Posts Tagged ‘Brazil’

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Natalia with the kite at “midday”

Yesterday off we finally went to a beach near Cumbuco, just outside of Fortaleza, with our instructor Luciano Cordeiro from 30 Knots, the school we are working with in this project. Fantastic experience!

Getting there took a little while – Luciano arrived at just before 11am – he had on the preceding day say 9am, but apparently the winds were pretty poor in the morning so when we called him, he gave us a new time. At first we were a little suspicious as Ceará state, as is pretty much the entire northeast of Brazil, has a quite a reputation for the laid back attitudes to punctuality, but when we got the beach an hour later, it seemed that we were the only second group on the beach for the day.

Ben with the kite at 9 o'clock, under the watchful eyes of Luciano our instructor

Ben with the kite at 9 o’clock, under the watchful eyes of Luciano our instructor

Luciano was very methodical and straightforward – starting from the beginning, the way I guess you should: unravelling the kite and the strings, pumping up the kite, and then tieing the knots from the trapezium to the kite, and then the basic positions of the kite… from “midday”, with the kite directly above us and the wind coming from behind us; 9 o’clock, with the kite off to the left side, and 3 o’clock over to the right. We just stayed on the beach by a lagoon practicing the control of the kite in these positions, rather than going on to a board where we would have the extra concern of staying afloat. For me the easiest part was at “midday” when there was very little pull from the kite, as off on the sides, I felt it easier to move out of the right position and the pull on my body increase. Moreover, for a big kite (12 metres), it was amazingly sensitive to any adjustments from the hands.

The time we had playing around with the stunt kite was actually pretty helpful, with the principles behind the wind dynamics being very similar – when the kite was in the three positions, there was relatively little pull from it, though any forced movement from our part and we instantly felt ourselves being pulled along. This went against our natural tendencies as when we felt like we were losing a bit of control, we had to ease off on our pressure on the kite bar, rather than trying to grip it and force it back under control. This would just make matters worse, and Natalia felt the consequences of that, when she was pulled from the beach and into the water. Fortunately it was okay and when she let go of the kite, she soon came to a halt without having any damage. Quite funny to watch and unfortunately I didn’t have the camera out at the time!

The three hours sped by all too quickly, and I think we did a decent job for our first time, so here’s looking forward to the next lessons!

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Walking along Beira Mara, Fortaleza… somethings never change…

Back up to the northeast of Brazil, in the city of Fortaleza. Definitely nice being back – lots of good memories from here, and difficult not to feel a bit nostalgic. We have been staying with Natalia’s cousin, Jeane. When Natalia was younger, she lived with Jeane for a year or so and I guess it has been a good 15 years or so since they saw each other. So lots of catching up there.

We got here at 3am, but decided to stay at the airport until around 8am as didn’t want to wake Jeane and her family up… slightly too early for that, but not worth getting a hotel. The hours went by extremely slowly, especially with the airport television system playing the same clips over and over and over and over again, and no comfortable places to lie down. At least we managed to break my brother-in-law’s record on the Magic Alchemist (thank goodness for the iPad!), though, so something good came out of it! At 8am, we popped over to 30knot’s Wakeboard Park  and registered for our Kite Surf lessons, and then headed over to Jeane’s…

Since meeting up with Jeane, and getting introduced, not much has happened. Have been feeling pretty tired, though last night we went for a walk along Beira Mar – one of the main tourist avenues along the city beach front. A few changes with the addition of a “Japanese Garden”, a small Japanese-style park, though much of it all remains the same as I remembered, with a huge artisanal market along the beach. Nice ice creams as well!

Today we will have our first kite surfing lesson. The guy said yesterday that we would head off at 9am, though we called him a bit ago and he said “because of the winds” we won’t be heading off until 11am. Not sure how much this is due to the winds or to the slightly laid back way of Ceará state life… but still, hopefully we will be on our way in an hour or so. It will just mean that we will be surfing under the midday sun, which is pretty hot up here just three degrees below the equator…

Photo: Rsrsrsrs!!!!

A long way to go to the 13 million score of the global first place… but on our way… who knows, with another 5 hours at an airport, we might get it a little better…!

4am

Posted: June 1, 2013 by Ben Weber in Training
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At airport at 4am…. Easier staying here than going to hotel… Not much company around though!

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For the kite surfing, though the nice tropical beaches and hot weather will be an added bonus! I lived for a year or so in the city back in 2000, though I hear much has changed in that it has got ever larger. Will be great to be back and catch up with some old friends and definitely looking forward to the coming week. The city isn’t the most beautiful in the world in terms of architecture etc, and it does have its problems – harsh inequalities, crime, and it is not safe to be out away from the tourist places at night. However, it is an enjoyable place to be, and I do miss the ocean breeze, its accessibility and walking along the Beira Mar promenade. Will certainly be the warmest training project (and arguably the most fun…. but then again, every project we have done so far has been challenging and the rewards of managing to complete them have certainly outweighed any “suffering” we have had to endure in the process!!). But yes, flight at 11:30pm on Friday night and back in São Paulo next Sunday. Here we go!

On the Brazil side of the falls, you can get within touching distance and really feel the power of the masses of water flowing and falling down the river.

On the Brazil side of the falls, you can get within touching distance and really feel the power of the masses of water flowing and falling down the river.

Hummingbird hovering

Rio Half Marathon

This Sunday I will be running in the Rio half marathon… slightly nervous really as I have never run this far before, and am not sure about my capacity to do it well. With a bit of a flu the last week or so, I haven’t been able to train as much as I would have liked to. I know we completed the LEJOG a few weeks ago, but cycling is very different from running especially as cycling is a non-impact sport, whereas running is… well, very much impact!

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The São Silvestre run in São Paulo – slightly shorter at 15km, but a few more hills…

In the São Silvestre at the end of 2012, it was a lot of fun, a nice route up and down through São Paulo with a great long up hill at the end. The Rio half marathon am sure will be beautiful – running along the coast of the city from Barra da Tijuca through to São Conrado. Pretty much completely flat except for a couple of small hills towards the end, so it doesn’t look the hardest course in the world. I guess the biggest problem will be the heat, though it is starting at 7am so it should be around 25C or so. Hot enough, but not blistering… hopefully!I managed a few seconds over 85 minutes over the 15km of the São Silvestre, which averages out at around 10.5km per hour, so if I manage something similar or just a little bit slower than this, then I will be happy. I guess that doing it in two hours would be pretty respectable, but let’s see. As I say, maybe confidence isn’t as high as it should be!

Off to Rio tonight by bus – it’s a good 6 hour ride and there, so it’s the midnight bus (one of the great things about Brazil are the inter-city buses – pop on a “Leito” from São Paulo to Rio and you will be in chairs that go back almost 90 degrees; pick up the kit from a place (somewhere!) in Rio and then just relax before the main event. I suppose I can’t complain; Rio for a weekend won’t be bad!

A view over Rio from the Corcovado - lovely city!

A view over Rio from the Corcovado – lovely city!

Packingup

Two bikes to disassemble and reassemble again… fun!

Passport… tick… wallet… tick… warm clothes… yup, they’re there… bike…….

Dismantled and ready to go.

Finally took the pedals and wheels off the bike to put into the bike bag the other day. It was hard – not because of the physical effort (though taking those pedals off did take a bit of effort even with a big wrench), but because of the worry about how the bike would take to the airplane – or, more importantly, how the baggage handlers will take to the bike. We haven’t got the bags with the most padding so we had to improvise on this – I am most worried about the gears getting damaged, but hopefully everything will be alright. Natalia flew last night and is already in London – her bag had a big fragile sticker put onto it and got taken away separately, so hopefully it was treated well as well! (Incidentally, it was a hassle getting everything through the metro as the bike bag takes up quite a bit of space, and carrying to the metro, with the one strap across my shoulder… was painful! She got a taxi from the airport to my brother’s house in London, though the pre-paid taxi we got left as she took so long in the immigration queues at the airport…. typical. She could have gone by train but the size of the bike bag alone would have made this more complicated. Fun!)

So, am a little nervous, that’s for sure, especially as the weather seems to have taken a turn for the worst – reading about blizzards in England and Scotland is never great just before a bike tour through the country, and seeing pictures of towns like Bath completely white is slightly worrying. But as I say, these conditions of winter are exactly why we chose this route, so I guess the old saying “be careful what you wish for” particularly applies to us in this case.

Saturday, some last minute shopping to get some essentials, a few bike tools, batteries, clothing… bits and pieces that might come in useful. One more trip to the gym for a last workout; finish packing my stuff on Sunday; put in all the GPS coordinates into the Garmin, and then relax with one more day at the office before the midnight flight to the UK. Just have to say goodbye to the cat, and the sunny weather…!

Goodbye to cat

Farewell Mocha! See you in a month’s time!

IMG_0010Aside from not being the easiest place to get to by biking, Pousado Paiol was great. The price was very reasonable, there is a swimming pool, and the food at dinner and at breakfast was superb. There was even a sauna room as well, but we were just there for the night with no plans on staying too long in the morning… The only problem is that here in Brazil there are three or four different types of power sockets, and the place had only the newest ones… which were not compatible with the charger I was using for my phone and GPS… Note to diary: remember adapter next time.

IMG_0004We did, however, stay longer than we should have, as we needed to work out how to mend the baggage rack on my bike so it didn’t keep falling on top of the wheel. We managed it, by taking off the front bag from the handlebar bag on Natalia’s bike, which wasn’t being used to carry much, and use the screws to secure the bottom of the rack to the wheel. We were able to use one of the screws on one side, but the second didn’t fit on the other, so we transferred a few of things from my panniers into Nathalia’s so as not to have too much weight in a fragile setup. It worked, though.

The problem  was that this all took a bit of time and we ended up leaving the place at around 10am. We thought we would be alright as we didn’t have so far to go on this day – around 65km. However, when the sun was as hot as it got on that day, even the shortest of distances become exhausting. Especially when there are long… endless stretches going uphill. The GPS ran out of battery after 27km, though looking at the readout afterwards, it started off at 30C and ended up 40C, with a peak of 44C – this was before midday and before the hottest part of the afternoon. Which, when we saw one of those signs indicating that there was a steep uphill over the next four kilometres, was soul destroying! The climbs were not the hardest in the world – definitely not as steep as going up Santa Ines into the Cantareira mountains that we did on the previous day – but they were exposed to the sun, with few trees and little shade for long stretches. So everywhere we did find a big tree, we would stop and pause, and drink water to make sure we didn’t dehydrate.

The town of Morungaba was a welcome pit stop after a nice descent – we stopped at a biker’s bar (not cyclists; motorcyclists) and we just parked our bikes alongside some ultra-powerful, fast and modern racing bikes that were about a gazillion CC or something like that. Not at all out of place, but ah well. The people were nice and the extra litres of water and Gatorade, along with some cake  for a bit of a change from our  energy blocks, was extremely welcome. After the town, however, it was still painful with more uphill in the afternoon heat, even though only 20km between the town and Amparo. It just all seemed endless, and there was no decent hard shoulder to go on. We thought it was over when we knew we were getting closer to the city and there was a sign saying 4km of steep descent… which there was, and it was great… just we got down it all too quickly and… then more uphill.

Finally we got there – after this final climb, there was a fantastic descent into Amparo. So much easier! Shame there were no buses back to São Paulo, but it gave us chance to catch up with some of Natalia’s family in the town (with a fantastic bbq!), and we were able to get back home via a  bus to Campinas.

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Courtesy of Pousada Paiol guest house at Atibaia www.http://pousadapaiol.com.br/)

Photo courtesy of Pousada Paiol guest house near Atibaia (www.http://pousadapaiol.com.br/)

The ride to Amparo, as I said before, was… eventful. The rainstorm on the Saturday was great fun (though admittedly, had there been no hard shoulder to ride along on the main road, I might not be saying this), and after it finished, we were able to dry off a little at a restaurant in the town of Mairipora – about half way to Atibaia, where we would stay the night. We ended up not having much to eat as while we ordered a light lunch, we decided to give up after an hour waiting as we needed to push ahead – annoying at the time, but actually it turned out okay as we were doing good with the energy block bars and we did not end up riding with heavy stomachs.

The rest of the journey up until Atibaia was smooth. While the rain stopped, it still remained cool, which was great for riding up and down the hills; not too much traffic and on the whole good progress along the roads. We were able to get to the entrance of Atibaia by around 6.30pm – around an hour and a half before it would get dark. From Atibaia, we had, however, an additional 12km to ride to get to the guest house where we would stay (Pousada Paiol). Now, there were two ways to get to the guest house; one going largely along the highway and the other, going through the town. I had programmed the route through the town into the GPS. We thought, once we got to the highway exit, maybe it would be better going along the highway, but as the route wasn’t programmed into it, I didn’t want to risk it – we weren’t sure what the roads would be like going through the town, but at least we wouldn’t get lost…

Asphalt road into earth track...

Asphalt road into earth track…

With hindsight, I really should have looked at the satellite views of the roads beforehand – you can clearly see how the surface of road we went over changed in the screenshot – though as it turned out, we would have faced similar conditions eventually had we gone the other way. At least we would have been prepared, psychologically, however..!

Final stretch to guest house

Final stretch to guest house

At first it was fine, but then going through Atibaia commercial centre wasn’t pleasant with lots of traffic and lots of drivers not accustomed to sharing lanes with cyclists. Getting through this we then had a good few hundred metres being shaken around riding over cobblestones. Onto the asphalt after this and then suddenly my back wheel starts making a noise. I get off and can’t see what it is, and see that it can’t turn backwards and it was slightly tight trying to turn it forward. After a while I realize that the screws securing the baggage rack to the bottom of the frame by the wheel had been shaken out and that the top of the rack had fallen down so it was resting on top of the actual wheel (it was pretty hot to touch because of the friction!). It was getting dark as well and we still had a good eight or nine kilometres to go. We had no spare screws so I had to work out how to balance the rack above the gears so it didn’t keep falling on top of the wheel. It worked for a while… until the road turned into an earth and rock track with lots of  bumps and holes to go over and around. Every couple of minutes or so the rack would be coming off and landing on the wheel again. Oh, and Natalia was getting a sore knee (with the shaking from the road her seat had come down a little bit, we realized in the morning). With the darkness coming down, all we wanted to do was to get to the guest house, have some food and rest, and work out whether we would be able to continue to Amparo in the morning or not.

Chalets at Posuada Paiol (photo courtesy of the Pousada  - http://pousadapaiol.com.br/)

Chalets at Posuada Paiol (photo courtesy of the Pousada – http://pousadapaiol.com.br/)

The road continued with intermittent stretches over rough earth and then good asphalt, though night settled in and the lights came on. Getting to our destination was top priority as being out at night in that place wasn’t particularly agreeable. As we got closer to the marker on the GPS, I checked the name of the guest house to make sure we wouldn’t miss it, though with everything that had been going wrong, this was worrying me – would we actually find it…?! And we were quite in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, as we got closer, we saw a sign with the name of the place, telling us to keep going. The baggage rack stayed up and balanced and we were able to slowly but surely get there by 8.30pm – just half an hour before dinner ended. Can’t say I have been much happier to have found a guest house than how I felt then, and the place was well worth the suffering to get to…!

Sao Paulo - Amparo - ElevationTo get into shape for the UK bike tour, we need to get used to riding long distances on consecutive days. What better way to do this than to go to Amparo – a small town north of São Paulo – via Atibaia, a town to which we already know the route pretty well? It would have been a good 170km if we had gone straight according to the route, but we added on another 30km or so with detours, so it was a reasonable way to go. It proved to be a good couple of days that had a fair few highlights: riding through scorching sun, a ridiculously strong rain storm, punctures, a broken baggage rack, endless steep climbs, nice smooth asphalt highways, cobble stones and bumpy earth and rock roads, and a really nice guest house in between it all… a lot of fun.

Sao Paulo - AmparoIt is amazing how riding in the rain (when it’s hot, at least!) is so much better than riding exposed in the sun. Starting off at 10am on Saturday morning, it was a little later than I normally like to head out – 7am or earlier is much better, so we don’t get completely fried under the tropical sun. Fortunately, while it was hot, it was a little overcast, which helped. As we climbed the steep Santa Ines road up in to the Cantareira mountains, it stayed hot so we stopped on a number of occasions not because of the steepness of the hill but simply because the heat sapped our (sorry for the cliché!) souls! However, the clouds started to accumulate and the sky became darker and darker.  It started to rain just as we got over the summit of the mountain. It wasn’t too hard, but going downhill and the rain was driving into our faces and it actually hurt the skin a little. You also really feel the difference especially when braking: Down this stretch I normally go around 50km per hour as it is steep but there are a few long curves that need to be taken with care, but going that speed in the wet would have been just dangerous – as soon as you brake a little hard and you can feel the loss of traction and it’s a bit scary, so I was pumping the brakes pretty much constantly to make sure I didn’t build up too much. Flying off those curves or losing control with cars coming from behind or the opposite direction would not have been good.

At the bottom we discovered that Natalia had a puncture – back tire again, which has the most weight on it with the panniers and body weight – though fortunately we got a break from the rain to be able to fix it. We are getting better at dealing with punctures and it only took a few minutes to change this time. I think Natalia will need a new one with slightly better grip as her tires don’t seem so thick. We found a small piece of glass (about 25mm) that had pierced the rubber – always good to check the tire, so as to reduce the chance of the same object causing another puncture in the spare tube.

Temperature - to AtibaiaSo on we went… one more big hill and then flat highway to Mairipora. That’s when it started to really pour down. I didn’t have my waterproof jacket on and I was soaked within seconds. There was no point putting it on after that so I just kept going. Large puddles began to accumulate by the side of the road, and visibility was reduced dramatically (a 100metres or so). We got sprayed by the cars and trucks passing by… but again, we were so wet it made no difference at all. At the same time, however, it was really great. Visibility wasn’t really a problem as we weren’t going fast enough for it to be so important; our lights were strong enough to pierce the rain and make so cars could see us. It was so flat, there were no braking issues… it was just refreshing. Looking at the Garmin route analysis and the temperatures dropped from a peak of 35C before the rain to 18C… nice and warm. There was a problem of drying once we stopped for lunch in Mairipora, but while the lycra clothes are skimpy and maybe not the most fashionable things to wear(!), one of the good things about them is that they dry quickly. It was just our cycle shoes which took a little longer to dry off and it felt we were walking with feet underwater for a while.

Plenty more to tell about the ride, but I think I have written enough for now..!

Accident avoidance…

Posted: November 22, 2012 by Ben Weber in Cycling, English, Training
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The first big test for us with riding with the bike pedals came this weekend when we went back to Itu. It was tricky, and we made it alive – but only just!

We got up pretty early, around 6am, as we normally do for our long distance rides. We filled up our new panniers with a bit of weight – not too much as this was the first time riding with them. For me, riding with a few litres of water, along with my heavy zoom lens and camera was enough to make quite a bit of a difference. Natalia had a bit less than me, with just a few litres of water. We slipped on our cycle shoes and headed out.

It felt a bit strange for me at first though I was pretty happy the way I adapted to the new shoes. Every now and then I tried to lift my foot off the pedal and felt them stuck on it, but generally was able to get my feet out in time – fortunately for me, no falling off. Which was nice, It also felt so so so much nicer(!) having the weight in the panniers at the back of the bike as opposed to a rucksack on my back as I had been doing on previous rides.

Natalia found it a bit harder getting used to the pedals. She was doing great at first, although I guess she was slightly nervous using them. We got to Santana de Paraiba, passing up and down the steep hills at Barueri, and around 40km into the whole ride with no problems. After a wander around the historic town of Paraiba, we continued onwards towards Pirapora – about 14km up the road, but with a bit of a brutal uphill en route. It was along this uphill where Natalia, in trying to stop to catch her breath, had problems in getting her feet off the pedals – she managed to clip out, but clipped herself in again and came off: falling road-side instead of on to the verge… just when a truck was coming. Nat described how the truck narrowly missed her head as she struggled to get herself dis-entangled from the bike and get out of the vehicle’s way. Scary. Very scary.

I was a bit in front of her when it happened, and didn’t see it. The first I heard of it when the truck passed me and passenger shouted at me that Natalia was in trouble. I looked behind and saw her riding up, and as she got close she stopped and I guess a bit of shock hit her, so we stayed put for a while to get some rest.

Passing by the truck on the other side of the hill, Nat spoke with the driver who wondered what had happened. Nat explained about the clips, and the driver apologised for not having stopped to see if she was alright, as the whole road up the hill was pretty dangerous – which it was. He also said that he didn’t sound his horn as he didn’t want to give her more of a surprise as he had already been able to see she was in a spot of bother. Nat was pretty grateful about the horn part as she readily admitted that had he sounded it, it would have probably scared the life out of her and made things worse.

Thankfully everything was alright in the end. Nat recovered okay though was obviously a bit shaken for a while. We were able to make it to Itu by the end of the day – at a slower rate than we normally do, and Nat used the platform part of her pedals instead of the clips as she didn’t feel comfortable using them – certainly can’t blame her for that! She knows that will need to get used to them as there is a lot to gain in riding with them, especially over the long distance rides, so we’ll be cycling again with them soon. At the end of the day, though, we were just happy to get back home, relax, and see the cat again!

Pirapora do Bom Jesus

A little while ago, after completing the Santos Challenge with André and his group, filled with a bit of confidence for long distance riding, Natalia and I went on a long ride by ourselves to Itu, a 105km ride from our house, along the Estrada dos Romeiros road. Most of the cars that go to Itu would take the perfectly maintained, smooth and straight Castelo Branco highway, which is much more direct, for the large part of the journey. The Estrada dos Romeiros is still nicely maintained, with good asphalt and not really any potholes that could throw an unwitting cyclist, though there are plenty of hills and bends to go along and it doesn’t have much of a hard shoulder which is always nice to have to protect against some of the more vicious drivers around…

Ciclotur para Itu conhecendo as cidades turísticas, Santana do Parnaíba , SPThe day we ended up going to Itu was a Sunday and it eventually turned out to be one of the hottest days in the year. Okay, when you are riding you get cooled down by the wind going past, though that wind diminishes massively when you are going up those hills and it turned into quite an exhausting journey – we drank a good few litres of water, Gatorade… more water, coconut water (thank goodness there were places along the route where we could stop off and restock!). At the town of Barueri, just as we got to the main road, the hills began in earnest with a short but a sharp 15-20% climb… then after this it was constant up and down, with little or no shade.

The countryside as we left the city was great – plenty of green, and a river going by; just no substantial tree cover at least for the first 50km or so. We stopped off at the historic town of Santana de Paraiba, which has a lovely historic centre and market, and also at a quick break at Pirapora, a good 17km further along the highway. We didn’t spend long there, though it was definitely one of the more picturesque places I have been through for some time. After Pirapora, a few more rather lethal climbs through long exposed sections of the road, and eventually the number of trees by the road increased and we were able to have more time cycling in the shade, which helped make life easier. With all the trees and with stretches of the road going along the river, it almost felt like we were going through some areas of Canada – very lovely, and made up for the suffering beforehand!

One of the more shocking sides to the journey, however, was the amount of pollution in the river. Pirapora was lovely and picturesque, but you could see foam in the river (which flows from São Paulo city) which originated from pollutants. As we got towards Itu, there were stretches of the river that you could not actually see any of the water – just this white foam that was a good foot or two deep. Not nice. It is amazing to me that nothing appears in the news about all of it as am sure it can’t be healthy. Talking to people later and we were told that when the wind picks up, the foam gets blown into the towns and can cause burns…

We managed the journey comfortably in the end, taking it easy with good breaks and going on average about 17kph (there was one great, long, clear, smooth downhill where I went up to 65kph… quite an exhilarating change from the tortuous uphill that preceded it!). We left at 8am and got to Itu at about 5.30pm. It was great getting there and we were able to find a German restaurant recommended by our friends where we were able to relax a bit before bundling our bikes into a bus and heading back to São Paulo. On the learning side of things, I did get a punctured tyre… and we didn’t have a spatula with us… Guys at our bike store had shown us how to take off a tyre without the tools and made it look quite easy, but it sure wasn’t as easy for us. Fortunately this was at Santana de Paraiba, and there were other cyclists around who were able to help us. First thing we did when we had time in São Paulo: yes, buying spatulas and a better couple of repair kits!

Cycling in Brazil vs the UK

Posted: October 5, 2012 by Ben Weber in Cycling, English
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Cycling along the canals in northern England – always nice, at least when the weather is good!

Coming from Britain, having learned to cycle up in the Orkney Islands, and cycled a lot around the north-western city of Lancaster, it is certainly a different experience cycling here in Brazil.

From what I remember from those days going around the beautiful country roads to Clitheroe, see in the media, cycling in England can be a dangerous experience – especially when you get on to the narrow back roads where the drivers know them pretty well and drive at ridiculous speeds; animals get in the roads, potholes are around, and when it gets dark… if you have no lights, you will be in trouble. The Guardian reported towards the end of this September that 13 cyclists had been killed on the roads in Britain in that month alone… not a nice thought, really, especially as we will be going back to cycle the length of the country this winter. At the same time, the countryside in the UK can make for lovely journeys, though the temperamental weather definitely increases the challenges.

Going to the maintenance road down to Santos…

Biking in Brazil is something that isn’t the most common sport and is only really taking off here in São Paulo at least. Now the city has got a reasonably good but limited network of devoted cycle paths which are open all week going along the River Pinheiros and a few other seemingly random locations. On Sundays, many of the roads are cut in half from 7am to 4pm for cyclists to stretch their legs along them. You can easily notch up over 100km riding along these lanes. As soon as 4pm comes, however, oh yes, those red cones that divide the roads soon go and the cars once again rule.

Being a relatively new sport in an area where the car dominates also means that cyclists do get very little respect from drivers (but then again, in São Paulo at least, it is pretty much a story of each vehicle-type for itself… motorbikes stick together, as do car drivers and well, bus drivers… they’re another story. It all depends on what kind of mood they were in when they woke up). Cycling either in or out of the city and getting closed off by a car passing and turning right in front of you happens on an alarming basis – riding to Itu this weekend it happened to me twice and Natalia once. You also get drivers who do deliberately set out to startle cyclists by either buzzing loudly as they get close, or getting too close (a motorbike rider going about 80kph got within one inch of Natalia whilst he made a very long and visible curve)… Not nice.

Aside from this, the weather is pretty much dependable. It will either be extremely hot or rainy with little of the winds that we get in the UK – and the heat can really exhaust and drain you, so care is definitely needed not to dehydrate or get sun stroke. In northern England at least, I remember that the hills are generally short but sharp, and there are plenty of them (though of course, there are plenty of flatter regions, especially down in the south/south-east). Here in São Paulo, there are some pretty long and nasty 15%-25% climbs that can be found to really take it out of you. On pretty much all of our 100km rides that leave the city of São Paulo, we have climbed over 2000metres in total, though looking at the routes of similar distances I did in England when I was younger, we didn’t really climb more than 1,200 metres in total over the course. Your legs can easily get tired, that’s for sure.

After living in the city and only journeying to other parts of the region by car or bus, it is also refreshing to escape the urban environment: living here for five years, it was hard to imagine the municipal of São Paulo as anything other than just a concrete mass… the place does, however, have its fair share of surprises that await anyone who wants to explore a bit. Ultimately, just as it is always nice to escape the cities in England, there are parts of São Paulo that I never really thought of as existing, and it is great to discover these parts.

Pic-nic along the Rodoanel highway

And so to Santos – the aim of our training with André, O Bicicreteiro. Santos, on the coast of São Paulo state with the largest port in Brazil; the home of Santos Football Club, which in turn is the club that Pelé played for along with a number of other fantastic Brazilian football players, including Neymar at the moment. Robinho… Elano… Leonardo.. loads of them. Good club to go watch play football, though their fans can be a bit quiet when things are not going so well.

The route we took to Santos was 100km from the main starting point (another 8km away from our house), so a healthy distance for a day’s ride. We were in the green shirts for “beginners”, whilst people in white shirts were “advanced” riders – a distinction that swiftly became apparent was very much subjective, depending on people’s own opinion about themselves, rather than based on any evaluation of technical skills and capacity! But it didn’t really matter in the end – we were within a group who had a good mixture of people who definitely did know how to help when we needed it, as well as less experienced riders.

Section along the Maintenance Road – one of the hilliest parts of the route

Though around 800metres lower than São Paulo city, for a coastal town there were plenty of hill climbs upwards to navigate. Altogether, the net height climbed over the length of the ride was about 2,250 metres, whilst net descent was about 3,050 metres. Some pretty tough climbs in there as well, with one gradient of around 24% going up taking a lot out of all of, though both Natalia and myself managed to make them all without pushing our bikes. People described it as a “wall”, but in comparison to the Sorocaba training, this just seemed easier – maybe because it was shorter rather than a sustained long climb, or maybe it was because our training rides had had a good effect on us. Still pretty brutal though and the legs were burning a bit at the top, though the downhills on the other side made up for it in the end!

The first third of the journey covered the route we took to Rio Grande da Serra, along the loose rock and stone road where Natalia got a puncture the last time. As with the big climbs, it all seemed a lot easier this time, and thankfully no punctures. To get to the highway maintenance road (the old highway used now only by cyclists and highway maintenance cars), we had a stretch going along the hard should of the Immigrantes Highway the wrong direction – not particularly pleasant, but fortunately no cars decided to use the hard shoulder as traffic was flowing quite freely.  The maintenance road itself was picturesque (with the exception of the main highway above us, it felt like we were in Jurassic Park, with the forest around us) and in reasonably good condition – we just had to keep to the middle to avoid the slippy moss/algae growing on the sides. Hitting that stuff at speed and turning could spell disaster.

Gradient profile of the route to Santos – some pretty hilly sections there…

We got to Santos at about 5.30pm, cycling in from the neighbouring industrial town of Cubatão, through the city to the promenade where we had some rather salty fish and squid. Too bad the football team was playing away from home, but I think we would have been too tired to go to any match. We had to wait till around 8pm for the bus – the driver of which was particularly unhelpful in terms of getting the bikes into the luggage containers at the bottom. It was torture seeing our bikes all piled on top of each other, but everything got back to São Paulo in one piece, thankfully, and we managed to sleep as the bus edged its way up through the traffic.