Pedalling Portugal 2018: Day five-up up up and a stray

Tondela-Cinfães 73 miles.

7h09 riding time. Avg 10.2mph.

Ascent 7,572ft. Descent 7,227 ft.

The toughest days are often, bizarrely, the best days. They certainly are the most memorable ones. They are the ones that you learn the most about yourself from. They are often the ones where total strangers give you a helping hand.

Broken H (complete with leg flaps)

Broken H (complete with leg flaps)

It’s hard to describe just how epic today was and we went into it thinking it was an easier day of “only 40miles or so.”

Oh how wrong could we be?!?

Isabel set us off with a decent breakfast of freshly made pancakes. The sun was out as we retraced our way back to the Ecopista do Dao. We had a few other cyclists for company, most were going the other way. And I could only laugh when two much older gentlemen flew passed us. Gertrude and The Bitch simply didn’t do speed!

The Bitch just can’t keep up, despite those legs

The Bitch just can’t keep up, despite those legs

We were going “off-piste” for the second time on our trip, very much leaving the N2 behind. Neither of us were too sorry to be heading northwest rather than north, although we had started to fall in love with the route the further north we headed.

We had our first sandwich stop of the day around 1130. Then we faced another big climb.

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You know you’re going high when the signs on the road show ice and snow ploughs!

By 1400 I needed another stop. Pizza at a garage. Not enough. Pizza and a pastry and a coke at a garage, which was full of the kind of guys who hang around in cafes in fuel stations.

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After our pizza stop we realised Cinfaes was still a long way away and there were a lot of mountains to come. So we decided to come off the main road to start going west. We followed the Garmin which led us up tiny, narrow roads and we hung on for dear life on steep ascents.

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After two hours we hadn’t made much progress but we had seen some absolutely stunning, remote places.

We couldn’t comprehend where an old gentleman could have brought the bread he was carrying from. There was absolutely nothing around other than cobbles and tiny shacks.

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By 5pm I was struggling. I was at zero energy wise and I didn’t have much water or any snacks. Rich shoved an OTE flapjack and a mini Soreen my way but it wasn’t enough. I was beyond hungry but I knew we had another big climb to get over. I couldn’t bring myself to turn to the right to start it. There was one last chance that there might be something open in a village just beyond where we needed to turn off.

I saw two women chatting at a gate and asked them for water. I thought they said there’s a tap opposite the car. It was more than a tap! It was a small shop. Better than that, it was a small shop that was open! I told the owner it was a miracle and that we were going to Cinfaes. He laughed!

Then he started to talk about “the hard mountain” before showing us photos of grown men, with pain strewn across their faces, doing a sportive over the very same route we were about to follow! And they didn’t have panniers, or heavy bags!

Chocolate hero

Chocolate hero

His wife clearly knew what lay ahead-not only did she bring out ice for our water, she then asked if we wanted any chocolate. It was her OWN chocolate that a friend had given her from Switzerland! I could not have been more grateful.

It did the trick and I set off feeling like I might actually be able to pedal.

The climb totally blew us away. It was stunning.

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It also had me in tears-and not from the ascent. I absolutely crapped my pants when three dogs were blocking our way.

There were no other humans around and these were HUGE scary things which could - and would - kill if you went near the goats they were protecting. Thankfully Rich handled it a lot better and helped me through, but I was a shaking wreck.

We eventually got to the windmills which our chocolate friend had told us marked the top and that it was downhill from there.

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The descent started off well but my emotions once again got the better of me when we came across a herd of cows, more dogs and a rather brutal shepherd coming down the mountain. Again I just burst into tears and started shaking*. Pathetic maybe. Tired, definitely.

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Once again Rich came to the rescue and got me off that damn mountain.

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After more than seven hours in the saddle we finally reached our accommodation in Cinfaes, ready for a much needed warm shower and anaesthetic (vinho tinto) for our sore legs and butt.

*If you were a regular listener to BBC Radio Shropshire in 2007/8 you’ll know I went to meet farmer Tim who helped me to overcome my fear of cows. Clearly Tim’s magic cow powers didn’t spread to international horned cattle.