In order to pack a bike with you and carry it on an airplane to start a ’round the world bike trip one must first break the entire bike down. I’m talking both wheels removed and deflated, handlebars removed, peddles taken off because otherwise it is too wide. Once everything that can be removed is, its time to cushion the hell out of it. Bubble wrap the derailleur, wrap pool noodles around the frame and any exposed parts, and basically pad any area that might be an issue so that it doesn’t get damaged in the travel process. Then slide into a small cardboard box where everything is snug and cozy for the next day and a half hoping that everything goes smoothly and it makes it there okay.
In order to fly over seas to start a ’round the world bike trip, one must be entirely broken down. I’m talking emotionally broken to the point that if you have to say goodbye to one more person you might just break down and lose it. Once all your goodbyes are said and you’ve given your best friend/dog away to a good home with your dad its time to fly 3,000 miles away to a foreign place where everything, including the language, is different. Slide into a small uncomfortable plane seat where you’re nice a cozy next to your traveling buddy for the next day and a half hoping that everything goes smoothly and you make it there okay.
Shaking, nervous, anxious and excited we quickly put our bikes together in the Lisbon International Airport baggage claim. I could feel myself building back up after months of fear and sadness from saying goodbye as i built this pile of steel back into the machine that would take me around the world. Not knowing a lick of Portuguese, josh and i set out into Lisbon blindly looking for our hostel that we had booked a week ago. Almost immediately we were separated. Josh had his phone with gps. I had my bike and a thought of never finding this hostel, being stuck in Lisbon and living off the streets playing covers of american songs i played on a guitar i made myself. Frustrated and lost after a few hours of attempting to communicate without knowing the language and searching for street signs that apparently don’t exist, i eventually ran into Daniel and his girlfriend who could speak english well enough to get by. They were able to use their smart phone to locate the nations hostel and walked me 15 minutes in the right direction talking basketball and the city of Porto where he was from. I thought if everyone i meet on this trip are half as nice as Daniel then this will be easy. With walky talky in hand i heard josh’s voice come thru, “STRIDER YOU THERE?? COME IN!” holy shit thank god. he eventually was able to lead me to the hostel thanks to a yellow crane in the sky as a vantage point. There he was, the only blonde in Portugal sticking his head out of a 3 story window with binoculars and radio in hand.
Roughly one million stairs up to our hostel and back into our room. The rooms wasn’t much bigger than the closet under the stairs where josh spent the last 6 months living. This closet however had a bunk-bed, lamp, and a window that opened out to the city. It was perfect. Especially considering next door was a convenience store that sold, yes, 2 euro bottles of wine! We splurged and each bought one in celebration of not sleeping on the streets and making our 8 km bike ride from the airport to our hostel. Two attractive girls from the Netherlands next door were not as impressed with ourselves as we were at the moment. drunkenly trying to have fun with them when all they wanted to do was be alone in their rooms. Lack of sleep from the airplane, excitement, and a bottle and a half of wine each we were slightly intoxicated. i felt, as one does, the need to urinate urgently as we hung out in our modestly sized room. The empty wine bottle in the corner of the room seemed to be as good of a place as any and was way more convenient than walking out our room door and slightly down the hall to the appropriate facility. As I poured the warm liquid out of the red wine bottle, out the window and onto the outside wall i heard a girl laughing from outside. When i glanced to my right i could now see the Netherlands girls standing on their balcony watching the whole act.
You’re gonna love Lisbon! You probably wont even leave!!
Well we left. Call it embarrassment from the night before or call it excitement to get on the road and start our journey. Either way we were on our way and instantly got lost.
“lets stick together this time”
We bought a road map of Portugal in the gas station up the street that was pretty much useless in preventing us from traveling in circles and continually getting lost and frustrated.
“people don’t stay in Lisbon because its beautiful, they stay cause its impossible to navigate your way out…”
Once we got out and were on one road north towards Spain the countryside started to open up and our spirits grew. Passing through towns like Villa Franca where the houses and buildings are close to the road and the streets are made of hundred year old stones vibrating through our wheels. Still not knowing any Portuguese whatsoever, we rode over roads that gradually went up in elevation and back down. Cruising past small goat farms and sheep that probably knew more of the language than we did. To the west were rolling mountains and the east vast vineyards that would hopefully eventually be made into another 2 euro bottle of wine for me to drink The town of Alenquer would soon be passed to our left. A whole uniform town of white buildings and orange rooftops with a cathedral at the highest point of this cliffside. Unreal. Still hasn’t set in that were in a whole other continent 3,000 miles from home. We would eventually bike down a winding gorgeous road of mostly downhill passing unbelievable sights of old buildings, landscapes and animals on what josh called “the greatest stretch of road he has ever biked”. That night we would camp in a patch of woods around the corner from an abandoned house from the early 1900’s and set up our tents for our first stealth camp and night on the road in Portugal. I fell asleep next to bamboo stalks with a dwindling fire, no rainfly on my tent, staring at the stars with fireflies in the near distance and the quiet sounds of tchaikovsky playing on my solar powered radio until it eventually went out.
There was misty rain in the morning as we set out. A nice lady opening her shop saw us filling our water and said “Bom Dia!”
“hey that must mean good morning!” we laughed
Cold wet morning mixed with breaks in cement busstops for warmth, however the cement made it like a mini fridge. We didn’t care as we stuffed our face with baguettes with nutella and bananas. Later on that day we happened upon an oceanside restaurant on the ocean overlooking cliffs and an empty beach with what must have been from a distance 10-15 ft waves. Extreme highs when doing this sort of thing. We didn’t have to say a thing, but josh did.
“This shit is free..”
Round-abouts are everywhere here and the more your ride them, the more they become second nature. Important points: Read the signs ahead of time and stay the hell out of everyone’s way. However i can tell you one time in particular when josh and i were each waiting for each other about ten miles away from where we thought the other would meet us for hours.
I decided to wait on the other side of the bridge for josh. The most comfortable looking place to spread out my sleeping pad to sit on was a grassy spot in the middle of the roundabout with a small patch of shade. The thumbs up started immediately and my stress for where josh could be seems to vanish instantly. Honk! something in Portuguese. Honk! thumbs up.. Honk! “Peace dude!” in a Portuguese accent, If ever you’re feeling down and need a little pick me up, sit in the middle of a roundabout in Portugal with a bike and a bunch of crap.
Roundabout waiting for josh
No matter what, this trip in its early stages has been amazing, No matter if its struggling to go up hill or riding downhill at 25 mph with a cool breeze in your face. Riding past a cow farm where the scent of rotting shit fills your nose or a field of yellow daisies and wildflowers in every color fills your vision. From meeting people like David in Lisbon and Joseph, the 62 year old German who rides around the border of Spain and Portugal every year for the past 5 years and gave us a great idea for a route in France. From the panic of not knowing where were going to sleep with only an hour before dark to stumbling upon the most amazing campsite like when we slept in, what i call, the avenue of the giants without the giants. Gorgeous landscapes, incredible old beautiful cities with bridges over water and towns on cliffsides. The extreme ups and downs. The “simplicity simplicity simplicity” of eating bread fruit and wine and riding a bicycle. Eat, sleep, bike, repeat. Tomorrow we’ll ride over the bridge and over the border into Spain. Portugal you were amazing, you were beautiful, you were welcoming, and a great transition/first chapter into this journey.
“this shit is free….” -Josh Sewell