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Head east, don’t die (part 1)

Portugal’s capital, beaches beckon

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As we were only a few days’ ride from the southwest tip of Europe, Sagres, we decided we would follow the Portuguese shoreline south, and then strike eastward.

Just south of Lisbon, in Setúbal, I glowed upon issuing my first full Portuguese sentence that didn’t begin with “ onde está…”.

“Aqui… o aí?” I asked the grocery clerk, “here or there?”, and motioned to two potential spots to place my basket, after emptying it of our staple diet of chorizo, queijo , and the rock-like, tooth-endangering grain product Portuguese call bread.

“Aí.” She giggled — but had answered in Portuguese. Victory!

It was generally smooth cycling as we gradually increased our daily kilometre output from 50 to 90 by day six. At this point we reached Sagres, a destination notable, really, only for its geographic location, whitewashed fortress, and because it is the namesake of Portugal’s beer of choice. We had made a pilgrimage equivalent to that of visiting Molson, Canada if such a place existed, and felt like suckers for having done so.

However, the journey had been rewarding in itself, and we were not quite so naïve to be caught up in the destination, after a week of ideal riding, weather, and outrageous experiences.

What we encountered beyond Lisbon was exactly what we had envisioned at our kitchen tables before embarking: blossoming forests, startlingly gratifying stone kilometre markers, and pristinely deserted beaches for us to camp upon.

Surprisingly, we also enjoyed our fair share of encounters with cyclists heading the opposite direction. Passing one group nearly each day, we allowed ourselves to believe we would have company on the road all summer…

It would be over a month until we saw another cyclist. The reason for this became increasingly evident as we rode east towards Seville, Spain, into both the heart of the Iberian Peninsula — and summer.

A book detailing this journey, head east, don’t die, will be published in May 2008. For more information visit jensourom.com.