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Chris: interview about coastal hiking and Portugal


Hello, my name is Chris, I am originally from Ontario, Canada and am 44 years old. I married my beautiful wife four years ago and we reside on São Miguel Island, Azores, Portugal. I spend my time hiking, biking and working with our local dog rescue community.

I got the hiking bug by accident back when I was 20. At the time I had traveled to British Columbia for some summer adventure and stumbled into a work-for-stay job with a hostel on Vancouver Island; the job was to take other hostel guests on hiking excursions through local trails. Being that I never did any real hiking but had a lot of enthusiasm for exploring and loved the outdoors, I faked it till I made it. After that summer on the trails, I was hooked.

What is your approach to hiking? How do you choose places to travel?

I tend to split my trail time between solo and hiking with my wife. When it's the two of us we talk about our surroundings (she is always great at educating me on local flora) and have a good time together soaking up nature while getting exercise. When I am solo, I tend to choose longer routes and push myself to maximize my aerobic workout.

Depending on my mood, I will listen to music (Stick Figure and Pink Floyd are my favorite). Sometimes I will zone out while listening to classical music or meditation bells (helps on harder, longer portions when I'm waning a bit). Sometimes I just want to hear the quiet of my environment. Regardless, by the end of a hike I always have gratitude and feel more in tune with myself and nature, to feel I've challenged myself and to have gotten away from the daily distractions.

My wife and I share a love for the outdoors and plan our trips around hiking in the area. We've had some great trips/treks in the southwest U.S., the Adirondacks and The Smoky Mountains. Staying in larger cities does not interest us and instead seek out small towns as we are usually on a road trip. Once we discovered the hiking available in Portugal, with a bonus of optimal year round weather, we had found our paradise. Eventually we shifted our lives to live here in the Azores. All areas of Portugal offer great terrain and I highly recommend a visit for people to discover for themselves - Madeira is a hiker's dream, I would start there.

Any advice on how best to navigate the ever-changing climate of Madeira and similar islands? What weather websites do you research and how important is the right outfit in such places?

Madeira has a great subtropical climate, but can vary a lot due to its geography. It's key to monitor the weather cams around the island, netmadeira is the site I use. Don't get discouraged if you are seeing an area clouded out on the cams - if the forecast has a lower percentage of rain, chances are the area could be clear in an hour. Even if the weather is a miss at your destination, a short drive and you will find something preferable. The Weather Network app will give accurate predictions combined with radar will give you a good indication of what systems are nearby. If you are traveling between November and February, rain gear is a must. A winter hat is needed if you are going into the mountains, the winds can get wicked at times. Dry fit clothes, rain gear and layers are important as you may go from cold to hot hour to hour. Europe's highest sea cliff is here and the island has tremendous elevation for its size.

Your favorite hiking trails would you recommend to visit in Madeira?

The first I would recommend is Ponta de São Lourenço out and back trail; it is a very popular one for good reason. This is suitable for most but still offers a work out. You will usually get some great weather at this part of the island as well.

For more of a challenge, and to soak in Madeira's huge elevation, check out Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo out and back. Start your hike at sunrise and climb towards the highest point on the island, breathtaking views to be found along with a good workout.

A personal favorite of mine is Viewpoint of Achadas da Cruz - Porto Moniz. A challenging, longer trail with spectacular views and a little less traveled. There are many, many more I could list, a quick search and you will be overwhelmed with options, be sure to check out the great levada walks as well.

While in Madeira, I would also recommend booking a canyoning tour with the company Epic Madeira, descending waterfall after waterfall - for those with no fear of heights.

What are your favorite apps you use for hiking? What features do you use most often?

I get most everything I need from a combination of AllTrails, Google Earth and Google Maps. AllTrails tends to have a lot of detailed current hiker reviews which translates to some really useful info on the trail. Also the filter selection for finding something specific has saved me a lot of search time.

I've been using Strava lately for recording hikes and analysis of data to monitor my output. It's great for keeping track of my pace and elevation gains. Good for hiking, running or biking.

Do you use any GPS equipment for hiking?

I use AllTrails maps along the way, and even with no data it will usually continue on. I can always orientate myself with Google Maps GPS offline if need be. I like to have my offline research stored ahead of time just in case.

Name 5 items you can't imagine hiking without.

Five items I wouldn't leave behind (aside from my trusted footwear & water/food) are first aid kit, rope, rain gear, phone and ear buds.

What sources do you use for gathering information about forthcoming trips?

Surprisingly Instagram has turned up some great info I've used to find some out of the way spots. Reddit is a great go to for asking specific questions and usually get a few good replies (depending on how big the subreddit is). AllTrails never lets me down for finding a variety of hikes in any given area I've been to. Another app I've used in the past for finding mountain bike trails, TrailForks, can be used for hikes as well (unless stated, but I've found the areas I've applied to have given me good hiking options).

What adventures do you plan for the coming year?

I have a trip coming up to Sagres, Portugal with some great coastal hiking I'm really looking forward to. I'm fortunate to have an outdoor playground around me on São Miguel Island so I am plenty satisfied, but it's fun to explore new geography when the opportunity arises. I've heard the rave reviews of Iceland and the hiking offered, looks like a great place to focus on for a future trip!

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Ilia is a professional writer. He has expert knowledge in GPS and cartography with 15 years of experience. Additionally, Ilia has extensive experience in data recovery on PC and mobile. He started his career as a journalist by reviewing PC and mobile apps. His current responsibilities are to keep track of users' questions on MGT and answer them.