After three weeks of gradually accumulating his kilometres, the time had arrived for the final push. It was here, in Porto, on the 26th September where Nathan would begin his attempted 260-kilometre ride to Obidos (just short of Lisbon). When he checked in to his hostel in Porto he was happy to see that the rental bike had been delivered on time. Despite feeling drained, waking up at 5am on Monday morning and going to work prior to flying to Porto; the offer to go out on a Pub Crawl upon arriving at the hostel reception (9pm) seemed to tempting an offer to resist. Knowing that he wouldn’t be going out tomorrow night, (final night before setting off on the ride) this was his only opportunity to see what the nightlife in Porto had to offer. So the evening quickly began sitting at the Gallery Hostel bar, three American fire-fighters from Florida on their final night of a 2 week trip travelling around Europe, a Czech girl escaping her dissertation project back in Birmingham, and the latecomer…..a young Japanese neuroscientist. Nathan began the evening by sipping on the local fine white port, at only two euros a glass, this delicious drink was worthy of a cheers!
The newly put together team of avengers headed to the meeting point for the pub crawl (outside Porto University) and went searching for the red umbrella, which they were told was the symbol to look for. It didn’t take long to find other young travellers who were out in search for a night of debauchery in Porto. Racquel quickly greeted them, explaining she would be one of the ladies in charge of escorting everyone from bar to bar and ensuring they have a night of fun! As the night progressed, and the drinks kept flowing, the dance moves came out and everyone had a good time. The Americans decided to leave the party earlier having to wake up for their flight at 4am in the morning, whilst Renata (Czech girl), Yuya (Japanese neuroscientist) and Nathan continued to head up the party, returning back to the hostel at 3am.
Nathan didn’t waste time lying in the next morning, as he only had one day to explore this beautiful city and learn about its heritage. Heading to the free hostel breakfast at 9am he was pleasantly surprised, for this was to be one of the best hostel breakfasts he had had to date. Being a man with a great passion for food he was happy to see such a wide selection of foods available: fresh warm rolls, scrambled eggs made with the perfect consistency, an array of cured meats, yoghurts, oats, coffee, tea, juices, and of course Pastel D'Nata! (a famous Portuguese pastry with custard inside) At breakfast Nathan introduced himself to both a Greek and a Turkish lady who said they would be going on a walking tour of the city at 10.30am. With only one day in Porto this seemed like the perfect opportunity to get the local insider perspective of the city. At 10am they were met at the hostel by one of the men from the company and taken to the meeting point, the free walking tour was a popular one, with over 30people joining on to this tour at the central meeting point. David, a young Portuguese man took the group away from the meeting point and explained he would be our guide for the day. He was an enthusiastic and passionate individual with a love for tourism. He asked everyone in the group to introduce themselves, and what struck Nathan from the first 10 people was how nomadic our generation is today, with not one individual living in the same place that they were born. Throughout the 3 hour tour, David took the group to explore some of the most famous sights in Porto, giving intricate, detailed explanations along the way. For Nathan, this city was one of beauty and character; he particularly enjoyed the train station, with its magnificent architecture and tiled paintings portraying different stories of Portuguese history. The Dom Luis bridge was also a landmark not to be missed, with panoramic views of the city as the sun glistened on the Douro River below. After the walking tour finished, Nathan went with the Greek lady and an American he had met on the tour to explore a local food market, and the famous Livrario Lella, the library that gave J.K Rowling the inspiration behind Harry Potter. Returning to Gallery Hostel feeling extremely tired from lack of sleep and walking for 6 hours in the sun, he decided it was time to get his ride for the next day out the cardboard box and make sure everything was good to go. Stripping the box apart he was happy to see that minimal work was necessary, only fitting the pedals and adjusting the handlebars. Upon changing the cleats for his shoes, the biggest issue he noticed, was that he had left his insoles for his shoes back in the UK!! It was now 6pm and time to pack up and move hostels as there was no room left at the inn, at least this gave Nathan an opportunity to get on the saddle and check there were no major issues before departing the following morning.
To conclude his time in Porto, Nathan and the lovely ladies he had met at Gallery Hostel and the walking tour had planned to visit Afuarda (a small fisherman village across the bridge from Porto) for dinner, to a restaurant called Casa do Pescado (House of Fish), which had been recommended by David from the walking tour. The village was small and quaint, with locals sitting outside the front of their houses, grilling fresh fish on their mini charcoal barbecues. On arrival at 7.30pm the restaurant was empty, (it is common for people in Portugal not to eat until gone 8.30pm) allowing them to pick a table out front of the restaurant, enjoying the fresh evening air and watching passers by. The restaurant lived up to expectation with a selection of dishes being tasted including: grilled sardines, codfish, mussels, mixes salad, olives, wood oven baked bread and grilled vegetables. Wanting to set off at 6.15am tomorrow morning and having had very little sleep the night before, Nathan was ready to go back to his hostel, finish final preparations and get his head down. By the time he had packed everything ready to go for the morning and bought some breakfast supplies it was 10.30pm. As tired as he was, with the evening warmth and noise from the outdoor streets through the window he lay restless! Why was it always times like these when we need our sleep the most that we find ourselves laying awake, getting more and more agitated.
Five minutes before his alarm was due to go off at 5.45am, Nathan awoke. Already feeling as though he had been riding for the past week, with tired eyes and aching legs he rolled out of his top bunk in the tightly packed 6 bedroom dorm he was in. Trying to be courteous to the other guests who had probably only arrived in their beds an hour or two before, he took all his belongings to the bathroom and slung on his lycra cycling gear. He wanted to get off as soon as possible as he knew he was in for a long day, and it was only going to get hotter as the sun came up and the hours progressed, with the day before reaching up to 30 degrees. It took him only a couple of minutes to demolish what he thought were porridge oats (but turned out to be some strange cereal) mashed with a banana and some mixed nuts. A couple of last minute checks to ensure he hadn’t followed the usual trait of leaving something behind, before trudging his bike and luggage down the three flights of stairs, probably waking up half the guests in the process. Helmet strapped, strava route at the ready, water bottle full, and down the cobbled street he rolled.
It was a cool morning, with only a few souls on the streets at the early hour of 6.30am. Settling in to his new bike Nathan only incurred a few small nuances such as the pannier sitting to close to the pedals and his heel kicking off the bag, but small adjustments made and he was flying. Within minutes the endorphins were kicking in, that magical feeling he experiences every time he is on the bike, like he is on top of the world and anything is possible. The scenery was magical as he cycled along the Douro Valley, the sun slowly surfacing, beneath the famous Dom Luis bridge and into the distance. As he exited the outskirts of Porto and along the coastline he enjoyed the empty roads to himself, aiming to maintain a good speed and cover as much ground as possible before the orange fire ball rose high into the sky and beckoned his gringo skin. Despite being warned of the ‘loco’ (crazy) drivers in Portugal prior to his departure, the first few hours on the bike proved nothing but bliss as he went from sandy coastline into fertile forests, with so few cars that this could have been his private island.
Just over three hours in and the sun was rising, along with it the temperatures. Feeling the belly rumbling and the bladder a little weak he pulled into a side street to shovel down his protein energy bar purchased from the market the day before; what started as a bite quickly turned into just a wrapper left. Nathan poured the electrolyte sachets brought from the UK into his water bottle, emptied his bladder and applied some sun screen to his cooking skin all without getting off the bike; time was of the essence! In his head he had decided upon Figuera do Foz as the lunch landmark, and there was at least another 80km to be completed before such a rest was earned. Unfortunately for Nathan the road was becoming more monotonous as he moved further inland from the coast, with no beaches or forest to keep the eyes engaged. At this point he become a little frustrated at himself for not organising his Spotify library a little more selectively, with only the same playlists that he had been listening to for the past few months for entertainment. But this was all ok; he knew that this journey wasn’t going to be all fun and smiles, it was supposed to be a challenge after all.
His eyes were squinting as a combination of sweat and sunscreen trickled from his forehead over his brow and into his eye. His knees were beginning to feel more like that of a 70 year old man in need of some WD-40 than a young 25 year old; unfortunately this was nothing new either, and an issue he knew would arise after his previous cycling in South America a couple years earlier. Maintaining speed as he passed the sign for Figuera do Foz and cycled over the bridge he knew it was time to stop for lunch and refuel his engine. He kept his eyes peeled for a restaurant or café without wanting to go to far off the main road and enter a town, after just a few minutes he came across a camping grounds. It appeared luck favoured him at this instance in time, with the grounds having a small restaurant at the entrance serving lunch. He wasted little time gulping down some agua fria (cold water), trading his cleats for flip-flops and ordering a carbohydrate rich tuna pasta. All the usual culprits were doing their best to try and dampen his spirits; loss of feeling in the wrists, the lower back calling for a thai massage and a rear end in need of a rest. But after a little stretch, a delicious Portuguese pasta and remembering what he was doing the cycling for and he was ready to take on the last 110km to the finish point.
Sun screen on, headphones in, cleats clipped on, let’s go! The next hour or two went by fairly quickly, but the pain in the wrists from holding on to the handlebars became more and more frustrating, meaning Nathan would have to go from one handed on the left to one handed on the right to try and get a little break. Due to the fact he only had a pannier on one side it was very difficult to go no hands without the instantaneously losing balance. Nazare beach was the next focus point, with the aim of stopping for a quick ice cream and water top up before finishing the final 40km. Time was passing by and the best thing about that was that the temperatures were slowly dropping……slowly! After getting a little muddled up with the maps on strava and taking a few wrong turnings, some Nathan was getting a little worried for the condition of the rental bike as he went over the cobbled streets. Water supplies were empty as the he rolled downhill into the busy beachfront of Nazare, it didn’t take long to find what he was looking for…… whipped ice cream – hazelnut and coconut, he couldn’t think of anything better at this point in time. Nothing more than five minutes rest to enjoy his ice- cream in the shade and top up his water bottles before getting back on the road for the final 40km.
It didn’t take long for that special feeling to come over him. The end was near, confidence was high, nothing could stop him. His legs may be fatigued, but his head was strong, he knew that this was one more challenge he would overcome. As the evening air drew in his legs continued to push on, with a magnificent view of the cliffs overlooking the Portuguese coastline. It is always in the final push where Nathan uses his greatest strength, using visualisation of previous successes and experiences to build confidence and resilience in the current moment. One final short climb to finish the day, and whilst the pedals continued to turn, his thoughts went back to his visit to the Shooting Star Chase Hospice the Friday before. He smiled through the discomfort in his joints and hunger in his belly, remembering the fantastic work the charity are doing for children who will never have the opportunities to do the activities we as people take for granted on a daily basis. Why does he opt to take on these physical challenges for charity? The more obvious reason…. To help the work of causes he believes in, but also as a reminder of how lucky he is. It is by taking ourselves outside of our usual day to day comfort zone that we achieve perspective on life, the small things that we forget to appreciate and what we are capable of achieving with a good purpose driving us.