The team, left to right: Graham, Diogo and Thomas
We are in the final stages of preparation, prior to launching our programme for 2023 and beyond and, as a newly approved ACT Adventure Country Tracks Tour Partner, I could think of no better way to get to know two new team members than to complete the ACT Portugal track together.
The first new member to introduce is Diogo Guerra. Diogo is from Santarem, near to Lisbon and has been riding off-road for a little over 20 years. He is a very talented rider and has a full time business as an off-road instructor and tour guide. I found Diogo through his youtube chanel Offroad-Offcourse where he was checking out parts of the ACT Portugal a couple of years ago. After watching a few of his video’s on riding tips, maintenance and touring Portugal it soon became clear that he would be a great “local expert” for any project that we run in Portugal.
Next up is Thomas. Thomas has a passion for all types of motorcycling. He rides a KTM 690R Enduro for off-roading, a Yamaha MT09 for the road and a Fireblade for the track. Thomas has dual nationality (French and English) and seems to have a knack for languages. He communicates well in Spanish and to the surprise of Diogo and myself does pretty well with Portuguese too. I look forward to testing his Italian, Romanian and Greek on future ACT adventures! For now his youtube channel is only in French under the name “Le Canard Enrage” where he reviews the latest bikes etc. Thomas likes to go fast.
ACT Portugal is where it all began for ACT. It is also one of the tracks that should be good earlier in the summer. Italy has had terrible floods, The Pyrenees still had snow on the peaks a few weeks ago and temperatures below freezing at night at the higher elevations as well as a lot of rainfall at lower levels. ACT Romania is a very challenging track and Greece was too far for the first venture. I look forward to the UK but that is for a little bit later on. ACT Portugal was also described as more suitable for “beginners with offroad experience.” More on that later!!
We decided to complete the track in reverse, from South to North. The reasoning behind this was mainly logistical. We wanted to meet Diogo at Santarem and to complete a day’s training with him prior to starting the Track. Although I have been riding on the road for 30 years I am relatively new to off-road riding and felt as though, after a period of self learning (mainly through the ever helpful youtube) it was time for some formal training. From my experience as an airline pilot I have come to accept the true value of training, regardless of your level. I tentatively asked Thomas if he would like some training too. This felt strange as Thomas has helped me with my own riding and is an excellent coach but I was not surprised when he said he was happy to take up the offer of training with Diogo. The training was incredibly helpful. I had exposed myself to many of the techniques from youtube and other sources but having somewhere to put them into practice under the experienced eye of an instructor really helped and I was happy to attempt things that I would not have tried on my own. Sometimes we think we are doing what we see demonstrated elsewhere but it takes live instruction to help correct techniques and to give us that push that we need to increase our abilities and our comfort zone.
For us, the track began under the grey skies of the Algarve at Cacela Velha. It was a little before the season fully opened so some restaurants were still closed. Day one is described as an easy/medium day and is 245km comprising of 65% offroad. As we travelled “the wrong way” we were soon off-road and I would say That easy/med was a fair assessment. It was amazing. As with all ACT Tracks, they are long days and require a fair amount of stamina/fitness. A light motorcycle helps, as does good riding technique. I had neither so by the time we arrived at our campsite its fair to say I was pretty tired. My colleagues a little less so. They had both carried out the much appreciated task of putting my heavily laden Africa Twin back the right way up whilst I got my breath back following a drop but apart from that they seemed to find the day pretty straightforward.
After a reasonable nights sleep, by camping standards, we had to make a fairly early start. Again, these are long days. 8 am is a good time to get on the road. The weather was not brilliant but fortunately stayed dry whilst we packed up our tents. The temperature was actually around 15 degrees C at night so was ideal for sleeping outside. Even though it rained a fair bit on day 2 it was in the high 20’s so cold was never a problem and I didn’t even bother with the waterproofs as it was showery and overall i dried very quickly after the showers passed and never felt cold, which is my pet hate. The track was amazing. It is classified as easy but for me I would say easy/med. I still managed to drop my bike once, landing quite hard on my ribs. Once again my colleagues got some extra exercise lifting my bike for me whilst I gathered my thoughts and assessed how I felt after the crash. There was a terrible moment during the drop as my head hit the ground when I heard a large “snap” sound. It turned out to have been a press stud holding my helmet liner in place coming loose under the impact. No harm done!
Now, on paper this looked like one of the easier days. 40% offroad, only 235 km and a difficulty level of “easy.” For the three of us this was by far the toughest day. The track may have changed over the last few years due to weather conditions etc but it was HARD work. Both climbs and descents were very technical and very long. I did, of course, have my obligatory daily crash. We were so tired at the end of the day that we stayed at the first campsite we found. It was fine but was just around the corner from the Alamal River Club. We visited this the next morning and it’s fantastic. All of our future tours will be stopping there for the evening. It would be especially welcome after a tough day. Of course, this is taking into account of the fact that we went South to North.
We managed to delay ourselves significantly with our early morning visit to the River Club, they make a nice breakfast. The good news is that the road sections were amazing and gave us the opportunity to make up some lost time. The off-roading was fantastic and the final section of the day on mountain roads rounded off the best day’s motorcycling I have ever had. I still managed a small drop though, just to keep consistent.
The weather was not kind but we had a great day. The loop around the lake was great with a technical descent down to the lake followed by a steep, technical climb back up. Hard work but fine. Definitely a medium level as a minimum. For the two optional “hard” sections I decided to take one for the team and check out the easier alternative whilst Diogo and Thomas had their fun. I’m glad that I did as they reported that they were indeed “Hard.” By this stage I was exhausted, my ribs hurt and I did not fancy wrestling my Africa Twin Adventure Sports around anything described as hard by the same team that described day 3 as “easy.” I think I felt a bit disappointed with myself for bypassing these sections but I know that it was the right choice for me. We arrived in Braganca at the same time as a huge storm. I had mixed emotions as I had bypassed the tough sections and felt a little undeserving of the term “finishing” the ACT Portugal but they are optional sections. I just don’t like to give in. Under a huge thunderstorm we had a massive stroke of luck as Diego secured us some lodgings. It turned out to be part of a complex that have huge resources and some beautiful accommodation that we will be offering to our guests on future tours.
What an amazing adventure! There were a lot of lessons learned. I could not have chosen a better team to travel with. Their riding consistently put me to shame but they were both encouraging, supportive and professional. They were also great fun and good company. We were all surprised by the difficulty level at times and felt that the day’s training prior to any of the ACT tracks is a great idea to offer to all of our guests. We all love camping but feel that it may be too much on such a demanding adventure so we are looking at some camping broken up with some really nice accommodation as an option. There is also the hostel option to consider too. Because of the remote nature of the tracks it takes a lot of planning to ensure that accommodation and food are always available at the right time. The food situation will be helped massively with the use of a support vehicle. Having a support vehicle will also allow guests to carry a lot of their luggage in the van. This will significantly reduce fatigue as the bikes will be far more natural to control. On the bike front, I took a heavy bike. I would say that the big AT was amazing. It did a great job and would have been a lot nicer without my poorly distributed luggage. I do, however, think if I had known how technical the track would be I would have taken a lighter bike.
We may look at offering the ACT Portugal as a six or seven day trip to help with both accommodation and with the length of the days.
We are also offering bike hire and will soon be offering the option of getting your bike shipped between the UK and Portugal.
This is a great adventure and the perfect way to see the real Portugal.