Ponte de Lima - Vuelta a Iberia - CycleBlaze

September 25, 2019

Ponte de Lima

We have a longish ride ahead of us today - 55 miles - with a possible rendezvous with friends at the end.  We do the best that we can to get an early start given that breakfast at our hotel doesn’t begin until 8, and are on the road heading south by 9:30.  It’s a bit foggy this morning, with light winds and the expectation that conditions will improve all day long.  Excellent conditions for a ride.

It begins beautifully, following the Galician coast south to A Garda, the final Spanish town before the frontier.  It’s a splendid ride, combining superlative coastal scenery with a safe and comfortable route tailored to walkers and riders of the Portuguese Camino.  All morning long we passed hikers trekking upcoast toward Santiago, with astonishing waves crashing against the shore the whole way.

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Leaving Baiona
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This photo doesn’t quite do justice to the dramatic surf. Some of the breakers seemed to rise to fifteen feet and explode high into the sky against offshore rocks. Mesmerizing to bike along.
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South of Baiona
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South of Baiona
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The Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Oia, a Cistercian monastery founded in 1137. We should have stopped for a better look, but we have a long ride with a possible dinner date at its end.
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South of Baiona
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A Guarda, at the frontier. Just beyond town is the mouth of the Minho River and the international border.
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We aren’t the first CycleBlazers to spin down this coastline this year.  Our friends Patrick and Suzanne came this way just a few months ago, on route from from Pao to Porto.  I’ve been thinking of them all morning, feeling foolish and hoping we don’t have the same misfortune they did.  Upon reaching the Minho, they had the unpleasant news that the ferry across the river was out of commission.  They were innovative and fortunate enough to find a local boatman who ferried them across; otherwise, they’d have faced a long, unpleasant detour inland for the nearest bridge.

For weeks I’ve had in the back of my mind that I should check the status of this ferry to make sure it was operating again.  Somehow I never got around to it though.  Dumb, dumb, dumb.  Luckily for us, it was operating on a normal schedule.  Also luckily, we arrived only five minutes from the next departure - great, but it made me anxious that Rachael had dashed into the ladies room while I was buying tickets.  I ended up pounding on her stall door to pick up the pace.

The ferry, the Minho River, and Portugal
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Looking inland from the mouth of the Minho.
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On board
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The Spanish side of the river was coated with froth.
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Today’s ride consists of three roughly equal parts: the ride down the Spanish coast to A Guarda; continuing south along the Portuguese coast to Viana do Castelo; and biking inland along the Limia River to Ponte de Lima.  The first segment was spectacular, but the second was much less interesting, bordering on monotonous - mostly flat, mostly out of sight of the sea, and mostly along the highway.  Nothing to get excited about, but nothing to complain about either on a day where we have some miles to put behind us.  Unusually, I didn’t hold the team up for a photo anywhere until we reached the beach just north of Viana and stopped for lunch.

Another mile and we came to the Limia River, with Viana do Castelo on the opposite bank.  The long bridge was a bit intimidating - significant traffic, a narrow two lanes, and a very narrow pedestrian lane.  We stared out walking in the pedestrian lane, until an woman laden with shopping bags paddled past in the traffic.  The drivers just backed up behind her and waited patiently for a safe time to pass, so we hopped in the lane also.

Lunch stop on the beach, Viana do Castelo. If we stick with our plan, we won’t see the ocean again until we reach the southern Portuguese coast five weeks from now.
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The bridge across the Limia, Viana do Castelo. After this, I’m going to quit complaining about the Deception Pass Bridge.
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Patrick O'HaraHi Scott,
Patrick and Susanna here. We feel honored that you mentioned us in your blog:) Yes. We remember this bridge and also thought it to be a little frightening. I remember us riding on the pedestrian part with shoes unclipped from the pedals; and pushing with one foot off the ground like a scooter to move my bike forward. Really enjoying following along on another one of your fall tours.
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2 months ago

So: the first third of the day’s ride was spectacular; the second was tame and a bit tedious; and the third was, well, something else again.  The third segment was interesting.  As the old cyclists curse goes, may you bike on interesting roads.

We first biked in Portugal in 1997, on our tour from Nice to Lisbon.  It was for us at the time a long tour, and we enjoyed our pass through northern Portugal the least of the whole journey.  It had a lot going against it - we’d been on the road too long, our days were too long, and we were road weary; even in early October, it was unpleasantly hot; the traffic was bad, borderline dangerous on some of our roads; we broke Rachael’s derailleur three days from Lisbon; our entrance to Lisbon was nightmarish - it was at that time the least bike friendly city we had ever seen.

Mostly though, there were the cobblestones.  We dreaded every town and village we approached, because the road surface from one city limit to the next, even on the main highway through town, was one of bone-crushing cobblestones.

From our more recent travels, we found the roads in southern Portugal (the Algarve and Alentejo) we’re not like this at all.  They’re normal pavement, and we’re excellent to bike on.  We hoped that the far north would be more like the south.

The north, as it turns out, is like the center.  Cobblestones everywhere.  And they’re every bit as awful as I remembered - maybe worse even.  Most of the main roads are paved now, but if you get far off of them you’re quite likely to be facing a surface like this:

Something to be aware of if you’re considering biking in Northern Portugal.
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Interesting, no? At least this one has a flagstone margin that you can bike on part of the way.
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The plus side of this is that the surface is colorful, almost romantic in its appearance. It’s not enough though.
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The cobblestones last us all the way through the outskirts of Viana do Castelo, until we eventually reach the Ecovia that follows the south bank of the river.  This is an interesting surface too - dirt, grass, puddles, roots, crushed tile, that sort of thing.  A challenge and slow going, but hugely preferable to the cobblestones.  After a few miles traveling at about 5 mph though, we come to a water crossing deep and wide enough that we would have to remove our shoes and portage across.  We consider it, but we’re getting concerned about time.   It’s getting late in the day and we have a possible dinner date to show up for.  We decide to give up on the wild side, head back to the paved N road, and then make good time all the way to Ponte de Lima.

The Ecovia - a different sort of interesting.
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In places, the Ecovia follows right along the river and is very pleasant.
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I don’t think I’ve ever seen crushed tile used as a road material before. Pretty!
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Steve Miller/GrampiesTypical of road repair in many less developed areas. We found rubble and palm fronds to be favoured in Belize.
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2 months ago
The Limia River
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The Ecovia brings us a bit of everything,
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We arrive in Ponte de Lima not long before sundown - tired, and in a hurry to check in to our hotel and contact our friends who we hope are in town.  We’re in so much of a hurry that we don’t take any photos at all of Ponte de Lima, which is tragic - it’s beautiful this evening, biking along the river through its long colonnade of majestic plane trees is magical, the light is just right.  It feels criminal now looking back on this evening that I didn’t pause for a photo or two.

There will be time tomorrow, I say to myself - and we plan on doubling back through here in a few days on our way back from Braga.  So wrong.  When you come to a great picture on the road, take it.  You may not pass this way again.

Our friends are in town!  But they’re both whipped, too tired to visit tonight after back-to-back long, strenuous stages hiking the Portuguese Camino.  Fine with us, as we’re pretty whipped ourselves.  We’ll meet for breakfast in the morning.  In the meantime, we revive ourselves with another fine meal.  I may not have any good shots of Ponte de Lima to share with you, but there are always the food photos.

Fish in plain sight, for a change
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Veal, mushrooms and potatoes.
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Ride stats today: 55 miles, 1,700’; for the tour: 162 miles, 7,100’

Today's ride: 55 miles (89 km)
Total: 162 miles (261 km)

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