Day 25 – Cyclist Luncheon
Starting Point: Porto
Ending Point: Aveiro
Today’s Distance: 77 km
Total Distance: 1,621 km
Starting my day in Porto, my first order of business was crossing the Ponte de Luís I, one of the many bridges that gives Porto its nickname, “The City of Bridges”. This wasn’t my first time in Porto, and I was staying fairly close to the Douro River, so I felt confident in finding my way without much of a problem. With only a glance at Google Maps, I headed out and soon found the bridge without issue. Unfortunately, finding the bridge was easy, but where exactly I found myself on the bridge became a problem. The Ponte de Luís I is a large metal bridge that has a lower level relatively close to the water and another level way up above it. I wanted to be on the lower crossing but ended up on the higher – great views, but not where I wanted to be.
Instead of having to try and find my way down through the maze of one-way streets in Porto, I just threw Shaka over my shoulder and walked down the stairs… lots of stairs… some might say, all the stairs. There’s nothing quite like having a solid cardio workout before a day of cardio workouts; smooth move, Alexa.
After what felt like ages of carrying my bike down stairs, I reached the lower level, just above the river. Finally crossing the bridge, I entered into Vila Nova de Gaia, the neighboring city south of the Douro. From the south bank of the river, I could look back upon Porto’s romantic old city on the opposite bank with the antique flat-bottom boats in the foreground completing the picture.
I bid Half Rabbit adieu, I cycled along the Douro River, and, even here in busy Porto, the Douro served as my peaceful companion once again just as it had on Day 21, when it was just me and the gentle fishermen in beautiful vineyards.
Traveling east, I followed the Douro all the way to its end where it meets the Atlantic. The Portuguese word for river mouth is “foz”, and you see it commonly in place names around the coast of Portugal. My plan was to follow the Douro to the sea, and then to trace the coastline down as much as I could for the rest of the day. This plan ended up working exceedingly well as I came across one of the nicest bike paths I have seen in all of Portugal. Any dedicated bike path found in Portugal at all is a rare treat, but one constructed and maintained this well was certainly cause for delight.
Following the bike path along the picturesque coastline was a real treat. Road cyclists are always on guard. Even when riding on a large shoulder, one always keeps a vigilant eye on all the surrounding traffic. While riding on this path, on the other hand, I could finally let my mind be completely free on a beautiful day surrounded by beautiful views. Other cyclists were around as well, from young kids learning to balance on two wheels, to dedicated racers focused on their training. Pleasure is always best when shared. Combine all of this with a steady tailwind, and this day could not start any better.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end. As I rode farther south, the path started to come and go at points and take a more circuitous route than before. Some bike paths become more trouble than they’re worth when riding for distance and not just a pleasure, and that was precisely what happened here. I finally decided to hop back onto one of the national roads to pick up my pace. My start this morning was not my earliest, and my scheduled destination today, Aveiro, involved a short ferry ride from the end of a long peninsula. The thought of having to ride all the way down the skinny peninsula to find out I missed the ferry and would have to ride all the way back nudged me back onto the more efficient highways.
I hadn’t been back on the national roads for very long when I noticed that there were a lot of large semitrucks driving around me. Semis are not typically a danger to cyclists since the drivers have good visibility from up above and are often more attentive than car drivers, but having something many times larger than you moving that fast rumbling past you can be unnerving.
The road here was significantly less scenic with more factories and trucks and fewer farms and forests. At one point I was struck with a strangely familiar smell of what I thought was dog food, and unsurprisingly a dog and cat food factory came into view. Clearly, I was a long way from my lovely little beach-side bike path from earlier.
The industrial zone did not last long and any lingering dog food smells or otherwise were quickly replaced with the scent of fresh-cut timber from logging operations. With grateful relief, I refocused on my riding and settled into a steady pace southward, happy to be back in the forests of Portugal.
I turned onto the long peninsula that ends at São Jacinto, the small village where I would catch the ferry to Aveiro, and was rewarded with another bike path. This one was protected from traffic with a large concrete barrier and I rode this path all the way to its end. By this point I was on a road traveling along the ria / lagoon and the traffic was almost nonexistent.
São Jacinto greeted me with both good and bad news. The good news was that yes, the ferry was running, and it would not be a problem at all to get a ride across to Aveiro. The bad news was that I had just missed the ferry, so I would have to wait two hours for the next one. That did grant me plenty of time to get something to eat and I was famished from my trip down. When I wandered to the nearest restaurant I was pleasantly surprised to see another touring bike loaded with bags. Finding the accompanying cyclist was not difficult (cycling clothes are nothing if not extremely noticeable), and I introduced myself. Eric almost instantly invited me to join his table for lunch. Eric is from the Netherlands and was on a cycling trip from Santiago de Compostela down to Lisbon. Originally, Eric had been riding with two other friends but just a day or two before, they had taken off ahead since they had pressing engagements.
Distance cyclists by and large are very social creatures but typically are at the mercy of conflicting timetables. Meeting a fellow rider is usually a truncated affair since schedules vary and everyone is itching to get back out on the road. Sharing a leisurely lunch with Eric was therefore a very rare treat. With both of us waiting for a ferry almost two hours in the future, we had plenty of time to share road stories, swap advice, and commiserate about what it’s like being on a bicycle for days on end. This was Eric’s first long distance bicycle trip, though he had done other extended adventures on motorcycles and sailboats. Every cyclist is different, and we all have our own unique methods, tricks, rituals, and habits. Getting to compare and contrast all of our various traits was a moment of brotherhood not often found when out alone on the road. And to top it all off, he even had a Dutch stroopwafel for me!
Finally we boarded the ferry and took the short trip across the mouth of the lagoon. I was headed into Aveiro and Eric was heading farther south so after a few roundabouts of riding together, we each waved emphatically to one another and separated ways with promises of keeping in touch in the future.
Now I only had about nine kilometres between me and a hot shower in Aveiro. Fresh and rested from my long lunch, I started to see more and more bicycles out on the road as I approached Aveiro which raised my spirits even higher. Aveiro is unofficially called the “Bicycle Capital of Portugal” which felt like a fitting destination for the day.
Only one obstacle remained between me and my shower: the Boco River. Not large, by any means, the Boco River would still have to be crossed, and the only bridge in the area was for a major highway – just like my shenanigans the day before. Since I had such luck then, I figured I’d ride up to the autostrada and see if there was a sidewalk once I was on top. This time, however, as soon as I started to enter the road, I heard a honk and turned to see a police officer with a stern expression wagging his finger at me. I apologized profusely and in broken, panicked Portuguese tried to ask if there was another way across. He smiled and told me in perfectly fluent English that I just had to go back in another direction and that there was a path along this bridge with a different entrance. I thanked the kind officer profusely and smiled as he waved me on my way. Thus concludes my singular scolding interaction with law enforcement on this trip!
Admittedly, I did have an ulterior motive for arriving in Aveiro early – my boyfriend had work in the area and was meeting for dinner that evening. Food, margaritas, and laughter rounded out the end of a fantastic day on the road.