Tuesday, May 19, 2009

It's 9.45 am local time as I step off the Ayamonte - Vila Real de Santo Antonio ferry. Officially I crossed the border from Spain into Portugal half way across the River Guadiana, but it doesn't feel as though I have fully completed my journey until I actually set foot on Portuguese soil. So here I am. I left Colchester, England on the morning of Saturday 18th April and at virtually the same time on Tuesday 19th May, I am at journey's end. No elation, just an overwhelming sense of satisfaction.

After an excellent night's sleep I got a nice early breakfast back in Huelva (first through the door at 7.00 am on the dot!) and wolfed it down so that I could get the earliest possible start for the ride to Ayamonte. It was a beautiful day, although the wind was very blustery (on the one or two occasions that I woke during the night I could hear the wind blowing hard) and I headed west through the city looking for the older of the two bridges crossing the Rio Odiel, the Punta Umbria. Changes to the road layout made this a little more difficult than expected but soon I picked up a sign and looked out for the promised cycleway that would see me safely across. Sure enough there was the tell-tale red surface and a gap in the traffic allowed me to slip onto the cycleway nicely. As I made my way across the long bridge the view across the sun-lit water was lovely and it was good to see so many people taking advantage of the cycleway to get in their early morning walk, run or cycle. On glancing back towards the docks on the east bank I was surprised to see shipbuilding going on. Much of the original docks were built by English engineers for the loading of copper ore carried down from high up in the Sierras.

Once on the west bank I picked my way through heavier traffic than I had anticipated (which remained the case for most of the ride) and pedaled through the town of Aljaraque. Soon the land began to undulate as I rode into the pine forest beyond the town. I just LOVE the smell of pine forest in the morning! Then all too soon pine forest gave way to orchards of oranges and lemons. I was now moving inland, but 10 km farther on the road swung back towards the coast and the towns of Cartaya and Lepe, between which I had to deal with a worryingly narrow bridge across the Rio Piedras (a timely gap in the traffic gave me time to hurry across). Then came another turn, this time heading due west to Ayamonte, complete with signs announcing 'Portugal'!

Another helpful sign alerted me to the half-hourly running of the trans-Rio Guadiana ferry and a glance at my computer showed me it was 10.11 am with the next ferry sailing at 10.30. The incredibly helpful kilometre markers that can be found on all Spanish roads told me that 5 km remained to the port. Now that was just too much of a challenge to ignore! So off I went like a man possessed, fortunately starting with a good long downhill section, before hitting a headwind that almost stopped me in my tracks, then weaving in and out of the traffic to get through the town and with the ferry in sight bumped over a few hundred metres of cobbles before skidding to a halt at the window of the ferry office. The phlegmatic attendant gave me a right old-fashioned look and then 1.5 Euros for me and 1 Euro for the bike and I was aboard ... with one minute to spare! Ooh, I DO like a challenge!

Once on terra firma I headed for Café Latté, my favourite café in Vila Real, and sat sipping a nice cuppa and snacking on a lovely fresh warm croissant. Owner Sanne rolled up with new baby of two months, Keani, in the buggy and we had a nice chat before I headed off for a lovely hot shower and change.

So what does all this mean now that the journey is complete? It means I have learnt a lot about touring on a bicycle (I am now far more confident riding in heavy urban traffic); I've had a good look at parts of France and Spain that I had not previously seen; I've discovered that literally thousands of people from across the globe trek across the European network of pilgrimage routes that lead inexorably to Santiago de Campostella; and my fitness level has increased considerably while my weight has almost certainly fallen, although by how much I have no idea (only that I have to go and buy a belt to keep my trousers up and my shirt looks more like a smock!) I had always known that I liked mountains but this trip has given me a chance to see them from a new perspective. And contrary to my children's belief that once you've seen one mountain you've seen them all, I think each is quite unique and beautiful. I love them and on this trip was never happier than when I was cycling amongst them.

For myself I never doubted that I could complete the journey, but I confess there were a few times when I wondered just how well I would complete it. A disappointment was missing the Logrońo to Burgos leg through an upset stomach, but at least I discovered that Spanish buses will carry a bicycle! (Surprisingly I was told the only trains that would carry the bike were those that run at night.)

An important stimulant for me over the 25 days of cycling covering 2277 kilometres, plus 7 rest days, has been the support of family and friends. Lynn, Ben and Jamie, and my sister Linda have actively encouraged me every step of the way. They will never know how important it was for me to know they were rooting for me and I owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

I also look back on those very first two days cycling through England and reflect on how crucial it was to have had the company of my friend Gary to help me through Essex and more particularly Kent and Sussex (that day through Kent and Sussex was surprisingly the toughest of the whole trip); and Gary's wife Jeanette, who not only drove to Newhaven to collect Gary, but kept me going along the way with frequent text messages urging me ever onward. Then there was support from friends Martin, Ian and Rachel: to them and all those who have read my blog or followed me on Twitter, thank you.

For many the burning question that so far remains unanswered is: Why did I do it? To borrow some words from President J F Kennedy: "But why, some say, go to the moon? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? We choose to go to the moon ... and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard ..." Simple as that.

TOTAL: 2277 km

Now then, what can I do next ... ??????? :-)
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