A Rock In A Hard Place
This ride really separated the menhir from the boys -- Rob Coalson (left), Stewart Moore, David Murphy, me, and Mark Nessmith.
It appeared on the horizon like a dark thorn protruding from the flesh of the Earth.
They call it the Stone Shepherd or the Stone Man -- a prehistoric menhir, or standing stone. A megalith. A monolith. Thousands of years old. A tapered 3.3-meter tall rock, poking out of the soil like a frost-bitten finger, whose original purpose -- like that of the hundreds of other menhirs across Europe -- is largely unknown.
Perhaps it was a territorial marker or helped an ancient people make sense of the seasons for planting purposes. Some menhirs may have marked the graves of warriors or been used for fertility rites.
No one really knows.
This menhir was in a farmer's field a few hundred meters outside the Czech village of Klobuky, some 50 kilometers northwest of Prague. Our ambitious mission -- suggested by my cycling buddy Dave Murphy, who's in much better shape than I and who feels no hesitancy in suggesting Tour de France-worthy excursions -- was to ride from Prague to Klobuky, pay our respects to the stone, and then return, with lunch and perhaps a few beers in between.
I love dolmens and standing stones and megaliths and passage tombs and cairns, but had no idea that such things existed here in the Czech Republic. (In fact, Dave told me there's even a small menhir in my neighboring village of Horoměřice).
So I loved the idea of this ride but was a little daunted by its length -- from my home village of Černý Vůl, it would be about 90 kilometers round-trip.
On the way to Okoř, looking back toward Velké Přílepy, in the rising sun.
I haven't exactly been tearing up the trails this summer, and I was worried my legs might fail me somewhere along the way.
In the end, I had good reason to worry.
Turns out there'd be five of us on this ride -- me, David Murphy, Stewart Moore, Rob Coalson, and Mark Nessmith.
Sunday dawned misty and cool but with an insistent sun burning its way through the fog.
Stewart and I decided to ride the first leg of the trip together and meet the other three -- who'd be coming from Prague proper -- at our favorite watering hole in Okoř. It was only 8:30 a.m., but we'd ridden 10 kilometers or so by this point, so with not a small amount of glee Stewart persuaded the hostess at the wonderful Family Hotel Okoř to pour us a couple of cold ones.
Stewart and I take in some early morning refreshments in Okoř while we wait for our mates.
We took schoolboyish delight in MMSing a photo of our beers to Dave, Rob and Mark, who were still slogging their way to meet us.
The beer tasted good, perhaps even more so because of the illicit hour.
Once assembled, our motley crew set off on a route that would take us from Okoř to Zakolany, Zakolany to Kolec, Kolec to Zvoleněves, Zvoleněves to … Ahh, hell, just check out the map below that I made using my Garmin Edge 305.
What the map doesn't show, however, is that the route consisted almost entirely of hills, steep hills -- most of them, it seemed to me, of the "up" variety.
It was a rollercoaster of pain.
Mark can't believe that yet another pub is shuttered on a Sunday morning.
I had tried to carbo-load that morning, eating a couple of slices of brown bread slathered with peanut butter and, of course, there was that beer. I also stuffed a package of Pop-Tarts and a banana in my backpack for the road. I've been having trouble with "bonking" on the trail -- just running out of energy. But I hadn't really been eating properly on my rides -- a misguided effort to lose weight that only backfired in the end, when I could barely limp home.
A pastoral landscape somewhere along the route.
On this ride, however, I discovered that my problem isn't really bonking so much as just out-of-shape muscles. I have lots of energy, and I'm not out of breath on the climbs. The problem is just that my quadriceps hurt like hell near the end of a long ride.
Every revolution of the pedals translates to burning pain in my thighs. An ugly swamp of lactic acid pooling in my legs. That probably means I just need to exercise more, not necessarily eat better (although the latter is common sense, I guess).
Anyway, it was a gorgeous day, the sun shining, the sky blue, the clouds like melted marshmallows, the conversation among our group by turns enlightened and lewd, informed and indecent. A bunch of guys cracking jokes and spouting off on all manner of subjects (some of which they actually knew something about), whilst simultaneously trying to pull themselves up steep, endless hills without revealing to their mates just how much pain they're actually in, lest they appear unmanly.
Most unusually, considering the country in which we were riding, we were greeted by a dearth, a paucity, an absence, an insufficiency of open pubs. We were all in need of a beer or two after 30 or 40 kilometers, but we couldn't find a single open hospoda. Not one.
It wasn't until we cycled into Klobuky itself that we found, on a weedy sidestreet, an open pub, albeit one of the grimiest, slimiest, saddest pubs I've ever seen. However, it did offer cold, crisp half-liters of Branik for 17 CZK, or about 88 cents, the cheapest I've seen a half-liter this year. I offered up my Pop-Tarts to the table and inhaled my banana while no one was looking.
We needed more substantial fare, but there was none to be had here. Or none we were willing to eat, anyway.
The boys celebrating their arrival in Klobuky by having a cold beer in a sad little pub.
After one beer, we decided to find what we'd come all this way to see and cycled a few kilometers outside of town to the menhir.
I must admit to feeling a little thrill chill when I first spied that stone from afar. A small crowd of bikers and hikers were circling it when we arrived to do our own inspection.
What can you say?
The Klobuky menhir is just plain cool. No one knows why it's there, or how it got there, or who erected it. A megalithic mystery.
It almost begs you to touch it, to place your hands upon it to try to detect some cosmic pulse.
This particular menhir features at least one small "cup" mark on one side of the stone and a large round hole drilled deep into the stone about waist high on the other (which of course sparked a whole slew of jokes about romancing the stone, as it were). Not sure what that hole was really for, though. Perhaps it was used in some way to join two stones together.
In fact, this particular menhir is known as the Stone Shepherd because it used to be encircled by eight other stones, which have long since been removed, presumably by farmers upset at giant boulders hampering their harvests.
If you call up the site on Google Earth, you can just make out the markings where the eight "sheep" stones used to stand. (See some of these ghost stones in the picture at left. The real menhir is in the center left.)
We touched the stone, walked around the stone, took pictures of the stone, and made jokes at the expense of the stone.
It was time for another beer.
We retraced out steps to the crappy Klobuky pub and downed another and then set off to retrace our route home.
I, for one, had doubts whether I could make it home. I was feeling OK in Klobuky, but there were 45 kilometers and about 20 hills between me and a hot shower. And we hadn't had lunch yet.
We were all running on fumes.
Our only hope of decent food seemed to rest with the restaurant at the Golf Club Beřovice in the village of the same name. I'd golfed there quite a few times and remembered the restaurant as a clean and well-lighted place.
We limped into Beřovice, our thighs aching, our stomachs growling and our whistles in desperate need of wetting. A plate of spaghetti never tasted so good. The additional two beers were also quite tasty.
Suitably refueled, we set off into the gloaming -- and me, I was moaning -- for the 25 kilometers or so back to Okoř. Where we drank two more beers in celebration of the completion of our adventure.
Back in Okoř and looking pretty good, considering. Except for Mark. (Rob had had to leave a few minutes earlier.)
From there, we all split up, heading home in various directions.
When it was all said and done, I had cycled close to 90 kilometers, my longest and most difficult ride of the year by far.
I had communed with a Neolithic monument.
I had laughed. And cried. And drank seven beers.
And when I awoke the next morning from the deep coma into which I had slipped, I felt as if an angry gang of midgets had kicked me mercilessly throughout the night.
Even my hair hurt. As Mark posted on Facebook a short time later:
"When I got home, my body just began spewing blood from my pores. Epic, but brutal ride."
Let's do it again soon.
Length of ride: 87 kilometers
Average speed: 14.2 kph
Maximum speed: 55.5 kph
Time on the bike: 6.07.04
Pivo Index: 7 (!)
Distance ridden so far in 2010: 504 kilometers
"You talking to me? You talking to ME?! Well, I'm the only one here."
Our bike map led us astray at one point when a marked tractor trail fizzled out into nothingness between Kolec and Zvoleněves. We alternately walked and rode our bikes across the soft, grassy soil.
On the trail near Okoř.
Enjoying the silence. Waiting for Stewart in Velké Přílepy.
The beautiful Baroque Assumption Church in the town of Zlonice.
Refilling our water bottles at a public well in Klobuky.
A Sunday spray of flowers along the route.