Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Trip dist: 81 kms. Trip time: 6:16 mins. Tot dist: 460 kms.

(Clicky on picture above for movie)

Elastic pills.

Ride to Porto from Aveiro was rather boring, for the most part. Flat and easy but not much to see other than generic little towns the looks of which one could easily just substitute in place for one another and it just seemed like....hey, you know, Mexican author Juan José Arreola once wrote a short-story in his book Confabulario (a very nice book for cold and lazy rainy afternoons, by the way, I heartily recommend it) called El Guardagujas (I believe translated as "The Switchman" in English), about a train track-switching operator (bear with me here, this is relevant. Just hold the thought while I finish this apparent tangential diversion). If you read Spanish, you can actually get the whole text of the short-story in question here. Anyway, in it, he describes how sometimes, the train company operators at this station in the story scroll moving landscape paintings through the train windows in order to give passangers the illusion that the train is moving, even when it is not, complete with elaborate sound tracks and cabin movements. You know how you sometimes are watching cartoons on TV, and the cartoon character for some reason or another starts running, but what actually happens is that the animated figure just moves its legs in place, figure always on the same spot on the screen while the background moves instead? And how, after a while, the background motif, which kind of looks as if someone is just rolling the landscape tape, suddenly ends, so it wraps around and you start seeing the same background all over again as the figure keeps running but going nowhere? And the worst thing is, it rolls and wraps a little bit too often, just often enough to keep the sequence dull and annoying if it lasts for too long?

Well, the ride to Porto from Aveiro was kind of like that.

It is amazing, though, the kind of games the mind comes up with when it's bored.

For instance. Do you know how you say "chewing gum" in Portuguese? Pastillas Elasticas. Elastic pills. Amusing, huh? I discovered this on a short stop at a roadside cafe/pastelria/bar/restaurant. They looked kind of cute, and who could resist the opportunity to tell the friends: "What, you mean you've never tried Portuguese elastic pastilles?", so I bought a few of them.

And the games began. You start riding, 60 kms to go, fairly hot weather, dull and boring (and probably, no, surely, it must be, wrap-around repeating) landscape. You have 5 pieces of chewing gum, all different flavors. To optimally distribute along the trip, of course, you have to chew one piece no more often than every 12 kms. But if the flavor of each elastic pill lasts only 2.4 kms (and I know this exactly, for I measured it), then what? Do you step up the pace of the pedalling to make them last longer, distancewise? Or do you slow down the chewing, to make them last longer, timewise? And how much rest between flavor switching do you need to optimally separate the different flavors of gum so that they don't get mixed together and confuse themselves? And boy I just passed this tractor on the road don't I get a chewing-gum reward? And oh, how curious, this blue cotton-candy-flavored one with pink speckles, it tastes exactly what the after the rain California clouds and sky look like!

And so on and so forth.

Sometimes, you get lucky, and a diversion is provided by the events of the road. Let's say one of the townspeople passes you on his bike on a slight ascent (since you've geared down--up? I never get them right--to minimize the effort, and his bike is only 1 speed, so his cycle travel is longer). Pride of course tells you that you must try to overtake him on the flat stretches, and you do so with little difficulty. But then, of course, this results in wounded pride on behalf of the townsperson, who then very discreetly, for they can't say anything while you're passing them, even though you turn to look at them with a whimsical smile to say: "See, I know you passed me before on the uphill, but so what? On the flats I pass you and I'm carrying 40 kgs of luggage!!"), they try to keep up right behind you as long as the flats last and at the next slight incline---ZAP!! They pump up hard and standing up and with super human effort pass you as you leisurely gear down and continue pedalling with the same stride, just slower, saving all your energy and meanwhile chewing gum at your leisure.

I always let them win, in the end. They're not biking to Istambul, after all. ;)

Anyway, ride to Porto veredict: easy, but boring. It only got interesting on my ascent from the coast to the Ponte da Arrabida from the beach, where it got pushwalk-the-bike-with-its-40-kgs-of-luggage-at-2.5-kms-per-hour-with-no-traction-sneakers-for-a-full-kilometer-or-two-at-at-least-17%-steepness-grade-oh-my-God-I-think-I'm-going-to-die strenuous (yes it was way worse than Passo Cisa, only, thankfully, a lot shorter!).

But, at the same time, I discovered Porto gentlemen are quite gallant and one does not need to wear a flirty skirt to be a damsel in distress. The two cyclists who helped me on the bridge, one at the entrance, giving me directions, and the stockbroker at the end, riding with me to the center of town, were most amiable and quite good-looking, too.

Not a bad ending for the day's mental and physical exercise. :)

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