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Last summer, my other half suggested that we ‘do something different’ for our holiday.  

We usually head somewhere hot for a week in the sun, chilling on the beach by day and going out to restaurants and cocktail bars by night.  But I agreed.  The idea of mixing things up and coming back with something other than a tan and photos of sun loungers and shoreline was appealing.

So, after some head scratching, we decided to combine my love of cycling and her love of camping, and head to Portugal for two weeks, deciding to cover the whole length of the country, from the north border to the south coast.  This is generally known as cycle touring (or ‘adventure cycling’ if you’re on trend).  The opportunity to revert to our default setting and recover by spending an extra couple of days on the beach when we hit the south coast was too good to resist, and so we calculated the ground we’d need to cover each day to make it achievable in the time we had available. 

Before we knew it, our idea of taking touring bikes, a tent, clothing and a few creature comforts, cycling 40-50 miles per day and camping each evening had evolved from an exercise in logistics and strategy, to a daunting reality.

We had been careful not to over-plan things, as this would take away some of the spirit of adventure we were so enthused by.  After all, as long as we had functioning bikes, a tent, drinkable water and some idea of which way South was, we’d probably be okay.

Needless to say, our first foray in to cycle touring reminded us both of a few things that are easily forgotten. 

They are neither specific to the workplace, nor intended as a sermon to change the way you live your life outside of work.  You can use them in any way you like, for anything you care to apply these to.  In no particular order, they were as follows:

It’s okay to trust your intuition.

This is particularly the case when you are quite happily cycling along the Portuguese equivalent of a quiet B-road, and a GPS device recommends you turn off it to lug yourself and the 15kg or so of luggage you’ve attached to your bike up a very steep, cobbled road.  A cobbled road where local dogs decide they want to chase anything that happens to go past. And it’s raining.  Sideways.

Mistakes can be good (if you learn from them).

It wasn’t long before we had to ditch the GPS, and revert to lo-fi techniques, such as the “sun rises in the east, so should be kind of to our left if we’re heading south, yeah?” method.

You may not even need a map and compass if you are aware of key ideas.  You can probably get where you need to go, without always knowing where you’re going.

Time is precious, make the most of it.

Yes, a lazy brunch before setting off in the midday sun seems like a good idea at the time - however it will probably mean you end up desperately searching for a campsite while the sun is going down, and having to pitch a tent in near darkness with very little help from the local army of mosquitoes.

 That said, as much as you could get caught up in milestones and charting your progress, stopping for a photo or taking 5 minutes in the shade will lead to photos and memories of the little things that make whatever you’re doing and wherever you are truly special.

Work as a team.

Whether literally or figuratively, there will probably be a time when you’re exhausted, hungry, dehydrated and losing your good humour.  If this is your team, do all you can to help them laugh their way through it.  Memory often filters out the bad stuff after a while.  Neither of you will remember the hardships you faced, only the high points of the journey.

Take nothing for granted.

Oh, how we were looking forward to those three days in Quarteira.  Substituting a tent for a beach hut: stony floor replaced by plump mattress; inflatable pillow replaced by proper pillow, countless hours of hills, headwinds and saddle soreness replaced by sun loungers and the occasional dip in the ocean to cool off, when a cold rum-based cocktail wouldn’t quite do it.

Sadly it seems the sun took a holiday of its own as soon as we reached our final destination.  Exhausted but elated, we had spent the last ten days or so soaking it up, but would still have been nice to have experienced it from a horizontal position, rather than atop the saddle.

So, while our trip didn’t quite finish the way we had hoped, was it a poorer experience for it?  Not at all. 

It’s probably made us closer as a couple, and has produced countless photos and stories of events and characters we met along the way. 

In the meantime, I guess it’s time to start planning our next adventure.