At A Snail's Pace

This brave, trail-crossing Czech snail was one of the lucky ones. The crunch of gravel on the trail is one thing ...

When you're cycling, it's just as important to be looking down as it is to be looking around at all the sights. In fact, you could probably say it's even more important, as my recent ride into a gigantic hole (and subsequent crash) made plainly evident.

Usually, when you're looking down at the trail as you're riding, you're mostly seeing gravel or roots or loose sticks or mud puddles or dog poop. But when you're riding in the Czech Republic after a recent rain, you also see snails in great abundance.

These aren't your garden-variety snails I'm talking about. These snails I see out on the trail are usually the size of squash balls. And when it rains, hundreds of them somehow collectively decide to hold a mass crawl across Prague's cycling trails and paths.

So plentiful are they that the Czech Republic has recently been exporting its snails to France, because the local French snails have been consumed into extinction. You'll occasionally even see escargot on Prague menus.

Call me crazy, but sometimes I'll actually stop and pick these little guys up and place them in the grass next to the trail. They're too cute not to rescue. This can get ridiculous sometimes, but I do my best.

Cory tries her best to ignore the threatening clouds.

The snails were out in force on June 3 -- a cloudy, muddy, dark, and dreary Sunday. I went out to Okoř with Cory Bemis, the wife of Dale Bemis, whom I rode with last week. He's a childhood friend of Daisy's. They're living in Hardwick, England, at the moment, and have their own blog, called Adventures In England.

Dale and Cory are both experienced cyclists. They met while competing in a road race, and Cory still cycles competitively. (Let the record show, however, that I was first into Okoř! Nevermind that she was following me because she didn't know the route.)

I learned a few things about gear ratios and when to attack during a race (such as, when you can see that the cyclist ahead of you is switching back and forth between gears because he/she can't find one they're comfortable in). Mostly, I learned that I'll never be in good enough shape to compete competitively.

We had a great ride, though.

Because it was such a crappy day, the trails were muddy but deserted. At one point, riding a trail through some farmers' fields near Tuchoměřice, it was sooo quiet. We had to stop and enjoy the silence.

Then we heard the most amazing birdsong. Unfortunately, the bird itself was hiding beneath the wheat stalks (perhaps it nests on the ground?), but its call was very distinctive, a bwoop-bwoop that sounded kind of like a dripping faucet, but was almost electronic in tone.

We had a quick Pilsner Urquell in Okoř and headed for home. The back of Cory's white shirt looked like a Jackson Pollock painting by the time it was all over.


Length of ride: 49 kilometers

Average speed: 18.6 kph

Maximum speed: 44.5 kph

Time of ride: 2.35.43

Distance ridden in 2007: 853.5 kilometers

This is a typical Czech "chata," or country house. You pass a lot of these cute little cottages when you're riding outside of Prague. (This one is on a trail off the main road between Statenice and Tuchoměřice.) It's a tradition that began in the 1920s or so in Czechoslovakia, but really took off during communist rule. On the weekends, city folk -- often crammed into tiny flats -- could escape to the countryside to tend their fruit trees or just putter around. The tradition continues to this day. Prague empties out on the weekends as all the Czechs head to their chatas, especially when the weather's nice.


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