Planning Portugal October 2016

Monday will see us on a bus for Glasgow Airport, en route for Faro and a bike trip in Southern Portugal and possibly a little of Spain.  We are not taking the Thorns this time for a couple of reasons: firstly, they are expensive to take on Easyjet and getting them to the airport is a bit of a hassle: secondly, this is going to be a relaxed micro-tour and we don’t think we need them.  Instead, we will be using a couple of cheap Scotts we bought in Portugal a few years back and are able to keep in my sister’s loft in Algoz.  They ought to do us well enough we think – and it’s time they earned their keep.


We will miss a few things from the Thorns.  We will not be able to take our bar bars – they don’t fit the Scotts.  At least we will take them, but they will be strapped to the rear racks – not ideal. More to the point we will miss our Rohloff gears – big time. Even more significantly we will miss the comfort and ride quality of the Thorns, but then, they cost  a fraction as much and you are bound to get what you pay for to a degree at least.

We will start in Algoz and take two or three days to settle in and get the bikes ready.  So, where are we headed?  To be honest we are not sure and have three options at least.

We may head West to Sagres then North up the coast to Aljezur, a town we have visited before and like a lot.  It has a nice left over hippy feel somehow.  Then to Odemira and Aljustrel and somehow to Evora.  All these latter runs would cover new ground for us.

Alternatively, we could head East and North from Algoz to Castro Verde and Aljustrel, some of which we have done many times.

Or, we could head East and then North to Alcoutim and then North further via a Western or Eastern route.  All of this we have done before one way or another, but not for some years.

Lastly, we could head over the border into Spain to Huelva (a favourite of ours) then track North on the N435 – again new ground for us in the south of Spain.  This would take us back into Portugal at Serpa (we are kinds bored with it) or Elvas, which we visited once and loved.

We could reverse and co-join the first and last options, but the problem is we started out thinking we might want to go to Lisbon this time and that might be delayed if we struck out for Spain first.  Getting in and out of Lisbon kinda spooks me a bit.

So it’s complicated. We will have about three weeks or so.  What to do?  Any suggestions or advice will be very much welcomed.

Crossing America on the North Tier

I don’t seem to be quite able to get this idea out of my head at the moment. Perhaps it’s because it is so cold out and our roads are frozen and so we can’t get out on the bikes at present.  I revisited the Adventure Cycling site tonight and came away with this overview of the route:

“The western end of the Northern Tier begins at  sea level and offers large expanses of mountains, the Great Plains, and some beautiful farmland areas in between. The route can be ridden from late spring to late fall. Due to snow, State Highway 20 east of North Cascades National Park in Washington is only open through certain dates. The same is true for Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park in Montana, which is usually closed until mid June. Even in the height of summer in July, cyclists must be prepared for cold nights and occasional snow in the higher elevations during storms. Due to changing local conditions, it is difficult to predict any major wind patterns, though tornadoes can be common. They slice across the heartland each year, generally heading north and east, and mostly occur in May and June in Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. The Midwest and Great Lakes summers can be hot, especially inland. Along the Great Lakes, breezes provide cooling and are sometimes a friend and sometimes a foe.

The Northern Tier begins in Anacortes, Washington, which is located on a peninsula in Puget Sound. Anacortes is also the jumping-off point for folks going to the San Juan Islands, a favorite cycling destination. At the start, the combination of lush forest and ocean feeds and moistens the soul. Heading eastward along the rushing Skagit River, you carry that feeling up to the top of Rainy and Washington passes in the Cascade Mountains. Descending to the east side of the Cascades brings you into the drier part of the state and the widely known orchard country of the Okanogan Valley. Leaving this valley, you’ll be climbing and descending several more passes full of ponderosa pines and finding many sleepy farming communities along the rivers you cross. The river valleys tend to run in a north-south direction across the northwestern part of the United States, and because the route travels west to east, you will be working your way up and down. There are plenty of towns, rivers, lakes, mountains and forests in eastern Washington, Idaho, and western Montana until you reach Cut Bank, on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains.

The spectacular Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park is a hard climb but well worth it for the scenery. The route takes a jump into Canada to access Waterton Lakes National Park, and then you’ll head back into the States at Del Bonita, a little-used border crossing. Cut Bank is the beginning of the Great Plains, and from here on you’ll start praying for tailwinds. Supposedly, heading eastward, tailwinds predominate in the summer. The route uses U.S. Highway 2, the main road through central and eastern Montana along the railroad, so camping spots can occasionally be somewhat loud. Wherever possible, side roads are used to relieve the monotony of being on the highway. Afternoon thundershowers are a constant companion out on the Plains. You’ll follow the Milk River from Havre, Montana, eastward. The plains of Montana eventually transform into the green rolling hills of western North Dakota. From Glendive, Montana, to Bismarck, North Dakota, the route follows the I-94 corridor, alternating between the freeway and parallel county roads.* Sunflowers are everywhere, and they become the crop of choice as the terrain flattens out in eastern North Dakota. Fargo is located on the banks of the Red River, on the border of North Dakota and Minnesota.

*Oil and gas development in the Bakken Oil Shale Field of western North Dakota and northeastern Montana prompted a change in routing in 2012 to avoid the area around Williston, North Dakota. Because many roads with minimal to no shoulders now have high levels of truck traffic, and are felt to be unsafe for bicyclists, the route was moved to go through southern North Dakota. 

Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa stand out as some of the greenest and lushest of all the states along the route. From either direction, this greenery proves to be a relief from the giant plains to the west and acres of farmland to the east. You’ll learn a lot about the history of the Mississippi River as you follow it southward.

Heading east from Fargo and Moorhead in the Red River Valley, you begin to slowly leave the Great Plains. Lakes and hills become the standard scenery, and the resident mosquitos increase in number. The birthplace of the Mississippi River is in Lake Itasca State Park, in northern Minnesota. This area is so full of forests, lakes, and rivers that it draws many recreationalists during the summer months. The route utilizes many rail-trail facilities as you ride south until it heads east around the cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul, and surrounding towns. There is a spur into Minneapolis-St. Paul that ends with access to the airport. Along the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers, the towns are older and the buildings much more historic. At Prescott, Wisconsin, the St. Croix joins the Mississippi, and the route again follows that river southward for 175 miles. You’ll leave the river occasionally on less-traveled roads, but these also mean climbing and descending the bluffs along the river. As you enter Iowa, you may think that the terrain is going to flatten out, but the hills continue after leaving the river. Small laid-back farm towns are abundant through Iowa. Muscatine is an old industrial town located on the Mississippi River. 

East of the river, the route traverses the large prairie farms of central Illinois and the smaller farms of Indiana and Ohio, eventually reaching the shore of Lake Erie at Huron, Ohio. Here a side trip can take you to nearby Cedar Point Amusement Park, which features the greatest number of the most pulse-raising roller coasters in the country. Or you can take a ferry to one or more of the Lake Erie islands and visit the area where Admiral Perry defeated the British fleet in the War of 1812. Heading through busy Cleveland, you’ll pass the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Science Center and its IMAX theater, a retired Great Lakes iron ore freighter, and a World War II submarine.

Along the lake shore in eastern Ohio and Pennsylvania, the route passes through small towns, where tourists flock to the shore during summer. In Erie, Pennsylvania, you can explore the miles of sand beach at Presque Isle State Park and the replica of the sailing ship Niagara, Admiral Perry’s flagship in the War of 1812 Battle of Lake Erie. Leaving Erie, the route enters the fruit and wine region of Pennsylvania and New York and hugs the relatively rural lake shore to the outskirts of Buffalo, New York. Views across Lake Erie of the Buffalo skyline and Canada usher the cyclist into the bustle of the southern end of the metropolis. In the suburbs to the Peace Bridge, ride carefully through the city streets. The route takes you to the lakefront Buffalo Naval and Military Park with World War II vessels open for visits.

After crossing the Peace Bridge into Canada you’ll follow one of the most scenic recreational trails in North America along the Niagara River to Niagara Falls. Take the cable car ride across the Whirlpool Rapids and visit the other attractions along the trail. Then you’ll cross back into the U.S., enjoying the view of the Niagara Gorge. Heading east, the route uses the Erie Canalway Trail for 85 miles along a waterway dripping with history. Take the time to explore the towns along the canal. At Palmyra, the route turns north to Lake Ontario, where it follows the lake shore to Sodus Bay, dips inland to Fair Haven, and then leaves the Great Lakes to cross the Adirondack Mountains and arrive at Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain. A visit to Fort Ticonderoga will give meaning to Revolutionary War history.

After a short ferry ride over the lake, you are in New England, cycling through Vermont farmland, forested hills, and picturesque villages. In New Hampshire, the route follows the Connecticut River, passing through the villages of Orford with its ridge houses and Haverhill, a classic New England village with its fenced village commons and old homes. The route crosses the White Mountains, the backbone of New Hampshire, on the famous Kancamagus Highway. Mt. Washington, noted for its fierce weather, is just a few miles north, and the Kancamagus shares some of its weather reputation. Be prepared, even in summer. Entering Maine, you’ll traverse forests and fields, arriving at Rockport on the coast. Allow time to savor the quintessential ambiance of the coastal towns. Before crossing the Penobscot River, stray off route to visit Ft. Knox, an exceptionally well-preserved unused Revolutionary War fort. Finally, don’t end your trip without cycling the gravel carriage paths of Acadia National Park and viewing a sunrise from atop Cadillac Mountain. The park is near the town of Bar Harbor, at the end of the route.”

Big challenge – even bigger prize?

ACA Montana on the North Tier Route

For four or five years now Jacqui and I have been thinking about a trans-America trip, either West to East or the reverse. Most of the time our discussions end nowhere as we get cold feet thinking about the extent of the commitment required – we guess it would take us about four months or so.

So we try to dismiss the idea as too big and too scary. Then up pops a prompt like this video from the Adventure Cycling Association about the Montana stretch and we think – will we spend the rest of our days regretting that we put if off until it was too much for us?

What do you think?  Could we be heroes – or are we just chickens?

Revised Cycle touring kit list – for non-camping softies who like toys and comforts!

We have been revising our essentials only kit list as we prepare for our month in Spain and Portugal later in September and October.  This trip is different as this time we intend to fly with our bikes. (Update October 2016: we are not taking our Thorns this time, but the list is the same save for Rohloff and Thorn specific items.)

Update: This is the revised/revised list for our Alicante to Algoz trip Spring 2016.

So far we plan to take:

Norman (Jacqui much the same in panniers (2@4.5kg) and bar bag (1.7kg), but has no saddlebag)

BarbagOrtlieb Model 4 (weighs in at 3.0 kg) [Still going strong – excellent bit f kit]
Wallet with cash and cards
Travel Tickets (plane)
Next accommodation details
Travel Insurance Details
E111 Euro Health Card
‘Business’ Cards

Pleased to meet you!

Diary/Journal – Moleskine
Camera – Nikon 1 V1 withkit zoom lens and shutter remote [tele lens never gets used]
Sat Nav – Garmin Edge 800 [Still going strong]
Mobile Phone – iphone 6
Swiss Army Knife – a cheap clone after losing the original in Auz.
Sunglasses (off bike)
Reading Glasses
Bag waterproof cover
Helmet waterproof cover
Micro Towel
Fieldglasses 10×25 – [Left at home: too little used]
Sunblock F50

SaddlebagCarradice Long Flap (weighs in at 5.0kg)
Large D-Lock and 2 cables – Kryptonite Silver rated to save a kilo.
Insulation & Velcro Tape
Spare Tubes x2
Spare Gear Cables – Rohloff x2
Rohloff hub service kit x2
Spare Brake cables Jagwire x2
Cleaning Cloths x2
Bungee Ties x2
Waterproof Jackets – Ultura x2 (NC and JM)
Waterproof Trousers – Ultura x2 (NC and JM)
Multitool – Toepeak
Eccentric Hub Spanner – Thorn
Allan Keys x5
Latex Gloves x2
Puncture Repair Kit
Tyre Levers
Pedal Spanner – Slim line
Pliers/Cable cuttters
Cable Ties
Chain Lube
Mini Floor Pump – Bontager

Left Rear PannierOrtleib (weighs in at 4.5kg)
Hotel and Travel Documentation in Travel Admin File
Paper Road Atlas – Michelin Spain and Portugal
Passport and Card Details (Photocopies)
Emergency Contact Numbers
Bike Details
Toilet Bag and Medical Kit
Cycle Shorts x2
Base Layer
Cycle Tops short sleeved x2
Cycle Top long sleeved
Cycle Socks x5
Cycle Leggings – Gore

Right Rear Pannier – Ortleib (weighs in at 4.5kg)
Trousers x2
Microfleece – Craghoppers
Chargers’ Bag
– iPhone x2
– iPad x2
– Still camera – Nikon
– Still camera – Lumix
– Garmin & Sena headset/mike
– iPad photo transfer gizmo
– Mains Adapters x2
– UK Multibar
Medical Supplies

The Thorn Raven Sport Tour bikes we have are recommended to take no more than 16kg on the rear rack, so we are well inside that at 9kg and 5kg for my saddlebag.  T

Re-purposing joys while cycle touring

One of the joys of cycle touring is travelling without the clutter of everyday life.  Knowing that your maximum pannier load is 4.5×2 kilos creates a wonderful discipline.  Knowing that every kilo less than the maximum will feel great on the first climb makes your self discipline all the stronger.

Other joys follow the freedom from clutter: once into the routines of touring you learn the joys of re-purposing and ‘make do and mend’.  Here are some of our favourite discoveries from our last tour.

sflickr0602 - napkins encroach
sflickr0602 – napkins encroach (Photo credit: cygnoir)

Never leave a napkin behind after a meal.  We seem to cycle every kilometre with a drip on the end of our noses and a fresh napkin as a giant tissue is a great treat.  And they make great bike cleaners at the end of their lives.  A fat napkin will clean a set of wheel rims stopping the dreaded wheel/brake scream just a treat.

Petrol Station disposable gloves (the kind issued to stop fuel spills on driver’s fingers) make great hand warmers on a frosty early morning or will help keep gloves dry in an unexpected downpour.

Liberate a few used newspapers when the weather is unsettled and when you are climbing.  Nothing dries out soaked cycle shoes better than crumpled newspapers; tuck one down your shirt at the top of a climb and escape the chill as you descend; a few opened sheets will protect a hotel floor from dripping bike dirt and reassure a dubious if not hostile receptionist.

Wringing soggy socks
Wringing soggy socks

Supermarket polly bags make great overshoes in a thunderstorm or when rain follows in our wheels all day long.  There is nothing more dispiriting than finding your shoes are so totally soaked that you can no longer coordinate your pedal revolutions: polly bags will stave off this moment for hours.  If need be they will also protect your seat.

Hotel reception sweets must never be left behind: it’s amazing how instantly a simple boiling turns into a performance enhancing substance at the bottom of the last steep climb of the day, or a medical miracle when you hit the wall and run out of energy.  Apples and bananas work even better!

Dental floss
Dental floss (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dental floss has more uses than WD40. On our last trip we used it as a navigation range finder aide; instead of thread; instead of cable ties and to reinforce tired bungee grips.

A suitably sized stone chip will serve as a great spacer to hold a front derailler in middle chainring alignment if you have the misfortune to snap a front gear cable as we did on a recent trip in Portugal.

Old paper receipts and hotel notepads make great disposable navigation crib lists when leaving of a morning.  We write out 3 – one for departure, one with en route decision points and one with details of our next hotel.  Each can be thrown away when no longer needed.

Cycle Touring Advice from the late, great Anne Mustoe

I have just finished reading the last of Anne Mustoe’s cycle touring books and thought it would be a good time to catch some lessons from how she organised her trips.  Here goes:

Choose a route that serves some purpose or explores a central theme.  Mustoe was a classics scholar and historian and chose to follow her heroes: the Roman roads to the east; Alexander the Great; the Pilgrims’ camino to Santiago de Compostela, the Lewis Clark trail to the West of America.  We tried this on our recent trip down through France, following local traces of The Resistance in World War Two and it worked well to give us a sense of focus.

Pick up some language before you set off.  Mustoe was a natural linguist, but still worked hard at it, learning Mandarin and Turkish.  She is right about this.  Touring without a grasp of the local language is isolating – as we found to our cost.

Plan to exploit prevailing winds where possible.  This is bang on: we suffered like dogs fighting into headwinds from the Southwest on our recent trip down through Spain and Portugal.  It was the worst downside of going in Autumn.

Choose a season when the climate and weather will work for you.  Yes, we know you can cycle in the wet and cold, but it is so much more enjoyable with the sun on your back.

Set a pace and range right for you.  Mustoe was a fan of 50 miles a day, 5 days a week, and so 1000 miles a month.  We think she has that just right.  You need time to recover and to explore and to reflect if you are going to get the most out of your tour.

Decide a realistic budget and stick to it.  Mustoe was no fan of camping: neither are we.  Old bones need to soak in a tub at the end of most days!

Work hard at managing weight.  Mustoe cut maps into strips, used postal services and left unwanted clothes behind in her fight against weight.  We did the same (we carried less than 9 kilos each) and like her came to love the liberty of living life with a minimum of stuff around us.

Take layers of thin, light clothing to manage temperature differences.  Most of the time this worked for us, but we were lucky most of the time and in truth we were inadequately prepared for soaking wet days.  We banked on sunny, dry days: we could keep warm when dry, but not in the wet. A lesson learned hard!

Don’t worry about mechanical matters – help will appear when you need it.  Mustoe boasted she could not fix a puncture.  On our last trip we cycled 2246km without needing to touch the bikes – but they were well prepared before we left and we were using them well within their capacities.

Travel with an open heart and mind. Mustoe believed, ‘travel for me has been a change of soul’. She is right.  We learned to travel each day optimistically and we were met with nothing but kindness.

Aim for tranquility and balance.  On the bike and off.  Remember Mustoe’s final rule – a beer or a glass of wine at the end of the ride is always a good way to close a day in the saddle.  Cheers to that!



Top Five Cycle Touring Technology Tips I wish I’d Learned Earlier

We have been back from our cycle tour from Paris to the Algarve in Portugal for a few weeks now.  Time enough to reflect on some things I wish we had done differently.  My top five regrets are:

  1. Not using the GPS location feature on my still camera (a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ30) routinely.  Sure enough, we have arrived back with photos taken in places we cannot remember.  Most annoying is the fact that I bought the Panasonic because of its GPS facility!  Fears over battery demands put me off having the GPS on all the time put me off. Big mistake!
  2. Not taking enough video footage.  The Panasonic takes great video and I was also carrying a Flip video camera.  I had even created a mount for the camera on top of my front light: but somehow I failed to use it.  I default to stills I regret to say.  Big mistake.  Especially before a couple of brilliant descents on the border between Portugal and Spain. I can still run these through my brain, but seeing the footage would have been so wonderful.
  3. Not taking enough photos.  It’s impossible to take too many is it not? We take too many similar shots because we take them under the same circumstances each day.  We take when we stop to eat and drink and at special viewpoints.  So, too many photos take the same format and too many show us in our dayglow waistcoats.  Big mistake.
  4. Not buying a Smartphone data roaming package.  I had my iphone with me, but fears of big bills meant I turned off data roaming.  So no Twitter, no Facebook and no regular blogging updates on the road as events unfolded.  Big mistake.
  5. Not blogging each night in our hotels with wifi.  Somehow there seemed to be so much to do each night, with booking hotels and navigation, we failed to blog our experiences each day.  We did keep paper journals each day, but blogging would have added something for sure.

I guess we will just have to do it all again, and do better next time!  I wonder if you have ever made similar mistakes, or have suggestions on how to manage things better?

Related articles

Paris to Algoz, Algarve, Portugal – Our Navigation System

We had expected to start cycling from Santander.  A last minute ferry strike meant a switch to Eurostar and a start from Paris.  At a stroke all our careful planning went out of the window. Worse, we had no France maps for our Garmin Edge 800.  We set off with a 2004 edition of a Michelin Road Atlas:  as it was way too heavy, I spent hours tearing out pages we would not need.  Mostly I got it right!

The best map is the one to hand!

Without details maps for the Garmin we had to resort to planning on paper.  Not such a bad thing perhaps?  We devised a system that worked well for us – most of the time. Each night in our hotel we would use the overview map to pick out a town to the southwest of where we were.  Then we would take a length of dental floss (yes, we were in improvisation mode!)  cut to the length that corresponded to our preferred 80km daily range.  We would track this along the detailed map route and estimate the distance to our preferred destination town.  We decided anything between 80 and 100km was acceptable.  On a few occasions we were forced to make it 111km – but that was really pushing it for us and dangerous if headwinds, hills, or getting lost forced us off track and added to the demands.

Heading South East Works!

If our hotel had wifi, we could add the luxury of planning our exit from the town of departure in detail.  This saved much frustration and time the next morning. Better still, we could use the Via Michelin site to get suggested cycle routes and the Map My Ride site to check out the elevations and climbs ahead.  This was very reassuring: as was the use of a weather site which told us wind direction and force – more important than temperature and chance of rain.  Most days we would use the web to book into a hotel for the next day.

On the road we carried the map pages for the day in Jacqui’s map sleeve on her bar bag along with any detailed instructions she had copied out. I had the Garmin with the base map only, but it was a great help as a compass giving us a check on direction.  This saved us from a number of bad mistakes on the road.

Once we got to Spain and Portugal we had the luxury of detailed Garmin maps, but we chose to stick to our paper-based planning system.  This worked well once we adjusted to the change in scale!  This cut our daily range from a page plus in France to half a page in Spain.  A painful adjustment!

Route through Spain and Portugal

The Garmin did come into its own when trying to find routes out of cities and hotels on arrival.  Set to avoid motorways, tolls and unpaved tracks the Garmin proved reliable most of the time.

We ended up covering some 2,228km in total and climbing for 21,346 meters over 29 days so I guess the system was pretty well proved to work by the time we were finished! I certainly learned not to over-plan trips and leave some room for spontaneity in future.

Are we lost yet?




Navigation: using Via Michelin for cycle touring

I guess it should not come any any great surprise that this Michelin hosted site offers pretty good navigation features.  It is well worth a look as an alternative to cycle only sites and offers a number of attractive features.

Mapping Via Michelin Style

Firstly, the mapping is very clear and attractive and its possible to selectively add several layers of information and detail.  The maps give more detail as you zoom in and offer visual cues and keys.  Good use of colour give you a sense of the terrain, but if that is not enough, then you can add satellite or map/satellite hybrids.  As far as I can see, however, no elevation view is included.  However, you can ask to add different layers of detail showing locations of eating places, hotels, etc.

A second, very positive benefit for the cycle tourer is the option to specify that you want to follow cycle suitable routes when asking for directions.  Limited testing suggests that this does not throw up cycle only routes (such as greenways etc.) but it does keep you clear of major and cycle-unfriendly roads to a degree.  As you can specify locations you want to add along the route you can fine tune routes to a degree.  Better still you can ask for locations such as petrol stations or restaurants to be added and their location appears in the item by item written instructions.  As a luxury, it will add general weather information if you ask. Once you specify a destination, its possible to search for hotels in that destination from the same page. There is a suspicion than not all hotels are shown, however, but at least this provides a decent starting point.

All this is pretty neat and convenient with an a stable site that it is pretty straightforward to navigate.  Better still its possible to export and download the route instructions as a GPX file and for different types of GPS device.

The site works well on a desktop computer or on the Apple iPad, so it seems to have something to offer  the cycle tourer at home and on the road.  Anyone got any more experience with it – for good or bad?

Check out the Via Michelin site.

Cycle Tour Route France into Spain to Lisbon in Portugal

A poster called Meg offers this helpful route to Lisbon via Spain from France.

If you cross the border using one of the passes in Navarra and approach Pamplona and take a line roughly through Pamplona, Calahorra, Soria, Segovia, Avila, Plasencia, Caceres, cross the border at La Codosera/Marco. Then Monforte, Avis, Mora, Coruche and ferry across to Lisbon from Montijo (three bikes carried free) then you will have travelled well.

via CTC Forum • View topic – has anyone done London to Lisbon.