Santarem, Portugal: TransEuropa began today without fanfare or fuss. I simply hopped on my bike after a quick breakfast and started peddling, wobbly but almost mechanically in spirit. No sentiment, no emotion, just a lingering anxiety that accompanies the start of any great journey.
My ride began with a detour. From my hotel I headed to the majestic square, the Praca de Comercio, in downtown Lisbon. I chose this detour for both poignant and practical reasons. This detour greatly simplified my navigation and also presented a photo opportunity at the Praca. I exited Lisbon before the city awoke on a Sunday morning.
It took me an hour to get out of the capital, including the detour to the Praca, and another hour to get through Lisbon´s suburban sprawl. I found without my difficulty the secondary National road, the N10, that I sought. On this Sunday morning cyclists were out in force on the N10. I was pleased I made the right route choice.
By midmorning my anxieties about navigating out of Lisbon and starting this journey had evaporated, and I was finally beginning to enjoy the ride. Things were going swimmingly well until at the town of Ota I got confused and somehow got on a very rural, quiet road, through farmland and pine forests. It was all very pretty, except it was the long cut to where I wanted to go.
At precisely the time I realized I was off piste, almost on cue — I am not making this up — my Garmin GPS battery died. Until that point I had not relied on GPS, but I needed it then. But I was too committed to this rural route (which doesn’t even show up on Mapquest; I checked) so I just followed the road. Ordinarily I love this kind of backroad cycling, but I wasn´t in sightseeing mode. I zig-zagged across central Portugal today. I am not sure how many extra kilometers I cycled, but it´s at least 30, and it felt like much more. I think of this unplanned second detour as extra credit. What should have been an 87-km ride was a 107-km ride, at least.
Eventually I made it to Santarem just before 2pm. I pedaled up to the best hotel in town, flashed my Amex, and was very grateful they had a room. A hot shower, hearty late lunch and siesta followed.
Now that Lisbon is behind me and I have a sense for the roads I can focus on planning the rest of my ride through Portugal. I spent hours doing online research at a public computer in the hotel today (apparently, my MacBook Air has web connectivity issues) and modified my route plan to take into account the availability of accommodations along the way. My new route plan is: Abrantes – Castelo Branco – Guarda – and then on to Spain. At this point I expect to arrive in Salamanca, Spain, at the end of this first leg, on schedule.
I am looking forward to tomorrow. Distance-wise it should be an easy mileage day. Should is the operative word, of course.
Day 1: Lisbon – Santarem, Portugal
Day 1 distance: 107 km
Day 1 climbing: who knows?
Terrain: flat-ish leaving Lisbon, then rolling hills