July 1996 | Jaroslava and Petr Kraus

How we conquered Torre

Following the very busy road, the main inland north-south arterial road, we approach the city of Covilhã. At the top of a long climb, a breathtaking view of the Serra da Estrela mountain range, Portugal's highest mountain range, opens up in front of us, with the Torre peak rising to a height of 1993 meters. We don't know how high passable roads lead for our bikes, but surprisingly he agrees with my proposal to go up.

So we get off the main road and step up into the city. So far we have not seen a single police officer, and suddenly we meet several traffic patrols on motorcycles and infantry police officers countless. We wonder what's going on. Will there be an important state visit, perhaps even the president himself? We have to cross the nearest intersection, cars are routed aside. A number of heavily sounded and advertised cars pass by. We get on our bikes again, but after a while we are set up again by a patrol and we have to continue on foot. We try to find out what will happen, but the policeman can probably only greet English and he obviously has a lot of work to do.

Meeting with Slavs

In the city center, we make our way through the crowd to a freer space to park our bikes, and here we see, for the first time on our journey, a group of packed cyclists. Our joy knows no bounds. Although the boys are Germans, the girl ... "from Vosha." "What? Oh, from Warsaw. I'll say that in Czech, won't I ?!" ... Polka and the interview takes place in English, we have a warm feeling from meeting compatriots. We learn that the security measures and the great fame that is currently taking place belong to a professional cycling race around Portugal, and that it is challenging across the mountains, especially from this side, but that it will work. When parting, the boys pause to leave the bikes unattended. It is said that they have no bad experiences from Portugal yet, but many of their acquaintances have been robbed in Spain. Meanwhile, a horrible peloton of cyclists rushed past, after the terrible cat's heads.

During the city tour we buy something to eat and on the square, on stone benches, we fill empty stomachs. There is a café across the street, so we can't resist the taste for strong, typically Portuguese Bica coffee.

The way up

The competitors are gone so we can leave in peace. It 's awful hot, but what else would we do here? We replenish our water supplies in the toilets and slowly begin to scramble up the steep, winding alleys. But people are starting to grow again and everyone is heading somewhere up.

That the races are not over yet? The police leave us inattentive, but the cars are heading off the road again. People stop in the shade of trees. Because the sun's heat is almost unbearable, we also stop and try to find out something. When comparing the times on the watch, it turns out that the time on ours is one hour ahead. In Portugal, they have not introduced summer time and use Central European time, even though it does not correspond to astronomical time. Some viewers claim that cyclists will appear in about half an hour. We agree that we will not wait that long and with the admired admiration of those around us, we get in our seats and continue.

Unexpected help

The climb is really challenging in the heat. I push Jarka out of the saddle for a while, but it won't last long. He exhales and we move on. We pass several pedestrians. The moment I help my partner again, one of them runs away and ... The shapely man pushes me, me Jarka, the speed immediately increases, the spectators cheer and we gain strength for the next climb. At the corner, the crowds thicken and we, although we do not know Portuguese, hear: "Hooray! Go ahead! Add, you will be the first!". We lean on the pedals with all our might and cross the finish line of the mountain bonus as winners under enthusiastic applause.

The climb is really challenging in the heat. I push Jarka out of the saddle for a while, but it won't last long. He exhales and we move on. We pass several pedestrians. The moment I help my partner again, one of them runs away and ... The shapely man pushes me, me Jarka, the speed immediately increases, the spectators cheer and we gain strength for the next climb. At the corner, the crowds thicken and we, although we do not know Portuguese, hear: "Hooray! Go ahead! Add, you will be the first!". We lean on the pedals with all our might and cross the finish line of the mountain bonus as winners under enthusiastic applause.

We stop behind the nearest crossroads and sit in the shade. The first accompanying vehicles are approaching and in a few minutes the first professionals accompanied by a motorcycle with a TV camera are also approaching. Competitors, even if the sweat just pours out of them, pedal obviously lighter than we do.

Not if they don't ride anything on their bikes. Behind them, service cars with wheels on the roof and other racers. Few have a helmet on. Some have it on the handlebars, others have probably thrown it away completely. It seems to me that there are a lot of accompanying cars. Even when the fresh breeze is blowing, there is plenty of stench above the road.

Umorant climb

When the last accompanying cars pass, we get in the seats before the police clear the road. Turn after turn, the climb does not end. The large building, which we are already observing from below and which we believe stands at the top, is constantly approaching. My wife grinds almost from the last. Despite the fact that I help her at times, she often has the power to pedal only seven, eight hundred meters. He only rests for a moment and gets back on. She might have lasted longer, but she's still terrified that she's getting so tired she won't be able to rip her suitcases off the pedals. We go around the crowded camp with a serpentine and stop again at the fence in the shade.

The race is over

The race is probably over. A cyclist in a windbreaker rushes around us at an insane speed and greets us. We can barely answer his greeting. He's probably one of the fans who was at the finish line. After a while, others drive behind them, followed by service vehicles. Everyone is yelling at us. They are not fans, but real racers. Once they've got it up, they won't drive back. They will not miss the pleasure of the congress. It must whistle at least eighty on such a descent. The road is lousy and a hole in itself, but when everyone drives alone, they easily slip through the potholes. But how the whole peloton can pass this way without injury is difficult to understand.

Our next stop is at the rest area with a small fountain. The cold water flowing out of the pipe will pleasantly refresh us, even if it smells unattractive around us. I water my head and don't look at it getting wet.

Abandoned hotel

We drive to the big house in one go. We find that it is not at the top, as it seemed to us from below, but the end of the climb is probably nearby. It's probably a former hotel, long abandoned. Only the wind blows through the windows. There is a nice view of the winding road from here, so we agree that I will go about two hundred meters lower and Jarka will take a picture of me as I climb the hill..

I'll set everything up, but only at home, after making the film, will we find out that my efforts were in vain. The image is shaky and I'm just like a blur on a blurry background.

We're not upstairs yet

We head further to the top, but what is our surprise when the road suddenly turns and the supposed highest point with the meteorological station remains on the left and more and more rocky peaks rise in front of us. So we go to the station to at least enjoy the view of the deep valley. We make coffee, dry a damp cloth, under which we spent the night and prepare something for snack. With a slice of bread, I sit under a pine tree when something hits me hard over the shoulder. A dry, thick, long-broken branch must have been waiting for me to sit under a tree. I'm lucky. Sitting a few tens of inches closer to the trunk, I don't know how it would turn out. Even a much weaker branch can break the neck. It probably won't be a bruise like that.

The landscape around us is flooded with the sun bending to the horizon. The climb is not so steep, the air has cooled noticeably and is breathable. We state that we will probably have to spend the night in the mountains. Maybe it won't be too cold here. We have no warmer clothes and only one sleeping bag. We drive through the Penhas de Saúde recreation center. I pull out a map that we obtained at the city information center and we are surprised to find out that we are only at an altitude of 1500 m.

Full of papers, flags, bottles and lemonade boxes all around. I'm collecting some kind of newspaper, maybe there will be a mention of the race. Not far from the last building is a dam, we do not know if for drinking water, so we prefer to move on, what if someone drove us out of the water at night. We pass several tents set up in the wild, not far from the road. Camping in the wild is probably tolerated here. On the left we have the lower station of the cable car leading somewhere behind a rocky wall. The cable car does not appear to be in operation.

Overnight in the mountains

Above us, high in the rocks, you can see the road that wraps around the mountain. There is no point in continuing, so after a bend, after a short descent, we go down to a meadow and find a place suitable for the construction of our small, inconspicuous tent not far from the road. The sun had set, and the bells of the innumerable flock of sheep that the shepherds were looking for at the hut for the night carried through the valley. The sound is unearthly, it bounces between the rocks and shatters with multiple echoes.

It's already quite cold, Jarka puts on everything she has and yet she knocks like a rat. He doesn't have much fat on him and the effort will probably do his thing. In the lee of the tent, we quickly cook the soup and swallow it so that it is not even enough to cool down. A car will pass here and there on the road, but we fall asleep as if it were throwing us into the water.

We spend the night well, we are not cold even though the tent stands in the shade of the surrounding peaks and the morning sun does not warm it at all. We set out in a good mood to conquer the Torre, the roof of Portugal, the highest peak of the Star Mountains. Estrela is a Portuguese star. We have no water left, so we refill all the vessels at the nearest spring. We climb the road between the rocks, we go through a short tunnel.

Rock statue of the Virgin Mary

The roud winds admirably around the rocky promontory of the main peak, behind which on the right side opens a view into a shallow valley with lush, deep green grass.

The road widens with a parking lot and on the other side of the valley we see a tall but fragile looking statue of the Virgin Mary carved right into the rock. It is a pity that we would have to wait until the afternoon for a light suitable for photography. We stop again at another lookout point and stare in amazement at the rounded, bare peaks stretching into the distance, at a deep valley whose slopes, bare and rocky at the top, are covered with dense forest at the bottom. Shortly after the viewpoint at the crossroads, we turn left at the crossroads to the top of Torre.

Finally at the top

At the flat top, in addition to the restaurant, there is a building with bulky antennas in laminate shelters and a dilapidated building, a low stone tower, which has the task of completing the few meters that are missing from the top to two thousand. Already this early in the morning there is a lively construction industry - the parking lot is being adjusted. But there are few visitors.

We buy bread, sheep cheese and movies. Although I change my mind, the two movies I took from home are damn few. Before we can eat, more cars and buses arrive with excursionists, and suddenly there are too many people at the top. We lock the bikes and go look around. We pass another crumbling building and after about a kilometer of walking we are offered another of the breathtaking, albeit misty views of the neighboring mountains and deep valleys from the edge of the cliff.

On the way back we discover a ski lift with a ski slope, perhaps the only one in the country.

Portugal, a country of top cyclists

Before we reach the bikes, a cyclist passes us on a state-of-the-art road bike. He doesn't even stop, looks at the stopwatch, goes around the top and continues down. We are beginning to understand why Portugal has so many good cyclists.

Translated by Google

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