That's Bhiking For You

Stewart's bike hangs from a tree while he attempts to locate a nonexistent trail.

I am clinging precariously to a tree, my left arm wrapped its trunk, my other arm helping to balance my increasingly heavy mountain bike on my right shoulder.

The loose ground I am standing on falls away for about 50 meters at a precipitous 45-degree angle.

My shoes dislodge a few stones, which tumble down, first between the trunks of numerous trees, then through a thicket of bushes sprouting the largest thorns I've seen on anything other than a cactus, until finally they fall against the edge of a three-meter-high concrete wall, which towers above busy railroad tracks running along the base of the mountainside.

I look up and see no break in the foliage, no discernible path, only more trees and bushes and a mountainside ascending at what seems an impossibly steep angle.

Sweat is pouring down my face, and foul language is spewing from my mouth.

I am cycling with Stewart, and at this moment, I am not happy.

Stewart and I prepare for the climb.

"Can you see anything?" I yell. Stewart is 20 or so meters above me, hidden among the branches. "Is there a path?"


"Looks like there might be something this way," he shouts, always the optimist. "Hear those voices?"

He starts to make his way down to where I'm clinging to the tree.

"Here, let me carry your bike for you," he offers. "I need the exercise."

That's when I lose it.

"I can carry my own &^&#%$ bike!" I shout. "I like hiking. And I like to cycle. But I do not like this %&@$# $#%^*! Let's just get the &*@#$ out of here."

Stewart, his bike on his shoulder, makes his way up the steep mountainside. I'm following close behind. Some crude stairs fashioned out of logs disappeared after the first 30 meters or so.

Regular readers will remember my previous ride with Stewart, when a purported pedal to the zoo to stare a gorilla in the eye ended up with the both of us -- and our bikes -- covered in mud in the middle of a farmer's field. My bike was immobilized, and subsequently weighed a ton -- as did my mud-encased shoes -- as I carried it out of the field to dry ground.

I lost me temper then, too. That was all of two weeks ago.

Stewart, you see, likes a bit of adventure, and he hates cars like a junkyard dog hates trespassers, like a Prague shopkeeper hates customers. Which means our rides often end up off the roads.

Or in this case, off the trails, even.

I'm no fan of cars, either. There are few things I love more than a nice cycling path through the woods, where the only thing to fear is the occasional pile of horse manure. I just don't like blazing that trail. Straight up the side of a mountain.

"We will both be harder after this," Stewart says by way of encouragement. We're about three-quarters of the way up, no trail in sight.

"My friend," I replied (quite generously, I thought, given the circumstances), "you have invented a new sport -- bhiking. Spelled b-h-i-k-i-n-g. Hiking while carrying your bike on your shoulder."

Or biking on terrain where most people choose to use ropes and crampons.

A pedestrian bridge across the Vltava at the village of Řež, north of Prague. The light was lovely on this late afternoon, and made a wonderful reflection in the water.

The ride began innocently enough.

Sunday was spectacularly sunny, though chilly (around 0 Celsius). After taking care of some things around the house, I found myself with a few good hours of blue sky left, and a deep need to take advantage of the unseasonable weather.

I sent Stewart a text message to see if he was up for a ride.

He was.

Stewart and I outside Koliba.

We met at Koliba restaurant, one of our favorite cycling stops, in Roztoky. I naively thought that we might just grab a beer and a bowl of fish soup there and catch up on our lives.

Stewart has a small, but very cool, speaking part in the "Solomon Kane" movie, which is being filmed in Prague. I wanted to hear all about his adventures. I am not in a movie, but Daisy and I had just returned from four days in Venice, which feels like a movie set.

Incredibly, we decided not to stop for a beer but to keep cycling.

I suggested that we check out the trail I'd found on the east side of the Vltava River on a ride I took last Friday. But rather than stop at the railroad tracks, as I did then, we decided to cycle on the side of the rail line and see where it took us.

I'd seen another cyclist do it on Friday, but I lost sight of him. We figured, though, that he must have known where he was going.

Stewart rides the rails.

Let me say that cycling a meter or two from a heavily used railroad track on your left side and a half-meter or so from a steep drop down to the river on your right side really gets the old adrenaline flowing.

"Train!" Stewart yells.

Sure enough, a train was barreling down on us. We sought slight refuge on the pedestal of a light pole, which had the advantage of being slightly farther from the track but had the disadvantage of having only a few centimeters of foot space on it and a seven-meter drop straight down on the other side.

We clung to the light pole as the train sped past at high speed. We laughed hard as we were enveloped by the whoosh and the roar and we could no longer hear ourselves talk.

I think we both felt a frisson of danger that we hadn't felt since we were boys. I hopped a freight train once when I was in third grade and the cops were eventually called to fetch me and take me home. It felt like that, only this time I wasn't in mortal fear of what my father would say.

I think the high of surviving our encounter with the train somehow contributed to our decision to scale that mountainside, which we came upon a few hundred meters down the track.

Fire. Beer. Bikes. Good.

And, after finally reaching the top, we found ourselves in another muddy farmer's field. This time, we mostly walked our bikes until we found a road -- in this case, the road that connects Libčice nad Vltavou to the small village of Úholičky, which just happens to be the home of the Smallest Pub in the World, a miniature tavern built into the side of a hillock.

I felt like we deserved a beer. Stewart acquiesced.

We sat outside for the first half-liter of 17 CZK Gambrinus (tying the current record for cheapest beer in Prague) and then, with the sun setting, we headed inside for the second round, the barman having lit a blazing fire in the free-standing stove before turning the Iron Maiden CD up to 11. Pretty cozy.

We set off for home as night fell.

The muscles in my shoulders and arms ached.

That's bhiking for you.

Length of ride: 23.5 kilometers
Average speed: 15.3 kph
Maximum speed: 45.8 kph
Time on the bike: 1.29.54
Pivo Meter: 2.
Distance ridden so far in 2008: 179 kilometers

The interior of the Smallest Pub In The World.

We headed into Úholičky, and the setting sun, by cycling on the road past a huge dump, which we call Garbage Mountain. Unfortunately, the nets around the dump aren't tall enough. Consequently, plastic bags easily blow away and get lodged in surrounding trees and fields. When the light catches the bags just right, though, it's actually quite wondrous. Click on the picture to enlarge and you'll see what I mean.


Really interestingly written post with some great pictures, I look forward to more :)
It's always interesting riding with Charlie Manson's look alike, isn't it?

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