Of Pigs, Ducks, Nuclear Physics, Orbiting Satellites, and Generations of Dove Droppings
A field of sunflowers on the road between Okoř and Statenice.
Stewart was back from filming in Slovenia, where he has a part in the latest "Narnia" movie, "Prince Caspian"; I'd just received my new Garmin Edge 305 GPS cycling gizmo, and was eager to test it out; and I was feeling much better after suffering through a debilitating virus last week.
The planets were aligning for my first ride in about two weeks.
One problem, though. My doctor told me on Friday to stay away from any strenuous activity this weekend. She said I had bronchitis.
I decided to ride anyway, since the medicine seemed to be working and I felt pretty good when I woke up on Saturday (July 21).
I just had to get out.
Stewart came over at 8 a.m. I wrapped the wireless Garmin heart monitor around my chest, slid the Garmin device itself onto my handlebars, turned it on so it could align with the available satellites, and we set off.
There's something very impressive about watching the Garmin contact the satellites and lock in, and to see my heart monitor communicating properly through the ether. I'm not a serious enough rider to need the Garmin, frankly. I don't compete in races, and I'm not obsessed with lap times and such.
I really bought the Garmin for this blog, so I could easily post my routes without having to spend hours creating maps in bikely.com. With the Garmin, I can upload my exact route and post it with little extra effort. At least that's the theory. I hope I can get it to work today for this post. (Click here to see my first attempt at posting a route.)
I'm also interested in measuring the gradient of some of the toughest hills on my regular routes. Is the Hill of Doom really steeper and tougher than Beer Garden Hill? I haven't quite figured out how to extract that particular information from the Garmin, but I hope I can somehow.
I'm also curious about my heart rate during my rides. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the Garmin to visibly display my heart rate as I was riding. It shows in the manual that you can set it that way, but for some reason I couldn't get it to show. I guess I'll call customer support.
Once I downloaded the Garmin stats into my Mac, I found my average heart rate for this ride was 96 beats per minute, with a maximum reached of 183 bpm. I need to do more research to know whether I should feel pretty good about my athletic prowess, or give up cycling now before it kills me.
In the end, the GPS said my trip was 41.07 miles, or just over 66 kilometers. My Cat Eye odometer measured 62.5 kilometers. I'd like to believe the Garmin. I wonder where the discrepancy actually lies.
Anyway, Stewart and I set off in overcast skies and drizzle. The weather was "dreech," as they say in Scotland.
We crossed the Vltava by ferry at Podbaba and headed north along the bike path that hugs the riverbank, toward Klecany and the city of Kralupy nad Vltavou. I haven't been much farther north along this route than Klecany, so it was uncharted territory for me. Stewart had a route that he wanted to show me that eventually hooked up with -- you guessed it -- Okoř.
You've got to pay attention when cycling along this river path. There are long stretches where the path runs along the top of a wall that falls straight away five or six meters into the river. If you lose your concentration, you're liable to find yourself plunging into the murky waters of the Vltava.
The dropoff doesn't look like much, but it's a long way down into the Vltava if your concentration goes astray.
I remember James Gogarty, a fellow cyclist whom I met through the blog, telling me that one of his cycling partners did fall into the river at some point along this path. Falling in is easy. From what I could see, it's getting out that's hard.
The nice thing about the path, though, is that there are no cars. Stewart's great about ferreting out these cycling paths. I'm happy enough to ride on the roads if I don't know where a path leads. Stewart's a bit more adventurous, and consequently he finds some cool routes.
We made our toward Kralupy nad Vltavou, stopping for a coffee at a somewhat depressing hotel at a bend in the river called Řež, the home of the Nuclear Physics Institute. The little village was largely deserted, and had the aura of some place where there'd been some sort of awful accident and the residents had to be evacuated.
A dramatic memorial to war dead in the river town of Kralupy nad Vltavou. In Czech, it says "Immortal."
We also passed a field full of what we think were pot-bellied pigs, one of whom came up to the fence to say hello. In Okoř, where we stopped for a beer, we were visited by a very friendly duck, which came right up to the picnic table and planted herself there. She wouldn't let us pet her, but she also had no desire to leave.
Once we made it to Kralupy nad Vltavou, we crossed back over to the west side of the river and headed out onto some trails that I would be hard-pressed to duplicate if I was riding solo. Stewart remembered the way, though, with a few minor false starts. It's all good, though, when the sun's come out, you're riding with a good friend, and you're out on the bike after a too-long hiatus.
If you look hard enough, you can see a tiny thorn that Stewart pulled out of his tire. If our mountain bikes were Supermen, this would be their kryptonite.
I think we passed through or near the villages of Otvovice and Zakoplany, where we had to pause so Stewart could fix a flat front tire (there's something wrong when a tiny thorn can wreak so much havoc with a rugged mountain bike), before heading up a very steep and very long path where, at the top of the hill, we found ourselves at a historical site in a place called Budeč.
There was a cemetery up there, and a church and the foundation of a building that Stewart believes has some sort of Celtic connection. I haven't been able to find much in English about Budeč on the Internet, and my Czech's not that good to decipher those pages I did find.
I did discover an intriguing excerpt from a book called "Total Fears" by the famous Czech author Bohumil Hrabal, in which he writes:
One day an Italian who came to Prague by marriage, a young man who restores chapels, invited me to come out and see this thing he'd seen in Budeč "to where Saint Wenceslas would ride out to visit his grandmother Ludmila, later strangled with a scarf" and there in Budeč in the dome of the rotunda, rest the mouldered, mouldering bones of hundreds of generations of doves, who, whenever they sense their time has come, fly into the dome to die, several whole centuries of them there are, down beneath nothing but humus, guano, layer upon layer of generations of doves in that rounded dome, rising up from the pluperfect tense via the imperfect to the dove feathers and bones of the year that's just past…
The church at Budeč, where it is said generations of doves go to die. I almost died ascending the hill leading to Budeč.
I'm not sure if that part about the doves going to Budeč to die is true or not, but you can rest assured I'm going to check it out the next time I'm up there.
We descended the hill and ended up in Okoř, where we savored the first cool refreshment of the day in the company of the aforementioned waterfowl. The beer, as Hemingway might have written, tasted good.
We took our usual route back, through Statenice, Černý Vůl, Unetice, and Roztoky, where we also stopped at our second-favorite watering hole, Koliba. The beer tasted good there, too.
Both of them.
It was my longest ride of the season so far, which -- while not setting any records -- felt very good, considering I wasn't supposed to be out there in the first place.
It's nice to be back.
Length of ride: 62.5 kilometers
Average speed: 16.1 kph
Maximum speed: 44.2 kph
Time actually on the bike: 3.50.43
Pivo index: 3
Distance ridden in 2007: 1,166.5 kilometers
I've been looking for the cheapest beer while out cycling. Stewart nominated this house, somewhere west of Kralupy nad Vltavou, as the current winner in a new cycling search category -- Shortest House With Tallest Chimney.
I don't think this picture needs a caption. The only positive thing to say is that we've fixed so many flats that we now feel like an Indy 500 pit crew and can get back in the saddle in record time.
This appeared to be an abandoned piano factory somewhere in the wilds between Kralupy nad Vltavou and Okoř.
Stewart leads the way as we make our way along the Vltava River path north of Prague. I took this while peddling, so it's kind of blurry.
We stopped for a coffee at this supposed three-star hotel in Řež, the village that time forgot. I've always wondered -- who actually sleeps in these places? In this case, visiting nuclear physicists with a very low per diem, I suppose.