Imagine if the A49 from Herefordshire to Shropshire was made of sand/dirt because the local governments had never bothered to build a proper road there since the area’s just full of farms? (um, is it full of farms, kinda guessing?!) Well that seems to be the attitude of state decision makers here towards the stretch of BR-242 highway that runs from Tocantins into the western edge of Bahia. Wow, I just did a Google search and found this – wish I’d seen that map before Sunday…
So after some superb cycling days last week, in contrast, this weekend I had two of the worst. The road quality had deteriorated severely when I passed into Tocantins state on Friday and it didn’t improve on Saturday’s ride north through what is clearly a very poor and deprived area with only a few rural villages along the way.
At the end of a bumpy and rainy afternoon I reached Taguatinga and found a simple hotel, which seemed to be the only well kept building in town. After eventually finding somewhere to buy food I holed up in my hotel room and streamed The Lion King on my tablet as some light relief/distraction from the dump outside! Love that film.
The next morning I enjoyed the ride out of town as the road was smooth and the landscape wasn’t, with more huge plateaus rearing up all around, and I knew my route involved climbing a very steep pass between two of them.
Knowing from the profile map that the rest of the day’s ride was basically flat, I stopped to take another arty shot:
I was zooming along and looking forward to experiencing the state of Bahia as I’ll cross it from west to east all the way to Salvador. I knew the border was around here somewhere, and then…
Surely it’s just a short gap in the road between the two states, right? Well I had no idea since I wasn’t expecting this at all. I had no option but to continue ahead and hope for the best. This was 15km into a 85km day.
45km and 6 hours later I was still slogging my way through the sand/dirt/quagmire in a desperate race against the sunset! I’d passed a farmer an hour earlier who told me I still had 18km to go before the asphalt returned – was bloody dispiriting but also damn motivating at the same time since I was determined to make it and then cycle the final 20km (in the dark) to the next town where I had a nice hotel room booked.
During the day my technique for navigating this ‘road’ had developed from simply pushing the bike (my tyres are no good for sand), to pedalling slowly and jumping off every time the wheels skidded sideways, to finally some kind of bizarre cyclocross style of pedalling hard and fighting for balance through the skids until the wheels got so bogged down that I had to hop off and drag Brenda forwards. It’s amazing how you can find extra strength when the chips are down, and despite having blisters on my heels from trudging through the sand, I managed to keep ploughing onwards and was actually running whenever possible in order to keep up what little momentum I had.
But the sun was setting fast and I guessed there were still 5km until the tarmac – should I make the call and accept that I had to camp here overnight in a farmers field, with very little water left in my bottles plus only half a cereal bar and an energy gel to eat?!
But then I heard two vehicles coming along behind me and turned to see the first was a pickup truck – time to accept defeat – I flagged them down and asked/pleaded if I could put the bike and bags in the back and get a lift to the next town. He said YES! Woohoo! In my flustered state I’ve forgotten his name (sorry!) but he’s a local farmer who’s originally from Sao Paulo (another kind stranger from there!) and the 4×4 following him contained his wife and two young sons. In no time we reached the tarmac and I celebrated in sarcastic style, before we sped the final 20km to Luis Eduardo Magalhaes and found my hotel.
I was a filthy, exhausted mess but the guy on the hotel reception was very welcoming and I was so happy to get checked in! Cue a night of rest and refuelling where I emptied the minibar of (non-alcoholic) drinks and ate a lot of unhealthy food.
With hindsight, Sunday was tough but it was never dangerous and calling it a ‘highway to hell’ is an exaggeration since it was just really annoying, but I guess I’ve had things too easy so far and now the adventure is on as I reach the northern states. Monday and yesterday were pretty flat, smooth and hence quite boring rides – just what I needed!
PS. some Mountain Goats reading this may well see a similarity with our first tour in France – officially the toughest day of my life, both physically and mentally – and the only other time I’ve flagged down a passing vehicle whilst out cycling and been delighted that I did!