• Jamie Shannon

Salamanca to Portugal. Yet more tyres issues but help is on hand

Having spent four days enjoying my time as a backpacker in Salamanca and relinquishing from my bank account more euros than I care to mention, I felt it was time to get back to what I had been doing for the past two months, namely, cycling.

Wheeling my bicycle out of the hostel garage, I realised after having already ‘fixed’ the puncture on the back wheel, it was again completely deflated. I decided to simply pump it up as it was a small hole and thus required only a quick blast of air every 10km’s or so. I said my goodbye’s to the hostel staff and other guests and was on my way again.

It always feels a little weird being back on the bike after a period of time off it. I feel exposed again; exposed to people’s eyes as well as the elements and there were butterflies in my stomach too. Not the type that you get when you’re about to be pushed off the high diver at school by the masculine female teacher, aptly named Miss manly but the kind when one is about to enter somewhere new and unknown. It’s an altogether pleasant feeling.


I am on my way to Portugal.


It was hot, and getting still hotter every day and I knew that the further south I go, the hotter it will become. I still don’t quite know how I’m going to handle this in southern Spain in particular and I may well take a bus or a train through a portion of it yet.


Within a half hour, I was cycling out of the city limits and following the main highway south west towards Ciudad Rodrigo, 25km’s from the Portuguese border. I ended up, yet again on the motorway, having missed the sign at the start. The motorways here aren’t like the ones back home, being much smaller and with an infinitely less amount of vehicles. As no one was honking at me, I decided to carry on until the next exit.

After 10km’s however, I received a swift “no, no, no” from a Spanish policeman who had pulled over on the other side in his patrol car and was duly indicated to take the next exit in 3km’s time. This I did without hesitation, finding myself on the actual National Highway I had actually planned to take.


About 60 km’s after Salamanca, cycling along, I heard some strange noises emanating from my rear wheel and decided to pull over to see what they were. Getting off the bike, and pushing it for a couple of metres though, induced a huge bang which frightened me half to deaf and which tore a massive hole through my rear inner tube. This was not good. Luckily I had bought a new one before leaving Salamanca and decided to fix it whilst making dinner at the side of the road.

Having taken the wheel off, I noticed the actual steel rods which give the tyre its shape had been pulled apart and the rubber that surrounded that particular area had been completely torn apart. I decided anyway to put the new inner tube in and then inflated it to its normal pressure. It didn’t work. The inner tube just protruded out of the side tyre wall and so the bike was only fit for pushing. I suppose it is called a pushbike after all.


I was 60 km’ from Salamanca, in the middle of nowhere and on a road with about one car every half an hour passing by. With no phone with which to call for help even if I did know the Spanish AA number for bicycles or indeed a Spanish person with whom could relay my predicament, I felt rather screwed. Yet, in a way, I didn’t feel completely lost, opting instead to look at it another way. Back in Salamanca, I had met a German guy whom had walked over 900 km’s across Spain. This is something I couldn’t consider doing but I envisaged doing this for the next 5kms to the next town hoping that at the same time, a town of 15,000 people would have a bike shop. I wasn’t so sure.


In the end, after walking 1km along the highway, I decided to call it a day and found a place to camp just off the road behind some bushes, thinking I would have to carry on like this again the following day.


Waking up, I resolved myself to the fact that it would take the entire day to walk to Ciudad Rodrigo and so I thought I would try and hitchhike instead; probably not the easiest thing to do with a bicycle but I thought I would give it a try nonetheless.

After a further 1km however, I came to one of those road side rest stops/motels and decided to see If there was any truckers inside willing to take me to Rodrigo. Seeing no one inside to speak of, the most amazing thing then happened; a man came inside and said in an unmistakably cockney accent, “are you the guy from warm showers?” I said I wasn’t but told him my predicament to see if he could help. He then told that there was indeed a bike shop in Rodrigo, and If I could take the back wheel off, he could drive me down there to get a new tyre. Amazing! What are the chances of meeting an English guy here, in the middle of nowhere? I was flabbergasted at this turn of events as I really thought I would have to spend the entire day walking the remaining 25 km’s. I was relieved and just so happy that I could have kissed him. What If I had carried on walking the previous day or the tyre had ripped apart just 10km’s further on? Sometimes you can understand why some people believe in fate.


About two or three hours later, together with Fred’s Portuguese friend, we were back at the motel having bought a new wheel and some new spokes for the bargain price of sixteen Euro’s! We unloaded his shopping from the cash n carry and, before long, I was on my way again, hoping and praying that everything would be alright.

A couple of hours later, I cycled out of Ciudad Rodrigo, and headed to the mountainous border region where my map indicated there were a few 12% gradients. With this knowledge, and sweating profusely from every pore in my body, I pulled over for a rest, a can of coke and a cigarette. A racing cyclist pulled over not long afterwards and having tried to converse with me, gave me ten Euro’s and a banana. This was the second time someone has given me money on this trip. I don’t ask for it but who am I to say no? It’s rude anyway not to accept a gift and so I took it without too much hesitation and ate the banana just as quickly too.

In the end, the climb wasn’t so bad. I generally find that, if you prepare yourself for the worst, the actual reality nearly always isn’t as bad as you first thought. The heat though was killing me, forcing me to stop every few km’s in whatever shade I could find. It was at one of these stops at the top of the climb, that a car pulled over and asked if I wanted a lift for 10km’s until he got to his house. I was tempted, I was very tempted, but upon finding out that he was carrying straight on at the next junction, I told him it wasn’t a good idea and thanked him anyway. This got me thinking that, people must think I have no other way of getting about or that maybe cycling was a kind of self-inflicting punishment. I do actually do this because I enjoy doing it, most of the time anyway.


Just ahead, after a village perched perilously atop a cliff, I took a right onto a smaller road which drew me ever closer with the border and things began to look up. I didn’t know it at the time, but this could also serve as a literal description.


The road between here and the next bug climb flowed up and down, passing a desolate expanse of patchy, rock infested scrub/woodland, interrupted occasionally by land used for the growing of wheat. Having reached a quaint, time worn village which lay just before the last big climb, I found a picnic bench to make my dinner.


I found the village water font a little later, and decided to have a wash as there’s nothing worse than sleeping in a tent when your entire body is sticky from the day’s sweat. Whilst I was drying my hair, two girls walked around the corner ready to fill up their bottles and I just shrugged my shoulders and pointed to my wet hair. I think they knew what I was doing but still didn’t expect to see someone bathing there.


I was very happy the next day that I had taken the opportunity to camp when I did as the climb up the remainder of the mountain was incredibly steep. This, coupled with the fact that the road turned to gravel, made it extremely tiring and thirsty work. Luckily I had got going reasonably early and so the sun was not yet at its strongest.


When I finally did reach the top, I was afforded spectacular views of the surrounding valleys and plains along the border with Portugal. I don’t know how high I was but it must have been over 1500 metre’s and gave me an amazing feeling having climbed so high.

I’d love to tell you that, after I had sat down and ate something whilst enjoying the views, I got back on my bike and glided effortlessly down the endless switchbacks to the town far below. I really would love to tell you that but things in life just never seem to go according to plan.


It was only after I started cycling that down it became abundantly clear the front tyre was badly out of its true shape and form and so every revolution ushered in a heady bump. I didn’t have any other choice and so I simply carried on all the way down, albeit tentatively, until I finally reached the bottom.

Being a small town and the middle of the day, I knew it was a hopeless task to look for a spare inner tube here and so I cycled on another 16 km’s towards the border.


It was hot, hotter than anything I have ever experienced. My mouth became dry just seconds after drinking some water and I remember becoming faintly dizzy when straining to climb any sort of hill. I glanced at my thermometer and it read 39 degree’s and thought that perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to be cycling in this kind of heat. With the thought of heatstroke or something similar becoming an increasing possibility, I pulled over and stopped in some shade where I drank copious amounts of warm water in order to try to instil some life into my body.


I reached the border a little later and, you’re not going to believe this, actually I didn’t quite believe it and still don’t; the front inner tube blew again, perhaps just a few m’s from the actual sign that delightfully read “Portugal”.