August 6, 2015
Gordon: As we were grinding up the long grade we heard an odd mechanical noise coming from the cable span far overhead. Looking up, a torpedo hanging below the cable shot by us. “What was that?” We had no idea, until another one passed when we were closer to the span. “My god, that’s someone in a prone harness riding the mother of all zip lines. That span must be more than a kilometre.” When we looked it up later on the Internet we learned that the length of the Fantasticable is in fact 1.5 km, allowing thrill-seekers to achieve speeds of 130 km/h while hurtling along 150 m above the valley floor. While it did not fit into our plans for the day, that is one Yahoo adventure that I would happily pay 25 euros to participate in. Ruth’s only comment was “I wonder if they have facilities to, you know, clean your cycle shorts after a ride.”
The Fantasticable was our introduction to the Trás-os-Montes region. This area “behind the mountains” is one of the poorest parts of Portugal, with a sparse population and something of a wild west feel. With limited economic opportunities, residents have been emigrating for more than a century, first to Brazil, then to North America, and more recently to France and Germany. The region has 30 percent fewer people than it did 50 years ago.
From a cyclist’s perspective, this is Big Country, with 20 km climbs and endless descents. I am afraid I may have misrepresented it to Ruth. When we had reached the first summit of the day and we were gazing at the succession of ridges extending into the blue distance I suggested that we would be descending to the plains of Trás-os-Montes. Ruth looked up and said “what planes?” No longer trusting my judgement, she has purchased a new app that generates elevation profiles for a route. The profile for today looked like a cross-section of Dolly Parton.