Chasing Windmills, Or 'Probably My Favourite Bike Ride Ever'

That's me, riding amid the sunflowers.

"Probably my favourite bike ride ever...because we were so lost in our
own backyard and with these haunting mercurial vanishing windmills...

That's an e-mail I received from Stewart a few hours after we got back home on Saturday from a seven-hour ride.

Stewart and I ride together a lot, and we've been lots of places, so for him to say that a particular ride was perhaps his favorite ever, now that's saying something.

And I'd have to agree with him on this one. Although on the face of it, this ride had everything going against it:

-- I was sick, and tired. I've been battling a sore throat for almost two weeks. Just feeling poorly, but also feeling like I needed some exercise.

-- The weather was dark and cloudy and windy and, quite frequently, rainy.

It's impossible not to take too many pictures of sunflowers.

-- We were lost. I'd forgotten to bring a map (I thought we were going to take it easy), and we ended up taking so many unknown paths up and down so many unknown hills in so many unknown villages that we had no clue where we were, exactly. The names of the towns just didn't ring a bell.

Thanks to our innate senses of direction, and my Garmin GPS, we knew generally which directions we needed to be going in, but there's no getting around the fact that we had strayed quite a ways off our intended route.

So it didn't have the makings of a ride for the ages. I started out feeling like it was a ride for the aged. I ended up wearing a thick winter Polarfleece headband/ear covering around my throat in an effort not to get even sicker.

But it was all of these seemingly negative elements that combined so uniquely to make it so memorable.

I rode much farther, and much harder, than I thought was possible, considering how I was feeling.

And I had more fun, too.

As he cycled by, Stewart saw a face in this little roadside fruit. He calls it Chuck Berry. He looks like he sees a car coming.

We cycled past vast stretches of wheat and barley and poppies, and through a field of sunflowers so bright and brilliant and perfect that we had to stop and just gawk. Is there another sight so simply beautiful and so instantly capable of inspiring a feeling of happiness?

A question: Many large sections of many of the wheat fields we passed were flattened, in totally random ways. What causes that? Wind? If so, that's powerful wind, and acts in mysterious ways. It can't be animals. Too large. Anyone have a clue?

One of those wheat fields with half of the crop flattened by some mysterious force.

Near Tursko, we cycled up a grassy path to a tree-covered hillock in the middle of farmer's fields, where Stewart had spied a sign announcing a sight of interest. Unfortunately, we couldn't decipher the Czech. We found an overgrown path that led to a marker with a cross on top deep amidst the trees. (See photo at bottom of this post.)

On our return, I asked my work colleague and fellow cyclist Katarina if she'd be kind enough to translate the sign:

Krlis Hill

"At the beginning of the 12th century exactly on this place Kosmas chronicler situated the key event of the war of the Lucko region. Here the Czech army was supposed to gather, it was headed by courageous Tyr who substituted fearful prince Neklan. In the battle with the Lucko's army Tyr was killed and he found the place of his last repose, according to this own wish, in a barrow built on this hill.

"The fable about Tyr's tomb hasn't a real substance. Since the middle of the 19th century the barrow as well as the whole hill have been exposed to a number of landscape changes such as stone scabbling or archaeological research.

"The most extensive archaeological works were lead by J. Felcman here at the beginning of the 20th century. He explored the Slavonic burial-place from the 10th century as well as the barrow mound with the stony structure covering the skeleton grave without charitable gifts. The barrow of the diameter longer than 20 meters was presumably built in the older Iron Age and over the ages it was robbed."

The forested hillock that reputedly contains Tyr's tomb.

Later, we came across a rope swing hanging from a tree limb next to a large, murky green pond.

"Whaddya say?" Stewart asked. "Shall we give it a go?"

It took me a half-second to agree. It's all part of our theory that bike riding will help us live to be old men, because we become boys when we're on the bikes. We take joy in the exact same things that made us smile when we were 10 years old. And that's got to count for something.

I take a swing.

We swung out over the water five or six times each. Man, it had been a long time since I'd lifted my own weight like that, hanging like a sack of hammers from the thick piece of wood threaded through the rope. The next day, the muscles in my chest and back ached like I'd done 100 push-ups.

But it sure was fun. See for yourself:

We happened upon a local football match in the village of Olovnice, where we stopped for our first beer of the ride, which as all first beers do, tasted like lifeblood.

We hung out while heavy metal music blared from loudspeakers and the locals chowed down on sausages and potato pancakes and a few half-liters of their own while watching the game.

A football match in the village of Olovnice (above), which afforded us the opportunity for the first beers of our ride (below).

At some point in our ride, surveying the landscape from on high, we noticed two large wind turbines twirling slowly on the horizon.

Stewart was keen on trying to cycle to them, but I wasn't feeling that I could make it that far. The trip was already much longer than I had counted on, and I was beginning to feel a bit drained.

But by this time, we were already sort of, kind of lost. We knew the general direction we needed to be headed in, which happened to be sort of, kind of in the direction of the windmills. So off we went.

The more we cycled, though, the more the windmills seemed to beckon to us. They'd disappear completely for many kilometers, only to reappear tantalizingly through the trees.

At some point, despite my fatigue, I gave in to the quest. I wanted to see those giant blades up close. (Insert Don Quixote joke here.)

Funny thing, though. They were so big that the distance to them was a bit deceiving. And, of course, we couldn't cycle to them in a straight line.

The windmills.

Stewart took this video of the windmills. It's kinda windy, so the sound is a bit off, but at around 1:05, you can hear the awful groan that the broken windmill made, as if it was in pain.

In the end, the windmills were northeast of Brandysek, and I couldn't believe when we actually reached them. It seemed to take forever.

I was spent (I needed to suck down a packet of Gu and a PowerBar to keep me going), but damn if it wasn't worth it. Those things were cool. And one of them, which had stopped spinning in the past hour or so, was making some incredibly scary noises -- groaning metal -- like something from a horror movie.

Now, though, it was time to go home. We'd been all over the place. Check out our route, thanks to the Garmin Edge 305 GPS gizmo I have on my handlebars:

View Larger Map

We cycled south, into Brandysek, where we sucked down a beer outside a nondescript pub, and then it was up and down hills, for five or six kilometers, until we saw a sign that said our beloved Okor was 2 kilometers away. Which means that if we'd just cycled to the windmills via Okor, we probably could have cut out about 40 kilometers from our ride!

We stopped in Okor, exhausted, seven hours after we'd started, for a final beer at the Hotel Okor. And then it was home.

"I don't know, it was kind of epic...epic-lite. Or at least exactly what I
wish all rides were like...but I too was tired."

Length of ride: 65 kilometers
Average speed: 14.6 kph
Maximum speed: 44.8 kph
Pivo Index: 3
Time on the bike: 4.23.53
Distance ridden so far in 2008: 992 kilometers

The cross we found at the top of Krlis Hill.

I just liked these three round windows, somewhere in the Czech countryside.

A Land Rover we came across in the village of Uholicky. SFOR was the Stabilization Force for Bosnia until 2004. Perhaps a member of the Czech military got a deal on some British army surplus (note the Union Jack)?


Keff said…
As for wheat fields, I believe damage is caused by heavy rainstorms in combination with wind...

Thanks for a lots of tips for a trips, and it is heartwarming to hear a foreigner appreciating czech countryside :).
Good luck on your way!
Grant Podelco said…
Hey, Keff,

Thanks for the kind words. And the info on the wheat fields. Those must be some pretty powerful thunderstorms to do that kind of damage. Wow.

Hi, Grant

I really admire you - after that ride I wouldn't be able to put myself together and blog a story on it!

I'll have to print all those maps, for future reference, even though the future looks bleak for me. Or exactly for that reason, actually, 'cause I'll probably have more spare time.

Chuck Berry's face was awesome, hope you saved him!

Say hello to Stewart, and keep me posted.


PS: I still hope one day we'll ride together

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