Little Surprises

I was longing for a hot shower. The fantasy of this simple pleasure kept me focused for the last 10 miles of a grueling day. Arriving at the Costasnovasurfhouse ( yes, one word) I smiled to myself. A youth hostel. I should have known with a name like that. So when the sun-weathered owner walked us through the shared courtyard full of 20 Something surfer/backpackers/world citizens to our room, I wasn’t too surprised. I had plenty of real surprises over the past few days.

Costanovasurfhouse (all one word)

It started out with a good, no, great idea. Rick, the navigator, (much like his father Jim, who had been a naval navigator during WWII), determined that we could possibly avoid a huge hill on a heavily trafficked corridor coming out of the city de jour, Figueira da Foz. We looked closely at the map and made the decision. We were going rogue. Doing our own thing for the first part of our day and then joining up with our original route a little later on. 

This departure from the plan came after having to negotiate a freeway cloverleaf onto a two mile suspension bridge into the city the day before. Saying it was hairy is an understatement. 

Scary freeway cloverleaf onto a pedestrian path about 3 feet wide. Two miles of white knuckle.

Today, we just didn’t want any surprises. 

So off we went. Rick’s route traveled along a beautiful dedicated bike path that paralleled the waterfront. That is, until the road gave way to gravel. Hmmm. Everything was fine right up until we reached a metal fence plastered with no entry signs. Trying to open the gate, because when has a gate stopped us before, two men approached us at a fast walk shaking their heads, wagging their fingers and firmly saying “Nao.” “Fala Ingles?” I tried. “Nao.” No English. I then signed/pantomimed “where?” They indicated that we go must go back a mile or so and go up and over… the hill.

The guarded fence. It would have been so flat…

And it was definitely a big, big hill. Probably at least 5 miles. With switchbacks and steep grades. But this time, it was a tiny bit easier. Plus, we figured out how to stop and rest without a total meltdown. I was reminded of the famous Bob Ross quote,”We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.” It was hard but we had all the rewards a hill has to offer. Satisfying challenge, great views, exhilarating downhill and an added bonus. At the very very top, near the radio tower ( did I say it was a big hill?) we met a nice guy that gave us solid directions to a bathroom. A surprise? Yes. But not too shabby.

A switchback. You can just see the sea to the right.

Once back on track, we were thrilled that the rest of the day’s route was flat. Literally 25 miles of flat. Blessed flat. Flat as a pancake. Flat. Flat. Flat. 

So we geared up and started power pedaling. maybe we could get to Costa Nova a little early?  

But after just a few short miles, the road changed. As we left the small village of Quiaios, we entered the beginning of a long stretch that cut straight through a natural reserve, the Dunes de Mira Gandara e Gafanes. Sand Dunes.  I was really looking forward to this. The area has a long and interesting history of people living in this desolate landscape by fighting back the sand to create homes with agriculture and cattle.

Just what we were hoping for.

 And it was flat. 

Straight through, no towns until our destination. Just a very long flat road. 

And then our next surprise. 

An important factor in cycling is road surface. Paved, gravel, dirt, cobblestone and so on. Later, when I asked Rick to give me a descriptive word to describe the highway to hell, without hesitation he said, “soul crushing.” 

And it was. It’s hard to describe this road. Once paved, it had seen the harsh weather of sand and sea. Gravel interspersed with bits of jagged pavement – full of potholes that reminded us of those we experienced in Laos which we aptly named Elephant Footprints. Bone jarring pain that extended well beyond our bums made me think longingly of cobblestones. Feet and hands numb, the 15 mile trek through the dunes felt like a straight shot to Hades.  

Highway to Hell
To keep with the metaphor, Rick is at the crossroads hoping to sell his soul to get off this road.

At one point we saw a “road closed” sign and an arrow to make a detour due to road work. No way were we going to extend this agony. So as usual we proceeded forward to see what lay ahead.

Oh. That’s where we are.

And we were rewarded. A newly paved road. And asphalt!!  A cyclist’s dream. So for one glorious mile we careened happily forward. Until that ended and we were back to the soul crusher. 

Back in the 1970s, my dad and stepmom took an epic journey to Alaska on the infamous Alcan highway. At the time, it was so remote and the road conditions so sketchy, that some folks hauled an extra axel for their vehicles. Because there were really no towns, they used the Milepost Guide to keep them on track. I remember the vivid stories they told of fording rivers, stopping for moose and just pulling over for the night in a wide space in the road. Now it’s paved the whole way, and while still an adventure, it isn’t as rugged or scary as it once was. 

Seeing that bit of pavement on our road made me think that in just a couple years, this road too, will be changed to accommodate more folks traveling to see this harsh, beautiful wilderness. During our entire ride, we saw one renovated camper van with a surfboard strapped to the top. That’s it. 

Maybe we were lucky to see it as it is now. 

No way. We are going forward.
Smooth sailing after walking it around the heavy equipment.

After a good two hours, the road again changed. We started heading up a river and in the far distance we could see a bridge. Having just crossed the very scary suspension bridge the day before, I started to feel anxiety which grew by the minute as the huge bridge got closer and closer. Would we have another freeway cloverleaf?  Huge semi’s speeding past creating a suction effect on our bikes? Yep.

Surprise again. 

Anticipated this for a good hour.

It was nearly 4:30 when we arrived at the Costanovasurfhouse. The hippie vibe was fine, the courtyard full of kids younger than my kids was fine. The complimentary beer was fine. 

But for 65 euros, the room was not fine. Cold, damp, and smelling of mold, I just wanted to shower, crawl into bed and wake up in the morning to leave. But no. 

Surprise! Cold shower. I wanted to cry. 

Time for dinner. Situated in a residential neighborhood, the owner pointed us a half mile to the nearest restaurant.  Closed. Walked another quarter mile to another restaurant. Closed. Finally found a cafe/bar and got a burger. Straight back to the Costanovasurfhouse to just go to bed. 

Rick announced he was going to try the shower. I warned him.  But then he came out of the bathroom all pink and steaming with a huge smile. “Hot water?” I nearly screamed. He nodded. 

Another awesome surprise.

It’s a hamburger.
The outside was pretty cute.
And a lemon tree. Nice surprise.

2 responses to “Little Surprises”

  1. Thank you for your amazing words! Your pictures and descriptive writing make me feel like I’m on a journey too . Stay safe and continue enjoying your adventure ❤️


  2. John Willims Avatar
    John Willims

    Thanks for taking me along as a virtual observer! It brings back great memories, but I never had to deal with unpaved roads. I love your photos. I hope it just keeps getting better and better.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: