As am packing for Fail 6, am looking at my notebook, it has an old map of Portugal’s front cover.
I traced my lines on that map, all the routes I made, I feel satisfied to see they go through most of the country already.
I have been in Portugal for about two years now. There is a lot to see and yet it is a tiny country, about the size of Indiana.
My map doesn’t show the extreme South of Portugal, so my pencil has to stop before the end of the next ride.
I don’t like that, am not a firm believer in signs but am a firm believer in signs.
For a minute there, I was tempted to change the route. Maybe I should just change the map…
Here is the plan, I am going to pick Rui up at his home in Castro Verde, from there we will normally tackle the Portuguese part of the European Divide or go down to ride the infamous Algarvianae trail, none of this will really happen in the end, it is called Fail for a reason after all.
I was pretty happy with Fail 4 on the Migration Gravel Race and everybody helping me felt satisfied too, it was a nice feeling but soon enough it turned into pressure, where do I go from here? How can I make a consistent follow-up with no zebras, no possible lion hiding in the high grass, no gravel climb up 3000 meters, no food poisoning, no fear of taking a leak out in the night to the lullabies of hyenas?! The challenge was massive for me after that race, how do I match that?
The pressure ends up with me shooting a whole episode that I will never release, Fail 5. A film failure I suppose.
Well, it is called Fail for a reason!
So the first morning, I ride to Lisboa and I am not surprised to get stuck and stalled there by a Ferry strike.
Once across the Tejo river in Almada, I hit a car from its rear as it turns right suddenly and stops in front of me.
Well, it is called Fail… But to be fair, the rest of the trip will go relatively smooth despite that.
The way to Rui’s place is the longest day on the road, about 220 km.
The best part of it is a small section of the mythical N2 nicknamed Europe’s Route 66.
So for Fail 6, I needed to let go, I decided to give the reigns of the whole project to Rui, I told him: ”Maybe let’s do the Divide or the Algarve trail…” He made a totally different route, maybe cause I told him: “All I really want is for you to make me love gravel!” So he knew what to do, avoid the Algarvianae or the Divide, they would be too hard on a gravel bike and I would just hate most of it, we tackled a bit of both in the end but only parts he knew to be easy and really gorgeous.
The film says it all and there is not much I can write about it.
Maybe though, that Rui used to be a History teacher, he stopped that career to go learn documentary photography in London at the Magnum offices where he hung out with names that scare and impress the hell out of me, then he came back and in the end, he decided to contribute the best he could to a cause he found worth it, renewable energies.
Rui and I talked a lot on the trip but at one point we both stopped completely for a few hours, we were both struggling on that day but I enjoyed our companionship in the silence just as much, if not even more! You only can tell someone is a friend when you can actually hang out together and not talk for a long time, cycling has its way of accelerating friendships like that, through rough times and silent pauses!
Riding gravel can be complicated for a newbie and even more in Portugal, tracks can turn to single tracks fairly easily and it is really hard to make a perfect route.
People challenge the idea of the gravel bike a lot, they see a trend, a marketing stunt, it’s alright, I personally think a gravel bike is an adventure companion, it will smoothen the rough tarmac, it will behave on dirt and it will do just about anything you accept to tackle on the way.
I fell in love with that side of cycling for its limitless aspect, I don’t have to design a gravel route to enjoy the bike, just a route where I am not sure, I am not certain things will go smooth, then that bike is an added dose of peace of mind and it’s all I need. I have been riding with many people, so far, none knows their land as well as Rui. He rides to get lost and it becomes increasingly hard for him to do so in his country, I think that says a lot, if you have a hard time deliberately trying to get lost, you got to that point of expertise where you should be called a tour guide!
Thanks, my friend. This was a gorgeous ride, maybe not a proper Fail episode but one I will dearly remember.