Journal > #BestWeekEver: Heidi Swift’s adventures in Portugal

#BestWeekEver: Heidi Swift’s adventures in Portugal

October 22nd, 2019 - Heidi Swift

Trish saw them first. We were ascending a gradual climb on a ridge that overlooked a sweeping valley below. Far in the distance, the Douro River carved a sinewy arc of blue into the landscape. The hillside to our right cascaded ever downward, etched with the parallel brown and green lines of the region’s famous terraced vineyards. There were farmers off in the distance somewhere between where the vineyards ended and where the Douro rolled through.


They’d stopped what they were doing and they were waving. Big, two-armed waves – like survivors on an island who’d just spotted an airplane in the sky. From where we were they were no bigger than tiny dots with flailing arms. It was impossible to even tell if they were men or women, adults or children.


We stopped our chatter and listened and through the warm air of Portugal’s spring we could hear them calling out. I sat up and raised my hands over my head, returning the greeting.

“What are they saying?” I asked Manuel.

“They are cheering us on.”


He smiled and then we all smiled.  We called back the only Portuguese words we’d picked up, “Olá! Bom dia!” We always said bom dia even when we should have said boa tarde. It didn’t matter. Even if they could tell what we were saying, they wouldn’t have cared. We were all out in the middle of nowhere in the Portuguese countryside, enjoying the kind of spontaneous human connection that makes you believe the world is fundamentally good.


On a steep climb just after coffee in São João Da Pesqueira we’d had a heckler who called out to me in reference to the large gap that had opened in front of me, “C’mon! Get going! What are you doing? Sleeping?” and after Manuel translated, I’d guffawed despite my gasping effort. On another day as we rolled through Samodáes we passed by a mob of 50 schoolchildren who erupted, fists in the air, screaming like it was the Tour de France.


To the untrained eye, I suppose we might have looked like a pro team; matching kits, matching Pinarellos, follow car, soigneur re-stocking our bottle cages with fresh bidons at every coffee stop. And it didn’t hurt to have two-time Portuguese National Champion Manuel Cardoso at the front of the paceline. 

We’d come from all parts of the United States; Virginia, North Carolina, Arizona, Oregon and New York. Some of us had ridden together before, some of us hadn’t. We were united by simple goals – to ride hard and laugh harder; to leave fitter than we’d arrived; to experience the wonder of what is possibly the most underrated cycling paradise in the world. We were a group of women on a great adventure with inGamba, discovering parts of Portugal rarely experienced by tourists, eating all the pastries, drinking all of the wine and generally having the #bestweekever together. And along the way, we discovered something else: The magic of camaraderie and the mysterious alchemy that transforms happiness into watts.

We have two amazing Women’s Weeks planned for 2020: The first is in honor of International Women’s Day and it will take place in Tuscany in March, and or you can join Heidi Swift in Spain in May.


This originally appeared in the 2019 inGamba Magazine.

Heidi Swift