Near Rabacal, Portugal – April 22, 2017
“This may be our last chance for ice cream,” I say to Daya. “Not sure what’s coming up ahead, but I don’t see much for a bit.”
We look down the road. A mile, maybe a mile and a half to get to town. She shakes her head and I nod. Just too far to be worth it. We fill our water bottles in a bathroom sink and head off under the afternoon sun.
I hide under the brim of my hat and a layer of dirt-smeared sunscreen. Sweat soaks through my clothes. I remind myself to drink more water. Was I ever cold? I must have been once or maybe I just imagined it.
The mix of highways, neighborhood roads, sidewalks, and thin shoulders ends as if we cross some magic line. The trail picks up a dirt track and finds the countryside I’d begun to think didn’t exist in Portugal. We trade sprawl for farmland, neighborhoods for forests, highways for low hills, scattered houses, and villages.
The sound of engines, of cars and trucks had blurred into a constant, dull roar that I’d just accepted as a given. Dogs barking, growling, and flashing white teeth behind every fence felt intrinsic to the world until it disappeared. The quiet soaks over me, turning down the volume with each step away.
The long dirt track let’s my thoughts wander, as if all the road noise had squeezed out any space my mind had to think. I feel my body calming down from an anxiousness I didn’t even realize I had, sobering up from the shots of adrenaline injected into my blood by every car passing too close, every dog leaping up a fence to bark a foot from my ear.
It’s easy walking with only the sun to contend with, birds to listen to, trees to watch. In the last small village before nightfall, with the heat of the day still lingering, we pass an unexpected store with a freezer in the back corner. Frozen vegetables, meat, and microwave dinners fill it to near the top, but scattered over them all are a few boxes of ice cream cones waiting to be eaten. We snatch them up and head out to walk the last miles of the day.