I passed these gorgeous sunflowers growing in someone's front garden in Statenice.
I often listen to my iPod when I'm cycling. Music can be a wonderful companion and a great motivator when you're out on the trail.
I went out on a great ride Saturday (September 15). For the first time in a very long time, the sun was actually shining in Prague, and the sky was blue. I'll talk more about the ride later, but first I'd like to write a little more about my iPods.
I have two -- a green iPod Mini I wear around my wrist when I'm riding, and a black 80GB video iPod I use at all other times. I love them.
I try to turn my iPod on only when I'm off-road and don't have to worry about hearing cars coming up behind me. Of course, wearing an iPod means you miss the sounds of birds in the trees and water rushing over rocks in a stream, the sound of your own breathing and the crunch of tires on sticks and leaves.
I appreciate those sounds very much, but there's also something very stimulating about having great music -- whatever it might be -- filling your head while you're bounding along the trail.
I've heard it said that iPods, when set on shuffle, seem to have minds of their own, automatically selecting songs that are related in some way to each other, or choosing music that eerily matches whatever you're doing at the time, like a live Apple soundtrack to your life.
As guitarist and singer John Mayer wrote in a recent issue of Esquire magazine: "If you're like me and make great use of your iPod's song-shuffle feature, you've noticed that it takes on an anthropomorphic quality when shuffling. ... Is my iPod an AI-pod?"
For example, I was riding along a few months ago and decided, impulsively, to turn off and make a stab at climbing the dreaded Hill of Doom. What should pop up on my iPod but a great song by the British band The Automatic called "Monster," whose boisterous refrain goes, "What's that coming over the hill? Is it a monster? Is it a monster?"
I could only smile through my pain. The HoD is, indeed, a monster.
Sometimes a song comes on whose beat and temp perfectly match with your pedaling. That happened Saturday when "Pleasant Valley Sunday" by The Monkees started playing. The guitar part fit my cadence like a dream.
The sky looked huge from the trail as I cycled from Sv. Juliana to Přední Kopanina.
Other times, everything -- the trail, the weather, the music -- combine to create a moment when the world seems right and you can't help but sing along. That happened Saturday, quite amusingly, as I was riding on a fantastic trail under sunny skies across an empty farmer's field when "Feel Like Makin' Love" by Bad Company began playing. I did my best Paul Rodgers impersonation, loudly, and it felt great.
Thank god I had my earphones in and didn't have to actually hear what I sounded like.
While I was cycling Saturday, I also heard "In Your Eyes," a fantastic cover of the Peter Gabriel song by Jeffrey Gaines; "Bittersweet Symphony" by the Verve; "1979" by the Smashing Pumpkins; and "The Great Escape" by We Are Scientists, all of which sounded sweet as I pedaled through the woods.
In addition to music, I sometimes listen to podcasts while I'm riding. I'm particularly partial to those from National Public Radio, such as "All Songs Considered," and the weekly roundups of NPR reports on books and film. They're great, and keep me plugged into pop culture in the United States.
My Top 10 iPod Cycling Tunes
1. "Monster," The Automatic
2. "Club Foot," Kasabian
3. "Don't Fear the Reaper," Blue Oyster Cult
4. "Somebody Told Me," The Killers
5. "Analogue," Aha
6. "Back in Black," AC/DC
7. "Speed of Sound," Coldplay
8. "Blood," Editors
9. "Keep What Ya Got," Ian Brown
10. "The Heinrich Maneuver," Interpol
Please send me your lists.
As for the ride itself (click here to see a map of my route), I headed from my house in Černý Vůl-Statenice on the road toward Tuchoměřice, turning off on a trail to the left that I wrote about in my last post. It's a steady, challenging, fairly lengthy climb through beautiful woodland all the way to the Sv. Juliana cross at the top.
(If you click on the KML icon on the link to my route, you can import the route into Google Earth for a cool 3-D flyover.)
Despite my best intentions, it appears I missed the Pražská padesátka race, a 50-kilometer tour that attracts a wide variety of cyclists. It took place Saturday, I think, and seems to have covered much of the route I coincidentally took later the same day.
I saw lots of yellow cycling banners hanging from trees along the way to mark the path.
The long trail ascending from the Statenice road to the Sv. Juliana cross in the forest near Přední Kopanina.
From Sv. Juliana, I headed toward the village of Predni Kopanina and Divoká Šárka park. I biked to the top of The Crag, a rocky, vertiginous bluff high above the valley that splits Divoká Šárka. It's a wonderful spot.
When you're standing up there, the cliffs falling off sharply below, looking down at the treetops, it's very hard to believe you're only a few minutes outside of the Prague city center.
The view from The Crag in Divoká Šárka is breathtaking. The photograph doesn't do justice to the huge dropoff to the valley below. While on The Crag, I saw a tree with these beautiful orange berries (below), but have no idea what they are.
I cycled around the park, and exited near the Croatian restaurant at the top of V Šáreckém údolí. I cycled down that road, passing but not attempting the Hill of Doom, and came out along the river at Podbaba.
I cycled along the river to Stromovka park, ascended the hill to the top of the park, and then pedaled toward the beer garden in Letná park, where I met up with Daisy, who had just finished a shift at work.
Amazingly, she had ridden her bike to work in the center of Prague that day. Why amazing? Because her shift started at 7 a.m., which meant she had to leave the house at 5:45 a.m., in total darkness, to complete the 15 or so kilometers in time.
About half of the way was on trails through pitch-black forests. Her headlight only illuminated the trail a few feet in front of her. She said it was an "exciting" ride and that the journey left her feeling juiced to begin her workday. I was very impressed.
I worked the same shift on Sunday, and was considering cycling to work, too. In the end, I just didn't have it in me to get up that early. Turns out, it was also much colder Sunday morning than Saturday. In fact, it was freezing, and I don't have all my cold-weather biking gear assembled yet.
I know. Excuses. Excuses. Maybe next weekend!
From Letná, we cycled back through Stromovka, along the river to Roztoky, and had dinner and some drinks (Daisy had white wine, I had a Budvar) at one of our favorite restaurants, Koliba.
Koliba, the friendly Roztoky grill restaurant that's become a favorite cycling destination.
The sun was setting and it was quite beautiful by the little pond, at least for awhile. We eventually were forced inside, however, when the sun set and it got a little nippy.
You know, I seem to write about (and photograph) beer as much as a I do biking in this blog. I actually only drink beer after I've been cycling. Most of the rest of the time, red wine is my tipple of choice (along with homemade cocktails like Manhattans and martinis, but that's another story). But beer is a big part of the culture here, and I'm not talking just about the biking culture. Czechs drink more beer (pivo) than anyone else in the world -- almost 160 liters per person.
Perhaps I should rename this blog Grant's Biking (& Beer) Blog.
After some grilled salmon and pork steak and a whole heap of grilled veggies, we rode slowly home via the path to Unetice, our legs stiff and creaky from sitting down too long after our previous ride.
Length of ride: 46 kilometers
Average speed: 16.7 kph
Maximum speed: 42.6 kph
Time on the bike: 2.44.21
Distance ridden so far in 2007: 1,446 kilometers
The setting sun illuminated a spider's web at Koliba.
I was quite taken with the sun shining on these windows on a building near the Croatian restaurant Mlyn at the entrance to Divoká Šárka.