Tuesday, September 7, 2010
The Boys Are Back In Town
That's me on the left, with Stewart (center) and Mark, before setting off on our "urban exploration."
Ahhhhh! It was so good to get back on the bike again.
Tires weighted down with about five kilos of mud. My ass throbbing from its abrupt reintroduction to the saddle. Lactic acid pooling in my thighs, burning like Cholula poured on an open wound. When I got home, I made the mistake of closing my eyes and quickly fell into a deep sleep, still mud-speckled and wearing my riding gear.
I can't believe I'm the guy with the biking blog.
Oh, I had a bit of fun, too.
I was out with my veteran cycling buddies Stewart and Mark. I've ridden a little bit this summer (at least in June), but I hadn't been out on a lengthy, challenging ride since early May, believe it or not. I think those guys have probably been out for at least one big ride since then.
But the point is, none of us has been tearing up the trails this summer.
Speaking for myself, it's been a mixture of general laziness, a lack of desire to ride solo, a busy schedule, and the fact that I was taking care of my mom for six weeks or so while she recuperated from a broken hip.
But there was no room for excuses anymore.
My mom's back home now and doing well, the sun was shining, and Stewart and Mark were interested in riding, too.
We agreed to meet at the old Koliba site at 9:30 a.m. last Saturday. We didn't have any idea where we'd go after that, but it's a good midway point for all of us -- me from my house in Černý Vůl, Stewart from his house in Roztoky, and Mark from his flat in Prague 6.
I love this picture, for some reason. It's of the facade of a bland but still kinda cool '70s-era office building on the east side of the Vltava, near Libeň.
After a brief debate, we decided on a little urban exploration. I'd show those guys Europe's Most Expensive Bike Path, which meant riding back to Prague 6, through Stromovka park, across the Vltava River near the zoo, and then down toward Libeň on the east side of the river.
Although it was an urban ride, there were only a few sections where we'd have to come into contact with cars, which sealed the deal. The rest was wide-open bike lanes and, I thought to myself, basically flat.
Can't ask for much more than that for my First Bike Ride in Ages.
Stewart wanted to show us the new highway that had recently opened in Roztoky, along the river between the village and Sedlec, and what he told us was a path near the highway. I was of the mind to ride on the old route, the now-closed Riegrova road that runs parallel to the new highway.
The lure of the new and unexplored eventually won the day, but we soon discovered that there really wasn't a path -- although you could see how you might think a path existed -- and our bikes quickly sank into the soft ground. It felt like we were pedaling our bikes with about 8Gs pressing against us.
Mud like brownie batter.
In one sense, it felt good to be grinding it up off-road, legs splattered with brownie batter, the taste of it not quite so sweet but somehow inspiring.
In another sense, it sucked.
We soon found a drainage ditch that served quite nicely as a trail, and we were off. Along the river, past the sewage treatment plant, through the lovely paths in Stromovka, across the river on the suspension bridge, then upriver on the pedestrian and cycling path toward Liben.
I'd only been on Europe's Most Expensive Bike Path once before, with my friend Rob. I had a few doubts that I'd be able to find my way again, but sure enough the landmarks all looked familiar and I was able to lead Stewart and Mark on a lovely little ride.
Many of these paths (it's not really one path but rather a number of paths that sort of connect) snake their way through some leafy sections of the Prague suburbs and are quite pleasant to ride. But in the interest of full disclosure, a few sections of the trail look over some pretty bleak neighborhoods and highways.
The trail meanders through some of the less appealing parts of Prague.
Along the way, the trail passed right through a creepy little carnival that featured more unsettling-looking carnies than customers.
I always find these tiny fairs to be really depressing. Usually there's some scratchy Czech pop tunes playing from a loudspeaker, rickety rides that probably haven't had a safety check since the commies were in power, sad-looking ponies waiting to walk forever in circles, and no one really smiling or even pretending to have a good time.
The sad little fair and its creepy carnies (above and below).
We cycled on.
Eventually, we got to a spot out in Prague 14 (!) where we didn't know whether to continue on a route that I sort of knew that eventually would take us to Prague 3 and the Žižkov neighborhood (not the most pleasant route, however, since it involved a lot of sidewalk and city riding) or simply explore in some different directions and see what happened.
We chose the latter, but basically ended up making a loop back to where we started, since all the trails we followed ended on major highways of one sort or another.
We decided just to ride back whence we came and grab a bite to eat at a pizza place, T'amo, that we'd passed that looked rather pleasant. Outdoor tables and all.
The beers tasted very good. My Spaghetti alla Bolognese not quite as tasty, but I had vowed to eat some carbs on my ride so I wouldn't "bonk," which is what had been happening to me earlier in the year.
Mark's pizza of spinach and sour cream (pictured below) was, he says, better than you'd expect "but not necessarily the best in town. It was undercooked, sadly (my biggest bugaboo about Prague pizzas, actually)."
We considered a third beer but thought the better of it. All of us basically had to be home by mid-afternoon for various reasons, so we headed back.
This time, Stewart and I took the "ghost road" between Sedlec and Roztoky, closed now to traffic since the new section of roadway was opened a few months ago.
You have to climb up and over an embankment and a set of railroad tracks with your bike to access the road now. There's no formal crossing point. You feel a bit of an outlaw. But there's no denying the pleasure of cycling on an empty road that you know, as a cyclist, will remain empty.
The sun was still shining, the clouds big and puffy in a bright blue sky. And I was back on my bike and on the trails with my friends. It felt great.
That is until I cycled the last six kilometers or so from Roztoky to Černý Vůl, via Únětice. As I've mentioned in this blog before, I dread that section of trail. It's gorgeous, but it features a subtle elevation almost all the way back, and it always comes at the end of my ride, when I'm tired and just want to get home.
It was all I could do to drag me and my bike home, my thighs crying out after each minuscule incline. It was pitiful.
Once home, I made the mistake of laying on my bed for one second before hopping in the shower and promptly fell asleep, still sweaty and dirty and Spandexed.
I gotta get out more.
Length of ride: 52 kilometers
Average speed: 13.7 kph
Maximum speed: 36.3 kph
Time on the bike: 5.11.07
Pivo Index: 2
Distance ridden so far in 2010: 417 kilometers
"One more beer?"
Urban archaeology: The beautiful remains of an old bridge hidden in the undergrowth along the trail.
The ghost road near the Vltava between Roztoky and Sedlec. No cars, no more.
The fantastic pedestrian/cycling path on the east side of Vltava, south of the zoo.
Shadows on the suspension bridge near the Prague Zoo.