Air Force Won -- Or Watching Obama Land In Prague

Mark took this lovely shot of Air Force One just before touchdown in Prague. There's a video I took of the landing farther down in this post.

It was a ride filled with tragedies and triumphs. And toads.

I met up with Stewart Moore and Mark Baker at the late, great Koliba, which had burned to the ground a few weeks before.

As regular readers of this blog know, it was one of our favorite places in Prague -- a little slice of heaven in the forests of Roztoky that also happened to serve grilled meats and fish and Budvar on tap. I'd seen pictures of its charred skeleton, but it wasn't until this day that I had seen the destruction for myself.

So sad.

Stewart and I gaze upon the charred remains of our beloved Koliba in Roztoky.

But we didn't have too much time to mourn. We were on a mission.

We had an appointment to keep. With U.S. President Barack Obama and Air Force One.

Obama was scheduled to arrive in Prague on this day (April 4 -- OK, so I'm a little behind on my postings), and we knew the scheduled "wheels down" time for Air Force One, which was arriving from Strasbourg.

We also had observed in which direction the planes were landing in Prague on this day. I live near the airport and have made a small study of the landing patterns. Depending on the winds, most planes either take off or land on one particular east-west runway.

Stewart and I on standby.

On this day, the planes were landing from the east, which meant that we could get pretty close to the beginning of the runway by hanging out on a road in the village of Přední Kopanina.

We set off from Koliba, through the forests to Únětice, then on to my hometown of Černý Vůl, onto Statenice, and then up a long, steep and challenging forest path to the outskirts of Přední Kopanina.

We were a bit ahead of schedule, which meant we had time for some pre-Obama beers in the garden of a cute little pub in the village where we'd often drained a few.

We managed to stop drinking in time to hop on our bikes and motor our way over to the vantage point in an effort to see one of the world's greatest symbols of power up close and personal.

We weren't alone.

To our surprise, there were a few hundred people already there. Cars were parked on the side of the road, lined up for a kilometer or two in each direction. Incredibly, only three or four Czech police were around, mostly keeping people from parking too close to an intersection.

Mark caught this nice shot of the many cars parked on the side of the road, full of folks who were also hoping to get a glimpse of AF1.

A line of parked cars are silhouetted against the sky as a few hundred people await the arrival of Air Force One.

There were no searches of cars. No effort to prevent people from parking and gawking so close to the end of the runway.

Interestingly, we saw two blind men with a radio of some sort who were obviously experienced "planespotters," listening in on the air-traffic control conversations and themselves waiting to feel AF1 pass overhead. (A few days later, I went out to the airport again to try to see AF1 take off, and saw two different blind people trying to do the same thing.)

We waited for 15 minutes or so, all the time second-guessing our decision. Would Obama instead land at Prague's old military airport, which was nearby but which would mean Air Force One wouldn't pass overhead? That would certainly make sense from a security standpoint.

Would AF1 really land right over our heads?

Why, yes. Yes it would.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, a glance to the east revealed a large plane approaching, two gigantic, unusual-looking "headlights" shining brightly in the distance.

Air Force One was approaching, and we were in perfect position. I turned my digital camera to video and started shooting:

Still hard to believe that we could get that close to the Boeing 747 that was carrying the president of the United States. I guess they can't close every road around the airport, but you'd think there'd be some kind of security...

The gigantic plane -- in its unmistakable light blue and white, with UNITED STATES OF AMERICA in elegant letters -- passed right overhead with a roar, and then was silhouetted against the setting sun as it touched down.

We'd done it.

Another nice shot of Air Force One making its approach, also taken by Mark.

Although for me, truth be told, the plane itself, while very, very cool, wasn't quite as huge and overwhelming as I had somehow imagined. I don't know what I was expecting. Perhaps if Obama had arrived on the Space Shuttle or something.

A few minutes later, as we celebrated our good luck, a Boeing 757 carrying Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- painted in the same colors - also passed overhead and landed on the same runway.

Then I had an idea. Why not try to race over to Evropska, the main boulevard linking the airport area with downtown Prague, and watch the motorcade drive by?

I have never pedaled so hard.

Stewart and I catching some rays, and downing a few beers, at a pub in Přední Kopanina, before the landing.

Stewart, on the brink of saying something extraordinary.

It's a good five or six kilometers, I would say, from where we were to where we needed to be, and we only had a few minutes. We were racing through fields and forests, legs pumping furiously, jumping over rocks and roots.

In the end, we missed Obama's motorcade by a few seconds. Damn!

But what a lark, what an adventure!

My best picture from Obama's speech at Prague Castle on April 5. You can just make out Obama and Michelle.

The next day, I was fortunate enough to be in the vast crowd of 20,000 or so who gathered in the massive square outside Prague Castle to hear Obama speak.

Now that was the real thrill.

RIDE STATS (April 4)
Length of ride: 28 kilometers
Average speed: 14.5 kph
Maximum speed: 44.5 kph
Pivo Index: 3
Time on the bike: 1.54.32
Distance ridden so far in 2009: 208.5 kilometers

RIDE STATS (for a previous short solo ride)
Length of ride: 17.5 kilometers
Average speed: 15.5 kph
Maximum speed: 42.0 kph
Time on the bike: 1.06.12

Mark (right) and Stewart enjoy a laugh at the beer garden in Přední Kopanina.

Why talk when you can drink?

The sun sets on a memorable day on the bikes.


Kathy said…
Wonderful post and nice video!
Heather said…
This is just great. You always make me feel like I'm right there!
wissy said…
Great post as usual Grant. One of life's little quirks - you 'meeting' the president of your country in the Czech Republic!
It was like following a couple of kids on a mission. Very well done.

You should write for a living. Oh wait......
Grant Podelco said…
Wow. Thanks to everyone! I appreciate the comments!

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