Prepping for Portugal

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The first item of business is to point out that what follows is a description of how I got ready for our cycle trip in Portugal. It is clearly my process, not Mary’s process. Mary’s idea of prepping for such a trip is to watch me prep. As I’m sure will become apparent in these first few posts, Mary is the spontaneous one and I am the one that requires at least a little control, though there is some movement along that spectrum for both of us depending on the circumstances.

The second item of business is to say that I will try not to bore you with the more technical details of say, how I broke in our Brooks B17 leather saddles in 2 weeks, or how I weighed most items searching for that perfect balance between all 4 panniers and the spreadsheets I created to track such information. If I do stray into that arena, please cut me some slack as I’ve spent my career writing technical documents, and making the switch to creative writing won’t necessarily be a smooth one.

Greg fitting Mary’s new Kona Sutra

For me, preparing for a trip can be broken into three areas… Purchases (what do I need that I don’t already have?), Research (what should I know before I land?), and Packing (how do I fit my life into 4 panniers?).

We’ve done some cycle touring in the past, a couple of 400km trips and 1700km cycling around Cuba last winter. We did those trips using mediocre equipment, not really knowing if this sport was something we could get into. We’ve now determined that it is and we needed to start acquiring the right gear. Over the past 8 months, we’ve each picked up a new Kona Sutra touring bike. They’re beautiful bikes and well suited for the type of riding we’re doing. Thanks to Skookum Cycle and Ski in Salmon Arm for helping us with that purchase, their service is second to none! We also purchased an Axiom front rack for each bike and a new set of Arkel panniers to replace the old MEC panniers that we got from MEC 20 years ago. We also borrowed a set of well-traveled Ortliebs… thanks Peter! Those were the major purchases and I feel well prepared now in terms of our gear.

Torin will be waiting for us when we arrive on the 29th and will spend the first week with us. So the research I did included a place to stay when we landed in Lisbon and a few nights in Sintra. I’m totally fine with some spontaneity in this area but I do need to know where I’m going to sleep when we first arrive in a new country. After that, no problem, we can figure it out on the fly.

As an aside, you need to understand that my role is to conduct the research, and make some recommendations, but I realize that I am not the sole decision maker here. So the process of selecting that first night’s bed is that I invest a significant amount of time to short list several places based on a set of criteria that are important to me. In order of priority, that would be 1. No foot board on the bed, 2. Location, 3. Price, and 4. A solid set of positive reviews. The result is a selection of places that I would be happy to stay in. At that point, I sit Mary down in front of my computer and run her through the list… no, no, no, yes, that’s the one I want to stay in, and then I book it. It’s a good system and we both get what we want.  We now have 5 nights booked in Lisbon and another 3 in Sintra before we part ways with Torin and get on our bikes for some serious riding.

The other primary focus of my research is in regards to cycle routes. This research doesn’t actually result in a route that we would follow, that would be far too much predicability. Rather the research gives me some insight into the options, the terrain, the state of the roads, the frequency of accommodations, the over all elevation gains and losses and the distances between where we might be and where we might want to get to. All very vague I know, but it results in a surprising level of comfort for me, which is the sole reason I do it.

It’s difficult to pack for an international cycling trip spontaneously, particularly when it’s for 2 months in the off-season. We need to pack enough clothes to accommodate cycling in rain, sun, warmth and cold (low teens). When we stop each night, we will want to explore towns and cities and go out for dinner and so we will need clothes to do that. The expectation is that our clothes will take up one pannier. The other back pannier should contain my sleeping bag, sleeping pad and maybe a few other items such as my laptop and various chargers. I’ve got the tent (Hubba Hubba), a small tarp, rope and a jetboil that will go into one of the front panniers, and shoes, flipflops, tent poles and tools go in the other front pannier.

So the week before we leave, there is a lot of collecting of what we think we need, laying it all out on the bed, packing it, realizing it’s too much, unpacking it, editing the pile, repacking, realizing it’s still too much, unpacking, editing again, and repacking. That gets it to where our possessions will actually fit into 4 panniers, and for me, that’s no easy task when a pair of my size 14 shoes takes up half a bag.

The Prep Room

As we pack and repack panniers, we’re thinking of weight to some degree but after we complete the process of filling 4 panniers, we put them on the scale and we’re forced to think about weight to a much higher. In an ideal world, the front panniers would be about 5lbs and the back ones about 10 – 12lbs. We had all panniers weighing in at about 12lbs each. Not ideal, but we weren’t able to pare it down anymore, justifying the weight with “well, we are taking camping gear” and “we are taking our computers so we can write this blog”. So two days before we left, I packed up the bikes in their boxes and added a few items to bring the weight up to 51lbs each. More gear went into a third box, also 51lbs, and we were left with our daypacks and one pannier each as carry-on baggage.

The next day I loaded the truck, ready for the trip to Vancouver. There was some minor tweaking in Vancouver before heading for the airport, but we felt we were ready. All that planning had enabled us to get to this point – the start – and we felt that we were more or less prepared for the trip ahead.

We do have several people that helped get us to this point.

  • First and foremost… Torin, for this website.  We couldn’t have created this without him:
  • The staff at Skookum Cycle and Ski – for their great service and assistance with the purchase of two Kona Sutras;
  • Hermann and Louise for the use of their bike trainer, to get us in relatively ready condition for the long road ahead;
  • Peter – for the use of his Ortlieb panniers;
  • Steve – for looking after our place while we’re gone; and
  • Kevin and Cheryl – for hosting us in Vancouver (the conversation, the margaritas, the breakfast, etc.), it was a great send-off!

Kevin's send-off breakfast
Kevin’s send-off breakfast
Loading the taxi
Loading the taxi
Checking in at YVR
Checking in at YVR

One Response

  1. Louise Bruns

    Great description of the planning process! Lots of good advice… but hoping the spreadsheets are optional 🙂