So often on a trip like this, how far you get, or in today’s case how high you get, is all a matter of believing you can do it. We knew we had a tough slog ahead of us when we set out from the campsite at Pião, back onto the roads that we struggled so much with the day before. The ten percent grades continued for several kilometers, before finally giving way to a slightly flatter but still climbing route, set in a dramatic landscape. All around us were small lakes set in large valleys, waterfalls tumbling down from distant heights and tundra fields filled with boulders dropped and polished smooth by glaciers.
As we climbed higher, approaching 1,500m and the town of Penhas de Saúde, dark clouds started to roll in. This wasn’t on the weather forecast! We had checked and been told to expect mostly sun with only cloudy periods, but you can’t control the weather, especially so high up, and before long the rain started to fall. By this time we’d also managed to pick up a couple stray dogs who had adopted us as their exercise trainers and were happily trotting alongside the bikes, making a general nuisance of themselves as they unpredictably ran in front of us every few minutes. In the middle of all this, we reached the crossroads where we’d planned to turn right and descend into the town of Manteigas, but Friedel was struck by a sudden impulse to go all the way to the top: a climb of a further 7km to Torre, 1993m up in the sky and Portugal’s highest point on the mainland. She offered Andrew a deal, either we could climb this hill or the road known as “Europe’s highest” when we reach the Italian Alps in a couple months time.
Andrew chose this one, so up we went. For two hours we rounded curve after curve as motorists passed us, shaking their heads. One did a double take as he went by and laughed quite heartily out loud at the sight of us. Was it so crazy to climb this hill on a loaded bicycle? Hard work, sure, but we knew that reaching the top would be worth it! The weather continued to be unpredictable, going from rain to hail, back to sun and then back to rain again, getting colder all the time as we climbed.
Finally we reached the top to what else but….. a souvenir shop! We weren’t complaining as we raided their deli counter of local cheese, wine and chorizo sausage. This was a treat well earned. Other “sights” at the peak included two discarded radar stations and a closed ski lift. Let’s just say that aside from the food, which was great, the real reward of climbing was the scenery on the way up. Beautiful. Stunning. Magnificent. All these words came to our lips over and over as we worked our way higher into the sky.
After so much hard work we looked forward to our descent, which took less than 10 minutes and never saw our speed dip below 40km an hour, keeping up with most of the cars on the road. Finally we returned to the junction we’d reached much earlier in the day and took the road to Manteigas, stopping just a few kilometers in at a little campsite beside a glacial lake.
Just as we thought our adventure was over for the day we heard thunder, then a bit of rain, and all of a sudden huge hailstones falling on our heads! They were quite large, about a centimeter across, and we had to get out of our tent and shake them off the tarp. Our good timing meant we’d finished cooking supper about 30 seconds before the hail started so we were able to have a hot supper while we huddled in our tent, listening to the ice balls pelt down on our roof. We finished off our wine and cuddled into our sleeping bags for what will surely be one of the colder nights we’ve experienced in recent months.