Lots Of Pain, Maybe A Little Gain

James (left) and Stewart survey the archaelogical dig in Holubice.

"I'm sorry, gents, but I'm going to have to bail. I almost threw up coming up that hill."

Or words to that effect. Not an auspicious way to start a mountain bike ride, if truth be told.

That was my good pal Stewart Moore talking. He'd just ridden up the steep ascent from the Vltava River down near Roztoky to the village of Úholičky, where we'd agreed to meet up, by what we call The Smallest Pub In The World.

A few minutes ahead of him on that same hill was my other good friend, James Gogarty, who, on his arrival at TSPITW, had said that the hill had pretty much wiped him out, too.

Now I didn't feel so bad. I had come to the pub from another direction, from my home in Černý Vůl, and had had to climb a steep hill, too (although not nearly as exhausting as the Úholičky ascent), and I had felt like a Girly Man. Any stamina I had built up over the summer was spent. My thighs were burning. My lungs were raw.

James looks over some sort of ancient foundations or walls.

I, too, felt like calling it a day after about 6 kilometers, as if I just couldn't manage one of our usual runs. Having drunk a few bottles of wine the night before at Stewart's house, at an art show he hosted, also wasn't helping. (In fact, we'd all had our fair share.)

So it was heartening to hear my cycling buddies admit the same thing. I didn't want to be the quitter, but it wouldn't have taken much to persuade me to head back home.

It didn't help that the day was cold and raw and gray and windy.

As it was, we convinced each other to hang in there, that we'd take an easy route and get in a couple of hours of exercise and call it a day. We wouldn't push ourselves too hard.

And we didn't.

We averaged only 13.3 kilometers (or about 8 miles) per hour over the 30-kilometer ride.

As usual, however, even though we'd been on this particular route dozens of times before, we saw things we'd never seen before, and stumbled upon all sorts of interesting things.

Like an archaelogical dig in the village of Holubice, for instance.

We'd been exploring some trails and tractor paths around the village (and showing James the scene of the infamous Potatoes Of Wrath episode) when we stumbled upon what at first looked like a construction site -- big piles of freshly dug earth. On closer examination, it became clear that, while it may have at first been a construction site, all work had been put on hold as the foundations and detritus of an ancient settlement had been uncovered.

We walked around the edges of the site, being careful not to disturb anything, and marveled at what lay revealed -- stone walls, some sort of mysterious holes in the ground, and -- coolest of all -- a red clay pot or bowl embedded in the dirt (at right) and in the process of being recovered.

Again, it never ceases to amaze me how each bike ride can turn up something incredible like this. It's one of the joys of riding in the Czech Republic.

Of course, a ride wouldn't be complete without an encounter or two with the Dark Side of riding here -- cars. Or more specifically, drivers.

We almost became hood ornaments while riding on a small dirt road behind the village of Okoř. It's a narrow passage, and usually filled with kids and families out for weekend strolls, as it was on this day. Rounding a bend, Stewart and I were met by a beat-up old Skoda, full of young kids, driving way, way too fast for such a road. The delinquent at the wheel had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting us. If he hadn't stopped for us, he may have hit some youngsters walking in the road farther ahead. Who knows? But he was driving recklessly.

Stewart got to them first, and basically told them to slow the %$#& down, that there were kids around.

Turns out James, who had ridden farther ahead, had had a run-in with the same car.

James enjoys a beer and some good conversation outside the Family Hotel Okoř.

Czech drivers have absolutely no respect for bicyclists or pedestrians. They become totally possessed behind the wheel. Aggressive. Reckless. Rude. Dangerous. It's proven to me each day when I drive to work. And it's a rare day when I don't see an accident.

A little later on the same bike ride, some guy honked his horn at us loud and long and aggressively as we were pedaling down a country road. Granted, we were riding two abreast at the time, which you're not supposed to do, but I was in the process of moving to single file when he laid on the horn.

What an $%@&*@!

We finished up the ride with a stop at our favorite riding destination -- the Family Hotel Okoř -- and sat outside at the picnic tables and enjoyed some delicious beef and potato soup.

Stewart wasn't drinking, James had a beer, and I -- I believe for the first time on a bike ride -- opted for red wine, a little of the hair of the dog that bit me. My hands had been a little shaky on the ride, and it seemed like a glass of vino might smooth the edges a little.

Perhaps it was the wine. Maybe it was the soup. But I did feel better when it was time to leave.

All except for my legs, which had stiffened up nicely.

I rode in every month in the past 12 months, in ice and snow and bitter cold. I'm not so sure I'll keep that streak alive this season, though. It's getting hard to work up the enthusiasm to suit up for a ride when it's so damn miserable outside.

The older I get, the more I understand why so many people head to warmer climes in their later years. Seems to me that seeing the sun every day, feeling a warm breeze on your skin when you wake up in the morning, or sleeping with the windows open every night does something good for your soul.

The gray days of Prague, the cement skies, the air fouled by coal smoke, the damp cold, the unsmiling faces -- all are beginning to take their toll, I'm afraid.

Or maybe I just need to ride my bike more.

Length of ride: 30 kilometers (19 miles)
Average speed: 13.3 kph
Maximum speed: 46.5 kph
Vino Index: 1
Time on the bike: 2.14.57
Distance ridden so far in 2008: 1,309 kilometers (813 miles)

This may have been my first ride in which I opted for wine over beer.


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