'Why In The Hell Are You Out Here, Grant?"

Stewart and I just had to pause and soak it all in. You can see why it's one of our favorite cycling trails.

The weather in Prague has been -- at it always is at this time of year and through April -- unbearably bleak.

It's cold and gray and cloudy, but the clouds are not distinguishable as clouds. The sky is one vast cloud the color of dirty dishwater, stretching from horizon to horizon. No light penetrates this bleak blanket. The sun is a pleasant memory, a summer dream.

The sky is so low that it feels like it's brushing the top of your head. It's oppressive and depressive.

It's also cold, a damp cold that slices through your skin and into your bones.

What better time, then, to go for a bike ride!

Stewart and I didn't have a lot of time, but we were itching to get out on the bikes. It had been awhile. Too long, in fact. I, for one, was hoping the ride would kick-start some endorphins, and make me forget about my hangover.

We made plans to meet at 9 a.m. at the world famous SPITW (Smallest Pub In The World) in Úholičky, about halfway between Stewart's house in Roztoky and my house in Černý Vůl.

Fall colors in Velké Přílepy.

It's fun to bike on roads when they're this pretty and this empty.

It was the first really cold ride of the autumn season, and I realized as I was well on my way that I had drastically underdressed. The sweat was freezing to my skin on the downhill into Velké Přílepy. It was around 3 degrees Celsius (37 Fahrenheit) when I left home, and the wind chill made it feel like I was wearing a skull cap made of ice. But I was too far into the ride to turn around.

I thought to myself, as I made my way to Uholicky, "Why in the hell are you out here, Grant? It's gray and miserable and you're freezing. It's not worth it."

But I pedaled on. Stewart was waiting.

(Of course, we've cycled in much colder weather than 3 Celsius, but I was dressed for it then.)

I admire this kind of architecture wherever it may be. This building could have easily been so boring.

Normally, we would have headed up the hill to Tursko and tooled around the roads and trails up that way, but we didn't have a lot of time on this day, so we chose to head back to Velké Přílepy and from there to Noutonice, and then down into Okoř and see what happened.

Passing through some backstreets of Velké Přílepy, we came across a funky, modernistic office building or school, newly built, and apparently paid for with money from the European Union. Quite a sight in such a humble little village. Very cool.

(You can find a map of our entire route by clicking here.)

We cycled to Noutonice, and then one of our favorite paths that leads from that tiny village down, down, down through the forest and then empties into the valley behind the castle at Okoř.

Along the way, we had to slam on the brakes to stop and appreciate a bit o' nature. The forest floor was upholstered with large yellow leaves. It was absolutely quiet, save for the sound of more leaves falling softly and coming to rest on top of their brethren.

We stopped, held our breaths, and soaked in the silence.

On the ridge above us, two deer walked slowly through the trees. I don't think they knew we were there.

We headed on down the hill and into Okoř through the back door.

Stewart's wife, Kathleen, had kindly packed us some hot, homemade lentil soup, so we stopped at a picnic table below the 14th-century castle ruins and warmed ourselves. What a treat.

Usually, we'd stop at the Family Hotel Okoř and have a beer or two (it also serves some of the finest steaks in Prague), but we just didn't have time. We had some family commitments looming. Sacrilege for this blog, I know.

We had a couple of coffees, instead, and warmed ourselves.

From Okoř, we cycled to the village of Lichoceves, then to Statenice, and then home for both of us.

But not before taking what turned out to be a dead-end trail through the forest above Statenice, forcing us to ride and walk our bikes through thick undergrowth and across a plowed farmer's field. Our tires were caked with mud, like we'd ridden through a vast batch of freshly baked brownies.

While we were sipping our coffees in Okoř, I noticed this sight at the table next to ours. A cat, I hope.

It wasn't a long ride, or particularly strenuous, but we accomplished what we set out to do. Get some exercise. And rid our bodies and minds -- however temporarily -- of Prague's dreaded winter blues.

Length of ride: 18 kilometers
Maximum speed: 34.9 kph
Average speed: 8.5 kph
Pivo Index: 0 (!)
Time on the bike: 2:05:12
Distance ridden so far in 2009: 652 kilometers

It was a dead end, but it didn't stop us.

Like riding through a huge batch of freshly baked brownies.


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