Rio Grande da Serra to Grajaú

So lets blog… Throughout my exploration of São Paulo I find myself wanting to go further afield and particularly, to the fringes of the city. It’s comforting to see that this place does eventually end and it’s always nice to get amongst some Brazilian jungle. Unfortunately I don’t usually have a whole weekend or even a day to do these adventures so I often use the trains and metros to get out to the limits of the city. In SP, cyclists can take their bikes on the trains on Saturday after 2pm, all day Sundays and public holidays and after 8:30pm on weeknights. You can also take your bike on busses between 10am and 4pm then from 7pm to 5am but this is restricted to the big articulated busses (23 metres) and each bus is only allowed to carry one bike! For me, I’m yet to find a use for this as, with all the stopping busses do, cycling is usually quicker. But I digress…

I had for a long time been eyeing off some dirt roads on satellite image at the southern limits of the city that meander along close to the edge of the ‘serra’ (range) that drops down toward the coastal region where Santos lies. The plan for this ride was to ride the 12km from my place to Tamanduateí station and take a train down to the end of the line in the SE to Rio Grande da Serra. From there I would cycle down highway SP21 to the beginning of a 4WD track that makes up part of a what is known as the ‘Caminho de Sal’ or Salt Trail. This section links SP21 to SP48 to the west and passes tracks along an underground Petrobras gas line as well as touching on part of the Billings reservoir. Once reaching SP48 I had grander plans of taking another track to the 050 highway known as Anchieta and even more hedonistic plans of linking to the Estrada do Rio Acima which would take me, by way of dirt roads and three ferries, to Grajaú. This was not to be and would have to be saved for another time. I had thankfully considered several backup routes should I run out of time as I very quickly did due to slow trains and the state of the Caminho de Sal route and its incompatibility with my road bike.

I set off for Tamanduateí around 10:30am which was already too late as it was a going to be a blistering hot day but that was the best I could do with my available hours. I could have taken the metro there but I rightly assumed that riding would be quicker and it gave me a chance to further solidify my knowledge of the Centro region and the 050. I also rediscovered how using Google maps turn by turn navigation in headphones is not always the best idea and can result in a lot of stopping and swearing whilst digging around for the phone in the handle bar bag to look at the map. Still haven’t got one of those nifty cockpit bags where you can see the phone but oh well…

The train ride to Mauá was fairly quick but after changing to the final train to get to Rio Grande things became painfully slow. For some reason the train wouldn’t go faster than about 20km/h. The best I could understand from one old dude on the train was something about salt (or lack of) on the tracks. The whole trip ended up being 2 hours when it should have been 1 hour and 20 mins. Not really a time saver but I guess at least I arrived fresh in the air conditioning.

Google maps again got terribly confused in what should have been a fairly simple affair; to get out of Rio Grande and onto SP21. About 1km down SP21 I remembered to turn Strava on.

Finally I reached the familiar entrance. Familiar because I’d checked it out on Google street view but now, here it was in full 3D.

I knew this section was going to be slow going because of the rough surface. I had seen a few photo spheres online taken by 4WDers and it looked nasty. At least it had been dry all week otherwise I wouldn’t have attempted it. When I tell people some of the roads I’ve traversed on my road bike their reaction is usually “but won’t you break the bike and get lots of punctures on those skinny tires?”. Fact is, road bikes are very hardy and those skinny tires hold a lot of pressure and are not prone to puncture off road. This doesn’t mean they are ideal for off roading which is why we have mountain bikes. The difference on this kind of surface is speed. I can’t thrash downhill at speed and often lose traction going uphill. Constantly seeking out the best line ahead of you can be tiring and the ride isn’t what you’d call comfortable. Having said that, as most of my riding is on asphalt it’s nice to be able to do some off roading as part of an overall ride and in places where even mountain bikes would have trouble I can just carry the bike through with much less effort than you could a mountain bike.

So I plunged into it, happy to be finally here. The forest was lush and fragrant due to the many flowering Ipê trees with their vibrant pink blooms and I felt that feeling of freedom and awe at my surroundings that I so love; one of the big drivers of these trips.

The road was fairly brutal. Lots of fist sized rocks interspersed with patches of sand. It wasn’t long before I hit my first unridable ascent and consequently, decent but I was making a reasonable 8–10km/h and enjoying myself. I passed a few horse riders who didn’t seem too surprised to see a stupid gringo on a road bike.

The shade from the jungle didn’t stay too long and the track opened up exposing me to the hot sun. I passed a few water holes with picnickers in 4WDs and tarpaulins set up for shade. I also passed some guys towing another deeply bogged 4WD out of one of the muddy cross tracks. They all seemed fairly relaxed with beers in hand and again, seemed unimpressed at my presence.

I soon noticed that the kms weren’t passing very quickly and time was, so I was already thinking about my alternate, faster routes to Grajaú involving some freeway riding.

I passed a group of teenagers who politely asked directions to the SP21 and I was able to help them out. A little later I found a small concrete hut just off the track which even had a mattress in it. So that could be a handy not-so-stealthy camp for someone. I was beginning to tire of the surface a bit and began to dream of asphalt when a piece magically appeared where the track bordered the reservoir. There were some old buildings and it looked like some sort of deactivated spillway. The asphalt was short lived however and I was soon picking my way along some more stoney roads at walking pace.

Finally, the SP48 appeared like a vision of smoothness and I stopped to consider my options. Going further west on this type of road was out, so I hooked up the SP48 to where it hits the SP31, an intersection I’d been to on a previous ride. There I was greeted by the peaceful site of a semi trailer asleep on its side. I guess he took the roundabout that little bit too fast.

I turned left onto the 31 and stopped a bit further down for a cold drink and to charge my phone with the external battery I had brought along. I find that Strava doesn’t draw down heavily on the battery and I can easy track 5 or more hours but just a few bursts of Google Maps for directions does, so the extra battery is helpful if not heavy.

So from here I was on familiar ground and wasn’t so looking forward to the mad dash along the 050 (with no shoulder) as it crosses the reservoir and a curious sign showing a bicycle with a red line through it. I pondered that as I sprinted across the 200 or so metres the bridge spanned. On the other side I jumped the barrier and headed down to another dirt road, Estrada do Vergueiro. I had sussed this road out on satellite and had seen that it could connect with Rodoanel Mario Covas, SP21 which rings the entire greater SP region. I say could because, although the roads intersect there is no connection but you can always be sure some locals have made a track linking them.

The road prior to intersecting with Rodoanel went through some beautiful forested areas with nice properties on the water.

It was dirt road but oh so much better than the Caminho de Sal. It went under Rodoanel through a small tunnel-bridge type thing and on the other side I found the ‘local track’ up to the freeway.

I’ve ridden Rodoanel Mario Covas in quite a few places and find it to be very pleasant cycling. The secret is in the ear plugs! The shoulder is huge with a great surface. Mostly, you just have to take care with the exits and entrances. Ear plugs lower the volume to the point where you can still here approaching trucks but still enjoy a peaceful ride.

From here I could take Rodoanel to where it goes above another country road I’d ridden that would take me to Grajaú via ferry, or I could try another route using a satellite-spied possible connection to a bush track. As always I went with the road yet ridden. On this one I couldn’t see a definite track on street view from the freeway but once I arrived it was a sinch to sidle up the bank and on to a ‘local’ track that connected me with the one I’d seen from above. Being suddenly back in the bush after the freeway makes for a startling contrast and I took the time to have a quick break and contemplate my route to Grajaú station from here.

Google maps gave me three options and I decided to go with the middle one. In hindsight, it would have been a good time to use the bicycle feature, which plots a course with fewer climbs, as I was pretty buggered by now. The route I had chosen turned out to be super hilly. Somehow, Murphy always has me doing big climbs at the end of a long ride.

The route went through some pretty poor sections of Grajaú but I didn’t get too many weird looks. I’ve been through many dodgy areas on my adventures and I have to accept the very real possibility of being robbed; bike and everything else taken. It’s way less likely that I’d be hurt. It’s usually just a case of hand it all over and take on the new adventure of getting home with no money or phone. I really don’t want this to happen but it’s the risk I’ve decided to take so that I can do these adventure rides and get to know the behemoth that is SP.

Finally, after another hour of some steep climbing that I thought would have taken half the time, I arrived at Grajaú station.

I had forgotten that today there would be many Carnival ‘Blocos’ around the city and I was amazed to see the train gradually fill up to ‘sardine’ level before we left. So it was a slow and uncomfortable ride to Pinheiros where I had to change trains. I almost couldn’t extract my bike from the mess of jam packed carnival goers. It occurred to me that on this ride, neither train journey really saved me much time but it would have doubled my kms had I ridden it all and I don’t think I was up for that with temperatures in the high 30s.

Overall, I enjoyed the ride immensely and whilst I didn’t get to explore all the parts I wanted to, I look forward to doing so on future rides.

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