The Icemen Rideth
A man, his bike, and his balaclava.
I'm thinking about riding out. Join me. Bring tyre chains!
That was the text message from Stewart on a recent day. It was very cold, icy, and snowy, yes, but the sky was summer blue. And there was this giant glowing yellow orb in the sky. I wasn't quite sure what it was; I only know it had a mysterious power. It made me feel better about life.
I wrote Stewart back and said yes, let's meet at The Smallest Pub In The World in Úholičky for a winter's ride, what would be the first ride of the new year.
I stuffed my backpack with all manner of winter gear, including some sort of magic toe and hand warmers, as well as a balaclava, extra gloves, and a flask filled with Jim Beam.
And it was cold, especially on the downhills. My face was frozen before I even saw Stewart.
Stewart brushes himself off after a fall.
We took our usual route from Úholičky, up the hill to Tursko, and then headed into the fields and forests in search of undiscovered paths.
We spied massive hawks or falcons hunting in the snow, and watched as hares seemingly the size of German shepherds chased after one another, looking for love.
The conditions at time were treacherous. Stewart took a hard fall in Tursko after riding across a frozen puddle hidden by the snow. I was out front and didn't see him tumble, but nearly fell myself turning around to see if he was OK.
We ended up biking through a large section of forest between Tursko and Kozinec that has always been something of a mystery. It's listed on the maps as some sort of protected forest, but the reasons are unknown.
We passed two frozen ponds covered with ice skaters. This one is between Velké Přílepy and Úholičky.
Intriguingly, in the middle of the forest was a walled compound, protected by a large, barking dog (see below).
There was no indication of what this compound might be, but it's safe to say that whatever they're doing there, they're not interested in having anyone know about it. It felt very weird to me.
Looks like a place where people go and bad things happen without anybody ever knowing about it.
Perhaps someone reading this has more insight into what's going on there.
We stopped for a nip or two of the Jim Beam right about here, and then continued on toward Svrkyně and down a back path we know that led to another trail behind the village of Okoř.
In Svrkyně, we came upon another frozen pond full of skaters:
Our destination, again, was to have a beer at the Family Hotel in Okoř, which is where we indeed ended up.
By this time, my fingertips were aching from the cold, despite my lobster-claw gloves, and my toes felt on the verge of frostbite.
We sat inside the restaurant, next to the radiator, and let the slow burn of three glasses of Ballantine's and two beers work their magic. Our fingers and toes thawed and our tongues loosened.
The clouds on this day were spectacular.
A few hours later and it was time for the hard part, to head home in the pitch black and bitter cold. The cold seemed to feed off the night, making the temperature seem even worse than it was, whatever it was.
But it was also somehow exhilarating to be riding on the empty country roads beneath the canopy of stars, the warm glow from the whisky helping to light the way.
We parted ways as we always do in Velké Přílepy, Stewart heading home to Roztoky, me to Černý Vůl.
Our tire tracks after riding through a frozen farmer's field.
A few hours later, I received the following e-mail from Stewart:
I'm sitting here wrapped in an orange sleeping bag. Kathleen took charge as soon as I crossed the living room door, my feet are at the fire and my cat (Flukey) tucked under my arm dozing.
I got home, finally, again like last time, with frozen legs. I've come to realize that the river is an especially cold place to ride where I find the temp drops and I find it hard to ride. A train came and I walked across the platform after it passed, just as well as it was so slippery I would have come a cropper again today.
I stopped for a moment to look at the stars and saw my own UFO. A meteorite flared across the sky. I checked on my iPhone and it's minus 8 outside...God knows what it was by the Vltava. But that's what we rode back in. Minus 8.
When I was riding home I took a sook of the camelbak and brother it was frozen friggin solid...I clung on in hope of a slushy, but nothing. The race was on to get home and warm.
Cool as always.
Length of ride: 22 kilometers
Average speed: 12.4 kph
Maximum speed: 38.3 kph
Pivo Index: 3 whiskies, 2 beers
Time on the bike: 1.45.24
Distance ridden so far in 2009: 22 kilometers
The sun shines through a railroad tunnel somewhere near Okoř.
Scenes from a sunny, snowy ride (above and below).