Tears For Gears -- The Hurting

The witches were smoldering, and my thighs were burning.

It’s a ride from which – three days later – I’m still recovering.

I had agreed to meet my biking buddies Mark Nessmith and David Murphy at 9 a.m. on Saturday at the pedestrian bridge over the Vltava near Troja chateau. I don’t get a chance to ride that often with Mark and Dave, so I was looking forward to the ride. There was a chance my old pal Stewart Moore would join us, too.

First, though, I had to fix a rear flat I suffered somewhere on my previous ride -- all the way back at the end of March. (I took a three-week trip to the U.S. in April – a scheduled two-week holiday that morphed into a third after Iceland’s damn Eyjafikaklkahlfdlakullalildik volcano erupted.)

An idyllic scene somewhere in the hills above Libčice nad Vltavou.

Early in the morning, feeling slightly fuzzy after being roughed up by a beefy Chilean the night before, I found myself in my garage, grease-covered, changing the tube, checking the tire for thorns, and then trying umpteen times to properly thread the chain through the rear sprocket so that it would sit properly.

I hate changing rear flats.

Usually, I don’t really eat breakfast. Just a cup of coffee or two. But I had a feeling that this ride might turn epic, so I made myself some scrambled eggs on toast to give myself an energy boost.

Turned out I’d need a lot more than that.

A vast field of post-Witches' Night trash in Stromovka park.

I headed out about 8:15 or so to be able to make it to Stromovka by 9. I’d sent a few text message to Stewart to see if he wanted to meet me in Roztoky and head over to Stromovka together, but had received no reply. I called, but his phone was off.

"Hey, I had a bottle of wine last night, too, you know,” I thought to myself.

On my bike on the woodsy path between my house in Černý Vůl and Roztoky, I was feeling alive. The forecast had called for rain (it had poured the night before), but it was actually warmish and slightly sunny. It felt great to be back in the saddle.

Along the way, I stopped, as I often do, to save a snail or two from certain death. After it rains here in Prague, dozens of giant snails suddenly feel the need to cross highways and pathways. For some reason, I have a soft spot for these guys and will stop and pick them up and place them in the nearby grass.

In Roztoky, I got an SMS from Stewart. “Running late,” he said. “What should I do?”

(Our entire route can be found on the map at right. Click to enlarge.)

I suggested that I meet up with Mark and Dave at Stromovka and that we then head up the east side of the Vltava on the cycling path and meet up with Stewart somewhere in his neck of the woods. He suggested the village of Řež.

Cool. We had a fearsome foursome.

Mark (an editor at the TravelGolf Network) was waiting for me on the bridge. Dave (director of the Environmental Partnership for Sustainable Development) arrived a few minutes later. I hadn’t seen either one of them in quite some time – Dave on a winter’s ride last year, and Mark when we both went to hear Obama speak at Prague Castle in April 2009.

We hatched a plan to meet up with Stewart in Řež and then treat Mark to one of our favorite watering holes – Marina Vltava in Nelahozeves, above Kralupy nad Vltavou.

Wow. That path from the Prague Zoo north along the east side of the Vltava is so sweet. Smooth. Paved. Wide. Car-free. Yes, it eventually deteriorates into a track that resembles an ancient Roman road – large, jagged rocks buried in the dirt that will knock your fillings loose. But for a few kilometers, it’s heaven on Earth.

Along the way, we passed the ashes of a few still-smoldering bonfires. The night before, you see, was April 30, and in the Czech Republic, that means one thing: pálení čarodějnic or The Burning of the Witches (known as Walpurgis Night elsewhere in Central and Northern Europe).

The tradition is to light a gigantic bonfire, roast sausages on sticks, sing songs, and then to throw the effigy of a witch – made from straw and old clothes and rags – onto the pyre to kill off the last vestiges of winter.

It’s basically an excuse to drink lots and lots of beer, as evidenced by the vast field of garbage – made up mostly of plastic beer cups -- I came across in Stromovka park, the site of one of the largest Witches' Nights celebrations in the city.

We met up with Stewart at the footbridge in Řež, teased him mercilessly about his inability to get his ass out of bed, and headed north, following the treacherous trail that clings so precariously to the ledge above the river and which runs past Baker’s Falls, the site of one of our greatest cycling adventures.

Dave (left), Stewart and Mark hoist the first of many cold ones in Nelahozeves.

We still laugh and shake our heads about that one. (Read more here.)

As I’ve written before, the path from Kralupy to Nelahozeves, on the west side of the river, is marvelous – a spongy, leafy, up-and-down trail with the river on one side and dramatic sandstone cliffs on the other.

At Marina Vltava, we paused for much needed refreshment (three half-liters each, to be exact), soup, and genuinely puerile and sophomoric conversation. It was great.

Stewart took the time to patch his own rear flat. He surgically removed a sharp stone of goodly size that had wedged itself into his tire and tube.

I also took time to check out the large cages on the grounds of Marina Vltava. From what I gather, they rehabilitate (or at least take care of) injured birds. There were four large birds in the cages when we were there -- two lovely kestrels; a huge raven; a gorgeously inscrutable barn owl; and an astounding, gigantic Eurasian eagle owl.

My pictures didn't come out that well, except for the kestral (see below), since my camera focused on the cage wires and not on the bird itself. Apologies. But they're definitely worth checking out if you're in the area.

I always find myself with tons more energy for the bike once I’ve had a few beers. I feel like I’m flying. At least initially. Until the point when all the energy leaves my body like some form of exercism (pun intended) and I can barely pedal.

Stewart and I parted ways with Mark and Dave in Kralupy. We had to get home for family stuff. (Turns out Mark and Dave had two more beers somewhere on their way home. Doh!)

I dread this part of this route.

We cycle to Libčice nad Vltavou and then to get home have to climb what Stewart has dubbed the HUI (Hills of Unending Incline). I don’t know exactly how many meters in elevation these climbs represent in total. All I can say is that my thighs ache, that I can barely breathe, and that I finally arrive home transformed from a once-sturdy cyclist into a gelatinous heap of whimpering goo.

I hate those hills with a passion.

I was scarfing down energy bars and tubes of carbo-jam like there was no tomorrow. I even inhaled my emergency foil bag of Pop-Tarts (frosted strawberry with sprinkles), wanting desperately to spark some hidden reserve of energy.

None was found.

I was hurting. Even Stewart wolfed down three Mars bars. He said he’d been a bit shaky on the road back.

I limped home, the worse for wear, more jellyfish than man.

Length of ride: 60 kilometers
Average speed: 15.8 kph
Maximum speed: 49.6 kph
Time on the bike: 5.25.45
Pivo Index: 3
Distance ridden so far in 2010: 155 kilometers

Weeping willows along the bike path in Stromovka.

Riding along the Vltava River toward Stromovka, Prague Castle visible in the upper left.

The bird cages behind Marina Vltava.

A kestrel (I believe) enjoys a snack.

A forlorn kiddie ride in Kralupy, looking north from the pedestrian and cyclists' bridge across the Vltava.

I loved this nautically themed house along the east side of the river, somewhere below Kralupy. Although I bet it's rather dark inside.

Some ruins along the bike path near Kralupy, on the east side of the river.


Jim said…
It's a kestrel, all right, egp.
That's kestrEl, two e's, no a. Don't you have a bird book, buddy?
Sounds like a hell of a ride. I admire your gumption.
As far as the energy dive - did you ever think it might have something to do with the beers? When I was cycling, when I was young(er) and fit(ter) and more energetic, I never went near the stuff till AFTER the pedaling stopped. Don't know how you EuroDudes do it. Keep up the pace, man. I think about you everytime I'm out on my bike, motoring along, exercising the hell out of my wrist.
Grant Podelco said…
Thanks, jr. I've corrected my text. You always did have an eagle eye for typos. Or should I say kestrel eye? Anyway, in this case, I'm not sure the energy dive was related to the beers as much as it was related to being off the bike for a month and just generally not in the shape I'd like to be in. One of these days, I should try a ride without the beer, just to see what happens.
Anonymous said…
Funny about the snails. 4 or 5 years ago i was walking with my son past the construction site for the Oregon House building in zlicin. After seeing an old woman pick up a snail and place it out of harms way we noticed a lot of snails trying to escape the excavation. He collected a few dozen and we boarded the Metro. I'll never forget looking over at my son and seeing a curious snail craning his neck and looking out from his jacket pocket to see what the commotion was. We released them near Hvezda.
Grant Podelco said…
Wow. That's a fantastic story! It's great to hear that I'm not the only one out there with a fondness for these guys. I love both images -- the old woman and the snails on the metro! Fantastic.
VoY said…
I find it slightly entertaining that you never miss an opportunity to gripe about bad Czech drivers and yet you have three beers and ride home. I assume at least part of that journey has to take place on roads with car traffic. Talk about setting an example ;).
Grant said…
Settting an example for whom? Czech drivers?! I find it more than entertaining that you would compare someone riding a bicycle at average 15.8 kph and keeping to the right at all times on roadways (and feeling bad if he happens to run over a snail) to a Czech driver going 60, 70, 80 kph in what basically amounts to a metal missile and aggressively challenging us on our bikes by shouting, throwing things, honking, and in the worst cases physically trying to run us off the road -- all for doing nothing other than being on a bike and perhaps making them slow down a little. Your example is ludicrous. I don't threaten anyone while I'm on my bike, nor do I endanger anyone. Give me a break. Everyday in Prague (whether I'm in my car or on my bike or motorcycle) I witness obscene acts of driver disregard that never fail to astound me for their stupidity and wanton aggressiveness. The EU driving stats for the CR prove the point.
Marek said…
VoY, I have to (partly) agree with Grant. Riding a bike after having a three beers is an offence (and your driving licence can actually be revoked for that), but it's far less dangerous than drink driving or the reckless driving you can occasionally see in CZ.

On the other hand, after reading a bit of Grant's blog I came to conclusion that he is either extremely unlucky or some sort of magnet for stupid drivers. In whole my cycling career no-one ever tried to run me down or deliberately threatened me with a car. Yes, maybe someone honked me out of his way, but I'm not really sure whether it was for my safety or because he just wanted to scare me.

Also I'm not sure about the driving stats - according to WHO, we have one of the safest roads (measured by road fatalities per 100k inhabitants) from CEE and we are only slightly worse than USA: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_traffic-related_death_rate

Anyway... wish you many happy kilometres, both behind the handlebars and steering wheel!
Grant Podelco said…
The latest EU stats show that pedestrians are twice as likely to be hit and killed by a car than in any other EU country.
nice blog - I ll do some more reading a little later ....

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