Leading up to Portugal
The Epileptic Goat
The Epileptic Goat cycles for charity and blogs for fun. Why The Epileptic Goat? I have epilepsy and I choose ‘without roots’, I have a wonder lust!
Introduction 21st November 2014
Only a few days before Portugal becomes a reality. That’s when the journal kicks in with some very usefull tips and tricks whilst adventure touring and some great imagery for those of us who like to look at the pictures only. But for now, let’s take a brief look over the last nine weeks or so and how I got to where I am today.
About twelve weeks ago I didn’t have a bike. I bought one for cycling the local country lanes of Spain where I live, but primarily it was to lose weight. My justification for spending just over £2000 was that it will be worth it to be slimmer, and because of an obscene amount, I had to use it. No, wasn’t an option. I bought the shorts and the jersey to match the sport. The shorts made my legs look skinnier than they are, and the jersey made my stomach look even bigger than it was. Even standing at 6’2, 14 stone 2lb was overweight. I looked ridiculous but I didn’t change my attire, it was a good reminder of the weight I had to shed.
The bike is a Bianchi Intenso in Celeste with Mavic rims and tyres set. I run 23mm wide tyres and inflate up to 120 psi depending on the weather and the quality of the roads and whether or not I can be bothered to pump them up. Every other day they need more air. This combination loses air like a vagabond loses his/her identity. One outing on the street and they’re both in decline.
So, nine weeks ago I set off for Seville, 110 miles from my house. I was to spread the journey over two days, have some tourist time and then return home. Only to find that I didn’t want to go home, I continued my journey for twenty six days, cycling 980 miles to Santander. I got the ferry to Portsmouth, England. Then from Portsmouth harbour railway station I travelled by train to Liverpool Victoria. The intention was to get the underground tube to Finsbury, North London, so I could then cycle for five minutes to my friends house in Crouch End, N7. I was too excited, I had to cycle to Crouch End instead. Along the Embankment which runs parallel to the River Thames, I turned left on to Northumberland Avenue, passed the famous pub The Sherlock Holmes, up to Charring Cross, continuing along Charring Cross Road through to Euston towards Camden Town, Swiss Cottage and Archway and eventually to Crouch End. That short journey of maybe twelve miles was one of my best to date. I love Lonon.
After spending two nights at my friends place, John and Harriet Gordon with their kids, I made way to London Euston on the morning of the second night. I was meeting my Son Stuart. We’d have the day in the city and then the three of us (inc.. Bianchi) would return to my parents house in Staffordshire by train.
We love curry and I had been to a restaurant several times previously. I could remember it was called La Porte de Ingles and it was close to Oxford Street, Edgeware Road end. We like the Pakistani restaurant in Whitechapel, but we hadn’t got time to make our way over to The East End, which was a shame because Needoo Grill is brilliant. I highly recommend it. The food, the service and the price can’t be matched.
It didn’t take us long to find La Porte de Ingles. Excited, we rushed through the door and was shown to our table. ‘Let’s have it’ I said to my son, rubbing my palms together vigorously, meaning we would order loads of different food and the whole wedge of cash it was going to cost me wouldn’t matter, because I knew, or thought I knew, it was going to be excellent.
It was awful. I felt robbed. Robbed of my money and robbed of the treat I wanted to give my son. We had the set meal at £45 each, drinks were on top. The lack of the attentiveness of the staff was as noticeable as your grans teeth dropping on the floor. I held on to my teeth, but my jaw dropped. I was staggered and never again would I return. My guess is that even the local sewer rats avoid this hell hole of a dump. I wasn’t happy.
Four weeks had elapsed. I had spent every day with my family. It was hard leaving them behind but trying toget them all on the bike was too much of a stretch. Three of those four weeks I’d spent looking for a touring bike. The options are ridiculous, the choice is vast. I’d considered buying a bespoke bike from Oxford Bike Works. A tiny manufacturer in the U.K of bespoke made frames. I didn’t get very far, the response time of my emails sent was very poor and when they were received, I got the impression this guy couldn’t give a damn. My assumption is that he thought very highly of himself and that I should be grateful to even have contact with him. I’m sure some have had a good experience, just not me.
I took a train ride to Crystal Palace. I was going to Popiel Cycles in a predominantly white area in South London. I wasn’t aware of the make-up of the locals, nor was I bothered. The owner of the bike shop, who was Eastern European made the comment when I said I liked the area. Now this guy dealt in Koga bikes, a highly respected manufacturer in the world of touring bikes. We went out for a ride into the park not far from the shop. The upright position was very comfortable but the stability of the bike on a loose surface when cornering wasn’t too good, it didn’t feel stable. A bit like I’d feel after fourteen pints of Guinness, a bottle and a half of red wine, half a dozen cocktails and six Hamlet cigars. It was if the centre of gravity was too high.
A long drawn out day but a worthy one. It had enabled me to rule out another manufacture and discount rolhoff gearing. I’m sure they are great and pretty much maintainance free, but I didn’t feel like I was on a bike. It was too smooth, there was no feel to this machine. I can liken it to an automatic gearbox in a car. Maybe for some, just not for me.
I’d came across a manufacturer called Surly whilst I’d been doing my research. Stupidly I dismissed them very quickly because I didn’t like how they looked. In particular, the branding logo on the bikes for me, was that they were more suited to school children. However I was running out of time and options. ‘Keep Pedalling’ in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, two minutes from Manchester Piccadilly train station, were advertising that they were the biggest stockists of Surly in the north west of England. I emailed them and without delay I had received a promising reply. They showed a keen interest in helping me and were very professional too. Just what I’d expect when dealing with any retailer of any kind. It’s unfortunate that there is a large majority of miserable traders; more for the good guys. We’d had a couple of days of emailing to and fro and if Rich or Shona were getting a little fed up with keyboard effort, they hid it well. The last email was as professional as the first. I avoid the phone whenever possible. I have one now after doing without for four years.
We agreed a date and a time that I would go and see them. Another train ride, another day and I was in their shop. After exchanging a few pleasantries we discussed at length my options. I fired question after question to Rich. I am thorough, that doesn’t mean I always make the right decision, but it does mean nine out of ten times I do. On occasions there were hints of sarcasm and a touch of the ‘smart arses’ from Rich. I received his remarks well, they weren’t personal, nor were they undermining. It was just his way of saying ‘I know my stuff and I’m confident.’ It was a good job I took the comments how they were meant, I’m a touchy sod with little or no patience and can flare-up instantly.
I took a showroom model out for a spin on the deathly streets of Manchester. Immediately I loved it. I had already bought one in my mind. It was responsive, it handled superbly, the steering was efficient and I felt good. I took it to a street car park that had a loose surface and pot-holes. Lifting the front end over the pot-holes was achieved with ease and the bike held up very well when cornering on the loose gravel at a speed where a lesser machine would have slipped from underneath me.
Back at the store it was time to kit out the bike. I didn’t want an off-the-
peg bike. Richard chose the tyres and I went along with his decision, although I wasn’t entirely happy about the weight of them. Schwalbe. On reflection, he was bang-on. The miles I have covered on serious off-roads throughout Spain without punctures is vast.
My ‘Surly Ogre’ or as I call it ‘The Goat’ is made up from Shimano XT and XTR, Mavic, Schwalbe, Hope, Marshall and DMVR.
Total weight comes in at 14kg without rack and panniers. Shona helped with the luggage cases, rear rack and handlebar bag. The best option that Surly offer over their competitors is the choice of colour and design of the paintwork. I opted for blue frame with cream forks. I wanted the bike to look cool, I also wanted it to look as if it was a bit of a throw together, thus warding off any potential petty thieves. I kept it completely naked from branding. I’m biased but I think it is amazing.
When I hit the road on the morning of 25th November 2014 at 7.30am in Beade, Pontevedra, Galicia, it wasn’t long before I knew I’d be saying farewell to Spain. Though I was going to return, I felt like I left a part of me there. It has been my home for the last four years. I’ve settled well and there is nothing I dislike about the country. Sure, it has its niggles but they’re not worth mentioning, too small to have any impact.
I was at the border, cycling besides the still river with the morning sun lighting it up in parts as the rays fought there way through the over hanging branches of the trees on the riverbank. What captured more of an interest for me was the graffiti besides the playing area for the young children. Only partly in view behind the swings and the slide was a wall of broken graffiti. Spain is full of graffiti and to say it’s poor is an understatement. Nothing but works of failure. So, these new images I’d seen, whilst still very poor they were so much better than what I’d seen before.
The border of Spain and Portugal is separated by the river Duoro (Portuguese Spelling). I cycled slowly over the river by the connecting bridge. The road was more than a single track, but by no means wide enough for two passing vehicles.
I got off road as soon as possible and hit the trails. My first point of recognition was a sand quarry. Why, I don’t know, but it had an appeal. Maybe the colours, they seemed to unearth a modicum of beauty within it’s natural environment.
I cycled on along the trails and minor roads. Cutting through the countryside and the tiny hamlets of Portugal. It had started to warm up and I was ready for another coffee. It must have been 11.00am. I sat outside with the sun, I don’t think he was too bothered about the company he was keeping but nonetheless I could see a smile creeping in. It was a lovely, hot morning. The light breeze was all I could hear. The coffee was OK and the cafe had wi-fi, which gives me a chance to catch up with family and friends.
I continued through more trails and tiny meandering streets set deep into the countryside. Scattered amongst a few house was a lady doing some gardening, a black and white to keep her company and a man returning home on his motorbike. I asked if he’d mind me taking a photograph of his bike. Of course, no problem, he said in Portuguese. As I gathered my phone from the handlebars of my bike, I could see him walking back towards his bike. I thought maybe he wanted to be in the picture. No, far more important than that. He placed his blue helmet on the seat of the bike. Now the picture could be taken.
Back on the road. I had some great down hill sections towards the day’s end. The scenery remained the same with the little lanes and roads set amongst thousands of trees, hundreds of years old. I could see a church in the distance to my right side. The church of Ponte de Lima. This is the oldest village in Portugal and I was accessing it across a Roman bridge. At regular intervals there were Victorian style lampposts, each and every one of them had a hidden speaker to which classical music was being boomed out. A memory not to be forgotten. The scene was set.
I cycled the village as to not miss out on anything and to search for a suitable spot for more coffee and a baguette. Lunch was short lived, I was eager to get to the albergue, check in and kick back. Back across the bridge and on the right, there it is, closed. Bloody great! More coffee next door. I went back at 3.30pm and it had opened. The young Portuguese girl checked me in with a smile and a tone not to match. These were the rules and I had to play by them. Good night!