Not Bad For An Old Guy

The Hill of Doom behind me, another beer in front.

I felt it was something I had to do.

Sort of like going to the dentist.

You know it’s probably going to be painful, but it’ll only be more painful if you delay the visit.

OK, wait. It’s really not like going to the dentist. Because choosing not to climb the dreaded Hill of Doom is always the best option. If you value your lungs, that is.

Delaying a visit to the Hill of Doom is what sane people do.

So forget my analogy about the dentist.

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Here's the route I took, including the spur that is the Hill of Doom.

Climbing the Hill of Doom is actually more like a spinal tap, truth be told. Awful to think about beforehand; painful while it’s being done; still hurts after it’s over.

The Hill of Doom has haunted me for three or four years. It’s a loose dirt and gravel path that begins near the top of the road V Šáreckém údolí near the park known as Divoká Šárka and heads up toward the Prague neighborhood of Hanspaulka.

I turned 48 on April 24, and I wanted to see if I still have what it takes to make it to the top. I’ve climbed many a hill over the past few years of writing this blog, but none compares to the HoD.

As I wrote in 2007:

Somehow, the Hill of Doom has became some sort of psychological bogeyman. It taunts me and insults me and dares me to scale it. It probably doesn't look like much to most people, and really good cyclists probably summit it every day without giving it a second thought.

Not me.

It is a monster.

It was a gorgeous spring day in Prague, and I was riding alone.

Instead of the usual route to the HoD, which would take me from my home in the hamlet of Černý Vůl, to Únětice, Roztoky, along the river toward Prague, and then up V Šáreckém údolí, I decided to be a bit more adventurous and try to find a new route, by cutting across my neighboring village of Horoměřice.

In the end, I saw my own village and the surrounding countryside in a new light.

In unassuming little Černý Vůl, I passed a huge array of solar panels that were connected, I'm assuming, to the house adjacent. Something must be going on here, because I don't believe one house requires that many solar panels. But what do I know? Perhaps they're selling energy back to the power company.

It was quite an incongruous sight.

Solar panels, or some sort of secret extraterrestrial communications site?

From there, I cut across a farmer's field and then headed toward Horoměřice. I really wanted to find trails, not roads. I wanted to avoid cars as much as possible. So at my earliest opportunity, I headed off the road and toward what seemed like a path.

Turns out it took me to a lovely pond in Horoměřice that I didn't even know existed. Lovely willow trees dipped down into the water, and a duck or two quacked at my arrival. A few empty kiosks surrounding the pond hinted that it might be open during the summer for various events.

A tranquil pond in Horoměřice that I didn't even know existed (above and below), and just a kilometer or two from my house. The rewards of exploring unknown paths.

From there, I crossed busy Highway 240 and headed out toward the farmer’s field, trying to find a path that would connect me with Nebušice. After a few false starts, I discovered a fantastic dirt road used by tractors and such that ran along 240 and cut through fields of just-blossoming rape.

I found this fantastic path through some fields above Horoměřice (above), which afforded views over the rapeseed fields to a line of fruit trees (below).

At the end of the road, instead of connecting again with 240 and its cars, I became even more adventurous, cutting through some meadows in a search for some way through the woods that would eventually lead me to V Šáreckém údolí.

I did find a way down, although it wasn’t really a trail – just a thick tangle of “stickers,” as we used to call them as kids, and other unpleasant shrubbery. But it did connect me with a trail that I already knew and that would lead me to Nebušice and V Šáreckém údolí and eventually to...

The Hill of Doom. (Cue "O Fortuna" from "Carmina Burana.)

There it was. We hadn’t seen each other in quite awhile -- I think I cycled all of last year without once attempting to climb her -- but she hadn’t changed a bit.

Harmless-looking to the uninitiated – downright inviting, even -- its first few meters disappearing into beautiful forest.

The entrance to the Hill of Doom looks harmless enough. But it is truly evil.

I decided not to linger too long at the bottom. I didn’t want to psyche myself out. I took a few deep breaths, a few swigs of water, geared down, and set off for the three-quarter-of-a-kilometer climb.

It takes about 50 meters before the HoD really shows itself. It angles sharply up, and I can already feel that I’m doomed.

There are three distinct sections of the HoD, three sections where the severity of the gradient increases so dramatically that each time it feels as if my lungs are going to explode inside my chest and extrude through my mouth.

I am always seconds away from quitting, my brain trying to convince my heart that the pain is not worth it. The lactic acid is pooling in my thighs and calves. I have asthma, and I feel on these types of climbs that I can never quite catch my breath.

I don’t quit, though.

I conquer it.

I make it to Nad Sarkou, the street in Hanspaulka that represents the summit. You can't go any higher.

And I remember why I skipped the Hill of Doom all of last year. My throat is literally raw from breathing so hard. It’s painful to swallow.


I rest for quite some time up there -- an old man, to be sure, but an old man who’s proud to say he reached the top of the Hill of Doom in his 48th year.

I ride back down for the pleasure of coasting down what cost me so dearly going up, and then head down V Šáreckém údolí to Lysolaje, ride along the river to Roztoky (where I pause to watch some men ironically burning parts of the late, great Koliba in its own fireplace), and then back home to Černý Vůl along my favorite trail through Únětice.

Once back in Černý Vůl, further indulging my adventurous streak, I decide to have a beer at my local pub, U Cerneho Volu (At The Black Bull).

Now, I’d been there once before, on September 1, 2007, the day we moved into our house, and I wasn’t impressed.

A pretty grubby spot, although the food was cheap and the beer even cheaper.

But the pub was closed last year for six months or so for reconstruction, and I’d learned in the interim that the pub is actually quite historic, dating back to 1480.

Over 500 years of pulling pints in the same location. Gotta respect that.

(I also noticed, for the first time, a very old stone marker near the pub ith a red Soviet star in the center, commemorating -- I am guessing -- soldiers from the village who were killed in World War II.)

I parked my bike at one of the newly installed picnic tables outside and headed in for a beer.

The inside didn’t look much different, to be honest, but the barkeep was friendly, and he poured me a cold Krusovice for 19 CZK, less than $1.

I sat outside in the sun and inhaled my beer and then ordered another.

It was my birthday, after all.

Length of ride: 28 kilometers
Average speed: 14.5 kph
Maximum speed: 41.1 kph
Pivo Index: 2
Time on the bike: 1.55.38
Distance ridden so far in 2009: 285 kilometers

The humble but historic pub in the hamlet of Černý Vůl.

Isn't it ironic? Burning the charred remains of the recently torched Koliba in Koliba's own fireplace, the only thing still standing.


Pivní Filosof said…
A very similar set of solar panels can be seen in Tursko.

the interesting thing about them is that they rotate with the sun. Quite clever.

My guess is that either they are used to power something in the village or to sell energy to ČEZ
Rob Romig said…
Well done, Grant. Well done.
Anonymous said…
Happy belated 48th Grant! Thanks for the post!
- Andy
Michael West said…
Whoa...HoD at 48! A feat of strength to be sure. Congratulations Grant on both occasions.
Grant Podelco said…
Thanks, everybody! Much appreciated.
Ole Forsberg said…
Yes Grant, congratulations (on 48 and the HoD).
WheelDancer said…
Always nice to get off the regular routes and to face your nemesis and walk away unscathed but for the need of a beer.

Great pics too, thanks for the post!

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